Monday, August 22, 2011

What’s Rio Got to Do, Got to Do with It?

Tony Hoagland wearies me. He’s a person of great energy to write essays and with the ability to get these essays published in some of the highest visibility venues, and yet he has so little of value to contribute to the conversation. Still, he has quite a stage for his views, so he gets notice. On the one hand, he is grappling with new poetry, and finding some poets he likes, such as Dean Young or Matthew Zapruder. I’ve no problem with that. These are poets worth liking. But on the other hand, he has to lop off the statue’s arms to get it into the museum. Simply put, Hoagland is not a good lover.  All he really knows how to do is fight, which he doesn't do all that well. His moments of acceptance are short, and his energy for dismissal is deep.

An essay by Tony Hoagland, when it’s on his topic of The Skittery (though he’s now thankfully stopped using that term), will follow the logic of something like this, as a shorthand paraphrase:

“There’s this zany, lightweight stuff going on that is a falling off from the heroic history of strong poetry that started with The New York School (and/or Language Poetry). I like the energy of this poetry and am influenced by it. Nobody does it well. Dean Young (or Mathew Zapruder, etc) does it well, because he’s (his examples in these essays are almost all male) participating in the grander, heroic history of poetry. I picked up an issue of a journal (Fence, etc) and there were poems in there that weren’t as good as Dean Young’s (Matthew Zapruder’s, etc), evidenced by these three poems from relatively unknown young males (he once in an essay used an example from a male student in his workshop in Houston). Poetry’s in bad shape these days, and young poets in MFA programs have to get away from imitating Dean Young/ The New York School and/or Language Poetry.”

That’s pretty much his point. And I feel for him. He’s in a tough situation, as I get the feeling he’s honestly trying to come to terms with the fact that he really likes some of this poetry, while hating it in general. To make himself understand his feelings, he needs to rewrite, or at least, renovate what he sees these poets he likes doing. In doing so, he does a lot of damning with faint praise, of them, as well as poets like O’Hara. (Or maybe that’s “feint praise.”) Large-circulation journals such as The Writer’s Chronicle are happy to give him pages and pages to work through his issues. Why, I don’t know, because none of this is doing a service to poetry.

First off, before I go any further, Tony Hoagland needs to read more work from younger female poets. The fact that he keeps writing these essays about the major poets and trends of our time without talking about anything written by women is doing all of us a disservice. I’m not saying Hoagland can’t or won’t write about female poets, because he can and he has, but for whatever reason, when he’s writing about poetic influence and the major figures of the present and the past, it becomes a very male conversation. I wonder how a poet like Mary Ruefle, for example, might complicate his view, or Rae Armantrout, Martha Ronk, or Mary Jo Bang, etc. These are some poets that could easily fit his argument, pro or con. If he’s talked about them in this regard, I’ve missed it. Instead, he uses a strong, mid-career male voice (Dean Young, Mathew Zapruder) and positions that against some much younger random male examples from a random issue of a random journal (or his grad workshop, etc). This is not the way to build a persuasive argument, especially if one has lofty period-influencing ambitions.

So all of this as long preamble to his new essay in The Writer’s Chronicle, titled “Blame it on Rio: The Strange Legacy of New York School Poetics: An Evolutionary Story of Delight and Dissipation.” (I’m not sure what Rio has to do with it, by the way. But I’m rolling with it.) Johannes Göransson talks about this essay over on Montevidayo:

As usual, Hoagland’s essay starts out interestingly enough, with an appreciative, if low-key, bit on Frank O’Hara and the New York School poets, positing that the group is now pretty much the most influential strand in American poetry. This brings up for me my usual knee-jerk reaction to the usual period style argument. Is The New York School really that widespread in its influence? Well, in certain circles, yes, but if you go by the avenues of power and prestige, certainly no. Looking around the rest of The Writer’s Chronicle, one quickly sees a broader picture of who’s in, if anyone really is. And the more Tony Hoagland asserts that O’Hara (or Ashbery, the more usual target in essays such as this) is the reigning influencer, the more the real wagons of power and prestige can feel threatened and double down in reductive assertions of all those kids out there playing on their lawn. But I digress.

He names a few venues for this nth-wave New York School poetry: Jubilat, Conduit, Fence, and Forklift. And a couple presses, Wave and Verse (there is no longer a Verse Press, by the way, it became Wave awhile back, which reveals at least an inkling of Hoagland’s lack of depth regarding what he’s talking about). “And here’s the bad news,” Hoagland writes, “the aesthetic traits O’Hara passed down to us have not been universally beneficial in their absorption.” And he goes on to say that as “history suggests, some of this can be laid at the unassuming feet of the second generation of the New York School.”

Hoagland sees a direct line from O’Hara to you and me, and that is his largest error. He commits the fallacy of talking about lineage by starting history in the late 1950s (The Fallacy of Temporal Dumbness, I think it’s called). But what of the poets who influenced O’Hara? What of these other writers who have, independent of O’Hara, been influenced by these earlier writers (Stevens, Rimbaud, Stein, Jacob, etc)? And, more specifically to his argument, how do James Tate and Russell Edson (just to keep it male) fit into his straight line lineage? Hoagland has to create a false model to make his assumptions seem inevitable. Jack Spicer, for example, radically messes with his superstructure, as do Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop, C.D. Wright, Jorie Graham, Anne Carson, and a host of others. Influence is not a line, but a web. To reduce it as Hoagland is doing here, is to write a lot of the poetry of the 20th Century out of existence.

But that would make it messy, and Hoagland wants to keep it neat, so on he goes. For one thing, he refuses to admit that the New York School poets, either the first or second generation, have depth or emotional resonance, a claim I find absolutely absurd. About Ted Berrigan (and by extension, The New York School[s]), he writes, “[They] declare their harmlessness with a vengeance. They are ruled by the muse of defiant triviality: Disheveled Lite.” In answer to that, I would kindly direct him to the poetry of Ron Padgett and Alice Notley, two second-generation New York School poets he’s obviously not aware of, though he should be (and John Koethe would work in here as well). He can start his education by catching Alice Notley at AWP this year, and he can catch Ron Padgett at The Academy of American Poets Poet’s Forum this October in NYC.

It’s true that Hoagland admires O’Hara (though he steers clear of saying anything much about Ashbery, Koch, or the others), by saying such things as, “O’Hara . . . brought an improvisational nobility to his work, a warmth, dignity, and humanness.” I agree. But I would argue that it is precisely this warmth that linked him with Ashbery and Koch (et al). And it is this warmth, this humanness, that links them with the anti-pretentiousness of the second wave of New York School poets, and further, it is this same tone that links them with James Tate. In fact, James Tate seems a much better candidate for “influencer of the year award” than either O’Hara or Ashbery, if one wants to go on surface similarities to young poets writing today. Read the poem “Absences” from his 1972 book Abesnces, for example, with stanzas such as this:

In a drunken moment years ago
the hero would be me,
effervescent, welcoming a rattled polka dot
of snow, instead of just sitting here
nervously, twisting a casual wink
into this, in a ditch computing
the future, the dust & the whiteness.
I feel a morbid desire for music.
It comes to zero,
knowing another is near,
a wise man, singing.
Never say drunken angry visionary.
I knit the floating mouth
to the sheep called nobler.

Maybe he’ll write that essay next, decrying the diminishment of Tate’s genius in the hounds of wannabees. It’s all so silly, this line of thinking. “They write like O’Hara, but not as well!” “They write like Tate, but not as well!” “They write like Dean Young, but not as well!” Bah. I remember reading old reviews of Ashbery where some reviewer was saying he wrote like Rimbaud, but not as well. Know what I’m saying? It’s a drone. A mantra. The Ohm of the over-the-hill gang as they’re secretly mourning the fading of their own relevance, trying to argue it back into existence.

In this iteration, Hoagland calls upon an ally, David Rivard, to back him up, quoting him thusly: “The first generation of New York poets invented themselves against a backdrop of conservative ’50s American culture—a context against which their aesthetics meant something fresh and liberating—even spiritual. Consequently, it might be reasonable to think that what our present moment in culture needs from poetry right now is a counter-position; something with weight and existential gravity, asserting counter-values.”

What a switcheroo that is! It’s a convenient argument to rid ourselves of The New York School once and for all. Say they were good but slight, then say their influence has diluted into vapidity, and then say they’re no longer relevant anyway. Boom, all done with that! (By the way, I won’t go down the tangent of arguing about the absence of weight and existential gravity in The New York School poets, though I want to.)

One of the problems with that is that Tony Hoagland likes some of the poetry that comes out of this impulse. He really likes Dean Young’s poetry, for example. He really likes Matthew Zapruder’s poetry, for example. And both of them, as he’s saying here in regards to Zapruder, come out of this tradition. Which, then, begs his next question: “One might ask, by way of proof [of the inconsequential nature of the influence of O’Hara, et al]: What major figures have emerged from the second or third generation New York School of Poetics?”

He has a head of steam now, so he goes for a big finish: “If there’s a kind of heroism and commitment missing from contemporary American poetry, that absence is surely born of many forces. . . . The result is a shortage of the visionary.” If this statement is true, it’s as true of Hoagland’s, Rivard’s , and your poetry (if you've written poetry or not). The answer is easy: heal thine self.

I say “if this statement is true” because I really don’t believe it’s true. I find much to cheer for in contemporary American poetry, just as Hoagland does, and some of the poets I cheer for are poets he cheers for. It’s why I have such a difficult time with what he says in these essays. I feel depressed for him. He’s very interested in lineage and schools of poetry, and he does such a poor job of talking about them. “Where’s the duende and fierceness of mind that authorizes vision in our time?” he asks finally. In answer, I suggest he read more poetry, and stop being so silly about it.


At 8/22/2011 8:23 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...

Your final line here is perfect and more or less that I feel like saying to most essays on poetics, especially those in the vein of the Hoagland piece--whether I agree with them or not. You can be right and still be silly about it. Even if you get most of 'the community' on your side, what've you won? Who've you impressed? You're pinning the gold star to your own chest; bravo?

At 8/22/2011 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish you'd submit this to the rags that publish Hoagland's screeds. His stuff would be infuriating if it weren't so predictable and boring.


At 8/23/2011 4:06 AM, Anonymous Annie said...

Hoagland knits the floating mouths of young poets to the sheep called O'Hara's improvisational nobility...

At 8/23/2011 4:15 AM, Blogger Michael Schiavo said...

You know how Tony Hoagland's got that poem about "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" being turned into Muzak?

That's what his entire body of work is to poetry. His attitude is one that Dylan sings about:

"While one who sings with his tongue on fire / Gargles in the rat race choir / Bent out of shape from society's pliers / Cares not to come up any higher / But rather get you down in the hole / That he's in"

At 8/23/2011 4:39 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I, other the other hand, would like Hoagland to stay exactly as he is, if it means you'll use more phrases like "The Ohm of the over-the-hill gang", John.

On a serious note, I don't think Hoagland will change and I hate essays like this. As I've said before, I don't see any use for limiting the scope of what poetry is and can be. Any time a style too confining or widespread gains dominance, there is a natural push back. Or there has been, historically.

The thing that writers like Hoagland don't seem to understand about this particular era is there is no one strand of poetry that has a stranglehold over the entire field of poetics. There is a scene for everything, which should be welcomed, even if you're not fond of all the goings-on.

At 8/23/2011 5:05 AM, Anonymous Annie said...

Bob Dylan's advice to poets:

The poet not busy being born is busy dying.

Don't fear if you hear a foreign sound to your ear.

Don't hate nothing at all except hatred.

Lose yourself, reappear: you suddenly find you got nothing to fear.

Walk upside-down inside handcuffs.

If your thought-dreams could be seen, they'd probably put your head in a guillotine.

At 8/23/2011 8:24 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I would agree Hoagland's rhetoric is often silly and hyperbolic.

But it's good that it's there. It doesn't do any harm. It helps push things in different directions. John's post is one example, as a reaction, anyway. Dialectics, and all that.

In fact, I am quite sure John is "secretly" happy Hoagland writes what and how he does. Just like most people in poetry are secretly happy for William Logan (though, to be sure, Hoagland is a tamed, minor version of Logan).

At 8/23/2011 9:21 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Also, there is one valuable thing Hoagland, with all his quasi-Sillimanesque caricatures, has helped to do: to make clearer that the *dominant poetic mode of the national MFA scene* is no longer the quaint scenic Iowa MacPoem that everyone in the post-avant has for so long loved to lambast in red-herring style (for doing so is essential to representing the MFA avant-wing as some kind of beleaguered "opposition," and avant types like being radical).

The dominant mode is now solemn abstract-confessional-hybrid, or hip-ironic paratactic jumpiness, or an amalgam to various degrees, of both. How this long march happened inside the Academy, bringing us, over the course of some twenty years to the city limits of the New-New Criticism we seem to have been for so long seeking, is another story.

At 8/23/2011 9:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent, I disagree with you about this "dominant" mode thing. I believe there is no dominant mode. All this "dominant mode" stuff is just an excuse for people to get their dander up.

All one needs to do is look at a random sample of journals, books, and Best American Poetry volumes to see that.

The McPoem! I haven't heard that on ein a long time. Ah, good old Donald Hall. I don't miss those battles one bit.

At 8/23/2011 10:06 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


I'm talking about the MFA/AWP side of things, where the "new" stuff is most definitely dominant. It's sort of Tripoli: There are still battles in this or that neighborhood, but the die is cast; the old order, at least, is dead.

Now, there is still a non-MFA residue from the work of major older poets from sixties and seventies (and their dwindling numbers of acolytes) that takes up significant space in the venues you mention, but few younger poets today are following those models (Merwin, Simic, Hall, Gluck, etc., a pretty extensive group still). But these should not be confused, as you seem to be doing, with the new avant professionalization.

Those last two words are key. THAT is the core of the new dominant mode. I'm not saying things aren't still in process, somewhat, that there aren't contradictions, that the old order isn't striking back here and there in its death throes. But things are now at least superficially different, in terms of the page; institutionally speaking, things have changed little. It's been a sort of palace coup that has happened, even if the collaborative factions within this new dominant professionalism do form a somewhat heterogeneous compendium, poetically speaking.

At 8/23/2011 1:22 PM, Anonymous Annie said...

Strange to say, I found Donald Hall very helpful at one time, despite my older poet friends calling him a “shitty” poet. The first Hall poems I read weren’t any of those barnyard/kicking the leaves poems or Hall-Pack anthology my-son-my-executioner crap; they were enigmatic, sort of creepy surrealist poems like “The Alligator Bride.” Hall said in an interview that he wrote them in a Tate-like way: he improvised without knowing where the poem was going or what it was about. (He never mentioned Tate, however.) He said he began by choosing words “dripping with emotion.” So I chose words dripping with emotion—for me—and cobbled them together in a way similar to a method Simic describes in an essay called “The Little Venus of the Eskimos.” Simic talks about how he and Tate produced collaborative poems by playing an exquisite corpse-like game with lists of words. I believe he calls Tate, Edson, and Knott our foremost believers in “lucky finds”…So the point, I guess, is that if you keep your mind open, you can find help in unlikely places.

At 8/23/2011 1:23 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

But really, I do believe one of the most fascinating topics of discussion for future scholars studying the workings of ideology within cultural formations of our period will be WHY critical voices of the academic post-avant (John being a particularly industrious one, it's clear; Silliman another, though haven't looked there for months now) so earnestly insisted the post-avant party remained some kind of unfairly ignored minority within academic, publishing, and granting institutions. I mean, why these critics stubbornly insisted this so long after it became obvious as pie-in-the-face that the post-avant's poetic modes and affects had achieved unquestioned centrality and mainstream legitimation.

At 8/23/2011 1:46 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/23/2011 2:20 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

As for the “unfairly ignored minority” bit, I will continue to disagree with you. For one thing, there is no one Post-Avant. The water gets very muddy very fast. One can only name writers Post-Avant by opposition: they don’t write like late Donald Hall, Rita Dove, etc.

I don’t think writers who are often called Post-Avant are unfairly ignored. I just contend that they are not the typical poetry of our time and that a lot of poets in powerful positions are saying dumb things about them. Perhaps they will be the typical poetry of some future time. But they are not now.

Individual writers, such as Matthew Zapruder, Mary Jo Bang, etc, who are often called Post-Avant, are doing quite well for themselves. Some Post-Avant writers edit journals and presses and teach in MFA programs. To call them unfairly ignored would be quite a stretch. I want you to know I don’t think that.

My problem is with writers like Tony Hoagland who do see this as a culture war of some sort, with themselves as champions of depth and lucidity, who then use venues like The Writer’s Chronicle, a venue that is supposed to be something of an industry journal, and therefore catholic in its breadth, to bash us all over the head with their agendas. Steve Kowit did one an issue or two ago. Fenza himself tossed a few grenades a couple years ago. John Barr, etc. There are no examples from the other side, of some writer writing about the evils of writing like Galway Kinnell or Sharon Olds or something. It just doesn’t happen.

And I get no pleasure from the argument. I would much rather happily go on my way talking about poems I like and posting them. I think this sort of thing is a distraction of the real issues of art. This is just petty human politics. And it stinks.

At 8/23/2011 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knit to the sheep! Knit to the sheep!


At 8/23/2011 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the sheep will have a Rio good time.

- Vega

At 8/23/2011 8:59 PM, Blogger adams24 said...

I can't wait till influence is replaced with the word identification; as it seems this is what is usually meant. Influence is too general, I think: twitter and tv and sunny days are influences.

For me, someone who wld be influenced by F O'H wld be someone who does not shy from the Petrarchan sonnet--as Frank did not. O'Hara has such massive range/mad craft skills. If the dude drifts, it's the way a Givenchy gown does: beautifully, and with very fine workmanship. or, maybe the poems are more like casually wearing couture--or even better yet, perhaps like Kate Moss.

Why can't virtuosity become in again?! Ashbery, O'Hara, Plath--to take some writers who have not lost currency--they all have sweet stores of formal manuever arsenal--apologies for the war word--going on! Too reduce them to a signature misses them, I think. I suspect--I likely have the spelling wrong--they're all capable of enthusiastic essays on the phyrric foot.

At 8/24/2011 8:18 AM, Blogger Michael Theune said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, John.

I tend to agree with Kent's line of thinking on this issue. Hybrid poetics is the dominant mode right now--it most definitely is the primary aesthetic at a number of top-tier MFA programs.

And there is a new kind of poem in the dominant mode, and, again, Kent defines it well: a new McPoem. In a review I've written on recent sonnets, I updated the McPoem a bit to try to acknowledge the changes in the kind of poem being turned out by the dominant mode--I call it the Starbucks poem...a little flashier, but still mass-produced and made for quick consumption.

As for Hoagland: I think that in some big ways he's right--the problem is he, yep, makes some massive generalizations that just don't hold up when counterexamples are offered.

One slightly more detailed note: Hoagland holds up Zapruder's "Schwinn" as an example of a poem goes beyond "the weightlessness and zaniness of the New York School," noting that poem's turn from zaniness to "gravitas." However, I'm not sure how different from the NYS this is: O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died" is virtually the archetype of this kind of maneuver. So, I guess: add another generalization to the pile: that the NYS poets often were (of course!) so much more than zany...

At 8/24/2011 9:15 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Glad to see Mike Theune here.

I just came up with what I think is a great and timely term. I hereby Copyright it:

The Hybrid-Industrial Complex.

At 8/24/2011 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone should compile sample poems from a bunch of the top MFA programs, for comparison. Obviously this would entail all the hazards of any anthology project … probably worse ones … but it would still be interesting and possibly even useful.


At 8/24/2011 10:07 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Paul wrote:

>Someone should compile sample poems from a bunch of the top MFA programs, for comparison.

There already is an anthology that "compiles sample poems from a bunch of the top MFA program" Profs. It's called American Hybrid, published a couple years ago by that indie publisher of Lit, Norton.

At 8/24/2011 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's not what I'm talking about. I mean, here's work from a half dozen of last year's Iowa grads; here's work from a half dozen of last year's NYU grads …

And I know your response was intended primarily as snark, but it's not an accurate description of Hybrid. It includes Ashbery, for example. And others who either didn't do an MFA or did one decades ago.

At 8/24/2011 6:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Michael,

You write:

"Hybrid poetics is the dominant mode right now--it most definitely is the primary aesthetic at a number of top-tier MFA programs."

I disagree with you and Kent both then. First, I agree this thing you're calling "hybrid poetics" is the dominant mode at a number of MFA programs. I never denied that. "Top-tier," though. Now you're getting subjective. Iowa, certainly. But I don't really know much about MFA programs. For instance, it's certainly NOT the dominant mode at, say, Houston. Or Indiana. We could play this ping pong a long time.

This is all beside the real point that Hoagland was making, though. He's saying it all comes from New York poets, and is somehow both dominant and without poets of distinction.

I'm with Paul on this one. If we really want to play the game of what is the dominant aesthetic, we'd need to go out and count heads.

One could easily put together a Non-Hybrid anthology, with Billy Collins, Tony Hoagland, Mark Doty, Henri Cole, Natasha Trethewey, Naomi Shihab Nye, Terrance Hayes, Matthew/Michael Dickman, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and on and on, and it could be called just as dominant. Not that I'd want to.

But you know? You are speaking interestingly about a type of poem. That's great. But I've read too many issues of The American Poetry Review to think for a second Post Avant/Third Wave/Hybrid Poetics is THE dominant mode (aesthetic position, etc).

Again, I'm not saying it's not present or that it's not doing quite well for itself, as aesthetics go I like it very much. Some of my best friends are hybrids. But it's not the only game in town. Far from it.

At 8/25/2011 9:52 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Paul, sorry if that came off as "snarky."

Part of the problem here with the logic of Paul and John, I believe, is that they are looking at the matter "quantitatively." It's not a matter of numbers, only; it's a matter of venues, critical attention, institional positions, and overall influence on younger generations of critics and poets. It's in these senses that the academic "post-avant" is now the new dominant.

At 8/25/2011 11:51 AM, Blogger Jeannine said...

Having just read the article, yes, I noticed the distinct lack oh women! Sigh. I guess we just don't exist!

You know what he could have done that would have been interesting? Discussed how the passivity/lack of distinct POV or narrative commitment or whatever was related to television or the internet or other technological communication innovations over the last twenty years. I'd read that essay!

At 8/25/2011 2:52 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I agree it is about venues, power, and institutional jibber-de-jabber. And still, even so, I disagree with you and Michael. When one totals up (yes, I’m being quantitative here. It’s the only way I know to be when one is talking about dominance) all the programs, journals, presses, awards, institutional affiliation, I believe one will find—at most—something like a draw. How would your argument about the dominance of the Post-Avant look at Breadloaf? At AWP? You’ll be there this year, right? Wander the aisles of the bookfair. I mean, the examples are just too numerous.

Hoagland is using this line of argument for political reasons. He’s trying to inflame his base, and consolidate power. I believe you also have political reasons for this line of argument. It’s important for Hoagland, that he sees himself as a champion of integrity in the face of the skittery hoards. Conversely, it’s important for you to see yourself as the true outsider, the real avant gardist. To do this, you must position yourself against the Post-Avant, and strip it of any oppositional, or avant-garde status.

I agree that the poets represented by American Hybrid have grown in number. Perhaps they will continue to do so. But they are by no means the dominant aesthetic in American poetry. As I said before, if you really think this is true, you simply need to read more.

At 8/25/2011 3:03 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I've made the argument many times that Teletubbies (and Spongebob, and Courage the Dog, Family Guy, The Simpsons, etc) have had more of an influence on the semi-surreal, absurdist, etc, nature of young poets than The New York poets.

I'm probably wrong in that, but my point is that it's a lot of things that go into influence.

Anyway, yes, I'd read that essay, too.

At 8/25/2011 3:04 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That should have been "Courage the Cowardly Dog," by the way.

At 8/25/2011 6:53 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...


"Dominant" does not mean "the only game in town," and that was not my claim. That aside, sure, I agree with you that there are various contending aesthetics right now--heck, I argued this in The Monkey & the Wrench!

That said, hybrid aesthetics certainly are, let's say, *significant* enough for an important poet and critic like Kent Johnson to take on. Is Kent positioning himself in this effort? Sure. But that doesn't mean that his various critiques are not important, or have no merit beyond such positioning.

Does the hybrid come from the NYS? Not totally. But there's a strong connection. The most direct connection has been made by Stephen Burt. In "Close Calls with Nonsense" Burt argues (states?) that one of the two poets most important to the growth of elliptical poetry (virtually synonymous with hybrid/third way poetry) was John Ashbery. (The other poet was Jorie Graham.)

Where the hell is deLuna? He'd certainly set us all straight on these matters. And decipher our hearts while he's at it.

At 8/25/2011 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy coming to this blog to watch how long it takes to jump the shark in each comment series. It usually doesn't take long.

This time, it was fun to watch Theune arrive in knight in shining armor mode to rescue his fair Johnson from someone who would actually stand up to him for once. Theune who wrote an article on Johnson in some journal (I've been trying to remember. Maybe it was Chicago Review).

And then Johnson acting all surprised by Theune showing up (as if the two didn't talk backchannel about it first--right.

And then Theune, taking after Johnson, is able to toss in a plug for an essay he wrote in a book Gallaher just edited. All of these boys arguing about which of them is the most outsider, while at the same time, which of them is the most important.

And Gallaher even seemed like he was trying to keep it on the up and up as the shark passes overhead.

At 8/25/2011 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait. Is the thread jumping the shark, or is the sharp jumping the Johnson?

Not that I'm against the "shark pass[ing] overhead," or anything. I just want to be sure.


(word verification: "blambers")

At 8/25/2011 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's not a matter of numbers, only; it's a matter of venues, critical attention, institional positions, and overall influence on younger generations of critics and poets"

I don't think we need a statistical project. Or a reductive analysis of any kind. Just some samples to associate with the institutions.

I'm sure we'd see cases of reality muddying the waters of generalization, but that's always a healthy reminder. Some programs would probably fit some identifyable trends, and it would interesting to see which ones and to to what degree.

If nothing else such a resource would help applicants pick the right program. For us, we'd get to see in the most general terms who's on what team and all that.


At 8/25/2011 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And am I the only one who thinks Kent is as post-avant as any of the so-called post-avants?

I don't mean this negatively. Most of the poets I like get thrown in that basket. It's pretty big basket.


At 8/26/2011 4:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You forgot to add that I once slept at Michael Theune's apartment! He's a nice guy. I enjoyed meeting him.

And maybe this isn't even a real disagreement, anyway. I'm with Paul again, but I'll change it a bit, echoing the earlier post on Kim Addonizio:

To people like Tony Hoagland and Susan Browne, at least when they're writing essays such as this one I'm talking about, for either ease of argument or because that's what they see it like, see a two camp model.

In that model, yes, Kent Johnson, Michael Theune, John Gallaher, Johannes Göransson, Jordan Davis [yes, these are all males...I'm just using the names of poets who have recently commented on the blog], and a whole lot of other people would be on the same team, under the header of (using the Theune/Burt family names) John Ashbery and Jorie Graham.

In that way it's a useless name, describing nothing, as it would toss poets in only as NOT the other team. That's a terrible way to go about things, and it reveals the central nature of how Tony Hoagland views his cul-de-sac of the aesthetic landscape, no matter what he says.

At 8/26/2011 4:57 AM, Anonymous Annie said...

Re: John's reply to Jeannine, I think it's been said that before James Tate (et al., for example, Corso), about the only surrealism in the U.S. was cartoons. Like Popeye KOing a submarine that speaks Japanese pidgin English and resembles Hirohito. Well, and Marx Brothers films...But no wonder poets of that era were receptive to thinkers like Sontag blurring the distinction between high and low brow. If you wanted to write surrealism, you had to either read Breton's brood or watch cartoons.

And I wish we'd all argue less about which of us shall be among the English poets after death and worry more about little things. For example, would you all stop writing "that said," "having said that," or any other variation on that threadbare and omittable locution? It fries my merkin.

Who'd want to jump a shark, anyway? It'd be like caressing sandpaper...

At 8/26/2011 5:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Absolutely! Absolutely! Which also comes through vaudeville, yes:

The episodic non sequitur, parataxis, and all those clowns coming out of a very small space.

These moves come through humor in American culture, where it was safely genre bound. Once it leaves its role as simple amusement, what is it? It’s the non-telegraphed, ambivalent nature of this sort of thing that Tony Hoagland seems to be responding most strongly to.

This is one of my favorite driving around talking with people topics. G.C. and I talked about it a lot after visiting the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana.

I’ve seen a strand of this go through American poetry, through Ashbery, Tate, Armantrout, Bang, D.A. Powell, etc. It’s the “funny” that people say these poets are. It's my favorite thing, and why I love what I love.

To bring Theune back into it: It's a version fo this vein in poetry that he sees missing from the American Hybrid anthology.

Arthur Fonzarelli, by the way, was quite happy to jump that shark while waterskiing. And with his leather jacket staying completely dry.

At 8/26/2011 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was a motorcycle jump, not a water-skiing jump? In the original?

At 8/26/2011 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Annie, thanks for the nudge to pimp my upcoming anthology, Caressing the Sandpaper: Non-Dominant, Reluctant, and Utterly Dissimilar Post-Avant Poets"


At 8/26/2011 10:42 AM, Anonymous Annie said...

pull my daisy
jump my shark
Bang my Armantrout
pimp my book
fry my merkin
KO my sub
lambast my blambers
rag on my screed
knit my mouth
ohm my McPoem
Hoag my Logan
Vega my Olds
Barr my Dove
stanza my stone

At 8/26/2011 12:58 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Regarding "jumping the shark":

Just sayin.

At 8/26/2011 2:43 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...


You write: "In that way it's [that is, I think, "post-avant," perhaps "hybrid," is] a useless name, describing nothing, as it would toss poets in only as NOT the other team. That's a terrible way to go about things..."

I completely agree. Revealing and critiquing the either-or + straw man form of much recent poetics debates (if we can call them that) has been one of my central critical undertakings.

Of course, it isn't just Hoagland--both camps do it. Latest example: Jeff Hilson's introduction to The Reality Street Book of Sonnets--an important book, but his introduction suffers from pitting his generally excellent "linguistically innovative" sonnets v. boring mainstream sonnets.

I appreciate your efforts, John, to not let those who use such problematic argumentative methods off the hook.


At 8/26/2011 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Winkler did it again a few years later.


At 8/27/2011 12:06 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Interesting thread here! I just got back into town after a couple days, so missed most of this. I'll try to reply to John later regarding his claim about my deeper position-taking motives. Just for now, on what my obsessive semi-stalker Anonymous says here:

>And then Johnson acting all surprised by Theune showing up (as if the two didn't talk backchannel about it first--right.

Well, Anonymous, fact is I had no idea whatsoever Theune was going to post that (he can confirm this if he wants to, though I suspect MT probably doesn't deem such squeaky yelping worthy of response--and here I am, stooping to the squeak). In fact, Theune and I have corresponded very little over the past numerous months, though yes, he and I know each other and my feelings for him are fraternal and fond.

Actually, I'll go ahead and respond to John here (and John, just to be sure, I do admire your articulate thoughtfulness on these issues, even though we obviously disagree): Far be from me to deny that there's an "animus" of position-taking involved in my, well, positions! But I've got to say (and I said this already, and quite pointedly, in my reply to Keith Tuma in the last CR, where you also contribute) that in NO way do I see myself as some kind of representative "avant-garde" figure. Tuma had called me "an avant-garde without an avant-garde" in that article, and this actually struck me as a bit humorous. But I'm down stuck in the mud with everyone else, trying to figure things out, and my hypocrisies are my hypocrisies, as it were. So call me what you will, but please don't claim that I desire to be seen as THE "avant-garde" figure of the moment, or something. There is no avant-garde, at least so far as I can see.

At 8/27/2011 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here I thought you were just sulking.

-- Anthony Hecht

At 8/27/2011 2:01 PM, Anonymous mm said...

You do realize none of the "younger female poets" you mention are young? Christ, Armantrout & Bang are in their sixties; Ruefle will be 60 next year!

At 8/27/2011 3:03 PM, Anonymous Annie said...

Yeah, well, they're younger than Hecht. He's dead; that's pretty old.

How about Sarah Messer? She's interesting, and she's still on the frisky side of fifty.

At 8/27/2011 3:20 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Paul: Yikes.

Mike: It’s also why we really wanted your discussion of American Hybrid in the essay collection. It’s important to keep at the corners of these assumptions, syllabi.

Kent: I’m just trying to figure out why you attack some of the things you do with such force, as many of the writers you attack (in your general attack on the poets who write in something like an American Hybrid way and who teach at universities) are some of the writers I greatly admire (Rae Armantrout, Bin Ramke, and so on).

Hecht: I’m just waiting for Gertrude Stein to comment on this blog. When she does, I will know my work on earth is complete.

MM: Ah, you’re right! I guess when it came to examples, I was thinking of the next generation up the ladder, the ones between NYS-age poets and poets roughly my age, although I’m now, unfortunately, not young either.

Anne: That’ll work. There are many more one could toss in as well: Eleni Sikelianos, Julie Carr, Kate Greenstreet (young in book years!), Karen Volkman, Lisa Fishman, Heather Christle, Sandra Doller, Lily Brown, Jenny Boully, Laura Mullen, Claire Becker, Julie Doxsee, Catherine Wagner, Rachel Zucker, would all roughly fit the bill, I think?

At 8/27/2011 3:57 PM, Anonymous Annie said...

Julie Doxsee is nice stuff. I mentioned Sarah Messer just to pay her back for leaving a gum wad in my mailbox.

At 8/27/2011 8:10 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

For some reason I don't read blogs on the weekend, but it seems like I missed a lot. Pubic wigs, acrobatics over sea monsters, and who knows what else.

At 8/28/2011 5:51 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hey Fuzz, I thought of you last week when I picked up the new album from The War on Drugs. If you haven't heard it yet, you might enjoy it. I like it a lot. They have a drone-organ thing going on here and there that makes me think Steve Winwood is about to start singing, and that makes me chuckle.

At 8/28/2011 8:35 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, just to note, I don't see my take as constituting an "attack" on any individual poets. I like some of the same writers you like, really. I'm talking about something on larger scales, a bigger modal drift. If that's a term that makes any sense, modal drift...

At 8/28/2011 8:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I guess we're just looking at it differently. You see the forest and I see tree tree tree. There are profitable times for both, and errors in both at times.

At 8/28/2011 9:24 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Hi John, OK.

But I think there is a forest that the tree tree tree may be keeping you from seeing. And for me, it's one that (poetically speaking) is starting to take on some of the traits of a tree farm.

At 8/28/2011 9:45 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Generalities are important, yes, but the kind of general complaint you have needs specific examples.

At 8/28/2011 9:52 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Well, but, John, people have been writing about the "generality" for some time, and they've been providing a fair amount of examples in the process. Burt, Theune, Hoagland, Tuma, for prominent critical names that have emerged in the discussion.

At 8/28/2011 11:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Are you saying then that you agree with all of their arguments and examples, then? I find that hard to believe, as Hoagland, for one, has done an especially poor job of making a coherent point. But the point that he’s seeming to be making is that these “skittery” poets are playing on the lawn that should be the sole property of poets like more like Tony Hoagland. That can’t possibly be your point? His is more a taste argument. I think you’re aiming at something other than taste. You’re talking about power, right?

Theune and Tuma have been making points against specifically the American Hybrid anthology. Theune mostly, I believe, is talking about its lack of inclusion (and humor). Perhaps Tuma is making the kind of argument you support? But really he’s mostly saying these poets should do a better job of describing themselves to the academy, to ensure future funding.

Burt, I haven’t seen write anything on this. Can you direct me to his essay(s) on the poetry culture wars? I’d love to get his take on it/them.

You forgot to mention shots taken by Franz Wright, David Wojahn, and Steve Kowitt. It would make for very strange bedfellows if you agreed with them.

At 8/28/2011 11:49 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I wonder what people think of this, just posted today, at top of page:

Is it not enough that the post-takeover version of Jacket has become (and very openly) the organ of a narrow and partisan poetic coterie funded from Ivy League coffers?

Must it really also be a kind of prosthetic blog for the self-promotion of Charles Bernstein?

At 8/28/2011 12:01 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I'm going to keep pressing you on this.

Fist off, I find it ironic that you would be angry with Bernstein for self-promotion, especially when this isn't self-promotion. It's a rather banal straight-forward description, tonally neutral, about his new book.

This is why I'm wanting you to answer the questions I posed above. What, directly, is your complaint?

At 8/28/2011 12:24 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, on your previous. I thought I was clear enough about my take on Hoagland (I unfavorably compared his approach to Silliman's). Still, he is identifying certain types and tendencies, and some of what he says is perceptive and useful. Your claim that he is doing it all for "power" may be true, but is irrelevant.

Burt? Well, his (very sympathetic) essay on "Elliptical poetry" is a key early document in regards all this. The broad mode he identified back then has become by now a kind of Mannerist MFA affect. His New Thing essay tries to do something similar, though that one, as I've argued, is pretty weak. No one will ever be talking about the "New Thing" poetry, I'm afraid; it was more or less DOA at the Boston Review. But his notion of the elliptical still has relevance. It's the New Norton Anthology Thing, so to speak.

Theune's notion of the "Middle Space" is quite valuable from a heuristic standpoint, and his writing on the institutional relations and implications of all this is very much some of the best out there. And Tuma's essay (the first part, not the part about me and Rodefer) is one of the clearest, most useful pieces on the New-New Criticism we have. Well, that's my term, not his.

At 8/28/2011 12:36 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Fist off, I find it ironic that you would be angry with Bernstein for self-promotion, especially when this isn't self-promotion. It's a rather banal straight-forward description, tonally neutral, about his new book.

What, John? Huh? It's posted by Charles himself, whose blog is now officially housed at Jacket2. That's not self-promotion, using the space of a journal he now controls, one that (as is claimed) supposedly continues Jackets's original "mission," to pump with in-your-face advertisement his MY WAY front and center? That's what blogs are for, right? Or Facebook pages? (not htat I know much about those things, since I've never had either, but I'm pretty sure that's among their important vanity functions). No, I don't think there is much to argue about here. The Bernstein Group is the most powerful economic consortium in High Academic poetry. The avant-garde of the New-New Criticism.

At 8/28/2011 12:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Sure, that Burt essay. But it's definitional, and not the sort of evaluative thing you seem interested in.

Your term: "The Hybrid-Industrial Complex" is an argument of some sort, but of what sort I can't figure out. It is oppositional. You are saying, then, that it should be something else other than this. So, what should it be? What is your point, other than to say Bernstein is self-promoting through Jacket2 and Burt's elliptical poetry is now part of a Hybrid-Industrial Complex?

You're making a power argument, right? So what's happening out of this power? If it's simply a McPoem argument you're making, well, sure, all modes of poetry have people who do them well and who don't. What is the reason you're saying The Hybrid-Industrial Complex is dominant? Just for the sake of argument, OK, say this thing IS dominant, then. So?

At 8/28/2011 12:47 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

OK, sorry, I see the Bernstein name now. I was going on the fact that it was the publisher's copy that was posted.

Sure, OK. So he did post a blurb for his new book. Would you not have done that?

Again, say you're right. Say that "The Bernstein Group is the most powerful economic consortium in High Academic poetry. The avant-garde of the New-New Criticism."

Well, I guess something has to be? I disagree that there's any real money in it, but that's beside the point I guess. Say it is the New New Wahtever. So what if it is? What's your point about it?

At 8/28/2011 1:18 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Say it is the New New Wahtever. So what if it is? What's your point about it?

Oh, I don't know, John... Sort of the same "point" as the New Americans' "point" about the New Criticism, I think?

Except that this new High Academic Avant formation--and here I am speaking strictly in the *collective*, group-behavior sense--is even more professionalized and careerist, more opportunist, cliquish, exclusionary, and vindictive.

O, where are our Satirists? Because if poetry ever needed them, it's now.

At 8/28/2011 1:40 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Shoot. Now I feel we’re back to square one.

First, I think the point of the New American Poetry anthology was to argue against the uniformity of the time, to say it’s more complicated than that, and to highlight the work of many poets who were not being represented in the current anthologies of the time. So, you’re saying that there is a group that is not being represented at this time? What is this group? Please represent it.

And then this: “Except that this new High Academic Avant formation--and here I am speaking strictly in the *collective*, group-behavior sense--is even more professionalized and careerist, more opportunist, cliquish, exclusionary, and vindictive.”

You can say this all you want, but no one’s going to believe you without examples. Who is doing what exactly to whom? Is Cole Swensen careerist, more opportunist, cliquish, exclusionary, and vindictive? Is Rae Armantrout careerist, more opportunist, cliquish, exclusionary, and vindictive? Who are these people that are doing this thing, and to whom are they doing it? Am I one of them? Or are they doing it to me? In short, what am I supposed to be mad about and directed at whom?

Obviously you think this of Bernstein, you basically said so above. I admit to not having paid much attention to him or his group in the past. No one I know ever talks about him. So who is his group? Is he an Avant?

So then you say we need satirists? Satire of a style? Satire of some political structure? Isn’t much of what you write satire?

At 8/28/2011 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find fundamentally confusing about these critiques of hybrid poetry: the presumption that it's a positively-identified thing, as opposed to a constellation of poems and poets, drawn from many esthetics, which don't happen to fit into a couple of previously argued rigid categories.

If I recall Swenson's introductory essay, she stops just short of beating the reader over the head with this thesis.

Yes, there are a few superficial threads that run through much of the work. Some of it mixes syntax that "makes sense" with syntax that doesn't. But looking through that particular anthology (or through selections labelled post-avant, third way, or elliptical) I see as many fundamental differences as I see similarities. Any homgeneity eludes me. If there IS an identifiable school here, then I don't think it's been properly identified.


At 8/28/2011 2:58 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, I missed one of your comments. Really, some of these calls you're making for me to clarify the "So What" of the dominant-modes matter are rather silly. I mean we DO have the history of poetry, right? What is at the core of that history and its evolution? Well, the constant and contentious questioning of period styles, rhetorics, forms, and institutions. Poetry's advance, or retreat, is agonistic through and through. Go back to your Nortons, I say in all collegiality! And yes, go back and read Tuma's essay, which is immediately relevant to what we are discussing, especially since you answered Tuma and then he answered you, and somewhat "convincingly," I'd say, in regards his riposte. I'm surprised you haven't commented at your blog on that, or attempted to keep the discussion going with him.

The lurking issue here (and I believe you're aware of this, which makes your last couple or three comments appear somewhat disingenuous) is to what extent the new semi-Official modes are intimately bound up with poetry's deepening institutional location in the Academy. That location and attendant careerist dynamics have certain inertial sociological effects in terms of practice, audience, field politics, axiology, aesthetic horizons, and the like (would you deny it?), and it behooves us to note and reflect on these and their implications. Maybe after such most will decide things couldn't be better or different, I don't know. But the fact is that never before has a poetic current of "experiment" been so rapidly and profoundly recuperated into the Academy. Never before have forms and ideas so recently considered "avant-garde" and radical been so thoroughly domesticated and integrated into a professionalized, culturally irrelevant sub-culture. A more and more let's have it both ways and not fight about it sub-culture (see the Intros to American Hybrid). A more and more let's not rock the institutional boat too much sub-culture. And to note that, to propose that it be thought about with a little more self-consciousness (precisely what Tuma proposes at the conclusion of his essay) is not at all to say that all the work is bad, or whatever, for goodness sakes. Some of it is perfectly terrific. But you know, and to coin a phrase, So What? Because no matter what time or weather is, some of it is always going to be terrific. But poetry is much more than what's inside the frame of the page. One hopes, anyway.

At 8/28/2011 3:38 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


This is why I want you to get specific! I want names and dates and what it is people have done. Because I just don’t see what it is you’re pointing at.

It’s a two-part situation. First part, the aesthetics. Who writes like what. What their writing looks like. What the lineage is. And then, second, there’s this academic power and prestige component.

I’m still with Paul. I don’t see this unified juggernaut of HYBRIDS out there hurling babies from battlements. It just doesn’t fit with my experience, either aesthetically or power-wise.

You say this: “The lurking issue here . . . is to what extent the new semi-Official modes are intimately bound up with poetry's deepening institutional location in the Academy.” I don’t find that the least bit interesting.

You write: “it behooves us to note and reflect on these and their implications. Maybe after such most will decide things couldn't be better or different, I don't know.” And I don’t see art working that way for myself or anyone I know. I write the way I write (as do they) outside of some decision I might come to regarding the implications of my university job. You see, without actual examples, this all becomes a Joe McCarthy list.

You write: “But the fact is that never before has a poetic current of "experiment" been so rapidly and profoundly recuperated into the Academy. Never before have forms and ideas so recently considered "avant-garde" and radical been so thoroughly domesticated and integrated into a professionalized, culturally irrelevant sub-culture.” Well, first, if it’s culturally irrelevant, why care so much? Won’t it just go away? Is this faster than the academic acceptance of Modernism? I don’t think so. In fact, I think Eliot, et al., were brought into the academy much more quickly than Rae Armantrout.

As for Tuma, sure, I thought his response was fine. It showed me that I hadn’t made myself as clear as I thought I had, as he and I were speaking as different of languages as you and I are speaking. You’re interested in poetry outside of poems (as you say “But poetry is much more than what's inside the frame of the page. One hopes, anyway.”), and I’m interested in poetry as art objects, what the art objects do out in the world. The rest is just people and their politics, and it bores me. I’m terrible at it.

This has been enlightening, and why you have so little to say about poetry and so much to say about personalities. Thank you.

At 8/28/2011 3:46 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

Paul, you state:

"What I find fundamentally confusing about these critiques of hybrid poetry: the presumption that it's a positively-identified thing, as opposed to a constellation of poems and poets, drawn from many esthetics, which don't happen to fit into a couple of previously argued rigid categories."

The hybrid, however, I think, is a "positively-identified thing." With apologies in advance to Anonymous, I offer my take on this from "Hybrid Aesthetics and Its Discontents" (in The Monkey & the Wrench, co-edited by Mary Biddinger and John Gallaher):

"Growing interest in the hybrid... constitutes a significant trend in contemporary American poetry. The idea has been percolating for approximately the past two decades: in Alice Fulton’s writing on fractal poetics; in Stephen Burt’s writing on the Ellipticism, including “The Elliptical Poets” and “Close Calls with Nonsense”; in “Principles for Formal Experimentation,” the final section of Annie Finch and Katherine Varnes’s An Exaltation of Forms; and in David Caplan’s Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form. And it has flourished more recently in the publication of a handful of anthologies, including Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr’s American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, and The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetries, both edited by Reginald Shepherd. Additionally, as evidenced by the roster of poets involved with key hybrid publications—among them: Jorie Graham, C.D. Wright, Donald Revell, and Bin Ramke—the hybrid is an aesthetic featured at some of America’s top-tier creative writing programs; in fact, it might be deemed the central aesthetic of both the Iowa and Brown MFA programs."

So, I think "hybrid" is a clear "thing," or, at least, much less amphorous, and more real, than Cole Swensen's intro would have one believe.

(It is very strange that in her intro Swensen did not discuss the contemporary conversation about hybridity. She certainly knew about Shepherd's Lyric Postmodernisms--she wrote an introduction to her own batch of poems that was included in that anthology!)

Hybrid's proponents certainly do promote the hybrid as an aesthetic that synthesizes aesthetics (more-mainstream lyric and avant-garde experiment). However, their formulation excludes many poets, most obviously those poets associated with ultra-talk and stand-up poetries. Hybrid, which was meant to build bridges, ends up building some new walls, reinforcing some really old ones (like the distinction between the serious and the comic).

Finally, while perhaps the hybrid does create a new constellation of poets, it's a pretty tight-knit constellation: institutional affiliation constitutes much of the gravity holding those stars together.

At 8/28/2011 3:51 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

Were the rise of the hybrid and the need for a site (imperfect as it was) like Foetry entirely coincidental? (I truly don't know the answer to this question--I'd appreciate any insights.)

At 8/28/2011 4:02 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Thank you, too, John.

Just few quick things, to close:

1) By culturally irrelevant I mean in comparison to what it has been and perhaps what it still could be. The tidal shift of habitus might have something to do with our relative irrelevance. You know, like who wants to read Professors except other profs and their students, who want to be profs in turn? I know that's a bit of an exaggeration, but anyway, just saying.

2) I'm interested in poems as art objects, also. But art objects have context, as they used to say in Lit 101. Generally speaking, the Autonomy of Art sort of went the way of the Dodo and back before WWI. Though obviously not for everyone...

3) What you don't find interesting is the most interesting thing about your last.

OK! Over and out, I guess.

At 8/28/2011 4:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Oh, I’m not trying to end conversation. I just meant I came to an understanding of the different way we’re approaching art is all.

As for the culturally relevant, thanks for the clarification. Well, if poetry isn’t culturally relevant, then that’s culture’s fault. Seriously, I mean that. You write poetry. What are you doing with your poetry to be more culturally relevant than Avant Poet X? I think such questions of relevance are outside our control. Billy Collins is more culturally relevant than any of us and his poetry is terrible. If that’s the price of relevance, you know?

I’m finding out continually that I’m not being as clear as I mean to be. I’m not at all saying that I think of poetry as the “Autonomy of Art” thing. Bah, that’s not a very fun way of thinking about poetry at all. What I’m saying is I’m not interested in if Charles Bernstein is really Darth Vader or not. Now, I’m fine to look at his poems and talk about how they participate in culture or the history of poetry, but how he personally participates in the history of high capital, no thanks.

Hi Mike,

I think the Foetry / Elliptical conjunction is an accident. Human nature is what it is no matter how one writes, though Foetry did have an ideological grudge against the poetry loosely described as Elliptical.

I think Cole Swensen is a wonderful writer, and she’s always been very nice when I’ve seen her in public. But one thing she doesn’t read well is humor. It’s a problem. There’s a lot of poetry (you write well on this) that should be talked about more, but is missed by the Hybrid train. Though nearly all the poets I’ve spoken to who are in the anthology or are implicated by it as the next generation, refuse the name and distance themselves from the definition. I don’t know if that means anything or not, but my guess is that the Am Hybrid thing isn’t going to have legs. I bet in five more years it’ll be a minor joke, and in ten it’ll be forgotten.

Except that the anthology is actually pretty good. It’s just lopsided and a bit dour.

At 8/28/2011 4:59 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, Oh, sorry, I thought you were saying Finis. Well, quoting below a section from your last comment, the part about "high capital": There is this term Cultural Capital, comes from Bourdieu, who I guess you wouldn't like too much, judging from what you've written today. I suppose the notion of *High* Cultural capital could be added. Maybe you've inadvertently made a contribution to Bourdieuan vocab!

>I’m not interested in if Charles Bernstein is really Darth Vader or not. Now, I’m fine to look at his poems and talk about how they participate in culture or the history of poetry, but how he personally participates in the history of high capital, no thanks.

At 8/28/2011 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, yes, I've read that essay in the Monkey & the Wrench. I still don't see any convincing positive identification. Just some similar, big frames being dropped around a lot of quite divergent work.

Obviously, this gets into the basic issues of generaliazations vs. specifics, which John keeps pointing to. Generalizations are useful (there, I just made one) but the broader their reach, the weaker they seem. The Hybrid(tm) encompasses such a range of esthetics and techniques and approaches to world and language, that I have trouble seeing it as anything but a generalization of the weakest sort.

I'll take John's challenge and name some actual poets. Swenson includes Rae Armantrout, Arthur Vogelsang, Harryette Mullen, and Cal Bedient.

What positive characteristics connect their work? I just see the negative one Swenson offers: they don't fit the particular binary that's dominated the anthology landscape for ages.

If you can name something else, something fundamental, tying this work together, I'd be fascinated to hear about it.

Barring new revelations, I just don't see enough to constitute a school or movement or conspiracy. I suspect that if we stopped confusing ourselves with the labels, we might even see it as a healthy diversity.


At 8/28/2011 5:29 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I had to read a lot of that sort of thing back in the PhD days. I pretty much blocked it out by humming “A Pirate’s Life for Me” over and over, but I did come away with some residue on me. Mostly I only go back to the ones from whom I can steal things for poems.

By the way, Charles Bernstein is your father. György Lukács wanted you to know.

Yo ho yo ho.

At 8/28/2011 5:56 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

Just to be clear, Paul, when you say, "The Hybrid(tm) encompasses such a range of esthetics and techniques and approaches to world and language, that I have trouble seeing it as anything but a generalization of the weakest sort," that's a critique of Swensen and St. John's editing, yes? They are the ones naming something that is not there, right? We're the ones left to interpret it...

If I'm right about this, then I think we're really in agreement. I tend to think that many of the poets included in AmHy actually are mixed mode poets, sometimes working in modes vaguely hybridish, and sometimes not.

Here's the thing, though: LOTS of poets are mixed mode poets, which leads me to wonder why such a relatively small number of poets seem to fit the hybrid constellation, and why the included poets are included.

So, then I quantify, and find out that 9 of the 10 poets in American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language appear in American Hybrid, and 17 of the 23 poets included in Lyric Postmodernisms appear in American Hybrid, and this number does not include Swensen, who also appears in Lyric Postmodernisms. That's a lot of overlap. That's a lot of agreement (by some editors) on what hybridity is...

Combine those numbers with Jay Thompson's take on "the anthology’s Iowa-faculty slant" and it does seem that there IS something in hybridity, but it might be less a matter of aesthetics and more one of (unannounced) sociology.

The Feneon Collective nails this in one of their "Faits Divers": "Where does poetry stop and sociology begin (or vice versa)? With the figure on its cover of two silhouettes forming a vase (or vice versa), the anthology titled American Hybrid has appeared."

At 8/28/2011 5:57 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

That's a good comment, Paul.

Recall, though, that the Language poets said the same thing: We're all different, there are Language *poetries,* not Language Poetry, and so on. True enough. But also true that there were broad similarities of concern and self-identification that constituted them as a poetic formation, one that proved to change the history of American poetry as we know it. Now, I'm not saying that poets in the Hybrid anthology in any way approach, as a grouping, something as coherent as Language poetry. The Hybrid or Middle Space poet/Profs and their students are but one tendency amongst the professionalized post-avant, call it the post-avant's "weak" version; a harder edged, "strong" version, much more coherent, more ideological in outlook, so to speak, but just as Academically ensconced would be the PENN Sound poets (to pick a term), those in loose and sometimes even contentious orbit of Bernstein and Langpo old guard figures. This is a very messy and diverse wing, for sure, but we can roughly identify it via affiliations, publishing venues, critical stances, and the like (though there is certainly some overlap, too, between these weak and hard versions). And in this regard, I would say that one thing that DOES tie the core of the Hybrid poets together, banal as the tie might at first blush seem, is that they all gave their work to a book (put out from a very venerable academic publisher central to poetic legitimation and classification) *that set out to identify certain aesthetical affinities, however broad, among a range of poets*. And that "rejection" of the "old binaries" that you claim is not all that important, Paul, IS, in fact, an ideological stance, one that defines some assumptions and beliefs, and which could be seen, at various angles, to be evinced in the Romanticism-with-a-dollop-of-theory-to-make-abstract-lyrical-atmosphere-artifacts that marks the gathering. And much of it is very finely wrought and lovely, no question about it.

Granted, John might be right, that this is all a fleeting thing that sort of began with Burt's identification of the tendency some years back, got some focus from magazines like Fence and Boston Review, the Nation under Gizzi, etc, and now reaches its apotheosis with the professor poets in American Hybrid. But the fact of the matter is that the gathering currently exists, like it or not (there's a big anthology!) and tons of students are in its thrall, wanting to write *in that general vein.* It's a phenomenon that exerts a pull in the field, and that pull, with the grouping's solid legitimation, however provisional the grouping might be, is not disconnected from institutional energies and imperatives.

So that, for what it's worth, as some kind of response to your comment, Paul.

At 8/28/2011 5:57 PM, Anonymous Annie said...

Hybridity’s been percolating for only two decades? Seems to me it antedates Fulton’s fractals—or Hogan’s Heroes, for that matter. Isn’t it just a collage aesthetic? A promiscuous postmodern commingling of disparate traditions? It’s like Tzara and Burroughs’ cut-ups and Kerouac collaging Buddhism onto Catholicism. It’s an exquisite corpse of contradictory aesthetics Frankenstein’d together, a Zen-like realization that these aesthetic binaries are an illusion. (I’m probably as self-revelatory when I write a totally acoherent aleatory thing as when I write in the straightforward autobiographical manner of Addonizio. I don't see a real difference.) It’s the Beatles splicing tapes. I don’t see why people call a new manifestation of an old thing a new thing. Perhaps to create the illusion that they’re breaking new ground. An alcoholic is just a dipsomaniac; a straight edge is just a teetotaler. There’s nothing new under the sun.

At 8/28/2011 6:08 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...


However, no teetotaler ever made an album as cool as the straight-edged Fugazi's Repeater.

I WISH the hybrid were more Fugazi, but, alas, it turns out to be more teetotalizing.

At 8/28/2011 6:13 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Is 'Annie' Annie Finch? Whoever Annie is, s/he writes great and fun comments.

And hey, this IS fun. And good, I think. I want to say I appreciate the intelligent remarks by John and Paul here.

and, too, whatever did happen to that feneon collective, by the way? That book came out, but most of the copies never got bound, I hear. I was one of the few to get one. I've heard that a reissue, with added critical materials, is coming out from another press in time for AWP.

At 8/28/2011 6:34 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


If it's just going to be a numbers game centering too closely on friendship and institutional bonds, yes, we're in agreement. If it's just a call to inclusion (of further mixed modes, of sexual identification, class, and race as well) and, also, yes, we're in agreement. American Hybrid, as much as I like what's in it, is a bloated, small slice of any pie, and in that way misrepresents a lot of non-regular Norton poetry from the last 25 years.

But that's a lot more narrow than I thought you and Kent were shooting at first. In being general, Kent left me thinking he was conflating all these eggs into one Borg identity.

I would be interested in that next anthology, the one Cole Swensen mentions needs to be done, the one that scoups up the next generation, and fixes this one. Such a thing couldn't be created, I'm sure. Coverage, which has never been possible, is even less so now. That's the complaint right? Voices in the chorus? If that's what it is, I'm all for it. And it's why I agrue so strongly against Hoagland, who would unwrite a lot of poets.

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

This is a long thread that I can only respond to so much of, but I will try my best to cover some of the ground others have.

I am somewhat sympathetic to Kent's point. I don't for a second subscribe to the belief that there is a dominant style, but I do think that there has been an institutional legitimization of poetry that has traditionally been called "avant-garde" or "experimental" or whatever it's being advertised as. What I don't understand is why this is an issue. Does it somehow tarnish the work, make it less interesting or exciting? Furthermore, what strand of art that existed previously outside of any institution doesn't eventually become absorbed by the mainstream? If you're going to fault anyone for this, you have to fault everyone.

At 8/28/2011 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, if the academy starts legitemizing what had previously been avant garde, does this (somehow) de-legitemize the work as avant garde? And thereby devalue it?

Or does it legitemize the academy as something hipper than a bunch reactionary old fuddy-duddies?

I'm catching a hint of Yogi-esque "no one listens to that band anymore ... they got way too popular."


At 8/28/2011 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"... that's a critique of Swensen and St. John's editing, yes? They are the ones naming something that is not there, right?"

I don't see it as a weakness. It could be if Swenson were positing a school or movement, but I don't believe she does this. The closest she comes to defining a hybrid poem involves a long list of things that it "might" do while simultaneously doing, or not, any number of other things.

The point isn't a movement with clear bounds, as much as a spilling from old bounds (whether they were real or not). You could argue that this is too loosey-goosey a premise for an anthology, and maybe it is (I don't care ... I like enough of the poets to think it's a cool project). But I'm interested in discussing hybridity broadly, not just as a definition derived from one collection.

I'm going to suggest that Swenson didn't go far enough in her analysis of this as a phenomenon or meta-phenomenon. Theorists who grapple with what comes next in this era of postmodernity have been coining terms like transmoernism and metamodernism (meta, in this case coming from the Greek metaxy, suggesting lying or oscilating between opposite poles—in this case between elements of the modern and elements of the post-modern).

Sound kinda familiar? I don't how well developed the theses of metamodernism are, but it's been pointed to in literature, music, visual arts, architecture, and mainstream cinema.

Such a rubric covers a huge swath of possibilities. It wouldn't be defined by a single school any more than modernism was.


At 8/29/2011 8:58 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Well, yes, Fuzz and Paul, the very notion of an avant-garde has always been predicated on a principled independence from the Culture's legitimating institutions. Or from it's Ideological State Appratuses, as they used to say. That autonomy is at core of the definition. Without it, what is left? Erstwhile Language poets sadly hitting a little hammer against a music stand in the MoMA, while shouting Marinetti's manifesto? (This really happened a couple years ago, and you can see it on YouTube. The crowd of hipster artists and MFAs politely applauded.)

Of course, one can argue that the time for any such radical, autonomous cultural action along the lines of the historical a-g, or even along the oppositional lines of the NAP, has passed. That might be. Certainly to those sitting in classrooms and Ivy League offices it must seem so. But things can change, as we are reminded everyday, and often quickly. And there *are* groups of younger cultural workers who continue to preserve an independent zone of opposition, in belief that only thus can a truly radical cultural politics be problem-posed and pursued. Most of them (trust me, I know this from experience; I am familiar with some of the members of an anarchist cultural formation in Chicago, many of whom are busy right now organizing for the G-8 and NATO conclaves in Chicago next year) laugh at the notion of Oppositional Professor Poets. So I guess we'll have to see how things shake out. But I doubt the current tenure-track center of things in "avant" poetry is a permantent deal. I suspect we'll see, in the not-far years, some blowback by new currents with some semblance to the a-g tradition down the road.

At 8/29/2011 9:55 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


I agree, I don't think this is a permanent deal, but I don't see anyone saying that (at least not here). I also think that "whatever is going to happen / is already happening".

Also, what's to stop these groups you speak of from being absorbed into the mainstream later? No member of the a-g has escaped this fate and it looks like none will.

Personally, all of this is a little too reactionary for me. I like reading poems, and writing them. I couldn't care less if the work I find exciting is authored by a professor or a G8 protester. I appreciate poetry's ability to include, both in the work and those who want to produce it and find little use for anything that diminishes this.

At 8/29/2011 9:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I'm with Paul and Fuzz here. "Cultural workers," you write. Sure, but we're no longer talking about writing poems, then. No matter how much you try to conflate it, in the end, poems are fundamentally different from political action.

Or on the flip side, if you do see them as bound together, they are not bound by aesthetics. Some of the most radical political activists I've bumped into, when it comes to poetry, greatly prefer the poetry of witness that is also quite fashionable with a different wing of the academy. All styles of poetry are quite popular in their shared unpopularity in the academy.

At 8/29/2011 10:19 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Fuzz, well, there's never a guarantee! It's an ongoing struggle, seems to me. A series of gestures, never a single culminating, triumphant one. And again, no one is saying that any occupation prevents one from writing sterling poetry. It's a question of what role the art plays in the context of larger political and cultural aims. That's what we're talking about. What kind of poetry might we be *missing*, given the current unprecedented disciplinary homogeneity?

John, "cultural workers" write poems, yes. A great one, for example, was Vladimir Mayakovsky. But there are many others, and in many languages. Raul Zurita, check out his work. You want an avant-garde group? Check out the work of Zurita and the CADA during the Pinochet years in Chile. Well, but don't get me going with examples of poetic action outside the halls of Academe...

At 8/29/2011 10:22 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

But anything you or I write would have to be considered "inside" the walls of academe, right? Since we both work in higher education?

Or is it just MFA programs and the Ivy League that counts as academe?

At 8/29/2011 10:30 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Hi John,

Yes, indeed. This is part of the reason why, I guess, I may well be, among actively publishing poets, the most effusively self-satirizing and self-debasing poet in America today.

At 8/29/2011 10:36 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


You're assuming there is a dominant homogeneity, which I don't agree with. I would be willing to make the argument that late 20th century poetry saw an immense amount of interest in all forms of the a-g on a scale that was unprecedented.

As far as the context comment goes, I don't have much to say. I read poetry because I find it pleasurable.

At 8/29/2011 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Well, yes, Fuzz and Paul, the very notion of an avant-garde has always been predicated on a principled independence from the Culture's legitimating institutions. Or from it's Ideological State Appratuses, as they used to say. That autonomy is at core of the definition. Without it, what is left? "

What's left depends on whether its value lies only in its "avant garde-ness" or otherness or anti-ness, or in something else entirely. Maybe you could rephrase this distinction as novelty vs. something substantive and new. (I realize this opens up a whole other can of worms about the avant ...).

If we're talking about poetry that's just good poetry, but happens to use elements that in recent years were considered avant-something, then who cares if it finds institutional acceptance? The poetry can't claim any street cred from radicalness, but it can still be good. And it can still feel fresh.

If the academy is quick to accept it, then good for the academy. It means they've learned something over the years.

It's often been observed since the 1980s or so that it's hard for anyone to do true outsider art. The institutions on the inside are too quick to assimilate anything that creates a buzz. It can seem insidious when its corporate (like if Nike chose to sponsor some anti-globalization street radical). But if a museum or university embraces work that questions the status quo of the art world or the academy? I don't see what's bad about that.

It can be confusing for the artist in search of an outsider identity, but I don't think that's really a conversation about art.


At 8/29/2011 11:56 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Fuzz and Paul and John,

I think I've figured out that were somewhat at loggerheads because I perhaps haven't made something clear enough. It's this:

I am NOT saying it is wrong for avant poets to pursue academic careers (!), nor am I saying that avant poets with academic careers can't write very brilliant poetry. What I am pointing out is that we have an unusual situation right now, where the Academy is the hegemonic habitus of avant poetry, and that it would be healthy to regain some counterweight to that institutionalized hegemony. If we did, it would be a good thing because we would likely get new forms and modes of poetry, ones that would be unlikely to emerge from the dynamics of professionalized Creative Writing environments.

In this sense, I think there is an underlying premise in the arguments of all three of you that I strongly disagree with: You seem to be saying that habitus, or sociological surround, has no real impact on the particular production of poetry, the kinds of poetry produced. If that is the case, let me ask you this: Do you think we would have had the kinds of poetry that emerged out of the NAP if most of those poets had been in the very academic environments they were (many of them, quite militantly) polemicizing against? Of course not. That poetry, which we no take for granted as great stuff (now studied furiously in MFA programs) happened because it emerged organically out of a certain autonomous cultural zone, free from the professional/careerist pressures of the end of New Critical dominance. I'm writing on the fly here, on the way to Spanish class, and know this is awkward. But thought I'd send a reply as I'll likely be leaving for the day. The matter is not Either/Or, and if it seemed I was making it such, then I didn't argue my point sufficiently well. What I am saying is that some kind of partial, though substantially collective and self-aware, break from the current AWP mold would be a very good thing.

At 8/29/2011 12:35 PM, Blogger Henry Gould said...

Sometimes I think Kent goes too far with his (what strikes me as) political attacks on the New Establishment Poetry (with its various modes & styles & 3-card-montes).

But I usually enjoy what he has to say, because I think deep down he & I agree on one very simple & obvious thing : that when literary writing becomes completely mediated and sponsored by institutions, pedagoggery, money, jobbery, back-scratching, P.R., & so on, it loses its edge. It loses its soul. It loses its raison d'etre.

At 8/29/2011 1:32 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Henry, that's nicely put. In general, yup, we agree on that. Though I would say, as I was saying in that last comment, we can't generalize across the board; there will likely be some portion of original, sometimes lasting work produced, even in the most norm-herding of career-bridled environments. So that tendency towards the middle big hump of the curve you speak of would be a tendency we might expect, not necessarily the rule.
I do hope someone will reply to me on my NAP question in previous comment, since it was pretty pregnant. I mean, isn't it interesting (going back to the Hoagland article, if we still can) that the hippest, most with it Academic poetry today owes its very breath and soul to... those who wrote AGAINST the dominant ideologeme of poetry as a comfortable, petit-bourgeois, professional career?

At 8/29/2011 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What I am pointing out is that we have an unusual situation right now, where the Academy is the hegemonic habitus of avant poetry, and that it would be healthy to regain some counterweight to that institutionalized hegemony"

I agree that institutional hegemony would be a bad thing. But I don't see evidence of it. I see poets of every stripe teaching, and poems of every stripe in the various institution sponsored journals (my last formal survey found a daunting range of university-afiliated literary magazines that numbered in the bajillions).

Looking just at Am. Hybrid, I see poets as divergent as Rae Armantrout, Cal Bedient, and Arthur Vogelsang who teach in Universities (to borrow my earlier examples). Looking outside that book, it seems like everyone else does, too.

I mean, Billy F'ing Collins teaches college.

You could be right, in the sense that things have gotten weighted unevenly in a particular direction, but I wouldn't know how to judge. I mostly read what I'm interested in, and try to tune out much of the rest. So that skews my research sample almost completely. I suppose I mostly read stuff that could be called hybrid.

(Does this now count as a confession? Is it like saying I'm an institutional tool? Or a hipster?)


At 8/29/2011 2:11 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


I don't think it's that interesting or even surprising. Ironic, sure, but this happens all the time.

The next logical move is that the incoming a-g will reject whatever the academy is doing. The problem is that the academy isn't doing one singular thing anymore, which makes this reactionary posturing a lot harder to pull off.

At 8/29/2011 2:23 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Having toiled away as a working stiff in the Socialist Workers Party for a decade or more, and having taught literacy in the Contra-infested jungles of Sandinista Nicaragua for a total of fifteen months, it always sort of hurts my feelings when a youngster calls me a "reactionary." Oh well, I've been called worse (Charles Bernstein has called me a racist in his latest book, so I shouldn't complain). Anyway, to your concluding point, Fuzz: I KNOW there is not one singular thing in the Academy (there never really was, really). That's why I've always used the metaphor, when speaking of the professionalized avant, as "one side of the Academic Coin"!

Sorry youngster, but you're really not going to win this argument...

At 8/29/2011 2:28 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


On the other hand, all poetry that we have is somehow being sponsored by institutions, at least institutions of production. Artists have always had to figure out ways to suck up for $ and do it in such a way as not to corrupt the art (too much). I’m not worried much by it, though. It's something we can fight with every day on the page.


You write: “What I am pointing out is that we have an unusual situation right now, where the Academy is the hegemonic habitus of avant poetry, and that it would be healthy to regain some counterweight to that institutionalized hegemony.”

And really, I just simply don’t agree. Yes, a lot of poets teach in higher education, but we’re back to square one: most poets who teach in higher education are not what you would call “avant” poets. You simply are putting up false categories, or, at the very least, conflating them.

You write: “What I am saying is that some kind of partial, though substantially collective and self-aware, break from the current AWP mold would be a very good thing.”

I don’t think there is a mold. If there is a mold, there are many molds. Many ways of writing. There simply is no one dominant mode that can be said to be the thing perpetrated in MFA programs.

As for your question about the New American Poetry anthology. Sure, I’ll say the answer is yes. So there we have it. You bring out your examples and I’ll bring out mine (which will have as part of it the number of elite institutions graduating a good number of those NAP poets).

At 8/29/2011 2:34 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You write: “Having toiled away as a working stiff in the Socialist Workers Party for a decade or more, and having taught literacy in the Contra-infested jungles of Sandinista Nicaragua for a total of fifteen months, it always sort of hurts my feelings when a youngster calls me a ‘reactionary’."

Well, see, this goes back to what I was saying before. You have a political agenda that needs you to see binaries. Anyone, as well, can be a reactionary. You’re now devolving into several logical fallacies at once, and as a literacy teacher, you should know that.

At 8/29/2011 2:45 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Also, I wasn't calling you a reactionary Kent. I was calling the whole game of the a-g asserting itself as a-g, against the prevailing style of the day reactionary. And I'm not arguing. Up until now, I thought we were having pleasant discussion, despite our different points of view.

At 8/29/2011 3:03 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John and Fuzz, for goodness sakes, on this reactionary thing, can't a fellow kid around a bit? Don't get so stern! (Yes, Fuzz, I see this as nothing but a pleasant conversation, which isn't to say the topic isn't a big one.)

And John, what on earth does the fact that lots of non-avant poets teach in Academia have to do with anything? Did you think I was forgetting this, or something? It certainly has no bearing on my side of the argument. Talk about logical fallacies, my man. Let's not go off into irrelevant diversions. Oh, and on some of the NAP poets having gone to school, yeah, OK, I knew that too, believe it or not! But that's not the space that gave rise to the energies of their now-everything-changes poetry. And that, as you know, is the point.

101 comments! Pretty soon the Harriet people will be checking in! (Though that's a joke. This would likely be the last thing they'd ever link to.)

At 8/29/2011 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And John, what on earth does the fact that lots of non-avant poets teach in Academia have to do with anything? Did you think I was forgetting this, or something? It certainly has no bearing on my side of the argument. "

Then I'll admit to not understanding your argument. If many non-avant poets are teaching, if much non avant poetry gets taught and also published in University journals, then what constitutes the hegemony?



You only taught the Sandanistas for 15 months? If I call you a reactionary it's because even 44 years after his death, I have refused to step down as Che Guevara's personal ideological poetry tutor.

At 8/29/2011 4:13 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You write: “And John, what on earth does the fact that lots of non-avant poets teach in Academia have to do with anything? Did you think I was forgetting this, or something? It certainly has no bearing on my side of the argument. Talk about logical fallacies, my man. Let's not go off into irrelevant diversions.”

I don’t’ think it’s irrelevant. What’s happening is there is no single academic house style. That is a major problem for your line of thinking. Since there is no single academic house style, there can be no one opposition to it, aesthetically. Therefore your call for an oppositional force is meaningless. It will simply squish against the porous side of the membrane. We’re post-modern now, we don’t all salute the same flag. Your binaries are without meaning, nicely couched as they are. The oppositions to the academy now come with a course number and syllabus.

When I travel, I never see the same thing twice. Nick Flynn was big in California when I went there. Who would have known? Heather Christle and Zachary Schomburg are huge with the lo-fi crowd. I continue to proclaim about Rae Armantrout. Kay Ryan was huge for a few years in the NPR world. The Dickmans sell tons of books. And Billy Collins is “The New Robert Frost” as I saw in a flyer for a poetry retreat in Florida . . .

The elephant is whatever part you touch. You’re standing in one place too long. You need to move around more.

At 8/29/2011 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John...I don't know how delicately put this, but...have you been touching the elephant, again?

Touching the Elephant: Post-Avant Poetry for the New Millennium. Remember, folks, you saw it here first.


At 8/29/2011 4:26 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

No one's supposed to talk about the elephant. That's why it's in the room, right?

At 8/29/2011 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we can't talk about the elephant, can we at least talk to the elephant?

Or is that cheating also?


At 8/29/2011 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're accusing Kent of touching the elephant inappropriately. I'm staying out of this one.


At 8/29/2011 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean, if we can't even talk to the elephant, does that mean we're supposed to touch her/him/it in silence?

I'm appalled. This is getting scarier and scarier.


At 8/29/2011 5:18 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>You only taught the Sandanistas for 15 months?

It's SandInistas, Pablo.

And I wasn't teaching the Sandinistas, I was teaching reading and writing to campesinos in northern Matagalpa, in 1980 and then 1983. From that second stint came my first book, a translated collection from the Talleres de Poesia, a national poetry writing workshop program for working class folks. It was something of a poetry best-seller back in the Reagan years.

John, I think we've hit the wall. You seem to be throwing stuff into the comments now that is basically peripheral to the main issues we've been discussing. It seems an ungraceful turn. At what point did you decide that the ubiquitous presence of Mainstream poets in Academia was some kind of relevant rebuttal to what I've been saying? What? I repeat, to get back to the suggestive nub of the matter, because you seem intent on ignoring the simple question: Would the NAP poets have produced what they did inside the CW/Eng. Dept.? Would you have wanted them all hunkered down there, arguing with Allen Tate and Cleanth Brooks in committee meetings, back in 50s and 60s (really not so long ago, actually, was it)? Would you have wanted most of those folks in the Allen to be where most practicing post-avant poets now are in one way or other? I trust not; after all, you wouldn't be writing the poetry you are right now if they had been! And so if not, then why the apparent tense problem with my suggestion that we might begin to reflect a bit more on the implications of this dominant professional and careerist track for radical poetic production down the road? That maybe there are other spaces of community poetry might seek to inhabit outside the career-mediated one, that maybe there are some cultural and poetic energies latent therein that are NOT present in the classroom and tenure-committee room. Go back to Tuma's article and to his response to you in the CR, where he more or less, in all candor, hands you your hat. He's saying the same thing I am, or I'm saying the same thing he is, and it's not all that radical a thing to say. If it does seem radical, that might be index of how far we've changed, and how deeply stakes have been hammered into certain sociological ground. Really, it's you who seem to be making a binary out of the whole thing, not me. You who are saying This Is It and La Di Da. And the more binary you get, the more unsettled your "position" is getting.

At 8/29/2011 5:36 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

None of which is to say that there's antyhing wrong with avant poets being teachers! Bully for real teachers! (Tath part about the "classroom and tenure-committee room" does sound a bit silly, I admit.) But here;s the thing, and it's important: The academic/institutional capture of the avant poetry field is so capacious and deep-going that most poets aren't going into teaching because they feel called by the love of teaching. They go into teaching because that's where poetry careers are institutionally situated. The direction is "natural" by this point. And when things seem natural, as the old guys used to say, you know they are also profoundly ideological. You see what I mean.

At 8/29/2011 5:45 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

OK, I’ll agree we’ve hit the wall. I’ll let people reading the comment stream (if anyone ever does) decide who is doing whatever.

Thanks as well for your take on the Tuma. If he’s saying the same thing you are, well that’s good for the both of you then, isn’t it?

You have so much to say. Why don’t you start your own blog? Really, it’s easy. You would have all the space in the world to expound.

At 8/29/2011 6:00 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Why don't you go start your own blog?

Sigh. So much for the idea of being welcomed to participate in (I thought) a good-faith argument.

Well, I've enjoyed it, anyway. Haven't been in a blog discussion like this in years. I think the record of the exchange is a good one, and I'd hoped you didn't feel differently, John. Though it seems you do. Over and out, then.


At 8/29/2011 6:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

This is another of your rhetorical tricks, Kent, this condescending sigh. I see no place that I acted in anything but good faith, and I promise you I’m speaking in very good faith when I say that you really need to get your own blog. It would give you the forum you want. It would be very good for you. I’m being sincere, though you won’t take it that way.

At 8/30/2011 4:20 AM, Anonymous Annie said...

What's that bulge in the Elephant-Vac's hose?

A shark?


At 8/30/2011 7:36 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


I'm not sure if you're still reading this, bit this is a response to a bit at the end of your last comment, directed at John.

"Really, it's you who seem to be making a binary out of the whole thing, not me."

Earlier in the comment stream you said:

"I KNOW there is not one singular thing in the Academy (there never really was, really). That's why I've always used the metaphor, when speaking of the professionalized avant, as 'one side of the Academic Coin'!"

That metaphor is very much operating in the binary. Maybe I'm taking the metaphor too literally, but I don't think so. Your position has been that the post-avant is creating some sort of hegemony in the academy and is "one side of the academic coin." Presumably, the other is traditional, or at least, non a-g poets.

I just don't think there's one coin, but many, or the coins have many sides and look like polyhedral dice; what happens in the academy depends on whose rolling them.

At 8/30/2011 9:35 AM, Blogger Henry Gould said...

John writes :

"On the other hand, all poetry that we have is somehow being sponsored by institutions, at least institutions of production. Artists have always had to figure out ways to suck up for $ and do it in such a way as not to corrupt the art (too much). I’m not worried much by it, though. It's something we can fight with every day on the page."

John, your first sentence is basically a license to treat this issue uncritically. The feeling I have, as someone who has been writing poetry since he was 4 yrs old (1959), is that the scene today is EXTREMELY over-sponsored, over-managed, over-massaged, etc. etc. The only interesting poetry I know comes from the fresh air of the colloquial world - or the shock of contact between literature and UN-literature. You will not find that in the "interlocking directorates" (Samuel Menashe's term) of today. I know I'm being unfair : that's what poets do. It's just a feeling.

At 8/30/2011 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The only interesting poetry I know comes from the fresh air of the colloquial world - or the shock of contact between literature and UN-literature."

I honestly don't think someone could say such a thing without expressing either 1) exceptionally narrow tastes, or 2) near complete ignorance of the alternatives.

Seriously. I mean, the range of stuff I see coming from poets affiliated with or "sponsored" by institutions is extraordinary. I think the quality of much of it is extraordinary too, but it's the range that makes any sweeping dismissals seem dubious.


At 8/30/2011 11:32 AM, Blogger Henry Gould said...

"There are two kinds of literature : official and unofficial. The first is trash; the second, stolen air."
- Osip Mandelstam

Granted, we don't live under 1930s Stalinism, as Mandelstam did. But it seems to me that poetry in the US is smothered under several laminated layers of well-meaning self-appointed officialdom.

Give me Eugenios Montale's "superior dilettantism" any day. I suppose that sounds supercilious : but I've paid my dues.

At 8/30/2011 3:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To whom did you pay your dues? Can you get your money back, do you think?

At 8/30/2011 4:26 PM, Blogger Henry Gould said...

You know, signing yourself "Anonymous" goes a long way toward negating any value your commentary might have for me. "Anonymous" is for chickens & cheats, for the most part.

At 8/31/2011 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your FACE, Anonymous!

At 8/31/2011 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Touche, my (anonymous) brother (or sister)-in-arms.

At 11/18/2011 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank O'Hara loves stuff.
Tony Hoagland loves to take stuff apart.
I like them both.
Though O'Hara will hardly spend a minute taking Hoagland apart (review-wise).

At 11/19/2011 9:34 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed. O'Hara is thinking about other things now.


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