What does it mean to be a contemporary poet? I used to take a plodding, commonsensical view of the question — which led me to a little contretemps with Kenneth Goldsmith. Now, thanks to Giorgio Agamben, I think we were both wrong, and I've written about it for B O D Y, a great journal out of Prague. The essay is called "Who is a Contemporary Poet?"
Here's a passage:
So a true contemporary is out of joint with the times, and this alienation gives a perspective from which he sees the time in ways the time does not see itself. He sees, in particular, the persistence of the past in the present, and wishes to change or modify the present in ways that also reconfigure how we feel about the past. It’s a tall order, and contemporaries are rare. I’ve mentioned Freud. Marx seems like another figure who lived his times as a true contemporary—discontented, seeing forces at play in the world that others could not see, seeing the persistence of the past in the social order and wishing it away, and providing us with a way of seeing that re-scripted all of history from a tale of battles and kings to a tale of economic forces, and all of this not chosen as an academic project but coming about as a result of social injustices he could not abide.
But what about the question we started with? What about the contemporary poet?
The whole essay is available here.