Two lyric traditions: direct expression of subjectivity (Romanticism) vs. the persona (Modernism). The first is cosmological because it presents the self in passionate negotiation with a universe it takes to be natural. As Nature withers away as a source of meaning, the fundamentally mimetic and narratological persona lyric takes over: wearing a mask it seeks to expose the masks of social meaning. After 1989 the postmodern lyric goes even farther into the capitalist abandonment of political subjectivity, leaving us with a pure consumerist poetics in which the absence of value is no longer a scandal, but the void we swim in, untouched and untouchable by others.
To resuscitate the subjective lyric cannot mean yielding to a regressive dream of a unified Nature. Instead, subjectivity must be pluralized: the speaking self of the poet encounters and responds to other speaking selves, not all of them human, none of them "primitive" (there can be no more leech-gatherers seen as "closer" to the universal Nature and subjected to the social poet's interrogations). The practicioner of subjective lyric may borrow techniques from ethnography, as Charles Olson does, but must operate less as anthropologist than "archaeologist of morning": that is, as co-active and cooperative with the more-than-human socius he poetically encounters, and not writing as the bearer of an imperial universalizing "scientific" objectivity.
What is most valuable and unique to the lyric, I believe--a value coextensive with capitalist propaganda about lyric's valuelessness--is its built-in refusal of anything resembling an "objective" stance. Lyric offers a form of diplomacy: it presents a speaking self in productive tension with the real and potential subjectivities of others. The lyric speaker has a passion for the other, in every sense of that word: suffering, ecstasy, eroticism, sacrifice.
In the present postmodern environment the self as bearer of value has been almost obliterated. People of color, LGBTQ folk, disabled people, and women are at best tolerated by the regime, largely if not exclusively for their value as consumers and as markets (capitalism trumps, barely, the white supremacist patriarchy that predates it, and this is the true meaning of "liberalism"). But the selves of white males are also empty, non-sites of the vast privilege accumulated on their behalf, lashing out reflexively whenever that privilege are challenged, treating every presentation of subjectivity--perhaps even their own, since subjectivity is inherently messy, contradictory, and emergent from relations with others--as an existential threat.
The value of the self, as more than a counter in the lyric game, is yet to be (re)discovered. Even more deeply suppressed is the possibility of collective subjectivities. And there is, after all, a real danger that outside the regime of tolerance, without developing the passion for otherness that is intrinsic to lyric, we will find ourselves in a state of total war. (As opposed to the war that, to paraphrase William Gibson, is already here, but unevenly distributed.)
I return to the poetry of Olson and Duncan because in their passion for cosmos and polis as emergent territories (as opposed to what's supposedly simply stable and already there) they have kept the flame of subjectivity--as something to be ventured, tested, and risked--alive. Contemporary poets who come out of that tradition often come armed with the experience of a passionate collectivity behind them: I think of Lisa Robertson's feminism or Peter O'Leary's Catholicism or Nathaniel Mackey's deep engagements with jazz and the Black Arts Movement. It may be much harder for those of us who do not have such backgrounds to wager everything on the subjective lyric, rather than hiding behind masks of irony or dictate faux-objective political critiques. Well, begin from that ground where you are already most engaged, most implicated. It might be the workplace, or the family, or the university, or the military. We are none of us isolatos when we speak from the "I."