Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Ron Silliman has an insightful post about Stephen Burt's "thing" article today on his blog, pointing out some contradictions but acknowledging that is' quite insightful.

Something that I have thought about is that Stephen feels the urge to create an opposition between "elliptical" and "thing" poets, when these are in fact largely overlapping. For instance Rae A. seems to be a key figure for all (or langpo overall seems key). Like Ron, I thought about this also in terms of American Hybrid, which I first saw as Elliptical but then realized had much more to do with "new thing." Then I thought: there are several strains of each of these that continue and discontinue.

Part of the problem is that though Burt's articles are insightful, he (as Ron calls it) "overreaches." That is, he wants there to be a central poetry of the moment, when in fact he is describing several. And perhaps he is describing the general mood of the way we read poems at certain times (now people are all about being objective and sober and full of shit).

One thing that both Burt (in both his Elliptics and Things) and American Hybrid keep emphasizing is the rejection of narrative. Part of this is likely the identification of narrative with"narrative poetry", the shorthand for that boring quietist lyrics of epiphany. But those poems are usually not very narrative; or they aren't using narrative very interestingly; or the narrative is not of interest to the writers.

From my own perspective, a lot of the best books of the past 10-20 years have been very much concerned with narrative - Joyelle's Flet (not prose poem but novel as poetry, poetry as novel, and total genius; one sign of the total lameness of American Poetry is the fact that few people have written about this book), Descent of Alette and everything by Alice Notley, Cathy Park Hong's Dance Dance Revolution, The Tree of No, Sandy Florian's rewrite of Milton, and Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Dodie Bellamy's Mina Harker letters. All of these are taking interesting approaches to narrative.

[This is largely true of Swedish poetry as well: Aase Berg's sci-fi epic Dark Matter, Ann J├Ąderlund's cut-up of Biblical tales, Soon Into The Summer I Will Walk Out, and Collobert Orbital, Johan Jonson's "translation" of Norma Cole's translation of Danielle Collobert's journals (soon to be published by Displaced Press in my English translation)]

In fact, one of Burt's major exhibits of elliptical poetry, Mark Levine's first book Debt consists entirely of little narratives about infantilization, castration and impotence. It's also a book incredibly influenced by Plath, which is something nobody seems to want to point out, and not a single shred influenced by Language Poetry (which supposedly ellipticals are).

So Burt's essays are useful starting points, thermometer-readings of a moment in time; and I think a lot of the discussion that has followed the "thing" essay have proven quite good and interesting.


Blogger Frodebart Winslow said...

Flet is the only newish book I read last year that I liked. And I liked it a lot. Made up for a very rough year otherwise.

I think it'll be like the Velvet Underground. The cliche is that nobody listened to them, but the people who did all started their own bands.

I hope to see more young people writing novel-poem-novel-novel-poems like Flet over the next 20 years... Just need to keep reminding people that the book is out there and they should READ IT.

As in, if you haven't read it, and you're reading this post, go read the book right now. Seriously. Call in sick or whatever you need to do. Like for instance tell your friends you don't love them anymore and you need to read a book for a while instead of talking to them on the phone incessantly.

...But who knows, maybe it'll be a recovery project 50 years from now, after the next global catastrophe. This was the story with Moby-Dick (widespread attention only after WWI).

10:09 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I've been meaning to get Flet for a long time, ever since I bought The Comandrine - the eponymous verse-play is amazing. I've heard fantastic things about Nylund the Sarcographer as well.
Didn't get into Don't Let Me be Lonley so much though.
My major problems with the New Thing also involve Burt's need to create a "central poetry", but also his characterisation of Flood as central to this poetic, while making very dismissive comments about Ron Johnson - then attemping to characterise the Shrubberies as a "New Thing" book.
more here: http://ignoretheventriloquists.blogspot.com/2009/06/steven-burts-new-thing-some-notes-in.html

7:40 PM  
Blogger becca said...

I think this is true about narrative -- people who were around for the 70s-80s narrative epiphany poems seem to have a blanket aversion to narrative. Those of us who were either smallz or not alive in the 70s don't feel this way. In fact almost every peer poet I can think of is interested in narrative in one way or another, and usually not in a autobiographical-catharsis (=boring) kinda way!

8:56 PM  

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