A few months back, we asked Adrian Blevins and Cathy Park Hong to write about the music of sentences. We published Blevins’ essay “In Praise of the Sentence,” on April 10. Hong had a few things to say about Blevins’ essay in her piece, “How Words Fail,” published on Monday. This week, the two poets have agreed to continue their debate in our Journals.

Adrian Blevins / Final Response to Cathy Hong

Adrian Blevins sat upstairs in her hot study in Waterville, Maine and thought about American poetry and Al Gore and global warming and Cathy Hong’s most recent post. She thought about dropping the third person but couldn’t escape the feeling that it was more topic-centered than the second person, which had felt like a personal attack all week. The opposite, she thought, of intimate. She agreed with Cathy that the “blog dialogue [was] clearly constructed so [she and Cathy] would have some kind of sparring match,” and wondered if they looked like roosters in a cock fight. Since she knew she wasn’t a rooster and assumed Cathy wasn’t one either, she doubted it. The cliché was, anyway, cat fight. Adrian Blevins wondered why men discussing serious ideas were never likened to cats. She wondered if she agreed with Cathy that they were recycling old arguments. She thought she probably did. And yet she still sat upstairs in her hot study and thought about American poetry. She wondered if the problem of American poetry was too many poets sitting around thinking about the problem of American poetry.

All the same there was something she wanted.

Since she too seldom got it.

It wasn’t eloquence.

It wasn’t the first trochaic postcard.

The missing something burned some kind of hole into the center of Adrian Blevins.

The hole felt like a crisis.

She wanted to name it, but she was afraid of her own eye.

She was tired of her own tongue and throat, too: she was tired of birds and wings and dots and things. She wanted the right to talk about light—she wanted to call forth some not-planet-destroying heat. But she knew she’d be called a Romantic. Which made her desperate to say that she was not French. She wanted to talk about how speech was ridiculed rather than privileged in the American South, but she knew that even this fact could not pervade the divide. She wondered why there was a divide. She thought it was absurd, an outward rather than an inward spinning, and wanted to apologize.

Meanwhile except for the mouth she was totally sick of the head.

Meanwhile the body was all scatter and flee.

And that was the crisis, she thought.

That is the crisis, I say in the present tense. And in the first person. Cathy, I’m worried our bodies have spun too far away from us. Hey, Cathy, how will we live without them?

How will we die?

How will we love, Cathy?

How will we sing?

Cathy Hong / Final Response to Adrian Blevins

It’s been an edifying debate in that certain issues can still spark contentious argument. I hope, though, that we can reach some kind of understanding. I think the responses are on the right mindset—how can form continue to reinvent itself so that it further reflects our contemporary, splintered selves? Poets will always borrow from tradition, whether it is from the avant-garde tradition or the lyric tradition or both, but I wonder if we still become heated over these raked-over concerns, because, there aren’t enough “newer” schools of poetry to kick around. I do think there are glimmers of innovative poetic voices which lurk in emerging small presses and budding journals, both online and print.

What’s on the horizon I can’t say. But to be terribly vague, I do think that our definitions of borders are changing (nationally, bodily, linguistically), with the speed of technology, with globalization, with the war, with immigration, with our daily lives. With that, English is becoming deterritorialized and it’s molting, and I do hope our own poetic vocabulary will be a reflection, or perhaps a refraction of that. Poetry will always be questioned for its relevance. But history is currently being pressed into our faces and I do think, personally, that writers need to tend to history so that our songs will be both timely and timeless. I’m not anti-experience; my idea of the self is fluid—it overwhelms the singular, into the collective, and includes, yes, the messy and flawed bodily self.

How to transform into verse? I can only answer that with my own poems, I’m sure you Adrian will answer this with your own poems, and I’m sure there are other poets who will hatch their own ideas so that poetry will continue to be reinvigorated, appreciated, loved, studied, and maybe even piss some people off.

Originally Published: August 4th, 2006

Adrian Blevins’ The Brass Girl Brouhaha was published by Ausable Press in 2003 and won the 2004 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Blevins is also the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Foundation Award for poetry, the Lamar York Prize for Nonfiction, and a Bright Hill Press chapbook award for The...