Even though I've just started my new job at Claire Gerus Literary and only this week begun classes at the University of Arizona, I'm already beginning to notice a disconnect in my head over what makes good fiction. Reading through potential manuscript (ms) partials, I'm turned off by what appears to be--at first glance--the "uninspired," the mundane and conceptually boring. In short, solid commercial fiction. Where are the juxtaposed images? Where does language become organic, having value and beauty of and for itself rather than being simply a tool for moving plot along? And yet, I look at the first of my assignments, a "close read" of Jesse Seldess's Who Opens, a book of poetry that reads (for me, who has only a little knowledge of modern poetry--one of the things I hope to correct this semester) like a hypnotic stimulant for the acceleration of seemingly random synapse firing. As a literary agent (which I am not, but hope to one day become), would this kind of literature appeal to the masses, or only to the elite? To be honest, I can't imagine wanting to pick up another book by Seldess without a graduate degree in literature or unless I had some strange obsession with obscure up-and-coming poets. But does that mean Seldess is "real literature"? Does that make his poetry any better than the last query I read and found intriguing enough to request from the author a synopsis and 50 page partial? So the standards are shifty, the ground gives underfoot, the borders of my neat kingdom have gotten moved around (some giant time-baby with a paintbrush and white-out, probably). I seem to be straddling the field; yes, even the "expanded field." Here, where binaries become bleakly pragmatic, I want to know: academia or salability, and is there a way to bust up especially that binary, or leave the field intact but still explore the edges of it, where fuzzy lines mark innovative and dangerous territory?
See Jorie Graham's Introduction to Best American Poetry 1990 for a better grasp on the undertakings of and oppositions to modern American poetry.
I have also included a link to PennSound, at which you can listen to a reading of Open With by Jesse Seldess himself.