Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Here’s one of the poems that was suggested from the comment stream from the last blog post. As I get and find others, I’ll post them as I can.

Terrance Hayes

1. Sooner or later I'm going to have to talk about the white house and how the men there don't seem to like big butt women.

2. There will also be a praise poem for the smartest, strongest, and/or fastest human alive should he or she live in a region with no reporters, printing presses, indoor plumbing etc.

3. And further additional efforts to demonstrate the ways my undoubtedly brilliant mind transforms day to day happenings into stuff. (parts 1-30)

4. A poem by someone named Lester Sea. Someone named Lenore. Headline sonnets maybe. Titles ripped from the annuls of jazz bebop, no doubt.

5. Written in seat 9A between Chicago and Traverse City. Little shacks with stoves on the big iced lake. (Fish cakes in the stoves.)

6. Four long titled poems transcribing recipes into poems using color, shape-senses, and the pronoun I where ever there is a the.

7. An "I love big" button somewhere. ("I love you, Portly, don't let em take me...")

8. Part I "Viscous circus"; Part II "Victory Circle"; Part III "Vicious Service" and if there be a Part IV "Very Surly"

9. "Dwell," "Furl," maybe. Girlish laughter in the pipes. (Keep talking, we know the same people.)

10. "The Short Age" followed by "The Us Age" followed by "The Bond Age" followed by "The Volt (or Re-volt) Age" followed by "Dose Ages," "Mile Ages" and "Out Ages." (See appendix)

11. Definitions of Divine Imaging, Speed Lightening, and Gerimantic Racial Demography. (Pronunciations of logistic as lowgetstick; stroll as scroll)

12. Half a dozen one hundred line attempts at resolving the poem: "I come from a long line of..."

13. A stanza rhyming bric-a-brac, brick-a-black, and papa bag.


At 11/09/2010 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what precisely makes this a poem?

At 11/09/2010 5:42 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The flippant answer is because it was published in the poetry section of a literary journal. That's not a very good answer, however.

Should there be something about poems that shows without a doubt the working of the genre? Some think so. Some don't. I'm part of the "don't" side.

Does it matter what we call it? Could we call it "Word Art" possibly? Might that be enough?

Anyway, it was suggested in the comments section as a poem that people should read, so I found it and posted it.

At 11/09/2010 6:20 PM, Blogger Jeremy Stewart said...

Left margin. That's what the world's greatest theorists tend to suggest...

At 11/09/2010 6:28 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That's just the sort of thing I'd expect from the world's greatest theorists.

At 11/09/2010 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 11/09/2010 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry: Elvis Precisely.

At 11/09/2010 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I really like the poem “It is the living who cannot” by Hilda Morley (found on Poetry Foundation website); Morley never got her due in my opinion. Also really like the Marie Howe poem “Part of Eve’s Discussion” from her book The Good Thief.

Good idea w/ this.

At 11/10/2010 5:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that taste and distictions are problematic--no need to rehash old critical debates and scholarship, but I just want proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not "without a doubt." Why would this poem be a viable candidate for inclusion in a "contempory anthology," which would mean it is indicative or represenative of "contempoary 'poetry?'" What is the method for evaluation, the criteria? It is slightly witty rhetorical meta-prose that is coyly self-conscious. Is that enough? I find far to often that folks champion a poet or poem because he/she or it breaks the mold or blurs the boundaries. It is "cool." Is that enough? What is rhetoric without its appeals, visual art without its techniques, poetry without some sense of craft or prosody? It seems to be a rebel-without-a-cause stance, or, if I impose more intellect to the piece, reactionary prose, not poetry by any discernable standard.

At 11/10/2010 6:10 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>What is the method for evaluation, the criteria? It is slightly witty rhetorical meta-prose that is coyly self-conscious. Is that enough?

Not enough to make it a *strong* poem, granted, but if Hayes had put, say, some discernible feet, line breaks, and self-conscious rhymes into it, would that have made it MORE of a poem for you? Why is "slightly witty rhetorical prose" less legitimate a trait for a "poem" (in quotes because I don't claim to exactly know what a "poem" IS-- do you?) than this or those more standard markers of the "poetic"? And anyway, if the deployment of witty rhetorical prose is to be excluded from the poetic, get out your abacus to tally the poetry (and I don't just mean "prose poems"!) of the last 100 years we'd have to relegate to the dustbin.

More generally speaking, forget about the last 100 years: You can find, in our language history, "non-poetic" disobedience to the rituals and proprieties of genre all the way back to Chaucer. And arguably, Anonymous, poetry largely *evolves* via such disobedience. It's sort of our natural selection.

At 11/10/2010 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me read Harold Bloom - me know good reader like *strong* poems.

Me not notice poem make fun of me.

At 11/10/2010 6:32 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

You know, Anonymous, I hope you're capable of a more substantive response than that.

Let's see...

At 11/10/2010 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Substance *good.* *Strong.* Poem *slight.*

Me go hunt Author Function now.

At 11/10/2010 6:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Every time I hear the word "Standard" I think of toilets.

That's probably not a good place to start.

Here's another, from Wikipedia:


Standard may refer to:

Any flag, a piece of woven cloth used for signalling or identification

any War flag or military standard
Ensign, a distinguishing flag of a ship or a military unit
Heraldic standard, a type of flag containing heraldic devices and used for personal identification
historically any field sign
Vexilloid or "flag-like" field signs


There is always going to be this military aspect to the word standard, which is why so many run screaming from it. The opposite is equally untenable, as that just becomes "taste," and then I think of:

Taste's great! Less filling!

And I'm back to squares. Criteria? The qualities of good writing? These are all mushy subjects, but of fundamental importance. There is such a thing as good writing as well as poor writing. Everythign doesn't have to go out the window just because "Standards of Excellence" is under pressure.

That's as far as I will go before a cup of coffee.

At 11/10/2010 6:58 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Don't know why I put that contraction in there.

It's supposed to be:

Great taste ! . . Less filling!

I think.

At 11/10/2010 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second anon is not me. And thanks, Emerson, for your thoughtful reply.

If someone plays tennis with a golf club is it still tennis? If this person started a movement, wouldn't the person have to establish new standards, criteria, because a golf club does not function like or have the utility of a tennis racket. Wouldn't the audience then need to know those standards to seek pleasure from engaging in it or simply watching it, the inception of aesthetics. Or do we want a pure reader-response, which is completely impractical and creates splinters instead of varying levels of cohesion and critical discourse? Would the leader of this "disobedient" movement or factions that sprout from its foundation want to distinguish it, appropriate its identity and rename it, or would they want to reside under its signifier, history and traditions, and try to purify or muddle it from within?

I understand theories of hegemony and disenfranchisement--but what of the practical, not theoretical, implications? Standards are how we practically make sense of the world. Why is it such a dirty word when it comes to art?

At 11/10/2010 8:28 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Just popping in to register my lack of surprise that anonymous wishes to reset the conversation to the terms of Robert Frost's remark, "I would as soon play tennis without a net as write free verse." I for one am glad Frost followed that precept. I am also glad the universe did not stop when Frost joined the majority.

What did surprise me was to learn that Popular Mechanics offered advice on net-free tennis in 1917.

At 11/10/2010 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The net is a wholly objectice entity. The golf club or racket is an extension of the will of the human. The argument has nothing to do with manipulation for ease or lazy poetics. The arguments are complteely different. It has to do with function and practical aesthetics that lead to enjoyment. Again, distictions make the difference--and the ignorant misreading of those distinctions.

At 11/10/2010 8:49 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Anonymous: your analogy is flawed. Hayes has written a list poem as a parody of list poems.

If you've read at all in his work, you know that this is not his preferred form.

If you haven't read him, you have homework to do before anybody needs to discuss your argument further.

At 11/10/2010 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've missed the point again. I know this is not his "common" approach, though that point holds no bearing in an argument concerning one poem that someone would like to place in a "contemporary anthology," which would be divested from all of his other work and would reside as indicative of his contribution to contemporary poetics. It is your argument that has flaws. You've reconstructed the terms. It is not about about Hayes' intent or the content.

At 11/10/2010 9:06 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


To tag-off from Jordan's comment, the problem is that you're trying to make your case via a category mistake. Why do you think poetry (or any of the "fine arts") has anything, really, to do with tennis or golf? Your complaint amounts to something like trying to clarify a problem concerning forms of religious belief by recourse to the history of tire treads. One can try, but there are probably more fruitful ways of engaging the issue.

Work on your analogy and come back. Then maybe we will have something to bite into.

At 11/10/2010 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poetry has practical functions outside of content that enhance a greater understanding, greater enjoyment,of the content, which is my point. All sports and fine arts have practical functions, tools--not rules--that can be used practically for effect in ways that prose cannot, techniques that have practical foundations because they are effective for that particular mode or sport. Once the practical function is removed, what is left? Is it poetry defined by the absence of practical function or anti-poetry? It is a Powerpoint presentation, prose, but what defines it as poetry outside of the intent of the content. See the handful of scholarly books written on "sports" in early modern England. Look at James' edict concerning sport, Jonson and Shakespeare's use of sport and the function of aesthetics. Gander the OED. Poetry is a sport. Poetry and golf and tennis fall under the same category.

At 11/10/2010 10:43 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


Actually, I do agree that poetry has its sporting dimension! But that has more to do with its sociology. See Bourdieu.

The problem here, insofar as we are focusing on poetry as *genre* (that seems to be your concern), is that no one, much as many have tried, has conclusively defined its rules and boundary lines. Tennis, for example, has strict boundaries and rules. Even a more conceptually complex game like chess has them. In those cases, the rules MAKE the game.

But you see, we simply *don't* have agreed-upon rules and boundaries in poetry that make it "What It Is." That "What It Is," rather, is very mysterious, contingent, and messy, and this ontological fact of condition is constantly shifting the rules themselves-- a process, granted, that is never completely divorced from sociology, but perhaps you can see my point about the difference at issue.

Now, you apparently think you know what those definite rules are. Tell us.

Though I don't think it will get you very far. Again, I'm afraid your analogy is premised on a category mistake.

At 11/10/2010 10:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I was out getting a crown (I’m now king of Saturn) so I missed all this. I agree with the basic positions of KJ and JD here. I sympathize with the position that there should be “rules” for art. It would make things easier, but that’s a craft concern (if anything) and not an artistic concern.

I’ve had so many conversations like this over the years, and the whole tennis analogy thing seems to always get brought in at some point. It seems to make a lot of sense. Art is difference within sameness. One can then judge the craft of the sameness and then weight that next to the new content, the thing done (hopefully) differently.

But when actually looking at how art works and develops (as Kent says) this just doesn’t hold. Neither does the analogy between art and sports. Sports MUST have some version of the net, as it’s a direct competition between players to achieve a specific outcome: score. Art, though one can make all manner of arguments about competition, is not addressing the “players” in the same way. The viewer or reader may find pleasure in both, and find both entertaining, and then make up ways to categorize the modes and strategies the “players” use to achieve their goals, but the “players” are not part of that economy. In other words, that’s your game, not theirs.

Equally problematic, though more to my own liking, is the Dickinson “top of the head coming off” bit. And voila, it’s back to taste. Yum.

There was a movie I saw a couple/few decades ago, titled, I believe, Blow Up, in which a man’s life is torn away from the frames of perspective, the form, until, at the end of the movie, he walks by a field where some mimes are playing tennis (no balls, net, or rackets, of course). One of them misses the shot, and both mimes watch the ball roll up to the protagonist, standing there. What is he to do? Indeed, what are any of us to do?

At 11/10/2010 11:01 AM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

Isn't 3/4 or more of the fun in poetry grounded in the act of the poet/reader figuring out how a poem is operating?

At 11/10/2010 11:22 AM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

If were one of those mimes, I would go over, pick up the ball, consider flipping-off the guy or giving him a nasty glare, and continue my game, because playing the game isn't necessitated by his participation.

If I were the guy (granted I don't know the backstory well, maybe several events have set a mood of irritation), I would either throw the ball back because, again, my participation is of no significance to the mimes playing tennis. If I walked away, it wouldn't delete the current/past events; the mimes would retrieve the ball and continue, maybe with disdain.

At 11/10/2010 11:30 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I think he does throw it back. But that's almost beside the point by then. It's the question that's always a question opening in art, whereas in sports it's a question that is always closing.

But enough of the compare / contrast thing.

At 11/10/2010 9:45 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


So, a priest, a rabbi, a nun and a penguin walk into a bar.

The bartender says: "What is this, a joke?"



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