Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bling-Bling, Darling!

My review of Lara Glenum's The Hounds of No and Gabriel Gudding's A Defense of Poetry is up at Jacket 29.

Which means that I value many of the same poets/poetries (the poetries of inelegance, affront, etc.) that Gorranson does. But how am I supposed to take seriously a blog post that calls Berryman monoglossic? Maybe only one or two other poets of that generation that achieve the same kind of schizic polyvocality. And who is less afraid to "needle, wheedle, singe, disarm and scarify the reader" as Adrienne Rich, in one of my all-time favorite blurbs, has it?

Like Silliman, I sense in this post a tendency to read poetry as a mere product of its genealogy, criticism then becomes the kind of name-dropping game that New Criticism came into being to stop, by directing our attention to the pleasures and possibilties of poetic surface. In this, Silliman and Gorannson join hands (surprise!) with Harold Bloom: "the meaning of a poem is another poem." Certainly, there are poets who trade, complacently, upon the aura of sophistication/radicality (like Jane's LeRoy readers/gentrifiers who want the aura of edginess that comes from moving into the Mission or Echo Park or Fort Greene) that prior language-experiments bring to their poems. I'm not sure how one establishes one's anti-hierarchical stance, and I worry that the implication of Gorannson's post would reduce a poem to 1) who publishes it 2) some statement akin to "I may seem like the the man, but really, I'm not darling. I care." There are other ways, but form (in the widest sense of the terms) is the best way to do this. As Glenum and McSweeney demonstrate in their own poems.

When we get down to it, I think Kasey provides a really excellent marker: sensibility. There is powerful poetry that is elegant or skillful. If you don't like early Merrill or all of Marianne Moore, fine. I do. But there isn't really much powerful poetry that is bored/boring or complacent or self-satisfied.

Let's remember this: Repugnant people, and pugnacious cultures, can produce great art. Repugnant art, I think, rarely makes great people.


Johannes said...


That was a very interesting review of Lara's work, I appreciated it quite a bit.

My elegance entry was perhaps a bit of a strawman , a heaping together of writers, and the analysis probably fit some authors better than others. This is probably a dubious enterprise (for the same reason you mention briefly a few weeks ago - the problems of conflict thinking). It came out of a dissatisfaction with the quietude label, but probably dubious all the same.

I was partially trying to answer the argument that there are two kinds of poetry and Action Books claiming to have its own agenda is foolish when it's just like Verse magazine. with which I feel very little connection. and that's what got me started.

As for Berryman being monoglossic, in some ways he's obviously not ( in that he's playing with voices). But I think that he is monoglossic the way Eliot is when he uses foreign languages and various voices in The Waste Land. It never strikes me that they are interested in breaking out of their poetry tower, they don't want to open up poetry, they want to allow masks and blackface but only as long as we are aware that it's within the command of the poetic center.

I think Bakhtin's writings leave these distinctions fairly open. At times he seems to say that allowing other language into the writing makes the novel heteroglossic, but other times he says that there's more to it than that, that it's about relinquishing a kind of centralizing authority.

To me Berryman seldom does that. Speaking at the crazy girl (or whatever she's called), he does a masterful job of creating a kind of curious grammar for the girl, but the masterful bending of the grammar seems to cover up the craziness. The nutiness is contained within an elegant flexibility.

This is similar to whenever I open a contemporary poetry journal there seems to be surrealist images but it's always with a nudge-nudge wink-wink.

It may seem that I'm turning the idea of a heteroglossic poety into a pipe dream. A lot of my ideas about this comes from reading and thinking deeply for years about Aase Berg's work, poetry that moves between language (not just Swedish/ENglish but also "poetry" and horror movies etc) in a way that seems fundamentally anti-hierarchical in a way Berryman's does not.

Something that made me think about this was reading Deleuze and Guattari's books, particularly the little Kafka book (whatever major problems it may contain pertaining to "animals" etc).

Of course I don't want to turn this into a black-and-white issue: either you are or you aren't. Like I said, that's a problem with the kind of us vs them entry I wrote.

And also this may come from having read and heard some of Berryman's views.

I have probably overrun the limits of a comment field post, but I will return to the issue when I have time on my blog because you raise a good question (and more specific than things I tend to put on my blog).


UCOP Killer said...


Everything you say is fair and understandable, even if I think that, at the same time as I acknowledge Berryman's somewhat narrow conception of poetry and poetic history, his influence by the forces of his time, I also think that his poetry is often smarter/ more open-minded than he is--and capable of escaping his own considerable erudition and mastery. There are moments in the Dreams Songs that are completely uncontrolled, bizarre, the madman-raving, non-sensical, ludicrous, goofy and that certainly do go too far. At the same time that there are moments that there are moments that are pretentious, self-satisfied, smug or merely clever. I like that mixture; it strikes me as somehow, fundamentally, human. He certainly doesn't care whether or not anyone likes him. The same goes for moments in Hart Crane's The Bridge. But this makes our disagreement one of degrees. He's obviously been, and remains, very important to me. And, because I think he's really underrated by the people who are intelligent and receptive enough to get him--i.e people in the avant-garde or post-avant or experimental poetry world--I get sensitive about him.

I'm glad you liked the review. Glenum's book is truly fantastic, and I look forward to reading your translations of Aase Berg.

Be well .