Thursday, March 03, 2011

The New Masculinist Lyric Part II

You know it's important when it gets its own coloring book.

When I read Vanessa Place’s bit about the “New Masculinist Lyric” on The Constant Critic a year or so ago, I thought it was going to be a one-off, a stab at getting some talk going. So I didn’t think much about it beyond a little head-scratching over sentences like this one:

“Like the new feminist lyric, the new masculinist lyric moves “away from an individual space towards a shared, connective space” (Spahr); the shared connective and collectives spaces manifest by these three poets smartly speak to the guyness of today, in bass and tenor voce.”

The guyness of today? That’s a perfectly fine thing to speak to. But I would think that all poets speak to their experience and mix of gender / race / sexual / political conditions. So what Place is looking for is where these poets under consideration are, I suppose hyper-male:

“[Douglas] Kearney is an action poet, not of the obvious variety (e.g., the vidpoem or perf), though there is that—his performance/reading of his work is so atheleticized that, like Christian Bök or a male walrus, he fairly scares off any other would-be dominant males–but in the occupation of the shared collective/subjective conscious space.”

OK. So that’s about as far as I got in reading the review-essay last year. I wasn’t much interested in that line of inquiry. But there is was a point to the investigation, a defining characteristic. The short essay ends, going back to two female touchstones that were brought up earlier:

“In her essay, Perloff came down in favor of the palimpsest as the lyric form of the then-moment; the “writing over” that doesn’t entirely efface what’s come before, but incorporates it as a way of going forward. Spahr found that poetic innovation in her collection of contemporary women’s poetry was a way for gender to re-inscribe the lyric; in hip-hop culture, biting both links and distinguishes one lyrical work from its predecessor. Kearney, Wagner and Zultanski’s poems are in part the voices of “men speaking to men,” but they are men who write over, with, and in, the speech of other men as they speak quite particularly in their own shared connectivity—one decidedly, and consciously, male.”

So it’s this “men speaking to men” thing that seems to be what binds NML poets together. Even then, though, it’s qualified by “these poems are in part the voices of ‘men speaking to men.’” So, even there a hedge.

The male talking to males (which reminds me of the recent conversation regarding Tony Hoagland’s idea of tribes and when and where poets write for specific ones) idea is not one that gets me very interested. I don’t have much to say back to it other than I don’t feel very convinced. Yes, Steven Zultanski wrote about all the things in his apartment that his dick could or could not lift. And yes, James Wagner does seem to mention males in his poems a lot. And Douglas Kearney does seem to be self-consciously, and aggressively “avoiding mastery.” All these things might be some version of male, as the writers are male, but they also seem to be poor examples of any way to talk about a movement. Of course, as people have always known, examples always seem to destroy perfectly interesting and fun theories. And then there’s the question of tone. I was under the impression that Masculinist is at least partly a goof? But a goof on what I keep forgetting. (I should keep up on these things.)

Gendered Language: It's a bit small, but you can still see it.

So there we are. But not quite. Vanessa Place has now, a year later, revisited the issue:

First off, it’s a PDF, and it needs to be, as it’s written over the top of Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” an essay (you can read it here , or, if you’re patient and clever with the cut and paste, you can strip it from underneath Place’s essay [which is in itself an interesting commentary]) that has something to say:

“Yes, guys like this pick on other men's books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.”

Before I continue, yes, it has been true to me experience that the kind of crazy Solnit is describing does seem to be gendered. But once one agrees with this there comes the next step that most people don’t’ want to take, the step of “OK, so what form of crazy might be specifically gendered female?”

So the fact that Place is writing over the top of this essay, silencing it (well not really, as it’s been around for some time now . . . and she’s less silencing it in her effacement, than she is bringing it back as a form of counter, or uncanny presence) with her own conversation about some male poets who “explain things” is intriguing. Is she going to posit these poets as the positive counter to the male on exhibit in Solnit’s essay? Is she arguing with Solnit? Will she argue with these male poets? Turns out, these aren’t overtly addressed, so whatever you come up with is going to be how you read the overlay. Context might not be everything, but it’s certainly a lot.

The books under consideration look interesting, and they leave Place “with the question how much do we want to explain things. For [ . . .] what we cast in language, of course, is never an object surrounded by the nothing it is thereby distinct from, but stuff carved from and forever inlaid with other stuff. What the poetry here shares is the quality of language animated by –and into—a body, though of course language itself is just so much black marble. De omnibus omnia sese: explanation as composition.”

The pdf can be found here:

I like a lot of her points, though I still don’t see what’s particularly male about what she’s finding.

Now get back to your pride, dude.


At 3/03/2011 9:00 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

They call it "mansplaining."

At 3/03/2011 9:01 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Oh, but I wish I'd've thought of that first.

At 3/10/2011 8:48 AM, Blogger Lemon Hound said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reading of this. I thought the overlay was in itself a conceptual intervention, a concrete enactment of the erasure so many women face regularly with this kind of explainist criticism not to mention the constant social management--which in effect this behaviour is.

There is, to my mind, a direct relation between this social behaviour and criticism, and the paucity of women in the more conservative, or mainstream literary publications...

Again, thanks for the post. And thanks for the word, Jordan.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home