Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Karla Kelsey on The New [Daily] Thing

This was the email Karla Kelsey sent from The Constant Critic a week or so ago, that I’ve just now found time to read:

“This week I essay into the poetry of the everyday, taking Brian Henry's Wings Without Birds along for the ride. I've come to think that the everyday has become the poetry realm du jour and that not all speakers have been equally invited to this party.”

I was immediately intrigued.

She starts off by contrasting Henry’s new book from his previous two.  She writes:

In contrast, the speaker of Wings Without Birds does not feel fictive in the least and readers will likely think themselves ridiculously indoctrinated into New Critical workshop etiquette if they call the entity voicing the poems “the speaker” rather than “the poet himself” speaking as the poet himself. The book, dedicated to Henry’s family, moodily circles around domesticity and domicile, directly addressing family members as in: “Daughter who tells me the hills are a moon” (“In the Neighborhood of Horses”). In these poems Henry names, by proper name, his wife “Tara, sleep-nursing” (“Wings Without Birds”) and dispenses with pretense, bringing to the surface the fact that the writer of these poems is writing poems. Henry directly addresses the reader at times, and also directly addresses other poets such as Tomaž Šalamun, a poet who Henry, Šalamun’s translator, obviously knows. We may, of course, remember that all written I’s are precisely that, written, and therefore naturally papery-versions of ourselves with all the fictive qualities this entails. But this book overtly challenges the eye-diverting decorum we develop when we talk “speaker” instead of “poet,” inviting us to read this poetry as work that puts the stuff of nonfiction at stake.


She then goes on to talk about his three books, which leads her to some larger observations of what she sees going on in contemporary American poetry.  She writes:

Our culture’s continued and ever-entrenched fascination with everyday life hardly asks for remark, for status updates and tweets create an everyday that constantly comments upon itself. As such, writing has become integral to the digestive practice of everyday life. As pre-factory farming cows once stood in their fields grazing on grass to digest, re-digest, and digest yet again only to shit out fertilizer for more grazing, more digesting, many of us suffer the everyday kindly only insofar as it provides fodder for texting, tweeting, facebooking. Which in turn informs our cooking, eating, walking, talking, reading writing (etcetera) habits, fingers twitching for keyboard and keys. Given this obsession with articulating the everyday, it is no surprise that the best-selling genre is non-fiction, and documentary modes of entertainment have superseded the overtly fictional.

As such, it should not be a surprise that much of what is attended to in contemporary poetry responds to this interest in the everyday. The everyday and its attendant mixture of detritus and significance hovers behind the following much-remarked upon modes of contemporary poetry. First, we have the following project-oriented manifestations:

•Conceptual Writing (from such forefathers as Duchamp and Warhol we arrive at, for example, Kenneth Goldsmith’s Weather, Fidget, Day, etc))

•Flarf (we would be hard pressed to find a source more daily than the internet)

•Documentary poetics (many of which push at our assumptions of whose everyday we intend when we employ the term: see projects such as C.D. Wright’s One Big Self and Mark Nowak’s Coal Mountain Elementary)

In addition, we find trends accentuating the everyday in a manner that corresponds more immediately to the lyric tradition such as:

•The poetry of motherhood (see the anthologies Not For Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing, edited by Catherine Wagner and Rebecca Wolff and The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood edited by Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman along with recent books by such writers as Rachel Zucker, Julie Carr, Eleni Sikelianos, and Laynie Browne.)

•Poetry written from the lineage of the Objectivists, of Williams and of Creeley, as opposed to the lineage of Stevens.

In recent essays published in the Boston Review Stephen Burt promotes both of these last two trends, employing in “Smothered to Smithereens” the work of Rachel Zucker to exemplify the poetry of motherhood. In “The New Thing” Burt promotes the work of contemporary writers such as Rae Armantrout, Graham Foust, Devin Johnston, and Jon Woodward to exemplify a trend in contemporary poetry that pursues compression, compact description, humility, restricted diction, and—despite their frequent skepticism—fidelity to a material and social world. They follow Williams’s “demand,” as the critic Douglas Mao put it, “both that poetry be faithful to the thing represented and that it be a thing in itself.” They are so bound up with ideas of durable thinghood that we can name the tendency simply by capitalizing: the New Thing.

Such writing attends to the things of the everyday, accentuating fidelity to the texture of life as it is lived, as opposed to the imagined life. The supreme importance of fidelity to life “actually” lived, rather than imagined, is exemplified by Armantrout’s statement that she uses material from her dreams, but would not feel comfortable making up dreams. As such, poets of the New Thing zero in on the landscape of contemporary objects as they are experienced, as opposed to the interior landscape of the self.

While the intensity of our fascination with everyday life feels particular to this contemporary moment, discourse on “everyday life” is itself nothing new. Everyday life studies blossomed in France during the 60s and 70s, Henri Lefebvre’s Critique de la vie quotidienne dates from 1947, and anthologists track predecessors back to surrealists (see Michael Sheringham’s Everyday Life) and to Freud (see Ben Highmore’s The Everyday Life Reader). And, although such study has deep roots, theorists are far from over such concerns. As Sheringham notes, “the period between 1960 and 1980 is a phase of active, if often invisible, invention and the period from 1980 to 2000 (and beyond) a phase of practice, variation, and dissemination” (14). I bring this point up because I think it provides intellectual context for contemporary poetry’s fascination with the everyday and deepens the stakes of its pursuit. At their best, writers pursuing everyday life have the ability to challenge the status quo and effect change. As such, it deeply matters whether or not, as a contemporary poet, you are invited to participate in the poetics of the everyday.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the everyday vis-à-vis contemporary poetry is the tension it brings to the surface surrounding the concept of subjectivity. Notice that there has been the most hype around poetry of the everyday that eschews lyric subjectivity: Conceptual Poetry, Flarf, and Documentary Poetry are built on a rejection of such sensibility. Furthermore, on the lyric end of the spectrum not just any kind of speaker is invited to talk about his or her subjective experience (by which I mean emotionally, physically and intellectually embodied) of the everyday. Poets writing from a still-marginal position (such as that of motherhood) can pull off speakers who engage in the everyday as needing, wanting, proclaiming subjectivities. We even like it when they tell us their secrets and get pissed off.

Not so the speaker who comes from the position of power we associate with non-mothering, straight, white, middle class culture which of course includes men but also women when they aren’t mothering, or when they aren’t featuring their mothering roles. If you read Burt’s essay on the “New Thing” you will notice that he is careful to note that poets of the “New Thing,” most of whom write from this position, are interested in objects in the world—not in the subject that apprehends them. One of the traits of New Thing poets is that subjective emotion is so submerged that Burt notes that readers will likely have to re-read such poetry to pick up their affect. For example, “We may have to reread to see, amid these scenes, the grief (for Woodward’s dead friend Patrick) that guides the whole book.” Indeed, the New Thing poets of the everyday are interested not in interiors but in what they can clearly see before them. Subjectivity, it seems, for these speakers, is off-limits.


So Kelsey raises some fascinating questions. Are we leaving a period where Stevens (through Ashbery, perhaps?) loomed large? And are we then entering a period where William Carols Williams (through whom? Perhaps Armantrout? Or perhaps in a different aesthetic, Kay Ryan?) will loom large?

Or (in a more controversial way of saying it [in some quarters, at least]) are we in a period where experimental writing is folding itself into the more daily aspects of what poets were largely attempting in the 1970s? (Which is: will it be shades of WCW [Spring & All] or shades of Robert Lowell [Life Studies]? In the way that Lowell also claimed William Carols Williams as a model of how to break free from New Formalism?)

Or, in another different way of saying it: If LANGUAGE poetry can be called a kind of formal writing, writing in forms [which I believe Ron Silliman does?] is conceptual writing or experimental writing or whatever you want to call it starting to move closer to the very sort of pseudo-biographical writing with which LANGUAGE writing was in direct opposition?

Now that would be funny, if we ended up there! (Even if we largely never left [but that's an ongoing argument].) (This has been the conversation of American Hybrid, right? To keep the distance of conceptual writing, but to add the nearness of daily life? Can subjectivity be far behind? Or was subjectivity well ahead? Should we blame DNA?)

Not that any of the books Kelsey talks about look anything at all like Lowell, by the way.  But what I'm thinking about is, in the strand of poetry Kelsey is reading, what will come next.  Is it on a trajectory?  And what might this trajectory be? Away from Ashbery, perhaps, and toward Schuyler?  But, as in any period in American poetry, many things are happening at the same time. And many things will continue to happen.


At 9/29/2010 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So is it a turn or a break? Is this a negation of the past 20 years of innovation or a development? Is it saying the last 20 years of Ashbery-influence were a dead end or is this a weaving in of a new / old strand?

At 9/29/2010 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not just a strand, but maybe a Mark Strand?


At 9/29/2010 7:17 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I don't know, really. But I don't think of it as a break, at least not a hard break . . . for it seems to me that the sensibility is still there. It's just a widening of the palette. Maybe?

For it to be a real break, there would need to be some sort of change in stance or, difficult as it may be to ascertain, of intention.

Changing Stevens for Williams as some Pole star wouldn't do it. Now if suddenly it was all Robert Penn Warren we were suddenly talking about as a model, or Edna St. Vincent Milay . . . then everything would be, well, different.

At 9/29/2010 7:33 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Stevens and Williams could be complementary influences, of course. And Marianne Moore could balance them both. Or we could move on beyond the modernists?

How many influences can a poet really have. How much land does a woman need.

Really it would be nice to get a sense that poets read beyond approved reading lists, but I hate to ask that much of poets.

At 9/29/2010 7:36 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Or Hughes, for example.

The whole there-can-be-only-one king of the cats mentality, that's true -- for civilians. Civilians can only know one living poet. It is the law.

But inside the trade? All owls understand each other.

At 9/29/2010 8:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Jordan,

I didn’t read the Kelsey that way, but point taken. And what you’re saying is also much of what Cole Swensen was saying in American Hybrid as well. So yeah, I agree.

I think we have moved past the modernists in everything but our talking about lineage. When looking at the poems of Henry or Armantrout or Ryan or whomever and then looking at the poems of WCW, there’s really very little that one can see as an A-Ha moment . . . but then again that’s also what happens with looking at them and most of the Objectivists. In the abstract, there’s a similarity, but when we move the actual (Is there a law against doing this? It seems there must be, as people so rarely do it.) poems next to each other many of these similarities blur out. Things get blended, yes, and there are many poets in each poet’s back story. And then there’s always the new historical context. And don’t forget McDonald’s. And then the further curiosity of the first contemporary American poem being Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”. The owls might know each other, but the owlets look across the yard saying “Who?”

At 9/29/2010 9:05 AM, Blogger knott said...

not surprising, really—

it's the poetic version of the Tea Party

At 9/29/2010 9:07 AM, Blogger knott said...

a return to traditty

At 9/29/2010 9:25 AM, Blogger knott said...

poetry doesn't occupy a vacuum, a separate realm apart from the society it subsists within...

if there's a swing toward the right (tea party etc) in the body politic,

there'll be a similar shift in the mind poetic . . .

At 9/29/2010 9:39 AM, Blogger knott said...

with Armantrout as its Sarah Palin

At 9/29/2010 9:45 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Oh, I still see Armantrout's poetry as pretty non-traditional. The fragments and gaps that association is left to fill are very different, I think, than the kind of "return" that someone like Kay Ryan might be said to be an example of. If even that.

Because poetry is so outside of the main cultural stream, I don't think those sorts of forces have much play, though.

At 9/29/2010 10:37 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Wonder if there's a connection between the statist mentality exhibited by Tea Partiers (among others)--the assumption that government should impose a moral agenda on us and interfere with our lives in other ways--and the assumption that the poet should do all the work by merely conveying information for the reader to passively absorb. Or a connection between "That government is best which governs least" and inviting the reader to fill gaps and fragments with his own associations. Having respect for, confidence in the reader.

Didn't Simic say somewhere that he has too much respect for the reader to sum everything up for him? But that people keep expecting poets to spell everything out?

At 9/29/2010 10:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


That shows the difficulty in trying to talk about aesthetic and political things together. There really was no unified politics in the poets of modernism (Stein / Pound / Cummings, for instance were really different from each other).

And, interestingly enough, Simic is now thought of, by Silliman at least, as one of the ones who is a conservative reactionary (in aesthetics) . . .

At 9/29/2010 12:38 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Hmm. Perhaps you're right. But might there be a connection between what Simic said about allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions and the following statements by Simic:

Only on the subject of the absolute scumminess of politicians do I feel completely confident...Our conservatives and liberals both dream of censorship. Their ideal, without them realizing it, is Mao's China. Only a few books in bookstores and libraries, and every one of them carrying a wholesome message...I liked the anarchy of the city...No model of ideal society since Plato has ever welcomed lyric poets, and for plenty of good reasons...To preserve the standpoint of the individual is the continuous struggle. The tribe is always trying to reform you, teach you some manners and a new vocabulary...It is impossible to imagine a Christian or a fascist theory of humor. Like poetry, humor is subversive...[Christianity,communism, and fascism are]enemies of the individual, forever peddling intolerance and conformity...Sal agreed with H.L. Mencken that you are as likely to find an honest politician as you are an honest burglar. Only the church, in his view, was worse: "The priests are all perverts," he confided to me, "and the pope is the biggest pervert of all." The military was no better. All the officers he had met were itching to commit mass murder. Even Ike had the mug of a killer. Only women were good...

Are the individualism and profound mistrust of authority here of a piece with respecting the reader, refusing to preach to the reader? With inviting the reader to fill in gaps--help create the meaning of the poem, like a Language poet?

I met Simic at a party once. I was in my early 20s and tipsy. (At parties I was too shy to talk to anyone without alcoholic fortification.) I'm afraid I was gauche. No doubt he was relieved when I finally left him alone.

At 9/29/2010 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, Silliman is the only fool who considers Simic a conservative reactionary--or do you feel that way? When you read Silliman's comments on Simic--he actually mocks his accent--it's clear that his problem is personal (like all Ronny's spats?),not poetic. If you think Simic is a conservative reactionary, John, say it, don't use Silliman as your foil. As for this whole conversation--typical--no actual, intelligent response to Henry's poems--just academic BS.

At 9/29/2010 2:51 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You really should stop sugar-coating what you say. No one believes you're really this nice.

As for Simic, no, I don't consider him an aesthetic reactionary. My point was about politics as an analogy for art.

My post wasn't about Henry's book, as I haven't read it yet. If you follow the link provided, you'll find that Kelsey talks about his book in detail. I post about poems with an example poem quite often. This time, though, I was specifically interested in the trend Kelsey sees.

At 9/29/2010 2:58 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi David,

I see how that could be an argument for the way Simic writes, or how he thinks about writing . . . but the problem is that it places people who write differently into the camp, I guess, of the fascists? Or maybe it does. Either way, I try to avoid such conversations.

There was a political unity to the first wave of language poets. Other than that, I'm often shocked by what some poets say about politics, thinking, from the poetry, that they'd be quite different.

At 9/29/2010 5:29 PM, Blogger Johannes said...

A few brief points:

1. I don't think "we" are going anywhere as a team. There's not a single American poetry.

2. Wasn't the stereotypical quietist/MFA poem exactly concerned with "the everyday" and its minutae.

3. What do you make of say Lyn Hejinian's "My Life"?


At 9/29/2010 6:49 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


My post was almost all a quote from Kelsey, and I realize now that I did a poor job of marking where it's Kelsey talking and where I'm commenting. But to address your questions:

1. I don't think Kelsey is thinking that there's this unitary thing moving from Stevens to WCW. I think (but I don't know) that she's talking just about a strand of poetry that WAS on the Stevens team and is maybe transferring to the WCW team. Or something like that.

2. I'd answer no to this question. The poem you're talking about, I think would be more concerned with the resonances of association between say one's mother going through the daily and then realizing her sacrifice for the family or some such.

3. I think this book is a great example of how the avant garde can use the daily. But it, by and large, doesn't read that way. I think Kelsey is talking about a more diretly identifyable daily.

I'm going to go back and be a little more clear where it's Kelsey and where it's me talking.

At 9/30/2010 2:14 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Isn't the next shift in poetic experience more likely to be from Hughes to Hayden, say, or from Stein to Moore, or God help us from Lanier to Lowell (James Russell, that is).

I'm tired of getting orders to serve in the last war. Hell, not even the last war -- five wars ago.

As has been pointed out here, we've gotten a good distance from Karla's piece.

At 9/30/2010 5:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It has been a wandering comment stream, hasn't it? I liked Kelsey’s piece. I like how she’s tracing this tendency. I’m not sure if it’s going to become a movement, and if so, if it’s going to displace other movements, but I’m interested in how it might be working and why.

It reminds me of reading Matthew Zapruder’s Come On All You Ghosts, the way he’s still doing what he’s done in his previous books, but how he’s also getting quite daily and personal. It’s something to keep in mind.

At 9/30/2010 5:44 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

It's good to keep an eye on what you keep in mind.

At 9/30/2010 6:38 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I'm a real nose to the grindstone, ear to the ground, eye on the road, hands on the wheel kind of guy. Yoga helps.

At 9/30/2010 7:27 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

I'm not convinced by your counter argument to my quietist-everyday point. I think this point actually might lead to a more interesting discussion of how american poetry works (or doesn't).

At 9/30/2010 7:33 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The EVERYDAY vs the BIG PICTURE (Historical? Mythic?)? Sure. Sounds good to me. But how I was reading your point made me think of the way the everyday / daily was handled by, say the Objectivists, vs how the post-confessional, domestic poets of the 70s / 80s handled it.

And then of course the absolute DAILY of collage and found poems, etc., which are absolutely local. They all seem so different than the way more sentimental aesthetics deal with personal experience. I was trying to keep that distinction in play.

At 9/30/2010 8:23 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

But I think it's interesting to look at their similarity, to account for that similarity. Afterall the quietists didn't think they were being "sentimental", did they? They thought they were being realistic, thought they were writing about the everyday, thought they were "resisting" capitalism and its kitsch, though they were rejecting the literariness of the new critics etc. They they were "real."


At 9/30/2010 8:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

For Lowell, I think it was a formal problem first. The Fugitives had him all in a formal haze and he was finding poets like WCW and The Beats having a better conversational voice, so he started revising his diction before readings, to make his poems more spoken. And then, I guess I agree with you, the second move from that was to make the subject of the poem less mythic or historical (Bye bye, Kavanaughs) and more, well, life studies. I guess you can't get more direct than that (in intention, at least).

A very similar thing happened with James Wright and Adrienne Rich . . .

I did a little experiment once where I took sentences from Silliman and Simic and placed them next to each other. On the sentence level, they're not looking very different. But after three or four sentences, things accrue very differently. Same with Hejinian's My Life. It is interesting, but I'm not sure what it ends up accounting for.

At 9/30/2010 8:57 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I haven't seen the essay, but I hear Keith Tuma has a vigorous broadside against this Hybrid poetics stuff coming out in the Chicago Review--about to appear, apparently. I'd wager he would see the New Thing-thing as sort of like foam on the long wave of professionalized du- jour hybridity. Or something like that.

It's not all just about "aesthetics," you know...

At 9/30/2010 9:01 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Keith Tuma has a vigorous broadside against this Hybrid poetics stuff coming out in the Chicago Review

Well, modify me timbers! I mean he has a vigorous broadside coming out in the Chicago Review against this Hybrid stuff! The CR isn't much for Hybrid stuff.

At 9/30/2010 9:02 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It depends on one’s definition of “it.” There’s the inevitable conversation about awards and money and such to be had, as well, but I try to avoid them until I can’t any longer. I sleep better that way.

There’s also a symposium taking several issues with the anthology itself, American Hybrid, with an afterword by Cole Swensen, coming out next spring in a book I’m co-editing with Mary Biddinger from U of Akron.

At 9/30/2010 9:06 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Chicago Review is a very good journal. But they needen't fear hybridity. Splicing is fun. It makes for cool new plants that can be very useful.

At 9/30/2010 9:11 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>It depends on one’s definition of “it.” There’s the inevitable conversation about awards and money and such to be had, as well, but I try to avoid them until I can’t any longer. I sleep better that way.

Of course. We ALL sleep better that way.

"It" is the lullaby.

At 9/30/2010 9:13 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>But they needen't fear hybridity. Splicing is fun. It makes for cool new plants that can be very useful.

Isn't that how wisteria got started?

At 9/30/2010 9:21 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

I posted something about Otto Rank, truth and reality but it didn't go through. Bother.

Just one last note to speak up on behalf of the dailiness in American poetry that derives as much from Guillaume Apollinaire as it does from William Carlos Williams. (This would be the post-O'Hara version, and I'm aware that not all its adherents understand that "I do this I do that" was more of an eternal wedding ceremony than a ticker list.)

At 9/30/2010 9:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Turns out there’s some controversy about Wisteria. From the WIkipedias:

There are two noted attributions for the name Wisteria. One, that the botanist Thomas Nuttall named the genus Wisteria in honour of Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761 - 1818) — some call it Wistaria but the misspelling is conserved under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. The other, that the genus was named after Charles Jones Wister, Sr., of Grumblethorpe, the grandson of merchant and wine importer John Wister. Daniel Wister, Charles's father, joined with Samuel Miles and Robert Morris to underwrite the voyage of the American commercial vessel Empress of China. On board the ship was the vine that would later bear the Wister name.

At 9/30/2010 9:30 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


"'I do this I do that' was more of an eternal wedding ceremony than a ticker list."

Nice. I would've said "grocery list" but yeah. Nice.

At 9/30/2010 9:30 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Funny, I just tried to post something from Abogado de la Corporacion's encyclopedic *Litigants of the Lyric: The History of Legal Threats in American Poetry," but it didn't go through either.

Prize to the first who can say: Where does the famous run-on "I do this I do that" come from? And at whose house was it written?

At 9/30/2010 9:34 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

There is something going on today with blogger. I just tried to post something from Sun Tzu on “How to Kiss and Make Up” but it didn’t go through. Turns out it was about applying make-up, so it really wouldn’t have been all that helpful anyway.

At 9/30/2010 9:47 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

As good a place as any to announce that *A Question Mark above the Sun: Documents on the Mystery Surrounding a Famous Poem "by" Frank O'Hara* is now on the press.

The first edition is sold out, but there will be a "trade" one soon following.

At 9/30/2010 10:02 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

It is a good place. John, thanks for holding out against the twilight of the comment fields. For however much longer you feel like it.

At 9/30/2010 10:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Above my desk here is a fun little broadside someone handed to me in Denver:

"We must defend the organism's right to propagate."

At 9/30/2010 10:12 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

That's an interesting aphorism. What do we have to defend the organism from? Besides buzzkills, I mean.

At 9/30/2010 10:31 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

"twilight of the comment fields"

O Languor!

All Jordan's phrase needs is some lounge-lizard music and lyrics.

At 9/30/2010 10:53 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Incidentally, I think I'd mentioned this new newsletter here some weeks back. The first issue is out. Going out to about 400 people currently. It's bi-monthly and FREE. All you have to do is write the editor to get on the mailing list:

>»SOUS LES PAVÉS« is a FREE bi-monthly newsletter of ideation and poetry distributed by mailing list only & funded by the generous donations of its readers.

To join the mailing list & to donate visit »SOUS LES PAVÉS« at
or write Micah Robbins | 3515
Fairview Ave. | Dallas, TX 75223 ~

Vol.1 No.1 includes work by The Rejection Group, Richard Owens, Edmond Caldwell, Linh Dinh, Lisa Burdige, David Hadbawnik, Micah Robbins, Gene Tanta, Brenda Iijima, and Brooks Johnson.

Please support this effort by donating & joining the growing list of
recipients . . .

At 9/30/2010 11:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It was on a translation manifesto. I forget who the barbarians are in that scenario. I fear perhaps I'm one.


I meant to sign up for that.

At 9/30/2010 3:15 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent posted this but for some reason Blogger deleted it, so I'm going to try in his place:

No deadline for signing up, John! Just write Micah Robbins and you'll get the newsletter for free, for as long as the project's in operation.

Next issue will include an interview with Ammiel Alcalay, on the CUNY Lost and Found Critical Documents project (forgotten or hard to find stuff related to the NAP generation), no question one of the exciting developments in poetry world of past year.

Here's Micah's Editor's statement from the first issue:

. . . is a bi-monthly newsletter of poetry, prose, ideas & opinions, reviews, photo documentaries, b/w artwork and letters of all kinds. It is conceived in the spirit & tradition of THE FLOATING BEAR, FUCK YOU, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, ROLLING STOCK, THE REALIST, THE DIGGER PAPERS, INTERNATIONALE SITUATIONNISTE, THE BLACK PANTHER INTERCOMMUNAL NEWS SERVICE, PROFANE EXISTENCE and any number of lo-fi no-frills PUNK ZINES & COMMUNITY PAPERS. At a time when much discourse circulates amid the instantaneous push-n-pull of the blogosphere – some of which is sharp, but much of which is soggy pulp – we seek to slow down, pause, and cultivate thoughtful responses to our collective troubles before delivering a polemical flux of ideation via the hands & feet of the world’s postal workers

… in perpetuity …

However, to do so, and do so with regularity, we need your financial support. If you receive this newsletter and understand its value, please consider donating some small funds to our effort. All moneys will be used to produce and ship the newsletter to what will no doubt prove to be a growing number of recipients. As things stand at the time of the first issue, our mailing list consists of approx. 300 people, all of who will receive this newsletter gratis.

At 10/01/2010 6:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The time George Quasha brought Simic by my little North Oakland cottage in the summer of 1970, Simic struck me as a man with an accent that would have been fabulous to process through the careful oral annotation that was at the heart of Charles Olson’s projective methodology. Could one actually capture that lilt in which English, French & Serbian all perceptibly cohabit each sentence & every phrase? I always thought that his impact on American letters would have been far greater & more lasting if he had. Instead, he has written in a way that seems calculated to efface any trace of the Other. A true neophobe, the last thing Simic wants to represent is the new – soft surrealism itself is about packaging such disquieting phenomena in ways that are always already understood. It is, in this sense, the antithesis not just of the original surrealist movement, but even of more recent surrealist practitioners, from Bly & Wright to Joseph Ceravolo or David Shapiro." --Silliman

Silliman, the original tea-bagger.

At 10/01/2010 7:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I would never phrase it this way myself, as I've found - especially in his early work - Simic to have some startling moments where the OTHER is brought in, but I find this a valid criticism. Simic would have had a bigger impact if he'd've continued to investigate the landscape of The World Doesn't End.

At 10/01/2010 9:33 AM, Blogger Johannes said...


You've totally misunderstood Ron's criticism. He's not talking about THe WOrld DOesn't End (I agree that that's really Simic's best book). He's dismissing any foreign influence in terms of style (ie Vasko Popa). Wishing that Simic's language would manifest itself as a foreignizing of the signifier instead of bringing in stylistic influences from other languages. Essentially what this criticism shows is that Ron wishes Simic's foreigness would have manifested itself as something closer to what we might (in short-hand) call "language poetry" rather than as Popa-influenced poetry (ie "soft surrealism" or "sissy surrealism" or eastern european surrealism); that is to say, that it would not be foreign at all but totally in line with his (very) American poetics! That's one way of dealing with foreigners!


At 10/01/2010 9:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Oh. I was taking this:

"Could one actually capture that lilt in which English, French & Serbian all perceptibly cohabit each sentence & every phrase? I always thought that his impact on American letters would have been far greater & more lasting if he had."

To mean that Silliman thought Simic wasn't being mixy-mix and foreign enough. But I've not followed the argument over the years (It goes way back, right?).

At 10/01/2010 10:19 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Apparently, the publication of *Days and Works of the feneon collective* is imminent, with introductory essay on its hidden (violent) history and participants, plus some 250 faits divers, most of which appeared on its widely viewed blog, which ran for exactly four months in late 2008/early 2009 and was then suddenly taken down. I had managed to copy everything there before it all disappeared. Not that I'm happy about it, since I get pilloried by them three different times. But apropos what Johannes says in comment above, here is one of the feneon collective's faits divers (RS actually and plainly said the below, I've been able to verify in his archives):

Finally! An explanation! On March
9, 2009, M. Silliman announced that he has never developed a taste for non-English poetry due to the unfortunate burden of his “working class” background.

At 10/01/2010 10:25 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Ew, just ew. He really said that? That's just, well, ew.

I mean, that's just terrible logic. It could be used to excuse many many things.

I hope he's come to change since then.

At 10/01/2010 10:28 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

Not sure how far back the argument goes but I remember reading this post and commenting on it back in the day. I think I wrote a post on my old blog, exoskeleton, if you're interested.

Yes, Kent, I thought the whole working class thing was ridiculous. Just ugh.


At 10/01/2010 10:34 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Yes. He went on at some length about it.

(and I'm not making this up: the word I have to type in for verification here is SASEUR. Not how you spell it, but close enough for irony!)

At 10/01/2010 1:38 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

John is quite right that Simic's most shocking images afford glimpses of the Other. Simic's I is an Other, like Spicer taking dictation from Martians or Yeats's wife automatically writing messages from spirits. Simic's surrealism serves a serious consciousness-expanding purpose; therefore, it shouldn't be branded "ornamental," which has connotations of frivolity. Not ornamental, hence not soft or sissified.

At 10/01/2010 4:57 PM, Blogger knott said...

Silliman's argument against the influence of "foreign" poets is the same as Philip Larkin's, and may have its merits, even if I can't see or agree with it—

almost all the poems I wrote in my lifetime were imitations of poets from other countries and other languages,
which given my track record probably supports Silliman's point, no doubt...

the shortlist for the upcoming Nobel has several poets like Transtromer and Ko Un, though of course USAPO Ashbery/Rich/Tate (make your own list) deserve to have gotten it long ago instead of all those unreadable novelists they keep giving it to!


At 10/01/2010 6:19 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Bill Knott said:

>Silliman's argument against the influence of "foreign" poets is the same as Philip Larkin's, and may have its merits, even if I can't see or agree with it—

No, I'm afraid this gets it wrong.

Ron Silliman doesn't have any real "arguments" against foreign poets or their "influence."

Fundamentally, he just doesn't *see* poetry from other languages.

Check out his blog since 2002, or whenever it is that it began. He's pretty much oblivious. In willful La-La-La or in sad "working class" ignorance. Neither affective state less poignant than the other.

In the "American" Tree, as if there were such a tree...

Or Hybrid.

At 10/01/2010 7:40 PM, Blogger knott said...

Silliman may not have an argument, but he does have a position
or a point of view, whatever you want to call it—

I disagree with him about the matter,

but his stance, his opinion is a majority one shared by more USAPO than oppose it,

which makes his credence (judgment, assumption, etc) stronger than mine—

At 10/03/2010 3:42 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Here's a superbly interesting post on Sous les Paves and issues of "print."


At 10/04/2010 10:00 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

Hi I wrote a post on that deals a bit with the everday discussion and also Swedish pop music from the 80s.



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