Wednesday, June 29, 2005

But on the other hand, I make the best BBQ flag this side of the Mississippi.

I'm Rubber, You're Glue

"The troops here . . . murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that . . . despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression, by toppling governments."

This is too easy, I know. How perfect that he delivers this feeble demagoguery from Fort Bragg, he with his swagger and confidence-man braggadocio? An empty joy, this.

Or magnificence is what best measures the distance between that garden and this one. Art's not a factory for pain, but pain's a factor in art.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Jane's comments of last week are a fitting and astute coda to the Foetry affair, and aside from this brief remark, hopefully the last we'll hear of it. I should note, though, that one of the upshots of the fallout from Foetry is a greater transparency on the part of contest administrators, if also a somewhat paranoid eagerness to assuage the wounded egos of the rejected, as if at any moment an Alan Cordle might go all librarian on their ass. Many of the contests to which I've submitted in the last year have provided not only detailed descriptions of their operations--how first readers are selected, how finalists are judged--but also narratives by the judges and editors and/or their own impression of the field. Earlier in the year, for instance, Michael Wiegers sent a five-page e-mail describing at great lengths the merits, as he saw them, of the finalists for the Hayden Carruth award, and quoting representative passages. If I wasn't surprised that his aesthetic and mine differ in more places than they overlap, I was also happy to know exactly where we stand. I also thought it was a charitable act to those unfortunates who came close, but not close enough. It's preferable, in many senses, to not even place for these contests. More recently, Sarabande's editors have sent a list and explanation of the five qualities--Transfomation, Ratio, Submission, Obsession, and Power to Silence--that they look for in a good manuscript. Although I can think of a couple books that I've enjoyed from Sarabande, particularly Deborah Tall's Summons, these seem exceptions to Sarabande's staid and unthreatening position, with its inistence on the principles of proportionality, moderation, and passivity on the part of both reader and writer. Most troubling, I suppose, is their praise of a poem's "power to silence," which I must admit certainly lends credence to some of Silliman's often annoying remarks about "quietude." It's worth quoting in full.

"It's been remarked that the first reacction to powerful art is silene. Bad art on the other hand tends to evoke a flood of language. Easy and fun: to pan. Hard to praise. It's a bad sign when we're halfway through a poem and the voices in our heads have already begun to comment. What's missing most of the time is the intrigue of the unfamiliar. A good poem leads you to a place you didn't know existed. It is like disovering a hidden room in a house where you lived for many years. When the poet shows you the hidden room it may be dark and forbidding, or airy and awash with sun, furnished like a room in your dreams. You look for a long time at the objects there, which are familiar and strange at once. How can we not have known, all these years? It is the wonder at finding suh a room, where previously there was none, that takes away speech."

What we have an image of here is the sublime without the requisite threat, cruelty or indifference, a sublime which only confirms what had long been familiar but unarticulated. The silencing power of this art isn't that of the awe-inspiring, or the stupefyingly difficult. For that kind of work, although it might eventually silence, first must engage the reader, wear her out. This kind of silence sounds to me like boredom, or death, or at the very least an unvarying repetition of recollected emotions. I do want poetry to generate voices in my head, not commentary as much as a kind of parapoetry. I'm not sure how you can have an experience of the unfamiliar in the midst of general brain-death. It sounds like poetry as T.V., and I'd rather just watch T.V.

But, disagree as I might, I'm glad the editors have taken the time to set down these aesthetic musings. Differ though we may, this doesn't mean, necessarily, that I won't apply to the contest again. The winner of the prize this year, Matthew Lippman, has written some poems I recall enjoying, and I'm happy to have underwritten the expense of publishing his book, even if there were indubitably manuscripts from the pool of entries that I'd rather read.. This wouldn't be the first time that the right book was picked for the wrong reasons. Because I'm fortunate enough to be employed right now, twenty-five dollars is a small amount to contribute to all but the most egregiously wrong-headed of publishers.


Probably nothing will come of this but the hypocritical posturing of administration figures complemented by the cravenness of the press, but it's still encouraging. It's for the sake of cases like this that I sometimes fantasize about going to law school.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

See you at the show? I'll be the one running interference for a garrulous toddler.

As I've been thinking, given a push by Deleuze, that Michael Jackson might be what we all really look like or are deep down, if there were a deep down, the diabolical result of the declaration of universal human rights which no-one really respects, neuter tupperware product of the we're-all-the-same machine which means we're all equally worthless, little neverlands occasionally allowed to rock out and moonwalk and crotch-grab in our own music video, in which case it might be a good time to express my demolisment at the hands of and admiration for Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, which reminds me that documentation of a life survived need not locomote along the tired rails of heroism and recuperation. It's a pure past, the past that was always past. I mean, I didn't feel manipulated, only burned and in that fire asked to consider the value and consequence of putting oneself in the third person, of bearing up under the dissociative disorder which washes events of all localizing emotion except a dim, diffused love in whose wake a brilliantly edited montage of super-8 footage, polaroids and post-disco effects dances on the pin of a head. Because, even if we let the 'eighties and 'nineties narrate for us, it's still important to have been allowed to be a person sometimes, on the beach perhaps. Like Frank O'Hara! Part of this has to do with the fact that I'm an imbecile of memory, that I remember little of my life before, say, twenty-eight and what I do remember seems horribly overprocessed, totally fucked by a Byzantine network of footnotes and false leads and a few scraps of grainy security-monitor footage. I read Proust with an pained nostalgia empty of all reference, wary of Orphic neck-injuries. Not gone? Just walled off by a moat and a rusty drawbridge? But "I do" "remember" days when the shifting points-of-view of internal dialogue were a monstrous thermometer: I and I, they and me, you and I, we and you. We was the worst.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

An unfortunate title, I know, but I'll be here (on the Canadian border, right next to the Manhattan Bridge) on Friday night. I promise full refunds for those dissatisfied with Daniel Subkoff's "things."

Monday, June 20, 2005

An iPod for Father's day? I take back everything I ever said about a conspiracy by the Organization of Tie Manufacturers. I'll parent so much more effectively listening to The Butthole Surfers cover Variations on a Theme by Paganini (kidding).

Noah's guitar-obsession is beginning to outpace the fire-engine thing and, in other music news, I've learned through blogolandia that J. Clover beat me to the punch by using The Mountain Goats' title "The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton." Figures. Could you find a more obvious title for a poem than that?

Looks like my furrowed brow's holding up my pants again.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Following up on yesterday's post . . . .Yau does a wonderful job of contending with the meta-reviewer's claims that Ashbery isn't really all that exciting as a prose writer. I must admit to having felt the same myself, even as much as reading Ashb.'s poems can make it difficult for me think of him as belonging to the same species as me. A few of the pieces in Selected Prose do have a workmanly quality or exude the odor of loveless labor. But there are other pieces--on Stein, on Roussel, on Mapplethorpe--that are as good reviews come. When Ashbery's on, he shies away almost completely from evaluation or comparison, and instead pursues his difficult, personal and ambivalent perceptions onto a far promontory (premonitory?) from which I can consider, say, Mapplethorpe, and by extension, art and writing in general. Perhaps because he shies away from intense, singular affect I might initially get the impression of the ho-hum. But if I read on, I'll find myself somewhere strangely familiar and yet also strangely unmapped. He's a great model, for me, of what a review can and should do. Also: the bidirectional interview between Ashbery and Koch is one of funniest, most vertiginous moveable feasts I've ever encountered. What a perfect portrait of two minds germane enough to weather confict, irony and multiple levels of play and teasing! It reminds me, as I'm sure it reminds others, of those best conversations with good friends, those late nights of talk and wit the residue of which is just plain old poetry.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The blogs are abuzz with thoughts on the status of poetry reviewing, kicked off by a longer-than-usual-post by our friend P0-bot: (here, here, here, here). John Yau's article on Ashbery as reviewer, in the May/June APR, and on reviewing culture in the artworld, might provide a useful perspective, and some sort of explanation for the place where we are. If Ashbery's influence is as massive as we all suspect it to be, and his definition of great art is that which makes exposition or explanation of it unnecessary--and troubles even the articulation of appreciation-- where does that leave all of us with advanced degrees and precise vocabularies and sagging bookshelves? We're then in a situation where, yes, we want to be told what we might enjoy but also want to be entertained during the process. The thesis-driven review--which notes a tendency among several different books--is a good thing, and often makes for an edifying read, but I suspect that a great deal of the most interesting poetry will fail to conform to this model. Books like this often ask for another kind of writing largely confined to academic journals, even if these distinctions aren't hard and fast. All of this is why--per Tim Yu's comments--I read blogs. I don't agree with Tim, though, that a large reviewing concern need be committed to one particular side of the poetry-wars or another--as is the case with Boston Review and Poetry. The virtue of the Constant Critic site, and other journals or sites that feature regular reviewers, is that you come to get a sense for a particular reviewer's tastes/agenda--Jordan or Joyelle McSweeney or Stephen Burt or Calvin Bedient--as much as you do a particular magazine's. I don't see any reason why we couldn't have a clearing house for these individuals and, then, wildcards like myself thrown in for good measure. Would it be a solution to segregate the zing-zing from the bling-bling and thesis-y? I would call it The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

And I should add, re Fourier Series, and as a result of my swithchbacking through the pages of Kierkegaard, that bravery isn't the same as fearlessness. You have to be afraid to be brave.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Since Josh and Jordan are making nice, I thought now as good a time as any to quickly remark on what a compelling, and yes smart, but more importantly, brave book Fourier Series is. It's a poem that's afraid of neither its ambitions for poetry and theory and human thoughtwork, nor its Whitmanic utopian hopefulness for the promises inherent in the American west. Even LA, even Vegas! And this is precisely why the book is good. Now I don't want to make it seem like Josh has wandered into a Haight-Ashbury wormhole--there's as much critical energy here as there is posited utopian vision, as much Hunter S. Thompson as there is Ronald Johnson or Hart Crane. But there's a certain fearlessness here about American history--read: slavery, genocide, war, etc.--that I suspect will strike some as a violation of poetic table etiquette. He's just not melancholy enough:

you shouldn't doubt
my sincerity

I speak for the mukluked tribe
who found this iceplanet's
rich invitations

engraved on the skin
of white whales

Is he allowed to say that? Isn't he from the suburbs of Jersey, like Jewish or something? And to call himself "sincere" at the same time, instead of distancing himself with a joke or something, as if the humorous word "mukluk" were some kind of apology? The nerve! Yes, the nerve, the one that, perhaps more poets should strike, whether we like it or not. It's good to see a poet as unafraid of identity politics as he is, and it's good also to see someone as unafraid of Modernism with all its fascist minefields, someone who offers not only critique but also something to come after the critique, even if it's a tentative, provisional, and ultimately indeterminate vision (phew!). I guess what I mean is--he's not afraid of the future. And he does all this in the context of language-play, and an insistence on the immanent, erotic pleasures both within and without the poem. Occasionally, these moments of play, of punning, of silliness that are the seriousness of the poem, do fall flat, but that's all of a piece with the poem's overall bravery.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Good Totalities, Good Subjectivities

This from Josh: "Yet I'm coming to feel that sheer indeterminacy, the infinite play of the signifier, and the postmodern sublime have also exhausted themselves. I am searching and searching right now, through all this philosophy and in my own writing, for what might follow the negative—for the recovery of subjectivity—for the ends of elegy."

Yes, yes indeed, and I'd add that, along with the recovery of subjectivity comes the recovery of totality, too, and the beginning of the end, perhaps, of the sometimes merely reflexive disjunction that characterizes so much postmodern poetry, a point that Christopher Nealon makes in his essay "Camp Messianism . . ." (American Literature, available from Project Muse). We might be able to distinguish between good and bad totality, as Adorno does, or distinguish between liberated subjectivity and a merely fragmented subjectivity. Fragmentation is a part of the violence of our age, too. And it ain't always good, as the layout of the more and more New Jersified Town of Ithaca reminds me.

But enough intellectualism for today. I'm going to go read James--"a mind so fine. . . no mere idea can penetrate it." (Eliot).


Does anyone else have the experience of enjoying the latter half of a book more than the first? This seems to happen to me all the time, and I must confess I'm a bit mystified as to the cause. Often, I'll feel lukewarm about the first ten pages of a book--and then, gradually, through persevering, come to realize that I'm in the middle of a genuine-like poetic experience. This happened to me most recently with Susan Wheeler's Ledger. In the first section, I was thinking, OK, intriguingly involuted descriptive language, a pretty palette, but so? and why so much weight on the money metaphor? But by the end of the book, after the first few longer, and more disjunctive or experimental, pieces, I was in awe, I was ready to sell things for a bit of whatever currency the book was printed on or with. I was ready to write my name in red ink on its back page as I watched the money metaphor metastasize (and alliterate), colonizing every last bit of interpersonal space. The book's slamming.

Now, I might chalk up this experience--let's call it front-boredom--to the need to learn a particular poet's language, except that on rereading the initial poems, it's often the case that I still don't really care for them. This mystifies me because, when showing my manuscripts to others, I'm often told to front-load the book as much as possible, put the best poems first, since I can rearrange the manuscript later if it gets taken. Now, certainly with an established poet there isn't as much need to grab a first reader, and so avoid the gong, but this happens with first books, too. Are these poets forsaking the practice of front-loading? Are they committed to a genetic or developmental narrative, wherein the final poems demonstrate a fuller command of or flexibility within their material? Are people doing what is often the case with 19th-century novels, where the writer throws all her resources into the task of boring you to death in the first 100 pages, so as to scare away the unworthy and make the consequent rewards all the more pleasurable. Is this about me? Do I just have bad taste respective to the taste of the poets I like?

It's because of this experience that I sometimes must force myself to read collections cover to cover, rather than skipping around after the first few poems and searching for something I like. If I do that, I might bounce around in a book for years without surveying its pleasures. Should I start reading the last five pages, then the first five, first?

Speaking of beginnings, I watched the premiere of the new season of Six Feet Under last night, and found it a bit of a mess, a bit tired, and despite all the fine writing, less successful at warding off the melodrama that the fantastic acting always flirts with and yet usually escapes. It's probably a good thing that the show's been cancelled; I want to see these actors get the challenging movie roles they deserve. Especially Lauren Ambrose; the girl's brilliant, and getting sexier and sexier.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

New Issue of MiPo

The latest product of Didi Menendez's ever-expanding internet poetry emporium, the Gabe Gudding issue of MiPoesias, is now available. Please do check out the stupefying cabinet of wonders that Gabe and Didi have assembled here--from the post-punk abjection of Lara Glenum to the crystalline intensities of Rae Armantrout, from the informatic bricolage of Kasey Mohammed to the post-industrial rough sleep of Christian Bok, from my genius friend Karl Parker to my genius friend Josh Corey. Until my copy of The Hat arrives, this will do for reading.

You can read an interview with me here, and a couple of poems here.

Monday, June 06, 2005

This just in: I highly recommend the new White Stripes album, Get Behind Me Satan. I've found their earlier albums to bore after repeated listening but this one promises future rewards. Marimba via Detroit and Led Zeppelin! May this be an auspicious omen for the Pistons game tonight!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Deep Throat is Felt.