When I was 16, I read “13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?”—mostly because it promised to be about me, and since there was no sociology class in my high school, I thought I should give it a go. Yes, I thought like that in high school. That’s how I ended up this way. Also because I didn’t pick up Durkheim, I picked up pop sociology. I worked in a library. I had first pick of what came in.
The book was cool because they had posted the book online (before the web!) and had comments from Gen X-ers in the margins, mostly to protest their insights. In some ways, it was what interactivity was supposed to look like. Smart, witty and selected insights that accompanied and challenged the text. A friend of mine was talking about trying to keep up with the comments in response to his girlfriend’s article on Salon about the current cultural meanings of sperm. I almost said, “who cares?” but obviously, he does. Oh interactivity. What Web are we up to now?
But it shaped my view of trying to name and describe generations as both really fun and kind of useless. It may have been my first exposure to a project that was beautiful in its failure. The best insight from the book was that the horror movies of my childhood were all about evil children ruining the lives of their independent parents (The Omen, Halloween, etc), while the horror movies of Gen Y childhoods were all about parents protecting their precious babies (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, etc). Hence, the culture hated kids during my youth; loved them during the Gen Y’s. And while, I more or less agree with the conclusion, it would take 10 minutes on IMDB to debunk the support. And what do you do with Rosemarie’s Baby?
Anyway. When the 70s ended I was 4. When the 80’s ended, I was thrilled. The 80’s had been awful. You may remember them as the decade of Pet Shop Boys and Eurythmics, but living through them (at least where I was), was an endless scrim of bleached denim and RATT posters. The one cool kid’s birthday party that I went to in the 80’s involved my pretending familiarity with the Twisted Sister songbook. I still can’t figure out how the 80’s remain my favorite period of cultural production and I wasn’t aware of a single one of those productions while enduring the decade. Anyway—the 90’s were my time—and I had a lot of fun. I actually did a little dance when 1989 ended. And come on, 1989 was awesome. I even had my “Last one to leave turn out the lights” T-Shirt. It was funny if you knew it was about East Germany.
So if the 80s were about the rise of language poetry & multiculturalism, and the 90s were the decade of the culture wars, what were the 00’s? Our last siecle totally came to a fin, and what should we say about the poetry of the last ten years? OK, so don’t all beat me up at once—I’m blogging, so I’m embracing interactivity and I want to hear from you—but I think that the 00’s were when we all got along. In 1999, at NYU, Agha Shahid Ali thought that he was being provocative when he gave us a defense of the canon. We were all like, “Shahid, it’s cool. We read Ntozake Shange and Milton.” He was sort of fighting a fight that seemed a bit passé to us.
But I feel like in the 00’s, a lot of the fights kind of seemed less important. Like everyone’s toolboxes got shared, and we stopped having to stress over who’d be a new formalist, who’d be an old formalist, and who’d be an old school Shklovsky reading Russian formalist. The slam poets were on broadway, Cave Canem was bringing a whole generation of black poets from the margins to the center, Fence and Tin House proved that you can still start an important magazine, and print-on-demand books started to look exactly like print-in-a-huge-run books. Poetry Magazine got a hundred Million dollars—and I think they’re doing great stuff with it. Not to say that everyone got along. Sadly, the blogosphere has meant that a lot of the fights have taken place without copy editors (sigh). But I feel like the 00’s were good for poets as a whole, because it felt like we were more united than divided. Maybe it was the war, maybe it was the threats to freedom of speech, maybe it was just that I really liked the people I was spending time with. I have to stop before I get positively utopian, but thank you 00’s. I had a good time.