The new issue of Gulf Coast features a roundtable between Matthew Rohrer, Heather Christle, Matthew Zapruder, & Zachary Schomburg on what “surrealism” means today in American poetry.
Most interesting is what Matthew Rohrer says about surrealism and optimism.
I see a lot of student poems that are snide or bitter: poems that ridicule certain bourgeois or mass-cultural things. And on the one hand, I can usually sort of agree in a general sense that mass culture is bad, or malls are alienating, or the suburbs destroy human potential, blah blah blah. But I think back to a very important moment in my own writing: I had written a poem in a park, watching a family, and the poem basically critiqued them for I can’t even remember what now. It was supercilious, really; who was I to say anything about these people I didn’t know at all? And my poetry teacher read it and said something like, “You want to watch out that you’re not an asshole.” And he was very serious, and looked at me with these penetrating eyes, and I realized this was a big thing for him, and for me. And then almost immediately I found myself drawn into a long apprenticeship with the historical Surrealists. I think they are very optimistic—so much of their interests were in human potential—the potential of dreams, of our unconscious, of all of the overlooked and uncelebrated things that make us human. It seemed to me like they really wanted to celebrate being human rather than critique it or box it in. And yes, as several of you have said, they were revolutionary, and no one is more optimistic than a revolutionary.
This then reminded me of Rachel Zuckers’ “Poem” which begins with a quote from Rohrer that seems to echo the above sentiment
The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don’t, and see what happens.