At Its Widest Extremes

The divergences, say 1975,

American poetry & English poetry:

Two chapbooks -
(Raindust Press, Independence, Missouri)
(Saffron Press, Cambridge, England)

To quote from the former:

I mean you
in New Boston
and Cairo
I mean you
in Beardstown
and Quincy
I mean you
I mean the river
I mean towboats
I mean willows
at Hannibal
and Clinton
I mean you
and sunsets
in Muscatine
and Sabula
I mean you
I mean laughing
I mean boozing
I mean fighting
in Keokuk
and Port Byron
I mean you
and I mean me
Me and you
kissing it up
in LaCrosse
or Nauvoo

To quote from the opening of the latter (a chapbook of 24 pages, the same number of pages as the Etter, and of about the same size (8x5), both centre-stapled):

Pink star of the languid
settles by a low window
lap to flit, give the life
too quickly. the storm
a mere levelled gaze.

And count the hook by the water.
rely on modest delay;
it is I who say this, not to
fade or shine out,
to be trusted and played.

There: heat rises now
with the bank speckled,
going down to the point
of noon. Take stock, be
fair while there's room.

Here is Iain Sinclair on Prynne:

"...readers are asked to become researchers to take purchase on the whole body of language and the history and polity sedimented within it, rather than acquiescing in the name of a figment of a common readership."

Etter is, obviously, more accsesible, perhaps apexing with Romanticism in his ALLIANCE,ILLINOIS(1978), the American populist tradition - E.A. Robinson, Edgar Lee Masters, Sandburg, Lindsay, Millay, Langston Hughes - so fashionably ignored or decried (except for Hughes) by postmodernist tastemakers.

Etter's poetry is stridently Regionalist and he is committed to the belief/cause, noting in his SELECTED POEMS, "How arrogant it would be to think of myself as either national or international....A regional writer is one who knows his or her territory....You tell me how it goes in New Hampshire or Tennessee and I will tell you how it goes in Illinois....William Carlos Williams, that superb regionalist, spoke the truth when he said, 'The local is the universal.' So that's the end of that. Case is closed. Ten-four. Over and out."

There is, despite this, and not applicable to Etter's work, the problem of when is "regionalist" merely the provincial, and trumpeted as such as a virtue.

Prynne could also be said to be a regionalist of sorts, his region (be it medieval, or coming from French symbolism as Eric Mottram had said, or as two of his former students who authored "NEARLY TOO MUCH The Poetry of J.H. Prynne" had written, using Baktin: a "mutiplicity of discourses and openness to the extraliterary" a "repeated shift between emotional or moral or material terms") being an intellectual region of small lanes and spires of privileged ivory-tower existence and centuries of class power of Cambridge. It is, in short, a mental (vertical, if you will) regionalism, more than a spacial one, and although his poetry often leaves one preferring "plain American which cats and dogs can read!" (Marianne Moore, from her poem ENGLAND), it remains an open question as to which kind of regionalist is less parochial. Prynne's epigones, Reeve and Kerridge, in NEARLY TOO MUCH (Liverpool U. Press, 1995), believe that his sequence, THE OVAL WINDOW (1983) "is not only representative of Prynne's later manner, but...the most important and significant long poem of its time." That's quite a claim. One can make no such claim for Etter's poems. However, his newest book, LOOKING FOR SHEENA EASTON (2004), still shows a desire to at least find in language a jazzy and plaintive Streatham Hill version of Pet Clark's Downtown, and, although far from his lyric naturalism in THE WHITE STONES (1969), Prynne too, says: "In darkness by day we must press on, / giddy at the tilt of a negative crystal."

Fifteen years after THE OVAL WINDOW, Prynne begins a new sequence (FOR THE MONOGRAM) thus:

At a point tunes beating and striking the plate for
sylvatic break and drop there not so sunken away
as in stay-put agreement; set off put off these crowds
no free sky conversely. Will you jag up the tippet
over a new bow thrown down if for implored at five
apace, floating across bars in black?

In a letter from the 1970's, Prynne compares himself to a tree in a forest and asks why he should give the reader an axe.

However, as George Oppen would have it:

One must not come to feel that he has a thousand threads
in his hands,
He must somehow see the one thing;
This is the level of art
There are other levels
But there is no other level of art

Or, as another American poet, writing in a different context, had put it, in words which are applicable as well to the "simple pudding" boring and academical theory verse of some of those whom Cid Corman had labelled "the lang gang": a poet can do what he or she likes "provided only the result of his activities be something interesting, and, after a period of application, comprehensible....he may not, however, write poetry in English which is more difficult to translate than poetry written in Latin. He may, of course, write it. But if he publishes it, if he prints and offers for sale poetry which he is quite content should be, after hours of sweating concentration, inexplicable from any point of view...then he does so with a motive which is frivolous from the point of view of art."