A Fashion Poetics?

I was watching “Project Runway” on Bravo! the other night when it occurred to me that fashion is an art form. Yes, I realize most people already know this, but I was surprised to discover that not everyone is in it to sell their clothes to your average “Soccer Mom”. I’ve been watching Project Runway off and on since the beginning and it finally hit me last night that there’s fashion for people, but there’s also fashion for art. There’s fashion theory, much in the way one could read Derrida or Deleuze and hopefully go in some direction with poems. One could go to an art museum and end up with a poem or an article of clothing or a short film. It’s all connected.

But I also thought this phrase I have written- ‘Fashion Poetics’- has its downside. There is commercial poetry- poetry people buy and read to say they love poetry. Poetry for a rainy day, a sunny day, a blue day and a great day. Poems for birthdays and poems for death. Your Barnes and Noble anthologies or whatever you want to call them. Fashion Poetics must not be the commercial but the ‘art’; not the conventional but the experiment. Not the building up, but the breaking down.

Speaking of experiments, in Dee’s class we’ve been talking about Documentary Poetics. Reznikoff, Rukeyser, Mike Gold. Social Realism. Our assignment was to find a document and then write a poem based on it. I chose a section from Jennifer’s FEMA courses on disasters, and thus the poem came to be titled and about terrorism. I think it turned out OK and illuminated a few moments of their material:

       Acts of terrorism include
       threats of terrorism.

I might post it at some point, who knows. It’s not the greatest poem ever, but I don’t feel like it’s terrible for what it is.

Anyways, what I guess I learned from this process is that while some of these projects come out very stale (Tillie Olsen), I feel like this kind of poetry has a small place, but that perhaps it’s in more a commercial vein than an artistic one. Though sometimes the two come together?

Maybe, but maybe not. Call this view elitist (and it is), but I think there’s a difference between in-industry artistry and commercial consumption. I think this is why the NEA funds some folks and not others or why Robert Pinksy was on The Simpsons. I think art must maintain its double life. I think there are people that want to sit and study contemporary art forms and there are people that want a pair of pants that don’t make their assess look huge.

But should it strive to be more? Should art be what is getting out to people so that when they hear they the word poem, they don’t immediately recall Robert Frost or Keats? Is this even possible?

Not really, though I imagine many of the folks I know would think me an ass for even suggesting that there be a line. In fact, that I’m trying to say is that there is a line that can’t be erased, and that perhaps it doesn’t need erasing.

Your average Barnes and Noble visitor won’t read and maybe doesn’t need to read Graham Foust. Poetry, certainly, has become for other poets. We’re our own industry, self-sustaining, and perhaps this is what it must be. How can it possibly go backwards now?

Fashion poetics is by nature elitist poetics. Though I wish it didn't have to be.


Johannes said...

Hanna Weiner did fashion shows.

Also, Tyra Banks' model show has always struck me as an intersting take on the workshop.

Anonymous said...

No, but I do think you're an ass if you're suggesting, and I am afraid you may be, that Keats is not an artistic poet simply because he is widely anthologized? If this is the case then you should revisit Keats--there is few poetry less intellectually focused and complex than Ode on Psyche.

Anonymous said...

I thought more about the Keats thing. I wanted to add that, in hindsight, I guess he has become a famous poet("commercial" maybe not-- do you know anyone outside of our department who actually sat and read a Keats poem?), but of course that doesn't mean he isn't the greatest poet of all time (which, let's be honest, he probably is). BUT, you get to make poetry and all I do (or did, until I got out of the game) is study it, so our perspectives on what constitutes a "commercial" (or perhaps a better word is "traditional?" it seems like traditional vs. avant garde is the real rub here, although I would argue that "avant garde" is really relative and that Keats thought he was indeed avant garde and that, in Ode on Psyche, he is really working with ideas that we are grappling with now doing now, albeit in a slightly different form) are different-- I don't mind giving lip service to dead white guys, but I can imagine it would be difficult to feel like new poetry gets buried under the rubble of old anthologies. But anyway, thanks for giving me something literary to read in my facebook feed!

--Cristine Frazier, UGA English Alums
co-survivor of Julie Barfield's Brit. Lit. survey course (my god what a frightening woman)