Nothing is more characteristic than that precisely this most intimate and most mysterious affair, the working of the weather on humans, should have become the theme of their emptiest chatter. Nothing bores the ordinary man more than the cosmos (AP, D1, 3).Can't tell if that's Benjamin himself or one of the million "correspondents" that his book (if we can call it a book) could be said to have been written by.
This makes me think about the interview between Gabriel Gudding and Kent Johnson that's up at the Possum Pouch, in which the infamous Mr. Johnson explains the strategy behind his endless disavowals of Authorship:
You give up some things to gain others, you know. And the work I’m involved with seems to have struck a chord with many, and I’ve made some pretty good relationships because of it, over the past number of years. But the logic of the kind of art I seem to get myself into—as poet, editor, translator, caretaker, what have you—is quite different from the "I Am the Author" poetry for which one goes to, say, Ploughshares or The Iowa Review, Chain or Fence: the Bizetian opera-tions of the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival kind, or, equally, now, the Glassian glissandi of late-Langpo and its post-Gulf War I elite graduate school-based offshoots. Textual ideologies aside, both tendencies are rooted in fundamentally similar and very conservative assumptions about the Poet’s contract with, and presence in, the culture… But in these times of global madness, as World War III perhaps gets underway, who really cares about Language Poetry being to the Academy of American Poets what Stravinsky is to Brahms, or what Cindy Sherman is to Edward Weston? There’s nothing wrong with it, ultimately. That’s just the nature of the culture market, and people do what they do, and there are very good and deeply talented people in all these groups. History will sort things out in the Art Museum. Those eccentrics who stubbornly refuse and remain outside will either be completely forgotten or they will change everything. Perhaps both, of course.Johnson is opting out of "the culture market," claiming for himself the turf of "outsider" or "eccentric"something Gudding is quick to call him on, noting that "the poetic outsider is the next greatest bet for canonization." Johnson defends himself by stating exactly what he's for, what he wants to do in or for poetry, as well as what he's against:
But it’s complicated, admittedly. I think about these things and wonder about my motivations and directions, believe me. I’m guilty, I suppose, of desiring to have a relationship to poetry outside the most widely accepted protocols and categories. That’s my vanity, and I’m an odd duck in that way, but to me it’s what being a poet is mainly about. It ’s not so much about the two-dimensional issues of whether your unit of measure is feet or sentences, whether on the page you are thematically narrative or abstract, lyrical or non-syllogistic; it’s about the four-dimensional challenges of how your self and non-self relate to poetry’s total space, to how you are going to negotiate those ritualized modes of production and branding that are regarded—by Language, Post-avant, Pittsburgh UP, Cowboy, and Performance poets alike—as more or less natural and happily ancillary to the nature of the "poem proper." So for me—and I say for me because it’s not some kind of categorical imperative—the question is: What’s a poet to do? Do you just fit yourself into the Author slot, framed and hooked and fixed with your legal self, or do you make things more interesting than that? And it just occurs to me that maybe this is what you meant earlier by the term "flickering." In that sense, yes, to poeticize the function and position of my authorship, to make it an element inside my poetry is what I am interested in. Move around, I say. There’s lots of unexplored space beyond the canvas. Otherwise, poetry becomes a mostly repetitive exercise, conceptually speaking, ID’d and ready, be it "traditional" or "experimental," for the gallery.This is interesting stuffthe "four-dimensional challenges" of art. This is the holistic approach, as I understand it: the poet who claims that his or her position re: "poetry" is as important or more important than the poems themselves. This is akin to the school of thought which thinks that how and where a poem is published is more important than the poem: the prison of perfect binding, right? I think Gudding must be thinking somewhat along these same lines with his attempts to control the reception of his book, though he seems much less of a merry prankster, if I can use that term without belittling what Johnson does. I think what he does is really interesting, and I only question it insofar as what he's saying implies that someone like me, who has fitted himself (though not always snugly or comfortably) into the Author slot, is a less authentic artist. Or maybe that's the wrong way to put it"authenticity" is almost certainly something that the "executor" of Doubled Flowering wants to attack. Maybe he'd only claim that what he's doing is more interesting than what I do, or potentially more effective in shaping the poetry of the future. If that's your thing.
I find having written all this that although I'm glad Johnson is out there doing his thing, I'm just as glad that I don't have to do it myself. That the vocation of "poet" is larger and less prescriptive than that. So I'm not going to bother with a tedious defense of Authorship or my claims to it. I think maybe I'm more interested in teaching the Yasusada controversyI think what KJ does could enlarge a student's sense of what's possible. And insofar as he does that, I think I can say he's a good poet without renouncing my claims to also be, or to want to be, a good poet too.
On a different note:
Hey poetry fans! How'd you like to influence the reading habits of Ithaca, New York?
In my new capacity as clerk extraordinaire it appears that I have the ability to order books that I think ought to be on the shelvesthat I can take a hand in reshaping the contents of The Bookery's poetry and poetics sections. I'm inviting you, my gentle readers, to e-mail me suggestions for books that we ought to stock. I've started out with a small but decisive opening salvo: Norma Cole's Spinoza in Her Youth will soon be making the Billy Collins volumes sweat. What should be next? You, the people, can help decide.