Monday, August 27, 2007

TV Laureates

Seen this? Seen these? To me it seems dubious and delightful in equal measure. Dubious because the mtvU viewers (and who even knew there was such a thing, or that MTV wasn't already aimed firmly at this demographic?) will be getting tiny fragments of often already fragmentary poems delivered in commercial form—are viewers really likely to seek out the whole poem having glimpsed it in between segments of The Real World and Cribs? Delightful because they chose Ashbery, who really deserves every laurel heaped upon him, and whose technique of quicksilver association may actually be quite adaptable to the medium in which he now finds himself—especially on the web, where you can easily click and read the whole poem after vieweing the spot.

The MTV-isation of Ashbery provides another example, if examples were needed, of people being deprived the necessary reflective time for poetry (or for much else—I saw a great poster in a men's room this weekend which said, "Vote Frozen Peas for U.S. Senate!" and sponsored by Poetry would seem much more ill-adapted than narrative for the medium of television, even when reduced to sound-bites—though the spots, crucially, are not readings—the only sound behind the words is a kind of windy crackle, which does have the effect of concentrating the viewer on the words' moment of appearing. Maybe TV poetry is the next path to be followed, now that the web has largely transformed its means of production and distribution—I'm not necessarily speaking of online publication, though that's part of it, but for the alternate channels the web provides for book and magazine distribution. Still, the challenge of time remains—I think of Eric's complaint in my comments box about the infinite demands on his time that most books of poetry would place upon him, and his wish even as a highly educated reader for books suitable to the just-before-bed time slot available to him and other busy people. Without a revolution on the horizon, we can only take the long view of time, as it were, by recognizing how much of our capacity for reflection—for the thoughtful use of time—is built into that education. After all, whatever Eric's affection for romance novels, he is certainly a reader capable of bringing the new John Ashbery to bed with him and deriving pleasure from it, even at 10:30 at night, and that's largely because of the privilege of his education. So I am even more convinced now that teaching poetry to middle school teachers is a Good Thing, even as I wonder whether poetry's ever-fuller participation in our culture of distraction may not be so Good.

Other things on my radar this week include the latest issue of absent, which in two issues has established itself as a necessary scourge to some closely held post-avant pieties (there are also fine poems there—I really like what "The Pines" are up to). And I'm enthralled with Jasper Bernes's Starsdown, a version of which I read in manuscript but which in final form creates a much tighter and more intense experience of late capitalist space for the reader. It's also very funny. Jasper is one of a group of poets I've come to think of as the new Baudelaires: poets who seem willing to inject undiluted urban/media experience into their bloodstreams, suffer the resulting fevers, and then give back to us a radiant map of the damage they've suffered, which is of course the damage we've suffered but which we're socially engineered to ignore and accept. I may write an article about this by and by. But of course even this blog post is stolen from the ever-scanter hours between now and the start of classes at Lake Forest on Thursday.

Must now practice some of my Ultimate Fighting skills in preparation for dinner tonight with Bob.

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