One of the (many) problems with the term "post-avant" (a topic that has recently been the subject of some, er, spirited conversation in the comment box to this post by Reginald Shepherd at Harriet) is how utterly unexciting its lexical meaning is when you think about it. If the avant-garde is the front ranks, then it stands to reason that the post-avant is ... the second ranks. The back-up troops, in other words. Boooorrring.
Another problem is that "post-avant" is now typically used by different people to designate poets so unlike each other that it's hard to see how one term can possibly be relevant to all of them. What do Joseph Massey, Liz Willis, Christian Bok, Katie Degentesh, Jennifer Knox, Jocelyn Saidenberg, CA Conrad, Dorothea Lasky, Linh Dinh, Carl Martin, Dolores Dorantes, and Ken Rumble have in common (beyond, perhaps, having some--though not all--of the same social connections)? Not much, unless one postulates that they all represent an "alternative" to a "mainstream," insofar as "mainstream" refers to a certain group of poets whose relation to each other is no less vague, consisting mainly in their shared centrality within one narrow professional circuit of universities, publishing houses, and bucolic summer retreats. But the stylistic and theoretical approaches of the poets I've named are all so different that any such alternativeness on their part is so heterogeneously determined as to be difficult to conceptualize as a shared aesthetic, and even that aforementioned mainstream circuit is now expanding to include many of the poets in question. And it is not as simple as arguing that those who resist assimilation into that circuit (through their own will or that of others) are the "true" avant-garde, or post-avant, or whatever. The various academic and coterie wars of the past half-century or so amount finally to the personality-based surface indices of fluctuations in market taste. To argue otherwise is to head down that paranoid path of conspiracy theory, wherein great bland forces of not just formal but political conservatism have banded together to beat down the forces of progressive experimentation. Yes, I know it feels that way. Yes, dull-minded chauvinists like Charles Simic are typically awarded positions of relative visibility in which to air their retrograde notions. Yes, institutions like Poetry Magazine ... okay, maybe it is a conspiracy.
Still, I'm not seeing any coherency in the "post-avant" rubric. At least, no more than there is in the habit of thought that allows "new wave" to encompass both The Slits and The Go Gos. Part of the confusion comes from the related, prior error of assuming that there are two genealogies of poetic influence in America: one quietudinous and repressive, the other modernist and liberatory. There are in fact fourteen main genealogies, eleven of which overlap with each other, producing in effect thirty-seven sub-genealogies, which in turn generate a mandala-like criss-crossing wheel of two hundred and sixty-eight microgenealogies, some consisting of single poets or even blank slots reserved for potential poets. I've got it all written down somewhere.
Case in point: the "New American Poets." What a freaking old-boy network of sexists and gasbags, with about four and a half exceptions. And some of them ... whoo boy, talk about nondescript. I mean, who the hell are Ebbe Borregaard and Bruce Boyd, anyway? Sure, even they, whoever they are, could probably kick the asses of just about any poet who received a major award in the US between the years of 1973 and 2004. My point? I no longer have one. Don't interrupt me, I'm talking here.
And what is the deal with all these discussions about the AWP? Why on earth would anyone want to discuss it? Let me give you the skinny (what does that mean, anyway, "the skinny"?) on the AWP: you go, you head straight for the hotel bar, and you stay there as much as possible. Don't go to any panels unless you're on them. Under no circumstance go to any of the off-site "parties" hosted by presses and magazines. In some cases the university-sponsored parties in the hotel have free drinks. Get in, drink fast, get out. If Alice Notley is reading somewhere, try to see that--she's fucking great. Make sure to be at the book fair at the end of the last day when they start giving crap away. Then back to the bar, and/or whoever's room. At some point you go home, and then the only thing worth "discussing" is who was hot and who was a tweak and who was a big honking climber phony. And that only in person, with someone else who was there that you trust.
In conclusion, "post-avant" my ass, who the heck is Ebbe Borregaard? and don't try to analyze the goddam AWP as though it were a relevant cultural phenomenon. Also, keep an eye out for Abraham Lincoln #2--coming soon!