Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Evan Jones

Dear Editor,

Though the American artist Mark Dion has written that any manifesto is impossible after 1968, I sat down with some interest and much sobriety to read the set of eight published in your February issue. I found that by the end my sobriety was piqued and my interest less so. My first instinct on finishing was to agree with the Times Literary Supplement (February 13, 2009) on its use of the word “assail” in its own write-up of the manifestos, for many of them use the language of the attack without the inherent excitement that Mary Ann Caws sees in retrospect as exaggerated. But while the tls went on to deride many of the manifestos as baffling, I wasn’t so put off. I was looking for something else: a drawing in, a luring to agreement, in place of which I found a smugness, or, more concretely, a “you-know-I’m-right-ness.” In place of rhetoric and argument, the pieces conveyed poetics, when the manifestos I know best all move beyond that and into daily life. The only one that held any allure was by A.E. Stallings, who managed to amuse and bemuse at once, as André Breton did in 1924 when he included in his first Manifesto of Surrealism, under the rubric of the “Secrets of the Magical Surrealist Art,” an entry on “How to catch the eye of a woman you pass in the street.” It reads:

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As a younger man, I read this and was overjoyed. Perhaps there is an inherent sexism in the criteria, but Breton knew his audience of young men and also knew that dogma and poetry were not enough to woo the cultural intelligentsia.

manchester, united kingdom

Originally Published: May 1, 2009

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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