Sunday, April 11, 2010

From Denver


  • Arrived today, made very welcome. The air is thin and the light is hard.
  • Immediately run into Mark Tursi and Johannes Göransson at the hotel. Beers around the corner at Leela's. Topics include: small-press publishing, reading fees, Jennifer Moxley is our Tennyson, Mark Levine's poetry, guilty pleasures, Romanticism, flarf.
  • Go up to hotel room. Come back down from hotel room.
  • Thai noodles with Richard Greenfield and, briefly, Carmen Gimenez Smith.
  • The Omnidawn/Ahsahta reading at the Magnolia Ballroom. Open bar for first hour. Sit with Richard, Dan Stolar, Dan Beachy-Quick. Seemingly dozens of readers in quasi-alphabetical order; last only to the end of G. Richard has become a very strong and confident reader. Sneak out after his reading with Sarah Gridley.
  • Second dinner at overpriced Italian place with Sarah Gridley. Topics: overpriced wine, rush matting, family, dissatisfaction with poetry, old friends.
  • Midnight double scotch with Christian Bök, Jon Paul Fiorentino, and assorted Canadian comrades. Topics: Christian's "Xenotext Experiment," my "Poem for the Inaugural Poem," Jon's "Stripmalling," favorite Canadian versus American cities, the United States as greatest/worst country in the world.


  • Breakfast with my chair and colleague Davis Schneiderman. Topics: our respective paths to academia, Ithaca, NY, William S. Burroughs, the challenges of getting enough protein when you're a vegetarian. (I had bacon.)
  • A little late to 9 AM panel on integrating wireless technology and social networking into the poetry classroom. Read all about it: I most like Eric Baus' idea about exposing students to poems through audio recordings, preferably multiple versions, before they read the poem, as a way to break away from poem-as-inviolable monument.
  • Assorted characters at bookfair, too numerous to list here. Buying very little as yet. Susan Schultz gifts me with a desk copy of Hazel Smith's The Erotics of Geography when I remark that I might want to use it in my senior seminar next year alongside The Writing Experiment. Shanna Compton sells me a copy of Bloof's latest, Peter Davis' Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! which made me laugh out loud. They're prose poems that are kind of like the voice-overs to other poems. Here's one in its entirety:

    Poem Addressing My Past, Current and Future Students Who Are Sufficiently Interested in Our Class to Check Out My Work

    I hope you learn something from this poem and the powerful, mystical way it concludes!

  • Noon panel, "Women & Nature, Thirty Years Later: Our Evolving Otherness." Stay only long enough to hear Sarah Gridley's lyrical essay on Simone de Beauvoir and Medusa. Dodge out to other noon panel, "Poetry and Memorability." Stay only long enough to hear Paul Hoover conclude a talk on the poetry of memorability (beginning, middle, end) and the poetry of forgetting (middle, middle, middle). How even the latter—Language poetry for instance—has trouble not producing metrical, memorable lines. Am reminded of this when I return to the bookfair and encounter Johannes again along with Kasey Mohammad, where the conversation somehow turns to the David Lynch version of Dune, and I realize that free verse, et al, is simply an ingenious way of preventing sandworm attacks. To break the pentameter, that was the first heave of Muad D'ib.
  • Attend bizarre smackdown between Tony Hoagland, egotistical humanist, and Donald Revell, ascetic desert father, at panel with the misleading title "Poetry After the '00s: What Comes Next?" It was supposed to include Stephen Burt and Laura Kaischiscke, but instead turns into debate between two poets who seem mostly unqualified to talk about "next." Hoagland is pluralistic in a sneakily dismissive way, acknowledging the tremendous energy of contemporary poetry but coming down hard on the side of poems with tones that communicate "existential weight." He thinks the purpose of poetry is to bring the reader to presence. Revell comes across as a Christian Buddhist; for him the "new poetry" can't exist yet or we can't recognize it because it's going to take us beyond the human to "the other shore." Could be talking about nirvana, is really talking about Jesus. There are a few worthwhile aphorisms (Revell) and bits of repartee (Hoagland):
    • Revell: "As long as we don't say anything, Tony and I always agree." Hoagland: "That's so postmodern!"
    • Revell: "Humanity is one of those experiments that didn't quite work out." "What is humanity except a genre?"
    • Revell : "Most poems are rearranging the furniture in the Norton Anthology." "What is a line? it's a turn. It's a conversion. If you are not willing to be converted, you are not able to write line two of your poem." "'I remember poetry! It sounded like this!' Which is what most poems are…merely the memory of poems." Hoagland: "Poetry isn't born from the history of poetry. Poetry is born from our suffering."
    • Revell: "Anthologies are a form of suffering." "No Christian believes in tragedy. You cannot have a tragic world-view and faith. It all has a happy ending." Hoagland: "I'm looking for a happy middle."
    • Revell: "We are so attached to the conversation, so attached to the canon, so attached to the métier, when simply we are called to let go. I happen to believe there is another shore…. We're not going to get there by clinging to the old conversations. Suffering is for schmucks! Stop it! Stop suffering, please! I have to read it!" Hoagland: "There's a bin here for crutches and eyeglasses!"

It's all quite strange. Revell comes across as a "posthuman" (he even uses the word) and could be interpreted as saying, "All poetry is flarf." He quotes Endgame: HAMM: We do what we can. CLOV: We shouldn't. His position is indisputably the more rigorous and ethical one. But he's a Christian, so I don't quite trust that he's credible when he says that we don't know what the new is. It's not the void he's pitching for—he wants to empty poetry out so that his Emersonian faith can come rushing into fill the vacuum. Hoagland's position is therefore the more "human" one: given a choice between nothingness and something, he'll choose something every time. It's bathos. Both these guys are asking poetry to disappear in some sense, to reveal either something or nothingother than poetry. Why can't it just be poetry? "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."

More Thursday:

  • Acquire a few books at the book fair, but mostly keep my powder dry. Finally meet Jeffrey Levine and Jim Schley, my new publisher and editor respectively, at the Tupelo Press table.
  • Attend Tupelo Press Tenth Anniversary party and reading, shake lots of hands. Read some poems. Fill up on hors d'oeurves. Resume a chat with Tess Taylor that we first began at a Poetry Society of America shindig in New York in 2003.
  • Wind up evening at hotel bar where I run into David Lau and Kasey Mohammad. Topics: conceptual poetry, Notes on Conceptualisms (insufficiently rigorous or enabling fiction?), Lana Turner. Early to bed at 11:30.


  • Foggy, hazy mind in diamond-blue Denver sky. Coffee helps. Attend panel on queer translation with Brian Teare, making a fool of myself beforehand mistaking Nathalie Stephens for Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Stephens and Timothy Liu are the panelists and John Keene is the moderator; Jen Hofer doesn't show. Fascinating and labyrinthine discussions of translation as a kind of metaphor for desire—what's "lost in translation" can be equated with Lacan's La relation sexuelle n'existe pas. That is, one desires to cross the gap between languages but it's what gets lost in that gap that endlessly regenerates that desire. I meditate on the value of queer sexuality as a mode of consciousness that plays with the manufactories of desire rather than simply accepting their products unquestioningly off the assembly line. What would a queer heterosexuality look like?
  • Hang out at book fair. Chats with G.C. Waldrep, Paul Foster Johnson, Janet Holmes, Rachel Loden (who generously insists on giving me a much-coveted copy of Dick of the Dead gratis). Sit at Apostrophe Books table and pretend to be a publisher for a while. Run into my old student Emily Capettini, now in the creative PhD program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
  • Attend insufficiently memorable panels.
  • Awful dinner at Johnny Rockets. It's all Richard Greenfield's fault.
  • Attend WILLA reading at Denver Press Club. It's a worthy organization and the set-up is promising: burlesque dancers, roller-derby girls working security, and feminist poetry. But the place is overcrowded and hot and stuffy and most of the first poems are just plain bad. Escape at intermission, regret not hearing Lara Glenum, Cathy Park Hong, Carmen Gimenez Smith, a few others.
  • Encounter Zach Schomburg and Noah Eli Gordon tearing up the open mike at the Mercury Café. Can't tell if they're being ironic or not.
  • Maybe it was tonight I had that conversation with David and Kasey?


  • Somehow up in time for the Flarf vs. Conceptualism showdown panel, by far the most entertaining official event that I attend at this year's AWP.
    • Kasey's intro: flarf and conceptual poetry are the poetry we deserve. Rattles off the numerous critiques of both movements. Claims that they are working to "recycle" the innovations of the historical avant-garde, "because the first times, they didn't take. The opposite of damage control—they try to do the damage that didn't get done before." But it's hard not to get absorbed by the poetry-industrial complex—"It's like fighting the Blob—you plunge in your fist and soon you're just part of it. After all, here we are." Flarf is controversial because it asserts centrality. Conceputualism is suspect because it approaches "relevance." Quotes Unforgiven: "We get what we get. Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
    • Vanessa Place's paper is killer: "Notes on Why Conceptualism Is Better Than Flarf." A few gems:
      • "Flarf is a court jester. As such, it is still a member of the court."
      • "Flarf is a one-trick pony that thinks a unicorn is another kind of horse."
      • "Flarf still loves poetry. Conceptualism loves poetry enough to put it out of its misery."
      • "Flarf wants to be funny." "Conceptualism wants."
      • Flarf engages the amygdale, conceptualism the cortex.
      • "Flarf is a whoopee cushion in the world of the new and old lyric poetry. Conceptualism is a fart."
      • "Ron Silliman likes flarf. Ron Silliman does not like conceptualism."
      • "Flarf looks like poetry." "Poetry looks like conceptualism."
    • Mel Nichols next. "Cute Gone Wrong," referencing Sianne Ngai's "Cuteness of the Avant-Garde." A book called Journey to the End of Taste, about disliking Celine Dion. "Flarf rocks harder than conceptual writing." Kind of a parody of a paper presentation—she talks about what she's going to talk about instead of actually talking.
      • Cute = helpless. Perceptions of vulnerability contribute to perceptions of cuteness. Big eyes, floppy limbs, small voice, wobbly head, etc. Extreme youth, harmlessness, helplessness, need. We are hardwired for cuteness.
      • Cuteness as what flarf messes with, confusing our aesthetic response. Rob Fitterman: "Don't make it new. Just make it fucked up." The combination of the cute and the horrible.
      • Rod Smith poem "Widdle Biddy Bong Story" – baby talk to a parakeet that parodies "I Know a Man."
    • Matthew Timmons' presentation is an inimitable and unrepresentable performance. I like this phrase: "The new friction surface modifier." Compares Flarf to Renaissance Faires. "Conceptual writing has been defined by Kenneth Goldsmith as, 'Writing.'" It's all tap-dancing on the edge of the abyss, I think.
    • Katie Degentesh talks about vampires versus werewolves: which has more control over its dark side? "Hooking up with a vampire is fun, disgusting, and vulgar." John Ashbery, Kevin Davies, the young Auden, rumored to be vampires."One of the purposes of vampirism is to defeat and render irrelevant close reading." "Shifters hate vampire and vampires hate shifters." So flarf as vampirism and conceptualism as lycanthropy? Or is it the other way round?
    • Christian is last. Talks about Kenneth Goldmsith and his essay that argues that flarf is Dionysian and conceptualism is Apollonian. "Being somewhat lazy, I have decided simply to read you that essay by Kenneth Goldsmith…but using the techniques of flarf, albeit in a more advanced and rigorous manner." Paper title: "Flarf! Arf Arf Arf!" Another inimitable performance but:
      • "We imagine that a bottle of cleaning fluid must be totally fucking clean inside!"
      • "I steal the letter M because it seems like the letter M must weigh the most."
      • "I write a few sincere lines, and then I have to make fun of them."

Q&A. Aaron Kunin questions Vanessa as to what she means by allegory. Allegory = reference to extra-textual narrative. Radical evil: a poetics that is an affirmative will to evil toward poetics itself. Another Q for Vanessa: conceptualism addresses a fundamental absence. Using Lacan. Absence of meaning/signification, desire for same. There's something that's not there: ideally the person who reads the text enters that space and puts its (?) desire into the work. The thing in the poem is not what satisfies—radical evil asks, "How can I take that thing away from you?"

Good stuff.

  • Books, books, books. I can't write down all the titles because I haven't unpacked my suitcase. Especially pleased, though, to have acquired John Beer's miraculously titled The Waste Land and Other Poems (aren't you jealous you didn't think of it first?) from the Canarium table; a sheaf of essay chapbooks from Ugly Duckling Presse; a pile of beautiful Wesleyan hardcovers, deeply discounted, by Brenda Hillman and Roberto Tejada and Rae Armantrout and Kazim Ali.
  • Lunch with Sarah Gridley, then we hike over to the Museum of Contemporary Art for the flarf/conceptualism reading—it's not Sarah's thing at all, but she's curious. The reading is less satisfying than the panel—it comes off as something of a refuge for smug hipsters, though Christian's sound poetry is always delightful and it was amazing to hear Christine Wertheim, whom I think of as a visual poet, do uncanny, jouissance-inducing moves with her voice. Argue about its relevance and value with Sarah all the way back to the hotel instead of attending the rooftop party for flarftinis.
  • A well-deserved nap.
  • Cab it out to the Plus Gallery for the Possess Nothing mega-reading organized by Richard and Mark. The stand-out readers are Johannes (reading from A New Quarantine Will Take My Place), Gordon Massman (talk about queer heterosexuality! reading from The Essential Numbers 1991 – 2008), and Abraham Smith, an electric hopping presence (reading from a book I regret not purchasing, whim man mammon). Afterward fall in with Johannes who insists on "famous tequila shots" and leads a small group of us, pied-piper style, to the Whiskey Bar. I wander off and meet Mark and Richard for late night fish n' chips at a pub.
  • Home to bed at the semi-reasonable hour of 12:30. Up today at 6 for the flight home.


Stephanie said...

Sorry I missed it (we are about to have a baby, hence my non-appearance at the Revell-vs-Hoagland thing-- I think you are right about Don's expectations, btw). But would you really want to entitle another book The Waste Land &c? Maybe if you were Kent Johnson...

christinew said...

Thanks for the compliment Joshua, and a nice account of the conference, though we seem to have mostly gone to different event.
Re my poetry as visual - you are right, it is. It uses the visual aspects of language to interrogate structures of gender and generation through putting extreme pressure, via the visuality of letters, on the concepts of the |/sone and theMother/s. So it is conceptual, but perhaps not in the ways described by the C/F panel, which unfortunately conflicted with other duties. So thanks for you erudite summary.

Kent Johnson said...


Actually, I did a blurb for John Beer's The Wasteland And Other Poems. It's up at the Canarium site and SPD. John Ashbery blurbed it, too, focusing on the genius nature of the book's title!

Here is Ashbery's blurb and mine beneath it:

“Only a genius could write a book called THE WASTE LAND AND OTHER POEMS. Well, John Beer is that person. ‘I set out to write a treatise on failure, and it turned out my subject was love,’ he writes. ‘Call it my confusion.’ We should all be so confused.”
—John Ashbery

“There is in John Beer, as I have known since our days in London, a bit of the last younger American poet living the tragedy of Europe. Thus, I was pleased when he sent me the manuscript of THE WASTE LAND AND OTHER POEMS (originally titled He Do the Police in Different Voices), asking for my editorial suggestions. Magnanimously, he accepted them all, and so this book is leaner by half than its writer originally envisioned. Strong poets like he know that false pride of Authorship is to the real art as the barber's wax dummy is to sculpture. I wrote to him, among other things, in the margin: The image is more than an idea; it is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy!! I also wrote: I guess the definition of a genius is a man or woman surrounded by lunatics. Well, I'll say the following and I won't say more. THE WASTE LAND AND OTHER POEMS may or may not be the most important book of American poetry in the last eighty-eight years, but when the next eighty-eight years are up, I give it a good shot to be the most important first book in American poetry since Some Trees. I've been right a number of times before, even if no one seems to be listening. Sometimes lightning strikes a church tower and the whole town catches fire. Who cares then that the act of bell ringing is symbolic of all proselytizing religions? There is surprise and there is awe. Nationalize the big banks.”
—Kent Johnson

Henry Gould said...

Thanks for this great & entertaining report, Corey. I understand your misgivings about Hoagland's & Revell's conversation. But when you say : "Both these guys are asking poetry to disappear in some sense, to reveal either something or nothing—other than poetry. Why can't it just be poetry?" Well, I think there are problems with this. Leave poetry to be itself & somehow it devolves into the self-indulgent & cynical circus (Flarf/Conceptual et al.) you just described. It's a virtual reality like in the new Fassbinder movie - it's all PhonyWorld, paid for by college students.

Poetry is somehow incommensurate with itself, as well as commensurate. It has to be both, it has to be a newly-achieved integration of outside & inside, art & world, imagination & force. This is the challenge of mimesis, representation, which is unavoidable.

Recommend book by Howard Kaplan, a 100-yr-old scholar, on the legacy of Eliot/Pound/Stevens/WCW profound debate over the purpose, the role of poetry & the imagination in culture at large : "Poetry, politics & culture" (Transaction, 2006). It's an old fashioned book, but in my view clarifying & important...........................

Kent Johnson said...

I once sent an email to Ron Silliman, chastising him for writing The Wasteland instead of The Waste Land.

And now I've done it twice today myself!

Kent Johnson said...

By the way, I've started reading this really good book by Libbie Rifkin, *Career Moves: Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, Berrigan, and the American Avant-Garde*. It came out in 2000, but I completely missed it.

Thought I'd mention the book since it has some suggestive connection to our current balmy weather-- wherein (if one can be wherein weather) the "avant-garde" now more or less rules the beach volleyball pitches at AWP, University Presses, National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, MFA programs, etc.

Does anyone know this book? It's one of the most enjoyable critical books on U.S. poetry I've read since Alan Golding's *From Outlaw to Classic*.

I've got Robert Archambeau's new book here, too, on Yvor Winters and his conflicted acolytes, and it looks good, too. The excellent and refreshing thing about critics like Rifkin, Golding, and Archambeau is that they write on "theoretical" stuff in truly readable prose.

Henry Gould said...

"The excellent and refreshing thing about critics like Rifkin, Golding, and Archambeau is that they write on "theoretical" stuff in truly readable prose."

- that's what I like about Howard Kaplan, too, old dude though he may be. Big mind, philosophical, but not abstruse. This was the book he wanted to write back in the 30s. Finally got around to it.

Henry Gould said...

Funny, Kaplan is probably the very last scholar-critic anyone at the current AWP would ever be reading....

but I see a thin phosphorescent clamshell path leading through his work back out to poetry....

Kaplan sets the humanism of Stevens & WCW against the authoritarianism of Eliot & Pound, without denying that all 4 poets were searching for the real social value or sanction of poetry; he also sets their humanism against the dissociations, determinisms and reductions of contemporary literary & philosophical trends.... he suggests that his position on the nature of poetry & literature is akin to that of Emanuel Levinas, who has written strongly against the depersonalization & defacements of post-structuralism... it's a kind of realism in which authors are responsible for their works and establish a "triangulation" between author, reader, & the work... civilization itself is grounded on the substantiality of persons, and in literature the person, the human face, shines out... but the main thrust of Kaplan's book is a reading of the opposing attitudes of Stevens/WCW vs. Pound/Eliot, on the ethical status of human imagination & its expression in poetry.... He shows how these issues are still with us, & suggests how poetry might climb out of its current infatuations with everything that reduces, rather than builds up, the human & the personal...

Henry Gould said...

Silly, silly me... it's HAROLD, not Howard... HAROLD Kaplan...

here's a link to more information...

Archambeau said...

I never understood myself until I read your comment about Hoagland being "pluralistic in a sneakily dismissive way."


fairest said...

Anthologies ara a form of suffering is a great line. Read The Literature of Lesbianism and you'll see what I mean.

Rachel Loden said...

Great blow-by-blow -- really brings home the exhaustion. Btw Jussi's reading the Badiou -- turns out that B refers a lot to Kenneth Kunen, J's thesis advisor. Comments soon.

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