Monday, February 28, 2005

Baraka, the Canon

Not really a tremendous amount of interesting things happening here, cogitation-wise, for which fact I can, per usual, blame the weather. A reliable scapegoat.

I'm getting ready to teach Amiri Baraka's Black Magic tomorrow, abutted as it is by Ashbery on one side and Hejinian on the other; am struck as I was last time I sat down with him, by what an undervalued--albeit bigoted and anti-semitic and misogynistic queer-hating and frankly fucking scary--voice he is. If as Ron says (via Josh) "Complexity around one’s own identity is, I think, the greatest predictor of what kind of poet one is likely to become, or at least sensitivity to that complexity. . ."well, then, Baraka is greatly predicted to become, or have become. My sense is that many people whose encounter with him is marginal would expect to find a rather simplistic or essentialist notion of identity, but the speakers in Black Magic (shamefully out-of-print, by the way) present a far different picture, where the self slides between a social first-person plural and an alienated, bereft singularity:

. . . . All
my doubles, and friends, whose mistakes cannot
be duplicated by machines, and this is all of our
arrogance. Being broke or broken, dribbling
at the eyes. Wasted lyricists, and men
who have seen their dreams come true, only seconds
after they knew those dreams to be horrible conceits
and plastic fantasies of gesture and extension,
shoulders, hair and tongues distributing misinformation
about the nature of understanding. . . .
("The New World")

He's an important poet for the world in which I mostly find myself. I need the existentialist (and to me correct) notion that it is in mistaking, in misprision that we find not only our uniqueness but our commonality with each other, even as I feel I must reject his nihilism. In the end, it's a pretty Ashberian idea, but one where the stakes are not ethico-aesthetical but mortal. In Ashbery, misunderstanding misunderstanding might lead to a barren and joyless life, here it leads to a heroin overdose or a death by gunshot or the continuous crushing force of racism:

For the first-person plural

America, then,
n blind overdose.

Touche, Hart Crane! I'm going to carry around this notion of humanity as unrepeatable error for a good long while (maybe even an hour). As much as I cherish "Howl" and "Kaddish," I suppose I prefer my 'sixties-era jeremiads unleavened by Romanticism's tropological relics. I tried following the Grateful Dead once, but I couldn't stay stoned enough; I was left with "sad facts circled for unknown hippies carrying the mail."


Here's a question for those of you concerned with valuation and canon-formation: what's the criterion for adjectivizing a writer's name? Does it have to do their canonical value or phonetics? Why Whitmanic, Dickinsonian, Hopkinsian, Stevensian, Eliotian but not Mooreian, or Craneian or Frostian? Is it better--Mr. Milton, Mr. Byron--if your name ends in an 'n'? Is the worth of a poet determined by her name?

Or: what allows us to refer to a poet by last name alone? The easy answer I suppose is some ratio of death and fame, but I think there's more to it than that.


In German before psychology muddies everything, between dream (traum) and trauma (trauma)—no relation, not even a quick exchange of genes at the Illyrian border during the glorious reign of the two Antonines.

In the dream we can’t keep having but do, somewhere, in the middle ages, on alternate branches of the Danube, two unrelated meanings flow together— the Old Saxon drôm (mirth, noise, minstrelsy) merging with the Germanic verbal series dreug-, draug-, drug-,(to deceive, delude). A big muddy river of deceptive mirth champagning into downtown London.

Beyond the noise and pageantry, beyond the deceptive shroud of song, trauma, simply and unalterably, wound (τράύμά). In the wind, in the wand, unhealing. Carried on the backs of camels from Damascus to Alexandria. Lord Byron goes off to recover it. Dies.

In some versions language is a wound; in others it’s a dream. In some versions, the dream issues from the wound like bad marsh gas. Bandage of skittery chatter, the unconscious generating its own false etymologies.

It covers most of my abdomen, the wound. The plug to the power-strip doesn’t quite fit. Keeps coming loose when I sneeze. The lights flicker or go out. I have to think really hard to keep the stereo powered. Everyone’s saying different things to me, different things to me.

If I wound you, will you dream for me? If I dream you, will you wound me? The tram rocks precariously over the yawning glacier. In the wind, in the wound, in the wooing.

And then Freud changes his mind. The breakdown of sugars cannot explain the breakdown of Frau ____. Cannot explain the wish in the stigmatum as it reappears on the guilty hand raised to tell the teacher what it really thinks. The thought does not please her. She’d rather be a bacterium.

My friend keeps taking the seminar on trauma every semester but doesn’t remember any of it. Hasn’t dreamed in years.

Oedipus in the O.E.D. stabbing his eyes with the replica of his crippling. No relation, of course. An accident, not a mistake. Like the beginning of life—that wound—in the proto-genes hitched to mitochondria. Afterward, mistakes not accidents. If you could just get back to the headwaters of the definitions, that scratch in the sandstone, on the cave walls, whatev. That drone, that palindrome. What a drag.

“The unaccountable corporate flight of nesting colonies of terns and gulls is a ‘dread’. . . .A sudden take-off and flight of a flock of gulls or other birds.”

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Disfigurement: a Manifesto

1) To wit: that upon the unsealing on the day of _______ in the Port of Long Beach the horse-shaped cargo container marked METAPHOR, which your clients in Greece agreed to transfer into our name 2, 500 years ago, the heroic similes of Homer had been replaced by several tons of snakemeat and petrified figs;

2) to wit: that receiving no answer to our repeated request for payment in kind, in fine and by point of fact;

3) to wit: that due to the devaluation of the snakemeat and snakeoil market by the unscrupulous speculations and insiderism of Judeo-Christian teleology;

4) to wit: that figuration of a serpentine type in painting has again slinked out from beneath the slurry of complexity theory, as a fine ring of dancers might widdershins and erotic, like as-yet-unbreakable code or negative energy, thrown from inside the event horizon of the laptop black hole, be and be and be;

5) we heretofore agree to extract and delete from our eyes, ears and genitals the likening, integrating function which would see your clients as a tornado lumbering through Gibbons’ The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire;

6) and moreover having copyrighted our own genetic peculiarities;

7) having flipped all of the distressed mirrors in our bored houses in order that the walls might better articulate their own predicament;

8) having in sum more years of abstinence from perception-bending drugs and alcohol than humanity’s impotent occupation of the Earth, which is one day; having tired of the MLA style guide;

9) and being still with jive and fire refractory and unlike, unlikeable, unlikenable;

10) we declare a war on all comparisons and their sons; because it is in fact the real (as painting has told us) that is the figural and fabular: like the Venus de Milo orbiting the moon

11) we assay to write the final metaphor which is the final metaphor, period;

12) we decline to be as the designer-labels sewn onto the over-represented garment of the city;

13) we like football and NASCAR (especially the crashes) but remain staunchly anti-American;

14) we chopped down the cherry tree and ate those lumpen plums, which were sour as rainwater in a wheelbarrow;

15) as language is too often the experience-dulling condom of the mind;

16) we have chosen to reincarnate as inanimate vanitas afloat in a field of passive voice;

17) about which our childhoods in Detroit and Lahore are mum;

18) in sum, we declare Frost’s woodpile void

19) we have distributed its secrets at distances not permitted by quantum mechanics, such that nothing may be communicated or revealed, thank fuck;

20) we declare a wet speech of open-source code; of nodes, nests; without privacy or power

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dear at Any Price

—who, fearing for the health of their heart, declined to, panting and by degrees, climb the 354 steps to the top of the Statue of Liberty where at a glance, mastery, & the thick concrescence of harbor and skyline—; or afraid of heights, of things that turn on themselves, turned back, afraid of freedom & its fall, maybe, or heights which condescending to the verdigris, fish-bowled depths demand the turned glance, still spinning; free which derives from the Sankrit endearment priyá (dear), from prî (to delight, endear, love): applied to the beloved of a household to distinguish them from the servants; applied to the citizens of a country to distinguish them from the slaves; similar to liberty, from the Lat. līberī ‘children,’ distinguished, again, from the slaves of a household. If you love someone, sings Sting, set them free. Freedom is not free, says the bumper-sticker. No fear. If you are not loved, are you not free? Is to be free to be a child, beholden, owned by that love? How much love do you need to be free? A healthy, 17-year-old slave in 1820 was worth about fifteen-thousand real dollars. How much, in real love, is the antidote for that? Is that how much I love my son? Does it cost money to love? I don’t think I love enough, am loved enough, have money enough for enough love. The slave trader invests that fifteen-thousand dollars of not-love and today it’s worth a fortune in unlovely real-estate or flags or cocoa. I’m not sure if money can mean love, if I can buy my girlfriend hyacinths or chocolate and make it mean love and not not-love. I am sure that money is what Americans mean by freedom mostly; I am sure that the bulk of the chocolate I have stopped eating, recently, is produced by children, slaves, in the Ivory Coast, who perish in great numbers of the wretched cancers and wasting diseases the insecticide poured onto cocoa-trees produces. I hope someone loves them. I’m not sure what difference that makes. Ai, Ai, weep the hyacinths at the gravesite, alpha and iota (άί) inscribed on their petals.

An excellent, and wondefully sane, article on the Araki Yasusada imbroglio in the recent PMLA, which shows how nearly everyone on each side of the binary misses the point: authors matter sometimes, and they also don't matter sometimes. I was planning on teaching Foucault's "What's an Author?" in my Cont. Poetry Class anyway, and I think I'll assign this essay as corollary reading.

About MFA programs: I didn't go to Iowa, and I'm sure that the forces there are powerful and complex. I was in a very small workshop at Cornell, with blogger Gabe Gudding, and instead of a homogenizing force, I found that workshop only served to more clearly demarcate and divide people on issues of poetics. Gabe and I argued, agreed, had e-mail flame wars (the first draft of "Defense of Poetry" I saw was in an e-mail directed at me, impossible to win against those verbal howitzers), and in the end, respectfully and with great love for the other's project, went in different ways. As brilliant and distinct as he is, I wouldn't have even thought of writing like him, or Gina Franco, Crystal Williams or Jesse Graves or any of the other people in the workshop whose poetry I admired. Our aesthetics were already pretty clearly defined from our reading and the mentorship we'd already received as undergrads. Nor did the professors like Reginald Shepherd have a "normalizing" influence on the writing in the workshop. Us people were already too tetchy and encamped by the time they get to grad. school to submit to these kinds of forces. In my experience, you end up hearing so many conflicting opinions about your work that you're thrown, in the end, into a certain self-reliance. Or you select one or two voices and put a tentative and provisional faith in them. Certainly, if you tried to follow everybody's suggestions (I did this once or twice), tried to please the entire group, you'd end up with, basically, a white page, a series of nots. In this way, all of the acrimony is pretty useful.

Larissa Szporluk rocks; I'm excited for her reading tomorrow. Do come.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Oh, that poem--"Three Parts"-- is by Karl Parker.

Still Life

Since some people have been disparaging, or poking fun at, poems in which the speaker discovers a dead animal, I thought I'd post this example of how vibrant and alive the nature morte can be. I'm not sure that it's all that useful to make categorical claims about common subjects and/or symbols. Two centuries after Blake declared the rose diseased and moribund, along comes Gertrude Stein to give it new legs. In fact, the high volume of traffic through these areas might make them more interesting in the hands of a talented poet:

from "Three Parts"

A gorgeous dead bird on its back, eyes
still open in front of the school-room door:
shiny black and small claws
curled, as if with purpose.

Some of the rest of the pauses that day
were not to be overlooked, much less made up for
or avoided. Little by little
we learned not to touch every tiny thing

our shrinking hands still attract.
That was what eyes are for,
though the head lives largely underground.

P.S. And yes, here in the sort-of country occasionally living and non-urban-like things do cross in front of my window, but that doesn't mean I have to talk about the indissoluble unity of the natural world or anything.

For those of you in the area: Larissa Szporluk will read at Hobart and William Smith this Thursday at 7:30 p.m (Geneva Room). Q&A at 4:45 p.m.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Goin' to California

Both Stanford and Berkeley have admitted me to their PhD programs, with funding. I'm looking forward to being a student again, although I'll miss teaching creative writing. Thanks to everyone who supported me during last fall's gauntlet of teaching and applications. It paid off, and no ulcer to speak of. To those of you who read this from CA, perhaps we'll meet next year.

Hiding in the Open: a Review of THE LICHTENBERG FIGURES

Ben Lerner’s The Lichtenberg Figures—a sequence of fourteen-line poems that some would call sonnets and some not (the octet of one witty sonnet is the book’s Library of Congress Cataloging Data)—bears a stronger resemblance to John Berryman’s The Dream Songs than any recent work that I can think of except that of my friend Karl Parker, whose first book is not yet published. Like Berryman’s eighteen-line Songs, Lerner’s book borrows from a wide range of verbal registers—from pomo-speak to Latin nomenclature, from slacker to hiphop—and more importantly, like Berryman, the poems engage in a dialectic of malice and seduction, of disaffection and longing, of cagey defensiveness and inviting vulnerability. The Henry of the The Dream Songs suffers, along with and through his various parallax personalities, from both the desire to be known and the fear of being known; the brilliance of those poems’ language is that it simultaneously reveals and conceals, confesses to the crime as it absolves itself of said crime, by turns utterly transparent and bafflingly opaque. While Lerner’s book is neither as inventive with syntax or grammar, nor as willing to brook its own occasional ridiculousness as Berryman’s, its brash, dazzling turns-of-phrase insist on your enjoyment at the same time as they tell you (often unconvincingly) that they don’t give a fuck what you think, oscillating between self-promotion and self-sabotage. The mixture works, and traces between wound-suffered and wound-inflicted a better picture of the scene and its crime:

I attend a class for mouth-to-mouth, a class for hand-to-hand.
I can no longer distinguish between combat and resuscitation.
I could revive my victims. I could kill a man
with a maneuver designed to clear the throat of food. Tonight, the moon

sulks at apogee. A bitch complains to the polestar. An enemy
fills a Ping-Pong ball with Drano and drops it in the gas tank of my car.

Reader, may your death strictly adhere to recognized forms.
May someone place his lips on yours, shake you gently, call your name.
May someone interlace his fingers, lock his elbows, and compress your chest,
every two seconds, to the depth of one and one-half inches. In the dream,

I discover my body among the abandoned tracks of North Topeka.
Orlando Duran stands over me, bleeding from his eye. I can no longer distinguish

between verb moods that indicate confidence and those that express uncertainty.
An upward emergency calls away the sky.

In other places, the self-parodying schadenfreud of the speaker, and his also parodic self-regard, is downright hilarious: a line like “My facility with parataxis makes me respected, feared. . . .” can give way to “I strike a teenager with a baseball bat to gain blue-collar credibility.” All this in a poem whose second line is “I sport my underwear on the outside of my trousers . . .” As with Berryman, when the inside and outside reverse it is often just more smokescreen. It is rare to find a poet—especially such a young poet—who grants himself such authority and such license—who allows himself to speak in the voice of a famous poet, a recognized academic, a famous painter, a famous philosopher, “Ben Lerner,” and to satirize these speakers’ will-to-power and the various stale subjectivities which give rise to them at the same time as utilizing the personae for the imaginative possibilities therein. Where Berryman’s poems trouble our notion of the self by clever shifts of point-of-view, grammar and diction, Lerner’s poems achieve this through the conflicting, irresolvable snippets of narrative and character that flit through the book. Such license and self-authoring would seem irksome to me if what the poems were saying weren’t as intelligent and trenchant as it is; while other poets use the lingo of the academy to add texture and a penumbra of profundity to their poems, Lerner’s essayistic glosses of post-structuralism, contemporary poetry and visual art are remarkably cogent and useful; they instruct at the same time as they deconstruct, and such language is never employed without a sense of the imminent ridiculousness it possesses in the face of the world which could care less about it:

“Gather your marginals, Mr Specific. The end
is nigh. Your vanguard of vanishing points has vanished
in the critical night. We have encountered a theory of plumage
with plumage. We have decentered our ties. You must quit
these Spenglerian Suites, this roomy room, this gloomy Why.

And here’s the crucial ironic volta, a little earlier than it usually comes:

Never again will your elephants shit in the embassy.
Never again will you cruise through Topeka in your sporty two-door coffin.
In memoriam, we will leave the laws you’ve broken broken.
On vision and modernity in the twentieth-century, my mother wrote
“Help me.” On the history of structuralism my father wrote
“Settle down.” On the American Midwest from 1979 to the present, I wrote
“Gather you marginals, Mr. Specific. The end is nigh.

I wish all difficult poems were profound.
Honk if you wish all difficult poems were profound.

What surprises about this poem, and the other lecture-poems in the collection, is that despite their intelligent and trenchant gloss of post-structuralist thought, they are not very difficult; they are remarkably transparent, and terms like “decentered” and “modernity,” are used to clarify not obfuscate. The poems are profound, often, but rarely difficult. The difficulty of the poems occurs as a result of global not local effects. at the junctures between poems and sometimes, rarely, at the level of semantics, but the language of each poem is remarkably lucid and pithy. This is perhaps as much an asset as it is a liability. Lerner is truly adroit with parataxis, allowing him to create remarkable juxtapositions, and the poems’ clarity is often a function of its syntax. But by the end of the book, I begin to long for some hypotactic sentences, some verbal waters more deeply troubled and ruffled by rhythm, linebreak, music and syntax. I start to suspect that things have been made a bit too easy by this remarkable mind. Indeed, because of the poems’ ease of reading, their casual facility with language, they may not have the staying power that they could. I start to wonder if, like the controlling metaphor of the book—geometric figures that appear on, and quickly fade from, the skin of someone struck by lightning—these poems’ bedizening effects may be precisely what keeps them from completely taking root. Certainly not a flash in the pan, but also not a book demands and insists upon immediate rereading. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful debut, one of the best first books I’ve read in a long time, and from what I’ve seen in the journals, Lerner’s subsequent collections promise to improve upon and extend his achievements here. A poet to watch.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ben Lerner's The Lichtenberg Figures is good. So is Orhan Pamuk's Snow. I hope to have the time to talk about both this weekend.

Internal Memo

for Josh

It was an extraordinary rendition. The Secretary of [blank] seemed almost convincing, for a moment. We were playing extras in the ordinary, in front of our screens. No lines, of course. The tortured man looked like a tortured man; he made the extraordinary muffled sounds of a man being tortured; of information, under violence and the threat of violence, rendered from the tensed body as fat might be rendered from a chunk of salt-pork, from the Latin reddĕre, to give back, render meaning in its first sense to relay or recount but eventually, also, to surrender or turn over. Because to say is to submit; to say is to turn what you mean over to the authorities for processing; because the word rendition in the mouth of a U.S. attorney is murder to what it should or might have meant to a storyteller in the 12th century at the tattered edge of one empire or another and with something to remind us about ourselves. There is nothing extraordinary about this. It is part of the order of things. Order meaning rank, hierarchy, row, class, category, social grouping, taxonomy of living things, style of architecture, laws governing the universe, method, sequence, succession, harmonious arrangement, respect thereof, referring originally to the fertile, feverishly proliferating phyla of angels which eventually, in their disorderly congresses, threatened to outnumber men by three-to-one—order cognate perhaps with ōrdō, “a thread on the loom.” From what I can gather, these angels were like extras in the ordinary, in front of their screens. No lines, of course. They thronged in the middle dark of the dungeon, their ductile bodies woven together in a gorgeous, orderly and yet largely invisible tapestry, lending an air of reality to the rendition of a tortured man played, in point of fact, by a tortured man. We were not sure if the torturer’s ordinary instruments were arranged in any kind of order: the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, the Headman’s Sword, The Judas Cradle, Vaginal Pear, Pillory, Thumbscrews, the Headcrusher, Saint Elmo’s Belt, The Heretic’s Fork, Scold’s Bridle, Cat’s Paw. Elsewhere, Crusaders crashed into a Jerusalem in ruins a thousand years.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I had hoped, in surveying my weekend from the vantage of the work week, to post a bit more than I have, but Anna is really ill and I'm moderately ill and Noah, unfortunately, is as energetic as ever.

Despite all of the acrimony about and around and within Foetry, I've put A Moving Grove through a substantial revision, and I no longer have two manuscripts-in-progress, having used up all of my good new work that doesn't belong to the Los Angeles poem to bolster the sagging ramparts of the old ms. There are now only a handful of poems in there from my grad. school days. Amazing to be throwing out work I used to lead with, and a bit sad, but the poems no longer fit. I feel so mature, so clear-eyed, willing to sacrifice my own babies at the altar of artistic accomplishment! It even almost appears that I believe in the ordering of poems in a manuscript, in (dare I say!) architecture, that it means something, or at the very least tells a story about meaning something. National Poetry Series and Sarabande deadlines on Tuesday, for all of you who, like me, often miss deadlines.

I suppose that the thought that these prizes might be conducted without the most rigorous of scruples does, on occasion, give me pause. But there's a downside to scruples: if the contest is totally fair, then I am left with the equally unsavory possibility that my book just wasn't good. In the end, too, excellent work keeps on getting published, and no-one is really lining their pockets here. Jorie Graham, hyperbolic as her blurbs are, has picked some truly wonderful manuscripts over the years. It may be the case that she truly thought these were the best picks, since they were very strong books. I'm thinking particularly of Madonna Anno Domini and Debt. Plus, poetry books have to get published somehow, and I feel it's my duty to contribute to that endeavor--by buying poetry and, yes, with contest fees. I can fantasize about a country where the goverment kicked down more money for the arts, but with so many programs getting cut, I think I'd rather see kids get afterschool programs first.

See, I managed to write more than a few sentences and not say anything substantive!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Etymological Excursion

It is not enough to cover the rock with leaves.
We must be cured of it by a cure of the ground
Or a cure of ourselves, that is equal to a cure

Of the ground, a cure beyond forgetfulness. . . .
-“The Rock” Wallace Stevens

Yesterday’s word was freedom. Today’s word is security. We Americans feel insecure. Thus, we need more security—homeland security, national security, social security, the training of Iraqi security forces. Secure is the position of a rifle or musket held so that it will not accidentally fire. From the Latin cūra, meaning care, so that to be secure is to be without (se-) care. I am lucky, mostly, but I do not feel secure. I have insecurities even though I have daycare for my son, healthcare for myself and for my family, people who care about me and send care packages occasionally. Most people are without care, and many do not care nor do they feel secure. It is possible that if you do not care, if you are without care, then you will not feel secure. Private social security accounts are not secure; they are subject to fluctuations in the securities market. Many of our elderly people are not properly cared for. They are put in a place where people who are paid to care, paid very little usually, do not or cannot care for them. It hurts us, but we can only care so much. To care too much is to be codependent, to have improper boundaries, to not properly secure oneself against the impingements of other cares. I’m not sure if there if there is a cure for this. But the words sure and cure are, I’m sure, related to the words security and care. Are you sure you care? Can you secure care against the future? Will there be a cure for insecurity? Can you be sure?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Via Positiva

The good will and generous open-mindedness of most poetry bloggers never ceases to inspire, especially in a profession where bitter grudges seem the inevitable result of what most of us find in the mail--big no's and little no's and the occasional yes. But affirmation and praise is its own kind of indirect negativity, isn't it? By valuing certain poems and poets, by elucidating their accomplishments, there is, I think, usually an implicit criticism of other writing that is not chosen, that didn't come to Josh's mind as he came up with his bag of groodies. To keep from drowning in the rising tide of poems and poets, with such a great deal of it not worth reading, I need someone to make a case for what I might enjoy or love. Slamming bad poetry is a losing battle; the factories of mediocrity will just keep churning out more of it. I'm for the Whitmanic promulge.

Ne'ertheless, Greg wants to see if it's possible for someone to demonstrate why a particular pomo (I almost wrote porno) poem is bad; to see if we're not just PR for our friends and the editors at magazines we want to publish us.

I've picked the following poem because it comes in a book which contains many poems I do like, a book by a press (California) whose editorial policies strike me as both wide-ranging and high-quality (they've rejected me twice). But this particular poem, "Ferdinand, the Prize," from Brian Blanchfield's mostly delightful Not Even Then displays the irksome, and familiar, fault of framing fragmentary and incoherent philosophical musings, replete with pomo jargon, by referencing one or another trendy philosopher--in this case Louis Althusser. The poem has a fairly interesting literal subject, a stud bull whose sperm is worth "two hundred dollars" an ounce. But Blanchfield, perhaps attempting to mime/mine these precious ejaculations, mummifies his subject in uninteresting prefab language and thought:

Coming so far, always-already Ferdinand, to a so-be-it. . .

It seems smaller and less just, what I said, not amen,
said for entertainment, really, hearing that it got back to you:
the inconceivability of our ever having been together rivals
the mechanical bull or some such remote craze. Look at me, love. . .

For my money, "always-already," used without irony, is as bad as deer in headlights. And despite its protestations to the contrary, what this poem lacks is entertainment value, at the same time as it struts its specious language and says look, look at me. Mechanical bullshit is a good descriptor for this kind of stuff. Although there's juiciness and jouissance in the syntactical slippages, this poem expects from me a certain work it doesn't compel; it wants me to interpret it in light of the weighty epigraph from Althusser, hoping that I'll do the work of thinking for it, or let the Althusserian police-voice interpellate such an interpretation. I'd prefer more amen, and less always-already. Enough, people, with the always-already, already.

Certainly there's a place for such ideas in poetry; I'm as excited by Continental philosophy as the next person with a decent liberal-arts education, an M.F.A. and a print addiction: I've built poems around kernels from Wittgenstein, Lacan, Derrida, Arendt, et. al. To my mind, though, such ideas are best when they've been digested, when they offer up something to those who haven't read in whatever book you have. That way, those who have read whomever can have fun in the bonus round, but the rest of your readers aren't left out in the cold. I don't mind working hard at my reading; it's getting exploited I don't like. Compare the above to the following gorgeous poem from the same book, "If the Blank Outcome in Dominoes Adds a Seventh Side to Dice":

A system builds around a refusal of system. Adrift
in flagless sabotage, ahead the fleet prolepsis in arrears,
I went with luck and I went without and to go is to give a
a leave. My dowry is narrow as a strait, as collapsed and
goodness gushing a get up more sophisticated.

While "prolepsis" is perhaps a bit too lit. crit. for my taste, the poem is poignant and fun, and the reverberation of the witty title, the bouncing dice of the lines, provides a joy the other poem lacked. This one doesn't assume a subordinate role to whatever philosophical system it's employing: it is the philosophy; is the "mind in the act of finding what suffices" (which itself suffices), as opposed to a philosophical carpet-bombing strategy which hopes that some poignancy will emerge from the desultorily destroyed palaces of an exalted way of speaking.

Anyway, I hope this provides a partial satisfaction of Greg's desires. I'm still for a 90/10 split on the ratio of good books blogging to bad books blogging. There's so little time and more stuff worth reading every day. Promulge, promulge.