Sunday, March 22, 2009

Blatny, Greatness

Of course I believe in Greatness, just not Greatness defined as a formal model, according to which other things are judged.

I was just re-reading UDP's Ivan Blatny book, The Drug of Art, today, and it's certainly one of the greatest books I know (in translation too! By Veronika Tuckerova and Anna Moschovakis). If you don't have this book, go immediately to SPD Books and order yourself a copy and a copy for a friend.

Here's a poem:


So restoration is not spelled au
I spelled it so thinking of the czech word restaurace
to restore
and go with a lady to the Room
like a unicorn in the mirror
all naked in the mirrors
so that I could see the blood trickling.


Blogger Brian said...

I particularly like how they handled the multi-lingual poems, which must have presented them with a dilemma.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Joseph Hutchison said...

I have to say I wouldn't buy this one based on this poem. The first 3 lines have nothing to do with the rest of the poem, which themselves are full of gestures toward meaning that float by like soap bubbles. "Room" capped. Why? "Like a unicorn"—who: the speaker or the lady? "All" naked? (Speaker, lady and unicorn?) And suddenly there are multiple mirrors, for no discernible reason. And of course the de rigueur blood, provided perhaps to suggest that there are important human issues at stake in the poem, but the blood trickles from no one to nowhere. These gestures strike me as avant-garde tics, and all (of course) connected to a "misspelling" which is presented as cross-culturally significant. All quite phony, it seems to me.

But maybe you can open this up to explain why you attach the notion of "greatness" to this?

12:47 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Why is a crosscultural "misspelling" phony to you? This is a book about the misspelling of an immigrant/exile experience.

I should mention that this activity - the cross cultural misspelling - is important to both the poem and the entire book.

I will give a more thorough reason when I get some time, but for now I have to really wonder about your reading framework if anything that doesn't seem to have an immediate reason - especially in a poem about dislocation (physical and linguistic)- is a negative to you. That seems like a pedantic aesthetic. Don't you like things that challenge you to find connections? That is evocative etc?


12:54 PM  
Blogger Joseph Hutchison said...

I thought I was clear in saying that everything about the poem strikes me as phony, not just the misspelling. (I certainly don't mean to imply that Blatny's experience is phony; a bad poem doesn't nullify the experience that produced it.) I did not ask for an "immediate reason" for anything, and if preferring coherence to incoherence makes me pedantic, I guess I'll have to go out and buy myself a tweed jacket; on the other hand, I've read plenty of poems about the violence of cultural dislocation that don't seem like napkin jottings. This one seems like a napkin jotting, and all I said about it was that it doesn't make me feel compelled to buy his book.

But the bottom line is that you're the one who's implied that the poem is "great," or that it illustrates Blatny's "greatness," so I think it's up to you to explain that judgment. Instead you attack my "reading framework" (which my comments on Blatny's poem say next to nothing about) and act as if it's a crime to disagree with your assessment. That kind of reaction usually indicates a lack of faith in one's own position....

1:16 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I posted a poem I thought was great and you said it was phony and that there was no reason for the various parts. Now forgive me for acting defensive but that's not really the same as asking someone to explain what's great about the poem. In fact it suggests you think I'm a "phony." So, that doesn't really inspire me to have a conversation.

You mention napkin-scrawl, and I think that's part of this poems beauty, its quickness and ephemerality. Startling cuts in both language and imagery.

I will write more about Blatny as soon as I have some time, but I won't write it to convince a you to buy the book.


4:13 PM  
Blogger Joseph Hutchison said...

I think you're being oversensitive. I disagree with you on the value of this poem, but that doesn't mean I consider you a "phony." (I just finished reading your amazing translation of Aase Berg's With Deer, which is powerful, bemusing, challenging, frustrating, lovely, harrowing, and much more: not a phony word in the whole book that I can see.) And I don't consider Blatny a phony, certainly not on the basis of one poem. I just see so much of these same poetic moves in so much A-G poetry that they feel like knee-jerk salutes at a policeman's ball. So present your case. I'm honestly open to hearing what you have to say.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

OK, Joseph, I will write something tomorrow when I have a window of time.

3:31 PM  

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