Monday, May 23, 2005

Finding John Latta's blog essential readng these days as he meditates on Notleyan Disobedience, "the built-in curbs to the mind and the imagination which a post-avant style imposes" (I wish to note here that in the past week Ron Silliman has come out and defined "post-avant" in his appreciation of Jim Behrle's new broadside, Why I Am Not Post-Avant: "Post-avant, after all, is precisely what happens to avant-garde writing the instant that it gets it that the old master narrative of progress is bunk & that the role of the avant-garde has naught to do with the military metaphor implicit in that term, but with a literary tradition that stretches back at least as far as Wordsworth & Coleridge & Blake, & that this tradition is understood best as a diachronic view of an ever evolving world literary community."), and this Notley quote very much worth repeating: "You don’t try to say something without being worth knowing, and you aren’t worth knowing unless you come off it so the person who wants to know you can be present too." This returns us to the subject of the ethical pleasures of poetry, using "ethical" in the rhetorical sense of the persona the speaker creates so as to attract hearers to her argument, but extending it to mean the persona that the hearer gets to enjoy while in the speaker's presence. (Such talk of "presence" sets off my Derrida-alarms, but let it.) To "Come off it" (with an implied exclamation point) is indeed the specialty of the New York School; it might be the secret subtitle of Frank O'Hara's "Personism." And it might also be the motto of The Hat, which I'm reading now for the first time. One major and notable exception so far is Joshua Clover's piece, "At the Atelier Teleology," which though tongue-in-cheek stills strikes me as having highfalutin' aspirations toward the Big Statement, Big Poemness, "Mastery"—in short, "IT." Which does not in fact strike me as a bad thing; which seems even a tonic in the midst of the delightful, bird-witted, sometimes energetically vulgar, always hyperintelligent, "come off it" poems surrounding Clover's piece. Clover's persona is not one I'd like to hang out with the way I'm drawn, say, to that of Li Bloom or Sasha Frere-Jones (his prose poems are marvelous), but you don't always want to "hang out" with a poet: sometimes you want to be taken to school, other times you want to be in the presence of a visionary. I think Latta is right to remind us not to fetishize "the way," and both he and Ange Mlinko seem particularly conscious of the constraints that come with any concept of "community"; I also think Silliman's categorizing creates useful channels for energy and critique, especially of those who implicitly ideologize their "way" into capital letters. I tend to value community the same way I value use of constraint in my actual writing: if you are active and conscious in choosing your constraints and limitations, I believe you are less likely to be conditioned and determined in ways you are unconscious of: constraint can be an effective weapon against ideology. The artists I admire most keep moving without getting permanently lodged in any one formation, stylistic or otherwise—every "yes" with a "but" after it.

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