Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vote No to Proposition Future

One problem I have with a lot of poetry is its obsession with futurity.

The Buffalo crowd write books and books about themselves to assure their future ascent. Ron Silliman is obsessed with canonizing and hierarchizing, but most of all he's interested in the future and in establishing what has been outdated.

But the Buffalo-ists are not the only ones concerned with the future.

In the most recent Writer's Chronicle (which as you may have noticed I read without fail), CK Williams criticizes language poetry by falling back on the time paradigm: "... their perception of the tradition was prematurely determined by their passion for recognition and novelty. I don't like to speak badly of anyone but I can't bring to mind a single poem by any of the core group of language poets that's stayed with me more than five minutes after I read it."

The interviewer then quotes Dana Levin attacking "younger poets since the late 1990s" for writing poetry that "offers much to delight the eye and tease the palate" but "such books promise sensational tastes athat in the end amount to light confections" because "lingual beauty doesn't linger long after turning the page." Also we have misread Pound's "Make it new" as an excuse for our terrible poetry.

Two different scales when it comes the futurity, but in all cases based on the future. Both models use this futurity to critique the frivolous (soft surrealism or "light confections"), which they both associate with mass culture. I am soft and frivolous.

I'm not interested in the future. Not five minutes or five decades.

Maximum asked me why I don't want want to set up shop. I am not interested in poetry that aims to establish an ideal community. Not interested in poetry that may stabilize or fix the social order, the symbolic order.

More and more, I am interested in being corrupted.

I am more and more interested in automutilation.


Blogger Ron said...

You're in the right town

1:20 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I have ranted about this a few times. Although I'm perhaps not so interested in "automutilation", and more interested in trying to "be in the moment" or whatever gangly way you want to say that, but automutilation sounds far more interesting than circumscribing yourself for the benefit of nonexistent (never existent, always yet-to-come!) future people.

Future people are assholes. They never write, never pop in and say hi. Never tell you which stocks to invest in, even.

Also, I like the word "Buffalonian". It is fun to say.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

The posturing we always have with us.

What makes it into the future, what I want to carry with me anyway, does a *lot* to slash for me right now every time no matter how many times that is.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Poetry isn't about poetry to "Future People": it's about *being* a poet. It's the fetishism of the title and not about an interest in language and the power of it. It's this Romantic is of the life as a poet, something, you, Johannes, used to make fun of me for back in the UGA days. I'm not saying this about anyone specifically, I should say.

I do think though, JoGo, that perhaps we're dealing with an age issue. You don't know how you'll feel in your 50s and 60s about the work you've done- feeling like perhaps your best days are behind you and trying to take stock of what you've done. Can you blame Futurists that are attempting to preserve something they've had to idealize? Well, maybe we can blame them, I dunno.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I think that any argument, on any level, of the efficacy or inefficacy (or whatever else) of a theory, style, movement, book, poem, word, etc, etc, etc constitutes, implicitly, a thought of the future, of what should or shouldn't or can or can't or will or won't or does or doesn't persist, if only for a moment.

Even to resist it as an overt urge or tendency is to take part in it.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Just to clarify:

I'm not sure that "automutilation" can ever get rid of the urge to put our fingers on the future. We can say as much as we like that we "don't care," but it's like the equivalent of the hipster leaning on the wall in the bar pretending he "doesn't care" about the music being played by the traveling band (who, similarly, "don't care" if anybody in the bar likes their music or not).

11:46 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Also, Johannes ... in response to "futurity" as a critique of the "frivolous," you declare that you are "soft and frivolous." Quite often you seem interested in taking a reactionary pose, but I was wondering why you think the reactionary pose is of value here. Why, in other words, does the use of futurity as a critique of the frivolous necessarily require you take a stance as soft and frivolous?

I think perhaps what's most alarming here is that your stance is only possible because of "futurity," and as a result your reaction merely ensconces "futurity" as a thing of value.

At the end of the day, I think the reactionary position--whatever that position happens to be at a given time--is far more troublesome than "futurity." In a world where those who see black instantly declare themselves white (and vice versa), there are still only two colors in the rainbow. I've said it before ... but why not slant left and go somewhere else? Why take up "futurity" on its own terms? Why not change the subject?

6:02 AM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I may just be saying the obvious here, but Lee Edelman's book from several years ago, No Future, led to widespread discussion around this issue and related others. Some of the chapters are a little unnecessarily long-winded, but it's still very provocative.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I've read the Edelman and it makes many good points (thought I don't agree with all of it).

Max, the reason for denouncing futurity is right there. Just as my reasons for advocating "softness" is in the manifesto below.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Rauan Klassnik said...

Orwell claimed that most people enjoy Shakespeare so much not for the ideas, drama, etc-- but for the language,....

that being said there's much poetry today that's kind of like black and fireworks... not only is not memorable,... it's not really worth experiencing much either,...

and for whatever it's worth i admire and envy the current fire in Johannes

2:13 PM  
Blogger Max said...

i'm going to vote 'no' on this proposition, but not because i agree with johannes. rather, it is because i disagree that such propositions should be allowed in the first place.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

"There's much poetry today that's..." sure but not nearly as much as there are vague statements like "there's much poetry today that's..."

7:56 AM  
Blogger William Keckler said...

"One problem I have with a lot of poetry is its obsession with futurity.

The Buffalo crowd write books and books about themselves to assure their future ascent. Ron Silliman is obsessed with canonizing and hierarchizing, but most of all he's interested in the future and in establishing what has been outdated."

I can't fault any author for being professional in promoting his or her work...the model of community you see in that group of writers is impressive to me. And it's lasted for decades. There seems to be genuine friendship and respect, and if they write books about others in their community, it's probably because they respect the work and find that work rewarding to experience. They want to share the work with the future simply because people (presumably) live there.

I don't agree, however, with the idea that this will "assure their future ascent."

Either the future will want the work, or it will not.

From what we see looking backwards, the future seems to need only a few from the past.

How many poets from the seventeenth century or the sixteenth century did any of us read today (teaching them doesn't count lol).

And how come nobody gets mad at dead schools of poetry.

Because it's flogging a dead lemur.

I think we should just look at the living the way we look at the dead.

They're less threatening that way.

The hierarchy thing would bother me if anyone were able to get their version of the hierarchy elected President for Life. But nobody can nor ever will. The shit throwing contest is amusing to watch, but eventually all the monkeys die on both sides of the fence and then they take the fence away and build a Climbnasium there.

The C.K. Wright comment was funny. I can remember hundreds of lines, if not a thousand or so lines from these poets. That's all about temperament. If you like what you're reading you're going to savor it more, and you're probably going to reread it. If you think it's junk mail and you throw it in the wastebasket directly, should we be surprised you didn't remember any of it? The memory test as presented there is just dumb.

I've enjoyed some of Wright's poetry, and felt some was successful. But as with all poets, the good or great poems in the body of the work are the exceptions. When Wright's poetry fails, it fails for different reasons than say a language poet's poems might fail. Wright might get slack and let his lines turn into merely function prose to move a poem towards some stanza with eclat. A language poet might push language towards opacity to a degree that the reading experience is just dead vocables. Some people are taken down by the heart, some by the liver, etc...

I think there is such a thing as generosity of the intellect as well as of the spirit.

I am speaking to reading strategies here.

It seems, however, to be a preciously rare commodity in literary criticism.

I suspect much of this is "quid pro quo" revengefucking.

Everyone was a pissed off kid poet once.

Some like the clothing statement so much they want to be buried in it.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I think you confuse the constant churning out of scholarly books and papers on the same poets using the same tired frameworks for the language poets as a community of writers. It's the difference between writers developing interesting strategies in the 1970s and an institution churning out books that repeat those strategies ad nauseum. I don't blame them; I just think it's tired.

Of course it's not true of everyone associated with Buffalo. Just as it isn't true of everyone who goes through Iowa that they follow their model. (Both schools tend to hire former students and that suggests something about their insularities).


8:32 AM  
Blogger Chris said...


What's the difference between "a community" and "a group of people who do the same things with one another again and again"?

8:36 AM  

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