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
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?
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:
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
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
And it was all that you’ve given to me
And it was all that you’ve given me
I’m so thankful that I’ve received
James Pate: January 29th, 2011 on 8:10 pm
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?
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
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.