Monday, November 26, 2007

Public toilets have a duty to be accessible, poetry does not.

“Public toilets have a duty to be accessible, poetry does not.”
—Geoffrey Hill

As quoted by Nicholas Lezard, here:

Something Burning

Nicholas Lezard hails the later work of one of the truly essential poets, John Ashbery, as he reviews Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, by John Ashbery. (Guardian Unlimited)

Nicholas Lezard
Saturday November 24, 2007

Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, by John Ashbery (Carcanet, £12.95)

You may, on reading Ashbery's work, be reminded of John Cage's infuriating remark: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry.” Let me give you an example: the first stanza of Ashbery's poem “This Room.”

The room I entered was a dream of this room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.
The oval portrait
of a dog was me at an early age.
Something shimmers, something is hushed up.

So, what's all that about? You learn quickly, reading an Ashbery poem, that the word "about" isn't exactly the right tool with which to evaluate it. However, you also find that, once started, an Ashbery poem is hard to put down or dismiss. You might not understand what he is saying, but he has a tonal directness, an almost conversational charm, which makes reading him a pleasure.

I admit that I imagined it would be an easy matter to concoct a pastiche of Ashbery that would be indistinguishable from the real thing. I would put it in this review and pass it off as his and see if anyone spotted it. But, leaving ethical considerations aside, it turned out not to be as easy as I thought. Nor was it a simple matter to find a poem that would serve as the essential illustration of Ashbery's quality. For the poems here - a self-selection from his last 10 collections since 1987 - are well-chosen: they do not repeat themselves. One sometimes has the sense that Ashbery's poems are all part of the same monologue, or the same side of one long overheard conversation, and that one can tear them off as if from an endless roll.

Of course, his work is unmistakably his. The tone is so intimate and easy (they all begin with a hook that draws you in, in spite of yourself), and so at odds with the evasive relationship to reason, the frisson of disconcertment his progressions cause and involve. Each of his poems takes us for a ride, in the two main senses of the term: one of the pleasures in his work is that of making us feel like Dylan's Mr Jones, where something is going on but we don't know what it is.

I do not want to give the impression that his work is meaningless, or that there is a letter sitting in a New York lawyer's office waiting to be opened upon Ashbery's death ("To whom it may concern: I was having you all on"). There are nuggets of sense waiting to be picked out and savoured. His feel for language, its rhythms and cadences, is exquisite: it is almost as if this is what he wants us to concentrate on, above all else - the poetry that resides in the very words we use. "And where do the scraps / Of meaning come from?" he asks in "April Galleons". A good question. And the poem begins with one of his most arresting sentences: "Something was burning." This asks of us what it means to pay attention, to be alerted to something that we don't initially comprehend.

In the end, it is the mystery we appreciate. Or at least I do. Great poetry, as TS Eliot said, can communicate before it is understood: Ashbery communicates in a way that both pays homage to language and transcends it at the same time. He is also in the business of evading categories. The only label that has stuck to him - apart from his obvious indebtedness to Wallace Stevens - is that he belongs to the "New York School" of poets. And all that means is that he was one of a group of poets who started getting noticed in the 1950s in, er, New York.

I concede that £12.95 is a steep price to pay for what many will consider to be insurmountably baffling. But bafflement is part of the condition of modern poetry, and if there's a modern poet you need on your shelves, and in your head, it's Ashbery. As Geoffrey Hill - also an essential poet - once said, public toilets have a duty to be accessible, poetry does not.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wallace Stevens - Metaphors of a Magnifico

For Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to give thanks for where we’ve been. And therefore, in honor of where we’ve been, here’s one of my favorite poems.

Wallace Stevens
Metaphors of a Magnifico

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty villages,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a village.

This is old song
That will not declare itself . . .

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Twenty men crossing a bridge
Into a village.

That will not declare itself
Yet is certain as meaning . . .

The boots of the men clump
On the boards of the bridge.
The first white wall of the village
Rises through fruit-trees.
Of what was it I was thinking?
So the meaning escapes.

The first white wall of the village . . .
The fruit-trees. . . .

Monday, November 19, 2007

Neil Young - Short Take On the Creative Process

So blur your eyes a bit, and he could be talking about the difficulties of moving, through the craft of any art, into the art of any art. It's another version of something I've thought about a lot in conjunction with Creative Writing Workshops:

Neil Young:

"At a certain point, trained, accomplished musicians, hit the wall. They don't go there very often, they don't have the tools to go through the wall, because it's the end of notes. It's the other side, where there's only tone, sound, ambience, landscape, earthquakes, pictures, fireworks, the sky opening, buildings falling, subways collapsing. . . . When you go through the wall, the music takes on that kind of atmosphere, and it doesn't translate the way other music translates. When you get to the other side, you can't go back. I don't know too many musicians who try to go through the wall. I love to go through the wall."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dorothea Lasky - AWE

Dorothea Lasky from

Dorothea Lasky

John Albertson in the Summer Sun

O John Albertson, you are so summery
In the summer sun.

You are so summery

You summery love.

You sunny summery kiss on the forehead and cheek.

Kiss me on the forehead and cheek, then kiss me on the lips.

Kiss me on the lips and hold my breasts.

Hold my thighs and breasts and then hold my breasts.

Hold my thighs to your thighs, then take me inside of you.

Hold me in your stomach and make a baby of me.

I think it is sweet that you have a cat.

I think it is nice that you have a cat and call
It Mr. Fingers.

When we talk on the phone, I want to say:
“Well hello Mr. Fingers.” And the cat would say back

“Well hello.”

* * * * *

What to say about this book? There’s a way that it reminds me (in the poem above and elsewhere) of Gertrude Stein (Lifting Belly, especially), in the way the elemental repetitions teeter at the liminal space between innocence and obsession. It’s an ambivalent space, catching the tone of perception, twisted through a precocious lens. It’s captivating. I can see why people are talking.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

John Ashbery - Notes from the Air

John Ashbery
Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems

Someone You Have Seen Before

It was a night for listening to Corelli, Geminiani
Or Manfredini. The tables had been set with beautiful white cloths
And bouquets of flowers. Outside the big glass windows
The rain drilled mercilessly into the rock garden, which made light
Of the whole thing. Both business and entertainment waited
With parted lips, because so much new way of being
With one's emotion and keeping track of it at the same time
Had been silently expressed. Even the waiters were happy.

It was an example of how much one can grow lustily
Without fracturing the shell of coziness that surrounds us,
And all things as well. “We spend so much time
Trying to convince ourselves we’re happy that we don’t recognize
The real thing when it comes along,” the Disney official said.
He's got a point, you must admit. If we followed nature
More closely we'd realize that, I mean really getting your face pressed
Into the muck and indecision of it. Then it’s as if
We grew out of our happiness, not the other way round, as is
Commonly supposed. We're the characters in its novel,
And anybody who doubts that need only look out of the window
Past his or her own reflection, to the bright, patterned,
Timeless unofficial truth hanging around out there,
Waiting for the signal to be galvanized into a crowd scene,
Joyful or threatening, it doesn't matter, so long as we know
It's inside, here with us.

But people do change in life,
As well as in fiction. And what happens then? Is it because we think nobody's
Listening that one day it comes, the urge to delete yourself,
"Take yourself out," as they say? As though this could matter
Even to the concerned ones who crowd around,
Expressions of lightness and peace on their faces,
In which you play no part perhaps, but even so
Their happiness is for you, it's your birthday, and even
When the balloons and fudge get tangled with extraneous
Good wishes from everywhere, it is, I believe, made to order
For your questioning stance and that impression
Left on the inside of your pleasure by some bivalve
With which you have been identified. Sure,
Nothing is ever perfect enough, but that's part of how it fits
The mixed bag
Of leftover character traits that used to be part of you
Before the change was performed
And of all those acquaintances bursting with vigor and
Humor, as though they wanted to call you down
Into closeness, not for being close, or snug, or whatever,
But because they believe you were made to fit this unique
And valuable situation whose lid is rising, totally
Into the morning-glory-colored future. Remember, don't throw away
The quadrant of unused situations just because they're here:
They may not always be, and you haven't finished looking
Through them all yet. So much that happens happens in small ways
That someone was going to get around to tabulate, and then never did,
Yet it all bespeaks freshness, clarity and an even motor drive
To coax us out of sleep and start us wondering what the new round
Of impressions and salutations is going to leave in its wake
This time. And the form, the precepts, are yours to dispose of as you will,
As the ocean makes grasses, and in doing so refurbishes a lighthouse
On a distant hill, or else lets the whole picture slip into foam.

* * * * * * * * *

So anyway, a second selected poems by John Ashbery is certainly something to celebrate. I was unaware that one was on the horizon, and now here it is before us.

Mine’s on its way from It’ll be here next week. I hope this means that Ashbery will get talked about for his more recent work. It’s been my opinion that with the number of Ashbery’s books available, he’s mostly been talked about for what can be found in his first selected poems. Now people have a second volume . . .

Other things from the bookshelf this afternoon:

AWE, by Dorothea Lasky. I purchased this on the recommendation of Michael Dumanis, and am about halfway through. So far, I’m finding Lasky to have the most disturbingly innocent voice in American poetry.

In the batter’s box, warming up for upcoming reading are several books I’ve purchased but haven’t gotten to yet, by Robert Hass, Cate Marvin (which I started, and was enjoying quite a bit, but then misplaced and then just found again this afternoon), Andrew Zawacki (which I accidentally purchased twice [anyone need a copy?]), and Paula Cisewski.

On the way, along with the Ashbery, from Amazon: Peter Gizzi and Tony Tost . . . what a great time for poetry . . . !

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Please Distribute - Composition Coordinator Position

Northwest Missouri State University
English, Maryville, MO 64468
Assistant Professor of English

Tenure-track Assistant Professor with specialty in Composition, beginning August 2008, to serve as Coordinator of Composition with a two-course release from a 4/4 teaching load to direct the composition program and chair the composition committee. Duties include Assessment, Teacher Training, and Faculty Development. Earned doctorate, successful teaching experience at the college level, student support, departmental and university service, and ongoing scholarship required. Salary commensurate with qualifications and experience. Send letter of application, vita, unofficial transcripts, three letters of reference, and contact information for three additional references to Dr. Michael Hobbs, Chair, Department of English, Colden Hall, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MO 64468. Screening will begin November 1st and will continue until the position is filled. Interviews at the 2007 MLA convention in Chicago. Application will be acknowledged by letter. Inquire to or (660) 562-1265. Northwest is an equal opportunity employer.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Perloff Manifesto

Marjorie Perloff
21st Century Modernism (Blackwell Manifestos)

I came across this recently, thanks to Matthew Cooperman, and though it’s a few years old, I think we’re still in the artistic situation Perloff is attempting to map. So here’s the Introduction. (I haven’t read her complete book yet. I’ll put that on my To Do list.) If you’d like to read more from this book, or many other interesting things by Perloff, go here:

--I would be happy to say that the two Steins [Gertrude and Wittgen-] are the Adam’n’ Eve of Language poetry. Or De Man, Derrida, and Dylan; Ashbery, Cage, and Picasso; or Walter Abish and Apollinaire. Maybe it’s all about Benjamin and Roussel. But really it’s Husserl and Beckett, or maybe Jabès and Zukofsky; maybe whoever first inverted ‘No ideas but in things!’ or invented the term L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. Connecting a whirl of historical dots into a certain shape is like overlaying a constellation on a bunch of stars in the heavens. . . .
Joshua Clover, ‘The Rose of the Name’ Fence 1 (Spring 1998)

This witty genealogy by a young American poet has it exactly right: Language poetry, together with its related ‘experimental’ or ‘innovative’ or ‘oppositional’ or ‘alternative’ poetries in the U.S. and other Anglophone nations, has often been linked to the two Steins—Gertrude Stein and Wittgenstein (as I myself have argued in Wittgenstein’s Ladder), to Guillaume Apollinaire and William Carlos Williams, the Objectivists and New York poets, Samuel Beckett, the Frankfurt School, and French poststructuralist theory. But further: it is interesting that Clover pays no lip service to the tired dichotomy that has governed our discussion of twentieth-century poetics for much too long—that between modernism and postmodernism. Indeed, in the year 2001, the latter term seems to have largely lost its momentum. How long, after all, can a discourse—in this case, poetry-- continue to be considered post-, with its implications of belatedness, diminution, and entropy?

In this respect, we are now a long away from 1960, when Donald Allen published his ground-breaking anthology The New American Poetry. For Allen and his poets, especially the Charles Olson of ‘Projective Verse’, modernism was finished. As James E. B. Breslin put it in his classic study From Modern to Contemporary (1984), ‘In the ten years following the Second World War, literary modernism like an aging evangelical religion, had rigidified into orthodoxy’. The ‘end of the line’, for Breslin, was represented by such ‘New Critical’ poets as Karl Shapiro and Delmore Schwartz, Richard Wilbur and Hayden Carruth. Fortunately, so this narrative would have it, by the late fifties, the ‘hermetically sealed space of the autonomous symbolist poem’ was giving way to the radical ‘new energies’ of Black Mountain and San Francisco, the New York poets and the Beats --‘The Postmoderns’ as Allen called them in the title of his revised edition of the New American Poetry (1982). With their ‘open-form’, ‘authentic’, process-oriented, improvisatory, colloquial, vernacular poetry, the New American Poets positioned themselves against the conservatism, formalism, and suspect politics of modernism, from Eliot (the American transplanted to Britain) and Auden (the Englishman transplanted to the U.S.) to Randall Jarrell and the Robert Lowell of Lord Weary’s Castle (1947).

Allen’s anthology introduced the literary public to some of the most exciting poets coming of age in the late fifties: Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka (then LeRoy Jones) and Jack Spicer. Compared to the ‘closed verse’ poets featured in the rival anthology, Donald Hall’s New Poets of England and America (1957), the ‘New Americans’ were indeed a breath of fresh air. But from the hindsight of the twenty-first century, their fabled ‘opening of the field’ was less revolution than restoration: a carrying-on, in somewhat diluted form, of the avant-garde project that had been at the very heart of early modernism. Indeed, what strikes us when we reread the poetries of the early century, is that the real fate of first-stage modernism was one of deferral, its radical and Utopian aspirations being cut off by the catastrophe, first of the Great War, and then of the series of crises produced by the two great totalitarianisms that dominated the first half of the century and culminated in World War II and the subsequent Cold War.

We often forget just how short-lived the avant-garde phase of modernism really was. In textbooks and university courses, as in museum classifications and architectural surveys, ‘modernism’ is a catch-all term that refers to the literature and art produced up to the war years of the 1940s. The Reina Sophia in Madrid, for example, is the national Museum of Modern Art but its collection, largely from the Fascist 1930s, has little in common with avant-garde attempts to transform the very nature of the art work. On the contrary, such self-declared avant-gardists as Robert Delaunay or Futurists as Giacomo Balla and Carlo Carra are here represented as conventional realists, producing landscapes, still-lifes, and cautious portraits in muted colors. The same phenomenon occurs, of course, in the former Soviet Union, but it also occurs, if less dramatically, in American poetry. A poet like Delmore Schwartz, I shall suggest in my final chapter, may have thought of himself as the heir of Eliot, but between the initiatory force of Eliot’s ‘awful daring of a moment’s surrender’ and Schwartz’s ‘Eliotic’ style, something pivotal has given way. Indeed between the two world wars (and well beyond the second one), it almost seems as if poems and art works made a conscious effort to repress the technological and formal inventions of modernism at its origins.

Now that the long twentieth century is finally behind us, perhaps we can begin to see this embryonic phase with new eyes. Far from being irrelevant and obsolete, the aesthetic of early modernism has provided the seeds of the materialist poetic which is increasingly our own-- a poetic that seems much more attuned to the readymades, the ‘delays’ in glass and verbal enigmas of Marcel Duchamp, to the non-generic, non-representational texts of Gertrude Stein, and to the sound and visual poems, the poem-manifestos and artist’s books of Velimir Khlebnikov than to the authenticity model—the ‘true voice of feeling’ or ‘natural speech’ paradigm—so dominant in the sixties and seventies.

Indeed, as I shall want to suggest in Chapter 1, the ‘artifice of absorption’ (Charles Bernstein’s term) of language poetry has less in common with Allen Ginsberg’s ‘First thought, best thought” paradigm or even with Frank O’Hara’s brilliant and witty ‘Lucky Pierre’ Personism, than with the early poetic experiments of that seemingly most august High Modernist, T. S. Eliot. For the Eliot of 1911, who composed ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘Portrait of a Lady’, was probably the first poet writing in English who understood Flaubert’s radical doctrine of the mot juste and the Mallarmean precept that poetry is ‘language charged with meaning’—a language as intense and multi-vocal as possible—a precept picked up some eighty years later by poets as diverse as the Harryette Mullen of Muse and Drudge and the Karen MacCormack of Quirks and Quillets.

Those who denigrate Language poetry and related avant-garde practices invariably claim that these are aberrations from the true lyric impulse as it has come down from the Romantics to such figures as the most recent Poet Laureates— Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky and Stanley Kunitz. But laureate poetry—intimate, anecdotal, and broadly accessible as it must be in order to attract what is posited by its proponents as a potential reading audience-- has evidently failed to kindle any real excitement on the part of the public and so decline-and-fall stories have set in with a vengeance. Great poets, we read again and again, are a thing of the past: a ‘post-humanist’ era has no room for their elitist and difficult practices. Accordingly, the main reviewing media from the Times Literary Supplement to the New York Times Book Review now give ‘poetry’ (of whatever stripe) extremely short shrift.

But what if, despite the predominance of a tepid and unambitious Establishment poetry, there were a powerful avant-garde that takes up, once again, the experimentation of the early twentieth-century? This is the subject of the present study. Designed as a manifesto, it makes some of the polemic claims we associate with that short form even as it suffers from its inevitable omissions. Because I am here interested in foundational poetic changes, I shall have little to say about many of the poets who have been most important to me and whom I have written about again and again over the years—Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens, Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, George Oppen and Lorine Niedecker, David Antin and John Cage, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. Again, because of space constraints, I have not discussed contemporary poets outside North America. Indeed, the inclusion in the last chapter of a mere handful of contemporary poets—Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, and Steve McCaffery—provides no more than a prolegomenon to what I take to be the enormous strength of this second wave of modernism. From A to W --from Bruce Andrews and Rae Armantrout to Rosemarie Waldrop and Mac Wellman (with our Z poet, Louis Zukofsky, occupying a central link between the first wave and the second), there are dozens of important poets in the U.S. and many more in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, in Europe and Latin America, that belong here and that I have either written about or plan to. Here, however, my attention is devoted to four early modernists (or call them avant-gardists) whose specific inventions have changed the course of poetry as we now know it : Eliot, Stein, Duchamp, and Khlebnikov.

I do not want to imply that modernism, as here presented, is somehow normative, that it is superior to earlier—as to what will be later—poetic movements. Obviously—and study after study has argued the case—there is large-scale continuity between modernism and the Romantic tradition; many of the features I shall be discussing, for that matter, could just as easily be found in the poetry of George Herbert as in that of Eliot or Pound. But what interests me is the unfulfilled promise of the modernist (as of the classical) poetic impulse in so much of what passes for poetry today—a poetry singularly unambitious in its attitude to the materiality of the text, to what Khlebnikov described as the recognition that ‘the roots of words are only phantoms behind which stand the strings of the alphabet.’ It is this particular legacy of early modernism that the new poetics has sought to recover.

‘To imagine a language,’ said Wittgenstein, ‘is to imagine a form of life.’ This book studies such key poetic ‘imaginings’ both at the beginning of the twentieth century and at the millennium, so as to discover how their respective ‘forms of life’ both converge and cross.

- - - - - - - - - -

Interesting little manifesto from Marjorie Perloff for our Saturday morning!

It seems to me she’s set up the situation in order to lead one to believe the either/or of contemporary poetry is "laureate poetry" or Language poetry (and related avant-garde practices). And while I share her criticism of Dove, Pinsky, and Kunitz (and even more so with poets such as Ted Kooser), I bail out somewhere just short of her thesis.

If I take her stance toward the contemporary situation to say that the most interesting poets today are not like Ted Kooser, then I agree. But this should not mean that we have to take this to its extreme. I would posit, if I were to posit a counter (or corrective) thesis on the contemporary writers I value, I would say that the most interesting writers today exhibit, in their work, an awareness of the unfulfilled promise of modernist impulses, while at the same time exhibiting an awareness of the possibilities inherent in the unfulfillable promises of modernist impulses.

The stance is “and/but,” and nothing new, I admit. But as a compositional practice, I find there is also value in reading Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, two writers it seems Perloff would have us leap over without a nod (and what about Berryman? & etc?).

1920s modernism stands taller in my imagination than what came after, true, but there is a corrective element to some of what came after, that, if carried back to the innovations of Stein, Eliot, Stevens (et. al.), seems to me to give us a way into something other than just this stance of reductive-sounding harkening back to the avant-garde phase of modernism, or the alternative of “intimate, anecdotal, and broadly accessible” poetry of “the laureates.”

Or something like that.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ethan Paquin & Michael Dumanis

Ethan Paquin & Michael Dumanis were here this week. They smoked.

And read poetry, and signed books.

We all had a good time. They make a great team. You should ask them to come and read poetry where you are. Seriously, they shook the place.

Now it's back to work. The new chapbook from Reginald Shepherd just came in. Amanda Meyer has begun to sew them. Sew, Amanda, sew.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Back to Ohio 3

My favorite photograph from the trip! Angie Estes and Kathy Fagan on the way back from the best restaurant in Columbus: Northstar. Can I get a witness?

And the next day I met Michelle Herman.

And then it was back to Missouri, where we hosted Molly Brodak, author of the chapbook "Instructions for a Painting" which we've just published. Wonderful reading. You should have her come visit. Trust me and continue trusting me. I won't steer you wrong.

If you would like a copy of the chapbook, email me, or It'll cost you $6.00 as a special blog offer, and we'll cover shipping.

It was a long week. Now I'm home and tired. But happy. I met something like 25 or so writers in the space of two weeks.

Back to Ohio 2

Catherine Taylor buying herself a grilled cheese after the reading. It was an alumni poet reading with Matthew Cooperman, Leilani Hall, myself, and Ashley Capps. I somehow ended up without a picture of Ashley, but I promise she was there.

Halliday and Cooperman on the street outside Tony's, yammering mataphysics.

I also spent some time with Wayne Dodd in Athens and then Columbus. If you don't own a book of his poetry, go out now and get one. And buy one for a friend. trust me. He has a New and Selected in the works, I hear. And a memoir as well.

And then a random poet event: Who should be walking across the OSU campus but Chris Forhan and Alessandra Lynch. Odd how that happens.

Back to Ohio 1

I've been in Ohio for a bit for readings and etc . . . and I've a few photographs to prove it. Here's Jaswinder Bolina, whose Carrier Wave I've mentioned several times in several contexts. It was great to finally meet him.

Mark Halliday, shy as always, taking some time away from Jabbing and Selfwolfing to raise a glass.

And Sharmila Voorakkara, author of Fire Wheel, was there as well.

And Leilani Hall, author of Swimming the Witch . . .

Poetry & Depth & Poetry & Meaning

I don’t care much for this and I argue with myself, thinking again about workshops . . .

Workshops tend to want to force us into a conversation of “meaning,” when really I think “meaning” is a much less interesting conversation than many others. Tone. Sure, and other things like landscape and reach and other metaphors for what it is we do. But by far the most important conversation is the conversation of “depth.”

There are a lot of poems out there that seem to me to be gestures without a motivation. But that could just be me. Maybe they have depth and I’m just missing it in the gesture of the poem going by. And this falls apart without examples and I don’t feel like examples today. Keep it abstract, and no one needs to feel implicated . . .

And what do I mean by “gesture” and “motivation” anyway, when so much of what I advocate in art is the gesture (even the hollow gesture of the act of gesturing), as well as the absence of motivation, as it becomes, instead of a motivation, a presence?

For me, the above poem that is not there is pretending to have depth. Or maybe that is its goal, to become emblematic of the pretence of depth in art? And perhaps most poems of any age have this belated quality anyway, so I shouldn’t worry.

The most fraught discussion we have these days in poetry is depth—as all is depth and depth is only perceived depth. And such conversations sound like the privileging of stances. It’s just one tick away from a conversation of “Poetic Value.” Depth is really only a cliché away, or a cliché in waiting. As depth is a construct of the resonances that definitions make, “Love is the answer,” right?

And the post-pomo stance would say to include the cliché then, as all codes are codes and equally available. I want to go along, I really do. But such things so often don’t sound very interesting in their examples, I’m finding.

But often the flat surface is depth, right?, as depth in art is the distance the receiver travels toward and away from—with—the art. And all the depth of meaning a writer might contain, or to prepare the art for containing, is not depth at all if the receiver does not move with that depth. I think of artwork as a baton that is passed, not a train one boards. The artwork is given over, and the receiver of the art must then do something. But what?

Such conversations tend toward aphasia without examples. And the gestures of any single instance of a poem can be reduced to the gestures of its enactment, and then become hollow for any replaced gesture: