Nothing to Say & Saying It
Searching for a Heartbeat in Poetry & Music
Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
What Can Happen in a Comment Stream - Or, How Kent Johnson Got Banned
I ended up following the comment stream on a recent post on the blog Montevidayo, when Kent Johnson started posting his comments from it on this blog’s post here:
Saturday, January 29, 2011
AWP 2011 Events
If you’re at AWP next week, here are a few things I’m looking forward to. (I haven't looked very closely at the schedule yet, so I'm sure there are many more things of interest. As I find out about them I'll post them here.)
1:30-2:45 PM Executive Room / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
R184. A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line. (Emily Rosko, Raza Ali Hasan, Evie Shockley, John Gallaher, Emmy Perez, Robyn Schiff) So much in poetry depends upon the line—one of the most contested and central topics in 20th century poetics. This panel extends the discussion of this poetic fixture into the 21st-century. The concept of the line so often emerges as a kind of poetic and critical blank check—an aesthetic, sociopolitical, and metaphysical variable. Embracing this variability, the panelists will discuss how the line remains a crucial and generative force in their poetic work and thought.
4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m. Regency Ballroom / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
R231. A Reading and Conversation with Rae Armantrout, Sponsored by Wesleyan University Press. (Rae Armantrout, Craig Morgan Teicher) Ron Silliman said, “trying to read a book by Rae Armantrout in a single sitting is like trying to drink a bowl of diamonds. What’s inside is all so shiny & clear & even tiny that it appears perfectly do-able. But the stones are so hard & their edges so chiseled that the instant you begin they’ll start to rip your insides apart.” Join us as Rae reads from Money Shot, her follow up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Versed, also recipient of the NBCC Award, followed by a conversation with poet and critic, Craig Teicher.
1:30-2:45 Ambassador Ballroom / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
S182. New American Writing 40th-Anniversary Reading. (Maxine Chernoff, Bin Ramke, Gillian Conoley, Rusty Morrison, Paul Hoover, Julie Carr) The distinguished literary magazine New American Writing will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2011. Established in 1971 as a saddle-stitched quarterly called OINK!, it has become one of the premier literary periodicals of our time. Some of the magazine’s leading contributors will read from their work.
Friday, January 28, 2011
How Language Shapes Thought
In the new issue of Scientific American, cognitive psychologist Lera Boroditsky has an article titled “How Language Shapes Thought: The languages we speak affect our perceptions of the world.”
Here are the main points, in brief:
1. People communicate using a multitude of languages that vary considerably in the information they convey.
2. Scholars have long wondered whether different languages might impart different cognitive abilities.
3. In recent years empirical evidence for this causal relation has emerged, indicating that one’s mother tongue does indeed mold the way one thinks about many aspects of the world, including space and time.
4. The latest findings also hint that language is part and parcel of many more aspects of thought than scientists had previously realized.
This is the sort of thing that has long been a part of discussions and arguments in philosophy, art, and cultural studies, and is part of the narrative of A Clockwork Orange and 1984. Change the language and you change the people. Take away the words and the thoughts disappear.
Now, of course, Boroditsky isn’t going that far with the idea, but the few research examples she describes do have larger implications, even if more subtle than the famous dystopias above.
For me, this comes back to art, specifically, poetry. Surprise surprise. But here’s the dilemma: If the poet, say, feels that the role of the poet is to reveal something about reality in the “Thing Itself” fashion, the “direct treatment of the thing” fashion, then how is that to be done when the language that that poet is using is a partial creator of the reality that the poet is experiencing?
Bruce Andrews: There is no “direct treatment” of the thing possible, except of the “things” of language.
Well, it turns out that direct treatment of the things of language is, at least in part, a direct treatment of the things of reality anyway, so where are we again?
At the simple level of communication, we have this problem, too. What we think others are understanding in what we’re saying is highly speculative. We know all this, yes. But what does that do to “clarity” in poetry? What “clarity” in poetry deals with is the social sphere of a group sharing a common perception of reality. That common perception is languaged, and extends out past language itself into depictions that are visual and experiential. What we experience is what we’re conditioned to experience by the frame of reference we were brought to through language.
All is not hopeless, thankfully. This is a tendency problem, not an absolute problem. Some language groups think the future is in front of them and some think it’s behind them. Some have no words for numbers. Some have no words for right and left. The right and left example is especially interesting, here’s Boroditsky:
“I am standing next to a five-year old girl in pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York in northern Australia. When I ask her to point north, she points precisely and without hesitation. My compass says she is right. Later, back in a lecture hall at Stanford University, I make the same request of an audience of distinguished scholars—winners of science medals and genius prizes. Some of them have come to this very room to hear lectures for more than 40 years. I ask them to close their eyes (so they don’t cheat) and point north. Many refuse; they do not know the answer. Those who do point take a while to think about it and then aim in all possible directions. I have repeated this exercise at Harvard and Princeton and in Moscow, London and Beijing, always with the same results.
A five-year-old in one culture can do something with ease that eminent scientists in other cultures struggle with. This is a big difference in cognitive ability.”
Turns out that ability is that in her language one can only orient oneself in relation to North South East West. Relative spatial terms (right and left) don’t exist. So people in that group become exceptionally good at orienting themselves in space, even in unfamiliar spaces, in ways that cognitive scientists didn’t think humans could manage.
“The past decade has seen a host of ingenious demonstrations establishing that language indeed plays a causal role in shaping cognition. Studies have shown that changing how people talk changes how they think. Teaching people new color words, for instance, changes their ability to discriminate colors. And teaching people a new way of talking about time gives them a new way of thinking about it.”
Extending that idea into the arts gives credence to the fight over reality that is common in aesthetic battles. How different ways of saying things are, literally, different ways of seeing. And there’s a politics at play in which way you choose to say things, not just in what you’re saying. We’ve said this sort of thing many times. The idea, as Boroditsky reminds us, goes back centuries. And we will continue to say such things. It’s just that now we’ve a little more empirical evidence to back us up.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Monday Thoughts with "Mr. Trololo"
The avant garde has nothing on you. You could maybe walk to work behind Mr. Trololo.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Two Swedish Trios I Like (for the middle of winter)
Don’t let the Gallaher fool you, I’ve a Swedish bloodline (I was born Martin Enquist). So it’s good to reconnect with my people every now and then. The middle of winter seems an apt time. NPR reminded me today how much I like Esbjörn Svensson, and, well, the Junip was a late find last year (I got a copy in December), but I’ve liked José González’s other work, solo and with Zero 7 over the years. (Junip, by the way, is my favorite José González project. It would’ve made my top 10 for the year if I’d’ve veen aware of it in time.)
Here you go:
(Esbjörn Svensson Trio)
Yes, but is that Jake Adam York playing bass?
Rope & Summit
Friday, January 21, 2011
ADVICE ADVICE ADVICE
I don’t always disagree with Shivani. In fact, we have occasional cordial exchanges on facebook. And isn’t that an absolutely wonderful thing to say: “We have occasional cordial exchanges on facebook.”
Anyway, I think his advice is terrible here, mostly because he’s not followed it himself. If one is offering advice it shouldn’t be obviously hypocritical. It doesn’t take more than a 20 second google search to see how he’s violated numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. I’m not mentioning 3, 9, and 10 only because I don’t know him well enough to know.
1. Disobey the System.
2. Ignore Publicity.
3. Shun Crowds.
4. Seek Unemployment.
5. Converse Only with the Classics.
6. Refuse Recognition.
7. Don't Pursue a Niche.
8. Aim for Zero Audience.
9. Accept Failure.
10. Think Small.
First off, written out like this it’s pretty funny. A nice bit of satire. Until I realized he was serious. Or 99% serious, as he said when I wrote and asked him about it.
So far, his Manifesto of Obscurity has garnered him 250 or so comments. Enough said about the whole thing.
But why I’m writing about this is that it got me to thinking about the system of Advice to Writers that is everywhere around us. We love to ask and we love to answer. I’ve done a little of both myself, even as I really hate telling people what to do. Seriously, if you know me, you know I’m speaking about a core behavior of mine: I hate telling people what to do.
All that said, here is my stab at offering advice to writers:
1. Figure out what you want to do. Shivani’s advice is good advice to a certain type of writer. You can quickly deduce what type of writer by reading the comments to his post. There are many reasons why someone creates art, and since there are many reasons why someone creates art, there are many ways one should proceed. This is a two-fold bit of advice. What some people want to do is to publish a book. Some want to be thought of as a writer. Some want to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (and not posthumously). These different goals will entail different steps to accomplish. Any of these goals can be accomplished with or without taking classes (at a university, college, or city writing group), but taking classes does give you a group who are forced to talk with you about your writing. That might be helpful, no matter what your goals are. Even if your goal is to loathe writers and writing groups, it might be good to meet them. You might even find some kindred spirits with whom you can form an anti-group group. Maybe on facebook.
2. Do what you want to do. Why would you do anything else? Well, it all goes back to “what do you want to do”? If what you want is to write poems, say, then it’s pretty easy: write poems. If you want to publish those poems you have to send them out to places that publish poems. Then, of course, you have the difficulty of other people. Why should they want to publish your poems? Shivani takes something of the Bukowski approach: be a rather terrible person, then you will become something that makes people notice you. There are other ways, though. You could see how you want to write or how you’re writing, then find places that publish the sort of writing you do. Then you send your poems to them. Or, you can see the sort of writing people like in a certain venue (journal, press, city writing group) and try to write like that. Or, as a final option, you can find out who the people are who publish things (or are in charge of things in your city) and you can try to flatter them or befriend them, if you think that works. Some people swear that it does.
All you have to do is decide why you want to write, and what you want from writing; then actualize it (To use one of those marketing terms that I rather dislike.). As disturbing and creepy as that sounds, it doesn’t need to be. If what you want to do is make art, make art. After that, you have to decide what to do with it. But, seriously, you should always strive to be a good person. You have a better life that way. And your children will like you.
Soundtrack: Iron & Wine / The Decemberists / PS. R.E.M.
Iron & Wine’s new album (that comes out next week) is streaming at Conan O’Brien’s website:
Iron & Wine are also giving away the strongest track, “Tree By the River” on their website:
In other brand new music news, The Decemberists performed their new album, The King Is Dead, in its entirety in Portland for NPR. Video and audio versions can be found here:
PS. I’ve heard four tracks now from the upcoming R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now. Of the four, I like three (“Oh My Heart,” “It Happened Today” and “Discoverer”) and fine one rather horrible (“Mine Smell Like Honey”). Just saying.
PPS. I almost forgot to mention two albums that I'm looking forward to that are coming out soon:
Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth
Destroyer - Kaputt (If you thought last year was 80s retro, well, think again.)
Sunday, January 16, 2011
What has happened to the avant-garde in our "suspended" culture?
What has happened to the avant-garde in our "suspended" culture of the 's is a psychological equivalent of what has happened to it sociologically. Sociologically, it has been institutionalized by the universities and the publishers, which by definition means that in its modern phase it has to come to an end. At the same time, it has been internalized, so to speak, in the flexibly dialectical mind of contemporary criticism. In this withdrawal from the field of action it finds a possibility of continued life. The resiliency of the best critical minds must be counted on the keep the avant-garde alive during periods which have no immediate task for its polemical mission.
Yet the task of the temperamental or born avant-garde critic is not limited to the polemical purpose of converting the philistines to art. [S]He is also perennially the disinterested student and historian of culture, looking into the past and the present for the radical and not merely the contingent and incidental facts. The past convinces him that discontinuity and contradiction have always been of the essence of American culture. The present convinces him that among critics only the most powerful and resilient of "suspended" minds are capable of keeping alive the avant-garde spirit, or any spirit, or of embodying cultural contradictions of any sort without collapsing under the great strain into a formless middle way of feeling and thought. Who can doubt that this formless middle way of feeling and thought, with its increasing moralism and conventionality, is hardening into the new "cake of custom?" As for the future, one can only believe that the end of the present interim period will be marked by a new resurgence from the uneasy subliminal depths of our culture, in the classic manner of avant-garde action - provided, that is, that  marks the end of a phase of American culture as we have known it, and not the end of that culture itself.
* * *
OK. I didn’t write the above. In fact, it was written in the 1950s by Richard Chase. Don Share has some more of it posted on his blog:
What fascinates me is the obvious "ahem" quality of the piece. I couldn’t help changing the dates. It points well not just to the avant-garde, but also to the artistic situation: The “cultural contradictions” the avant-garde embodies, the “middle way” of the period style that surrounds it, the way an avant-garde becomes tomorrow’s dessert item, institutionalized by the universities and the publishers, and the every-present consideration of the future. So are the early 2000s a repeat of the midcentury 1900s? Fun question.
And the Chase essay is made all the more ironic by the fact that it was published in 1957, one year after the publication of John Ashbery’s Some Trees, which was something of the start of what David Lehman has termed “The Last Avant Garde.” (Define “last” as you wish! It’s a term, and we know what happens to terms.) Will the circle be unbroken?
I’m positively giddy with it all this morning. And isn't that a wonderful picture of Ashbery?
Friday, January 14, 2011
A bit more from Lana Turner vol 3
Cal Bedient writing on modern art:
There is, then, an equalizing power and effect in these modern styles, style being anyway “the quality common to two different objects.” I quote from Gilles Deleuze, who states in Proust & Signs: “style is essentially metaphor” and metaphor “is essentially metamorphosis and indicates how . . . two objects exchange their determinations . . . in a new medium that confers [a] common quality upon them.”
An a-poetics rather insists that, to use another numerical referent, the trinity is the new binary, and there is no dialogue, no call and response because the poem is no longer treated as a text to be read, however many ways and loose, but is cut loose altogether. The poem is simply a site of potential engagement like other works of art are simply sites for potential engagement, and there may be no “reading” just as there may be no “writing,” but a tripartite encounter with a textual surface. An encounter effected by what I have called a “sobject,” an entity that is neither subject not object but anthropomorphic soup, spatio-temporally seasoned.
A quotation from Fredric Jameson’s recent book, Valences of the Dialectic, has been helpful for my thinking in this regard:
“Whatever still wishes to call itself art . . . must now appeal to a certain violence in reestablishing what must remain merely provisional or ephemeral frames: the mode of perception must also be historically altered, borrowing from that type of attention Benjamin discovered in our consumption of architectural space and which he called distraction . . . to fashion a new kind of attention which we may call directed distraction, and which is closest in spirit to Freud’s association of ideas—a most rigorous process indeed, in which the old self and the older habits of consciousness are to be held in check and systematically excluded.”
[ . . . . ]
It might be that some of Flarf makes the spotlighted and mediatized differences relate, renewing a demotic immediacy for experimental poetry. If many people today distract themselves online, the Flarf poets have been the collective Rodin of such action. In some Flarf (and now “post-Flarf”), there’s a glimpse of what’s beyond an overly self-conscious lyric . . .
What then of experimentalism’s most recent developments? Flarf’s ear most often selects by lyric rules, marking it as ironically Romantic, and conceptual poetry—in addition to being a pagebound, non-ephemeral version of conceptual art—has its semi-conscious reinscription of 18-century aesthetics to deal with. (Kant’s impurposivity is constantly being regurgitated, ad nauseum, by Kenneth Goldsmith and others, but without Cage’s comic twinkle.) Even Badiou, with his careful definitions, manages to wring old changes with his valorizations of surprise and new knowledge (respectively harking back to Baudelaire and Ion.) In light of which, the best question for contemporary poetry may be: “you are Romantic in what way, and is it good for you?”
Quoting Merce Cunningham: “And when I happened to read that sentence of Albert Einstein’s, ‘There are no fixed points in space,’ I thought, indeed, if there are no fixed points then every point is equally interesting and equally changing.”
[ . . . ]
Given this situation, the viewer has to be unusually attentive, trying to take in as many “centers” as possible and perceiving their relational rhythm.
[ . . . ]
The more we probe such Cunningham-Cage concepts as “free form” or “anarchy,” the more apparent it becomes that theirs is an anarchy that is carefully simulated.
David Lau on Hugo Hopping:
There are still codes to undo, many ways left to change the existing order—this is a Hopping maxim.
Ian Hamilton Finlay:
Realism is a style which purports to be, and is at first often taken to be, without camouflage.
Gopal Balakrishnan on Alain Badiou’s The Century:
History was never, then, the actual condition of the innovations associated with modernism and revolutionary politics, but merely the rhetoric of temporality deployed to protect a fragile, innovative present from a menacing past by enclosing it in an imaginary future.
Cole Swensen on Monica Youn:
Though the book’s overall pose is highly ironic . . . , the ultimate irony of the book is that these poems are ultimately not ironic at all, and so risk a sincerity that our time has very little time for.
Brian Kim Stefans on Catherine Wagner:
If there is a problem that the anthology American Hybrid made clear, it’s that the dark matter of much poetry is to be found in the competing rhetorical registers of a poem, rather than what used to be called “content”—in the lyrical sense, whatever it is that is gumming up the poet’s objectivity. But poets today are not writing from a position of inbuilt personal drama—at least not of the caliber of poets from Byron to Ginsberg—since these are far from revolutionary times, and many (certainly not all) poets are comfortable, insured teachers. Thus, poets often conjure these animating tensions out of the quandary immediately facing them—how to write itself. Catherine Wagner’s approach to this situation is manifold. As for the poet’s “heightened” sensibility (a big no no in the egalitarian ethos of the AWP community) Wagner counters with a profane vocabulary . . .
Samuel Amadon on Ben Lerner:
What Lerner describes here is genuine experiment. Structure is valued over content, so that reading delivers possibilities rather than a predetermined message. . . . Ironically, Lerner’s most conceptual work to date is also his most personal.
Andrea Quaid on Vanessa Place:
Conceptual poetry is critique, emphatically so, issuing forth by way of “allegorical” appropriation that challenges the author-composer and the reader-thinker into productively uncomfortable positions complicit with our violent culture system.
… Notes on Conceptualisms states that “one does not need to ‘read’ the work as much as think about the idea of the work”
And is now perhaps the time for argument to assert itself, again, into poetry?
. . . as Joshua Clover recently framed it during a meeting of the 95 Cent Skool, one of poetry’s current tasks lies in searching out modes of response to the dematerialization of labor in some places and attendant hyper-materialization in others . . .
And a lot of other things:
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The Monkey & The Wrench - Now Available
The Monkey & The Wrench: Essays Into Contemporary Poetics
Mary Biddinger and John Gallaher, Editors
Nick Sturm, Associate Editor
Robert Archambeau. The Discursive Situation of Poetry
“Statistics confirm what many have long suspected: poetry is being read by an ever-smaller slice of the American reading public. Poets and critics . . . have blamed many things, but for the most part they have blamed the rise of M.F.A. programs in creative writing. . . . [But] these trends are unlikely to be reversed by the intervention of a few poets, critics, and arts-administrators. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. . . . Let me explain.”
Elisa Gabbert. The Moves: Common Maneuvers in Contemporary Poetry
“If each of a poet’s poems were unlike the others in every way, there would be no reason to prefer some poets to others; one could only have favorite poems, not favorite poets.”
Michael Dumanis. An Aesthetics of Accumulation: On the Contemporary Litany
“The continuous, obsessive repetition of the word [...] functions as a kind of incantatory seduction spell, lulling (if successful) the unsuspecting reader into the poem’s clutches.”
Stephen Burt. Cornucopia, or, Contemporary American Rhyme
“Rhyme can still be made useful, made to mean—and if it always stands out, it can even carry certain meanings more easily: it represents imposed (rather than discovered) order, artificial or fragile order, and irregular, fragmentary, temporary order at that.”
Benjamin Paloff. I Am One of an Infinite Number of Monkeys Named Shakespeare, or: Why I Don’t Own this Language
“[A] really good poem keeps us coming back for more, not just for more of the same. Translation . . . extends that potential considerably, not only by furnishing us with additional context and content, but by reminding us that we should not be so confident in our readings, that our sacred truths are far from settled.”
Elizabeth Robinson. Persona and the Mystical Poem
“A transcendent mystical experience . . . is no longer available to the postmodern poet. Still, I have confidence in the great resourcefulness of poetry to find way: to query and then shape findings into a poetry that enters a terrain of experience that can’t be accounted for by conventional logic.”
David Kirby. A Wilderness of Monkeys
“Ambivalence always sounds like a bad thing when somebody’s nagging you to make up your mind. But what’s wrong with taking your time? What’s wrong with thinking a lot about a poem or a scene or a character? What’s wrong with thinking about it forever?”
Arielle Greenberg, Craig Santos Perez, Michael Theune, Megan Volpert, and Mark Wallace. Hybrid Aesthetics and its Discontents
“One basic fact that all the papers seem to agree upon is that there is no problem with hybridity per se (indeed many of the following papers champion hybridity), just with how it so far has been theorized and anthologized.”
Cole Swensen. Response to Hybrid Aesthetics and its Discontents
“None of the readers of any anthology are actually there for the process of its construction, which is a loss, though an inevitable one, as much of what an anthology might offer is most alive in the discussions, the decisions, the distinctions, and the evolving considerations that lead to what ends up being the tip of an iceberg—the final selections, ordering, and framing that become the anthology itself.”
Joy Katz. Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye: Notes on the Ends of Poems
“Finding the natural end of a poem is sometimes like snapping off an asparagus stem where it breaks naturally. Poems can strain toward repetition, shouting FIN, when a natural conclusion is elsewhere on the page.”
Saturday, January 08, 2011
What Is Clarity Anyway? (Anyway, Clarity Is What?)
What I found, in a way, might be the sort of response to, or aesthetic, historical grounding for, that Ron Silliman has long called for in what he terms the School of Quietude. And Tracy starts out with a nod to the fact that clarity is going to be difficult (I would say impossible) to pin down:
Friday, January 07, 2011
Your Utopia Is Doing Well, Thanks!
Poetry, like philosophy, is better at messing with, complicating, what we thought we knew, than it is teaching us something. I have to repeat that to myself often, especially when coming across manifestos. I love manifestos. We all do, with the level of fascination usually reserved for traffic accidents.
There’s a red tinge to the act of the manifesto, as Joyelle McSweeney notes over at http://www.montevidayo.com/?p=752: “First, it wants to say something. Then, it wants to declare that statement already obsolete.” Which is something of the same idea behind, first, living well: “Good manners make good neighbors.” And then doing things: “How many heads can fit on one statue?” Manifestos are full of such moments.
McSweeney is responding to Robert Archambeau’s post
on this video:
Charles Bernstein reads Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto!
It’s a fun moment. Who wouldn’t want to stand in a museum swinging a hammer? And it’s also fun to be able to read the phrase “arrière-gardisme.” To play with it a bit. Archambeau does a nice job, and then McSweeney does a nice job. It’s important that some artists are continually tired of something long before most others have heard of it, so, therefore, whatever the Post-Avant was is long gone. So long gone in fact, that some are now talking about the Post-Conceptual, be it prefix or prix fixe.
It’s in this frame of mind that I encountered the newest volume (Vol 3) of Lana Turner (edited by Calvin Bedient and David Lau). I’ve decided that it’s the most fascinating single issue of a literary journal I’ve ever read. It fully embodies its position both as critical argument for where we are (or must be or just were) and as artistic enactment of what we’re up to (or were / or are up against, etc.) as attempts to move into the new (partially in the form of new translations of Aimé Césaire, among various references to Marcel Duchamp, etc). Arrière-gardisme co-exists with a more aggressive avant-gardism. I say this without fear of hyperbole. This volume is what we’ve come to, and should be required reading by everyone interested in contemporary poetry. Even so, as I started off this post thinking about how poetry, like philosophy, is better at complicating what we thought we knew, than it is teaching us something, so too, Lana Turner is finding itself in something of the Emerson moment in “The Poet,” where, as Diane Ward has it: “The message I’m dying to read has yet to come” and/or “Now let’s become something else.”
Here’s a bit from David Lau’s “Firing Behind Song: Poetry as Critique” where he has at the way things are (with a tint of Marxist undertone):
* * *
Here’s my injunction to the present: poetize the word dialectically in terms not merely of what is, but in terms of what this world’s becoming. (This is the changing same of “the new thing.”) Gopal Balakrishnan: “We have yet to figure out what an historical narrative would look like without the forward march of capital.” If the defeat of the left (or the end of the 60s) organized the horizon of possibility for a post-avant aesthetic these past several decades, it was a knowing smile (or grimace) that prescribed over the disjunctive practices, resigned to exilic wanderings in the word, with an occasional glance at the robots and glitter of the whole big bad economy thing. Now given this emerging condition of post- or declining global capitalism, how does poetry respond? Anticapitalism hasn’t returned in a mass way so that one could commit poetry to it. But many possible oppositional poetics are emerging (some candidates: an insurgent anticapitalist poetry à la the 95 Cent Skool; Conceptual Writing; Gurlesque; a multicultural and urban poetry ramifying now alongside the heroic African-American poetry; and several individual styles among the young as well, including Cathy Park Hong’s slangy near-futurism, Shane Book’s Flagelliforms, Ben Lerner’s gauchiste-Stevensian quality, Sandra Simonds’ imaginative overdrive, etc.), and I want to ask, like Raymond Williams, which of these poetics are “alternative” or genuinely oppositional. Do these poets find a different way to write and live and wish to be left alone with it; or do they find a different way to live and write and wish “to change society in accordance with the discovery” (Williams). The latter point may vaguely specify impossibility or utopia. So be it. (Check Joshua Clover’s “The Gilded Age” in this issue, its “passion for the real”: “There are not two kinds of poetry there is only one: Jacobin and unyielding.”)
* * *
There are several things in the above I would want to talk about, especially the elevating of “capital” as a yardstick for futurity, and the whole “oppositional” aspect and constant war and battle imagery when talking about art. Perhaps both are necessary and true, but I’d still want to position the idea of, instead of ideas that lead to “anti-capital” or “redistribution of power” to a version of “gift economy” perhaps, or simply “other.” As long as we’re going to let ourselves be utopian, I say go all the way and begin to think of art not as participating in social movements, but instead participating in plate tectonics. But this is part of the value of a journal such as this. Lana Turner is aggressive, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ll leave you with this bit from Vanessa Place’s “A Poetics of Radical Evil”:
* * *
For some time now the poetical-critical landscape features, and appears to favor, the discursive/generative reading, via (1) stylistics (such as in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) and post-structuralism (such as with the one-two of Derrida/Cixous), and (2) left-liberal-leaning collaboration (such as in the works of so very many experimental duos). If we fashion a critical poetics out of these approaches, we have, on the surface, a three-chambered ecumenics of: (1a) impotency, by way of penned constellate meaning; (1b) elision, by way of the metaphoric slide, glide, and aside, and (2) reform, by way of errant liberal recombinancy. I would like to be stupidly reductive here, in part because these positions have already been dilated upon in many other for a, but more because such reductivity may telescope the problem of the law lying within, and indicate, or indict, a radically stupid response. In other words, a response of willed evil.
[. . .]
There is no art without theory, no theory without art, there is the art of theory, and it is just as impure as any theory of art. It is time to rescind all licenses and make things truly free. Which, though it sounds like a sweet liberatory call, something that ought to be issued by one with some modicum of utopianism, or at least the itch for something better than this, is more a statement of fact, designed to prod us along into the future anterior, that conditional to-be. In other words, a violent and manacled responsibility, even duty. To what? To insist that poetry is what poetry isn’t.
* * *
Yikes, even. Go get a copy. We'll talk.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Albums on the Horizon in Early 2011
2011 is going to bring new albums from Radiohead, The Decemberists, R.E.M., The Low Anthem, East River Pipe, and many more.
First up is The Decemberists. Their new album, a much more rootsy affair than The Hazards of Love, is titled The King Is Dead, and it’s steaming on NPR until it comes out in another couple weeks. To me it sounds good, but not essential. But still, good is good, you know? “And when we die we will die with our arms unbound…”
Here are a couple YouTube videos from the R.E.M. album, Collapse into Now, which we will have to wait awhile longer for (it will be out in March).
It Happened Today
And here’s a promo trailer for the album:
And finally, a video from The Low Anthem’s upcoming (February) Smart Flesh:
The Low Anthem
Ghost Woman Blues
Sunday, January 02, 2011
Evening Will Come
C.D. Wright has the first essay up on the brand new Evening Will Come, an online, monthly journal of poetics founded in November 2010 by Joshua Marie Wilkinson.
I know the adjective can be a nuisance, and the adverb clumsy. I’m a touch sick of the poetic inflation around prepositions. I would prefer that conjunctions were less visibly functional. Articles can clutter. The verb works the hardest. It should be the best paid. And I know the fifteenth letter O is the best word of all: O my black frying pan. O my fallen arches. O my degenerating fibroids. O what’s the point. O little man at the foot of my bed, please don’t steal my pillow.
Poets are attending to the future.
There, they will build something for the past, receding indefinitely, for you.