Maybe I'm unrelentingly naive, but there are some colloquial voice poems that just fucking kill me. Provided the poet can make it say something. It's interesting to me that in this particular issue of American Poetry Review (July/August 2009), Tony Hoagland goes on about the impersonators of Dean Young, and how their can be a poetry that is all about manner or voice, yet remain vacuous in content. I guess I wonder what poetry can't be guilty of that accusation. Sure, the Dean Young poets might be fooling a particular audience into thinking that their poetry is intelligent, when really it's just kinetic, or tricky, but poets have been pulling the wool over an audience's eyes for many years impersonating a style of voice, while not reallly having anything to say.
It's why the poems by Gregory Pardlo, especially "All God's Chillun," are so interesting to me. Having just come from reading through jubilat 16, where Shane Book's poems pushed hard at the colloquial voice, I was a bit acclimated to the style. Or, I was little skeptical of what Pardlo might do with it. Book's poems were impressive, but they didn't floor me, primarily because they seemed more about dazzle (or should I say flagellation) and less about content.
But Pardlo's "All God's Chillun" is actually not so colloquial as the rhythms in the poem, and the title to the poem, might make one believe. In fact, all three of the poems in this issue inhabit this hybrid between high diction and African American speaker. But this style is hardly the feature of the poem. Pardlo is dealing with a subject whose politics are as complicated and innate to the human experience as the politics Auden wrote about during World War II. Pardlo comes to an argument, but not a conclusion, and it's that limbo that seems to require this particular diction of his. These are serious poems that warrant and reward a serious reading.