Matthew Collings Is Fascinating
Matthew Collings is fascinating. What I admire about him isn’t just his honesty, but the fact that it’s not self-aggrandizing in his presentation. What I mean is, take William Logan, for instance. William Logan isn’t afraid of being negative (hardly!). It’s not about negativity. The problem with William Logan is that he tries so hard to be clever with what he’s saying, that he writes over what he’s talking about. It makes his criticism unhelpful, beyond the “he said what!” level.
Matthew Collings seems to me to have his heart in the right place. He’s not a jerk. He’s just ready to say what he sees. It makes his art criticism actually useful, something I wasn’t sure was possible. It would do us all well if the poetry world could have someone like him writing.
Anyway, his columns are linked off the wonderful Shark Forum:
To read his posts go here.
Here’s a sample:
Imagine someone writing about poetry who would be able to say, about a poem, "This one as usual didn't mean anything it was doing."
It makes me all quivery.
Addendum (added on Monday, taken from my comment in the comments section in response to vazambam):
To be more specific, Collings’s above critique is to me the most important, valuable critique—and the most difficult one to make and to back up—in art (and in the rest of the arts):
“This one as usual didn’t mean anything it was doing.”
Think of how many times you’ve read a poem and thought that. It’s the foundation of Collings’s criticism. And it’s different than the usual one we hear about poetry, that “something is at stake.” I contend that something is always at stake in a work of art that is available for purchase. But, this idea of “meaning what it is doing” is universal. It’s why Collings has such a textured response to Jeff Koons, who I believe Collings would say, means what he’s doing, but what he’s doing doesn’t mean past a sort of gesture toward the quaintness of meaning. Or something like that.
Such a stance as Collings has, allows him to have a rather open—and at the same time skeptical—response to any art.
It's also the critique that I believe Michael Schiavo was finally making against Matthew Dickman, famously, a few months back. His critique felt persuasive to me, and now that I’ve read the book, I agree with much of it.
This is also Tony Hoagland’s critique of those poets he’s (I think absurdly) gesturing to as the Cult of Dean Young . . .
And, likewise, Collings’s trip to the art gathering (the above link will take you directly there, but here it is again: http://preview.tinyurl.com/nl96xz), by and large, seems to me a valuable critique (though I think some of his targets seem a little sketched in—the gallery directors, for instance), unlike the facile and unhelpful critique Kay Ryan made of AWP a few years ago. I’ve been meaning to write on Kay Ryan. Perhaps I will later in the week. I’m sure it will get a lot of negative response, however, so I’m hesitating. There just seems this general “leave her alone” vibe out there that I think is unfair, as she’s now a very public figure and the things she says about poetry (and her own poetry) seem so facile as to be really damaging to the art.
The art world, because there's so much money involved, has a level of interest and scrutiny (and hyperbole and myth) that poetry is exempt from (exempt isn’t quite the right word, but maybe you know what I mean?). Too bad. To have someone like Matthew Collings talking about poetry would do much to raise the level of conversation.