Thursday, June 23, 2011

...the unexamined prejudices that undergird our expectations of art and literature...

I’m always intrigued by the unexamined prejudices that undergird our expectations of art and literature: deep down, what we want is poems that do X, paintings that do Y—but we won’t say so, in public or even in private; we don’t want to view our aesthetics as intentionally reductive. This is part of what contributes to the problem of a magazine like The New Yorker (etc.) claiming it speaks for Poetry, or for The Best Poetry—it’s not, I think, so much a conscious matter of considering and dismissing more innovative poetry; it’s not wanting to even think about more innovative poetry—not wanting to even imagine it exists—because if we allowed that, then we might have to think a little more about how and why we’re making choices (in this case, about what other people should read). The veneer of authority or universality makes up for having to pay attention, to read or think.
. . .

The above is part of an email I received today. Responses?

48 Comments:

At 6/24/2011 7:38 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

It sounds like Ron. Or someone like Jordan adapting his "unmarked case" notion...

I don't really disagree with it, though it seems to me there are more interesting and important issues in poetry today than worrying about The New Yorker.

 
At 6/24/2011 7:47 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Actually, what if you took the comment from John's interlocutor and substituted Jacket2 for the New Yorker? Granted, you'd have to fiddle a bit with the stuff on "innovative poetry" in the second part, but the comment becomes more interesting and relevant if applied to a venue like Jacket2, where the institutional and ideological stuff is still a bit more shimmering, as it were, less immediately apparent, because fresher-- because the "new" materials sheathe the old inner structure: more of an "unmarked case," still.

 
At 6/24/2011 7:49 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>because the "new" materials sheathe the old inner structure

and by "old inner structure" I don't mean the original Jacket!

 
At 6/24/2011 7:52 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I would say it's as much about Journal X, Anthology X, or you or me, as it is about The New Yorker.

It's the "we want is poems that do X, paintings that do Y—but we won’t say so, in public or even in private; we don’t want to view our aesthetics as intentionally reductive..."

I think it's a good post-it note to keep close. I've seen people contort themselves all over the room trying to somehow not end up saying this.

True, it's more a thing going on with mainstream publications like The New Yorker . . . but I've seen versions of it along the fringes as well, where things often don't smell "experimental" enough, or, conversely, things get a pass . . .

There's not really a direct answer to it maybe, but it is something to keep in mind.

 
At 6/24/2011 7:54 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent,

I was writing my response before seeing your additional comments. I agree with you. What happens when we take The New Yorker out and put Fence in, or, as you say, Jacket2.

 
At 6/24/2011 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This kind of change starts at home. Or at a support group.

Hi, my name is ____________, and I want poems that do X, paintings that do Y.

I'll do it. I'm not ashamed of my blindered parochialism.

Paul

 
At 6/24/2011 8:06 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Yes, Fence is another good one to fit in there.

I've got something on Jacket2 coming out soon in a new magazine, actually. It's called "Poetic Economies of Scale." It has Supply and Demand charts in it, not kidding.

Did I mention that already? Probably so, knowing me. If I had a blog or a Facebook page, no one would think it funny I freely announced this or that!

 
At 6/24/2011 9:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the point is not that we want X or Y, but rather that we can be honest and self-interrogative: about what we want, why we want it, and what the implications are. The difference between Jacket and The New Yorker is not only aesthetic; it's that Jacket recognizes other aesthetics exist (even if it's not interested in them), while The New Yorker, at least in poetry, does not.

I'd like to think there were more available options than dismissal or erasure (I dunno, how about "engagement"). Which is why I myself couldn't dismiss or ignore Ron S. in his prime. His views were problematic, sometimes head-bangingly so, but he was both engaging and engaged--and not just with the poetry he personally liked.

--Eli

 
At 6/24/2011 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think the point is not that we want X or Y, but rather that we can be honest and self-interrogative: about what we want, why we want it, and what the implications are"

Beyond that (as I think you're suggesting), to acknowledge that one likes X or Y makes implicit the possibility that A, B, and C exist.

X then becomes one of many possible letters, not the entire self-contained universe.

paul

 
At 6/24/2011 9:58 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

But a lot of people don't want to do that. And pretend that they're not doing that.

Historically, the fringe always has to be aware of the mainstream. The fringe is aware of the X and Y. The mainstream, however, can ignore the fringe, those poets can define the fringes out of the alphabet.

But we're at a time where the fringes are large enough they can somehow ignore the mainstream. This is an odd situation.

I remember reading all those writer guidelines to lit journals . . . remember them? How they'd say "we don't represent any school or aesthetic, we're just looking for the ebst writing." Indeed. We never believed it for a second when someone else says it, but we often said/say such things ourselves, earnestly.

 
At 6/24/2011 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm about to defend The New Yorker, but I'm not sure of a statement like "it's that Jacket recognizes other aesthetics exist (even if it's not interested in them), while The New Yorker, at least in poetry, does not." Is there evidence to support this? Perhaps it was true in the Alice Quinn era, which still seems to define everyone's idea of poetry in The New Yorker, but I don't think it's quite accurate anymore. Is The New Yorker guilty of often publishing the poet rather than the poem? Yes, absolutely. But so is Jacket (and Fence, etc.) Is there still a "New Yorker" poem? There is still certainly a penchant for a direct narrative, often dependent on some pose of lived experience. But hey, guess what? The New Yorker has also published some of the most exciting poets writing today. I'm thinking about Arda Collins, Heather Christle, and Dorothea Lasky. I would argue that all three of these poets are experimental, but none of them overtly gesture toward the previous generation's experimental signifiers (distrust of narrative, shattered linearity, opacity, "projects"). I would actually be far less surprised to see a Christian Bok poem in The New Yorker than to see a Donald Hall poem in Jacket. Maybe all this means is that Jacket is doing a better job of being true to its aesthetic?

-Chris

 
At 6/24/2011 10:32 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Let's stop and paraphrase:

Everybody has his or her own taste.
The New Yorker has its own taste.
The New Yorker claims to publish the best.
Acknowledging the existence of writers it does not publish would cause The New Yorker to disintegrate.

Forgive me if I have trouble with this line of reasoning.

 
At 6/24/2011 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But a lot of people don't want to do that. And pretend that they're not doing that. "

Well, absolutely. To acknowledge your values are tied to X, which is but one of many possible letters, means you no longer speak on behalf of God Almighty.

Who wants to give up a position like that?

The birth of theory as a discipline has been linked to the skepticism fundamental to modernity ... the intellectual climate from which writers as varied as Shakespeare and Descartes started questioning the authority of human perceptions.

It seems to me that people who won't acknowledge their prejudices are unwilling (not necessarily consciously) to give up the authority of the pre-modern.

Paul

 
At 6/24/2011 12:06 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

These arguments aren't about the universal validity of claims of superiority. They're about feeling disenfranchised by institutions that sell superiority -- that really HAVE TO trade on that because what else are they going to sell? A good time? Insights into the human condition? A little doomed beauty? I didn't think so.

We all appear simply to be getting angry at trash talk, and then responding with more trash talk. I for one intend to knock it off and get busy blowing people's socks off already.

 
At 6/24/2011 12:30 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Chris said:

>I would actually be far less surprised to see a Christian Bok poem in The New Yorker than to see a Donald Hall poem in Jacket. Maybe all this means is that Jacket is doing a better job of being true to its aesthetic?

Yes, exactly. In fact, the New Yorker is MUCH more catholic (Ashbery, Armantrout, the Dickmans, and other 'avant' types are regulars) than Jacket2, which from the get-go, and with fairly open aggressiveness, has announced itself as an organ for the promotion of a carefully compassed and managed ideological perimeter (the circle manifestly in process of developing its own inner concentric rings of hierarchy, dependence, trade rules, etc.--J2, in fact, in terms of its secondary Cultural-Field mission, might usefully be seen as a kind of sub-institutional centrifuge for defining and refining the boundary perimeter of, and inner positions within, the Bernstein Nuclear Poetry Group).

Surfaces deceive ("O, what a nicely designed journal! How do they ever manage to afford it?!"), and the poetic sociology of an interest group (its machinery for manufacturing allegiances, penalties and exclusions, debt arrangements, repayment schedules, subsidiaries, even legal boundaries--the last usually unspoken, but, in cases of particularly insecure coteries, not always!) can be more byzantine than the strictly economic kind. But if you ever wanted a massively financed production consortium in poetry that will exhibit the drive for the accumulation of cultural capital in the tooth, nail, and blood sense, you now have it.

And as dark irony would choose, its CEO is the Donald T. Regan (Treasury Secretary and Contra scandal schemer of the Reagan Administration) Chair of Poetry at some big Ivy League Institution.

 
At 6/24/2011 12:36 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>and the poetic sociology of an interest group

What? What? rephrased:

>the sociology of a poetry interest-group

 
At 6/24/2011 12:44 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

By the way, speaking of alliances and debts, I am far from pure and I have them, like everyon eelse. In fact, Charles Bernstein has written a two-page, very flattering introduction to my new book.

So should I play my cards right, maybe I'll still have a chance to get in to Jacket2. I AM the most published writer over the forty-issue run of the original Jacket, so who knows?

 
At 6/24/2011 1:12 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I see there is an apparent contradiction in what I say about the open ideological aggressiveness of J2 (between my longer post right above), and my remark (in an earlier comment) that J2's poetic ideology is still partly hidden, more "shimmering."

But there isn't really a contradiction: The latter benign appearance, in the current moment of J2's early accumulation stages, is, precisely, the *appearance* it gives to those more uninitiated readers (namely undergrad and a majority section of the MFA population, a market it is very much targeting, of course); the reality of the ideological aggressiveness and selective, in-crowd atmosphere, even with all the capacious (and often valuable) materials, is easily apparent to anyone who's had a modicum of exposure to the weaponized thicket that is the underside of the 'avant' Poetry Field.

 
At 6/24/2011 1:38 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Here, have a modicum of exposure. My treat.

 
At 6/24/2011 2:00 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

A couple responses.

The first is that I think it’s important we continue to talk about such things as “the unexamined prejudices that undergird our expectations of art and literature.” Because what we say (or take for granted) about art changes the art (for a time, until some other possibly unexamined notion comes along). Hopefully with as little trash talking as possible. At least that’s goal (I hope).

The second is better, because it comes from Ashbery:

is there no question behind the arras of how we now meet
seconding each other’s projects, our emotions? Or is that too weak
as a question, though strong enough as an affirmation, so that we again go out
from each other?

 
At 6/25/2011 9:25 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Speaking of the Poetry Foundation and ideology: They ran a nice article on Harriet yesterday about the new and massive Fulcrum 7 annual. It focuses on the Frank Stanford section in the journal.

I have an extensive series of letter-essays on South American poets (part of an exchange with the poet Joe Green) that is featured on the cover of the issue. A section of poetry, too. The PF article (studiously, I fancy myself to imagine, as it was no doubt written by one of my big fans, Travis Nichols) declines to mention me, but makes a point of highlighting contributions by Lisa Robertson, Landis Everson, Tomaž Šalamun, Zachary German, Gerard Malanga, John Tranter, Anne Atik, Charles Bernstein, Stephen Burt, Patrick James Dunagan, Farrah Field, and Dubravka Djurić. Which is good, of course. Though it might have been mentioned that this heroic labor of editing was done by Stephen Sturgeon. One would think the PF would honor editors, too.

O well, I know I'm on the decided outs with the new PF/PENNSound juggernaut (the integration is horizontal), and I'm rather proud of such, really. And, too, it's good that the Stanford feature, edited by Matthew Henriksen, got plugged, as it is definitely a major thing. Check it out.

 
At 6/25/2011 11:58 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Or my PF fan Fred Sasaki.

Oh, OK, I'm being perfectly silly. I know it's weird to feel a little frisson over these little poetry Poly-Sci things. But hey.

Though just to say, one of those letter-essays does have a surprise in it--a fan letter from Omar Caceres to T.S. Eliot, wherein Caceres makes a reference to Eliot being one of his "Brothers" in the Rosicrucian Order. Caceres: the most mysterious poet of the Americas in all the 20th century. Eliot Weinberger wrote about him, too, if you don't believe me. Jacket2 reprinted the article the other day, ironically.

 
At 6/25/2011 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once loved coming to this blog because of its affability, smarts and eclectic opinions, but now it's Kent Johnson speaking to Kent Johnson about Kent Johnson ad infinitum. Jeesh. I know, I don't have to read--so I won't.--Don

 
At 6/25/2011 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll second Don. I know you want to be high road, John, but something really does need to be done about Kent Johnson. Watching him talk to himself is just another version of watching Franz Wright talk to himself.

 
At 6/26/2011 11:43 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/26/2011 12:35 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

appearing 1 july, on the Internet:

the premier issue of The Claudius App: A Journal of Fast Poetry:

charles bernstein, brice bogher, joshua clover, robert fernandez, david gorin, walt hunter, simon jarvis, kent johnson, francesca lisette, joe luna, marianne morris, sara nicholson, geoffrey g. o'brien, giulio pertile, vanessa place, daniel poppick, margaret ross, rod smith, colby somerville, keston sutherland, michael thomas taren, lindsay turner

Jeff Nagy and Eric Linsker, two recent (and I assure you brilliant) graduates of the Writing Program at Iowa, are the founders and editors. The journal has a focus on "negative reviews" and satire. Don Share may not appreciate it, I suppose, but I've been told my essay last year on Negative Reviewing and the forum of thirty poets who commented on it had some modest inspirational push in the genesis of Claudius App, and that of course is very flattering. My own piece is an e-mail essay on Jacket2, called "Poetic Economies of Scale." I have no idea what the other pieces in the issue are about, but sounds like it could be most fun.

 
At 6/26/2011 4:29 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Don and Anon and Kent,


My approach to the blog is that I write posts and then whatever happens in the comment stream is anyone’s business, so I don’t monitor it or delete comments (though I have a few times when the reason was very compelling). Kent is perfectly welcome to post whatever he wants to post. Though Kent, you have to know that when you post things about your upcoming publications and projects you’re involved in, people are going to react to you personally. You are perfectly welcome to continue to post such things, as I’ve said, but there will be push back.

Anon, there is a world of difference between Kent Johnson and Franz Wright. I just want to clarify that. I’ve had some email interaction with both of them, and there is a world of difference. Franz Wright is—at least online—a disturbed individual who needs help.

 
At 6/26/2011 4:46 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Though Kent, you have to know that when you post things about your upcoming publications and projects you’re involved in, people are going to react to you personally.

Thanks, John. Sure, I know I do that here and there. I am a sharing kind of person. But here's something that's always fascinated me, and I really don't have the answer, it's possible the answer is obvious and I just don't see it. But anyway, here is my question: WHY is it that poets who have fancy, carefully groomed blogs or Facebook pages can post and post and post about all their publications and readings and articles about themselves, and so on and so on (have you ever read Charles Bernstein's blog?) and no one thinks twice of it, it's so natural and appropriate, you know, and yet when someone who has never had a vanity blog or Facebook page shares a little something he or she has published in a little hidden comment box it seems egocentric and unseemly? And perhaps seems especially unseemly to those bloggers and Facebookers who regularly publish all sorts of narcissistic things about themselves on their blogs and Facebook pages? Am I making any sense here? It's an interesting thing, I think. And I've always wondered about that. By the way, I have four, probably five books coming out in the next year, but I won't name them presently.

 
At 6/26/2011 4:59 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent,


That’s an excellent question, one I’ve wrestled with as well. Here’s the answer:

If you go to a blog or friend someone on facebook, you know what you’re getting. Or you should know what you’re getting. A place where someone spouts off about what’s on her/his mind that day. I’ve tried to keep comments about what I’m doing to the barest minimum, because I feel like my blog is to me, at least, more about what I’m thinking about in the world of art than what art I’m writing. But I do post a few things now and then. I usually don’t post when I travel to do readings (other than the sidebar), though some people have told me I should, that it might help attendance. But I feel weird about it, for some reason.

Anyway, when someone posts in a comment stream something they’re doing that is not part of the conversation on that comment stream, many think of it as spam and will block it or delete it. There are people out there who write programs to post spam on blogs. I delete one or two such spam comments a day on this blog (Sell Diamonds! Go to College!). I don’t think of what you write as spam, because you’re still writing about poetry, so it’s OK with me. Now if you start talking about vacation property, then I’m going to have a problem.

 
At 6/26/2011 5:34 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

There's some prime real estate next door on the Woowoo cul de sac.

Anyway, this email is a little disingenuous. Sure, at some level we all have an idea of what we want out of a reading a experience and we pursue the appropriate avenues that advertise it as such, but statements like, "it’s not wanting to even think about more innovative poetry—not wanting to even imagine it exists" are bullshit.

With few exceptions, the most widely circulated magazines that publish poetry are not going to publish challenging work. This isn't a conscious attempt to "not imagine it exists" but a reflection of the tendency mentioned at the beginning of the email. After all, these magazines edited by people who have expectations and want them fulfilled.

 
At 6/26/2011 11:07 PM, Blogger Michael Schiavo said...

A little late to this, so maybe I missed something . . . but did Kent describe the Dickmans as " 'avant' "? Yes, please John, do something about this.

 
At 6/27/2011 3:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Fuzz: I think the begining of the email that you refer to sets up the unexamined bit that supports the other bit about innovative poetry. Maybe? That's the unexamined bias?

Michael: That supports my ongoing belief that aesthetic camps are highly personal to readers and have very limited real world descriptive value.

 
At 6/27/2011 5:36 AM, Blogger Don Share said...

I am not the Don who commented above. I'm only pointing this out because Kent and some other readers seem to assume otherwise. Sorry for the intrusion...

 
At 6/27/2011 10:18 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I suspect the Quijote who posted the comment signed as 'Don' to give the comment the "authority" of Share's name (I can't think right now of any other living 'Don' I've ever heard of in the poetry world, except for the brilliant and little known critic Don Byrd). I fell for it, obviously, if so. And I suspect the Sancho Anonimo who followed up to 'Don' with his Let's Play Stalinism "seconded" was probably the very same person.

I do apologize to Don Share for assuming the 'Don' was him. Rash of me, and I'm sorry. It did have a certain weary, harrumphy sound I've seen him sometimes adopt.

Michael Schiavo, well, when I said 'avant' I meant more like 'post-avant,' which is pretty broad for me, all the way from earnest American Hybrid imitations by young grad students like Fuzz Against Junk, to the Fence-like (or Poetry Magazine-like) Dickman's, to Rae Armantrout's miniatures in the New Yorker, to Kenny Goldsmith's What-Minute-of-Andy-Warhol's-Fifteen Minutes-Am-I-In?

(Just kidding above, Fuzz Against Junk... I think? But you know, the poetry world, wherein the darkest forms of violence are daily plotted against others in manifold teetering garrets, like in the one designed by Vladimir Tatlin for the Poetry Offices of The Nation magazine, sure could use some more Woo-Woo.)

 
At 6/27/2011 11:20 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

I don't understand: isn't anonymous commenting something like pseudonymous authorship? How is one more brave than the other.

 
At 6/27/2011 11:26 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

No Jordan. Category mistake.

The second has to do with poetic creation; the first has to do with critical-anecdotal commentary in context of active dialogue.

 
At 6/27/2011 1:36 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

So, what are the bourdieuvian implications of a bright line between poetic production and critical dialogue?

 
At 6/27/2011 6:17 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/27/2011 7:32 PM, Anonymous Don Knotts said...

Beating up a stranger for no reason.

Getting beaten up
by a stranger
for reasons unknown.

--Franz Wright

 
At 6/27/2011 7:41 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/28/2011 8:16 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Gary,

I've decided my next project is going to write a chapbook that consists of nothing but lines from your poems and the posts in John's comment stream.

 
At 6/28/2011 9:29 AM, Anonymous Don Knotts said...

Filicide Sonnet

This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.
This post has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/28/2011 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wikipedia image of redaction:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Aclu-v-ashcroft-redacted.jpg

paul

 
At 6/28/2011 12:27 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/28/2011 3:59 PM, Anonymous Don Cherry said...

You got more dons than an Oxbridge commencement here...

 
At 6/28/2011 6:53 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/29/2011 6:12 PM, Anonymous Don Corleone said...

Foetry.

 
At 6/29/2011 8:16 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home