Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Interesting Moment for Kim Addonizio

from An Interview with Kim Addonizio
by Susan Browne
Five Points, Volume 14, Number 1

As part of her line of questioning, Browne apparently wants Addonizio to talk about the “split” in American poetry. Is there “a” split? I think it’s probably more like a net of fissures. But over and over again, when I hear people talk about contemporary American poetry, they often talk about it as if it were these two creatures. One is a semi-autobiographical (or autobiographical-sounding, or pseudo-autobiographical) narrative/lyric that revolves around a realistic-feeling scene with an identifiable lone speaker going through some generally domestic task. The other side of the split is usually described as something like “energetic word play.” What bothers me most about this, is that the first category is centered around content, and the second, around an attitude toward language. That sets up the question of what we’re looking for when we go to poetry. We know examples that are usually trotted out for each. For the first category, we have Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins. For the second, we have John Ashbery, et al, and groups with names (LANGUAGE poets, Post-avant, experimental, etc).

The problem—well, one of the problems—with this is that it isn’t so cut and formed as that. Where does Dean Young fit, for example? Category A, we agree. But why? Where does Kay Ryan fit? Also A, but why? The lines are, in many ways, political. It’s like party affiliation. So lately I’ve read things by people trying to claim Rae Armantrout into Category A, from out of Category B, so that people can feel OK reading her work, I guess. Or something like that.

What a mess. Kim Addonizio is a solid Category A poet, though, which makes the following exchanges all the more interesting.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:


Addonizio: When I write, I'm making a poem, period. I don't care what people think about how I portray them or myself (or rather "myself"), because it's a construction. It's a fiction, to me, as much as a novel or short story, and operates in exactly the same way; the underlying concerns are mine, but the drama of how they are enacted on the page may or may not directly correlate.

Let me try and put it another way, because this bugs me, the whole "confessional" brush with which I'm tarred. In a poem, I might take a fleeting feeling and amplify it for the sake of making it more dramatic. I'm not suicidal, for example. But if I have a moment when I can inhabit the consciousness of what it would be like to want to kill myself, I might write a poem with a suicidal speaker. I might even write the poem in order to inhabit that consciousness. Or, at the other extreme, I might ramp something up for the sake of the comedy. I'll change details, etc. I don't give a shit about "what really happened," because it's confining to stick to it; I'd much rather make things up. And if there is an "I" in the poem it might or might not be me.


So far so good. This is the party line on autobiography. But then it starts to get more complicated (interesting):


Browne: Your poems, in the past, often have been narrative. Do you feel your work is changing now? What about that thorny issue, narrative/non-narrative? Some contemporary poems are all leap and no heart, so difficult to follow and resistant to meaning that I feel they lose any connection to anything other than language play.

Addonizio: I do believe in poems making a kind of sense—the sense of each part being necessary to the whole. But when a poet seems to be setting out to say something, and yet that "something" remains obscure even with a lot of investigation on the reader's part, I end up as frustrated as you.

Browne: What poem of yours surprised you the most, either in rereading or writing it?

Addonizio: I just created a poem out of a revision exercise I gave my students. It's from The Practice of Poetry. You cut up an old, failed poem and save just the good parts—little bits of intriguing language—and it usually turns out there aren't very many good parts. My poem was originally titled "By Way of Apology." I had a few phrases, one of which was "a pair of big, invisible hands." Just for the hell of it, I made that the title, and got led into a very weird and fun piece. Another surprising one was generated by a writing exercise I found on the Internet that poet Josh Bell had given a group of students. It had all kinds of random requirements to follow. I love how, using chance, you still pull in the things you need to address. Some level of your brain puts it all together. And it's more interesting to me, right now, than sitting down to tell a "this happened, and then that happened" kind of story. I love narrative, but the way I know how to write a narrative bores me, and I want to do something different. I want the drama to be lyric, and not narrative, if that makes any sense.

Browne: I want to hear more about that.

Addonizio: Take a poem like "November 11," from Lucifer at the Starlite. As Orwell said, "The war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous." That poem has narrative moments: a character drives to the gym and thinks about various deaths—first some closer to home, then it moves out into the war deaths, and slings back to a neighbor's niece. So all that happens in the poem is that she runs on the treadmill. But of course it's not about the gym. That's the framework.

Browne: It's interesting how you weave little bits of the narrative all the way through. If you didn't have the narrative, I don't think I'd be there. . . What about emotion, which seems so suspect in much contemporary poetry? I'm thinking of another poet—call him Poet X. His poems have interesting language play. Maybe, at the very end, they have a glimmer of heart. Then I say, OK, and go on to the next poem and a bunch of language pyrotechnics that are nicely done. Even though I have a pretty good vocabulary, I look up these words and learn some new ones, and the poem is over, and I feel nothing. So is it me? Maybe it's me. And I don't care how much Poet Y has been broiled over the non-narrative fire and turned into a brisket because of that—but I can't wait for her next book to come out because I think I'm going to hear, as William Carlos Williams said, some human news.


Browne’s response is as interesting as Addonizio’s comment. It seems to me Browne is almost admonishing Addonizio to keep from straying too far from the narrative (the party line): The Narrative, the solid Category A platform. It’s quite an interesting moment. The poet, Addonizio, is expressing boredom with the party, wanting a little of that Category B mix-it-up attitude, and is being nudged back by her reader, Browne.

And why must there be this frame? This narrative frame of the person going to and then at the gym? Is it a counterpoint? Is it necessary? Life vs Death? What would the poem be like if it were to be just the stuff Addonizio seems to want to talk about (the piles of dead), rather than what she feels she needs to add? It’s a small moment, but telling, when it comes to our predispositions, our assumptions about what art needs. Browne is reminding Addonizio not to forget to add the frame. Why? Because if it weren’t there, Browne wouldn’t know how to follow it. But why does the narrative frame help? Why can’t the poem just be the web of accruing associations around the idea of death? Would it then be a Category B poem? Possibly. Might this be the line of distinction?

So Dean Young is Category A, because as imaginative and various as his lines are, he still maintains a hint of this narrative frame. And a poet like Ashbery doesn’t . . . But what about the Category B poet who writes a project book? Cole Swensen, perhaps? There’s a LOT of frame in some of her books, but it’s not the personal narrative frame. That seems to be it. The moment of difference. And Addonizio is growing weary, perhaps, of politely staying on her side of the line. I hope so. And I hope a lot of other poets also grow weary of this unspoken requirement. It has long become a telegraphed move. This next bit is also telling, in this regard: the Category A poet Y and the Category B poet X (I know, I know, the math is getting complicated, but this is what happens when people refuse to name names):

And what of a poet like James Tate? He's always been a heavily narrative poet. And what of Mary Jo Bang? I'd call a great many of her poems narrative . . . So it's not just narrative, but a particular flavor of narrative, where the associations don't get too wild (tinged with the surreal, maybe), and the language is treated as a conveyor of singular content (without the messy Derrida troubles?). There seem to be a lot of rules in Category A/Y. And so what of the special cases, like Dean Young and Kay Ryan? Or are they special cases?


Addonizio: But you know, I'm a little bored by Poet Y. I couldn't get through the last book; the poems seem to make the same moves over and over, so I know where Poet Y is going already, and I lose interest.

Browne: Me, too, but would you rather read Poet Y or, oh God, Poet Z?

Addonizio: Anyone but Poet Z. Who is doing very well without my readership.


So yes, back to a little joke to break the tension. We can all agree about Popular Poet Z. But what about these Xs and Ys? Category A and Category B? For me these categories are almost completely useless, unless it’s to simplify voting day. It’s like Democrats and Republicans, when really both parties are a huge mix of tendencies.

Yes, but, back to the questions: who gets Russell Edson? James Tate?

It’s one of those things that only looks like you’re really talking about things if you’re flying 1,000 feet up. So let’s say Poet Y is Rita Dove (or Lynn Emanuel), and Poet X is Forrest Gander (or D.A. Powell). Who is poet Z? Probably Billy Collins, then, I guess? He really gets it from everyone. But anyway, you get the point.


At 8/13/2011 9:58 AM, Blogger G.C. said...

It isn't "autobiographical narrative," John, or even "semi-autobiographical narrative." It's "externally verifiable autobiographical narrative." Which excludes the life of the imagination from any meaningful conception of one's autobiography (unless of course this is clearly marked, in the poem, as dream, fancy, etc.).

This is why, within this dichotomy, Edson and Tate necessarily play on Team B. Olds and Collins are actually a bit more interesting in this regard than one often gives them credit for: because Olds's readership assumes strict autobiography (judging from her oeuvre; her poems, however, don't always flag whether she's making it all up), and because Collins is perfectly capable of allowing himself an imaginative, even fabulist turn, so long as he makes sure to flag it as such within the poem. (It's the lyric equivalent of "...and then I woke up and knew it was all a dream." And thereby we are comforted from our Otherness, supposedly.)

You and I have discussed The New Yorker's sporadic editorial campaign to configure Team B poets for Team A--to provide biographical frames through which casual readers of poetry (of the sort of poetry The New Yorker favors) can approach such work without feeling anxious, unduly challenged, discomfited, etc. The recent reviews of Carson and Armantrout were astonishing cases in point.

A contemporary book that, for me, attempts to merge the two teams without disowning conventional definitions of either is Dana Levin's Sky Burial, which you've mentioned before. The New Yorker was happy to recommend it, since it's a rich collection that can be read through the scrim of the author's recent history of familial loss. Chiasson, writing on behalf of The New Yorker, does this explicitly, indeed exclusively--although not all of the poems in the collection speak from or to this autobiographical loss in any obvious way. What was especially interesting to me about Chiasson’s review was his attempt to grapple, obliquely, with the elements of Levin's craft and vision less easily corralled via the poet's externally verifiable biography. The review’s penultimate turn:

"But the only practice it [Levin's poetry] puts its faith in is poetry itself, which these exotic processes symbolize--and which, turn by turn and image by image, slowly hammers feeling into form."

One could take issue with "exotic processes"--!--as well as that hammering of "feeling into form." What interests me at the moment, though, is how for Chiasson, the other side of the confessional--the narrative poem that tells, that relates (within conventional discourse)--that is grounded in an externally verifiable biographical existence--is the purely aesthetic, poetry that is (can be?) only about itself.

Personally I find this an impoverishment of both life and art, untrue to my own experience and a diminution of what Levin accomplishes in this particular collection. Among other things, it reduces the spiritual or visionary life to symptomata and perpetuates the canard that language itself is (or should be) transparent, as a medium. (When it’s not, in this view, it can only be self-referential.)

Apologies for the long post, but I’m intrigued by the underpinnings of these critical assessments. As for Susan Browne, if one’s definition of “human news” is narrow, then one is often going to be disappointed with art. The world is very large, and not always or exclusively about us.

At 8/13/2011 10:30 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Just a quick response. More will have to wait for a bit:

The human news bit, yes. What I thougth when I read that was all those WCW poems that would, under her version fo the definition, be excluded. WCW was a much more imaginative and other-than-strict-externally-verifyable-narrative poet than a lot of people tend to day these days.

I really like your bit about the "dream" thing. Indeed. "Dream Songs", you know? It gives the imagination a pass. We were all drunk! Poets who are trying to break out of the straight-jacket of the externally verifyable often turn to that strategy. It's OK, I don't really mean it, I was dreaming.

So that's how they are able to like Dean Young then, as well? It's OK, he's just being a little antic because the feeling is so strong it's making him a little drunk?

At 8/13/2011 2:21 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

In poetry the only law is that of gravity, but here are a few things I’ve always thought about poetry, in no particular order:
The extraordinarily fertile and preternaturally lit-up imagination of a poet like Tate may need to be counterbalanced by a limiting force, either narrative or structure. (I may be echoing an essay by Gregory Orr.) Narrative seems to be the limiting force in the Tate poems most people like best. (I may prefer some of his old stuff that doesn’t work that way—poems circa Hints to Pilgrims. But I’m all over anything he writes.)
BUT. “Narrative does not dictate image; image dictates narrative.”—Charles Wright.
Eli is quite right about poetry as “the new metatropism.” Writing poetry is passivity not activity. You watch your thought grow like mould on cheese in the fridge. I is an other. You don’t write the poem; it writes you.
You should work FROM, not TOWARDS, words. Dylan Thomas said that a long time ago, but recently Elisa Gabbert said the same thing in connection with Bill Knott. Begin with words not ideas. Make poetry out of words not ideas; seek ideas for your words, not words for your ideas.—Valery? Mallarme?
“So many lousy poets/So few good ones/ What’s the problem?/No innate love of/Words, no sense of/How the thing said/Is in the words, how/The words are themselves/The thing said:…A word, that’s the poem”—James Schuyler. Mallarme said every word of “L’Azur” cost him several hours of searching. What Ted Berrigan cared about most was the startling pieces of language he overheard or read.
The language must be fresh. There must be delightfully strange combinations of words in almost every line. But the lines without startling contrasts have to be good, too. All the lines should sound cool by themselves. IT’S PERFECTLY FINE TO CHOP OUT A LOGICAL CONNECTION IF THAT’LL MAKE THE LINES SOUND COOLER. Fuck logic.
“A poem SHOULD remain mostly inscrutable.”—Ashbery
“What it’s about” is only one aspect of it. There are—or should be—equally important things going on. (I tend to worry about those other things and let “what it’s about” take care of itself.) “The pleasure one gets from reading poetry comes from something else than the idea or story in a poem, which is just a kind of armature for the poet to drape with many-colored rags.”--Ashbery
You don’t have to understand your poem in a way that enables you to explicate it.
There’s nothing wrong with confessional poetry but the name. Poets who expose their intimate thoughts in a painfully honest, uncensored way—e.g., Ginsberg—are doing a great thing.
Don’t sit on any arse poetica—raw or cooked, autobiographical or “energetic word play.” Keep your mind open and try the other side, like Addonizio. “Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.” –Emerson

At 8/13/2011 7:00 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

Back around the time Tate wrote Reckoner--I think that was a little before he started writing a lot of Distance-from-Loved-Ones-like narratives--David Young claimed that there was no reliable way to tell early(I assume he meant early but post-Lost Pilot)Tate from recent Tate. That may have been true at the time, but look at this poem from Hints to Pilgrims. Does Tate ever sound like this anymore?


How would you like me to make
a parkinglot out of your wife
not a hair below eye-level
butterfly marching off a violet

The autumnambulist whistled
gift shop gas station snackbar
over an abyss with a white crayon
though his lips are finely drawn

Outstanding view of entire valley
Thumbalina ten thousand years old
the midnight vacuumcleaner thought
energy which crawls out of holes

And swallows you still I'm eternal
toughly the heights surprise you more
three-thousand-feet lake frontage
carnations into the misty stable

Because the executioner has started
in a straightjacket of pure art
an eye rolls across the table
made him laugh and another half explode

The branches seemed to crumble
onto his eyes as he crossed the bridge
of sighs into the dark realm of sighs
butterfly marching off a violet all over.

At 8/14/2011 6:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I'll sign up for most of those.

As for Tate, yes, there are three or four phases in his work. And the second phase (mid 70s through mid 80s) is my favorite.

Even a short one:


In a weird, forlorn voice
he cries: it is a mirage!
Then tosses a wreath of scorpions
to the children,
mounts his white nag
and creeps off into darkness,
smoking an orange.

At 8/14/2011 7:18 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

"smoking an orange"--I've always loved that. It's like Bob Dylan: "An' he just smoked my eyelids / An' punched my cigarette."

Everything from The Oblivion Ha-Ha to Viper Jazz is my favorite Tate.

At 8/14/2011 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And the second phase (mid 70s through mid 80s) is my favorite."

Book recommendation?

At 8/14/2011 8:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

If you don't have any books by James Tate, I'd suggest you start with Selected Poems. It goes up through Reckoner (1986).

Not to knock his more recent work too hard. There are some real gems here and there. But his way of working now is to write little surreal or absurd narratives in a kind of ragged right prose block. Some of them are really wonderful, but they could use a bit of thinning out (both in number and length).

At 8/14/2011 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have Ghost Soldiers and Memoir of the Hawk; both strike me as a bit sillier / less interesting than the poems you've posted here.

At 8/14/2011 9:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

They're both much more recent. If you only know his recent, post 1990 or so work, when you hear about people like Zachary Schomburg (etc) being talked about as "influenced by James Tate" it doesn't make as much sense. Go back to the selected, and then it'll click.

At 8/14/2011 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes sense that you like Tate's 70's poetry best, as I read a review of your new book with G. C. Waldrep, I think, where they were saying your book resembles his books from back then.

Different Anon.

At 8/15/2011 7:28 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I hate it when poetry is talked about in the column A or column B mentality. I'm not convinced it's ever been so clean, despite what the anthologies have to say.

This interview is great because it shows a poet admitting they want to intentionally muck up their work to get somewhere new, which I feel doesn't happen that much. Mostly, it seems poets develop towards some mature style and then write their lives away mostly within that framework.

At 8/15/2011 8:42 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

I'm pleased and surprised to see it mooted that there are still two teams.

At 8/15/2011 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is no longer whether there are two teams. The question now is just which game either of them is playing.


At 8/15/2011 11:20 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

Team A wants Team B to toss dwarves by bocce rules.

At 8/15/2011 11:52 AM, Blogger Steve Fellner said...


In terms of why she might need that frame, perhaps the key word is "slings"--not "moves" but slings, a verb which for me reveals a certain amount of anxiety in her desire to move away from the political, the war deaths. The art can never lie in the journalism. What would happen if she stayed put there in the war deaths. Would those particular externally verfiable autobiographical facts be too much to bear? Like a lot of autobiographical narrative poets, everything is expressed as a vehicle for feeling. I only feel hungry after I read a poem. For me, the power of autobiographical narrative is argument. Also: I haven't read the poem, but it is funny she mentions the gym, leisure--does she ever interrogate that privilege in the actual poem, even if it is a dull, shamefully uninspired critique of her own liberal guilt, her own luxury as some bad stuff is going on in the world.

At 8/16/2011 2:31 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Because the book is about "teams" and "circles" and because there is an epigram for James Tate, too, I thought I'd mention that my book Epigramititis: 118 Living American Poets, is now available on Kindle, for anyone who likes epigrams about poets. There is a picture for each epigram, as well.

At 8/16/2011 2:33 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Sorry, I forgot the order link to the Kindle page.

At 8/16/2011 5:03 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This from the Epigramititis Kindle page Product Description, for those who might be interested. You can see that a number of the poets JG mentions in his post are honored with an epigram (Poet list below). There is also this blurb from Ed Dorn, which I received on a postcard, back in 1999, in response to some of the first ones:

"Thanks for sending me the epigrams.* Superb. It's about time for something of the sort, I'd say, what with the ass-licking that rules the day. Especially the ass-licking that some ass-lickers want to pass off as "avant-garde confrontation." My salute... And as to your question, well, yeah, absolutely: Olson, if he'd lived to see what has happened, would have loved these."

--Ed Dorn
* from a response by Dorn to a batch of the first epigrams, sent to him in early 1999.

118 American Poets

Stanley Kunitz
Charles Simic
David Antin
Jorie Graham
Bruce Andrews
Charles Bernstein
Robert Pinsky
David Lehman
Stephen Burt
Nada Gordon
John Ashbery
Kenneth Koch
David Wojahn
Jackson Mac Low
Mark Wallace
Jim Chapson
Kevin Killian
Henry Gould
Susan Howe
John Beer
Chris Stroffolino
Carl Thayler
Jordan Davis
Ann Lauterbach
Philip Whalen
Tan Lin
Eliot Weinberger
Gwyn McVay
Alan Sondheim
Linda Gregg
Jack Gilbert
Eileen Myles
Kasey Silem Mohammad
Tom Mandel
Graham Foust
Christopher Daniels
Clayton Eshleman
Eleni Sikelianos
Michael Palmer
David Shapiro
Robert Bly
Lyn Lifshin
Juliana Spahr
Dale Smith
Katy Lederer
Brian Kim Stefans
W.S. Merwin
Loss Pequeno Glazier
Rachel Loden
Scott Pierce
Pierre Joris
Gary Sullivan
Robert Creeley
Mei-mei Bressenbruge
Ron Padgett
Steve Evans
John Latta
Howard McCord
Barbara Guest
Jennnifer Moxley
James Tate
Alan Davies
John Bradley
Ron Silliman
John Wilkinson
Marjorie Welish
Geoffrey Gatza
Kenward Elmslie
John Yau
Will Alexander
Jack Kimball
The Poet Laureate
Helen Adam
Joe Safdie
Robert Grenier
Jacques Debrot
Andrew Felsinger
Dodie Bellamy
Andrei Codrescu
Amiri Baraka
Barrett Watten
Stephen Ellis
Mark Nowak
Maria Damon
Rod Smith
Hoa Nguyen
David Bromige
Lyn Hejinian
Peter Gizzi
Carolyn Forche
Chris Alexander
Sianne Ngai
Aldon Nielsen
Chris Murray
Joe Wenderoth
Anthony Robinson
Joe Napora
John Wieners
Craig Dworkin
Lisa Jarnot
Fanny Howe
Norman Fischer
Dan Featherstone
Patrick Herron
Bill Luoma
Joseph Duemer
Diane Wakoski
Gary Snyder
Ray Di Palma
Catherine Daly
Hank Lazer
Louise Gluck
Carlo Pacelli
Russell Edson
Michael Magee
Dean Young
Leslie Scalapino
The Epigramatist

At 8/16/2011 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't the first time I've read the comments on this blog, but I think it's going to be the last. I come here now and then, seeing some post on something that sounds interesting. It's usually a fairly even-handed treatment. And then I go to the comments section and usually find advertisements for Kent Johnson. Why the blog administrators tolerate this troll is beyond me.

At 8/16/2011 5:21 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


The current post is about the "politics of poetry," about how divisions get manifested, in real or false ways, along formal/aesthetic lines, the pettinesses and comedies that often result from these divisions, and so on and so forth. Right? That's broadly the subject matter of the post. The post is also about Names of poets. So is the comments string about the post. The book I'm mentioning is exactly about those things. So my link and info is perfectly relevant. People are certainly free to continue the thread in any way they like, including you. And free to ignore my book, obviously. Don't let your underwear get so scrunched up.

At 8/16/2011 6:20 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

On another note, though still related to the theme of the post (!):

What about poets who can't be pegged for either "side"? (Though the "two side" thing is pretty vulgar caricature of the landscape, obviously.) And I don't mean in the sense, say, of having had a more conventional early period and a more innovative one later, nor in the sense, like many 'American Hybrid' poets, that some spirit of the personal gets faddishly infused in strange language, or (with equal, though subtly different, faddishness) vice versa. I mean what about poets who are capable of writing in *wholly different* styles, where the styles might seem, even, to not belong to the same poet? Poets who defy a signature, as it were? Maybe sometimes defying signature in doubled ways: think of Pessoa, for example. That Caeiro and Reis and Campos were penned by the same hand? Impossible (at least in current U.S. poetry, it would appear, conventional and avant alike).

Seems to me this would be the rarer, if barely existing, sort of poet today. They used to be pretty common in the past, it seems, like back in the Renaissance, for sure: A Ben Jonson writing as vitriolic Martial and then as stately Horace and then in swooning Sapphic sweetness, and then in dark pain of loss for a son, and on. He'd be just one. The Renaissance folks liked to imitate different voices-- it was a natural thing to do; now, we all are to sound like our Name says readers would expect we should sound. I'm not sure that last clause makes grammatical sense, but anyway.

No, insofar as this thing about 'Voice' might be a kind of restraining harness, it isn't just a problem of the traditional workshop, I'd propose.

At 8/16/2011 6:32 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

As follow up, to say that Koch and O'Hara, for recent examples, could do different voices, often seem to be very different poets, one poem to the next. Koch, in particular, a master at this. This is one major distinction between them and Ashbery, though there are certainly other big differences. With all three of them, though, this Team A and Team B distinction gets pretty funny...

At 8/16/2011 7:20 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

Right away I thought of Mary Jo Bang, but on reflection she's not the kind of poet you mean, one who defies a signature. Elegy may show a willingness to thwart the expectations of her readers, however. She'd been an "energetic word play" poet rather than an expatiator on subjects; one reviewer called her a bric-à-brac poet à la Stevens. But then she wrote a book "in dark pain of loss for a son." And what about Tate? He garnered phenomenal acclaim for that first book, and then he took a sharp turn down a murky sidestreet. A lot of his readers didn't want to follow him, but he kept going. He wasn't content to sound like his Name.

At 8/17/2011 5:28 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Kent, some graduate student somewhere will have a pleasant time someday collecting all the variations of "don't let your underwear get so scrunched up" you've deployed over the years.

At 8/17/2011 5:33 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Oh, and 118 is a lot of names. Do you think any of them write unpredictably, outside of the frame of the Name, besides our mutual favorites Koch and O'Hara I mean?

At 8/17/2011 6:50 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

G.C., seriously now, do you and John maintain the existence of two teams? And if so, do you really see Dean Young and John Ashbery on different rosters?

I'd propose that all the arts involve imitation to varying degrees -- just listen to a year-specific oldies program sometime, or pick up an old Artforum. (Or a newish one, sorry Tim.) Some of it is paying tribute to the top cat, and some of it is copy cat, and some of it is dog my cats.

I understand from the Harriet blog that Johannes is speaking up on behalf of a broad multiplicity of teams. I mean, maybe. My sense is that these things last a while as a true group effort, then a winner takes all and everyone goes home again.

Anyway, I thought it might be good to engage some of the others on the thread besides the hijacker, lest I too be taken for a hijacker.

Viva Cuba!

At 8/17/2011 7:04 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

O, Jordan, my playful 'Anonymous,' you know I've always loved you. But don't you know, too, that "some graduate student somewhere will have a pleasant time someday collecting all the variations" (1998-2011) of your grim pursuit of me across the tubes of the Internet? That will be a much more fun dissertation!

But really, how did I "hijack" the thread, as you imply? We're here talking about the topic, to which I've contributed with what I think is a useful slant on the "voice" question. I mean, prior to that, I merely gave a link and info for a book that I thought had some provocative connection to the subject. And since it's a book that has gotten a number of commentaries in the past, and since a number of people who read this blog are actually IN IT (like you, of course; sorry, I know you have never liked that epigram), I thought some would appreciate knowing it's now available as an e-book for $2.99.

At 8/17/2011 7:16 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Guess again, Kent. I post here under my name.

I'd engage your revision of our conversations to point out that it's a simple reversal of the events (or did *I* crash *your* listserv?), but I'm concerned that you might have missed whatever it is you do to help with the anxiety.

Happy e-book flogging.

At 8/17/2011 7:26 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Jordan! No, I dont' for a second believe in the Two Team Model. Susan Browne does in the interview here, and Kim Addonizio probably kind-of does, to go along with the question(s).

In the post itself I start off by saying:

"As part of her line of questioning, Browne apparently wants Addonizio to talk about the “split” in American poetry. Is there “a” split? I think it’s probably more like a net of fissures. But over and over again, when I hear people talk about contemporary American poetry, they often talk about it as if it were these two creatures."

That was meant to be my disclaimer. I should have been more forceful. The thing is, though, by people who mostly write kind of like Kim Addonizio, Contemporary American Poetry is talked about mostly as US (Team A) and THEM (Everybody else).

The examples of Tate and Young and Carson and Bang (and Kay Ryan, etc) are meant to trouble the easy US / THEM split. Nah, binaries are always dumb. I don't know how GC would answer, but I'm guessing he'd say roughly what I've just said?

Does that clarify?

At 8/17/2011 7:30 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, I think Jordan is reacting to GC's comment more than to yours. He seemed to be working off from that dichotomy model?

At 8/17/2011 7:36 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Let me ask again: Who are the "leading" poets today who can't be placed into A or B or X because they can shift easily between modes and voices and styles. Who are the leading poets who DON'T have a "Voice," and why don't we have more of them? Or maybe to put it another way: Why is it that that the two big, general poetry camps, "mainstream" and "avant" seem so equally invested in Author-signature style and voice?

At 8/17/2011 7:38 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Thanks, John. Yeah, I think the Team A thing could make sense if you see poetryland/the world (a la Silliman) as a constant us/them political struggle, or as a sociologist might cast it -- ingroup and other.

Anyway it's art we're talking about, so 99% of whatever shenanigans go on will prove to be psychodegradable nonsense within a fairly short time. Until the graduate students arrive, of course, bunched-up underwear and all.

At 8/17/2011 7:40 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

You asked, so I will answer.

I am one of the leading poets. I am awesome when it comes to doing the things you ask about like not having any single specific voice. That's how I roll.

At 8/17/2011 7:40 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Well Kent, that's a nicer tone. You do seem a little preoccupied with "leading" poets, though. For all I can tell, the leading poets these days are you, Anis Shivani and Joan Houlihan.

At 8/17/2011 7:53 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Jordan, that's what the post seemed to be about: Leading poets, famous names, so that's why I said leading. But you're right, no need to limit it to those people. But frankly, what I see (though granted, my view is limited and biased) is that younger poets, in their twenties, early thirties, say, especially those who are part of the MFA industry (most younger publishing poets?) are very much locked into the Voice A or B thing, and by this I do mean, again, the typical poet at Brown/PENN and the typical poet at Southern Sewanee State, or wherever it is they still write the red-herring mainstream poem post-avant poets so love to beat to a pulp.

I'm not sure what you mean by my "nicer tone." You and Anonymous are the only ones who have been ad hominem and innuendo in this thread. But that's fine, you just keep going, Jordan.

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

Kent, Jordan, Anon:

Mostly I'm anxious about money these days. It intrudes on things like the culture battles among poets. But I'm back for a sec.

I think what Susan Browne is wanting from Addonizio is more than a simple VOICE thing. It's about an approach to meaning-making. That approach is going to be pseudo-semi-autobiographical, and "realistic." I like GC's definition of it (above).

In the narrow view, poets like Dean Young violate it through a brio of imagination. Other mainstream poets violate it through direct uses of persona (Norman Dubie!) or history, science, etc.

I think a better way to think about this (this also comes from convesations with GC and others, so I'm not claiming credit) is that a lot of poets violate the NORM, or description of how Camp A (or whatever) should operate. But what they usually all agree upon is a certain transparency of language, a linear approach to meaning, and a nod to how the reader should feel about what the poem is presenting.

In that view, the poem is less an experience itself, than it is the residue, or meaning, of a prior experience. This is an old split. And it's still a binary. Maybe it's an arc.

At 8/17/2011 8:11 AM, Blogger G.C. said...

Hi Jordan,

No, of course I don't. But I do think the insistence on externally verifiable autobiographical narrative forces a dichotomy. This is a violence, to the fabric of poetry and to the life of the imagination (as I, at least, know it). I couched my initial comment within the context of that perceived, or forced, dichotomy.

My point was less the two teams model per se than it was (a) refining John's initial definition of Team A while (b) exploring the ways in which adherence to such a model inflects and directs criticism: not only how various poetries are written about, but also (and perhaps more importantly) whether they're written about at all.

The work I'm most interested in at the moment--a great deal of which doesn't seem to be much on the critical table--tends to subvert established critical models of both Team A and Team B. Where would one fit in a poet like Evelyn Reilly, or Jonathan Stalling? A few nights ago I tried to imagine what that Chiasson review would have sounded like had the two books under discussion been Laura Mullen's Dark Archive and Laynie Browne's Roseate, Points of Gold. But that's just it--Chiasson's critical model would barely allow for the one and would necessarily proscribe the other.

This is a bit of a hijack--sorry, John--but I guess what I'm most interested in at the moment is how, why, and when any critical stance renders certain work(s) invisible, consigns them essentially to non-existence. As a stance, a dichotomous critical perspective is always going to do this, since it struggles with works that occupy the middle of the implied spectrum even as it ignores works that don't seem to exist in relation to that spectrum in the first place.

At 8/17/2011 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to read any essay simultaneously considering the works of Kent Johnson, Anis Shivani, and Joan Houlihan. Please, Jordan. I'm begging.


At 8/17/2011 8:16 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


A cognate: I've been thinking of that this week as well, as it seems the news outlets don't know what to do with Ron Paul, so they ignore him. And then they mention him now and then as something not to be ignored. It's kind of funny to watch.

At 8/17/2011 8:24 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Thanks, John, G.C. Dan's said he can't really process work that doesn't use complete sentences, which, I take his point but I think that closes a little more of the beach than I could stand to lose, personally. As these kinds of declarations of limits go, it's not the most restrictive I've seen lately. And as Olson said, limits are what we are all inside of? That is to say, yes, I agree that we are pointing at the frame and saying "frame," but I don't see how it's all that different from pointing at the beer ice cream and saying "taste." DC writes what DC writes. Dana Levin writes what Dana Levin writes. And here we are typing their names.

Speaking of Black Mountain, hell of a Dorn blurb there, Kent. He clearly knew his Latin.

At 8/17/2011 8:26 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

This probably isn't a very postmodern statement, but I'm not sure a good poet without a "voice" is possible--or even desirable. Some good poets have elastic vocal cords; some don't. Some good poets are impressively protean; some write the same poem over and over. But if they don't have a "voice," why read them? Recently I reread Denise Levertov's old blurb on Jim Harrison (whom I like a lot): "one of the most authentic voices of his generation." That's what we want, isn't it--the authentic voice? The King of the Cats has the authentic voice; the other cats are copycats.

At 8/17/2011 8:32 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


That is just it! That's my frustration with DC. It's not about sentence structure. That's his excuse. "It violates the norms of effective communication at the sentence level." No. That's not really his problem and he knows it. He's just funnin ya. There's a much larger blind spot working behind this.

At 8/17/2011 8:41 AM, Blogger G.C. said...


It’s discouraging that even to engage the Team A-Team B debate on its own terms risks seeming to subscribe to that model. What struck me in Susan Browne's questions, and in Chiasson's recent reviews, was not so much the stance--which as we all know has been around for a long time--but the implicit insistence that the stance be normative, hegemonic.

So I don't think it's merely a matter of taste (I-like-this, you-like-that). It's a matter of I-like-this, you-don't-exist. I find this spooky. If given the choice, I'd prefer Logan's dismissals to a poetics that elides/obliterates/proscribes.

And yes, I guess I do see an ethical component to the critic's vocation, which involves wrestling with work outside of his or her comfort zone, however defined. Perhaps that's where the critical frame is most usefully defined?

At 8/17/2011 8:51 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

To pick up on GC's language about the "normative, hegemonic" ideological sway (in "Camp A" only, apparently!) of "externally verifiable" criteria, here's a little trivia:

Who said the following (it's a bit of a trick question, though the trickiness makes it even more interesting)?

>From time to time, poets or editors suggest the value of reading poems anonymously, for example publishing a magazine without author attributions. It sounds democratic, as if this would allow us to read poems for themselves. But artworks, like people, are not self-sufficient but part of a series, embedded in contexts that give them not only meaning but also resonance, depth; you might even say, life. Without some sense of the author, one cannot account for these other, often determining, factors. Prejudice may be avoided. But (poetic) justice is sorely checked.

At 8/17/2011 8:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Would it be Louis Armand?

At 8/17/2011 9:03 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

It's not interesting, Kent.

G.C., I don't take it as an authoritarian disappearing, I just take it as taste. I don't believe that all work is equally interesting and I don't believe you do either. It's a little s&m-y to set "that is not poetry" type boundaries, but again, free country. We don't have to believe everything we read, and render unto Caesar aside, we don't have to live by others' frames.

I'm sorry to be so dull in my resistance to this line of argument, but I refuse to relive the late 80s/early 90s canonicity debates.

I notice you've used the phrase "externally verifiable" a few times now. Reminds me of the discussion of noumenon (subjectivity, call it) in Tao Lin's piece on the future of the novel in the NY Observer...

At 8/17/2011 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's what we want, isn't it--the authentic voice? The King of the Cats has the authentic voice; the other cats are copycats.

Any voice is authentic if you can hear it. That's what makes it a "voice."

You're plugging for some uber-authenticity. Time--the passage of--and culture--accidents of--make that call. No?


At 8/17/2011 9:04 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Oh John. DNFTT.

It's from Charles's piece in Louis's anthology. He's quoting Rosmarie quoting Susan quoting yadda yadda.

Kent! have you published a rebuttal to Charles's essay about you?

At 8/17/2011 9:09 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Or did you just conjecture on the state of his undergarments?

At 8/17/2011 9:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Alas for my GOOGLE abilities. Of course, the yada seems a negating of authorship. Or is that the point?

Kent, the author is your subject. It's less interesting to me than the work. But sometimes the name IS the work, I guess. As in The Rejection Group. It's a little shoebox-ish for me.

As for the critics. As I've said before, I'm happy when anyone will bother to talk about poetry in something like The New Yorker. My wife subscribes, and mentions them to me. Unfortunately, I can always tell her what DC has written without reading it. I consider that a failure of the culture.

I want variety in places like POETRY and The New Yorker. I do think both are trying (POETRY is doing pretty well even), but they continue to rely on people like DC who can't read what he can't read. It's time for someone who can, or who will try.

Merwin, I think once wrote: If you find you don't believe, enlarge the temple.

At 8/17/2011 9:20 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

You know, Jordan, you DO keep going, don't you, once you get all worked up... But people can read the comments and judge who has exhibited "trollish" behavior in this thread. (Really, if I had an "empirically verifiable" bridge spanning the years of lists and blogs, you'd certainly be MY troll... Try to get over your obsession; it doesn't behoove the Poetry Editor of The Nation. You're in the big time now. Stop acting like a jilted teen.)

But to answer your question, yes, I have answered Charles, and it's coming out in the collection of essays about Yasusada that appears this fall. There are twenty essays in there, and a couple of others take up Charles's vitriolic piece, as well. My bet is that you'll check it out, even though you might call it "not interesting"!

At 8/17/2011 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you find you no longer believe
enlarge the temple
-W.S. Merwin.

At 8/17/2011 9:23 AM, Blogger G.C. said...


Not subscribing to any 80s/90s canonicity arguments, at least not to my (admittedly limited self-) knowledge. I just don't like a critical stance that implicitly "disappears" (your word, but I will accept it) other poetries. (And yes, I realize it's a bit much for someone like me, who has not published much criticism, to say this to someone like you, who has dedicated a significant portion of his writing life to same. Apologies.)

I'd love to see Chiasson tackle a work (in fragments, even) that lies beyond what he thinks New Yorker audiences ought to read--even if (especially if) he exposes his limitations as a reader in so doing. (Or perhaps he has already done this in some other venue, and I missed it?) It's in such moments that the underpinnings of one's critical stance are laid bare, or barest.

I'm positing something beyond taste, not because I believe in some sort of critical objectivity or grail, but because taste itself is formed, it has bases, it has implications (in terms of future writing, future reading). To shrug off critical assumptions and differences as mere "taste" seems to me to beg the question of criticism entirely.

Or perhaps this is just my inner/ex-social scientist trying to step back and quantify the terms of a debate that isn't really even a debate anymore (cf. "teams"). Pax.

At 8/17/2011 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait. Kent, did you have something to do with that Yasusada business?? I want to hear more. Do tell!


At 8/17/2011 9:25 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Hey there Professor of the Year at Highland Community College! Anxiety level must be rising if you're going to recite my resume.

Let's make a deal. Every time you feel like saying something about me, instead, why don't you just donate $5 to Teachers and Writers Collaborative, where I worked from 1992 to 1999. Then let me know you did, and I'll donate $5 to them too.

At 8/17/2011 9:28 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Well, but this does have some fasincating implications and byways, John, theoretically speaking. And very interesing relations to the whole old (but assimilated as post-avant gospel) notion of deconstructing the "I" and the "Self," speaking of yadda yadda, and perhaps how all "that" has now become a deep part of the institutional "net of fissures."

At 8/17/2011 9:28 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

G.C., Dan wrote about rap for the New York Review of Books. I think that might qualify as out of what one would assume to be his comfort zone.

The part I liked best (it was a solid piece) was his analysis of rock as presenting limited opportunity for wit.

At 8/17/2011 9:30 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Jordan, honestly, I'm totally confused by your last. What's your point? Get hold of yourself.

At 8/17/2011 9:35 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I will suggest instead that the $5.00 comes to me. I've got to come up with $500 very quickly. And it's a bit late in the month for such things.

GC, I agree that TASTE just doesn't cut it, in reviews, or in cocktail conversation. I've not written many reviews, and I've now completely stopped since starting the blog, so I also don't have much experience writing them. Still and all, the idea of categories of taste seems a bit less than it could be. perhaps I want too much.

Jordan, I think you did a good job talking about this recently when you were talking about Michael Palmer somewhere. Was it Constant Critic? Taste became part of the issue itself? Or am I not remembering it right?

At 8/17/2011 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writing about rap is outside of his comfort zone why? Race? High / Low culture? Zebras?

And who is this DC person anyway. You're all talking in poet-code.

At 8/17/2011 9:46 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...


Yes, time and culture decide who the ubermensches--or uberwenches--of poetry will be, but our contemporaries pronounce certain poets authentic and inauthentic as well. E.g., Levertov pronounced Harrison authentic. We form opinions about these things.

No doubt you noticed I was echoing Jordan: "Some of it is paying tribute to the top cat, and some of it is copy cat, and some of it is dog my cats." That statement presupposes the existence of a recognizable authenticity--an imitation-worthy originality--possessed by certain of our contemporaries. We call that authenticity "voice"--"voice" in the casual, narrowly defined sense.

At 8/17/2011 9:56 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Hi anonymous. I hadn't seen Dan Chiasson write about music before, was all. Have you read the piece? (Did you write it?) I think I remember DC (his initials) mentioning how not-of-his-world rap was when he first encountered it, growing up in New Hampshire.

Kent, how's the fishing lately? A lot of mercury in American waterways, you know.

John, sorry to hear about the budget crunch. It's going around. Good luck.

At 8/17/2011 10:10 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Jordan, is everything OK? Something special is going on with you today! Maybe we can get together and talk at AWP. I'd love to. It would be good to finally meet. I'm actually giving a reading there with the longtime editor of the Iowa Review, would you believe it?!

But on this from you, regarding "Dan":

>I hadn't seen Dan Chiasson write about music before, was all. Have you read the piece?

You mean to tell me you didn't read his prior NYRB essay on "Keith Richards's" autobiography, where he goes on and on about how surprisingly great and "natural" a writer Richards is, without ever once mentioning in the essay that the book is ghostwritten? With the ghostwriter's name on the inside cover? Talk about the Author Function!

At 8/17/2011 10:37 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Outside the non-U.S. tongue (I take it we don't only have to talk about U.S. poets all the time), two poets who really give a flying hoot about the empirically verifiable: You will be blown away by them should you see the forthcoming book, Hotel Lautreamont:

Amanda Berenguer and Marosa Di Giorgio.

Berenguer is the kind of poet I was prodding about earlier: someone who can shift into completely different mode, key, and voice from work to work. She's one of the Southern Cone's greatest poets of the 20th century, though hardly anyone knows about her yet here. She takes GC's A and B and smashes them together in a collider.

Di Giorgio is an "autobiographical" poet so strange the A gets turned upside down and stretched out into a broken legged V with a breve hovering overhead. No one like her anywhere. (There is a first book in English from UDP, trans. by Jeannine Pitas.)

Latin American vanguard poets: You shouldn't leave home without them.

At 8/17/2011 11:39 AM, Blogger G.C. said...

Hi Kent,

They weren't my A and B, of course. But thanks for the heads-up about Berenguer and Di Giorgio. Looking forward.


At 8/17/2011 11:48 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

By the way, and with apologies that it involves me (special apologies to Jordan!), but I just remembered, helped by Johannes Goransson and Mark Wallace at Montevidayo, that an essay by Michael Theune (at thirty-some pages) is completely about this topic Gallaher and Giscombe are raising. It's in Pleiades, a couple of issues back, called "Impolitic: On Kent Johnson's Radical Hybridity." The essay is in print format only, but here's an abstract of sorts I found online. Wondering what people think of the term "middle space" (though I guess you'd have to read the essay). I wonder, though, if by Middle we might begin to think now not just in the sense of "Third Way," but in the sense of dominant Center. Interestingly, Keith Tuma also takes up my work at length in the Chicago Review before last, in an essay titled "After the Bubble," proposing me and Stephen Rodefer as something like (albeit with our definite limitations and failures) antidotes to the new dominant American Hybrid mode (or Giscombe's B type, I suppose) Here's Theune's abstract. Seriously, the essay is all about what people are discussing here, or at least it's an attempt to figure things out a bit:

>The past twenty years in American poetry have given rise to middle space poetry, poetry—sometimes labeled “Third Way,” “Hybrid,” and/or “Elliptical”—that situates itself in the middle space between mainstream/lyric and avant-garde/experimental aesthetics. While work in the middle space by now should have added up to an important and fruitful development in contemporary poetry—for there is much shared ground for these aesthetics to explore—middle space thinking and poetry for the most part has been very problematic. Paradoxically, the problems of the middle space—especially as it is presented in its three key anthologies: Reginald Shepherd’s The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms, and Cole Swensen and David St. John’s American Hybrid—largely result from its trying to be too politic.)

At 8/17/2011 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha for two things:

1. As the blog administrators keep allowing Johnson to wander his mirror, I cannot help but notice his only examples of anything in poetry is Kent Johnson or Kent Johnson related items.

2. As for those Kent Johnson related items, is he not aware that third wave or whatever is so last season? According to this blog, we're all sincerity and spirituality now.

At 8/17/2011 11:57 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Kent, all that validation must be very exciting. For you, and for the validators.

Don't forget to pick up extra Pine Sol on the way home.

At 8/17/2011 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention snarky scavengers who like to watch.

At 8/17/2011 1:37 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

"For the first 140 years of our history, we had essentially no federal war on drugs, and far fewer problems with drug addiction and related crimes as a consequence. In the past 30 years, even with the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the drug war, little good has come of it. We have vacillated from efforts to stop the drugs at the source to severely punishing the users, yet nothing has improved.
The drug war encourages violence. Government violence against nonviolent users is notorious and has led to the unnecessary prison overpopulation. Innocent taxpayers are forced to pay for all this so-called justice. Our drug eradication project (using spraying) around the world, from Colombia to Afghanistan, breeds resentment because normal crops and good land can be severely damaged. Local populations perceive that the efforts and the profiteering remain somehow beneficial to our own agenda in these various countries." --Ron Paul

Right on.

At 8/17/2011 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Paul is speaking metaphorically here about poetry and the po-wars.

At 8/17/2011 2:09 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Comment in two parts:

Well, sorry, Anonymous, that's completely untrue, as anyone who's followed conversations here knows (this is the only blog I've commented on with any kind of regularity for close to a year, by the way, though I do comment a irregularly at Montevidayo and HTML Giant). I engage topics here in all sorts of ways and in what I believe is good faith, which isn't to say I don't get ticked off sometimes, that's true.

And it IS true, too, how could I deny it, that I'm not shy to refer to things related to me when they pertain in some relevant way to the topic, as these articles I've mentioned obviously do. They are about the SAME subject, as anyone can readily see. But, granted, I seem to enjoy doing that, mentioning things I do from time to time, it's true, so I don't know, I'm sorry, I guess. I try to talk about the topics at hand in the best ways I can, and maybe when I have some personal relation to the topic it gives me a way in, I don't know... Why is it so wrong to mention these things, really? Maybe it's that I'm foolish enough to think some people would be interested in what I've written, and yes, I'd like as many people to read my writing as would have an inkling to. Not that it's good for them, or anything. But I've NEVER had a personal blog or a Facebook page, you know, where I blab away regularly about things related to my work and life, like so many do (my biggest follower, Jordan, has had a blog for many years where he talks in great earnestness and detail about himself--or used to, I haven't looked at it for about seven years; does he have a Facebook page too? I don't know, but I'll bet a lot of you do, and good for you, but remember the parable about the log in the eye and all that), and I'm not on a listserv, where I post links to things related to me (Charles Bernstein does this maniacally, on his blog and on his listserv both, for example), like so many do. Ron Silliman, my god. Etc. Etc. People think nothing of this when it happens. It's like perfectly OK.

At 8/17/2011 2:10 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

[cont.] But then, when one does it almost completely out of site in a little comment box and in *direct relation* to a subject of live conversation, some folks flip out and start screaming (some with bags on their heads) for the cops, like the ogre has come to steal the babies or something. Why's that? I mean, I don't have a Twitter gizmo, nor even a texting phone, but I'll bet a bunch of you here do. And I'll bet you talk all the time about yourselves on those things and you should, I'm not saying it's wrong or anything, no one should think badly about you because you have some vanity and you spread it all over your internet tubes, like Facebook and your blogs, and your Twitters, and your whatever. So yeah, you know, every once in a while I'll mention something I've done that relates to the topic, and I don't know, maybe that means I've been around for a while, because I can often do that, I have stuff to talk about, I guess; I sure have done a lot more in poetry than Jordan Davis has ever done, and that's a simple objective truth, and though of course it's the last thing he'd ever admit (unlike me who is admitting everything right now), this drives him up the wall, and apparently increasingly so, judging by his meltdown behavior today; isn't poetry fun, and all its people, how they behave, and how sometimes, you see, the anger you sometimes feel about a silly thing like someone referring to something they've written is an anger that hides many deeper levels of anger and frustration and competitiveness and desire and ambition and field position-taking and just plain sophomoric pettiness; this is something you should read twice, and then give Jordan a call and ask him what really pisses him off about me, is it that he feels embarrassed, as he should, that I have called him and his friends out on their stupid lawsuit threat against a small, impoverished publisher, something that he should rightly feel deep shame about for the rest of his poetic life, is that maybe it, or the fact that there is an expanded trade edition of the book they tried to kill coming out next year, because their sorry campaign of corporate-backed intimidation went kaput? I don't know, maybe it's something else, though actually I do know the rancor is deeper than that, it's a certain pathological agonism that gets combustively mixed with sociological forces he has no control over, I suspect he's been told that by people with more knowledge about these things than I, but it sure is something, and it seems like I can't stop typing, my fingers are just sort of typing away, and you know what, I'll tell you what, there is going to be a buzz about this comment and all sorts of people are going to be looking and saying, holy shit, did you see what Johnson did at Gallaher's today, around 3:30 PM, and they'll be wondering was that STRAIGHT UP or was it, like, weird performance, or is it really evidence, maybe *further* evidence, who knows, because so many of us already suspected it, that the man has gone bonkers, and doesn't he care if people think he's lost it, and the answer is No, I don't care what you think, because poetry is ultimately not a Profession or a game for clique-minded, herd-loving ninkampoops, though you'd never know it these days.

At 8/17/2011 2:23 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Easy now, Kent.

At 8/17/2011 2:26 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


I AM being easy. Do you want me to get "not easy"?

Because I can do that too, you little weinseheimer.

At 8/17/2011 2:31 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

oops, bad spelling.


I'm not exactly sure what it means, but I ahve always liked the sound of it.

At 8/17/2011 2:33 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Kent, you really don't have to do any of this.

At 8/17/2011 2:38 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Jordan, I have no idea what you're talking about, really, but still: Spare me your pathetic passive aggressiveness.

At 8/17/2011 2:42 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Well, I tried.

You do spend a lot of time characterizing me, Kent.

At 8/17/2011 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back away, you two, and repeat slowly under your breath: Poetry makes nothing happen. Poetry makes nothing happen. Poetry...


At 8/18/2011 8:00 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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