Sunday, July 13, 2008

Amy Casey - Mark Halliday - Joshua Clover - Pleiades

I’m currently reading the new issue of Pleiades, and, as usual, it’s the best kind of reading experience. 281 pages. Half creative work, and half reviews. Kevin Prufer and Wayne Miller are both friends of mine, yes, so there is that bias in their favor, but Pleiades has moved beyond what literary journals do these days. Pleiades has become an indispensible resource. What’s being written, and what people think about what’s being written. As well as a symposium that I begged to be part of on Laura Jensen, part of their “Unsung Masters” series. What a brilliant journal.

Here are two little tastes of why Pleiades is so important. First, the cover artist, Amy Casey. More of her work can be found at: http://www.amycaseypainting.com/


Swing. 2008
Snug Web. 2008
Tilt-a-whirl. 2008
Hunting. 2007
Web Saloon. 2008


These paintings capture a bounded safety/danger tone that just fits right in with how I see America. They are such gorgeous windows out of our place onto our place.

And then, this, from Mark Halliday, in his very detailed, closely observed, negative review of Joshua Clover’s The Totality for Kids:

* * *

“Will Clover or his admirers respond to my review? Probably not, though they blog constantly. Why should they respond? I’m on the other team (the lyrical and/or narrative mainstreamy team). We grant tenure to our players, they grant tenure to theirs; mostly we avoid shootouts. Ignoring is incredibly easy in our literary culture. Someone should write a big essay on literary ignoring. (But most readers wouldn’t pay attention to it!) We just ignore what irritates us, and everybody can keep on harvesting the fruits of polymorphous academia (while we all go on detesting Republicans and mega-corporations, of course); we don’t have to respond when baloney wins awards, because there are so many other awards—and what really matters? What matters, if the twenty-first century is bound for hell and we’re all lost in the supermarket?”

* * *

Seriously, that’s an interesting paragraph. Forget for a moment what you might think of Joshua Clover or Mark Halliday, and think about what art is supposed to do, and how, possibly, we’re called upon to care for it and about it. If art is a world, then we should care what happens to it and where it’s going. Then, perhaps, we should treat bad books like an oil spill. We should say this is a world, and we should tell the polluters what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Maybe they’ll stop?

That’s not a good analogy. There’s an objective fact of an oil spill, that we all can agree is a mess. Perhaps a better analogy would be one about public policy. I could say I don’t find Ted Kooser’s books to be good public policy, or something. But Kooser’s an easy target for me. As easy as, say Clover might be to Halliday. But then again, I do very little of any of this sort of thing, and when I do it’s someone like Kooser or Gioia or John Barr. I haven’t written a serious review in years, and this blog stays pretty positive . . . so perhaps I’m calling for others to do what I don’t have the courage or time to do.

Time? Well, for one, I wouldn’t want to write what usually happens when I come across a book that I highly disagree with: I read awhile, then I toss it in a pile. That makes for a very short review, and, I would say, an unfair one. If one is going to write a negative review, one should do it as Halliday has here. To roll up one’s sleeves, and plow in.

Courage? Well, it takes less courage for Mark Halliday to write a negative review than it does for John Gallaher to do so. Halliday has a team. I, on the other hand, don’t. Or at least, not one I know of. But even this falls back to an issue of time. While reading Jorie Graham’s new book, and being depressed by it, as I have her last few books, thinking of how important her work used to be to me (and how important those books remain to me), I just couldn’t bring myself to write much about it. It just depresses me. I don’t have to energy for it. It would be like talking about the Rolling Stones or something. They used to be so good. That would be a difficult review to write. It would take many pages. Would anyone want to read it? Poor little John Gallaher’s crisis over how much he used to admire Jorie Graham’s poetry, and now, well?

But, my own confessions aside, I think this paragraph from Halliday could be a very good place to re-start the conversation, the real conversation. The conversation we have with others in rooms, when no recordings are being made.

9 Comments:

At 7/13/2008 8:33 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

I too really like Pleiades, both the creative work they publish and how seriously they take criticism.

Some more discussion of this review over here:

http://pshares.blogspot.com/2008/07/this-time-with-real-feeling.html

 
At 7/13/2008 10:03 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Just for the sake of remembering what I say, I'm pasting here what I wrote on the pshares blog. FWIW.

---

Thank you, Elisa, for the head’s up on this conversation.

I’m much less interested in the accuracy or inaccuracy of Halliday’s critique, as I am his asides in this review. I agree with some of what he says about Clover, and disagree with other things he says. For the record, I studied under Halliday for a bit at Ohio University, mostly where we disagreed on most things. And also, he rather vocally dislikes my work, though I’ve found his responses of “huh?” to be helpful upon occasion, if mostly as something to fight against. Anyway, I’m not coming on here as an apologist for Mark Halliday. But I’m also not here to attack him. Well, maybe a little. But mildly.

I think that Mark Halliday, if he were to review a book by Mark Halliday, wouldn’t like it, and I’ve told him so. So there is a way that I distrust some of what he says he values in poetry. Actually, at one point, I wondered whether he really likes poetry at all. But he does, otherwise he wouldn’t spend so much of his time with it. I’ve seen him at readings, with the poets’ books in front of him, following along. He really is looking for something. Now, whether he really knows what he’s looking for, that’s a different question.

That said, no matter how he talks about Clover, he does one great service that a lot of other reviewers don’t, he quotes full poems. And, in so doing, allows one to agree or disagree with what he’s saying. For me, I agree with some of it (Clover is not at his best when he investigates dryly theoretical prose) and disagree with other parts (“No More Boffins,” for instance, comes across to me as a good poem, even for what Halliday says about it [I agree his misreading the ending, especially]. And I rather like brio, even if it’s at the service of brio—as brio for the service of brio is never solely at the service of brio).

The other value of this review, and of Halliday’s reviews in general, is characterized by the full paragraph that is quoted above:

“Will Clover or his admirers respond to my review? Probably not, though they blog constantly. Why should they respond? I’m on the other team (the lyrical and/or narrative mainstreamy team). We grant tenure to our players, they grant tenure to theirs; mostly we avoid shootouts. Ignoring is incredibly easy in our literary culture. Someone should write a big essay on literary ignoring. (But most readers wouldn’t pay attention to it!) We just ignore what irritates us, and everybody can keep on harvesting the fruits of polymorphous academia (while we all go on detesting Republicans and mega-corporations, of course); we don’t have to respond when baloney wins awards, because there are so many other awards—and what really matters? What matters, if the twenty-first century is bound for hell and we’re all lost in the supermarket?”

Seriously, that’s an interesting paragraph. Forget for a moment what you might think of Joshua Clover or Mark Halliday, and think about what art is supposed to do, and how, possibly, we’re called upon to care for it and about it. If art is a world, then we should care what happens to it and where it’s going.

Now I’m starting to quote what I wrote about it on my blog, so I’ll stop. But this is a good conversation starter.

 
At 7/13/2008 9:20 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for this. The art is wonderful, and I'm intrigued by what you say about the Halliday review, and the "teams" poets are perceived to be on. I am going to have to get a copy of Pleiades.

 
At 7/14/2008 10:34 AM, Anonymous Dick said...

The paintings are entirely wonderful. I shall link to Amy Casey's website from my blog. Thanks for this post.

 
At 7/14/2008 5:07 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I agree, the paintings are just wonderful. I really wish I had a lot of money right now.

 
At 7/20/2008 11:28 AM, Blogger Penultimatina said...

Hmmm...I'm thinking about a dust jacket.

 
At 7/20/2008 3:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Yeah, I hear you. Aren't they ABSOLUTELY beautiful? I made one my wallpaper.

 
At 7/20/2008 3:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

PS. I think she lives in Ohio.

Seems everything I like is always in Ohio. I wish I were in Ohio.

I bought a ticket to visit there in May, and the airline went out of business. Fates are conspiring, constantly.

 
At 7/21/2008 12:51 PM, Blogger Penultimatina said...

Yeah, she's in Cleveland!

PS--August 1st we get our new dept chair and will be getting all of your travel stuff in order. I will be in touch!

 

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