Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Somehow I can justify submitting poems to Poetry for myself. It was once as central as it claims to be, and so many fundamental poets, American and otherwise, made critical appearances there. It's the name: I won't cede the ground of poetry to any single camp. Without abandoning a necessary degree of skepticism, I'm hopeful that the Lilly gift will eventually become meaningful to poetry and not just Poetry. Or rather, that there should no longer seem to be such a gap between them. Besides, I take a certain perverse pride in having both Poetry and Can We Have Our Ball Back? on my resume.

This may seem like a dreary topic for New Year's Eve, but I promise you that drink and festivities do in fact lie ahead. Farewell, 2003. In many ways it was a good year for me. But I hope that the larger nightmare it has been for the rest of the world is almost over.

So give 'em hell, Howard!

Monday, December 29, 2003

A useful clarification from Gary on the question of disruption—one which carefully amplifies the meaning of the term so that the notion of a "disruptive poetics" becomes a contradiction in terms. The contextual and historical nature of disruption is made much clearer by his latest remarks, though: where you're coming from entirely determines your judgment of how disruptive a thing is or not. Barrett Watten, to use one of Gary's examples, was certainly disruptive to me when I first encountered him—my educational background up to then had persuaded me that the only "experimental" poetry worth noticing was that of the Beats, whom I dismissed as naive, sloppy, and jejune. There was no room on my map for someone like Watten: I had to get used to the idea of him, and Language poetry generally, before I could actually read him. The poetics, the new map, had to be assimilated before I could make any sense of the poetry itself. Which doesn't speak very well for my capacity to react like the ideal reader sometimes hinted at in the statements made about those poetics: someone who accepts, who yields, who completely opens to the work, not finding it any more or less "strange" or "difficult" than a Shakespeare sonnet or a Burma Shave ad. These statements, which "empower" the reader to understand Charles Bernstein while taking away his or her ability to make sense of NBC news, have always struck me as disingenous in their effect, though not their intent. Nonetheless I myself find myself paraphrasing this idea with my writing students, urging them to abandon all their usual props and contexts. As if I myself were capable of doing this—as if I've ever been able to bring myself to just look at a painting in a museum without studying the little printed card next to it! (I usually do refuse the recorded exgesis that you hold to your ear, though.) But we keep exhorting readers to discard their need for ground to stand on and see freshly, probably because we so strongly desire to do this ourselves. Yet so much of the game of poetry, the intellectual part, the interest, comes from logopoeia: the foregrounding play of etymological context in one's poetry. Naievty is always faux and unconsciousness has to be interpreted by consciousness. I've been reading too much German aesthetics, I think.

Still you have to applaud a statement like this one of Josef Albers', which I find in the beautiful coffee table book that we're selling here: Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art (edited by Vincent Katz; Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002). It seems entirely applicable to the way I want to teach poetry. He said this in 1928:
To experiment is at first more valuable than to produce; free play in the beginning develops courage. Therefore, we do not begin with a theoretical introduction; we start directly with the material. . . .

The most familiar methods of using [materials] are summarized; and since they are already in use they are for the time being forbidden. For example: paper, in handicraft and industry, is generally used lying flat; the edge is rarely utilized. For this reason we try paper standing upright, or even as a building material; we reinforce it by complicated folding; we use both sides; we emphasize the edge. Paper is usually pasted: instead of pasting it we try to tie it, to pin it, to sew it, to rivet it. . . .

Our aim is not so much to work differently as to work without copying or repeating others. we try to experiment, to train ourselves in "constructive thinking." . . .

. . . an essential point in our teaching is economy. Economy is the sense of thriftiness in labor and material and in the best possible use of them to achieve the effect that is desired (22-23).
Well, that last bit could go. Baroque excess often leads to the palace of wisdom, or at least freshness. But the fundamentals are very sound. I do wonder though what might constitute the "edge" of language.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I'm struck by the question of classification that Gary has raised, partly in response to the perennial division of post-avant vs. School of Quietude that Ron has again reaffirmed as pertinent to the case of Marianne Moore. Whereas Ron posits what he must see as two reasonably coherent traditions (or at least SoQ is coherent, to the point of being ahistorical; its "Other" seems to vary according to period, from Pound's Modernism to Objectivism to Projectivism to the Beats to the New Americans to the New York School to Language Poetry, etc.), Gary distinguishes between the distinguished and the distinguishers: many of us carry potentially paralyzing "maps of poetry" around inside us and work to expand the borders of whichever map we think is best; but another breed "force us as readers & poets to completely rethink it"—it I suppose referring both to existing maps and the territorializing impulse that is the transcendental precondition for mapping in the first place. It's an anxious-making distinction for the likes of yours truly, who against Ms. Moore's advise has gone to pursue a PhD and who is therefore necessarily obsessed with this kind of mapping. There is no particular tradition whose borders I claim to be expanding, Meriwether Lewis-style; but this may simply mean my actual position is undertheorized and my ideology covert.

To even think this way reinforces my sense that I am probably not one of Gary's "disruptive" poets, and this makes me sad. In spite of the technocratic lineages that have become available since Mallarme, I like most people can't help but think of poetry as being at heart this fundamentally disruptive activity that "force[s] us to rethink what we thought we already knew"; and by a kind of metonymy this seems to require one to have a kinship beneath the skin with the visionary likes of Rimbaud and Baudelaire and Blake. This is romantic nonsense to a degree: the practice of poetry may have a kinship with the systematic derangement of the senses in its effect, but that doesn't mean you personally have to blow your brains out with chemicals. Nothing in Gary's post suggests that the contemporary poets he mentions are personally cut in such a Romantic mold. But there does seem to be something intrinsically Romantic about the notion of a poetic force so strong that "you simply have to make room for it, regardless of how you imagine the world to have been composed previously." That kind of writing isn't experimental, at least not in the white lab coat sense: it seems in Gary's formulation to be something innate, a kind of charisma (the OED says: "A free gift or favour specially vouchsafed by God: a grace, a talent"). The word "commitment" does suggest other possibilities: it makes me wonder about cases of poets who begin in a tradition, perhaps even achieve success in that tradition, only to make a decisive break. Whitman and his place in poetry comes to mind, as Lawrence wrote:
Whitman, the great poet, has meant so much to me. Whitman, the one man breaking a way ahead. Whitman, the one pioneer. And only Whitman. No English pioneers, no French. No European pioneer-poets. In Europe the would-be pioneers are mere innovators. The same in America. Ahead of Whitman, nothing. Ahead of all poets, pioneering into the wilderness of unopened life, Whitman. Beyond him, none. His wide, strange camp at the end of the great high-road. And lots of new little poets camping on Whitman's camping ground now. But none going really beyond. Because Whitman's camp is at the end of the road, and on the edge of a great precipice. Over the precipice, blue distances, and the blue hollow of the future. But there is no way down. It is a dead end.
A dire formulation, to be sure. Even if Lawrence's pessimism is misplaced, Whitman's path, or any teacher's path, leads us to just another camp, however strange. But listen to what the man said:
I am the teacher of athletes;
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own, proves the width of my own;
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
You can't destroy the teacher until you have accepted the teacher, at least for a time. There's some hope for me then, and for all of us who've learned it by book. But you can't simply choose this kind of commitment, any more than you can choose to have your work read by the standards of another period. This is our moment and we can't make that moment any bigger or smaller. I struggle so hard every day against the myths of the giants of old. Let there be no more giants if that means tyranny—but not all charisma is evil. We need it—it's the beginning of something. Charisma, confidence, commitment—opens a way. More: it makes ways imaginable.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Here is what I wrote in response to the Nader survey that Ron called to the attention of the Poetics List:

There is much that I appreciate about Mr. Nader and his politics. However, as a Democrat with socialist leanings I feel that we are in a state of emergency in this country. The actions taken by the Bush administration since September 11, and even before it (such as their catastrophic environmental policy) have been ample proof to my eyes that there would, in fact, have been a significant difference if Gore had prevailed in the 2000 election. He bears most of the blame for his failure, but Mr. Nader played a part. I think that third party candidacies are and will probably continue to remain meaningless except as spoilers given our winner-take-all system; if we had a parliamentary system in this country I would feel very differently. You will not easily persuade me that a Nader candidacy will have any real effect beyond siphoning votes from the Democratic nominee, and I cannot support this. I will consider supporting the Green Party on a local level; I think grassroots organizing for the Greens could in a generation's time create a powerful third party or else recall the Democrats to their roots. But a presidential run is premature and potentially disastrous. In fact, the disaster is more than potential; it is ongoing. I urge you to desist.


Joshua Corey
Ithaca, NY
Needless to say, I urge you to click on the survey link and fill it out for yourself.

Friday, December 26, 2003

I hope everyone's been having nice holidays. We're enjoying the vast stretches of parking on our street, normally crammed with the overpriced vehicles of Ithaca College students. Now you could park RVs on our street. We did nothing yesterday, which was delightful. Emily lit candles and said the prayer; I watched. Raised by Unitarian Jews who saw nothing objectionable about Christmas trees and who didn't teach me a lick of Hebrew. I'm a man without a holiday.

Today I'm settling into my daily routine for winter break: 1) Sleep later than is good for me. 2) Walk dog later than is good for him. 3) Go to coffee shop and drink powerful coffee and read about German aesthetics or Olson's essays or something to do with pastoral--surely more than is good for me. 4) Come home, have lunch. 5) Futz around with computer, maybe submit something to somebody. 6) Go to bookstore and read more, more, more.

Next week Emily and I are going to rent a cabin in Spencer for a couple of days for New Year's. It's only about 45 minutes away but it feels like the deep woods. All we really want is a fireplace, especially now that it's turning cold again. For a while there everything was melting.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Mea culpa, Nicole.
Fab online journal Tarpaulin Sky has just published some poems of mine. By sheer coincidence another Ithaca poet, Fred Muratori, who I shared a stage with at Jane Sprague's West End Reading Series last July, also has work in this issue. And there's a prose poem by a poet named Danielle Dutton called "S&M" that kicks major ass. Beth Anderson, Ginger Knowlton, Heidi Peppermint (mm, ginger and peppermint), Zachary Schomburg, and a painter named Rebecca Silus are also featured with excellent work. Check it out.
It probably doesn't need saying that I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Grew up with the books, became thoroughly involved with the movies. I feel actual grief now that I've seen Return of the King and have to stop traveling with those characters, as I have more or less since I first saw the preview for the first film while goofing off at my dot-com job in 1999. Along with all the raves there's been some backlash: I found this Caryn James article both typical and baffling. Aside from the anecdotal evidence of my girlfriend Emily's love of the films (and she's never read the books), I was struck by this sentence: "The well-calculated hype and exaggerated praise (the New York Film Critics Circle last week voted "Return" best picture) has obscured what the series really is: an FX extravaganza tailored to an adolescent male's fear of sentiment and love of high-tech wizardry." This runs wholly counter to my experience of the films, even as I freely admit that experience is rooted in lingering adolescent maleness (for an NY Times article on that topic click here). The movies are an opportunity to absolutely wallow in sentiment, even as the latent homoeroticism (very much present in the books) goes practically undisguised to our cynical eyes. In fact they're all about love, and not just the romantic heterosexual variety that provides the only compensation for women like Ms. James (in the admittedly irresistible figure of Viggo Mortensen). The movies celebrate friendship and filial love (such as that between Merry and Pippin, Eowyn and Theoden, and the triangle of Boromir, Faramir, and their father Denethor) as well as a love for a country and a way of life. Of course the absolute evil of the Enemy (nasssty orcsis, as Gollum would say) is more than a little problematic and, I hope, should prevent the films from being treated as simple analogs for the war on terror (as some have tried to do). George W. Bush is no Aragorn, that's for sure—not only does he do all his ass-kicking by proxy, but he possesses none of the latter's humility or capacity for introspection. Man, do I digress. My point is that the movies are as crammed with sentiment (if not as sentimental) as any "chick flick," and much less afraid to cop to that sentiment than, say, the male bonding we see in a John Wayne or Mel Gibson movie is. And the love these characters have for each other make the spectacular battles matter in a way they almost never do in movies (the closest most of them manage to come to having an emotional justification for violence is the very cheap one of revenge), which has the effect of pushing the special effects into the background, where they belong. When I gasped at the spectacle of the giant siege machines laying into the walls of Minas Tirith, my emotion wass underlaid with anxiety for the welfare of the characters (in spite of my knowing the ultimate outcome). When Frodo fled from the giant spider, I share the feeling of the woman sitting next to me who cried out, "Run, Frodo!" Most of all, I was moved by the pivotal grouping of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum: Frodo's need to believe in Gollum's redemption, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary; Sam's deep, suffering loyalty for the friend who has moved past his understanding; and Gollum, whose slimy need is part and parcel with the remnant of humanity visibly flickering in his CGI eyes. In that central triangle the film achieves its truth content, becoming ambiguous and conflicted in a way the larger story of a battle against absolute evil could never be.

Now it's all over and I'm in holiday shopping hell, at the nadir of imagination where people keep buying Rumi calendars and copies of The Da Vinci Code. At least tomorrow the days start getting longer.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Here is a response to the scurrilous attack on Kent Johnson in the latest issue of The Believer. Perhaps they'll print it in their Snarkwatch section, perhaps not:
Venue: Your esteemed magazine, December 2003/2004
Author: Michael Atkinson
Title: "Hyperauthor! Hyperauthor!"

You want to talk about snark? Look no further than your own pages, in which Mr. Atkinson deliriously takes on any number of academical straw men, hooting at the notion that Language might speak us rather than the other way around--as if such theories didn't always take into account as their main premise that we are socialized into a pre-existing language. It's easy to mock the "death of the author" premise--I am sure the author of the piece is alive and well and staying very far from New Mexico indeed. But Atkinson seems wilfully ignorant of the fact that authors and readers don't meet each other in some kind of democratic dandelion field: up until very recently you couldn't be an author without being anointed as such by someone with the means to print and distribute your work. Institutions and publications like the Academy of American Poets and American Poetry Review are constituted by their power to turn Joe Schmoe, or Araki Yasusada, into an Author to Be Recknowed With by Those That Care--a group Atkinson grumpily and marginally counts himself a member of. He writes that "the Yasusada verses are not literature anymore." But what made them "literature" except the authorization of an outfit like APR? And does the attachment of the name of a "literary author" which happens to correspond to the name on someone's cultural credit card, guarantee that their writing will not be "motivated by sardonic smugness or misanthropic disdain"? Out of the literary pool, Charles Baudelaire! Go back to your cliff house, Robinson Jeffers! No spleen, please--that could never be "true" (the scare quotes are Atkinson's) "to any genuine emotional experience."

I happen to believe that the Yasusada hoax was nothing less than a piece of performance art--a genuinely avant garde act because the object of its critque were those same authorizing institutions that made its own "authorization" possible. Yasusada's work makes us think as well as feel. (And yes, I do happen to think that the poems themselves have aesthetic merit.) Of course, this can only happen to its fullest extent if the hoax is revealed, and there's a great deal of evidence to suggest that Yasusada's eventual unmasking was all part of the plan. Atkinson writes that "Literature is our record of being, and to defraud it is an act of nihilistic mutiny." Stirring words: but to proclaim literature to be some immortal repository of "our" values is one of the oldest strategies of the cultural conservative, by which he attempts to persuade us that the record of his being is or should be ours. Elsewhere in the article, Atkinson writes of the high modernists (who, despite their thorniness and difficulty and, yes, "nihilistic mutiny" must be recuperated for "our record of being" or the whole house of cards will tumble) that, "in breathlessly witnessing a feat of brilliant daring, we long to glimpse the big brain at the controls, to see how different he or she is from us." This is the same author who writes "I know some women who only read women, and I can't think of a single reason why they should do otherwise." Because in spite of all his high talk about community and our being, Atkinson cannot imagine a mind or self truly different than his own and the idea of people crossing demographic lines, much less pretending to be dead Japanese Hiroshima survivors, appears to make him woozy. Joyce, et al, "were silly like us," to quote Auden, and the privilege bestowed upon their big brains to unsettle our notions of the "literary" (and, in so doing, to change or challenge the borders of community, which are always guarded by gatekeepers of one sort or another) is not withdrawn simply because it would make the narrow-minded more comfortable. Atkinson claims to write on the behalf of readers, but readers need no defense from Araki Yasusada or Kent Johnson. It is the self-appointed guardian of the narrow strait of "literature" who must bite at the flea, and glance around fearfully, and bark as the caravan passes him by.
It's Dan Lin, one N. That's final. Read a poem of his over at AGNI.

Finished my grades and my paper on Heidegger and Adorno and their theories of the artwork, which concludes with a consideration of Charles Olson. Now I have nothing to fear but waves of holiday shoppers. Yes... we DO have The Da Vinci Code! Gurgle.... choke....
Boy, this blog is ugly now. Can't figure out how to get rid of that hideous orange stripe. Links are more or less back, though.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I've been forced to change my template in order to get my site up and running again. Will restore blog links, etc., someday soon.

That's all for now except to note that the latest issue of Poetry is obsessed with the Isaiah Berlin's old saw about the fox knowing many things and the hedgehog knowing one big thing. The phrase is applied to both Nemerov and Jarrell and probably pops up in one of the poems too. It's A Very Special Issue of Poetry: The Hedgehog Issue.
Posting into more of a void than usual because Blogger won't acknowledge the posts. Makes a person feel a hint of existential despair, or maybe that's just a fluctuation of my standards. First Poetry doesn't look so bad. Then looking through some more promising magazines just makes me tired. If you can't be Rilke, why bother?

Someday someone will read this. Is it you?
Still can't get my posts to appear!
This month's Poetry seems slightly improved over the old ones. Reginald Gibbons has a reasonably sharp "Confession" by Reginald Gibbons, a nice meditation on Robert Lowell and the current disastrousness by John Koethe, a rhythmic little number from Rebecca Black, a Dean Young-ish piece of apocalyptic whimsy by Matthew Doherty, and even something post-avant looking by a Christine Garren (such a staid magazine that anything even close to page-as-field, that hoary old innovation, looks fresh). Still, the magazine has a whiff of the mausoleum about it. Somebody suggested they should use their millions to start giving the magazine away free, an idea I like. If they must be editorially stodgy they could at least choose a radically democratic means of distribution.
I've tried to add comments and a couple of new posts to the blog, but so far, nada. (And not the Nada we all love.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Trying to add comments....
I'm told that Dan Linn (whose name I misspelled below), one of the happily unexpected purchasers of Selah at St. Marks last week, is actually a friend of Emily's friend, the esteemed poet Amy Whitney (who herself bought a copy of the book while I was on duty at the Bookery yesterday). The wheels go round and round.... Dan, if you're out there, send me an e-mail and say hi!

Barrow Street has corrected the price of the book to $14, incidentally, so you can now buy it from them or from Amazon. Dealer's choice, though I suspect it might come quicker from Barrow Street. For some reason Amazon is taking one to three weeks to deliver. No picture, either. Grr.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The holiday season is upon us. I never feel more Jewish than this time of year. The bookstore has suddenly become crazy busy, which is good for business but bad for busyness. I second everything that Jim has to say on the subject.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Can't believe I posted without a word on today's Big News. But what is there to say? Saddam's capture is unequivocally good news for the Iraqi people. However human and sad he looks in the photos, he has committed monstrous crimes and must be punished for them. I hope he gets a fair and public trial. That said, the politicial boost this will give Bush saddens and infuriates me. People, Saddam's a bad guy, but he's the wrong bad guy. In fact, it's not about bad guys. It's about systemic repression and injustice on a global scale. Wake up!

Preaching to the converted, alas and alas.

Same mixed feelings about the good economic news: a genuinely good thing that obscures our vision of the profounder evil.

The snow is falling....
The snow, it blows. Actually, with no particular place to go, like the songs say, it's nice to sit here and plan a mug of cocoa while the white stuff is general all over Ithaca. I'm back and it's been a whirlwind. The reading went very well—you couldn't wish for a more posh space to read poetry in than the National Arts Club. Good turnout, many people left clutching copies of Selah and Barrow Street and Western Humanities Review. Richard Howard read first in his trademark red-framed Coke-bottle glasses. He's a very entertaining stage presence. Jacqueline Osherow read after a break, and then me. I think I'm getting the hang of using a mike. People were very nice afterwards; I met Timothy Liu, Sharon Dolin, Kathleen Ossip, and Stephen Cramer, emerging poets all (well, Mr. Liu has fully emerged, I think). But the real thrill came the next day. After a fairly disastrous first meeting between Emily's dad and stepmother and my dad and stepmother, and a recuperative viewing of the expanded first chapter of Lord of the Rings at the Loews on 42nd and 8th Avenue, I made my usual pilgrimage down to the St. Mark's Bookshop. There, I was accosted—I believe accosted is the word—by a young man holding a copy of my book that he'd found on the shelves—I didn't even know the book was on shelves yet. His name was Ted Mathys and he was/is a poet (he has three good prose poems in the latest Fence and he was a fan. And he bought the book and had me sign it. More incredible than this was another poet, Daniel Lin, happened to be nearby, and he bought the book and had me sign it, leaving St. Marks with a single copy on their shelves. You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. It was a genuine rockstar moment and fulfilled most of the secret fantasies I've harbored since I first attempted a novel in the sixth grade. What to do for an encore?

Well for one thing, there's a reading at the Ear Inn coming up: Saturday, February 21st at 3 PM. Mark your calendars, New Yorkers: there's no avoiding it. You will hear me read eventually. Bwa-ha-hah!

Oh me. Oh my. I promise to get back to substantive commentary in the not too distant future. Yes indeedy.

Monday, December 08, 2003

My book is finally available for purchase from Amazon, where it is mysteriously $.95 cheaper than it costs from Barrow Street's website. Go figure. Also go figure why it has a 1 to 3 week availability. Hopefully that will improve very soon.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Reading in NYC Wednesday

In spite of being sick as a dog I promise to be well in time for this event on Wednesday, December 10:
Fifth Anniversary Barrow Street Party - - - and a celebration of the Winter
2003 issue...

Please join us...!!!

Readings by Jackie Osherow, Richard Howard, and Joshua Corey

Suggested donation:
$25 includes copy of the winter 2003 issue
$15 for contributors

7:00 PM
National Arts Club
15 Gramercy Park South
New York, NY

Friday, December 05, 2003

Did you know Percy Bysshe Shelley's grandfather was born in Newark, New Jersey?

Stay off the roads, you snowy ships at sea.
From Duncan's first letter to Denise Levertov in June 1953, "An A Muse Ment":
            song of the languagers
What are the signs of life? the breath, pulse,
  the constant
sloughing off of old disguises in
  creasing, increasing—
Notes— to hesitate, retract:
  step by step— to be idiot-awkward
  with it— to take care
by the throat & throttle it—
  bottle that genius
for mere magic or intoxic
it is sober he stumbles
  on truth? Hell, no—
this he sober gnaws
the inconsequential
  eternity of his skull.

His appetite is not experimental.
If it's not too late I'd like to second Tony Tost's self-nomination for the editorship of Best American Poetry 2004. His taste is impeccable.
Got a cold, but I'm here at the Bookery anyway. Enjoying the slightly surreal experience of sitting behind copies of my own book, on display in the impulse-buy zone at the back register here. A middle-aged man buying a card picks up a copy, starts browsing. Do I tell him? Do I don't tell him? I tell him. "You must be very excited," he says. "Yes!" I say. He's still browsing. He puts it back. "Maybe I'll come back for it," he says. I don't want to put the poor guy on the spot. "We'd be delighted," I blurt. We. Well, we would, wouldn't we?

My sickness seems to discharge me of my usual obligation to do some serious work while I'm here: Adorno or whatever. There are some new books I've ordered for the shelves to browse through instead. Silliman's Tjanting has arrived (and I'm so intrigued by his anointment of Lisa Jarnot today. I'm a Jarnot fan myself, but what has she got that, say, Jennifer Moxley hasn't got? Her fearless ear, perhaps—while I've found Moxley's The Sense Record to be one of the most involving and provocative books I've read this year, I'm not going to that work for her sense of melopoeia. What a long parenthetical), as has the correspondence of Levertov and Duncan. Right now I'm leafing through Joe Sacco's new graphic novel about Sarajevo, The Fixer. And drinking lots of Gypsy Cold Care tea.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Denken durch Dichtung

"At times when we believe we are studying something, we are only being receptive to a kind of day-dreaming."
                        —Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

I used to be a much more unconscious writer. Only my ear, tuned inward to the thousands of books I'd uncritically absorbed, guided what I wrote. I did very little thinking about my writing or what I've learned to call "my poetics." Asked the meaning of a poem I'd shrug and say, "Hey, I just work here." A number of undertheorized notions helped to determine the decisions I made while writing. Rhyme was good but internal rhyme was better. Couplets are more beautiful than quatrains. A poem exists to unfold one or more striking images. Banish cliches. Syntax should be regular unless a linebreak or rhyme demands otherwise. "Prose poetry" makes no sense. The poem should conclude with an epiphany, a reversal, or else dovetail neatly into the beginning. All poems are love poems—or to put it another way, praise is more challenging than negativity. A poem should be beautiful. Poetry = beauty.

The critical attitude which led me to reject these doxa came gradually to me as I began my first grapplings with literary theory (Derrida, Foucault, Said, Nietzsche), and accelerated once I began reading poets working outside the narrow Levine-Hugo-Wright axis I'd defined as "contemporary poetry" (Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman, C.D. Wright, Lucie Brock-Broido). I was 27 years old when this process began, so I'd already been writing for a while: poems, plays, screenplays, my Romeo & Juliet vs. Queen novel. So these notions, that I'd gathered who knows where—from reading and re-reading the third edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry?— were not quickly or easily dislodged. Even now they remain as the deep background which I write against, or toward almost helplessly. Couplets are more beautiful. Of course, "beauty" is now a suspect category and the role of negativity within the most authentic poem of priase is much clearer to me. Probably my sense of being a more critically reflective writer is tied to my growing interest in syntax as the engine of language estranged from communication (which is poetry in one direction and jargon in the other). I'm re-inventing the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E wheel in some ways, of course, and struggling against the fact of my belatedness as each member of a rising generation must do. One must figure these things out for oneself—at least I must. I can't and couldn't be told. Still, I hope my consciousness of syntax and the dialectical knot of logopoeia that it provides access to will save my students a little bit of time. And I mustn't overestimate that critical consciousness I've acquired. "Maturity" always dates itself six months down the line.

Bachelard: "When we are lecturing, we become animated by the joy of teaching and, at times, our words think for us. But to write a book requires really serious reflection."

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Deep in Daniel Nester's God Save My Queen (buy it!). Feeling of admitting too much when I say how deeply I understand it. We grew up in neighboring worlds, still live in them.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Back from Nantucket where the wild wind blew. My girlfriend has two nieces, one of whom is in love with me. We're going to run away together. She's three.

As of today there are now forty-eight Severance Songs. A book! But I'm going for an even sixty. It might be time to get into prose. I feel the sonnet form (usually but not always unrhymed) that I've been working in has become perhaps too instinctive. It doesn't offer as much resistance as it once did. Maybe I should start writing Petrachan sonnets with an octave and sestet. In Provencal.

Received: Noah Eli Gordon's The Frequencies (speaking of prose), Sara Veglahn's Falling Forward, Juliana Leslie's Pie in the sky, Nick Moudry's A Poem , a Movie & a Poem, Oska Pastior's Many Glove Compartments, Daniel Nester's God Save My Queen, Kent Johnson's The Miseries of Poetry (a haunting hoot), and, edited by Norma Cole, Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France. I don't usually "receive" books (I have to buy them) but lately I've been lucky enough to do so, usually by exchanging a copy or two of Selah. Still don't know when that book will have a distributor, but I hope those of you ordering copies from Barrow Street are getting them.

More later perhaps when I'm safely ensconced behind my counter at the Bookery.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A reader writes to remind me that it's Rosmarie Waldrop, not Rosemarie. My bad. I'm sticking with "Barrett" for Barrett Watten too, from now on.

Off to Nantucket this afternoon. Coming with me, Emily, and the dog will be some magazines I've recently acquired: the latest issues of No, Aufgabe, and Chain. Kicking myself for not picking up a copy of The Poker (everyone's talking about it!) when I was at Soft Skull on Sunday. The only work-related thing I'm bringing is Virginia Woolf's The Waves, which seems more than appropriate.

Snow on the ground. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm back, with far too much to report. The symposium on Saturday was a great success. After my buddy Sam Frederick presented his paper on Oswald Egger, six of us grad student types did short presentations. I said I would post what I said, but I'm writing this from the Bookery and don't have the texts with me—maybe later. We went in alphabetical order and it was marvelous how, without much prior consultation, the different pieces seemd to be in conversation with each other. One of the most spectacular was a kind of live collage Cathleen Drake made of Sam's paper, Watten's Bad History, and Rosemarie Waldrop's Blindsight. It was a thrill to meet Rosemarie, incidentally, though I didn't get to talk with her much. I did give her a copy of my book, though. (Watten and Lee Ann Brown also got books; I debated giving one to Carla Harryman and then decided that since she and Watten are partners, one was enough. The etiquette for giving away books as yet eludes me.) After our thing, Waldrop, Egger, and Watten gave terrific, unparaphraseable presentations. Rosemarie talked about translation; Egger performed what seemed to be a piece on hesitation hesitatingly; Barrett talked about Leningrad and addressed the Izenberg article tool. He took issue with Izenberg's understanding of linguistics, and during the last panel German Studies prof. Peter Gilgen took issue with Watten's understanding of them; I have no understanding of linguistics whatsoever and therefore couldn't judge. I did have the sinking feeling, however, that it was time to break into a copy of Aspects of Syntax at the very least.

The party wasn't over because after the symposium broke up and I force-fed myself a frozen pizza I headed on over to Gimme! coffee (check out their new store in Williamsburg; it's not on their web page but nonetheless watch this space) to catch the poetry stylings of India Radfar, Jonathan Skinner, and Lisa Forrest. I was a little too tired to give them the attention they deserved; Skinner's reading stood out because he began by reading from a chapbook called The Little Dictionary of Sounds and prefaced each reading by playing a recording of the sound in question: rain, a train going by, chewing and swallowing, etc. Went and had beers afterwards, which turned out to be practice for yesterday. Ah, yesterday.

Yesterday Emily and I arose at an un-Sundaylike hour and were on the road by eight. By noon, crabby and hungry, we were in Brooklyn; after lunch we felt much better and we headed over to Soft Skull Shortwave, where I met the charming Shanna Compton, the formidable Richard Nash, and my co-reader, the charming and formidable Colum McCann. My father, despite a head cold and having seen me in New Jersey last week, was there with my stepmother, and the tiny space was otherwise appropriately crammed with Brooklyn literati and some of Emily's friends who live in the city. I was especially especially delighted to see Gary and Nada, who I'd been too shy to invite except in the broadest, most hinting way. The reading part went very well: I started with some poems from the book, then read a couple from the manuscript that is more or less a companjion piece to Selah, The Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I followed that with three Severance Songs and ended with two poems from the last section of Selah. I'm getting more comfortable with picking poems on the fly, which keeps me responsive to the audience. It's funny how you can tell what's going over with them and what's simply going over them, even though there are usually few visible or audible responses to what you read.

Colum is a gripping, fiercely lyrical writer: he read part of a short story, one of the first he ever published (he says he's tired of reading from Dancer; I've been looking at it here in the Bookery and it may be the first new novel I decide to purchase in months. He followed that with part of a work in progress about a Polish Gypsy poet, based on a true story; both works featured hyperperceptive young women with tendencies toward self-mutilation—tendencies which seem to have concrete bases in the sickness of their respective societies (70s Ireland and 50s Poland, respectively). He's a born storyteller; unfortunately I missed part of the one about Van Morrison's body odor because, back at the Brooklyn Inn (a beautiful bar; if I lived in Brooklyn I'd spend all my time there; it's probably just as well) my childhood friend Evan Kurowski, who I hadn't seen for more than ten years, showed up, and we did a lot of drinking and reminiscing. Emily and her friends (they'd been doing some non-alcoholic reminiscing of their own) came by and picked me up around six, and we all had dinner at a brick-walled restaurant somewhere in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It was a great day, but the exhausting culmination of an exhausting weekend, and it's still not over. After a hungover drive home this afternoon, I've got to work here and teach tomorrow morning. Then it's back in the car (with the dog) to drive out to Hyannis and catch a ferry to Nantucket, where we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with Emily's mother, brother, and his wife and two daughters. Phew. Phew again.

Lots of stuff percolating under the surface from all this stimulation, I just know it. Real intellectual type stuff. But tonight it's all I can do to tell you just what the hell happened. Not sure when I'll get to this blog again, so Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Right here, right now.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Exciting readings from Lee Ann Brown and Carla Harryman at Cornell yesterday, and reasonably well attended considering that a) the reading was held in the bowels of the rare books library, which is undergound; b) it was basically unpublicized except for flyers that appeared in English Department mailboxes that morning. Lee Ann spoke and sang; I liked the way she read the epigraphs from The Sleep That Changed Everything to us: "Louis Zukofsky says. . . ." For a moment these poets and thinkers are alive again and in conversation with her and us. She sang two ballads, one of which was about Susan Smith, who drowned her children in a lake and blamed the crime on an imaginary black man. Her new baby, Miranda Lee, and her husband (ooh, his name escapes me—but I liked him a lot, a large, gentle-seeming man who paced up and down in the back of the room with Miranda for most of the reading) came up at the end to perform part of a Noh play the two of them had collaborated on—a perfect combination of her childhood in Japan and North Carolinian heritage. (Her soft southern accent came as something of a surprise, given how very New York School-y her first book, Polyverse, is.) I was impressed to see the three of them up there, half-chanting, half-singing, Lee Ann bouncing Miranda Lee on her hip to the rhythm. Carla Harryman read a "play" (in the Steinian sense) whose title I didn't catch ("Mirrorverse"?) that was a terrific tumble of voices, competing urgently with each other, so that the total effect was the sublimation of anxiety into joy. I wish more Cornell people could have seen it; among other things, it was an inspiring example of two women at the top of their form, practicing a difficult art and making it seem as natural, or more natural, than motherhood.

Dinner afterwards with some of my fellow grad students, Joel Kuszai, Jonathan Monroe, Barry Maxwell (who's in Comparative Literature at Cornell), Lee Ann, her husband, and the baby, Carla Harryman, Barrett Watten, and Rosemarie Waldrop (who arrived after the reading). Gave copies of my book to Barrett (I actually called him "Barry," if you can believe that) and Lee Ann and then fretted a bit over the protocol of this. Should I give one to Carla and Rosemarie too? Probably. Barrett (that's my compromise) held forth on various topics and our end of the table had an interesting conversation about Vietnam's role as a dividing line between the generation of the New Americans and that of the Language Poets. According to Barrett, the ethical demand upon his generation (to go to war or not) required a kind of (existential?) decision that the New Americans had never had to make—that they were held, and held themselves, to a higher standard of consequence than the previous generation. That's why, he claimed, the earlier generation could get away with all kinds of bad behavior whereas the peccadilloes of the Language Poets are scrupulously unforgiven. He also mentioned the resentment his generation felt toward the New Americans' attitude that theirs had been the heroic time; I pointed out that this was how many members of my generation felt about his. In the end we agreed that this talk of generations tended to be sloppy and invidious—but it's still fun. He also gave me some good ideas for my dissertation—reframing pastoral for me as a moment of retirement from political power in which one refreshes and reconsolidates one's ideals, before going back out there and assuming power again. The best classical model for this is the Duke in As You Like It, but there are interesting parallels in the life of (for instance) Charles Olson, who renounced national Democratic politics in favor of trying to poetically configure the smaller micro-polis of Gloucester into a model for a new democracy. Much grist for my mill.

Today's the presentation. I'm going to read three poems for it: one from my book, one more a work of poetics, and one from Severance Songs. More pastoral, basically. I'll post what I say here or maybe over at As/Is. That's an exhausting blog to keep up with; as other contributors have remarked, one's one piece is quickly "erased" by the flood of others' postings. Perhaps not an unworthwhile experience. There's no way for me to keep up with its total output; I tend to just scroll through it now and then looking for phrases that catch my eye. Today I like Li Bloom's "Don't stare at the new girl".

Friday, November 21, 2003

Here's the final chunk of Kim's "Pollen Fossil Record" missing from the linked page provided below. It impressed me enough to type out in full:

"This is to be sung"
"This is to be done"

The lyric undertakes the task of deciphering and embodying a "particularizable" prosody of one's living.

And in that process, inside the procedures of work and work proceeding: node and pressure point, song making and song gesture. Track: descant, sedimentations, tributaries in any several directions. Show stress, show beat, show alterations in pitch and accentuals. Tempo ruptured, emended. A valence of first and further tongues. Elements of the lyric and its mediations. The duration of the now, the now occurring, that manifests a time before.

A line's shape, vector, and motion interpolates perception and meter

A measure, a page, the book to embody the multivalent, the multidirectional—a cathexis of the living instant to the acuteness of history

Each sound trace, each demonstration of the line, each formal enunciation: aperture: conduit: coming into articulation, into the Imaginary—the lyric as it embodies the processual

The poem may be said to reside in disrupted, dilated, circulatory spaces, and it is the means by which one notates this provisional location that evokes and demonstrates agency—the ear by which the prosody by which to calibrate the liberative potential of writing, storehouse of the human

To probe the terms under which we denote, participate in, and speak of cultural and human practices—

To mobilize the notion of our responsibility to one another in social space
Josh's Poetry Adventure Weekend

A recap of what's happening:

- Today I'm moderating a discussion of a paper written by fellow grad student Ryan Canlas titled "Subalternity, Ethics, and Commons: Some Preliminary Notes." In the paper Ryan examines whether poetic representation might not be capable of doing more justice to the subaltern position (not speaking for it or assimilating it into a bad humanist project which, according to Badiou, reduces human beings to the lowest common denominator of their potential to be victimized), with Myung Mi Kim's Commons as the text in point. He seems to conclude that the last section of Commons, "Pollen Fossil Record" (read part of it here) by being more of a "poetics" text than the poetry which proceeds it, demonstrates the necessary failure of pure poetry without some kind of supplementary exegesis. It's a good, provocative, and interesting paper, though I don't think he gives quite enough credit to the potential meaningfulness of Kim's text even without he supplement. I will take him to task on that today.

- Right after the roundtable (I will probably be late) I'm rushing over to Kroch Library (the postmodernist light-filled underground structure paradoxically situated under the modernist gloom of Olin, the graduate library) to hear Lee Ann Brown and Carla Harryman read. Yippee I say. There just might be a dinner with the poets afterward. Barrett Watten and Rosemarie Waldrop and Oswald Egger will all also probably be there.

- Tomorrow is the symposium in honor of Egger, titled "(Dis)locating Poetries: Transatlantic Connections." My friend Sam will present a paper he wrote on Egger's work. Six grad student poetry types, including me, will give extremely brief "responses" which will probably have nothing to do with the paper but just be exploratory statements on poetics and the notion of location. I may say something about pastoral. After a break, Rosemarie Waldrop will present something called "Strangeness, Irreducible?" Egger's paper is "To Observe the Obverse." (This will be the first time I've heard him speak; I attended a workshop he's been giving in the German department, but it was in German. I understand just enough German to know that he was saying interesting things.) Barrett Watten bats clean-up with "The Person in Leningrad: Collective Ideas and the Avant-Garde." Sounds somewhat similar to what he did at the Modernism conference. I wonder if he's aware of the Oren Izerman piece? (Izerman, it turns out, has written an entire dissertation on the subject.) Finally, there will be a panel with all the "name" presenters. And lots of coffee.

- Sunday of course is the big Frequency series reading in Brooklyn with Colum McCann. Scroll down or click here for particulars. We'll spend the night in Brooklyn and return to Ithaca Monday. Phew! If any of you New York types (Gary? Nada? Nick?) were to pop by, I'd love to see you.

That's the news, ladies and germs.

Monday, November 17, 2003

After literally months my copy of Glissant's Poetics of Relation has finally arrived. Perhaps not coincidentally, tomorrow I'm going to talk a little bit about Kristin Prevallet's "Writing Is Never by Itself Alone:
Six Mini-Essays on Relational Investigative Poetics"
. I'd be curious to learn what other people think of this text—almost as curious as I am about what my students made of it. Of course I won't have time to read the Glissant for a while, but I think it could be important to my notion of pastoral as the locus amoenus of encounter. Still haunted though as to whether my big idea's been done. Read a short article by Judith L. Schwartz called "'The World Is the Greatest Thing in the World': The Objectivists' 'Immanent' Poetics" (she wrote the dissertation on Oppen and pastoral). The article, at least, is not nearly as highly theorized as what I'm planning—no trace of Heidegger, much less Adorno— and of course she has nothing to say about D.H. Lawrence on the one end or Ronald Johnson on the other. Still, it's got me jittery. The fetish of originality! The originality of fetish?

Crazy poetry week. On Friday I'm moderating a discussion of a fellow graduate student's paper on Bourdieu, Spivak, and Myung Mi Kim's Commons. On Saturday I'm taking part in a one-day symposium in honor of visiting German poet Oswald Egger: Barrett Watten, Rosemarie Waldrop, Lee Ann Brown, and Carla Harryman will also be in the house. And then there's that reading I keep mentioning.
Here's the official word on my next reading:
Sunday, November 23 at 2:00pm

The FREQUENCY Series presents
Colum McCann & Joshua Corey

Soft Skull Shortwave
71 Bond Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 643-1599

Colum McCann is the author of Dancer, This Side of Brightness, Everything in this Country Must, Songdogs, and Fishing the Sloe-Back River. He has won the Grace Kelly Memorial Foundation Award, the Hennessy Prize, the Rooney Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and has been a finalist for the IMPAC award. His most recent novel is Dancer, which earned the following praise from Publishers Weekly: "A chorus of voices breathe new life into the story of Rudolf Nureyev, one of ballet's greatest performers, in this vibrant, imaginative patchwork of a novel by Irish expatriate McCann. Faithfully capturing the pathos and grim poverty of the Soviet Union at mid-century, McCann also reveals a splashy tabloid affinity for the excesses and effects of fame and notoriety. ...[Dancer] is a lovely showcase for his fluid prose and storytelling skill.

Joshua Corey is the author of Selah, which won him the Barrow Street Book Prize for 2003. Robert Pinsky says: "With Selah Joshua Corey joins a generation of exciting first-book poets (Jennifer Clarvoe, Joanie Mackowski, Cate Marvin come to mind) who apply the fundamental poetic gift of the ear, in new ways. Sheer richness of language, and in the best poems cadences layered like those of Wallace Stevens, guide the reader through Corey's extravagant, playful, fantastical and profuse otherworld."

For the full Frequency Series schedule, see
Hope to see each and every one of you there.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The book, if I may so, is gorgeous. I stared and stared at it. I still stare at it. On my own shelves it fits nicely between Gilian Conoley and Hart Crane. I sold my first copy after the reading to a lovely woman named Norma who had brought half a dozen prepubescent girls with her who were taking part in some kind of arts project for their school. Three of them came up during the open mike and did a rap song about the Three Little Pigs. The reading was lovely and reasonably well attended, perhaps twenty folks. My old friend Sarah Avery, who curates the series there, gave me a very warm and generous introduction. My dad and stepmother were there and I basked in Fatherly Approval (it's like crack when it comes at you directly like that). Emily was there and she was dressed so beautifully that a number of people filing in asked her if she were the featured poet. There's a bagel shop attached to Cleo's and when I left I got a free bag of bagels. I realize my chronology is all screwed up but what can you do? I'm tired.

The next day we went into the city and I tried to visit the Jewish Museum on a Saturday; bad idea. Went to the Guggenheim instead but didn't much care for the main show there, a retrospective of James Rosenquist. Now I don't know much about art, but I know postmodern crap when I see it. It just all seemed so obvious, though I know in the 50s and 60s it must have seemed pretty radical. There was a fun exhibit on the drawings and caricatures of Federico Fellini, however, and I also liked the Kandinskys and Klees in the annex (was strangely mesmerized by one rather atypical Kandinsky, "Fern" [Far Away]). Overall a bust. I did have some fantastic Indian food though, and got to see some of Emily's close friends. Today we went to the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship where my ideas about religion were permanently warped as a child. Emily and I sat for a while on a bench there dedicated to the memory of my mother, Judith Montag Corey (1942-1991). The book is pretty much a work of mourning for her, so it felt like coming full circle. Very peaceful for a change. It will be strange to go on reading these poems for months and years to come; I'm already so far from where I was when I wrote them. That's what's amazing about the said. Adorno:
Expression that has been objectivated as language endures; what has once been said never fades away completely, neither the evil nor the good, neither the slogan of "the final solution" nor the hope of reconciliation. What accedes to language enters the movement of a humanness that does not yet exist; it is compelled toward language and alive only by virtue of its helplessness. Stumbling along behind its reification, the subject limits that reification by means of the mimetic vestige, the plenipotentiary of an undamaged life in the midst of mutilated life, which subverts the subject to ideology. The inextricably of reification and mimesis defines the aporia of artistic expression (Aesthetic Theory 117).
So now I have this book and pretty soon so could you. Barrow Street will have them next week and not long after that Small Press Distribution (with any luck) will start putting it in stores, including Amazon. In the meantime you can order direct from Barrow Street (just click on that link to the left). Or, if you're a poet with a book I want to read (you know who you are) send me an e-mail and we'll swap. I love swapping. Let me know if you want me to sign it for ya.

Friday, November 14, 2003

To coin a phrase...

Tonight's the Night

Okay, in case this link still isn't working, here are the facts about my reading tonight:
Where: Cleo's Cafe, 68 Raritan Avenue (aka Route 27), Highland Park, New Jersey. Cleo's phone number is (732) 828-3474 and they have their own website if you need more information than that.

When: 8:00 PM

What: I'll be the featured reader and there will indeed be copies of Selah for sale. Followed by open mike.

How Much: It's free, so you can save your pennies for lattes.
That's all I know, and all you'll know too, unless you come! Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Great horny toads! I have been promised ten hot-off-the-presses copies of Selah in time for my reading in New Jersey this Friday! That's right—come to my reading and you could be one of the first owners of my first book anywhere anytime.

Another milestone: this morning I filled in the last page of the notebook I've been writing poems, dissertation notes, and quotations in since May. I'm off to the office supply store to buy another. There's just no replacing something you can write by hand in; I do wonder, though, how blogging has changed my relationship to the more conventional notebook. Probably the handwritten one has a lot more of other people's writing in it, whereas on the blog I either just link to other people's work or else feel compelled to offer something spontaneous, if not original.

Spent the morning with George Oppen's The Materials and was duly stunned by it; I'd never read the whole book through. On to This In Which. Many of my ideas about pastoral seem to apply to what Oppen is doing. But I'm not the only one: it was with a sinking feeling I learned earlier this week that a Judith L. Schwartz from Temple University wrote a dissertation titled "'The common experience': George Oppen's objectivist pastoral" in 1999. Here's her abstract:
This is a dissertation about the relationship between pastoral poetry and the poetry of George Oppen. George Oppen was an Objectivist poet. Objectivist poetry is based in the thought of Louis Zukofsky, who wrote, in 1931, that poets should encounter the world with “sincerity,” or with a mind that avoids subjectivity and mediation, attempting instead to “think with things as they exist.” The result of sincerity is poetic “objectification,” which renders these moments of encounters with reality into poetic form, considering these poems to be “objects” in the world. While pastoral poetry is often conceived of as decidedly formulaic poetry about shepherds in a rural setting, in fact the ancient pastoral of Theocritus and Virgil offers thematic and even formal complexities that link to the experimental work of the Objectivist poets. In this dissertation I explore the link between Oppen's Objectivist poetry and pastoral poetry, investigating how Oppen engages and revises its themes, forms, and problems. The relationship between Oppen's poetry and pastoral poetry lies in particular in a poetic “processing” of inherently oppositional issues pertaining to a conflict between the “real” and the “ideal” that occurs in representation.
There's not really enough there for me to discover if we're actually mining the same territory or not. My notions of pastoral have much more to do with the convergence of these thinkers' concepts:
- Heidegger's clearing and fourfold, earth vs. world, the artwork as that which "worlds";
- Deleuze & Guattari's nonstriated nomad space;
- Leibniz's monad;
- Kristeva's semiotic;
- Adorno's negativity, hibernation, "mimesis," historicism, resurrection of Kantian natural beauty;
- Lacan's critique of psychoanalytic pastoral—that which posits a "natural path" for the drives;
- Habermas' ideal speech situation;
- Empson's proletarian fantasy—"about the people but not by or for them";
- Lawrence's stripped, liminal space of encounter between self and other
I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out. I know I shouldn't worry excessively about this—it seems unlikely that I'll reproduce somebody else's dissertation, Pierre Menand-like. Maybe I should let Oppen go, though. Everyone writes about Oppen these days. And why not! Here's one of the many poems from this morning that took my breath away—there's a secret polysemic lushness in the syntax and line breaks that belies the rumors of Oppen's austerity:
The Tugs of Hull

Carrying their deckhands' bicycles
On deck beside the funnels,
Coming alongside in falling snow
As we had moved thru areas of falling snow
In shrunk northern curvatures
Of seas that are not East nor West—. Was it there, you told
       of the man and the wate of the Ganges,
The man with the domestic pitcher pouring the Ganges
Back? We imagined the Ganges
The warm belly of a girl swelled
Like India under the slacks. One might think himself Adam
Of the edges of the polar mist until the small black tugs of
Came to fetch us in.
I can see why Oppen might sometimes be mistaken for an Imagist, or (much worse) a Deep Imagist. But "pouring the Ganges / Back"? Astonishing. Better than any other poet I can think of, Oppen lodges non-conceptual cognition (Heidegger would call it Denken; Adorno, um, wouldn't) in and among his images, permanently disturbing them like a bell that never quite dies away.
Coming alongside in falling snow

Monday, November 10, 2003

Have you heard of this Joshua Carey character? Click on the link if you want to hear him read this Friday.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

More evidence that Daniel Nester and I are the same person:

- He responded to the Izenberg article at almost the same time I did;

- He has taken note of the theological parable of the invisible gardener at roughly the same time I wrote a poem using that idea, which is now posted over at As/Is;

- We both wrote a book about Queen, except that his is probably good and mine isn't. Oh wait, I more or less said that already.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

We Will Rock You?

I've just added a link to Daniel Nester's blog, which has the subtitle, "Daniel Nester's Blog of Poetry, of Queen, of All Things in Between. That'd Be Me." As you may know, he is the author of God Save My Queen: A Tribute, a book which I have not yet read but which I have, quite possibly, already written. Or rather, I have written a book (or nearly all of one) who main character is completely and utterly obsessed with Queen, to the point of having named himself Freddy Mercury (not that's Freddy with a Y, not the bonafide IE). The false intimacy created by his having a blog and being just a click away, plus what appears to be consonance in our ages (judging from this photo) makes me have the urge, for the first time in years, to haul this brick of a DOA novel out from under my bed and make a copy and send to him, if only as a kind of fan mail (again, for a book I have not read, though I'd like to), a validation of his obsession. What makes this stranger is that I myself have never been a huge fan of the band (though I can sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety when drunk) but my character Freddy was. Freddy was meant to be a kind of reincarnation of Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet; the whole misbegotten novel was a reimagining of the play in a Verona, New Jersey high school (with the delicious initials VHS) from his perspective, only instead of getting killed in the middle he gets sent to an insane asylum/rehab center after attacking the novel's Tybalt character (a closeted quarterback). At the end of the book he escapes and hijacks the high school's production of West Side Story, instead forcing them to perform a rock opera he has written which gives new lyrics to Queen tunes. You know, as I describe this it doesn't sound that bad. Even if I were interested in resurrecting the novel, though (I was 24 when I wrote it), it would probably drown in the sea of post-Columbine literature that's been littering the "new books" table at The Bookery across from my usual post.

Anyhoo. A shout out to Daniel Nester and his musico-literary obsessions.

Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

I'm interested to see Jonathan rather than Silliman or some other react to the big, juicy bait that the Oren Izerman article offers. Like Jonathan, I fail to understand how he could so completely separate the aesthetic from the ontological and ethical spheres; as I noted, his endorsement of beauty in Michael Palmer's writing, a poet he certainly includes under the Language umbrella, seems a direct contradiction of his argument. It seems to me now that any poem has to clear a space for itself, make a Lichtung, and this action is always an index of the generative capacities of language itself. I'm starting to read Habermas' Legitimation Crisis and I think he has some useful things to say in this context about language and how somehow removing what he calls "systematic distortion" (another term, I think, for reification and the distortion effects it extends to meaning) and domination from the place of discourse (or creating a new such place?) is the only way for truth and freedom to re-enter it. Here's a quote describing "the ideal speech situation" from the introduction by Thomas McCarthy, the book's translator:
[Habermas'] thesis is that the structure is free from constraint only when for all participants there is a symmetrical distribution of chances to select and employ speech acts, when there is an effective equality of chances to assume dialogue roles. In particular, all participants must have the same chance to initiate and perpetuate discourse, to put forward, call into question, and give reasons for or against statements, explanations, interpretations, and justifications. Furthermore, they must have the same chance to express attitudes, feelings, intentions and the like, and to command, to oppose, to permit, and to forbid, etc. These last requirements refer directly to the organization of interaction, since the freeing of discourse from the constraints of action is only possible in the context of pure interaction. In other words, the conditions of the ideal speech situation must insure not only unlimited discussion but also discussion which is free from all constraints of domination, whether their source be conscious strategic behavior or communication barriers secured in ideology and neurosis. Thus, the conditions for ideal discourse are connected with conditions for an ideal form of life; they include linguistic conceptualizations of the traditional ideas of freedom and justice. "Truth," therefore, cannot be analyzed independently of "freedom" and "justice" (xvii).
The ideal speech situation is clearly a kind of nirvana that, as McCarthy goes on to write, "are rarely, if ever" actually achieved. But it seems like this zone might be what Izerman is claiming the Language poets are gesturing toward; Habermas formulation has the advantage, however, of not excluding content (maybe this is what Izerman claims is lacking from Language poetry: not the aesthetic in terms of the artistically appreciable but the transcendental aesthetic—what can be perceived, phenomena). Clearly it's beyond the capacity of any poet to singlehandedly establish such a speech situation on the page; only a community of writers could hope to achieve such a thing. But I think Habermas offers a fascinating description of what a certain kind of poet, such as the Language poets' Objectivist predecessors, is trying to achieve by renouncing subjective domination over objects and also in trying to make the networks of relation and domination that the objects of the poem exist in more visible. The fictional "ideal speech situation" of Habermas, free from conscious and unconscious sources of domination, sounds pretty darn close to what I've been thinking of as the space of postmodernist pastoral, in which writers at least try to fantasize a deliberately miniature utopia in which these conditions of speech prevail.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I have never read anything by J.M. Coetzee, but it is clear I will not be able to go on ignoring him much longer. His latest "novel," Elizabeth Costello, sounds remarkable; I just read a review of it in The New York Review of Books. And in the same issue there's an extraordinary poem that he translated from the Dutch:
Cees Nooteboom

We know poetic poetry the common dangers
of moonstruckness, bel canto. Embalsamed air, that is all,
unless you turn it into pebbles that flash and hurt.
You, old master, polish the pebbles
that you fling to bring down a thrush.
Out of the world you cut an image that bears your name.
Seventeen pebbles for arrows a school of deathly singers.
See by the waterside the track of the poet
on his way to the innermost snowland. See how the water erases it
how the man with the hat inscribes it again
preserves water and footprint, capturing the movement that has passed,
so that what vanished is still there as something that vanished.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Nearly as cool as 86 the Onions is The End of the World, thanks to my friend Jeremy.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Two unexpected "selah" sightings tonight. First, the letters page to the latest Poets & Writers inexplicably has the header, "Selah, Selah." Next I picked up and read "A History of the Lyric" in Peter Gizzi's new book Some Values of Landscape and Weather and saw the word again. Spooky, huh? It is Halloween, after all. . . .

I hope I won't get in trouble quoting the haunting (no pun intended) conclusion to Gizzi's poem:

When the sky came down
there was wind, water, red

When the sky fell
it became water, wind
a declaration in blue

When the end was near
I picked up for a moment, joy
came into my voice

Hurry up it sang
in skiffs and shafts
Selah in silvered tones

When the day broke open
I became myself
standing next to a door

In my dream you were alive
and crying
As long as we're talking about good poems, I'd also like to call your attention to some kickass new work in Indiana Review by Karen L. Anderson and Deborah Wardlaw Pattilo.

Still don't know what my costume's going to be yet.
Fascinating article in the new Critical Inquiry by one Oren Izenberg: "Language Poetry and Collective Life." He produces an acute analysis of what supports an opinion that I've often heard expressed, and have expressed myself on occasion: the ideas behind Language poetry (as expressed in numerous essays, interviews, and manifestos) are fascinating, the poetry is dull—and not just dull, but dull in enormous quantities. Here is what looks to be Izenberg's thesis paragraph:
"Language poets are experimental, that is, because they treat their poems not as semantic tokens or as aesthetic objects but as examples, and it is the curious nature of an example that while there must be enough of them to warrant an inference, in no single one of them is it self-evident what the example is an example of. Language poems are social in that what they take poems to be examples of is the unique capacity to produce language altogether and thus to announce—as nothing else at the moment seems to be able to do with the same persuasiveness—the existence of something fundamentally human on which the very possibility of social life can be predicated. Language poetry considered under this description is simply not a literary practice, for it does not produce objects that belong to any category of language use. Nor is it, properly speaking, an aesthetic practice, for it is not oriented toward aisthesis, or perception. It is, rather, an ontological and ethical practice. Language poets produce poetry that is precisely equivalent to language, where language is considered as a kind of creatural knowledge or potential; therefore Language poets tend to treat the objects of their art—poems—as epiphenomenal evidence of a constitutively human capacity fo free and creative agency that is the real object of their interest" (Critical Inquiry Vol. 30 No. 1 [Autumn 2003]: 135-36).
It's a sweeping article, centered on an application of Chomsky's theory of generative grammar (which is in passing succinctly explained for the first time in a way that I could understand) and linguistic competence to the work of the Language movement in general and the Davidson-Hejinian-Silliman-Watten collaboration, Leningrad. In some ways I think he's basically correct, but even he admits that it is possible to take these poems as aesthetic objects; while singling out a passage from Tjanting as an example of "the overall thinness or insubstantiality of the poems Language poets have made. One might call this quality their anaesthetic" (134) he later admits that it's possible to carry out the Language project as he sees it while "reintroducing into Language poetry a more traditional lyric sensibility." This is in reference to Michael Palmer, "a poet whose work, incidentally, I find quite beautiful" (156) and for someone with my own lyric sensibilities that "incidentally" seems far from incidental. Not all Language poetry is intent on defeating the judgment of taste; perhaps what's missing from Izenberg's argument is a consideration of the sublime chora that saturation in Language poetry can provide for its readers. I should point out that he does validate the overall project in a somewhat backhanded way; it's just hard to imagine one of the practitioners he discusses wholeheartedly concurring. It would be interesting to read some responses to this article, especially from Mr. Silliman himself.
My Political Dream

I'm sitting on a kind of grassy knoll with a bunch of young people on the Cornell campus, looking down onto a paved area where some kind of Republican rally is being held. Three stepladders have been arranged in a row with about ten feet in between them and a plank laid across the top. Sitting in the middle, strangely small and child sized, with his back to the crowd, is Rush Limbaugh. A man in a suit is haranguing the crowd. "Makes you feel small, doesn't it? Maybe it's too much multiculturalism!" Arnold Schwarzznegger climbs up onto the ladder on the end and stands precariously on the plank, also with his back to the crowd, but at enough of an angle so his profile is visible. I become angered and step into the circle around the ladder: "This muscleman can't solve our problems!" But the ringmaster and a couple of his assistants are helping a third man onto the ladder, a grinning bespectacled guy with long arms who I don't quite recognize. Bill Gates? But he's more or less liberal. Maybe it's Rumsfeld. The arrangement of ladders seems certain to fall; suddenly alarmed, I say, "Gentlemen, I cannot advise this!" But the monkeylike guy with glasses is now perched on the ladder, grinning, the only one facing us. The crowd is longhaired and lackadaisical, generally indifferent to the spectacle. A heavyset woman wearing a long, low-cut gown turns to me—she has a sore visible at the top of one breast. "Don't worry so," she says. The dream fades.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

A paternalistic advisory. . . . While sublimely silly, the link I provided earlier to 86 the Onions does contain imagery that some might find offensive—especially in the workplace. Caveat surfer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I just fixed that link you must all click on. A mouse!
Should I drive three hours to Buffalo for the Bottom: On Shakespeare conference? If something's happening that you'd definitely attend if it were in Binghamton, why does Buffalo seem too far away? He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

As a clumsy dodge against accusations of blogger fatigue (which has apparently taken down both A Sorter and Ululations in my absence) here is my latest summary of progress toward my 'A' exam (which, coincidentally, appears likely now to be partly focused on "A"):
Topic Area One: Aesthetics and Ideology

I’ve made the most progress in this area, having read the relevant portions of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics, all of Jameson’s Marxism and Form, and am currently embarked on reading Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory in Prof. Peter Hohendahl’s seminar on that text. The aesthetic formation that I approach this work in light of is Heideggerian, drawn from my readings of such essays as "The Origin of the Work of Art," "The Thing," "The Question Concerning Technology," etc., as well as certain inferences I’ve made for the aesthetic consequences of Being and Time. I would describe the question that I want to ask, as it’s currently taking shape, as one that pits existential aesthetic priorities (artwork as a path to subject formation) with and against materialist social and political imperatives (the objective world as it is reflected or negated by the artwork and its inevitably ideological position in a given historical moment). The beautiful subject versus the sublime object of society might be a glib way of putting this.

Topic Area Two: "Pastoral"

This is proving to be the most problematic area to define, because I find I am largely uninterested in pastoral as a genre. My pastoral is the expression of a particular form of the utopian impulse that is always in the background of the reading I do for Topic One. Pastoral as narrative function interests me (Empson’s notion of the double plot) insofar as this acts both to mirror a given social situation (of "the city") and to negate it in favor of a proletarian fantasy (of "the country"). It’s pretty obvious that I need to read Raymond Williams’ book on this subject. But the complex of ideas I’ve named "pastoral" has more to do with the subject’s fantasy of realizing his or her own "nature" while in relation with the society that, at least since the rise of industrial capitalism, has replaced nature. This has led me unexpectedly to the work of D.H. Lawrence, whose poetry I have written about in a paper that I presented at the Modernism Studies Association Conference in Birmingham (I also wrote about Gertrude Stein). Lawrence interests me because for him, the realization of the subject’s inner nature can only come about in relation with an Other which is not a representative of the society that has conditioned everything about the subject that is not "natural" to him. Lawrence becomes the epicenter of a strain of thought about subjective authenticity that for me reaches back to Whitman, encompasses Stein and Williams, and reaches forward to the Objectivists and more difficult-to-place figures like Ronald Johnson. It also requires understanding of psychoanalysis (which provides the basic concept of what I’ve been calling "inner nature" under the name of the unconscious) and the ways in which psychoanalysis has been deployed both to foster a utopian reconciliation of inner nature with objective society (Marcuse) and to debunk any such reconciliation (Lacan). It seems to me that this complex of ideas, which I still find easiest to think of as "pastoral," is rooted both aesthetically and historically in modernism, and has only a tangential relationship to the English tradition of pastoral poetry (though the tropes of such poetry are constantly surfacing, often in a highly self-conscious manner, in the work of these writers).

Topic Area Three: Objectivism and After

This topic essentially becomes the second half of the pastoral topic, in which I read the work of the second-generation modernists with an eye toward giving an account of their attempts to realize a utopia that, as the name of the major movement I’m focusing on suggests, is focused on the objective world and not on the individual poetizing subject (collective subjectivity is something else again). I see Zukofsky as the central writer here, because "A" describes a complete dialectical process: reacting, with Pound and Williams, against symbolism he focuses the first half of his long poem on an objective world comprehended through Marxist dialectics. But after World War II he turns his back on the larger objective world and creates a more modest utopia based on the family romance between himself, Celia, and their son Paul. I’m nowhere near finishing "A", so this preliminary evaluation is bound to change. Oppen’s work will also be important, especially because he embodies the contradictory position of a Heideggerian existentialist with Communist/materialist political commitments. There also appears to be a curious chiasmic relation between his way of interfacing politics and poetry and Zukofsky's; whereas Zukofsky at first decides that the point of writing poetry is to change the world, Oppen decides changing the world and writing poetry are incompatible modes of being. Both, arguably, renounce an activist engagement with politics (though they by no means abandon their critical political stances) in order to resume writing after WWII.

I also want to read Basil Bunting’s Briggflats (you see that I want to maintain the narrow bridge between American poetry and the more idiosyncratic texts of English modernism), which has obvious pastoral connotations, and end with a consideration of Ronald Johnson, who more than any other poet I’m aware of performs the emergence of "nature" (inner and outer) in his language.

Monday, October 27, 2003

So I haven't blogged much lately. So what? Neither has Shakespeare.

That's adapted from a card one of my officemates at Cornell has on the door.

Click, don't walk, on this fabulous link. Fwench fwies!

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Another piece of Fourier Series, "L’AMITIE," has been published over at Chimera Review. They've done a beautiful job with it.
Yet another excuse not to provide any of my own content arrives in the form of Ron Silliman's notes regarding the Poetry & Empire retreat he and lots of other poets I esteem greatly took part in this past weekend. Go read it. I've been reading Marx and haven't got anything more interesting to say at the moment than Gee, the workers really should seize the means of production.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I've been backchanneling a bit with the estimable and inimitable Kent Johnson over some questions regarding the heteronymic strategy toward avant-garde writing—avant-garde as Peter Bürger defines it, as that which challenges the institutions (and perhaps all institutionalizing tendencies) of art. This is entirely distinct from modernist and postmodernist strategies aimed at renewing language, which can be and usually are confined to the space of the page—this work stretches the bounds of what's institutionally acceptable but offers no real resistance to it. Anyway, Kent has given all this a great deal of thought, and if anyone deserves recognition for actual avant-garde praxis nowadays, he does. I highly recommend his lucid and useful accounting of the current poetry scene in the Coyote magazine interview that's been "reprinted" by VeRT. Check it out if you haven't already.
At this moment the ad banner at the top of The Ingredient, probably taking its cue from her use of Woody Guthrie's motto for his guitar ("This machine kills fascists"), is for Mein Kampf. "Find the best deals! Compare prices on all products from across the web" sez one. "Free Super Saver Shipping. Millions of titles, new & used," sez the other.

I am fascinated and appalled.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

You've just got to check out my students' blogs.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The interview with Nick has helped me to recontextualize him and more fully understand his notion of time travel. What he has to say about the interrelatedness of everything—and the simple importance, for poets, of other people who are not poets—seems incredibly obvious and yet of course it needs saying. I also like to see him making acute observations that are not immediately situated in the literary and meta-literary; his description of how and why men talk to each other, and the role of psychonanalysis in perpetuating the deadness of that speech, rings true. How far we are from freely espousing. Men are so conditioned to take the erotic as the only zone in which emotion can be expressed that there's inevitably a little homosexual panic in the presence of another man's (naked!) emotion. Even gay men aren't immune from this. There happens to be an Edward Gorey postcard near my desk here at The Bookery depicting two Edwardian gentlemen, with Lawrentian quantities of facial hair, reclining on a couch facing each other, their hands laced together at the middle to form an arch that mirrors the bend of their knees. And there's a verse:
Were yout but mine, we'd sprawl supine
   Across a chintzed settee;
And slabs we'd take of pounded cake
   And swigs of Q.R.V.
Certainly it's homoerotic, but it's more a picture of fellowship, comradeship, Whitman's adhesiveness. In our eagerness to claim Whitman as a modern gay man (which is of course a much-needed correction to a century of willful blindness about his sexuality) we are apt to forget the possibilities he suggests for love between men that is not primarily sexual. I doubt any kind of bonding can happen between human beings without a libidinal investment of some kind, and maybe that's the source of the anxiety. As the economic language indicates, a relationship is an investment, and you could always lose your shirt. Better to invest in model trains, or your job, or shares in Post-Po-Faced Boy Inc.

Thinking about this makes me realize exactly what I've missed from not being a sports fan. The heartbreak, sure (incidentally my hat is off to Jim Behrle for his graciousness in defeat), but also the passionate community. It's easy to deplore the fact that so many men are only comfortable expressing emotion about the fates of sports teams (and it's usually teams, right? does anyone get as excited about a win by Pete Sampras or Tiger Woods as they do about the Nicks or the Islanders? [I realize athlete-icons like Muhammed Ali are the exception here]), but that only makes me feel the more impoverished for not sharing in it. There are people on the planet tonight in states of elation and deep gloom because of the success and failure of groups of men who they'll most likely never meet, who mostly aren't even from the geographical region they're supposed to represent. The game is a fiction; the emotions are real; male bonding is a real fiction. Which is simply to say, we need the eggs.

Anyway, Nick's ideas about time and dailiness as opposed to the monolithic nature of most literary production are valuable, and come very close to the definition of avant-garde (as opposed to modernist or postmodernist) that I'm getting out of a book I'm reading, Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde. Here's what Jochen Schulte-Sasse says in his introduction to the book: "Modernism may be understandable as an attack on traditional writing techniques, but the avant-garde can only be understood as an attack meant to alter the institutionalized commerce with art" (xv). Tied in with what Ron said today about the interview and about blogging as a genre, I see the potential for blogging, which is daily without being entirely ephemeral, as a mode of attention and conversation which absolutely undermines the existing institutions, primarily academic, of poetry and its criticism. (This is why I'm surprised by the hostility to blogs Barrett Watten expressed in his Birmingham talk; as Ron points out, blogs are flexible enough to encompass both "serious intellectual projects" and The Jim Side—if we needs must make such invidious distinctions. I've got to go ahead and e-mail him to ask for a copy so I can see exactly what he said.) Of course, when a blog is ancillary to a conventional acapoetic career—like mine is—we see once again how no technical innovation is sufficient by itself to make a revolution. Still, my consciousness of what poetry can do—my imagination, in a word—has been expanded tremendously by this experiment we're all conducting in talking past each other. And how refreshing—in the full, drenched sense of that word—it's been to see the range of what's expressible expanded in the teeth of what Nick describes as the fate of finished-product writing in this culture: "Thus an opportunity for expressing and communicating one's feelings and experiences could now be subsumed under the universally acceptable and obsessive competitive drive for achievement and personal power and recognition." Instead we have a conversation that, at its best, goes on both between one poet and others but also between the poet and his or her internal others (this manifests in Nick as "writing from notes but also ignoring them, in a kind of improvisational way").

So long live ambient discourse and the riskers of boredom. Long live the blogs.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The saddest story about an octopus you've ever heard.
I saw the page proofs yesterday. By the end of the month there will be a book where no book was before. Selah fever... catch it!

Here's information on three readings I know about for sure that will be happening in the upcoming months:

Friday, November 14 at 8 PM
The Cleo's Poetry Reading Series at Cleo's Cafe in Highland Park, NJ. I don't advise clicking on the link.

Sunday, November 23 at 2 PM
The Frequency Reading Series at Soft Skull Press, 71 Bond Street, Brooklyn. With fiction writer Colum McCann.

Wednesday, December 10 at 7 PM
Celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of Barrow Street Press (and the Winter 2003 issue of Barrow Street) at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, NYC. This one'll cost ya: $25 entrance fee, ouch. But you get a free copy of the magazine and all the hors d'oeurves you can eat.

If your bookstore, sewing circle, co-op board, or English department is interested in hearing me read, please drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

"In that grapesuit I look like a total jackass."

Please welcome the salutary bitterness of Malevolent Owls to my blogroll.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

"The book is the key, and I hold it."
       —Jennifer Moxley, "Where Was I Going"

My book cover came from the printer today, and it's beautiful. I showed it to a couple of people and they said, "So serious!"—referring to my author photo. I tried to explain that when I smile in photos, my cheek and neck inflate to about four times their natural size.

Barrow Street has put up a page where you can read blurbs, gaze at a (rather inaccurate) image of the cover, and yes, buy the book, right here.
Thoughtful response to Friday's post by Henry Gould, who as ever sticks to his purist's guns. I have to think more about his argument, but I'd like to raise the question that I think falls into the gap between our two positions: what is the role of community for the poet? It seems to me that every poet, and every poetry, imagines a community, of readers if not necessarily of other writers; every poem creates the idea of its audience. I have a longing for filiation with other poets, but this is contradicted by the tendency of, as Henry says, "ideological formations to make claims on poetry." But it seems to me that ideological formations are always making claims on our poetry; it's simply a question as to whether we can come to consciousness about what they are, so that we might be able to choose otherwise. I'll always prefer the company of a poet who wears his or her politics on their sleeve to one who claims to be beyond politics. That's living poets. My favorite dead poets are exempted because, however "apolitical" someone like Stevens may have claimed to be, history allows me to situate him in a precise way; I understand where he's coming from. And with that understanding I can suss out what it is in his poetry that appeals to me and is still of use. There remains, of course, a powerful irrational component—the vision thing—which I remain open to, almost against my will, regardless of what card a poet carries.

The great poets always embody contradictions, and I can find poetry that carries ethical along with aesthetic weight even in those writers who were in the grip of anti-semitism and sympathy for fascism: Pound, Eliot, and Lawrence all speak, at least at moments, for values I cherish. Their poetry does "transmute everything (political, social, religious, aesthetic) that comes within its range," but the untransmuted world remains; in fact its presence is heightened in its absence from the poem. And so a poet's attitude toward his or her particular, historical world is always going to be crucial to me, as a reader and as a writer. The "originality" that Henry elevates into something of a fetish-term for the best poetry is literally invisible without an understanding of the poet's situation in his or her time. And so a poet who actually makes and registers in their poetry some effort to understand their own context (it may be demonstrated by logopoeia, allusion, or discursivity) has the most of my attention. The news from poems: just that. The history of the present moment that only a profound effort of linguisitic attention (from someone who knows how to listen to their culture) has any hope of producing.

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