Sunday, February 04, 2007

Negative Models

Jessie Fisher Red Hood 2004

PLEIADES 27:1 is now available. In it is an interesting essay by Reginald Shepherd on the poetry climate, titled "One State of the Art." It's well worth checking out. And it gets me to this question:

Who do you write against?

What an interesting question. It was asked of me a few weeks ago, and I didn't really have an answer, or perhaps I didn't really want to answer. "Against" is about as oppositional as one can be, and I'm really not the oppositional sort.

But I've been thinking, and I've decided that there are a few poets who, for various reasons, make me wish I were someplace else.

1. Ted Kooser. Have you seen his book on writing? I don't understand how people, even people who really like his poetry can get through what he has to say about poetry. And then there's the poetry itself. (Kooser here also stands for Dana Gioia, by the way.)

2. Ron Silliman. He and I share a favorite poet, Rae Armantrout. His writing on the new sentence was formative for me twenty years ago. For these two reasons alone I should honor him, but for the fact that the way he talks about poetry for quite some time now robs it of everything, or nearly everything, that makes it pleasurable.

So that's my tiny, too easy, list of two poets who, I think, let themselves go.

It's a difficult public question, isn't it? So who do you write against? Or, as I don't really write against anyone: What poet (poets) does your poetry stand against? Who are your negative models?

In a related issue, was also asked, the same day, about the creative writing workshop: should the moderator, the person in charge, strive to be supportive of the projects of the participants or should the moderator be more oppositional . . . coach or gatekeeper. Of course, that's a reduction, and a binary (I hate binaries), but it's also a tough question.

Oppositional stances are as important to the growth of the artist as are supportive environments and shared endeavors. My answer was that one should work closely with someone who supports one's work and its direction, but that one should look for an oppositional respondent as well. To sharpen the edge. To force one to defend what one is doing.

For me, this person is Mark Halliday. He's a fine writer, and a willing correspondent, but he doesn't much care for my poetry. I enjoy talking with him.


Frank Sinatra, "That's Life"

Grandaddy, "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot"

The Replacements, "Talent Show"


At 2/04/2007 6:53 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I am not trying to avoid the question by responding this way:

I honestly don't think I am well read enough to have agrasp on who I am writing against. It's atough but fair question because I think most poets are trying to do something with their work, and with all of the variation out there, it's only natural to be working against what others are trying.

I read what I like, and simply avoid the things I don't.

I'm not really satisfied with that answer so I will have to think about it more.

At 2/04/2007 2:19 PM, Blogger C. Dale said...

It is tough to answer the against question, but I know one of the people I write against is C. Dale Young, M.D., a very different person than C. Dale the poet. I know ths sounds schizophrenic, but I sometimes think the M.D. version of me is enemy number 1. Yes, I know, I need therapy.

As for the teacher thing, I think good teachers play both roles to their students. If you are all tough guy/hard ass, students resent you and stop working as hard. They give up. If you are all cuddly and supportive, they don't necessarily grow much as artists. So, I tend to think one must be both to be a decent teacher in the arts. I saw this in my painting instructors and again in my better poetry teachers. It is a model I follow, though I have no real basis to do so from a pedagogical stance.

I like to answer questions by not realy answering them. This is likely the most truthful utterance you will ever hear from me.

At 2/04/2007 4:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Loveliest non-answers I've ever heard!

I just pictured Silliman & Kooser having dinner together. What would they order? Would they talk about the weather?

Would it be a study in quietude? Would there be communication?

At 2/06/2007 2:42 PM, Blogger jz said...

Maybe they would talk about you!

It could happen....

At 2/06/2007 2:48 PM, Blogger jz said...

Maybe they would talk about you!

It could happen....

At 2/07/2007 5:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Now THAT would be funny. "Get a load of that inchling," I imagine them saying.

At 2/12/2007 8:30 AM, Blogger Keith Woodruff said...

John, really glad to find your site and congratulations on all your publishing success.

I hope to catch up on some of the Stevens posts - always interested in him. As an undergrad (which explains a lot) I had the bad taste to insist that people call me Wallace.

That strange flower the sun, etc., etc.

At 2/13/2007 6:18 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Maybe we should all change our names to Wallace?


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