Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Reading Nick Piombino's excellent Ted Berrigan post I was particularly interested in this parargraph:
Reading Lifkin's book also brought back a number of vital memories of the Ted Berrigan workshop I attended, along with Carter Ratcliff and others, in 1967. He spoke about the "speed" of contemporary poetry. OK, we know about Berrigan's affection for the drug of the same name, but let's forget about the 60's flavorings for the moment. Berrigan was talking about the fact that when we read contemporary poetry there is an *electric* (instantaneous) quality to our contemporary way of reading that is unique to our era. He used Ashbery's Tennis Court Oath as an example. He was saying that we don't stop to think about each word the way we read poetry now. We engulf the pages instantaneously, ravenously. As he spoke about this, he kept pulling on the chord of the electric light hanging from the ceiling over and over turning excitedly turning it on and off. He made me realize that when we read poetry now we read with the speed of light, the speed of thought, so it should be written and presented with this factor in mind. His Sonnets helped make this an era of lightning fast poetry, He also spoke of the loss of nobility in poetry as well, so he was aware of the price that we might be paying for this type of insatiability. But I think he, and the New York School in general, did much to counter the mournful tones of so much 20th Century poetry: ("I grow old, I grow old, I will wear the bottom of my trousers rolled... I have seen them singing each to each...I do not think that they will sing to me")
First off, how interesting it is to compare this description of reading to the one ascribed to Ashbery in that New Yorker article—a style of reading that Tony Robinson, for one, claims to recognize as his own. I think of that kind of reading and writing as "ambient poetics"—a Wordsworthian construct according to this Timothy Morton article—but if you take "ambient" in its contemporary sense as in ambient music you can get that "speed of light, speed of thought" sense out of it: a necessarily electronic composting of a dozen musical styles for atmospheric purposes, so that to listen for individual voices or styles is to listen in the wrong way.

Secondly there's that question of "nobility," which Nick asssociates with the "mournful tones" of high modernism, specifically Eliot. I wonder about this. "Nobility" is an interesting way to describe what's missing from high-speed assimilative ambient poetics; if we associate nobility with the mournful or nostalgic then it does appear as a token of the Modernism that, according to one standard narrative, is succeeded by a Postmodernism that is confronted with the exact same acceleration/fragmentation of socialty but celebrates or at least gets high off of that fragmentation instead of making doleful utterances about it. But should we be so quick to consign nobility to the dustbin? We as 21st-century Americans are more suspicious of rhetoric than any other culture in history that I can think of, but that seems less to have insulated us against sophistry than it has assisted the rise of those who don't expect to be believed, but only wish to see their "talking points" repeated. Is "nobility" a tone, a vocabulary, a narrative, or an intention? Perhaps nobility is the wrong thing to wish for from a democratic polis/poetics. Perhaps "high" language and rhetoric can only function now as a more or less ironic component of a poet's pastiche. But if the New York School and the Beats are Romanticism from below, maybe they've simply inverted nobility without actually emptying it out: insead of "The Noble Rider" we are nobly ridden. There is certainly something elevating to the person in "Dear Margie, hello," once that phrase has passed through the entire gorgeous machine of The Sonnets. And the apparition of "The Poems" that floats in its lyric sea. Speed aside. Speed a path, an ultimately destructive but no less elevating arc toward the transcendent. I like Nick's musical phrase: "the chord of the electric light."
Still not fully recovered from Thanksgiving travels. Two families, two cities: it's a lot. Plus it's the last week of classes and there's a mountain of grading between me and all felicity.

Having finished Pride and Prejudice in the car, Emily and I saw Pride & Prejudice on Monday night. It was delightful. We're now getting started on Emma. Eighteenth-century cadences are very much in my ear. Also still reading The Education of Henry Adams and just read Zukofsky's 1920's essay on him—that seems like a far detour from Zukofskyan pastoral, but maybe there's something to the critical nostalgia Adams assigns to the "unityism" of the "Virgin" and which Zukofsky adapts when he speaks of the "solid age" being succeeded by "liquid" and "gas" ages. Louis Zukofsky: A Study in Twentieth-Century Multiplicity. That would be a good dissertation, but it's not quite mine.

Dipping occasionally for refreshment into Lisa Robertson's luminous Rousseau's Boat. I still owe Nomads $12 for it. It's crammed with aphoristic wonders: "Any girl who reads is already a lost girl." "We die and become architecture." "In the evening I walked through the terrific solidity of fragance, not memory." That last seems postively Adamsian/Zukofskyan.

Monday, November 28, 2005

While it's hot: the NYTBR (whose significance to poetry was explained for me by Ange and Jane Dark) presented a Poetry Chronicle of short reviews by Ms. Dark herself and Joel Brouwer of books by David Baker, Adrian Castro, Simone Muench, Michael Palmer, Michelle Robinson and Arthur Sze this past Sunday. And in last week's Entertainment Weekly it's not too late to find a long review of Billy Collins' latest (to use parentheses parenthetically, I'm done dumping on Mr. Collins; he poses no threat to serious poetry and might even serve as the fabled gateway drug toward such—and Ron's review of Laura Sims' new book will probably move more copies of that book into the hands of serious readers than the EW review will move Collins') and some short reviews of books by Ashbery, Wislawa Szymborska, Dan Chiasson, and Patti Smith, all written by one Thom Geier, EW's senior editor. I can't help but find this kind of MSM coverage of poetry encouraging, even if it is mostly major press stuff (with the major exception of Jane's pick of Heather Fuller's latest from O Books. "LEAR: Then there's life in't. Nay, if you get it, you shall get it with running. Sa, sa, sa, sa."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Back. Tired. More later.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

On Thanksgiving travels to Rockville, Md. and Buffalo Grove, Ill. In my bag: The Education of Henry Adams, Laura Sims' Practice, Restraint, and Biting the Error. In the midst of family madness (two-plus families worth) I recall Zukofsky's dictum: "The duty of the poet is to survive."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Weekend Round-Up

* The thermometer dipped below freezing on Friday presaging the winter to come, but Saturday and Sunday were both sunny with highs in the fifties. Every warm day in Ithaca has an apocalyptic edge this time of year: will this day be the last? Today it looks like more of the same. A lucky thing, because my sister Vanessa has come for a visit before we head up to Chicago for Thanksgiving.

* Kudos to Dan Chiasson for getting a positive review in the major press review of record. The aesthetic premises of the reviewer, Kay Ryan, are a little unclear to me, but perhaps a sentence like "There is something serious behind the literary shenanigans - an ambition to write larger than any one self stirs the book to life" (there's that ambition axis that Steve Burt suggested to Robert Archambeau) is somewhat comparable to what I saw as the register of splintered subjectivity in Dan's book. But the content of a NYTBR review is so vastly less important than the simple fact of its existence. Will such acknowledgment bring Dan the readers he deserves, or must he hope for a review in Rain Taxi or at least his own usual reviewing venue? What is the value of a NYTBR review to a poet beyond the satisfaction of having momently pierced the membrance of the mainstream media?

* A colleague introduced me to and a fierce essay by one Jeremy Scahill, This War Cannot Be Stopped By a Loyal Opposition. It's a salutary attack on the nostalgia many of us feel about the Clinton Administration and on my own reflexive Democratic-party impulses. I agree that we need a multiparty system, but how to get one when, as this thoroughly depressing Times magazine article will tell you, we barely even have a two-party system? Also, I note that the site is sponsored by an outfit called The Randolph Bourne Institute that seeks to promote "a non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States as the best way of fostering a peaceful, more prosperous world." What exactly does that mean, "non-interventionist"? That seems much broader than antiwar or even anti-imperialism. With, I notice, Patrick J. Buchanan listed as one of the site's contributors, it sounds dangerously close to simple isolationism. Such a policy could perhaps have value if it were tied to a program of anti-capitalism, if it sought to bring about justice here at home so that we could act more justly abroad—so that the "democracy" in "making the world safe for democracy" stood for genuine freedom and not neo-liberal economic policies. In the meantime, there are evil things happening in the world and what do we do about them? The sanctions against Iraq were a moral and humanitarian disaster, a positive crime—but surely the alternative wasn't simply to do nothing about Saddam's propensity to acquire WMDs, which he did indeed use on his own people. Many leftists denounce the Kosovo intervention as imperialist aggression, but wouldnt' the best alternative have been a much earlier intervention rather than simple inaction? Who doesn't regret our failure to intervene in Rwanda? What, in short, do we expect from the government we have? Do we deny it all legitimacy on our path to revolution? Do we put our heads down and concentrate on local issues and local organization and our personal backyards? (In New York for starters there's the Working Families Party, and there's the NYU grad student strike that we should all support.) I don't have the answers to these questions, but I'm asking 'em.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


The cold is as real
as conscience. It's 11:39 AM,
I'm naked writing this
in the sun through
white curtains,
green grass blades
haven't yet got the message,
winter's here but dawdling
or dandling its hands
over our town, not
really a village
but a valley, channel
cut to Canada—
the garden's dead I
can't name the plants
but thought I saw
black-eyed susans
not so very long ago.
Emily's out, the dog
peed but hasn't yet
walked, he'll have to wear
his doggy fleece. Me,
I finally broke down
and acquired the Collected Poems
of James Schuyler, sitting
here in a mouth of O
beauty to wonder,
warm as winter looked
at through a window,
Saturday before me,
afloat on an updraft falling
down the hill toward
some big evening.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

All the action today is over at Jim's new pad where we have a fruitful exchange about bullying, anonymity, and the number zero.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jordan confirms my intuition that the only way to teach someone how to feel is by modeling affect. That's the brilliant basis of his Million Poems Show: the host sits onstage with the poet, listening and reacting and giving the audience permission to share the many facets of his enjoyment. He proposes that teachers can do the same thing, that teachers are like actors and performers. But there's a difference: while talk show hosts generally play the role of your appealingly goofy uncle or aunt, dismissable at a touch of the remote, teachers are in loco parentis, authority figures that students naturally want to please, defy, or elude. All three of these desires (each of which can easily occupy a single student simultaneously) inhibit the experience of the freedom or enlargement of perceptions that ought to be generated by the encounter with a poem. Or if they don't inhibit the experience of the poem they color it, sometimes indelibly. This is why I wonder if a teacher can ever do more than provide an opportunity for the expression of what's already in the student: if the student needs poetry (though he or she may not have known it before now) they will find it in a corresponding spirit of gratitude (yes, Milton, your Milton, teacher, resonates with me), defiance (so you're going to dis Bukowski? I claim him for my own!), or evasion (the most difficult affect to track; maybe this manifests as discovering the power of a poem the teacher sucked all the life out of twenty years later)

I'm reminded of a children's book I had when I was a kid with dark and spooky illustrations and little poems: I think it was called, "The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died, but Teacher You Went Right On." I don't ever want to be that sort of teacher, and yet how can I not be? Life goes on for these students: their consciousnesses are crowded with academic responsibilities that my class can only be a fraction of, plus there's a complex and rapidly evolving social life, jobs, families, love and lust, and looking out the window to think about. All I know how to do is try to show that poetry for me is not an activity that fills a niche from 11:15 to 12:05 MWF but the fabric and weave of all those other things that are indisputably more important than papers and exams. Is that a genuine pedagogy? Does it really work? And if it does, how might it be transferred to other arenas—editing, maybe?—so as to further the art we love?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The "Lycidas" lecture went well, at least in the eyes of the observing professor, Debra Fried. But it's kind of a strange medium: like giving a paper at a conference except no one buys you drinks afterward. Did the students learn anything? Will they do well on the exam? Much more important, did I contribute in any way toward their appreciation or affection for Milton's contorted and gorgeous poem? That's the aspect of teaching that haunts and eludes me: we are trying to teach people how to read, but we don't really teach them how to feel—and how could we? I know that in that room of sixty-five students a handful were sparked, were strangely moved, found themselves repeating phrases or lines: "Sunk though he be beneath the watry floor"; "that two-handed engine at the door"; "Look homeward Angel, and melt with ruth." But aren't these the ones with temperaments already properly inclined? What can I do but gesture repeatingly: Look! Look! Only they can read.

Exhausted, still thinking about Capote, I picked up Emily's copy of In Cold Blood yesterday afternoon and fell into it without a sound. Up late reading, finished it this morning lingering over breakfast. The prose is stunning, yet as happened when I first read the book ten-odd years ago I found myself mostly unable to stop and savor it, compelled to hurry on by the terrible and pointless story of the fatal intersection between two morally hollow drifters and an unimpeachably virtuous and likeable Kansas farm family. The movie hints at the gap between the black hole Capote discovered and the scintillating life—not the prose of course, since it's a film, but Capote's own—that he set glimmering around its edges, creating the impression, the phantom, of meaning. The book is art, great art, immortal art, in direct response to the nihilism discoverable in human acts. There are hints of redemption, but Capote is flinging darts at a dartboard: psychiatrist's evaluations of Hickock and Smith finding them to be, respectively, psychologically disorganized and schizophrenic; the haunting last words of Smith, strangely omitted from the film ("'I think,' he said, 'it's a helluva thing to take a life in this manner. I don't believe in capital punishment, morally or legally. Maybe I had something to contribute, something—'"); a beautiful scene at the book's close in which the chief investigating detective, Alvin Dewey, visting the cemetery to tend his own father's grave, runs into Sue Kidwell, Nancy Clutter's best friend, "just such a young woman as Nancy might have been. Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat." All we have at the end (literally the end, that's the last sentence) are Capote's beautiful words. Are they enough?

That seems to be the question on my mind.

Monday, November 14, 2005

What a pleasure to have two very talented, very different poets on the same night! Guillermo is a quiet, contained presence whose poems tend toward the abstract and lyrical, grounded by an everyday sense of place and by sprinklings of Spanish words and phrases that function almost as landmarks in their particularity (a Poundian grillo or cricket recurs in his long sequence Caracas Notebook, which I hope will soon find a publisher). Sean Cole in front of a microphone is the embodiment of the live wire: scratching his head, gesturing with his free hand, occasionally squinting at the pages as if he'd never seen the poems before, he dashed off linguistically rich surrealist riffs with crack comic timing. Afterwards we hung out at Ithaca's latest attempt at a smart bar, Korova (no milk, no knives, no droogs—unless you count the Ithaca College students) with the poets and the cheering sections they'd brought with them: Guillermo's girlfriend Claudia, and Sean's friends the poet Aaron Kiely and his girlfriend Kish (no, I didn't catch the women's last names, mea culpa). Topics discussed included recent Venezuelan history and ambivalence toward Chavez; Ezra Pound; the gentler uses of psychedelics; the greatness of Capote and the genius of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who damn well deserves an Oscar for his peformance in that film, which we all agreed was one of the very few movies to rightly represent the work of writing.

The next SOON reading will take place on December 10 and will feature everyone's favorite Ugly Ducklings, Matvei Yankelevich and Anna Moschovakis. Be there!

And now I must go get ready to deliver my first ever lecture to a packed room of undergraduates on the topic of Milton's Lycidas. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 11, 2005

SOON Productions Presents

Sean Cole and Guillermo Juan Parra

Saturday, November 12, 2005 at 7 pm at the State of the Art Gallery, 120 W. State St. , Ithaca, New York

Sean Cole is a field producer at WBUR Radio in Boston. He started there as an intern in 1997 and has been freelancing for various public radio shows since 1999, including This American Life, All Things Considered, and The Next Big Thing. Sean’s work has also aired on the WZBC Boston College radio program Your Radio Nightlight and the online public radio workshop His poetry has appeared in The East Village, Shampoo, and CARVE, and his most recent chapbook, Itty City, was published by Boston’s Pressed Wafer in 2003.

Guillermo Juan Parra was born in Cambridge, MA. His poems have appeared in XCP, New York Nights, CARVE, and 6x6. He is currently editing an anthology of Venezuelan poetry in English translation and keeps a blog, Venepoetics.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

If you haven't seen it yet, Jeremy Bushnell wrote an incisive post on the Ashbery profile yesterday, pointing out how the piece strategically denies Ashbery's writing the status or domain of an aesthetic that others might participate in or contest, even as it slyly alludes to more brutalist aesthetics of "smashing and hurling" meaning that Ashbery assuredly doesn't practice. Ashbery must be justified to readers since he's been admitted to the canon by authorities like Harold Bloom, but the genuine strangeness of his practice and the shards of collective invention emedded in it must be made as invisible as possible. In that sense Ashbery is denied his possible role as "gateway poet" and becomes a literary curiosity and an aesthetic dead end. Nothing to see here but the strictly foreseeable future.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This interview with Chris Stroffolino conducted by Aryanil Mukherjee is interesting too. Standing up for the Beats!
Read this fascinating, deeply moving interview that Joyelle McSweeney conducted with Kamau Brathwaite (and visit, if you haven't, the Save CowPastor site established for Brathwaite by Tom Raworth). In the face of direct environmental oppression he's evolved a remarkable living sense of ecology in which both technology and nostalgia play a part. The descriptons of his work and sensibility sound mythic, but not in the top-down organizational fashion of the myths of nature in The Cantos, for example. More ad hoc, built from materials of daily life, practical.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Proof free downloading works: after a weekend of listening, over and over, to Imogen Heap's ravishing "Hide and Seek" (discovered via the invaluable Aurgasm), I am purchasing the whole dang album on iTunes. It won't be the last time, now that I'm discovering new artists daily thanks to music blogs like iLounge, Bubblegum Machine, Said the Gramophone, Scissorkick, and The Suburbs Are Killing Us. To find new music for free, download it in seconds, and listen to it while walking up to campus through the swirling leaves is to scrape the edges of Utopia.

Read the John Ashbery piece in The New Yorker and didn't find it to be quite the poetic character assassination that Jack did. It's true that the profiler, Larissa MacFarquhar, shows no consciousness of what a trickster Ashbery is, or how integral being a trickster is to his art. Anecdotes of personal conservatism or unease in the world (seeking psychoanalysis to "cure" his homosexuality, being an Episcopalian, etc.) only make Ashbery more interesting to me—the trouble is that readers of the article who haven't read the poetry will take these things at face value and miss the adventure of his thought. But why worry about them? Ashbery's poetry can certainly take care of itself at this point, and "NPR-like exposure" won't hurt him and just might help. To be fair to MacFarquhar, I think she tries quite hard to explain why Ashbery's poetry is seen as difficult when it often isn't particularly, and she might even have succeeded in further opening some ears that have admitted Ashbery is a great poet without particularly liking him (never a good foundation for the actual reading of poems). She has a couple of good paragraphs on Ashbery's poetry as "Musique d'Ameublement" or "Furniture Music" (a piece of Erik Satie's) or (though she doesn't use the phrase), "ambient poetics." Not exactly Tan Lin, but poetry that tries
to cultivate a different sort of attention: not focussed, straight-ahead scrutiny but something more like a glance out of the corner of your eye that catches something bright and twitching that you then can't identify when you turn to look. [The same spirit as Dickinson's "tell it slant," maybe, but more like "see it slant."] This sort of indirect, half-conscious attention is actually harder to summon up on purpose than the usual kind, in the way that free-associating out loud is harder than speaking in an ordinary logical manner. [This makes a giant assumption about how the average mind works, but never mind.] A person reading or hearing his language automatically tries to make sense of it: sense, not sound, is our default setting. Resisting the impulse to make sense, allowing sentences to accumulate into an abstract collage of meaning rather than a story or an argument, requires effort. But taht collage—a poem that cannot be paraphrased or explained or "unpacked"—is waht Ashbery is after.
I think this is useful: it's one of the best suggestions I've heard offered on how to understand what Ashbery and other poets who are interested in experiential language rather than telling stories or making puzzles are up to. The paragraph that follows is a bit more problematic:
This is one of the reasons it's a pity that he has a reputation for being a difficult poet: a reader who likes difficult poetry will tend to concentrate fiercely and bring to bear all his most sophisticated analytical equipment in order to wrestle an explicable meaning out of a poem; and while he may well be able to come up with one, it is unlikely to be the sort of meaning that Ashbery was after. Readers who do not like difficult poetry, on the other hand, or who expect poetry to make a certain kind of sense, often become infuriated by what appears to be Ashbery's perverse love of obfuscation for its own sake, or his exasperating refusal simply to say what he means. They suspect him of trickery or humbug. Perhaps for this reason he was ignored early on by many critics (with the notable exception of Harold Bloom).
What an impoverished dichotomy! Its blind spot omits the vast majority of interesting and vital poetry being written today, which follows neither New Critical models for the ironic displacement of meaning (the quasi-New Critical approach she describes for those who like "difficult poetry") nor the plainspoken anecdotal mode which approaches genuine popularity at the cost of ninety percent of its linguistic resources. Bloom, the critical exception to MacFarquahr's rule, adopted Ashbery because he was able to superimpose his Romantic quest narrative on poems like "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (a poem MacFarquahr records Ashbery's ambivalence toward: "he finds its essayistic structure alien to the rest of his work"). Bloom is something like your worst-case poetry reader in this scenario: deaf to the pleasures of shimmering ambient layers of discourse and thought, oftentimes deaf to the simple music of language (his favorite poets, whatever their other merits, are rarely euphonious: Ammons, Ashbery, Jorie Graham), he turns every poem he reads into a narrative of the poet's Oedipal evasions and will to power. Still, I believe MacFarquahr's piece has the potential to create new readers for Ashbery (a group that includes those who have previously read him out of duty or in homage to his canonicity); she has awakened possibilities for pleasure, which is to accomplish a great deal. And there are little hints, little fissures in the piece, which open doorways into broader thinking about contemporary experiential poetry (I'm going to try this term on for a while and see how it fits) and its roots in the likes of Pound or Stein:
Although his poetry is a kind of titration or leaching of the world as it seeps into his mind, it is almost never confessional or personal: since the world seeps into everybody's mind, he believes that his poems depict the privateness of everybody. (He is always describing his own traits as just like everybody else's—a tic of which he is unaware. "Maybe that's wishful thinking," he says, when asked about it.)
Art begins from just such a wish.

Monday, November 07, 2005

All the leaves are doing their beautiful death routine. Some good movies over the weekend: the voice-over doesn't quite manage to sink Shopgirl, the latest entry in the subgenre spawned by Lost in Translation. The actors are so good—so intelligent— that I forgive the story's improbabilities and little pretensions. And I was riveted by Good Night, and Good Luck (the comma is important), a work of great literacy in all sorts of media. George Clooney is the guy I want to be next go round: how many other movie stars have used their disproportionate visibility and clout as creatively as he has on behalf of social cases and consciousness? It's all very well for the likes of Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie to visit poor countries and become spokespeople for charitable causes—bully for them—but Clooney (and his partner in crime Steven Soderbergh—I thought their HBO series K Street was wildly underrated) understands both the limitations and advantages of movie stardom as a force for social change—he knows the most effective thing he can do is make movies like this one and the forthcoming Syriana, which promises to do for the oil industry what Traffic did for the drug trade. Add that to a sense of joy in moviemaking (as seen in Ocean's Eleven and Twelve), and I find myself thinking that Clooney's getting it as right as any actor ever has.

Looking forward to the next reading.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Last night I read part of John Kinsella's new book, The New Arcadia; he's probably the highest-profile poet writing and thinking about pastoral right now. Though the poems are for the most part fierce anti-pastorals, laments for the agricultural abuse of nature and the landscape in Western Australia; at the same time there's pleasure in the precision and strangeness of his descriptions. The poems are crammed with Australian words that create an aura of strangeness and exoticism for this American reader, yet that's hardly Kinsella's intention: in his work the exotic is in tension with unsparing precision and accuracy. His lines are thorny, unlovely, crammed with vernacular anger. The book is written in five "acts," each bookended by a "Reflector" (a long poem describing the same cross-country drive at different times; you can read the first one here) and an "eclogue," a dialogue between quasi-iconic figures like "Younger Brother" and "Elder Brother," "Groom" and "Bride," "Woman" and "Poltergeist". His engagement with pastoral is more urgently connected with environmental questions and the particular persons and places of Australia than the more self-consciously literary pastoral that I've concerned myself with. Though his title tells us that Kinsella is hardly unaware of the legacy of pastoral poetry, he wants to implode the genre, to wake us up from a sentimental attachment to spectacles of nature and farmers that obscure the lasting and irrevocable damage we're doing to real plants, animals, and people. The latent utopianism of the genre, its revolutionary potential, only appears in flickers and kernels: Kinsella seems more concerned with making us feel the sharp edges of an uncomfortable reality: "Theft is history, metaphor / assimilation" (the dialectical ambiguity of that line break is breathtaking). When I finish reading the book I might have more to say about it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Jeffrey Bahr's attack on one of the Chiasson poems I discussed is mostly interesting to me for its wealth of unexamined aesthetic assumptions about what a "good" poem is or should look like: his reading is entirely oriented toward what makes a poem an invulnerable object or monument, ignoring or obscuring other possible attitudes and valences (poem as discourse, poem as social actor, poem as social tactic or meditation on same). These "poetry boards" to which he alludes sound like EST gone wrong or the self-criticism undergone by Maoist cadres, in which everything that doesn't lie on a single Procrustean plane is burnt and purged away. Earning respect? More like a fraternity hazing, or respect in the Mafia sense of "men of respect" who are "made" by committing an arbitrary murder. You can't discuss what Jeffrey calls "tactics" (the moves made in a poem) without a prior discussion of strategy, a discussion that it sounds like these po-boards permanently defer. The result is a poet getting beaten up for playing chess on a checkers board. In the words of my namesake from WarGames, the only winning move is not to play.
From the Washington Post (registration required): "CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons".


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