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Response & Bio Jeffrey Encke

Question # 8) Chris Arigo on genre designations: After Modernism literature fractured and pixilated into so many units that the urge to classify is often/usually frustrated. Historically, the prose poem is very young much in the same way the novel is. As a result, the most radical pressure put on the genre has occurred fairly recently. These radical shifts require our scrutiny, not necessarily our classifying them.

Modernism, Consumerism, and the Instability of Genre

Chris Arigo’s allusion to the splintering effect of Modernism, a condition exhaustively scrutinized over the past 150 years, places the problem of the prose poem in its proper light. As countless cultural historians have observed, perhaps most notably Clement Greenberg in "Avant-Garde and Kitsch", the rise and subsequent dominance of the free market system have led not only to the appropriation of high art by the consumer industry (kitsch), but to the commodification of its forms within cultural institutions, subjecting them to the same forces of unbounded innovation and consumption. Modernism has not only destabilized and fractured traditional genres, but it has demanded the reconfiguration and creation of genres whose purported value may or may not be readily apparent.

To say the prose poem is equivalent to Diet Coke With Lime is not to suggest that every manifestation of the form possesses equal cultural value. Certain instances of the genre’s consumption are devoid of substance or nutrition; others are sublime, and that sublimity has less to do with the genre than it does with the personality of the author engaging it.

Simultaneously the preservation and reinvention of the concept of genre corresponds to a modernist impulse to make it new--for one requires an old against which to pit a new--and a post-modernist impulse to re-inhabit the old and re-inscribe its significance. Its commodification notwithstanding, the enduring category of genre insists upon the possibility of innovation and political efficacy at a time when art, it would seem, no longer possesses the potential to innovate and change the world.


Jeffrey Encke has recently published Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse, a deck of playing cards featuring excerpts of love letters written to Saddam Hussein and other war criminals, available at His work has appeared in Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, Octopus Magazine, Salt Hill, 3rd Bed, and Quarterly West, among others.