Apocalypticism: A Way Forward for Poetry
The editors of this portfolio asked for a short introduction to my discussion of Joseph Donahue’s and Pam Rehm’s work and apocalyptic poetry.
Why write an essay about apocalypticism in the work of two contemporary poets? Why insist that their work represents the way forward
for American poetry?
Basically, this: sixteen years ago, the editors of apex of the M (Lew
Daly, Alan Gilbert, Kristin Prevallet, and Pam Rehm) opened their inaugural issue with an editorial predicting the academic institutionalization
of both traditional workshop poetry and Language poetry. This was not
such a stretch, even at the time; but these were the only experimental or
avant-garde writers making such a critique, and it earned them great
scorn in some quarters. My suspicion is that they wrote the editorial in
response to their growing disenchantment with so-called radical poetry,
which wasn’t remotely radical—at least not in the Christian apocalyptic
sense that was then attracting their attention. The editorial was clearly
meant as a provocation, but just as importantly as an indictment of
secular models for contemporary writing, which typically resist and
frequently deny the “unmediated” and “insurrectionary” love of the
divine that the apex editors found in mystical and prophetic traditions,
as well as romanticism. Apocalypse and other forms of sacred expression
unbind love from material desire, freeing it to embrace the unknown
and the unspeakable.
This is, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding -- not to hold Daly, Prevallent, et.al, harmless -- or confusion of the xian understanding of the apocalypic (vs. any other) vs. the secular radical. When there is no divine, and no love of the divine, etc., what is unmediated and insurrectionary? Indeed.