Monday, November 14, 2011

Salon has an article on poetry!

Salon has an article on poetry!

But, alas, it’s this one:

Controversy is always a hit, even when it’s about an art form no one notices outside the family. It leaves me to wonder what life might be like if poetry were talked about in the way that novels even were talked about. But I guess we have to take what we can get? But, really, does it need to be this?

That was pretty much it. It has all the flash of a High School lunch protest in the school library.

In the Salon article, this to-do at The Poetry Foundation is lightly being compared to the Occupy movement. Maybe it’s similar? Certainly the aims are just as elusive and the methods kind of, or almost, funny, in a youthful, futile kind of way. What else is there to say? The Poetry Foundation is doing with its money what it wants to do with its money. That seems a very different situation from the Occupy movement, where the claim is that Wall Street (or wherever) is doing things with our money (I think?). I do really like the idea of someone forming a percentage sheet about poetry. Who would be the 99%? Who would be the 1%?

Here’s the larger question the article gets to:

Odd as the CPC’s agenda may be, it does reflect a common (and romantic) notion that wealth is at odds with artistic authenticity. Nor is it new to fume that poets in particular grow dull amid the trappings of capitalism. In a recent Vanity Fair article on the photographer Milton Gendel, James Reginato tells the following anecdote. Sometime in the 1940s, two American editors at the French Surrealist magazine VVV gave their boss, André Breton, engraved Christmas cards. Breton had them fired immediately. “These snakes at my bosom!” he screamed. “I have fought the middle-class bourgeoisie all my life. And now they bring me Christmas cards!”

Moreover, shenanigans have always had a place in the art world, and they can sometimes needle us into taking a fresh look at things. Sure, one can find plenty to admire in issues of Poetry and in the programs of the Poetry Foundation (in full disclosure, I’ve written articles for them), but one may well ask whether the foundation could do a bit more for the lower classes in Chicago, or whether its wealth now distracts from its mission. It’s also worth considering the CPC’s observation that “the language that [foundation president] John Barr uses in talking about the Poetry Foundation … is eerily reminiscent of the corporate language of marketing and branding.” For them, the fact that Barr used to be an investment banker on Wall Street says it all.

At the same time, these protests reflect an unwitting hypocrisy: The group claims to fight for the common people but in fact has put its own priorities above those of people who attend poetry events. There’s irony in a protest that seeks to defend poetry by disrupting poetry readings. Those who would rather not have their evening “queered” are simply too bourgeois, it seems, to count. In much the same way, one wonders why Ms. Dunn claims to defend art by licking paintings. Between that kind of activism and any form of accountability one finds a buffer of obtuse pseudo-theory, a convenient layer of cerebral anarchy.

I'm with Forrest Gander on this one. Aw, just let ’em go.


At 11/14/2011 4:35 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

As someone who has participated in the demonstrations of OWS, I can say this bears some similarities and some differences. The issue of property is central to both, as the videos demonstrate.

Zuccotti Park is a privately owned public space. What that means is that until the owners ask the NYPD to help enforce the rules, they aren't allowed to evict people, take down tents, etc. I wonder if this bears a similar situation.

OWS, for me, anyway, is not about creating a third political party or a neat agenda. It's about changing the conversation. In that sense, it's been wildly successful.

I think the CPC has similar goals. I fear that it edges too close the anti-MFA/institutional support arguments we've seen, but it is always good to examine one's cultural position.

The main difference is that poetry is that poetry is elastic. If more people want to join the conversation, they can. There is not only enough pie, there's several flavors. I don't feel that way about our economic situation at all. We are, like it or not, beholden to it, and unless we're at the top pulling the levers, largely powerless.

Lastly, while they may have ruined the audience's night, I hardly think that's any real point to criticize them about. I'll relate a similar anecdote.

After Scott Olsen had his skull fractured by the Oakland PD there was a march to the statehouse in NYC. The NYPD kept kettling us, driving scooters into us, and blocking off roads. To counter these tactics, we began marching against traffic, in the street, down one-ways. We shut Broadway and 5th Avenue down for about two hours. That meant a lot of people had to spend some time sitting in traffic. Sure, some of them were pissed. But a lot of people were rolling down their windows to offer words of encouragement, to shake our hands, and to show support.

At 11/14/2011 5:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I like this a lot: "it is always good to examine one's cultural position."

Yes. Culture jamming is helpful in that way.

At 11/14/2011 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuzz, I see your point 100% concerning OWS. I just think the parallel with Poetry Foundation is so weak as to be meaningless (for reasons you brought up ... pies, etc.).

It's just hard for me to see P.F. as an oppressive force. Do I think they're conservative? Sure. Boring? Sometimes. Out of step with my own esthetic? Often. But their influence still strikes me as close to 100% positive. They have a website full of great, accessible information on poetry. They publish an ok magazine. They host events and have a fabulous library that's accessible to the public.

They're not all things to all people, certainly not to the coolest people. But I think they have something to offer anyone who's interested, and I just don't see them keeping anyone down.


At 11/15/2011 3:59 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I know you're talking to Fuzz, but I'm jumping in anyway. I've disagreed with things John Barr has said, and I've wished they did different things here and there with some of their money, but I've also never felt oppressed by The Poetry Foundation.

I think the whole thing will go away quickly, as there's no real issue here other than a kind of pranksterism. Pranksterism can be entertaining, and it draws attention to the people involved. That could, however, be as good for The Poety Foundation as anyone else.

At 11/15/2011 5:14 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

John, Paul,

I agree that they aren't actively harming anyone, which is where these two things differ. I think the tendency, in any time of protest, is to try and connect that to any number of unrelated things, good and bad. For example, one of the justifications for the Oakland PD clearing the park yesterday is that a man was murdered near their location. Of course, that's hardly their fault or even a new thing in Oakland, but their presence is an easy scapegoat.

While I don't see the CPC as actually accomplishing much, I imagine it has sparked a conversation, though maybe not the one for which they had hoped.

We know what the world of poetry looks like within these institutions. You are maybe a professor or you work somewhere like the Poetry Foundation or the Academy of American poets. Your books are published by small presses associated with universities. All of this is great, but what about those sitting under the trees outside the academy? Where do they fit into the equation? What kinds of support can they expect?

At 11/15/2011 5:25 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


This is a more interesting topic:

"what about those sitting under the trees outside the academy? Where do they fit into the equation? What kinds of support can they expect?"

I'm not sure what to do with it myself, as I guess I'm "in" the academy. But I'm not sure what kind of support I get for my art out of it. I get to talk about poetry with some students, maybe that's a form of support?

Better, though, than go down those lines, I'd like to rephrase the question a bit, maybe "community" rather than "support"? As a lot of this seems to be a community and identity question, as much or more than anything else.

At 11/15/2011 7:16 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


Yes, I think community is the appropriate word. As with music, I see poetry coming down to three things: presses, location, and the internet. When I start thinking about how presses are funded, who runs them or reads them, I'm at a loss for any that are really outside the academy. Sous Les Paves comes to mind. My own project, FAJ, was done out of pocket, but I used Naropa's printing press.

It's the same with reading series. All of the one I attend with any regularity are at bars, but they attract people from the academy or are run by them. Dorothea Lasky runs The Multifarious Array, for example, but she's currently (wo)manning the Poetry Foundation's twitter account.

Not that any of this is bad, I'm just at a loss for what there is that doesn't have some trail back to the gates.

At 11/15/2011 7:22 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I meant to add that the internet is maybe the best example, but it can only do so much in terms of community. It gives us a wider range of exposure, and puts us in contact with lots of interesting strangers, but does it do more?

At 11/15/2011 7:32 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

A (Pynchonesque-rare) epistle from J.H. Prynne, the great UK poet, will be coming out in the next couple or three days. The occasion for it is the CPC actions, their broader meanings and connections.

I'll post a link here when it does.

I also believe the complete Salon interview text done by the CPC activists will be appearing at one of the venerable poetry blogs this week. I'll point to that, too, when it does.

At 11/15/2011 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Community, yes.
But the CPC people HAVE a community ... that seems their worthwhile accomplishment.

Unfortunately, what they've chosen to do is attack another community. and it doesn't take any kind of magical perspective to see that the community they're attacking is more kin than foe. They're all advocating poetry, for crying out loud. It's like Sunnis stoning Shiites.

All that energy of theirs could go into some kind of guerilla press or super-queer reading series, or whatever.


At 11/15/2011 1:07 PM, Blogger Johannes said...

I don't think the corporate agenda/worldview of John Barr "says it all" - but doesn't it say something?


At 11/15/2011 1:30 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Johannes,

Yes, it does. The question then is what, if anything, to say back, and how and where to say it.

At 11/16/2011 6:29 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

To me that's what the acts did: it raised the issue of Poetry Foundation. Now I like some of the things they do (such as bringing in Zurita to read, he's my idol) but they also do have this incredibly conservative agenda backed by millions and led by an incredibly conservative business guy, so I can't say it's all good for poetry. And I think the actions just raise this issue. Through something that to me doesn't seem disrespectful but fun and spontaneous and ridiculous (I mean that as a term of endearment).

BTW, John, glad you liked my "fake surrealism" post. Here's a sequel:


At 11/16/2011 6:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I agree with you. I have piles of ambivalence regarding The Poetry Foundation. Mostly, though, I don’t think about it much. The magazine does a pretty good job in a generalist way, within its parameters. And every now and then on The News Hour I see they’re sponsoring something to do with poetry. That might be a good thing for poetry, maybe, except that the poets they usually trot out don’t raise my pulse any, and I have this feeling that they’re not raising anyone else’s pulses any either. I’d rather they bring out some poets we either love or hate than poets we’re all OK to compromise on, and that’s what I feel The News Hour does mostly. Edward Hirsch, etc.

That’s why I said even though I wish if Salon were writing about poetry it would something more substantial than this protest, this protest is probably as good for The Poetry Foundation as it is for the protesters. They’re all getting a little stage, and it’s making people aware that there are some things going on in the art of poetry that people care enough about to get all awkward in a doorway over.

In light of Zurita being something of the location of this, I wonder if anyone’s planning anything around the Bernstein reading. I think there’s a Bernstein reading there in December or in the spring? It would be the perfect site for a Fake Surrealism event.

Speaking of Fake Surrealism, I didn’t just like your post, I loved it. It’s a wonderful term. Thanks for the link.

At 11/16/2011 7:18 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

"Fake Surrealism" makes me think of Plato's concept of ideal forms. That they are fake, but possess the highest kind of reality.

Was Plato a Surrealist?

At 11/16/2011 7:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That’s just it. Once you do anything with realism you move it into surrealism. And, as Eli commented back on my Fake Surrealism post, Surrealism is already Fake Surrealism (and as Johannes also points out).

So what is this Fake Surrealism, then? Is it a nonsense term? I like it a lot, in the way that I like conversations of kitsch a lot. Today’s kitsch is tomorrow’s museum piece. Today’s ironic bunnies are tomorrow’s sincere bunnies. Today’s Koons is tomorrow’s Koons. As Lennon says, I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.

Or maybe it’s today’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, is tomorrow’s The Large Glass.

At 11/16/2011 9:27 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/17/2011 6:12 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

John, I don't think you're right about the sincere/ironic bunnies. The outside doesn't always becoming inside etc. The operations are more complex than that.

I think the key about fakeness is that art is fake. So what are we talking about when we reject some art as fake?


At 11/17/2011 7:57 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Here is the full interview between the Croatoan Poetic Cell and Salon, at John Latta's blog this morning, with prefatory comment by JL. A portion of the epistle from J.H. Prynne I'd previously mentioned, wherein Prynne reflects on the meanings of the CPC actions, is included here. The whole text of that letter will be coming out very soon, I believe, in the indefatigable Fiery Flying Roule pamphlet series.

At 11/17/2011 8:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Oh, absolutely, Johannes. I agree I’m wrong, as art is a social (it likes to party) act. I would be as right or wrong to say all art is real. We negotiate our commodity fetishes. it doesn’t matter much which pill you take, as Ruth Lilly made them both.

At 11/17/2011 8:17 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thanks for the link!


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