Monday, March 10, 2003

I'm sick to death of talking about Joshua Clover but I'm going to go ahead and post an e-mail that I sent to Andrew Mister on the subject. Then I'm going to back off from the echo chamber that Blogworld has become for a while and concentrate on saying something intelligent about Nick Piombino's Theoretical Objects.

Okay, I'll talk to you about Joshua Clover, but I don't feel like putting this on my blog, at least not right now. You can post what I say if you feel like it. [Obviously I've changed my mind--Ed.]

First off, an abecedarian poem is a poem that uses the alphabet as its organizing principle. It's a very Oulipo/John Cage thing to do, but when I first read Clover's poem "Zealous" I hadn't really heard either of them so this rocked my world. (The first letter of the first line of the poem is A, the second is B, and so on down to Y--the Z is in the title.) Childish? Derivative? Maybe. But I'm a sucker for these kinds of neoformalist (as opposed to New Formalist) devices, and the fact that I didn't even notice the first time I read the poem really tickles me. As for the rest of the book, I'd have to sit down and read it again and there's all this new poetry (not to mention Kant) demanding my attention, but flipping through it I see a poem like "The Autumn Alphabets (3)" which appeals to me because it manages to convey a certain burden of emotional affect while engaging in sly ways with the metonymic exchanges language makes possible and not incidentally within a larger historical context. That kind of thing rocks my world and still does. He learned a few of his tricks from Mark Levine, who learned his tricks from Allen Grossman and James Tate, who learned their tricks from the Surrealists, kabbalah, Heidegger, and so on back and back to somebody like your namesake Andrew Marvell, who managed to produce poems within a complex and oppressive political context that still delight today with their savage and witty indeterminacy (q.v. "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" with its double-edged "What may not others fear / If thus he crowns each year!"). He does, or seems to do, one of the things I'm most interested in: produce a historicized poetry ("historicized" is a more useful word to me than "political," even though it is political, even and especially when the history presented is a history of the now) that preserves a certain Romanticism in the lushness of its language and the anxiety of its ironies. So I'll always owe Clover for being the first poet I encountered who made this kind of thing possible for me to imagine, even if others do it better and even though he does portray an irritating too-cool-for-school image, literally.

So there,


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