Monday, January 31, 2011

Photos of kittens? Sides of beef? Taconite? The Blue Ridge Parkway? 19th-century Moberly, Mo.?

As all versions of empty thinking model versions of practical thinking. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Can Happen in a Comment Stream - Or, How Kent Johnson Got Banned

I ended up following the comment stream on a recent post on the blog Montevidayo, when Kent Johnson started posting his comments from it on this blog’s post here:

So, when Kent Johnson got banned from that blog, I decided to go back and look closely at what it was that broke the camel’s back.

It reads as something of a classic blog meltdown.  Johannes posts a poem he loves (well, he never says he loves this poem, but he does say he loves Eshleman’s poetry).  Kent doesn’t like it and queries Johannes, asking Johannes to clarify something about it that will make him, Kent, read it better. 

(I’m taking things at face value here.)

Johannes seems to think Kent has ulterior motives, so he approaches Kent by querying his assumptions.  Kent responds by conceding some ground, but pressing the issue about the poem a bit harder. 

Then an anonymous person steps in and gets very personal about Kent and things go rapidly downhill.  It’s a fascinating moment, if a bit uncomfortable. 


Clayton Eshleman on Lara Glenum
by Johannes on Jan.25, 2011

By Clayton Eshleman

Lara Glenum is crawling toward a crocodile crawling toward her.
Osmotic exchange of DNA Dodgem.
Marvelous cross-fire as head-fire, as their Nubian centuries exchange photons.
Soon the Glenum head will penetrate the croc muzzle.
Now only her feet can be seen.
Is Glenum now more alive, more griffin than grail maid?
What is her everscape?
To be green and dentilated in tongue and casing,
to have her own serpentine “around the world” yoyo uroboros?
Maximum Gaga is the grave of the literal,
of the monotale, death of descriptive cheezyness,
for the mind is now in croc goddess crawl formation
beseeching mantle to be mortar, mother to become Merlin,
or maadvark or morguetrial.
The ancient dive gate is now aslit and porous to a fin-handed leech queen
percolating limestone with a serving of menstrual mud.
Inanna as a dragonfly emblazoned on the dial of the human:
to re-evolve its destiny as a squirrel-end,
to inhabit all its Darwin nesting dolls,
to hear metaphor as imaginal transfer to the crocodile angel
pustulating in “my cunt a violent surge-hammer
in the mouth of the Redeemer.”

21 comments for this entry:

Kent Johnson: January 25th, 2011 on 9:06 pm

I’m not quite sure how one is meant to take this poem. Is it in earnest? I hope not. I found it tremendously funny– certainly the funniest poem so far of the young 2011.
Where’s Old Crocodile Dundee when you need him? Pull Laura G. out by her feet, someone, please!

Johannes: January 25th, 2011 on 11:50 pm

Kent, I can’t believe what a traditionalist you are. Do poems have to telegraph if they are “earnest” or “funny”? I personally find that a lot of the poems I like seem all kinds of emotions (funny, scary etc). /Johannes

Kent Johnson: January 26th, 2011 on 5:02 pm

Johannes, that’s a fair response and a good one, in fact. A lot of the poems I like bear different qualities in tension, too (which sounds *doubly* traditionalist to say, of course).

I guess I get the sense this poem is working hard for that “scary” affect, a sort of Baby-Bataille-Eating-Artaud’s-Fecal-Filled-Innards feeling, or something like that, but the problem is that the scariness is overwhelmed by the utter hyperbole of the gothic-reptilian oozy-slimy “lower-body” imagery (trademark of CE, obviously–he’s a great editor and heroically committed translator, but not a first-tier poet), and it all ends up as a wild toothy croc cartoon of its intentions.

As I take them… But maybe you could prove me wrong.

Johannes: January 26th, 2011 on 6:09 pm

Of course it’s a “lower body” poem. I don’t think it’s supposed to be “scary”; that’s just a random feeling I threw in there.

Also, I don’t believe in “tiers” of poetry. I love Clayton’s poetry, but I don’t “tier” my poetry. Again this strikes me as a incredibly conservative way of reading.

Johannes: January 26th, 2011 on 6:10 pm

Another way of saying this is that I think tiers invoke the kind of “canons” Bakhtin talks about the quote I posted the other day. That’s just a totally uninteresting – and inherently formatlist – way of reading poetry.

Kent Johnson: January 26th, 2011 on 6:22 pm

I agree about the “tiers” thing. I could have expressed my estimation (though I’m hardly alone in my opinion, I know!) regarding his big overratedness in a better way.

I will repeat what I said, though, about his importance as an editor and translator. Sulfur was a magnificent project, a labor of love by CE and others that will surely be more widely recognized and honored. And CE’s tireless work as a translator, too, even if there is lots to argue with in his versions, as well (as there should be, always, in translation).

Johannes: January 26th, 2011 on 7:02 pm

I also disagree with invoking “overrattedness” and invoking others (“I’m hardly alone”) to back up your claim. I also think that translation should not be divorced from his work as author, or turned into something moral. I’ll explain later.

Kent Johnson: January 26th, 2011 on 7:29 pm

Good, Johannes, I look forward to your comments.

Just to say, in advance, that I actually agree that in some cases it becomes ultra-complicated to distinguish between a poet’s “own work” and her or his “translation,” especially in instances where the poet-translator sets out to blur the boundary. This is a kind of “poetry-translation” I’ve advocated, as I think you know.

But in the case of someone like Eshleman, the distinction could be defended, given that he himself marks it through the very practice of his translation– one that is somewhat militantly conservative and literal in approach, despite the decidedly non-conservative nature of the poets he translates.

On the nature of my candid “evaluations,” I might have some things to say on its relevance to Eshleman’s well-known attitudes and interventions in that regard, as well.

anyway… Thanks for the conversation. It would be great to have CE step in here for some exchange, too. Hope he will.

Anonymous - ugh, i am so sick of Kent Johnson, first-tier commenter: January 27th, 2011 on 2:24 pm

Kent Johnson on Clayton Eshleman: “A great editor and heroically committed translator, but not a first-tier poet.”

That’s rich, coming from someone whose greatest contribution to literature thus far is not his fraudulent poetry but his unending, inescapable comments on every lit blog in the sphere.

Kent, your like a VISA card: “Everywhere I want to be.” Any chance you can just fuck off and leave this blog? You poison every last one you visit, driving people away en masse. I like this one. Please don’t ruin it.

James Pate: January 27th, 2011 on 5:28 pm

Hi Kent,

Since I’ve written about Eshleman at Action, Yes and Exoskeleton, I just wanted to through in my two cents…First, I don’t think Eshleman is trying to be a “first-tier poet.” That sort of who-is-best, who-is-the-winner attitude is (thank God) very far away from his approach to writing.

Also, considering how little respect his work has in the academy at large, it would be hard to call him “overrated.”

As I wrote in the essay, I think Eshleman is purposely going against good taste. In fact, many of his poems are ugly. But personally I find such ugliness, such a disregard for the unspoken dictates of good Modernist taste, a relief.

Stephen: January 27th, 2011 on 6:18 pm

Glenum’s project (at least as I see it) _is_ the “utter hyperbole of the gothic,” so why should an homage, of sorts, be any different.

Kent Johnson: January 27th, 2011 on 7:42 pm

>ugh, i am so sick of Kent Johnson, first-tier commenter… Kent, your like a VISA card: “Everywhere I want to be.” Any chance you can just fuck off and leave this blog?<


But as I said, the "not a first-tier poet" formulation was far from the best way to put it. And I did make clear I honored Eshleman for his significant contributions as editor and translator.

What I meant, basically, is that I see his atavistic "informe" poetics (hero-poet as excremental machine) as by and large derivative, repetitive, and dead-ended. The obsessiveness with the underworld quest, though at times impressive in energies, presumes to assert an *essence*, and in the near-demonic drive for it, the reach and range of the work becomes narrowed, forced, calcified (in this regard, interesting irony, CE's poetics are quite opposite those of Vallejo). It's not coming out of the blue to say as much. Some of the Surrealists had the conversation with Artaud, if at somewhat different levels and angles, long ago (not that I'd fully side with the Bretonistas).

Now, I understand that suggesting things like the above could hardly be popular to those sternly dedicated to worship of a more or less narcissistic aesthetics of somatic debasement and psychic regression, or whatever Viennese doctors would call it. I mean, I can understand how the toddler violence of the response above would come spurting out. But what you really have to come to terms with, Montevidayoans, is that most of you here (among excepted is Dan Hoy, whose posts are fabulous) seem tightly bridled to thrice or four-times recycled Museum tack. I mean, really: Corporate-sought Arte Povera gave us nihilistic kitsch-redemption and a "rejoinder" to Adorno/Greenberg decades back, "kitsch" now so bandied about here as new theoretical trowel. And the regression-abjection fad was sucking hard on Bataille, ho hum, back in the 80s, early 90s, most of what's not at MoMA now super hot at Christie's. Among all kinds of other neo-a-g-cover-band crapola… As usual, and true to its moniker, "rebellious" post-avant poetry comes late to the institutional party, and reveling, to all appearances, in its belatedness. It's not a pretty picture. I'm saying that this blog, from what I can see, is for the most part inside that picture.

Sorry to be such a stick in the mud about it, but that's my view. And in context of that general frame, it's really quite thrilling to be called a "Visa Card," I must say, which I've never been called before. Always up for direct conversation, sans infantile whimpering, if anyone wants to have it!

Johannes: January 27th, 2011 on 10:31 pm


Why is it that whenever you encounter anybody critical of your views, you turn to name-calling? The fact that you’re name-calling us “un-new” proves to me that you really haven’t read these posts (as I always suspect); seeing as “anachronism” is one of the key topics around here…

And you’re attacks on “post-avant” is really tiresome and reductive. BTW I don’t see myself as “post” anything.

Kent Johnson: January 27th, 2011 on 11:01 pm

I don’t see where I’m calling anyone names? Someone called me a Visa Card and told me to “fuck off” (which admittedly I sort of enjoyed), but I haven’t engaged in any ad hominem remarks. I’m speaking with some directness above, but I’m focusing on work at issue.

As for “post-avant,” I know what you mean about that term. What’s a handier one? I’m all ears.

Johannes: January 27th, 2011 on 11:20 pm

“Neo-a-g cover band” etc etc etc. Give me a big break Kent. Was there any attempt in your post to start a discussion? You say all this stuff about nihilism etc: it’s not part of a discussion, it’s sweeping generalizations and insults. You’re approaching “us” from the point of someone who seeks to insult and attack, not someone who tries to have an exchange of ideas. And it’s said in such an insulting way that I frankly have no desire to respond to these “charges.” So is this discussing issues? Is this trying to have some kind of intellectual exchange? No, of course not, Kent. You’re not interested in that. There are issues in your comment that we could discuss, and i could certainly explain to you why I drag Greenberg up again, but it’s not framed in such a way that I really feel like it. You have your totally reductive framework that you repeat over and over, and through which you cast yourself hypocritically as some kind of heroic “maverick,” but nothing gets through. There can be no discussion with you. Really, what the hell is the point of any of this? Why do you keep coming back to this blog and begging for attention??

Nick Demske: January 29th, 2011 on 5:49 am

I had a vision of love
And it was all that you’ve given to me
I had a vision of love
And it was all that you’ve given me

I’ve realized a dream
And I visualized
The love that came to be
Feel so alive
I’m so thankful that I’ve received
The answer that heaven
Has sent down to me

James Pate: January 29th, 2011 on 8:10 pm

Hi Kent,
These are huge generalizations that have little to do with what most of us are discussing. In my posts, for example, I’ve been dealing with specific issues raised by an array of philosophers and artists–and unless you feel like serious thinkers like Critchley and Deleuze can simply be dismissed, then I’m not quite sure what your argument here is…

Plus, not all writers have to be interested in the same thing. Nor do they all have to agree with what constitutes the “true” nature of the current poetry/art scene. And if there are disagreements, I don’t see how blanket generalizations and insults help the matter…

Johannes: January 29th, 2011 on 9:53 pm

He doesn’t read the posts. He just really wants this cliche idea about the avant-garde to be true. When confronted with statements that contradict it, he freaks out and spews a bunch of stuff. So I’ve had it with him. He can go and freak out on some other blog.Now reason for us to waste our time trying to have a discussion with him.

Lucas: January 30th, 2011 on 4:40 am

Interestingly, Clayton Eshleman and Kent Johnson strike me as very similar figures in American poetry. The world and its past and politics and power relations are very much part of their poetry, their translations, and their investments into the larger literary community (communities that, for some reason, view each of them as always already at fault, forever unforgiven for some perceived sin from before, when they said the wrong thing and offended the wrong person somehow; I can’t think of two writers more likely to be as met with scornful distrust as these two). Of course, they are very different writers–Kent’s project is more sociological, I’d say, whereas Clayton’s is more psychological–which must account in some way for KJ’s dismissal of CE as a poet. But speaking as someone who does tier his poetry, I’d say they are both very valuable to me, both as poets and as people.

I can’t claim to understand Clayton’s “Hovering Lara Glenum,” above, but that’s probably because I’ve only read a very few LG pieces. I expect that Clayton is reinvoking imagery from her writing, in a way that might be related to what happens in translation. But whereas in translation we might not be able to access the poetry in question aside from the translation (I don’t read Spanish, so I can’t see what CE does with his Vallejo versions the way that KJ can), we can if we want to access poetry written in English, which means that we can see how LG and CE crawl towards each other, consume each other, reconfigure and reconstitute each other.

Also, I should say, the word “monotale” in this piece not only rhymes with the crocodile’s tail, and means the singular end-pointed story, but also seems to descend from monogatari, the Japanese word for, well, tale (cf. Genji no monogatari, “The Tale of Genji”).

But if CE’s poetry tries to dismantle or destabilize selfhood by reaching into its depths in search of an underlying emptiness, a lot of what KJ does dismantles selfhood in an opposite way, by looking at its surfaces and social constructedness, so that nothing can be said to be either “yours” or “mine” anymore but always just “ours.” So strange and ironic that both of them, whom I think of as dismantlers of the ego, are seen as so egocentric. Really, I don’t get it.

But if KJ’s ranking of CE seems unfair, so does in my mind the response, both defensive and offensive, to KJ in these comments. To say that Kent doesn’t read the posts, or to accuse him of name-calling, or that he freaks out and spews a bunch of stuff when all of his posts have offered contrition for an earlier overstep and ended with a question or appeal to move forward… well, I’ll just say it seems to be holding oneself to a much lower standard than what one holds others to. It also seems, Johannes, like you’re considering censoring Kent from Montevidayo’s comments forever. If so, do you really want to go down that road? Haven’t others tried it before? How did that work out for everyone?

So anyway. Clayton and Kent. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were both pseudonyms of Cid Corman, or some other ornery translator of European poetry who lived in Japan. Maybe Horrah Pornoff is the real Yasusada author?
irregular Lucas

Joe Bratcher: January 30th, 2011 on 5:31 am

Guess I got in on this a bit late, but I just want to thank CE for driving me back to re-read LG. Re-reading her after encountering her in CE’s reading and writing was the type of experience I long for in poetry. I’d much rather be (and much more often am) driven back to poetry I’ve read long ago by poems that I’ve just read as opposed to criticism.

Johannes: January 30th, 2011 on 3:04 pm

Irregular Lucas,
You make many good points in this post. And I’ve written on this very blog about Kent’s work in positive (if unorthox) ways.

About Kent, the short answer is: You haven’t seen the emails he’s sent me. They are very un-becoming, full of threats and insults and name-calling.

And these emails confirm what I already suspected: that he was never interested in having a discussion, he was interested in over and over again positing his hobby-horse theory of the institutionalization of the avant-garde, a theory which, as James points out, makes huge generalizations – about “the avant-garde,” about institutionalization, and this blog. This is in part what I mean by name-calling (though I also mean the more base kind): he’s not interested in having a discussion, he’s interested in throwing out this theory in a self-righteous way, never taking into account the particulars of our views. Apparently now he’s going to devote an issue of his journal to attack Montevidayo. Which is fine, but it does seem to back up my view.

Perhaps the best example I can think of is when he responded to my pretty damning critique of The American Hybrid by repeating his mantra about how we were the establishment and how it was typical that we liked the American Hybrid etc, obviously not having read a single word of the review, because to in order to consider my views on the anthology he’d have to alter his reductive idea about me.

I have more problems with him, but I’m really through dealing with him. It doesn’t matter how contritely he comes begging to be let back or how angrily he threatens me, or how much he goes on a rampage against us on the Internet: I just don’t feel like dealing with him. Too much drama. Of course he can always come up with a pseudonym and write comments (he’s good at coming up with names!). Mostly I just don’t feel like dealing with the drama. Right now I have to go take care of my kids, I jsut don’t have time for Kent Johnson.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

AWP 2011 Events

If you’re at AWP next week, here are a few things I’m looking forward to. (I haven't looked very closely at the schedule yet, so I'm sure there are many more things of interest. As I find out about them I'll post them here.)

Thursday 2/3

1:30-2:45 PM Executive Room / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R184. A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line. (Emily Rosko, Raza Ali Hasan, Evie Shockley, John Gallaher, Emmy Perez, Robyn Schiff) So much in poetry depends upon the line—one of the most contested and central topics in 20th century poetics. This panel extends the discussion of this poetic fixture into the 21st-century. The concept of the line so often emerges as a kind of poetic and critical blank check—an aesthetic, sociopolitical, and metaphysical variable. Embracing this variability, the panelists will discuss how the line remains a crucial and generative force in their poetic work and thought.

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m. Regency Ballroom / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R231. A Reading and Conversation with Rae Armantrout, Sponsored by Wesleyan University Press. (Rae Armantrout, Craig Morgan Teicher) Ron Silliman said, “trying to read a book by Rae Armantrout in a single sitting is like trying to drink a bowl of diamonds. What’s inside is all so shiny & clear & even tiny that it appears perfectly do-able. But the stones are so hard & their edges so chiseled that the instant you begin they’ll start to rip your insides apart.” Join us as Rae reads from Money Shot, her follow up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Versed, also recipient of the NBCC Award, followed by a conversation with poet and critic, Craig Teicher.

Saturday 2/5

1:30-2:45 Ambassador Ballroom / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

S182. New American Writing 40th-Anniversary Reading. (Maxine Chernoff, Bin Ramke, Gillian Conoley, Rusty Morrison, Paul Hoover, Julie Carr) The distinguished literary magazine New American Writing will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2011. Established in 1971 as a saddle-stitched quarterly called OINK!, it has become one of the premier literary periodicals of our time. Some of the magazine’s leading contributors will read from their work.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How Language Shapes Thought

In the new issue of Scientific American, cognitive psychologist Lera Boroditsky has an article titled “How Language Shapes Thought: The languages we speak affect our perceptions of the world.”

Here are the main points, in brief:

1. People communicate using a multitude of languages that vary considerably in the information they convey.

2. Scholars have long wondered whether different languages might impart different cognitive abilities.

3. In recent years empirical evidence for this causal relation has emerged, indicating that one’s mother tongue does indeed mold the way one thinks about many aspects of the world, including space and time.

4. The latest findings also hint that language is part and parcel of many more aspects of thought than scientists had previously realized.

This is the sort of thing that has long been a part of discussions and arguments in philosophy, art, and cultural studies, and is part of the narrative of A Clockwork Orange and 1984. Change the language and you change the people. Take away the words and the thoughts disappear.

Now, of course, Boroditsky isn’t going that far with the idea, but the few research examples she describes do have larger implications, even if more subtle than the famous dystopias above.

For me, this comes back to art, specifically, poetry. Surprise surprise. But here’s the dilemma: If the poet, say, feels that the role of the poet is to reveal something about reality in the “Thing Itself” fashion, the “direct treatment of the thing” fashion, then how is that to be done when the language that that poet is using is a partial creator of the reality that the poet is experiencing?

Bruce Andrews: There is no “direct treatment” of the thing possible, except of the “things” of language.

Well, it turns out that direct treatment of the things of language is, at least in part, a direct treatment of the things of reality anyway, so where are we again?

At the simple level of communication, we have this problem, too. What we think others are understanding in what we’re saying is highly speculative. We know all this, yes. But what does that do to “clarity” in poetry? What “clarity” in poetry deals with is the social sphere of a group sharing a common perception of reality. That common perception is languaged, and extends out past language itself into depictions that are visual and experiential. What we experience is what we’re conditioned to experience by the frame of reference we were brought to through language.

All is not hopeless, thankfully. This is a tendency problem, not an absolute problem. Some language groups think the future is in front of them and some think it’s behind them. Some have no words for numbers. Some have no words for right and left. The right and left example is especially interesting, here’s Boroditsky:

“I am standing next to a five-year old girl in pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York in northern Australia. When I ask her to point north, she points precisely and without hesitation. My compass says she is right. Later, back in a lecture hall at Stanford University, I make the same request of an audience of distinguished scholars—winners of science medals and genius prizes. Some of them have come to this very room to hear lectures for more than 40 years. I ask them to close their eyes (so they don’t cheat) and point north. Many refuse; they do not know the answer. Those who do point take a while to think about it and then aim in all possible directions. I have repeated this exercise at Harvard and Princeton and in Moscow, London and Beijing, always with the same results.

A five-year-old in one culture can do something with ease that eminent scientists in other cultures struggle with. This is a big difference in cognitive ability.”

Turns out that ability is that in her language one can only orient oneself in relation to North South East West. Relative spatial terms (right and left) don’t exist. So people in that group become exceptionally good at orienting themselves in space, even in unfamiliar spaces, in ways that cognitive scientists didn’t think humans could manage.

Boroditsky again:

“The past decade has seen a host of ingenious demonstrations establishing that language indeed plays a causal role in shaping cognition. Studies have shown that changing how people talk changes how they think. Teaching people new color words, for instance, changes their ability to discriminate colors. And teaching people a new way of talking about time gives them a new way of thinking about it.”

Extending that idea into the arts gives credence to the fight over reality that is common in aesthetic battles. How different ways of saying things are, literally, different ways of seeing. And there’s a politics at play in which way you choose to say things, not just in what you’re saying. We’ve said this sort of thing many times. The idea, as Boroditsky reminds us, goes back centuries. And we will continue to say such things. It’s just that now we’ve a little more empirical evidence to back us up.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Thoughts with "Mr. Trololo"

Monday Thought:

The avant garde has nothing on you. You could maybe walk to work behind Mr. Trololo.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Swedish Trios I Like (for the middle of winter)

Don’t let the Gallaher fool you, I’ve a Swedish bloodline (I was born Martin Enquist). So it’s good to reconnect with my people every now and then. The middle of winter seems an apt time. NPR reminded me today how much I like Esbjörn Svensson, and, well, the Junip was a late find last year (I got a copy in December), but I’ve liked José González’s other work, solo and with Zero 7 over the years. (Junip, by the way, is my favorite José González project. It would’ve made my top 10 for the year if I’d’ve veen aware of it in time.)

Here you go:

(Esbjörn Svensson Trio)
Yes, but is that Jake Adam York playing bass?

Rope & Summit

Friday, January 21, 2011


Everybody has one!

Anis Shivani has posted his reactionary advice to writers over at Huffington Post.

I don’t always disagree with Shivani. In fact, we have occasional cordial exchanges on facebook. And isn’t that an absolutely wonderful thing to say: “We have occasional cordial exchanges on facebook.”

Anyway, I think his advice is terrible here, mostly because he’s not followed it himself. If one is offering advice it shouldn’t be obviously hypocritical. It doesn’t take more than a 20 second google search to see how he’s violated numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. I’m not mentioning 3, 9, and 10 only because I don’t know him well enough to know.

1. Disobey the System.

2. Ignore Publicity.

3. Shun Crowds.

4. Seek Unemployment.

5. Converse Only with the Classics.

6. Refuse Recognition.

7. Don't Pursue a Niche.

8. Aim for Zero Audience.

9. Accept Failure.

10. Think Small.

First off, written out like this it’s pretty funny. A nice bit of satire. Until I realized he was serious. Or 99% serious, as he said when I wrote and asked him about it.

So far, his Manifesto of Obscurity has garnered him 250 or so comments. Enough said about the whole thing.

But why I’m writing about this is that it got me to thinking about the system of Advice to Writers that is everywhere around us. We love to ask and we love to answer. I’ve done a little of both myself, even as I really hate telling people what to do. Seriously, if you know me, you know I’m speaking about a core behavior of mine: I hate telling people what to do.

All that said, here is my stab at offering advice to writers:

1. Figure out what you want to do. Shivani’s advice is good advice to a certain type of writer. You can quickly deduce what type of writer by reading the comments to his post. There are many reasons why someone creates art, and since there are many reasons why someone creates art, there are many ways one should proceed. This is a two-fold bit of advice. What some people want to do is to publish a book. Some want to be thought of as a writer. Some want to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (and not posthumously). These different goals will entail different steps to accomplish. Any of these goals can be accomplished with or without taking classes (at a university, college, or city writing group), but taking classes does give you a group who are forced to talk with you about your writing.  That might be helpful, no matter what your goals are.  Even if your goal is to loathe writers and writing groups, it might be good to meet them. You might even find some kindred spirits with whom you can form an anti-group group.  Maybe on facebook. 

2. Do what you want to do. Why would you do anything else? Well, it all goes back to “what do you want to do”? If what you want is to write poems, say, then it’s pretty easy: write poems. If you want to publish those poems you have to send them out to places that publish poems. Then, of course, you have the difficulty of other people. Why should they want to publish your poems? Shivani takes something of the Bukowski approach: be a rather terrible person, then you will become something that makes people notice you. There are other ways, though. You could see how you want to write or how you’re writing, then find places that publish the sort of writing you do. Then you send your poems to them. Or, you can see the sort of writing people like in a certain venue (journal, press, city writing group) and try to write like that. Or, as a final option, you can find out who the people are who publish things (or are in charge of things in your city) and you can try to flatter them or befriend them, if you think that works. Some people swear that it does.


All you have to do is decide why you want to write, and what you want from writing; then actualize it (To use one of those marketing terms that I rather dislike.). As disturbing and creepy as that sounds, it doesn’t need to be. If what you want to do is make art, make art. After that, you have to decide what to do with it. But, seriously, you should always strive to be a good person. You have a better life that way. And your children will like you.

And dress appropriately for the weather.

Soundtrack: Iron & Wine / The Decemberists / PS. R.E.M.

Iron & Wine’s new album (that comes out next week) is streaming at Conan O’Brien’s website:

Iron & Wine are also giving away the strongest track, “Tree By the River” on their website:

In other brand new music news, The Decemberists performed their new album, The King Is Dead, in its entirety in Portland for NPR. Video and audio versions can be found here:

PS. I’ve heard four tracks now from the upcoming R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now. Of the four, I like three (“Oh My Heart,” “It Happened Today” and “Discoverer”) and fine one rather horrible (“Mine Smell Like Honey”). Just saying.

PPS. I almost forgot to mention two albums that I'm looking forward to that are coming out soon:

Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth

Destroyer - Kaputt (If you thought last year was 80s retro, well, think again.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What has happened to the avant-garde in our "suspended" culture?

Ashbery in 2010. I like this picture a lot.

What has happened to the avant-garde in our "suspended" culture of the [2000]'s is a psychological equivalent of what has happened to it sociologically. Sociologically, it has been institutionalized by the universities and the publishers, which by definition means that in its modern phase it has to come to an end. At the same time, it has been internalized, so to speak, in the flexibly dialectical mind of contemporary criticism. In this withdrawal from the field of action it finds a possibility of continued life. The resiliency of the best critical minds must be counted on the keep the avant-garde alive during periods which have no immediate task for its polemical mission.

Yet the task of the temperamental or born avant-garde critic is not limited to the polemical purpose of converting the philistines to art. [S]He is also perennially the disinterested student and historian of culture, looking into the past and the present for the radical and not merely the contingent and incidental facts. The past convinces him that discontinuity and contradiction have always been of the essence of American culture. The present convinces him that among critics only the most powerful and resilient of "suspended" minds are capable of keeping alive the avant-garde spirit, or any spirit, or of embodying cultural contradictions of any sort without collapsing under the great strain into a formless middle way of feeling and thought. Who can doubt that this formless middle way of feeling and thought, with its increasing moralism and conventionality, is hardening into the new "cake of custom?" As for the future, one can only believe that the end of the present interim period will be marked by a new resurgence from the uneasy subliminal depths of our culture, in the classic manner of avant-garde action - provided, that is, that [2011] marks the end of a phase of American culture as we have known it, and not the end of that culture itself.

*     *     *

OK. I didn’t write the above. In fact, it was written in the 1950s by Richard Chase. Don Share has some more of it posted on his blog:

What fascinates me is the obvious "ahem" quality of the piece. I couldn’t help changing the dates. It points well not just to the avant-garde, but also to the artistic situation: The “cultural contradictions” the avant-garde embodies, the “middle way” of the period style that surrounds it, the way an avant-garde becomes tomorrow’s dessert item, institutionalized by the universities and the publishers, and the every-present consideration of the future. So are the early 2000s a repeat of the midcentury 1900s? Fun question. 

And the Chase essay is made all the more ironic by the fact that it was published in 1957, one year after the publication of John Ashbery’s Some Trees, which was something of the start of what David Lehman has termed “The Last Avant Garde.” (Define “last” as you wish! It’s a term, and we know what happens to terms.) Will the circle be unbroken?

I’m positively giddy with it all this morning. And isn't that a wonderful picture of Ashbery?

Friday, January 14, 2011

A bit more from Lana Turner vol 3

It's as if I just woke up, trapped in a metaphor!

Cal Bedient writing on modern art:

There is, then, an equalizing power and effect in these modern styles, style being anyway “the quality common to two different objects.” I quote from Gilles Deleuze, who states in Proust & Signs: “style is essentially metaphor” and metaphor “is essentially metamorphosis and indicates how . . . two objects exchange their determinations . . . in a new medium that confers [a] common quality upon them.”

Vanessa Place:

An a-poetics rather insists that, to use another numerical referent, the trinity is the new binary, and there is no dialogue, no call and response because the poem is no longer treated as a text to be read, however many ways and loose, but is cut loose altogether. The poem is simply a site of potential engagement like other works of art are simply sites for potential engagement, and there may be no “reading” just as there may be no “writing,” but a tripartite encounter with a textual surface. An encounter effected by what I have called a “sobject,” an entity that is neither subject not object but anthropomorphic soup, spatio-temporally seasoned.

David Lau:

A quotation from Fredric Jameson’s recent book, Valences of the Dialectic, has been helpful for my thinking in this regard:

“Whatever still wishes to call itself art . . . must now appeal to a certain violence in reestablishing what must remain merely provisional or ephemeral frames: the mode of perception must also be historically altered, borrowing from that type of attention Benjamin discovered in our consumption of architectural space and which he called distraction . . . to fashion a new kind of attention which we may call directed distraction, and which is closest in spirit to Freud’s association of ideas—a most rigorous process indeed, in which the old self and the older habits of consciousness are to be held in check and systematically excluded.”

[ . . . . ]

It might be that some of Flarf makes the spotlighted and mediatized differences relate, renewing a demotic immediacy for experimental poetry. If many people today distract themselves online, the Flarf poets have been the collective Rodin of such action. In some Flarf (and now “post-Flarf”), there’s a glimpse of what’s beyond an overly self-conscious lyric . . .

It's OK. Go ahead. We all need a lens.  

Steve Willard:

What then of experimentalism’s most recent developments? Flarf’s ear most often selects by lyric rules, marking it as ironically Romantic, and conceptual poetry—in addition to being a pagebound, non-ephemeral version of conceptual art—has its semi-conscious reinscription of 18-century aesthetics to deal with. (Kant’s impurposivity is constantly being regurgitated, ad nauseum, by Kenneth Goldsmith and others, but without Cage’s comic twinkle.) Even Badiou, with his careful definitions, manages to wring old changes with his valorizations of surprise and new knowledge (respectively harking back to Baudelaire and Ion.) In light of which, the best question for contemporary poetry may be: “you are Romantic in what way, and is it good for you?”

Marjorie Perloff:

Quoting Merce Cunningham: “And when I happened to read that sentence of Albert Einstein’s, ‘There are no fixed points in space,’ I thought, indeed, if there are no fixed points then every point is equally interesting and equally changing.”

[ . . . ]

Given this situation, the viewer has to be unusually attentive, trying to take in as many “centers” as possible and perceiving their relational rhythm.

[ . . . ]

The more we probe such Cunningham-Cage concepts as “free form” or “anarchy,” the more apparent it becomes that theirs is an anarchy that is carefully simulated.

Keep watching this space. Who knows when or where the code will be undone next.

David Lau on Hugo Hopping:

There are still codes to undo, many ways left to change the existing order—this is a Hopping maxim.

Ian Hamilton Finlay:

 Realism is a style which purports to be, and is at first often taken to be, without camouflage.

Gopal Balakrishnan on Alain Badiou’s The Century:

History was never, then, the actual condition of the innovations associated with modernism and revolutionary politics, but merely the rhetoric of temporality deployed to protect a fragile, innovative present from a menacing past by enclosing it in an imaginary future.

Cole Swensen on Monica Youn:

Though the book’s overall pose is highly ironic . . . , the ultimate irony of the book is that these poems are ultimately not ironic at all, and so risk a sincerity that our time has very little time for.

Brian Kim Stefans on Catherine Wagner:

If there is a problem that the anthology American Hybrid made clear, it’s that the dark matter of much poetry is to be found in the competing rhetorical registers of a poem, rather than what used to be called “content”—in the lyrical sense, whatever it is that is gumming up the poet’s objectivity. But poets today are not writing from a position of inbuilt personal drama—at least not of the caliber of poets from Byron to Ginsberg—since these are far from revolutionary times, and many (certainly not all) poets are comfortable, insured teachers. Thus, poets often conjure these animating tensions out of the quandary immediately facing them—how to write itself. Catherine Wagner’s approach to this situation is manifold. As for the poet’s “heightened” sensibility (a big no no in the egalitarian ethos of the AWP community) Wagner counters with a profane vocabulary . . .

You watch me and I'll watch the road, thank you very much.

Samuel Amadon on Ben Lerner:

What Lerner describes here is genuine experiment. Structure is valued over content, so that reading delivers possibilities rather than a predetermined message. . . . Ironically, Lerner’s most conceptual work to date is also his most personal.

Andrea Quaid on Vanessa Place:

Conceptual poetry is critique, emphatically so, issuing forth by way of “allegorical” appropriation that challenges the author-composer and the reader-thinker into productively uncomfortable positions complicit with our violent culture system.

Notes on Conceptualisms states that “one does not need to ‘read’ the work as much as think about the idea of the work”

And is now perhaps the time for argument to assert itself, again, into poetry?

Stephanie Young:

. . . as Joshua Clover recently framed it during a meeting of the 95 Cent Skool, one of poetry’s current tasks lies in searching out modes of response to the dematerialization of labor in some places and attendant hyper-materialization in others . . .

And a lot of other things:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Monkey & The Wrench - Now Available

The Monkey & The Wrench: Essays Into Contemporary Poetics

Mary Biddinger and John Gallaher, Editors

Nick Sturm, Associate Editor


Robert Archambeau. The Discursive Situation of Poetry

“Statistics confirm what many have long suspected: poetry is being read by an ever-smaller slice of the American reading public. Poets and critics . . . have blamed many things, but for the most part they have blamed the rise of M.F.A. programs in creative writing. . . . [But] these trends are unlikely to be reversed by the intervention of a few poets, critics, and arts-administrators. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. . . . Let me explain.”

Elisa Gabbert. The Moves: Common Maneuvers in Contemporary Poetry

“If each of a poet’s poems were unlike the others in every way, there would be no reason to prefer some poets to others; one could only have favorite poems, not favorite poets.”

Michael Dumanis. An Aesthetics of Accumulation: On the Contemporary Litany

“The continuous, obsessive repetition of the word [...] functions as a kind of incantatory seduction spell, lulling (if successful) the unsuspecting reader into the poem’s clutches.”

Stephen Burt. Cornucopia, or, Contemporary American Rhyme

“Rhyme can still be made useful, made to mean—and if it always stands out, it can even carry certain meanings more easily: it represents imposed (rather than discovered) order, artificial or fragile order, and irregular, fragmentary, temporary order at that.”

Benjamin Paloff. I Am One of an Infinite Number of Monkeys Named Shakespeare, or: Why I Don’t Own this Language

“[A] really good poem keeps us coming back for more, not just for more of the same. Translation . . . extends that potential considerably, not only by furnishing us with additional context and content, but by reminding us that we should not be so confident in our readings, that our sacred truths are far from settled.”

Elizabeth Robinson. Persona and the Mystical Poem

“A transcendent mystical experience . . . is no longer available to the postmodern poet. Still, I have confidence in the great resourcefulness of poetry to find way: to query and then shape findings into a poetry that enters a terrain of experience that can’t be accounted for by conventional logic.”

David Kirby. A Wilderness of Monkeys

“Ambivalence always sounds like a bad thing when somebody’s nagging you to make up your mind. But what’s wrong with taking your time? What’s wrong with thinking a lot about a poem or a scene or a character? What’s wrong with thinking about it forever?”

Arielle Greenberg, Craig Santos Perez, Michael Theune, Megan Volpert, and Mark Wallace. Hybrid Aesthetics and its Discontents

“One basic fact that all the papers seem to agree upon is that there is no problem with hybridity per se (indeed many of the following papers champion hybridity), just with how it so far has been theorized and anthologized.”

Cole Swensen. Response to Hybrid Aesthetics and its Discontents

“None of the readers of any anthology are actually there for the process of its construction, which is a loss, though an inevitable one, as much of what an anthology might offer is most alive in the discussions, the decisions, the distinctions, and the evolving considerations that lead to what ends up being the tip of an iceberg—the final selections, ordering, and framing that become the anthology itself.”

Joy Katz. Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye: Notes on the Ends of Poems

“Finding the natural end of a poem is sometimes like snapping off an asparagus stem where it breaks naturally. Poems can strain toward repetition, shouting FIN, when a natural conclusion is elsewhere on the page.”

Saturday, January 08, 2011

What Is Clarity Anyway? (Anyway, Clarity Is What?)

Clarity as Detail 

Six Types of Clarity?

If any single word could be called THE hot-button, marching orders word of our period, it would have to be “clarity.”  It’s placed on the backs of books as shorthand for “The poetry in this volume is safe, and NOT elliptical, skittery, post-avant, Language writing, Flarf, Conceptual, and/or etcetera.”  So it is with a great deal of wariness that I approached D.H. Tracy's essay, “Six Types of Clarity: Looking beyond New Criticism’s ambiguities,” in the most recent issue of Poetry Magazine:

What I found, in a way, might be the sort of response to, or aesthetic, historical grounding for, that Ron Silliman has long called for in what he terms the School of Quietude.  And Tracy starts out with a nod to the fact that clarity is going to be difficult (I would say impossible) to pin down:

“. . . clarity seems doomed to be a comparatively wishy-washy concept.  Literature has played a trick on us: clarity is murky, and ambiguity is clear.  But clarity’s virtues are so taken for granted that the question of how those virtues might be demonstrable seems like it ought to be within reach.  Writing regularly earns praise for admitting relatively little latitude of response—though, in poetry’s case, normally not for that quality alone, which a technical service manual could possess.  Writing regularly earns praise for ‘getting out of the way’ and affording a relatively unmediated view of its subject. Considerations of clarity tend to use freighted but inbred sets of words, like ‘rightness,’ ‘inevitability,’ and ‘aptness.’  And accounts of experiencing clarity often have a quasi-mystical turn, describing a sense of simultaneous discernment and ease, an unstrained awareness that, though expanded, does not leave behind the facts of the case.”

One can quickly see the difficulties of the project.  It’s going to be pretty close to impossible, after everything we know about the tenuousness of all language to maintain anything approaching a singular meaning in the face of, at the very least, the difficulty of readers.  Connotation?  Denotation?  Difference(s)? 

Clarity as the Ambiguous Stacking of Pebbles 

So here are the six, in Tracy’s words [I’ve deleted his examples, follow the above link to read the essay in its entirety]:

1. [T]he clarity of inflected metaphor, or metaphor that provides a directive on its own interpretation. Taken one step further than strictly necessary, such a figure includes not just a tenor and a vehicle, but a suggested manner of comparing the two. This manner-of-comparing (or directive, or inflection) tends to restrict the play, in all senses, of metaphor, and so acts to narrow the range of possible interpretations.

2. The second type of clarity follows from the poet’s self-consciousness, as it appears in expressions of frustration with the poem’s procedure or form. Self-consciousness reduces interpretive latitude in the sense of diverting the reader from the performative, rhetorical aspect of the poem to a simplifying awareness of voice, a voice often found to be struggling with confusion or irritated at a convention it cannot freshen by force of ingenuity. Self-consciousness, as a gesture, has a way of shaking the poem out of a rut, and enlisting the reader against the worst instincts of the writer. Tony Hoagland in an essay remarks on self-consciousness in this regard; one of his examples:

                                                     the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
           —From “Burnt Norton,” by T.S. Eliot

We are simultaneously delivered, in this case, from cliche and the strain of avoiding it.

3. The third type, emergent clarity, also depends on a simplifying awareness of voice. It occurs when a poem gradually works its way up to an intimacy that recasts the foregoing as a plausible act of communication or address, as opposed to an abstract act of literature.

4. The fourth type is the clarity of indigenous conceit. By “indigenous” here I mean plausibly native to the writer’s experience, and not fashioned out of an imaginative recombination of literature or pickings from various bodies of knowledge. …

5. The fifth type is a sort of generalized onomatopoeia, in which punctuation, sound, and syntax mime some action over time. The action may be stated or implied, but is in either case transparent. This type has ancestry in children’s literature and nonsense. Here is Beatrix Potter, describing the action of a rolling pin on a kitten pudding:

roly-poly, roly; roly, poly, roly

This is hardly language at all, and perhaps for that reason there is no latitude in its interpretation.

6. The last type of clarity arises when one of the poem’s formal devices, commonly meter, synchronizes with a naturally occurring feature of the language, potentially something as simple as a conversational inflection, an interjection, or a naturalistic trope like anacoluthon (“Maybe I should—I don’t know what to do”). If you accept the analogy of language to landscape and form to architecture, this type of clarity is a felicitous harmony between a feature of the topography and a feature of the design. Alternatively, if form is an abstract imposition on a pile of language, then this type occurs when the language seems to have fulfilled its formal requirements before the pattern arrives.

Clarity as Being Really Close to Your Left Eye

Tracy has, at least for me, made the idea of clarity fairly ambiguous by the end.  It’s the inverse of what he reported about Empson’s essay on ambiguity back there in the cobwebs.  From this all rises the one major idea of clarity: that it reduces ambiguity.  In the clearest text, the clearest poem then, the level of ambiguity would be as near zero as possible.  But how possible is the near zero?  In the near zero economy, interpretation would be over fairly quickly, I would imagine.  Readings would be agreed upon.  that they are not, even in (especially in, even) poetry that is often cited as clear.  Yes, but clear in what way?  That is, indeed, the rub. 

Even with that huge boulder of salt, I’m glad that this essay is out there.  Now we need the follow-up essay, the one that talks about clarity in the way that it’s meant in contemporary poetry: The sentences will be grammatically correct, and that, more importantly, they will proceed as logically and experientially contingent, on a topic that is enacted in a pseudo-autobiographical manner where the speaker is at the center of the poem, unifying its parts in a socially acceptable situation (usually domestic) leading to a light epiphany.  (And clarity, of course, is a separate concept from meaningfulness, as there’s no necessary connection between the two.)  Or something like that. 

Here’s a good example of contemporary clarity, where there’s the surface appearance of clarity (father / stranger / war / childhood terror / innocence vs experience / mortality / epiphany) leading to an elided, but still present, ambiguity (as opposed to poetry that embraces its movements around ambiguity, which, though, in the end both stances contain ambiguity & clarity, the overt contract with the reader is different [Ashbery, of course, is my go-to example for this other stance toward clarity]):

Billy Collins
My First Memory

is the enormous face of a man peering
down into my carriage,
a fedora tilted back on his head,
and smoke billowing from a cigar in his mouth. 

It was on the sidewalk
in front of our apartment building,
probably on a weekend
because my father was the one pushing the carriage. 

I don’t recall the season. 
It might have been spring,
but I was bundled up
the way babies were in a hand-knitted cap and sweater. 

For all I know,
I could be mixing this up with a photograph
of my father standing by my carriage
in a topcoat, one hand resting on the bar,

but the memory is the same—
I was on my back as usual,
the man’s large head
was obscuring my customary view of clouds and sky,

and my father was nowhere in sight. 
A war was raging in Europe and on the seas,
but all I knew was
the looming, smoking face of the man who was making me cry. 

That was long ago, of course,
and now there is no longer anything to fear.
The man with the cigar must be long dead
and so is my father, and my mother as well,

and today I have time to lie
on my back on the autumn grass,
nothing below me but the spinning earth,
nothing between me and the open dome of sky. 

Friday, January 07, 2011

Your Utopia Is Doing Well, Thanks!

Nomen Est Omen, part infinity plus or minus

Poetry, like philosophy, is better at messing with, complicating, what we thought we knew, than it is teaching us something. I have to repeat that to myself often, especially when coming across manifestos. I love manifestos. We all do, with the level of fascination usually reserved for traffic accidents.

There’s a red tinge to the act of the manifesto, as Joyelle McSweeney notes over at “First, it wants to say something. Then, it wants to declare that statement already obsolete.” Which is something of the same idea behind, first, living well: “Good manners make good neighbors.” And then doing things: “How many heads can fit on one statue?” Manifestos are full of such moments.

McSweeney is responding to Robert Archambeau’s post

on this video:

Charles Bernstein reads Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto!

It’s a fun moment. Who wouldn’t want to stand in a museum swinging a hammer? And it’s also fun to be able to read the phrase “arrière-gardisme.” To play with it a bit. Archambeau does a nice job, and then McSweeney does a nice job. It’s important that some artists are continually tired of something long before most others have heard of it, so, therefore, whatever the Post-Avant was is long gone. So long gone in fact, that some are now talking about the Post-Conceptual, be it prefix or prix fixe.

Lana Turner as Our Dear Revolutionary Sweetheart 

It’s in this frame of mind that I encountered the newest volume (Vol 3) of Lana Turner (edited by Calvin Bedient and David Lau). I’ve decided that it’s the most fascinating single issue of a literary journal I’ve ever read. It fully embodies its position both as critical argument for where we are (or must be or just were) and as artistic enactment of what we’re up to (or were / or are up against, etc.) as attempts to move into the new (partially in the form of new translations of Aimé Césaire, among various references to Marcel Duchamp, etc). Arrière-gardisme co-exists with a more aggressive avant-gardism. I say this without fear of hyperbole. This volume is what we’ve come to, and should be required reading by everyone interested in contemporary poetry. Even so, as I started off this post thinking about how poetry, like philosophy, is better at complicating what we thought we knew, than it is teaching us something, so too, Lana Turner is finding itself in something of the Emerson moment in “The Poet,” where, as Diane Ward has it: “The message I’m dying to read has yet to come” and/or “Now let’s become something else.”

Here’s a bit from David Lau’s “Firing Behind Song: Poetry as Critique” where he has at the way things are (with a tint of Marxist undertone):

*   *   *

Here’s my injunction to the present: poetize the word dialectically in terms not merely of what is, but in terms of what this world’s becoming. (This is the changing same of “the new thing.”) Gopal Balakrishnan: “We have yet to figure out what an historical narrative would look like without the forward march of capital.” If the defeat of the left (or the end of the 60s) organized the horizon of possibility for a post-avant aesthetic these past several decades, it was a knowing smile (or grimace) that prescribed over the disjunctive practices, resigned to exilic wanderings in the word, with an occasional glance at the robots and glitter of the whole big bad economy thing. Now given this emerging condition of post- or declining global capitalism, how does poetry respond? Anticapitalism hasn’t returned in a mass way so that one could commit poetry to it. But many possible oppositional poetics are emerging (some candidates: an insurgent anticapitalist poetry à la the 95 Cent Skool; Conceptual Writing; Gurlesque; a multicultural and urban poetry ramifying now alongside the heroic African-American poetry; and several individual styles among the young as well, including Cathy Park Hong’s slangy near-futurism, Shane Book’s Flagelliforms, Ben Lerner’s gauchiste-Stevensian quality, Sandra Simonds’ imaginative overdrive, etc.), and I want to ask, like Raymond Williams, which of these poetics are “alternative” or genuinely oppositional. Do these poets find a different way to write and live and wish to be left alone with it; or do they find a different way to live and write and wish “to change society in accordance with the discovery” (Williams). The latter point may vaguely specify impossibility or utopia. So be it. (Check Joshua Clover’s “The Gilded Age” in this issue, its “passion for the real”: “There are not two kinds of poetry there is only one: Jacobin and unyielding.”)
*   *   *

There are several things in the above I would want to talk about, especially the elevating of “capital” as a yardstick for futurity, and the whole “oppositional” aspect and constant war and battle imagery when talking about art. Perhaps both are necessary and true, but I’d still want to position the idea of, instead of ideas that lead to “anti-capital” or “redistribution of power” to a version of “gift economy” perhaps, or simply “other.” As long as we’re going to let ourselves be utopian, I say go all the way and begin to think of art not as participating in social movements, but instead participating in plate tectonics. But this is part of the value of a journal such as this. Lana Turner is aggressive, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Let's take the 1950s cure . . . Utopia's just around the corner from you!

There are many other things to note here, and I plan on doing so (Marjorie Perloff on Merce Cunningham [and John Cage], for starters) when I get some time. Time. If there were only time.

I’ll leave you with this bit from Vanessa Place’s “A Poetics of Radical Evil”:

*   *   *

For some time now the poetical-critical landscape features, and appears to favor, the discursive/generative reading, via (1) stylistics (such as in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) and post-structuralism (such as with the one-two of Derrida/Cixous), and (2) left-liberal-leaning collaboration (such as in the works of so very many experimental duos). If we fashion a critical poetics out of these approaches, we have, on the surface, a three-chambered ecumenics of: (1a) impotency, by way of penned constellate meaning; (1b) elision, by way of the metaphoric slide, glide, and aside, and (2) reform, by way of errant liberal recombinancy. I would like to be stupidly reductive here, in part because these positions have already been dilated upon in many other for a, but more because such reductivity may telescope the problem of the law lying within, and indicate, or indict, a radically stupid response. In other words, a response of willed evil.

[. . .]

There is no art without theory, no theory without art, there is the art of theory, and it is just as impure as any theory of art. It is time to rescind all licenses and make things truly free. Which, though it sounds like a sweet liberatory call, something that ought to be issued by one with some modicum of utopianism, or at least the itch for something better than this, is more a statement of fact, designed to prod us along into the future anterior, that conditional to-be. In other words, a violent and manacled responsibility, even duty. To what? To insist that poetry is what poetry isn’t.

*   *   *

Utopia? Duty?

Yikes, even. Go get a copy. We'll talk.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Albums on the Horizon in Early 2011

2011 is going to bring new albums from Radiohead, The Decemberists, R.E.M., The Low Anthem, East River Pipe, and many more.

First up is The Decemberists. Their new album, a much more rootsy affair than The Hazards of Love, is titled The King Is Dead, and it’s steaming on NPR until it comes out in another couple weeks. To me it sounds good, but not essential. But still, good is good, you know? “And when we die we will die with our arms unbound…”

Here are a couple YouTube videos from the R.E.M. album, Collapse into Now, which we will have to wait awhile longer for (it will be out in March).

It Happened Today

And here’s a promo trailer for the album:

And finally, a video from The Low Anthem’s upcoming (February) Smart Flesh:

The Low Anthem
Ghost Woman Blues

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Evening Will Come

C.D. Wright has the first essay up on the brand new Evening Will Come, an online, monthly journal of poetics founded in November 2010 by Joshua Marie Wilkinson. 

*      *

I know the adjective can be a nuisance, and the adverb clumsy. I’m a touch sick of the poetic inflation around prepositions. I would prefer that conjunctions were less visibly functional. Articles can clutter. The verb works the hardest. It should be the best paid. And I know the fifteenth letter O is the best word of all: O my black frying pan. O my fallen arches. O my degenerating fibroids. O what’s the point. O little man at the foot of my bed, please don’t steal my pillow.

*      *

Poets are attending to the future.

There, they will build something for the past, receding indefinitely, for you.