Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cole Swensen - Noise That Stays Noise


Cole Swensen has a new book out in the Poets on Poetry series from the University of Michigan Press, titled Noise That Stays Noise, and I’m about half way through so far. One of the things I like about Swensen is her enthusiasm for ideas. I don’t always follow what she’s saying, but I’m always surprised and intrigued. This book is no exception. I’m having a good time with it.


Here are a few resonant bits from the opening essay:

+

Both novelty and redundancy have a place in our interpretation of the world around us. Complete novelty would give us a world like that of Oliver Sacks’s “man without memory,” for whom the world was incomprehensible and frightening; complete redundancy, on the other hand, would amount to the heat death of complete homogeneity.

The degree of nonunderstanding in a given piece changes from reader to reader and is often slight; the novel feeling it occasions is part of the pleasure of reading poetry and is the source of the simultaneous suspension and surprise that seems to bypass the cognitive faculties.

This process, which, borrowing a term from the biological sciences, I’m going to refer to as self-organization from noise, is particularly important in considering much recent American poetry, which often contains a lot of what many would consider noise.

Such an approach demands that we consider a literary text solely as an act of communication, as a completely quantifiable message passing through a channel from a sender to a receiver. Though this may strike some as cold, on the contrary, I think it is just such an approach that can elucidate the ways in which literature differs from mechanistic models of communication and can, unlike them, augment the quantifiable with irreducible qualities of human sensation and emotion.

Noise is most simply defined as any signal, interruption, or disturbance in the channel of communication that alters the quantity of quality of transmitted information.

[I]n a text, various idiosyncrasies from typographical errors to intentional ambiguities can also be considered noise if they too alter (or augment) the imparted information.

Information, in turn, can be defined in terms of the resolution of uncertainty.

[I]n literature . . . noise is not necessarily something to be suppressed, as it constitutes the potential for increasing the complexity of the system of which it is part.

Literary noise . . . is often not a degradation of the message; on the contrary, such noise is often intentional and aimed at preventing the suppression of imagination that complete certainty can cause. . . . This would include poeticity—the unquantifiable qualities of sound relationships, word associations, and innate rhythms—but also things that intentionally disrupt the smooth flow of information, such as fragmentation, unusual syntax, ambiguity, neologism, juxtaposition, alternative logics, graphic spacing, etc—in other words, any alteration to the basic linguistic code.

The way in which poets define noise strongly influences style . . . .

[T]he reader is crucial here . . . .

+

The above snippets were taken from the first essay, “Noise That Stays Noise.” Other essays deal with Mallarme, Olson, Susan Howe, fractals, Peter Gizzi, and Documentary Poetry. That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. There’s a brief essay on Ashbery coming up, I see.

I’ll leave you with this nice bit, a reaction (from her essay on Olson) to those who complain about poets using terms from science in their writing:

Such “misuse” of scientific terminology is often taken by scientists [And others as well – JG] as an affront, but there’s another way to look at it, a way that reveals the poet as reaching out to scientific language for its precision, and taking it from there as raw material to be worked through metaphor, metonymy, and ambiguity, until it expresses something that can’t be expressed otherwise.
Infinity isn't just for breakfast anymore.

141 Comments:

At 10/26/2011 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I know what you mean by "follow". I've read several of her books, and each time I pick one up I'm enthusiastic for several pages but then I never finish it. That might now be what you meant. A selected poems might be good thing for her.

- Chris

 
At 10/26/2011 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Now" was supposed to be "not" above.

WV: pelite

Cole Swensen is a very pelite person. I met her once and can testify.

 
At 10/26/2011 4:21 PM, Blogger adams24 said...

I have started an essay which will focus on syntactic moves which many poems of hers make use of. I find it interesting that she seems to, in interviews etc, emphasize poetry as a visual phenomena, and yet for me the most distinctive and wonderful element of her poems is the syntax, and especially her use of syntactic doubling or what I might go onto describe as syntactic ghosting.


The above may not be related enough to your posting; if so, apologies!

 
At 10/26/2011 5:17 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Anon,

I understand where you’re coming from, but I find her work continually engaging, for similar reasons Adam(s) does here. I find her sentences elegant, economical, almost totally without flourishes. I like good sentences.

Adam or Adam S, or Adams!

I would like to read that essay, very much so. Let me know if it’s appearing somewhere?

As for the comment stream. I just post what interests me, and I feel the comment stream is as much yours as it is mine. It’s why I don’t have any kind of gate on it.

 
At 10/26/2011 8:40 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

But some uses of scientific terminology by poets also involves egregious error.

Here are some thoughts on Alice Fulton's highly problematic theory of fractal poetry:

http://works.bepress.com/theune/2/

Does Swensen's thinking about the fractal get us any further than Fulton's?

 
At 10/27/2011 4:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Mike,

Well, maybe, maybe not, is the best answer I can come up with. Apologies. I give Fulton credit for trying, but there’s not much that I fine useful to her version of fractals. Swensen is taking a kind of rhetorical analysis approach, quoting Mandelbrot: “between the domain of uncontrolled chaos and the excessive order of Euclid, there is from now on a new zone of fractal order.” She defines the term “fractal object” as implying “an object that is fissuring infinitely; therefore, there is no possible ‘final’ or rested state for it to obtain.”

I think she does better than Fulton does with the metaphor of the fractal, because she’s dealing with a couple writers (Susan Howe is one of them) who are more irresolvable than anything Fulton tried (if I’m remembering correctly), but it’s still only a metaphor; she’s not trying for a one to one relationship here. For instance, one of the key ingredients of a fractal isn’t just its irresolvability, or its extending out, but also the importance of self-similarity, as you know (I haven’t read your bit on Fulton yet). At some point the metaphor necessarily will break down.

Swensen has a restless intellect. She’s always looking for new ways to crack into the art experience. It’s much the same with her ideas of “noise” I posted clips from. In the end, these are metaphors, not hard science.

 
At 10/27/2011 4:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Mike (Pt II),

What I think is important in these metaphors isn’t necessarily their fidelity to scientific theory, but rather how the changing nature of how we view reality, through science, has some effect on how we then turn to make art. I remember chuckling at someone talking about Quantum Poetics a few years ago, how naïve I felt the science was. But, on the other hand, as science itself is a description of phenomena, it’s important we continue to try to keep up with it. A lot has been made of the way quantum mechanics has existed next to the fracturing of the arts through the 20th Century. Maybe too much has been made of that. Modernism and Quantum Mechanics perhaps were a coincidence . . . but still, the influence spreads out. But, like I wrote in my post, I don’t always follow where Swensen is going. There are a lot of different roads. What really counts is the art that gets made. And the attempt to talk about that art. Personally, I’m not going to be making a case for the poetic use of fractals or strings or such anytime soon. Though maybe I kind of do here and there. Ah.

 
At 10/27/2011 8:56 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

What Mike says is true, of course, that scientific language is often used very superficially by poets, in dilettantish fashion. I wouldn't see this as a "keeping up," as John puts it--more an embarrassment, usually, so far I can see. Many of us have done it, to some extent or other, so not criticizing anyone in particular... And which isn't to say there aren't analogies worth pursuing, or that poetry itself doesn't sometimes intuitively hook into things that parallel or even anticipate scientific insight (If I recall right, James Gleick has lines from Wallace Stevens in epigraph to each of his chapters in the pop Chaos: The Making of a New Science--a good number of scientists, true enough, are serious readers of poetry, but I doubt they care much about what this or that poet may be peeping about fractals or quantum physics. That's not the news they're going for).

It's interesting to consider if the vogue for these scientific analogies among "experimental" poets has some connection to there being often little to talk about now by way of content, that formal registers, technique, have become THE content (not that form and content can ever be separate, but only sixty years ago the a-g was talking about form as never more than an extension of content; now content has become never more than extension of form). In that regard it makes sense that some current avant poets have decided to play around in fields that they essentially know little about--because they've run out of things of real substance to say in their own field. That's a question, not an assertion...

 
At 10/27/2011 9:47 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

New issue of Sous les Paves newsletter, for those interested:

-- a special double issue --
with work by Jay James May, Amiri Baraka, Mairead Byrne, Joe Luna, Linh Dinh, Keneth Reveiz, Min Jung Oh, Dan Hoy, j/j hastain, Teresa K. Miller, Rob Halpern, Thomas Meyer, Debrah Morkun, Posie Rider, Croatoan, Sean Bonney, Susan Howe, Farid Matuk, Jared Schickling, Brenda Iijima, Hoa Nguyen, Craig Santos Perez, Kent Johnson, Edgar Garcia, Dale Smith, Warren Craghead, nick-e melville, Patrick James Dunagan, Aimee Herman, Jessica Smith, Gene Tanta, Austin Smith, Robert Archambeau, and Immerito. To get on the mailing list for FREE copy, write the editor Micah Robbins: micahjrobbins@gmail.com

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

Meant to say that the new issue of SLP includes an anecdotal essay on the recent actions at the Poetry Foundation, written by members of the Croatoan Poetic Cell.

 
At 10/27/2011 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science language can work well if handled well. The most common failures I see are science metaphors that misunderstand the underlying science, or (worse) ones that don't realize they're metaphors at all.

Cultural studies people strike me as worse offenders of the latter than poets. I'm glad it's been over a year since I've heard someone try to explain the goings on at a cocktail party in terms of quantum mechanics.

Paul

 
At 10/27/2011 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should add that some poets can use science non-metaphorically and still be brilliant. Christan Bok, for instance, who has colloaborated with a team of molecular biologists to encode his poetry into the junk DNA of bacteria.

Some of you guys may have books, but he's going to have true immortality. And maybe even his own pandemic.

Paul

 
At 10/27/2011 11:54 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Kent,

I agree that what Mike says is true, that some uses of scientific language by poets, in his words, “involves egregious error.” This, when it happens as “egregious error” is, yes, bad. But not all uses of scientific language involve “egregious error.” Some uses, especially when they are helpful metaphors to get at something that can be gotten at in only this way, are not, what I would term “egregious error,” and it is these uses that I refer to as a “keeping up.”

Yes, many embarrassments occur when poets trot out non-poetry ideas and relate them to poetry. The language of science is only one, there’s also philosophy, psychology, and sports metaphors. I shudder at the sports metaphors especially.

I disagree with your assessment that there is, among “experimental” poets (names, please! I might agree with you if you get specific), “often little to talk about now by way of content.” Maybe it has to do with how we’re defining content. Maybe I agree with you on that too. But right now, I’m thinking I don’t. “Content” is such an elusive thing. Cole Swensen, for example, devotes quite a bit of her book on what I would consider content issues, specifically Documentary Poetry and several essays on what constitutes ekphrastic poetry, and how content works through several example poets.

When you write, “In that regard it makes sense that some current avant poets have decided to play around in fields that they essentially know little about--because they've run out of things of real substance to say in their own field” I know that you’re saying it’s “a question, not an assertion” but it sure has all the trappings of a pretty wide accusation. If it’s a for real question, my version of an answer would be it depends on what poets we’re talking about. I bet there are some poets out there who don’t have things of real substance to say in their own field, but I bet there are others who have plenty to say in their own field, and just use other fields as a way to describe their own field.

 
At 10/27/2011 11:58 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Paul,

Yes, quantum cocktail parties only exist if someone is there to witness them. It is often best to avert one's eyes.

 
At 10/27/2011 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JG:

I didn't mean for that to sound snarky above, if it did. It just struck me as interesting, seeing your post on her book of prose, I got interested in seeing a book of hers, and of the three books I have, I don't remember much from them, and two of them still have bookmarks in them. But I, like you, enjoy her work. I just for some reason never finish a book of hers.

WV: tholemag

Ah, the ole mag, how I loved it.

-Chris

 
At 10/27/2011 1:34 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Well, that's a good response, John, reasonable, and Paul's too. I'm talking about a marked tendency, not something entirely monolithic. I don't think I ever said it was a complete phenomenon, that there weren't countercurrents, and you're right that the phenomenon of documentary poetics could be seen as exception--one that comes out of Pound and Olson in evident ways, and whose current phase has some of its roots, too, in the critique that the Apex of the M current leveled at Langpo years back. Good for that. And there's a spectrum of stuff, no question, some of it moving back away from (or forward from) what's now the most influential and au courant wing of Official Academic verse.

But it seems incontestable there's a dominant sense within the "post-avant" since the rise of Langpo of poetry as primarily method, technique, formal performance, and so forth--a practice that takes its materials in the most emphatically materialist sense. Pointing that out is nothing novel-- it's in the theory and program, language as material stuff to be worked, the reader as co-producer of meaning, the supposed death of the authorial subject (though today in avant circles the poetic Author is more prominent than ever, arguably). Sure, you can never really get away from content, since what language does is signify whether we want it to or not (interestingly, it was the "non-referential" Jackson Mac Low who emphasized this in polemic with the early Langpos). My general point is that poems are not written to *mean* these days so much as to comment, in hyper self-reflexive ways, on the dark matter and black holes of "meaning." (Oops, sorry, science metaphors.) Though I realize that is a kind of meaning, too, that commentary. But you know, we've heard that "meaning" by now so many times, it's like we're caught in poetry in some kind of Art World ca. 1945-1965 epistemic time-warp. It's great for tenure and stuff, but I'm not so sure poetry proper needs much more of the minor Neo-neo repetitiousness. Not that there's anything horribly wrong with it and not that it doesn't go way back, actually, like to Mallarme condescending to Degas. But we're in a different sort of avant environment now vis a vis "content" than we were in the vanguard poetry of the 1950s and 60s. Well, duh, I guess. I feel like I'm saying something pretty obvious and non-controversial.

Time for a new form of Romanticism, with mystical woo-woo effects and all, I sometimes think (there actually is a small proto-current of that around Flood Editions, maybe). Now THAT would be avant-garde, to give the finger to the oh-so-fashionable vulgar materialism and go back to Blake and really sing.

 
At 10/27/2011 1:52 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I understand that you feel you’re saying something pretty obvious and non-controversial. My only point of disagreement is this: “My general point is that poems are not written to *mean* these days so much as to comment, in hyper self-reflexive ways, on the dark matter and black holes of ‘meaning.’” I don’t agree that poems are not written to mean these days so much as to comment . . . on . . . meaning. I feel the poems I read and admire are written to mean and not to comment. I feel Rae Armantrout writes strongly from that perspective. Bin Ramke. G.C. Waldrep. And on.

That general critique (not just yours), I feel, is a reaction to the version of post-modernism that got made into DEATH OF THE AUTHOR bumper stickers back in the 80s. The people I read aren’t doing that. This is precisely what I, and several (many) others have been saying in regards to several movements that have been catch-phrase tagged as New2 Sincerity, New Spirituality, Metamodernism, etc, to name a few. A lot of it has been on this blog recently a few posts down. Romanticism gets tagged as the Big Daddy here and there. It’s the ghost that never left the room. Spots of time for all.

 
At 10/27/2011 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Not to mean but to comment..."

What might this mean? I can imagine some of the distinctions you might make. But it also seems to me that any lucid commentary means something. And also that we don't all mean the same thing when we talk about meaning.

I think my interest has moved either away from or toward meaning, depending on how you look at it. Away from it in the sense that I like to read / look at / make things that are less likely to mean something in a direct and determinate way. But toward meaning in the sense that the nature of meaning itself is often foregrounded, at least to some degree, by the act of messing with what's traditionally a meaning-making process.

I suppose you could say that this is all just adolescent post-modernist anarchy, spray painting incomprehensible slogans all over the crumbling meta-narratives, etc... But I don't think those old questions have been resolved.

I think it's tedious and unfruitful to simply dismiss the possibility of meaning, just as it's naive to assume the traditional methods of meaning-making are grounded, universal, predictable, unquestionable, etc... There's a lot of mystery remaining in questions of how things mean, and a lot of playful and interesting ways to approach those questions.

None of this needs to be central to art, but I find that (increasingly? still? inevitably? embarrassingly?) the work that I like most acknowledges these questions in one way or another.

Paul

 
At 10/27/2011 4:13 PM, Blogger adams24 said...

Interestingly, to me at-least (and I love that we are are "root" fans!) "I find her sentences elegant, economical, almost totally without flourishes" is not how I would characterize her sentences; they strike me as almost all flourish (almost all style and very rarely to seem to stem from cognition prior to style; and this ain't bad: I adore style; and whether style and thought are strictly divided is of course questionable), and often not to be sentences in the most textbook grammar sense; I'd put sentence in quotation marks (this wld go for me and my pointings too!). I suppose economical wld make sense, as she makes frequent use of, to use Christanne Miller's terrifically useful concept (this is also R Waldrop!), "syntactic doubling." John--if I ever actually write a whole draft o' this thing, I will send you a copy.

I reread for the fopurth or so time Noon last-week and thought it really excellent. Like a good fashion show! I'm actually a bit surprised that Swensen hasn't ever overtly expressed an interest in high fashion; I could totally see her watching a runway show! Or maybe I'm just actually saying---I really, really want to watch a major runway show: Chanel, Givenchy, Balenciaga (yesyes Cristobal is dead but the brand lives), Azeidine Alliah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (the name is mispelled but man his clothes are gorgeous); of course this all takes a big backseat to 1990s Versace: that wld lol be worth (if in caps a pun!) sacrificing a longer lifespan for.

 
At 10/27/2011 5:06 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

"Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning."

- Joseph Campbell

 
At 10/27/2011 6:06 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Tonight was Trick-or-Treat night downtown, so I’ve not been around to respond. I’d like to respond, but now I’m heading to do homework with my daughter, then bed. But this, quickly:

Adam!

Yes, I wish your essay well. Swensen mentions “syntactic doubling” in this book as well. I think in regards Susan Howe, but I might be remembering that wrong.

But what I really wanted to respond to was how you and I are describing her sentences. Funny. I think we’re seeing the same thing, but just describing it differently. As all reading is an act of translation. Pulled fairly at random, this is the kind of sentence I’m thinking about in Swensen:

“The air across the valley is slightly hazy through thinning through patches remain between the groves of trees that edge a clearing in which stands a single house.”

She’s obsessed with looking and with classifying. And her sentences are so straight-forward, not the least bit ironic in stance or tone. They often fracture, break, splinter and stop short, but what gets set down is almost clinical, but that’s not right either, because I feel there’s a warmth to it as well.

The rest will wait for tomorrow, somewhere in the distant fake future of boxes.

 
At 10/27/2011 8:01 PM, Blogger adams24 said...

Oh you--I'm guessing--used a prosepoem sentence example; for her prosepoems I more than less agree; but her lineated sentences seem some lovely other.

I suppose I shld read this new essay collection to make sure I don't make big oopsies with the hypothetical essay--i'm terrible at carrying thu! I wld be a bit baffled if the doubling was in connection to SH--who strikes me as borderline non-syntactic (if that even exists); I cld see it with SM's Throw of Dice tho! Or sort of; I suspect CS is, and not so much visually, stemming from Mallarme.

 
At 10/28/2011 4:03 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Adam,

The prose poems are the best example of what I think of her sentences, yes.

She drops Mallarmé in several times. It's a worthwhile read.

 
At 10/28/2011 6:16 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I suspected, right after I sent that last comment, that the below sentence would be the one to get picked out. Both John and Paul did. I should have put in a phrase to make it less categorical-sounding, in keeping with my qualifications preceding it.

>My general point is that poems are not written to *mean* these days so much as to comment, in hyper self-reflexive ways, etc...

Put "a surfeit" before "poems," then, or something like that. (As I think the rest of my comment made clear, I think "meaning" can be found in manifold kinds of poetry. Obviously.)

In any case, this stuff about "poetic meaning" put me in mind of a kind of thought experiment. There is a question at the end of it. I think it's an important question. I'm going to Chicago in a couple hours, and I'll provide what I believe is the best answer to it tomorrow, should anyone be interested. It's not necessarily an obvious answer, and it will take a paragraph or so to offer. Of course, there may well be better answers than the one I am thinking of.

So let's say that you have been walking for a long time in the desert, and you are so thirsty you are about to drop. But when you reach the top of the dune before you, you see below, about fifty yards away, a huge dark rock. It's the only thing in sight other than you and the endless sand all around. And shimmering above this rock, as unlikely as hovering words may seem, is the phrase "POETIC MEANING" in gold. And from one side of this rock gushes a spring of crystal clear water, lots of water, just gushing out onto the desert floor. And from the other side of this rock there is a short bamboo tube from which occasional drops of water drip, in a slow, chaotic periodicity (you can ignore the last prepositional phrase: I just say that because we were talking about poets and science, too). And beside the gushing spring stands a ghostly figure, who looks, you think, something like Rilke, and he is looking at you and pointing at the gushing spring; and beside the short bamboo tube, from which a drop of water hangs, stands another ghostly figure, who looks, you think, something like Armantrout. You realize these ghostly figures are representative figures, they each stand for something larger. And you start down the dune, stumbling towards the rock. The question is,

Which side of the rock do you walk to?

 
At 10/28/2011 6:19 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

oops, that would be "a surfeit of"

 
At 10/28/2011 6:38 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I know this is not specifically on the topic, but I hope it's OK to offer this announcement of an anthology which is just available, as we are eager to get the word out and think it will be of interest to a number of readers here:

Hotel Lautreamont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay, which I have edited with the leading Uruguayan poet and critic Roberto Echavarren. It carries an Introduction by Amir Hamed, one of Uruguay's most important critics. Nearly all the poets are virtually unknown by the great majority of English language readers, and I think you will encounter some astonishing work should you go to the book. A brief description, with a list of poets and their translators can be found here.
http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2011/uruguay.html

All of us involved hope very much you will check the book out. There is a link at the above URL to a small, though hardly representative, portfolio that appeared in the Harvard Review; Mandorla magazine has just come out with a much larger, print-format selection, as well.

 
At 10/28/2011 7:20 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I don’t see the analogy working that way, as I have books by both Rilke and Armantrout, and go to both of them at different times.

How about this, perhaps:

So let's say that you have been walking for a long time in the desert, and you are so thirsty you are about to drop. But when you reach the top of the dune before you, you see below, about fifty yards away, a huge dark rock. It's the only thing in sight other than you and the endless sand all around. And shimmering above this rock, as unlikely as hovering words may seem, is the phrase "POETIC MEANING" in gold. And from one side of this rock gushes a spring of deep red wine, lots of wine, just gushing out onto the desert floor. And from the other side of this rock there is a short bamboo tube from which water pours. And beside the gushing spring or wine stands a ghostly figure, who looks, you think, something like Rilke, and he is looking at you and pointing at the gushing wine; and beside the short bamboo tube, from which water pours, stands another ghostly figure, who looks, you think, something like Armantrout. You realize these ghostly figures are representative figures, they each stand for something larger. And you start down the dune, stumbling towards the rock. The question is,

Which side of the rock do you walk to?

Or maybe this one:

You’re driving along a desert highway and run out of gas in front of two buildings. One, called Rilke’s Fine Coal Shop, and the other, called Armantrout’s Petroleum. Which station do you pull into?

Or, best yet:

You’re at a bookstore that only has two books. One by Rilke and one by Armantrout. Which do you pick?

The last one is easiest. Sometimes I might pick the Rilke, sometimes the Armantrout. It’s more probable I’d choose the Armantrout, though, because she has a new book coming out next year, and I have all the poems of Rilke’s that are available.

In a more general way, we don’t’ disagree. You see the poets out there who you think aren’t writing very good poetry and you extrapolate that we’re in a terrible time for poetry, and I look out there and see the poets I think are writing good poetry, and I extrapolate that we’re in a fine time for poetry. I guess as binaries go, we’re caught in the half-full half-empty quagmire.

 
At 10/28/2011 7:40 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Ha, clever, John. Though a bit on the defensive side, still missing, I believe, the gist of the "situation." I do think (with all due respect) that I have a more specific and relevant answer. How could I not--I came up with the thought experiment!

I'll post it tomorrow.

 
At 10/28/2011 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, so this is fun. In the KJ ex, I'd go for the Rilke side, but once I've had enough to drink, I'd grow bored and start watching the interesting geometry of the drips from the Armantrout side.

In the first JG ex, I'd choose the Armantrout side, but once I've had enough to drink, I'd grow interested in the party next door.

For the gas stations, I'd choose the Rilke side, though I'd go over to the Armantrout side with my gas can. I bet that Rilke shop would be an antiquers paradise.

In the last one, I'd go for the Armantout, as, like JG, I already own the Rilke.

In other words, what was the question again?

-Chris

 
At 10/28/2011 8:10 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

"It's interesting to consider if the vogue for these scientific analogies among 'experimental' poets has some connection to there being often little to talk about now by way of content...."

It's not a new, in-vogue thing, is it? It's just a postmodern thing. "The new art extends its medium and means into the world of science and technology,into the popular,and does away with the old distinctions." Sontag way back. Poets talking about fractals is like Ashbery talking about Popeye and Daffy Duck, Tom Clark talking about Neil Young. It's a modernist thing, too. You know, let's open poetry to the modern world--to sordid pub conversations, burnt matches skating in urinals, ugly noisy smelly machinery, and science--things traditionally thought inimical to poetry.

I don't know much about science, but I know what I like.

 
At 10/28/2011 8:36 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

I don't think Fulton, for example, got into fractals because she had nothing else to talk about. She always wanted to write big, amibitious poems that pull in all sorts of disparate things and glue them together--science, philosophy, politics, autobiography, manifestations of American vulgarity. (If I alluded to a British poet,she'd bristle and say we should be trying to create an American poetry.) She had an inclusive aesthetic.

 
At 10/28/2011 8:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent!

I‘m disappointed that you think my response is defensive. I’m really not defensive about this issue at all. Rilke, for example, is a wonderful poet. (I think the Letters to a Young Poet is a bit over-sold, though, but that might just be me.)

I also have no problem saying Rilke is a "greater" poet than Rae Armantrout. I just don’t think this kind of either / or is really the point of art, though. It’s not Highlander. There can be more than one.

Your first point was that, then, “My general point is that a surfeit of poems are not written to *mean* these days so much as to comment, in hyper self-reflexive ways, etc….”

Therefore, rephrased slightly:

“These days, an excessive amount of poems are not written to mean but to comment on meaning.”

I don’t know. Perhaps you’re right. But again, a lot depends on what you mean by meaning, etc., and what amount is an excessive amount. Certainly there are poets that have nothing to say (and are saying it), which, is, well, obvious, yes. OK. The only way such a conversation can go anywhere is with examples, and you refuse to ever give examples. Do you mean Rae Armantrout is part of this surfeit? If so, I disagree. Let’s trot out our examples and see. Do you mean Joshua Clover, then?

And how much conversation about form is allowable, then, before it becomes a bad thing? A thing done at the expense of content?

In 1999 I was at the 20th Century American Literature conference in Louisville (I think it was '99), where the featured poet was Robert Creeley.

After the reading, the person in line before me to get his books signed—he had several—asked Creeley if he, Creeley, might write “that famous quote of yours” in one of the books. It had been a long day, and Creeley looked fatigued, and a little distracted, but he wanted to oblige. “What quote?” he asked. “About content and form,” the reply. “Oh, ok,” Creeley said. And then he couldn’t remember it. Finally, after a few seconds, he wrote “Content is nothing more than an extension of form.” Upon hearing him say this as he wrote, I said that he had it backwards. Creeley looked at what he’d just written, quizzically, and then said, “so it is.” And then wrote under it: “or vice versa.”

I think this is a wonderful moment to remember when thinking of form and content in poems.

 
At 10/28/2011 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really, Kent, I thought you were joking with that analogy, because it strikes me as such a naked rhetorical device. You could place any poet / thing / category that you happen to like by the water spout, and their antithesis on the other side, and say, "see??"

If indeed there was this vital quality called meaning that we could all agree was present in Rilke and not in Armantraut, that would be one thing. But we'd likely get into a long (probably interesting) conversations about the nature of meaning, and how it does and does not manifest itself in each of these poets.

For me, personally, I have about five books of Rilke. He used to be one of my handful of favorite poets. In recent years I've gotten bored with him, and when I pick up his books I don't find any of the old magic. I'm actually irritated by the clarity of messages ... I feel that he's holding my hand and telling me what to think and feel.

I consider this a change in tastes ... I'm not trying to posit some kind of historical re-evaluation that has deeper significance (although maybe someone else will).

I find myself more drawn to work where I have to participate more actively and imaginatively in the meaning-making process. I want to feel engaged, rather than told. To this end, I seek poets who, like Armantraut, present more oblique opportunities for discovering meaning.

Rilke's still on the shelf in case of emergency and I'm greatly enjoying my reading. I doubt I'd do so well were I struck by a similar change of heart toward water or oxygen.

Paul

Paul

 
At 10/28/2011 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other news, Kent, didn’t you ever hear that you’re not supposed to trust a specter in the desert?

Your friend,

Ozymandias

 
At 10/28/2011 10:04 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I too am troubled by this, Kent:

My general point is that poems are not written to *mean* these days so much as to comment, in hyper self-reflexive ways, on the dark matter and black holes of "meaning."

I feel like this conversation is not too far outside a pretty reductive definition of meaning. Do comments not have meaning in of themselves? Or must they turn their attention away from the slicked surfaces of language and only pay attention to narrative or images? Why can't they do both?

I do understand the phenomena you're observing though, where a great amount of poetry being written is concerned with the process of meaning making. Personally, I think this is a result of the digital age. We have so much information to sort through every day that the very process of sorting is as interesting as what's being categorized.

 
At 10/28/2011 10:12 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Fuzz,


I'd be happy to have us write up a quickie manifesto of the New Content Movement. I think if we did, your comment here, "Why can't they do both?" would be central.

It's what I see in what I consider the best writing out there. Since Armantrout is the token-name du jour, she can stand as a very specific example of one of the ways people can mean severally, as specific content, saying something, and then as a way, a method of saying that is itself a thing, a thing to say.

New ways of saying = new things one can say.

 
At 10/28/2011 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why can't they do both?"

And why not a lot of both? I'm interested in thinking of ambiguity not as indederminacy but as overdeterminacy.

Paul

 
At 10/28/2011 10:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Paul,

But you need to work it up into a manifesto-sounding thing. I think it's time for a community manifesto. Then we can number them and post them and have somethign to point at.

Once we have something to point at, perhaps we can have some slight sway in keeping the conversation away from these constant fusty speaking points we keep coming across on blogs and essays by Tony Hoagland, etc.

And then we can go out and look at the pretty stars.

It might not sound that way, but I'm kind of serious.

 
At 10/28/2011 10:48 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

"a great amount of poetry being written is concerned with the process of meaning making. Personally, I think this is a result of the digital age."

Stevens, who preceded the digital age, wrote about the process of meaning making all the time. He and later poets who write about that probably reflect the influence of German idealism, its preoccupation with epistemology.

 
At 10/28/2011 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Except that the digital age is also a result of German idealism.

-Chris

 
At 10/28/2011 11:03 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Extinction is nothing more than an extension of extension.

Pallbearer

 
At 10/28/2011 11:09 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

John, and everyone for that matter, lets do that.

David,

I know there's precedent, there always is. I just don't think that explains the scads of poets who engaging language in this way.

 
At 10/28/2011 11:19 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Right, Fuzz, there's always a precedent. Right now it's Barack Obama.

I came from my grandfather, not my father. Oh, wait--my father came from my grandfather, too. Now I'm confused...

 
At 10/28/2011 1:16 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

If everyone writing in this way googled their genealogy, they would find Stevens is their grandfather and Stein their grandmother.

 
At 10/28/2011 2:32 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

How would Stein's profile look on the Mercury dime?

word verification: hypsychs

 
At 10/28/2011 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm happy just to help bring back the age of the manifesto. There's no excuse not to ... with the internet, anyone can have one.

ANd there's no need to argue anymore when you can just post a link to your all-encompasing screed.

Paul

 
At 10/28/2011 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If everyone writing in this way googled their genealogy, they would find Stevens is their grandfather and Stein their grandmother."

I want to agree, but if that were the case I'd have no excuse for not being cooler and more talented.

Paul

 
At 10/28/2011 6:32 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I would like to accept Kent Johnson’s ‘thought experiment’ challenge, posed as follows:

“So let's say that you have been walking for a long time in the desert, and you are so thirsty you are about to drop. But when you reach the top of the dune before you, you see below, about fifty yards away, a huge dark rock. It's the only thing in sight other than you and the endless sand all around. And shimmering above this rock, as unlikely as hovering words may seem, is the phrase "POETIC MEANING" in gold. And from one side of this rock gushes a spring of crystal clear water, lots of water, just gushing out onto the desert floor. And from the other side of this rock there is a short bamboo tube from which occasional drops of water drip, in a slow, chaotic periodicity (you can ignore the last prepositional phrase: I just say that because we were talking about poets and science, too). And beside the gushing spring stands a ghostly figure, who looks, you think, something like Rilke, and he is looking at you and pointing at the gushing spring; and beside the short bamboo tube, from which a drop of water hangs, stands another ghostly figure, who looks, you think, something like Armantrout. You realize these ghostly figures are representative figures, they each stand for something larger. And you start down the dune, stumbling towards the rock. The question is,

Which side of the rock do you walk to?”


I, for one, would walk around this mysterious rock with the shimmering, hovering phrase in gold and climb over the next dune down to the sea. I would stop first in the village of Wisdom and have a cool drink of water at Gary Snyder’s kiosk and then, maybe, stop at Dylan Thomas’s pub and drink a few shots of good whiskey. Then I would run down the beach of Knowledge and dive into the ocean of Meaning to swim with my fellow bathers:

Homer
Horace
Petrarch
Alexander Pope
William Blake
Walt Whitman
Emily Dickinson
Wallace Stevens
Robert Frost
William Shakespeare
Edgar Allan Poe
John Keats
Robinson Jeffers
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Percy Bysshe Shelley
William Wordsworth
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Robert Creeley
Wendell Berry


I will then have escaped the cruel and merciless desert of pointlessness.

 
At 10/28/2011 8:01 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10/28/2011 8:02 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Remember the old Star Trek with Shatner et al.? Once there were these human--or maybe humanoid--people who'd never tasted food. Every day they popped a pill containing all the nutrients they'd need. Food, in their opinion, was valuable only for its nutrients; and since they'd packed all the necessary nutrients into a pill, they thought eating a disgustingly bestial waste of time. But an Enterprise guy persuaded one of these humanoids to try a salad, whereupon the latter began wolfing down all the food in sight. McCoy said he'd soon need to go on a diet.

 
At 10/28/2011 8:10 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David,

So there is a use for salad! I always thought there must be.

 
At 10/28/2011 8:17 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

John Gallaher said:

"Gary:

As for this blog, maybe we can come to a compromise. How about you limit yourself to posting one poem a week? Maybe every Friday. That way you could start the weekend off [with] some verse.”

Well, John, it's Friday, and, since the subject is 'meaning'. . .


Work

Clock, be damned, again invades
the feathered meadows of my rest,
dissuades the need and all required
to live my life as meant, to wake when rested.
So I rise again, interrupt my dreaming
and undertake the effort
to possess another dollar.

For that alone is all that’s left
of our civil living’s meaning:
how much is made, how much is spent.
I don’t remember where purpose went
but now I scarce recall her.

Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

 
At 10/29/2011 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try a small black radio from any year/and listen to the voices you get, they were ...

Opening lines of Studebaker, by Gerald Stern.

Best,

tpeterson

 
At 10/29/2011 8:50 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

In other news (the laugh and weep variety), I just had to make sure everyone saw the title of this post from yesterday at the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog.

"Oakland writers denounce actions toward recent protestors"

The Chicago Reader, the city's mass, venerable weekly, carried a big feature article last week on the Croatoan Poetic Cell protests and the bizarre reactions of the PF (you can see this online). The online version has a different title than the print one. The print headline reads (and you have to understand that about two million people in Chicago read this):

"Don't Fuck with the Poetry Foundation."

 
At 10/29/2011 5:54 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

Been busy for the past few days--so, even though this conversation is winding (wound?) down, I feel the need to chime in to at least thank Kent Johnson for making some really insightful remarks. (Of course, others also have made insightful remarks, but here I want to focus on Kent's...)

I think Kent's comment (way up in the comment stream) about the post-avant's take on form is incredibly perceptive. Hybrid poetry, for example, consistently has been marketed as the combination of avant-garde experiment and more traditional lyric practices, especially the use of form. According to some of the major definitions of hybridity (including Swensen's intro to American Hybrid, and Reginald Shepherd's intros to his two earlier hybrid anthologies), the content of hybridity is, as Kent states, a matter of "formal registers, technique." To register this new relation to form as significantly different from the relation to form that, say, Creeley and the Projectivists had, is really smart.

Might Kent have overstated his case a wee bit? Sure, a wee bit. But in some big ways, he's right, and deserves props for being so.

 
At 10/30/2011 6:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

You can keep trying all you want, but Kent's not going to ask you out.

- Chris

 
At 10/30/2011 8:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Mike,


I’m sorry to be obtuse, but I’m just not seeing the shift, or the major difference. I agree that the hybrid anthology, and Reginald’s Lyric Postmodernisms, do talk about the form of the poems in the anthologies, much like an anthology on the sonnet would talk about the formal development of the sonnet. But both, I think, also talk about a post-form aesthetic, though, don’t they? Or something like that? Their concentration on form is to concentrate on the passing of some aesthetic borders, it seems to me in my reading. They’re saying something like “The identity wars of form are over” or suchlike? I think they’re both more wrong than right in that stance, by the way, as we’ll always have form wars, or at least form disagreements (which is what we’re having right now).

How is this in some way a falling off from prior conversations of form? Does this extend to other books and recent thoughts on form? Are they all suspect in some way? How does your own concentration in form (your helpful conversation on the turn that I’ve enjoyed, and we’ve talked about in the past briefly) figure into this? It would seem that your formal conversation could be just as easily lumped into such a category. What am I missing?

On the other hand, most of the conversations I have with younger poets (who would most likely be called post-avant, I guess) these days are not about form, as form, like “I want to do this formal exercise” kind of thing. Instead they’re talking about whatever content is interesting them, and then the conversation is how to get at the content, and how the form of the expression might/does help in such a journey. Some of them are enthusiastic about a vague notion of hybridity, others are more interested in words like The New Spirituality and The New Content, and The New Sincerity (whatever any of them might mean). That would seem to be along the lines of Imagism (the form goes toward a unity with the subject), The Projective, etc. Form is important to talk about. It implicates content. But content, absolutely is important, and conversations about content are important. So what kind of a conversation in content (which I feel there are many of going on at all times) does Kent (and I suppose you as well?) think we’re missing?

So my question is, are we disagreeing or agreeing? I would understand more if we had examples in common. Kent, as assertive as he might be in his thoughts on poetry, always keeps the conversation abstract. It makes it difficult for me to follow what he’s asserting, which could be very smart. Maybe I’m just not reading the poets he’s talking about, or maybe I'm too far off the grid in Maryville, MO.

 
At 10/30/2011 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JG,

I feel you’re going way too far, accepting the first principles of the Johnson argument, that somehow thinking of form, FORM, or whatever, as itself, is somehow a bad thing. I imagine an artist could very easily come up with some brilliant piece of art by thinking only of the formal constraints. All I have is this electric guitar and this blender. What can I do with them?

Junk collages, outsider art, etc, start with people working formally with what’s at hand, craft. I’m suspicious of Johnson’s argument. I think he’s just playing a game, another "look at me" game. The whole “I’ll tell you tomorrow” thing. He’s done that on this and other blogs for years. “You’ll see, soon! It’s going to be big!” And then he posts an advertisement for some book he’s written, which usually has nothing to do with the topic under consideration.

So now he’s talking about the hollowness of the post-Avant. All they can do is talk about form because they’re all so vapid. Ho hum. He sounds like Tipper Gore whining about Madonna. Sheesh. Been there, done that. You must stop taking him seriously.

-Chris

 
At 10/30/2011 8:57 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

The kind of form that interests me now--& I'm throwing this in for the putain of it, not to hijack a debate among John, Kent, & Mike--is ad hoc hybrids of traditional forms and arbitrary variations, e.g., a pantoum with "Waring blender" and "Les Paul" in every line. An exponent of the New Discontent, I'm not content to parrot the old content. I want form to derail conventional trains of thought and carry me to an unpremeditated terminus. Or I want to afford a glimpse of something ineffable.

 
At 10/30/2011 10:13 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David!

Please, hijack away. I always have a difficult time talking with Kent about such things. I continually feel I’m pursuing a receding horizon when I’m talking with him.

Your comment reminds me of the very real way that form and content are inextricable, and when we’re talking about one, we’re talking about both, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Like you, I’m interested in ways to “derail conventional trains of thought and carry me to an unpremeditated terminus. Or I want to afford a glimpse of something ineffable.” I think Mike would also agree (I bet?). The question is when does something become a “conventional train.” I think, at heart Kent (and maybe Mike?) are arguing that what people call Post-Avant is now a conventional train on a worn route.

We must always be looking for the next train out of here. I bet we all agree on that.

Chris,

Last year I sat down to write and gave myself a formal restraint, to write without making anything up. Only true, autobiographical memories, and things I knew or could research. It became an 80-page poem in 70 sections. New Form = New Content. Absolutely.

 
At 10/30/2011 10:22 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I had something come up yesterday, so only now able to provide my thought-experiment “answer,” as promised. Because of length, this will be in two parts.

Thanks to John, Paul, Fuzz, David, Gary, Chris, Tim, Ozymandias, and Mike for the comments in reply. But first, before I forget, I have to say I’ve just read an unpublished paper by Richard Owens that theorizes this bubble moment of Conceptual Poetry in terms of poetic hedge funds, derivatives, and packaged securities. It’s really great, and everyone should read it when it comes out! Apparently, Barrett Watten was in the audience when Rich read it a couple or three weeks back, and he came rushing up to the presenter’s table and started shouting to Rich that he HAD to publish it, NOW. Of course, Barrett and the old gang defending the Left Bank of Madrid have been feeling very nervous lately that they are getting outflanked by the ConPo Falangistas and their fresh grad-school colonial legions, so maybe he would have shouted that even if Rich had read a paper that said nothing more than I HATE KENNY. But seriously, it’s a very insightful paper.

Anyway, back to the content/form thing. Just a few remarks before I give my answer:

John—I love that Creeley vice-versa story. That’s long been my own position on the form-content conundrum. The sense of that is right out of the Heart Sutra, in fact.

Ozymandias—Yes, the sense of real-mirage (ultimately what poetry is) is much what I mean.

Paul, and John, and Fuzz—You simply misinterpret the central image of my thought experiment if you think it is meant to suggest a simple binary (or of one side as “better” than the other. See below).

David—I know what you mean. Still, the long graph of vogue has spikes.

Chris—I have no idea what you mean in that last angry comment, but I do love your brilliant, true, and funny statement that the digital age would not exist without German Idealism (see below).

Fuzz—Regarding your parents, Stevens and Stein: as that Rejection Group Bumper Sticker says, “Fascism: You wouldn’t have the post-avant without it.”

Gary—Watch out for sharks.

Tim—The radio, you bet. But remember the radio (or Marx, or Gerald Stern, or Gertrude Stein) would not exist without German Idealism.

Mike—When can we get together and go out again? (Chris obviously doesn’t know the half of our dangerous liaison.) When we do, speaking of form, I’ll tell you about my reading last week at SUNY/Buffalo (now Second-Generation ConPo Central), where I read, exclusively, from a new manuscript of poems—all in four sestets of perfect iambic tetrameter and with rhymes following prescribed patterns of two Welsh forms. It was a nice event, and the students there, despite the misguided ideological preferences of many of them, are great.

 
At 10/30/2011 10:23 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10/30/2011 11:20 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Speaking of Conceptual Poetry, this has just gone up, with lots of photos of the production process of my book DAY. And get a load of this: In Buffalo, I found out that shortly after my sticker version of DAY appeared about a year and a half ago (which made use of actual copies of Goldsmith's The Figures Press tome, available at the time for bargain basement prices--Goldsmith's book wasn't selling too well, apparently), Goldsmith and the Figures artificially inflated the price per copy to between $200 and $300, in obvious attempt to keep BlazeVOX from producing further copies. I tell you, these ConPos will stop at nothing!

http://www.blazevox.org/lh95/index.php/Poetry/day-by-kent-johnson/

At the link, be sure to check out Geoffrey Gatza's menu books for his Thanksgiving series and his Big Night series. Gatza is a renowned chef in Buffalo, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

 
At 10/30/2011 11:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent,

Your attempt at being offensive isn’t the least bit illuminating or amusing. I pity you that you think this way.

 
At 10/30/2011 11:45 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

In what way am I being "offensive"? You mean the "erotic" bamboo tube figurative language? If that's offensive, then so much for much of the Modernist and Post canon, I guess... Or for much before that, too. Are you being serious? Tell me you're joking.

If you want truly "offensive" stuff go to Montevidayo blog. But honestly, I'm trying to type this while laughing.

 
At 10/30/2011 12:11 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10/30/2011 12:19 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I don't think it's helpful to delete a comment and then defend it, so I'm reposting.

Kent Johnson wrote:

(Continuing)

Alright, so what should the parched poet facing the rock do? Well, obviously, he or she should first go to the flowing-water side and drink and drink. Drink until strong. And then, after doing so and gaining strength, after being replenished, she or he should walk over to the bamboo tube on the other side, and carefully observe, listen to, ponder the chaotic-fractal patterns and periodicities of its parsimonious, paratactic drips. She or he will want to suck on the tube, blow on it, lick it, stick her or his tongue into the opening, take water from the other side as lubricant and wet the tube, slide her or his hand up and down it, lick off the drop that is hanging from its hole, stick her or his fingers into it, shout impossible words back into it, and on and so forth (there are people with greater imaginative powers than I, of course, and I am sure there is much more that could be done with the tube).

Here’s the thing: One is NOT better than the other (the two outlets for the water of meaning are different, but they come from the same source inside the single content/form rock (see Hegel, I guess, speaking of German Idealism).

BUT: To do all that libidinal logopoeia pleasure stuff with the weird protruding tube, or, at least, to get the most out of the tube that one can--to *really* suck it good to the point that more wetness comes up out of the rock and keeps coming--to help it along, because, as we all know, texts are not passive anymore, they are completed by the libidinous other--that’s our law--you first have to drink your fill, because if you don’t, you’ll just wilt and die in the sand, and the drips and drops will fall for all time on the dead coins that were your eyes.

Which is another way of saying that you can’t just “choose” the Armantrout side of things, like you would choose one cereal instead of another, because without the Rilke side of things (remember, these are quickly picked metaphors; name your names among hundreds) the other side (THIS side) doesn’t exist. Without it, it’s nothing. Whereas the Rilke side of things, you see, the water pouring side, goes on existing without need of us, as inevitable as our antithesis may be. (By the way, this is one major thing that distinguishes the new Brit avant from us—they worship the Romantics and strive to suck, with all of their might, the old into the new.)

One day, the bamboo tube will be ejaculating water at a great force and speed, and there will be something else, another dripping opening, on the other side of the single dark rock. But we are where we are, you see. Our forms and judgments are woven into our social circumstances and ambitions. And I know you know exactly what I mean, my fellow neo-avant careerists.

Now, if all this seems somewhat fanciful and mirage-like, without any real relevance to that “where we are,” let me say this, and it’s very important to my point: The problem is that in our neo-avant moment of poesy, in our desert, where we are all stumbling, thirsting for what may give us meaning, 70% (my rough guess) of poets, so dazed and stunned to see, would dutifully crawl to the tube side first… And in the waste land, when you thirst, whether you realize where you are or not, that’s not the right move to make.

And that’s probably the main moral of my thought experiment, for what it’s worth.

 
At 10/30/2011 12:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

As for the hostile and insulting message, what happened is that Kent sent me an email asking if I was seriously offended at his comment, and offering to delete it. This was my reply:


No, leave the comment. Do whatever you want.

I'm disturbed by your attempt at whatever that was. Kent, most of your energy is to try to offend people. It's just such a minor key to work in.

What would happen if you took all of your talent and energy and actually tried to do something? To really make something?

Seriously. Make some art. Something where you're really trying to do something for real. All you do is jack around. At some point it stops being interesting. You're the poetry world's little boy who cried wolf.

You're letting yourself become a joke.

You're better than this.

 
At 10/30/2011 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well there, JG, looks like you've had yourself a busy day.

- Chris

 
At 10/30/2011 1:25 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Looks that way.

 
At 10/30/2011 1:41 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Well, under the somewhat unprecedentedly aggressive circumstances I feel the need to defend myself just a bit (despite my previous comment about not commenting again!). I trust John will allow me to do so. I know he's never, to his credit, censored anyone's right to speak at his blog (the re-posting of something that an author chose to delete, for whatever reason, comes close to it, though, a kind of censorship in reverse, but it's no big deal).

John has chosen to post his personal email to me. It's certainly his right to think whatever he wants to about me and my work (which approaches thirty collections over the past twenty-some years in various genres and forms and denominations, much of it widely reviewed and discussed--apparently none of it counts as "art" in John's mind, it's all just "jacking" around. So be it. I know there are some people who think differently. It's not a bad thing, I think, to have strong opinions on both sides).

But what I mainly wanted to say is that it wasn't my intent in that figurative explanation of my previous "thought-experiment" to "offend" anyone, as John claims. And for the life of me, I can't see how it would or does. Who am I offending, exactly? In what way? Is it the playfully "erotic" (mild and doubly-gendered) language that offends? I can't see why--the figuration refers to *reading*, or at least to an erotics of reading that could be seen as called forth by disjunctive texts of our climate. I suppose it's an unusual way of rendering things; but I thought it was sort of charming, frankly. It's quite a bit less "offensive" than de Sade, or Artaud or Bataille, or late Ginsberg, or Gurlesque stuff, and so on and on...

Or maybe the offensive thing was the reference to "avant careerism," which might grate but shouldn't "offend," really, inasmuch as it is--quite unarguably, I'd proffer--a salient reality of our time--a time when poets and poetry and their audiences are centered in the academic institution like never before in our history.

Honestly, I CANNOT see why my little flight of critical fancy (I DO believe the major points I'm raising there!) has sent John so over the top and into such a snit. And in fact, I thought that my explanation would reveal that he and I were perhaps closer in position on the topic than he had initially thought.

Anyway, ignore, if you read it, my comment about never posting here again. That was written in somewhat hurt reaction to John's email message to me (posted above), and it was silly of me to react that way. I'm actually pretty good at being able to take hostility. I've got practice, you could say. So please tell me, if you care, whoever, WHAT you find, specifically, so insulting about my post. I'm sincerely curious. I wrote it in good-faith contribution to a discussion I thought was sharp and engaging, and I tried to contribute in a somewhat interesting manner.

 
At 10/30/2011 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I am sometimes annoyed by Kentisms, and other times given food for thought, but must say that this kind of thing does not begin to offend me. Dirty talk / sexytime imagery? Please. It neither offends nor titilates. It's just a vocabulary of images that can illuminate or bore depending on use. In this case I got a little of each. Not bad for the internet.

Paul

 
At 10/30/2011 2:13 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

John,

You write to Kent: "Seriously. Make some art. Something where you're really trying to do something for real. All you do is jack around."

The implication that Kent has not made or is not currently making art is ludicrous, and so I gotta say, as you said to Kent: you're better than this.

I'm very glad to hear that more and more poets are talking about content--that's great! That's one positive response to the doldrums of hybridity.

I’d encourage those interested in such focus on content to read the essay that concludes Kent’s Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz. It’s a response to Charles Bernstein’s “Enough!” (Available here: http://www.arras.net/circulars/archives/000312.html) In his essay, Kent points out that the a-g, in demanding “ambiguity,” “complexity,” and “skepticism” even in anti-war poems is going against the fact that our most powerful anti-war poems are *very clearly* (that is, unambiguously, overtly, and directly) anti-war. (Check out an excellent summary of the essay here: http://galatearesurrection3.blogspot.com/) This essay seems the place to go to see Kent taking on a version of the formalism of the a-g (whose favorite formal register/technique is defamiliarization) in favor of a more robust poetic engagement.

So far, there are no powerful fractal anti-war poems, right?

Kent's revision of his original oasis scenario, I think, *at least* has this going for it: it suggests that one's gotta work harder to get from Armantrout what one gets easily from Rilke. But what’s contentious about this? It's virtually a fact. Rilke is one of the great poets, right? Armantrout may well be—we’ll see. I mean, I like Armantrout’s work (how could I not? In “Lyricism of the Swerve,” Hank Lazer discusses Armantrout’s poetry, essentially, as a poetry of turning!), but Rilke is truly major. (Rilke, however, is a bit of strange choice for this thought-experiment; Blake, I think, or, say, Akhmatova, would have highlighted the difference better.) To not recognize this seems to be relativism apotheosized to silliness.

xoxo
Mike

 
At 10/30/2011 2:38 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Thank you, Mike and Paul.

Again, eager to hear more specifically from anyone what was "offensive." Or to hear what people might think more generally about my "solution" to the bubbling rock scenario.

It's been quite a day on the internet for me: Another prominent blogger, whose criticism I've admired (and whose work I've championed with presses and journals--one of the latter is about to come out with one of his poems thanks to my advocacy), and at whose blog I haven't been able to post comments for months due to some Profile switch with my registration there, has accused me, in extended, hateful emails today, of lying to him about not being able to post, that I am just playing wicked mind games with him, that he has never heard of any such technical problem. Nothing I say, even when I send him the copy and URL of the Error page I get, can change his mind. For him, too, I assume, I'm nothing but the little boy who cries wolf.

Advice to younger poets who want to be popular: Don't write satire. And don't ever, ever, question the Author Function.

 
At 10/30/2011 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if I were ever invited to the Author Function I'd have no idea what to wear.

Paul

Word Verification: conmen
(seriously)

 
At 10/30/2011 2:52 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

So this isn’t going very well for me so far.

In my defense, I wasn’t meaning that Kent Johnson has never made good art. I was thinking, when I wrote that, about some of his recent non-poetry things that he posts on. I offer an apology for implicating everything he’s ever done.

And special to Mike: XOXO back.

And to make clear, what he's saying above about some blogger has nothgin to do with me. Kent Johnson does not like or champion my work, and I do not send him extended hate-filled emails. The email I sent him (above) was anything but hate-filled.

 
At 10/30/2011 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other news, Kent Johnson has once again gotten to have a Kent Johnson show. And he's getting some stroking, too!

You really can't pay for this kind of fun. Well, mostly because it's not really fun.

The last time Kent acted like he was going to go away from this blog forever, you'll remember JG, was because you suggested he should get a blog of his own. But why should he have his own blog, when he can have yours?

The joke's on all of us. WV: unquad.

- Chris

 
At 10/30/2011 3:10 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>In other news, Kent Johnson has once again gotten to have a Kent Johnson show

Baloney. You had commented earlier, Chris, that I it was typical of me to promise to expand and then to not do it. I don't know what you meant by that, but anyway, I did so, one day later than promised, with apologies, raising some points and ideas in a long post. Then I was accused of being offensive and had a pretty personal attack directed against me, posted publicly from a private email. Then I said that John is entitled to think what he wants, and wrote that I was sincerely interested in responses to what I'd written, but no one wants to engage what I wrote. And then now you come on with personal accusations about me just wanting my Kent Johnson show. I think it's YOU, for some strange reason, who wants a show around me. I'm here, ready to talk about the stuff related to the initial thread. I've done NOTHING to draw this discussion around myself. You and others are the ones to have done that.

 
At 10/30/2011 3:19 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Kent, your solution was a seminal contribution to American lit crit.

 
At 10/30/2011 3:20 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

By the way, and by way of friendly request, those who post comments anonymously should add their last names to the sign-off, so everyone knows who everyone is? Chris, I don't even know who you are, eventhough you seem to think you know everything about me!

 
At 10/30/2011 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nopy nope nope Kent. You just want us little wimpy nobodies to stroke you and you know it. What you’re demanding is that people respond not to the topic (which was, if you recall a book of essays by Cole Swensen), but what you did with the topic. It’s now your topic, and, as usual, that mostly just means you. Oh, me, I’m poor little Kent, I don’t know what possibly I might be doing to upset anyone! Oh dear! Someone please tell little old me!

Now there’s some prime baloney. You really want someone here, on a blog where the administrator has posted many times on why he adores Rae Armantrout so much, how anyone might think your little story about The Rae Armantrout specter presiding over a garden hose blow job might be offensive?

You DID post a reply! A really stupid one, too. But in all fairness, they weren’t doing much better trying to do it without you. They need you Kent. Oh please, don’t go away! Please stay and save us! Give us some content!

-Chris S.

 
At 10/30/2011 3:37 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>how anyone might think your little story about The Rae Armantrout specter presiding over a garden hose blow job might be offensive?

I admire Rae Armantrout's poetry, too. Maybe re-read the "story," Chris S., drink some water, and cool down, young man. I think you're a young man, anyway.

By the way, your notion that I hijacked the thread on "Cole Swensen" is patently ridiculous: the discussion had turned to issues of form and content and types of poetry before I even posted a comment.

 
At 10/30/2011 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you like Rae Armantrout! Now I see it, looking back at your little story, there's like and LOL written all over it. That, and remind me never to borrow your garden hose. Dude, you've got a serious fetish problem.

- Chris

 
At 10/30/2011 6:18 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10/30/2011 6:53 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10/30/2011 8:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So in Hell, every day is Friday?

Word verification: dogearl

 
At 10/30/2011 8:50 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I don't care whether or not Kent's game was offensive. It was stupid, if not amusing for how obtuse a metaphor it was.

Anyway. Kent, this is something you've done repeatedly in prior comment streams. You post some view or situation that very clearly gives us a choice between two different options and then claim how there never was a binary. Bullshit. You can deny it all you want, but the posts speak for themselves. For example:

"Now, if all this seems somewhat fanciful and mirage-like, without any real relevance to that “where we are,” let me say this, and it’s very important to my point: The problem is that in our neo-avant moment of poesy, in our desert, where we are all stumbling, thirsting for what may give us meaning, 70% (my rough guess) of poets, so dazed and stunned to see, would dutifully crawl to the tube side first… And in the waste land, when you thirst, whether you realize where you are or not, that’s not the right move to make."

Must there always be two, separate but equal drinking fountains (which, BTW, are not even so in your metaphor)?

 
At 10/31/2011 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Musha ring dum a do dum a da.

 
At 10/31/2011 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Dogearl" is nice. I would adopt it as my surname--for Kent--if I didn't already have one.

Maybe we can each get two surnames, as in certain other cultures? And then we can all go home?

--Eli (H.)

 
At 10/31/2011 8:42 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Eli!

Good idea. I'll take, in the spirit of Anon, there, whack fol the daddy-o.

 
At 10/31/2011 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Now, if all this seems somewhat fanciful and mirage-like, without any real relevance to that “where we are,” let me say this, and it’s very important to my point: The problem is that in our neo-avant moment of poesy, in our desert, where we are all stumbling, thirsting for what may give us meaning, 70% (my rough guess) of poets, so dazed and stunned to see, would dutifully crawl to the tube side first… And in the waste land, when you thirst, whether you realize where you are or not, that’s not the right move to make.

And that’s probably the main moral of my thought experiment, for what it’s worth."

Thanks, Kent, for that. Don't know about the percentages, but the moral itself strikes me as right. I missed the post when you first made it, so I'm glad John reposted it.

BTW, I liked it better when the two of you got along, but such is internet life.

Nobody F. Nowhere

 
At 10/31/2011 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does it matter what a percentage of poets will do. It's all demolition wallpaper until someone writes Ozymandias.

 
At 10/31/2011 11:44 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I love this. Thanks, Anon!

http://www.desktopart.com/wallpaper-1626-2ddigitalart_fractal_demolition_wallpaper.html

Demolition Wallpaper AND Fractals! We've come full circle. I'm almost giddy with it.

 
At 10/31/2011 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops. Realized I have been remiss. Instead of just thanking Kent for his comment, I should have also/first thanked you, John, for this blog. I've been reading it for many months and enjoy your entries as well as the comments by most of the regulars.

NFN

 
At 10/31/2011 3:09 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

.

Whiskey in the Jar

As I was going over the Gilgarry mountains,
I met with Captain Farrell and his money he was counting,
I first produced my pistol and I then produced my rapier,
Saying Stand and Deliver for you are the bould deceiver,

Musha ring dum a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

I counted out his money and it made a pretty penny,
I put it in my pocket and I took it home to Jenny,
She sighed and she swore that she never would deceive me,
But the devil take the women for they never can be easy.

Musha ring dum a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

I went into my chamber all for to take a slumber,
I dreamed of gold and jewels and for sure it was no wonder,
But Jenny drew my charges and she filled them up with water,
And sent for Captain Farrell to be ready for the slaughter,

Musha ring dum. a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

T'was early in the morning just before I rose to travel,
Up comes a band of footmen and likewise Captain Farrell,
I first produced my pistol for she'd stolen away my rapier,
But I couldn't shoot the water so a prisoner I was taken.

Musha ring dum a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

There's some take delight in the carriages a rollin',
And others take delight in the hurlin' and the bowlin',
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courtin' pretty fair maids in the morning bright and early.

Musha ring dum a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

If anyone can aid me it's my brother in the army,
If I can find his station in Cork or in Killarney,
And if he'll go with me we'll go roving in Kilkenny,
And I'm sur he'll treat me better than my own disporting Jenny.

Musha ring dum a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

 
At 10/31/2011 3:10 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

.

A Poison Tree


I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole.
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see,
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

- William Blake

 
At 10/31/2011 7:11 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

.

Na Laetha Geal M'óige

(In ómós do mo mháthair agus do m'athair)

Ag amharc trí m'óige,
Is mé 'bhí sámh,
Gan eolas marbh
Bhí mé óg gan am,

Anois, táim buartha,
's fad ar shiúil an lá.
Ochón 's ochón ó.

Na laetha geal m'óige
Bhí siad lán de dhóchas
An bealach mór a bhí romham anonn
Bhí sé i ndán domh go mbéinn, slán, slán.

Anois, táim buartha,
's fad ar shiúil an lá.
Ochón 's ochón ó.

Na laetha geal m'óige
Bhí siad lán de dhóchas
An bealach mór a bhí romham anonn
Bhí sé i ndán domh go mbéinn, slán, slán.

Anois, táim buartha,
's fad' ar shiúil an lá.
Ochón 's ochón ó.


Translation from the Irish:


The Bright Days of My Youth

(In honor of my father and mother)

Looking back over my youth,
I was content,
Without knowledge of death
I was young, without time,

Now I'm sorrowful,
The day is long past.
Alas and woe, oh.

The bright days of my youth
They were full of hope
The great journey that was before me then
Was what was destined to be, bye bye.

Now I'm sorrowful,
The day is long past.
Alas and woe, oh.

The bright days of my youth
They were full of hope
The great journey that was before me then
Was what was destined to be, bye bye.

Now I am sorrowful,
The day is long past.
Alas and woe, oh.

 
At 10/31/2011 7:30 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

P.S. Lyric by Enya.

 
At 11/01/2011 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one discussed the Swensen.

Like a dog chasing its tail, there's a lot of self-congratulatory talk about how form is content and content is form, but so little philosophical inquiry into what is content, what is form...

Ironically, Gary, and his poems, come closest to philosophical interest.

-Thomas Brady, Scarriet

 
At 11/01/2011 8:53 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Content is the stuff poems are made of, form is the shape of a poem.

 
At 11/01/2011 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And also, dear Proper Name, so little inquiry into what is inquiry, what is philosophy, what is irony, what is interest.

 
At 11/01/2011 12:06 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Content is what's expressed. (Often unpremeditated. In fact, for me, it's better to begin gleaning and amalgamating with nothing more definite than an inchoate longing to express something. If I decide what I want to express before I start writing, the finished--or abandoned--product will sound bogus.)Form encompasses everything related to means of expression. Content=what you say. Form=how you say it. All poets I like care at least as much about how you say it as about what you say. In fact, some poets I like apparently lavish all their care on the HOW and none on the WHAT. But the WHAT will out. "If you have to say it, you will"--Richard Hugo? And perhaps you should say only what you have to say. Any other WHAT would sound bogus. But this isn't philosophizing; it's dogma.

 
At 11/01/2011 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well. I think there are broad and narrow definitions of form, in all the arts. Very broad all the way to very narrow. And especially with the broader definitions of form, drawing the line between it and content raises a lot of interesting and often difficult questions.

Both music and photography have been posited as media in which form and content are equivalent ... I've read essays that argue this convincingly, but what remains unclear is why things would be different for poetry.

Paul

 
At 11/01/2011 2:27 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I don't think they're different for poetry. Obviously there's a symbiotic relationship between form and content; you can't have one without the other. In fact, they're inseparable. We distinguish between body and soul--or matter and spirituality--knowing they're inseparable; similarly, we divide content from form, knowing they're inextricably enmeshed.

 
At 11/01/2011 6:13 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Yes, I live on a small farm in the woods but, yes, I also have e-mail (ha ha), so. . .

back, by popular request, are my previously deleted poems:


In defense of Kent Johnson:



Scholars

The new poetry of mournful
puff-eyed faces almost
indistinguishable for the height,
staring out, half-hidden
through thick glass windows
set into the tops of enormous square
towers of stone, granite bare of vines
about
the battlement;

maybe three or four hundred lonely
square towers stretched across
an academic Gobi plain until the very
farthest away (almost horizon)
is like a little matchbox on
its end.

Copyright 2005 – Evolving-Poems 1965-2005, Gary B. Fitzgerald



Point
(advice to budding poets)

Make one. Then disguise it.
Make them all try
to figure it out.
Be witty and clever
and erudite.
Make sure they get
too frustrated
in the searching
to really get it.

Many references, too.
Some obscure, so they appear
to reflect a cultured mind.
Be scholarly and ever
more unclear.
Offer a gift but hide it,
something they will never find.
Tie it much too tight
to unwrap. Lock it,
without a key,
behind a door.

To the sad word-bound
this will be a joy…
another literary puzzle
to struggle with and pass empty
time, but to the rest of us
such a bore.

Copyright 2009 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald



Advice to Young Poets

Just write it pure, boys,
no gimmick or game.
Give it balance and rhyme,
make sure the point’s plain.

Just say what you feel, girls,
what you think and you hear.
Give it rhythm and time
and make sure the point’s clear.

Copyright 2008 - HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

 
At 11/01/2011 6:30 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I didn't know today was Friday. Weird, and I still have work tomorrow.

 
At 11/01/2011 6:36 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Arbeit macht Friday.

 
At 11/01/2011 7:47 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

If you all hate my poetry so much, just say so!

After all, every day is Friday in Hell!

What is it about you people
that makes you so evil?

P.S. So cough up some of your poetry. I never see any of the critics offering any poetry. Chicken?

 
At 11/01/2011 8:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"P.S. So cough up some of your poetry. I never see any of the critics offering any poetry. Chicken?"

Gary, no one's critiquing your poetry*, they're critiquing your habit of posting it relentlessly, especially when the subject at hand is ... other people's poetry.

You're right that no one else posts their stuff. This is John's blog, and you may notice that he doesn't even post his own stuff. It's just not a "show me yours and I'll show you mine" kind of party.

Paul

*at the moment, anyhow

 
At 11/01/2011 9:20 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

.

Paul:

There are many places one can go to seriously discuss and analyze poetry: university poetry classes, discussion groups, workshops, seminars, etc. This is a blog, for Christ’s sake! It is not, I don't believe, intended to be specifically educational in nature. It is intended, at least the comment stream, for dialog and (hopefully interesting and fun) communication among fellow poets.

I have been posting my poetry on the internet for over six years, going back to the Harriet and Silliman days, plus many other blogs. This is my M.O. I enjoy sharing my poetry. After all, I only write it to be read. I have almost always received positive responses. What harm in reading a poem, anyway? Does it really impose that much on your life?

I don’t understand the negative responses I get here. If you want a serious academic discussion of poetry, I suggest you get off the blog and go back to college.

Now, you have seriously pissed me off, so I'm going to post even more poetry. Enjoy it or hate it! Pipe this in your smoke and put it!



Things

Deep and amply worried we
about so many things,
health and money, love and work,
future and potential things;
dull, mundane and earthly things;
the dead-pledge and the will,
inheritance and insurance,
the possibility of even more bad things,
the requisite and customary things,
the things now soon to come.

Sometimes my troubles overwhelm me,
lead me to despair and darker things,
so I sit out here tonight and worry
about all these awful, worldly things.

Then I happened to look up and see the moon,
full adrift on a high slow breeze as if
a-sail on pewter clouds across a silver sea.
I feel the soft breeze on my face.
I notice how all the white fences glow
and the trees are casting shadows.

All of a sudden in this clean new light
nothing seems all that important
and no thing is as important as nothing else.

Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald



Writing at Night

I had planned to write about that owl tonight.
I heard him calling from the wood, but now
I’m thinking that I should write my will.
I’ve put it off as long as I could.
I should list all my assets and debts,
my most treasured and valuable goods,
pay the balance on lost bets
for those I leave behind.

Maybe I could just write a letter
to everyone I’ve wronged, that I’ve maligned,
make this page an apology for all
the things I’ve screwed up in my life,
all the things I sought but could never find.
Or, at least, leave a thank you note
for having had it.

Copyright 2009 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald


Musha ring dum a do dum a da
Whack fol the daddy-o.
Whack fol the daddy-o,
There's whiskey in the jar.

 
At 11/01/2011 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've pissed you off? By clarifying why I think you get so much negative response?

Maybe I'm wrong. Why don't you ask John how he'd like his comment stream to be used?

Paul

 
At 11/01/2011 10:35 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Paul said:

"I've pissed you off? By clarifying why I think you get so much negative response"

Negative response due to comment stream use does not equal negative response due to one's poetry on the comment stream, which is weird since this is, theoretically, a poetry blog.

 
At 11/01/2011 11:30 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Oops. Gotta Go.
Jackson Browne on the radio.

What an idiot he was,
breaking up with Daryl Hannah.

Are you nuts?

 
At 11/02/2011 5:41 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

That you post your poems to "punish" us should give you all the hints you need, Gary.

For some reason it doesn't, so let me spell it out for you. Yes this is a poetry blog, but no, it's not yours. The reactions you're getting have nothing to do with your work, but your MO. Constantly posting your own poems that are tangentially related to the subject at hand is just rude, especially when they constitute the bulk of your contributions to any comment stream.

People criticize Kent for much the same reason. Even if what gets posted is relevant, it's bad manners to hijack another person's comment stream for self-promotion when creating your own blog is just as easy.

 
At 11/02/2011 4:22 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Dear Fuzz:

Thank you for your patient and considerate response. I, for one, would be thrilled to see a little more original poetry on this site. Apparently, though. I have crashed a private party here. I always thought that that was what Facebook was for, where you can choose your friends. I must also admit that I have never heard my poetry described as “punishment” before but, like I said earlier, you obviously have no sense of humor at all.

I do, however, now know what you look like. I looked up ‘boring’ in the Dictionary and there, right next to the entry, was a little picture of you.

GBF

 
At 11/02/2011 5:10 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

And another thing! Who’s to say who is hijacking what? If you are having a conversation with David and Paul and someone else comes in with something else to say, this is hijacking? Why? Because it’s not the conversation that YOU are having? That’s a little selfish, isn’t it? This is, after all, a public access blog. Just because what YOU are discussing isn’t what others want to discuss is no reason to call them rude.

Other “contributions” may even be more interesting and valuable than yours. You should keep in mind that this isn’t your blog, either.

 
At 11/02/2011 6:18 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi all,

I’ve been away for a few days, and just got back. There are quite a few comments here. So, since my name was brought up, I thought I might as well weigh in.

I have a deep commitment to freedom of speech. Not telling people what to do is something of a life-way for me. When I started this blog I made a decision not to moderate the comment stream. And I’m not going to start moderating comments, because I have a strong aversion against it.

But, since the question was raised, here is what I wish would happen: I wish, Gary, that you wouldn’t post your poems here. This is not a comment on the value of your poetry, it’s a comment on the forum, the way in which you’re presenting your poetry. It’s a genre question. Along with that, I also wish that Kent wouldn’t post advertisements for his projects.

Both of these behaviors, your poems and Kent’s advertisements, become, whether either of you mean it or not, distracting, and tend to call attention to yourselves, often causing the conversation to then shift to just be about on or the other of you.

Both of you have a lot to say, and I admire your tenacity, but what I suggest both of you do is to start blogs of your own for such things.

Neither of you are banned from this blog (I’m not even sure how to do that). You can post whatever you post and I’ll not delete it. I’m just telling you what I wish would happen.

-JG

 
At 11/02/2011 7:13 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Fair enough, John. As you wish.

In my opinion, though, a big mistake. You are taking the spice from the stew and the sauce from the meat.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

GBF

 
At 11/02/2011 7:54 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

P.S. (Parting shot)

You have also discouraged Franz Wright from posting here. I don't see the logic in trying to keep the best minds of our generation away from one's blog.

If I had a blog I'd be begging them to come.

 
At 11/02/2011 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If I had a blog I'd be begging them to come."

Yay!

Just do it. And I promise to never bug either you or Franz there.

 
At 11/03/2011 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Gary's poetry. What's the big deal about reading a little poetry? What has fifty years of wimpy academia done to us?

By the way, Fuzz says, "Content is the stuff poems are made of, form is the shape of a poem." But this assumes form and content are distinct. So where does that leave Creeley's formula? And it's too crude to say, with Grove, form and content are "inextricably enmeshed." I'm afraid we are still very far away from any kind of scientific definition.

Thomas Brady, Scarriet

 
At 11/03/2011 7:10 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Tom,

It's nto a question of liking or not liking Gary's poetry. It's not about the quality or lack of it in his poetry. His poetry is welcome on your blog, and that's a good thing. He has a forum. He doesn't need this one. It just brings him, and this blog, a lot of antagonism.

You're absolutely right about form and content. There will never be a scientific definition, as it's not a scientific problem. It's an artistic problem, and each artist approaches it a different way. Gary and Wallace Stevens have very different ideas about it, as do you and Blake. But the continued conversation is necessary, as much as we disagree on things. The disagreement is key. It's how ideas move. So we all keep at it in our own ways.

 
At 11/03/2011 7:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be afraid. Nobody's going to stop you.

 
At 11/03/2011 3:20 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/03/2011 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“You have also discouraged Franz Wright from posting here. I don't see the logic in trying to keep the best minds of our generation away from one's blog.”

Gary, are you really comparing yourself to Franz Wright?

 
At 11/03/2011 3:28 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Hell, no!

My poetry is far superior to Wright’s, as well as that of Robert Pinsky, Robert Bly, John Ashbery, Maya Angelou, Rae Armantrout, Ted Kooser and Kay Ryan.

Get back with me in fifty years!

WV: Fuzzisadumbass

Go figure

 
At 11/03/2011 3:49 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Just having a little fun, Fuzzy.

Don't get worked up.

I have actually very much enjoyed your observations and comments here.

 
At 11/03/2011 4:40 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

John Gallaher said:

It's not a question of liking or not liking Gary's poetry. It's not about the quality or lack of it in his poetry. His poetry is welcome on your blog, and that's a good thing. He has a forum. He doesn't need this one.

Question A: Then, why wouldn’t my poetry be welcome on YOUR blog? It’s never been a problem with Annie Finch, Mark Doty, Ron Silliman, Don Share, Robert Archambeau, Harriet, Curtis Faville, Scarriet, etc., etc.

John Gallaher also said:

“Gary and Wallace Stevens have very different ideas about it, as do you and Blake.”

Question B: You have a problem with Stevens and Blake? And you teach poetry? What are kids being taught these days? Might this explain the collapse of our culture?

 
At 11/03/2011 6:05 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Actually, my comment above is pretty funny since I don't really care that much for Wallace Stevens. I would have rooted for Hemingway.

On the other hand, Blake is one of my greatest heroes.

I am a big fan of Tygers.

(Don't much care for you humans, though).

 
At 11/04/2011 3:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Gary,

You made a mistake a few comments back and posted that anonymous comment to yourself under your own name, then you deleted it, and reposted it as an anonymous comment.

I wouldn't make note of it, as I can see the value of rhetorical questions, but for the fact that you get very angry and make all sorts of accusations against people who make anonymous comments.

I suspect that other anonymous comments that pop up here now and then to support you or to ask you convienient questions are also written by you.

 
At 11/04/2011 6:59 AM, Anonymous Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

My anonymous comments are from my book ANONYMOUS COMMENTS, copyright 2011. Wanna buy it?

 
At 11/04/2011 7:02 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

No.

 
At 11/04/2011 7:35 AM, Anonymous Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

What's wrong with writing anonymous comments in support of myself, anyway? Have you not heard of the anonymous favorable reviews Whitman wrote for himself?

Sheesh. Obviously I'm dealing with a bunch of ignorant kids here.

 
At 11/04/2011 7:54 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/04/2011 7:57 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I'm sorry. Things don't always seem as funny the next morning.

However, posting comments anonymously is one thing. Posting comments under another person's actual name is another. Isn't that identity theft?

I have never done that to anyone so I'm asking that no one do it to me again.

Gary

 
At 11/05/2011 2:08 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/05/2011 2:33 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/05/2011 3:14 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/05/2011 3:32 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/06/2011 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, please stop it. Please get help. Please go away.

 
At 11/07/2011 4:26 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Well, you can lead a horse to water, but . . .

 

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