Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hard Modernism

Some notes from Susan McCabe's Cinematic Modernism:

“Male poetic modernism can be seen as a reaction formation against hysteric effeminacy as well as the sensory saturation and excess of the Decadent aesthetics of the 1890s. Pound’s own brand of ambivalence to film stemmed in part from a linkage between the ephemeral art form and the feminine.”

“Pound explicitly configures creativity as “the phallus or spermatozoid charging head-on the female chaos.” To offer a less overt example, Eliot complains that Hamlet lacks an “objective correlative” and suffers from “the stuff that the writer could not drag to light.” This “stuff” is linked, as I later develop, to an anxiety over indeterminate sexuality.”

“These brief instances drawn from the two favorite sons of literary high modernism point towards a collapsing of “unknown content” with the fragmented, mutable, and feminized body. Based on the work of film and cultural theorists as well as the word “celluloid” (itself derived from the word for skin), cinema was associated with the body and the feminine. More specifically, the modern crisis in poetic and bodily representation escalated into a “masculinity crisis” or male hysteria...”

About Eisenstein’s montage: “These “montage pieces” coincide with the jerks, tics, and flaying of hysteric and automaton bodies.”

“Modern dissociation culminates precisely as mechanical reproduction foregrounds the split between mind and sensate body, a split often couched in an inherited dialogue between masculine and feminine, between “hard” form and diffuse matter, between conscious and unconscious impulses.”

About Eliot: “While he may fantasize about a “cooperation between acute sensation and acute thought,” he stresses that intellect must gain the upper hand over “sensibility” or evidence of “bodily content,” a desire that might be traced to his differentiation from the Decadent poetry of the previous generation.”

“... dissociation characterizes the male hysteric’s paradoxical attraction to and disavowal of the corporeal image.”

Like hysteria, melodrama and Expressionsist silent cinema: full of extravagant movements and gestures.


Can someone please tell me about some good music to listen to? Ugh. I'm sick of everything.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Late congratulations

To Amish Trivedi for getting into the Brown University MFA program.

To Adam Clay for getting a daughter born. Penny Clay.

As for my daughter Sinead, she is showing signs of trouble. The other night when I was reading her a picture book of Greek myths, we got to a big picture of the Minotaur charging violently, and Sinead pointed to it and said in a very serious tone: "That's me. Nead."

The Surgeries and Cuts of Ivan Blatny

So a while back I posted this poem because I think it's really fantastic:


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.


Joseph Hutchinson attacked it for being "phony"/senseless/cliche "avant-garde" and suggested I defend it. Now I am totally opposed to the foundations of pretty much all of his criticism. I am opposed to defending a poem that I love; I am opposed to the idea that there must be some kind of organic unity of the poem that can be revealed through close (but apparently, as you'll see, not very close afterall!) reading; I am opposed to the idea that sharp turns in poems are bad, or that ephemerality is bad; and I am opposed to the use of "avant-garde tics" as a criticism (this is the most common form of dismissal without having to engage with something - call it both conventional and avant-garde, people have been doing that from the start, in fact it was the start in many ways).

However, against my better judgment, I will now attempt the stunt of showing how this poem makes a lot of sense and perhaps to show however sketchily what appeals to me about it.


Mr Hutchinson himself does a good job of getting the ball rolling. For one, he suggests something about the ephemerality of the poem (it feels like it was written on a napkin). I not only like this quality about poems, but it's at the heart of Blatny's later authorship, as the poems were written during his time in an insane asylum, and much of what he wrote appears to have been tossed out by administrators. "Bixley Remedial School" was salvaged by one of his nurses.


Another important thing to start talking about this poem and the Bixley book is the multilingual nature of the project. Blatny was a Czechoslovakian poet who moved to England in the late 1940s. The book consists largely of poems written in both Czech and English (and sometimes German).

As Brian Henry noted in the comment field to my previous post, the book does a really interesting job of "translating" these multilingual poems: in the translation, the Czech lines are translated into English, while the English lines are put in a lighter font, as to show the difference. This multilingual element is interesting to me, how it hides some text and renders the English lines strangely dubious. The lighter font does something very interesting: it suggests there is an element of translation about the "original text."


Blatny's multilingual aesthetic actually goes back to poems written before he moved to England. For example, there's a great "early" poem called "Treti" ("Third") that plays with a bit of translated Langston Hughes: "Waiting for my mammy -/She is Death" ("mammy" remains in English in the Czech text).


Those of you who have read this blog before know that I am very drawn to Deleuze and Guattari's notion of "minor literature," the literature that inside of a major language makes a strange language.

This is opposed to the "major" literature, literature that seeks retain the illusion that there is a major language, an official language, a true language. In Bakhtin's terms, it's monoglossic literature: literature that tries to cover up the melee of different languages. This framework of reading literature becomes: how does it follow standards, how does it sound "hard", rigorous and official. Language as an organism (in which all the parts work toward a unified effect - "no noise in art") is a "major" aesthetic.

It makes perfect sense to me that Ron Silliman does not read works in translation and that he is adamantly opposed to "non-native" translators who create texts that sound foreign to his "American tree"/"ear." Ron is on the side of the major.

Blatny is on the side of the minor: his foreign languages not only work in tension within the poems, they seem to pull and tug at the English much like how D+G say Kafka uses Yiddish to "deterritorialize" the German language.

One of my favorite examples is from "Janua Sapientiae": "The Monx speak Monx/I speak czech and english..." The "Monx" being of course a kind of blend of czech and english. And the spot that marks that interaction is - as in old treasure maps - the "x". (However, in most places it's far less specific.)

This is of course also the topic of "Misspelled": not just of misspelling a word, but of being misspelled by politics, being dislocated/relocated.


Another thing that irritated Joseph was the abrupt/disrupt change in the middle of the poem. We go from a discussion of misspelling to suddenly going to a "lady" in a "Room." These two don't go together, according to Joseph!

This disruption intrigues me. It's more than an abrupt change, the verb tense and everything seems to change inside of one sentence. It has the feeling of a *cut* - as in montage and collage. And like in those practices, I have the sense that the first sentence could be continuing to some other destination, while the second half seems to have lost its original destination. There is dislocation on a very formal level.

It is not however without any sense. As Eisenstein, the Master of Montage, would tell Joseph, montage makes connections between different stuff - sometimes as obvious as in Eisenstein's October in which the image of one hauty officer in connected to an image of a toy nightingale.


"I thus argue that the hysteric body was not simply a figure depicted in the modernist poem or film, but more provocatively, coincided with the fragmented and dissociated bodies created *as* montage." (Susan McCabe, Cinematic Modernisms)


What we have following the cut is a confusing scene, a confused narrator who perhaps looks in the mirror and sees himself as a unicorn (not quite mechanical nightingale, but related to the Eisenstein montage). Unicorn perhaps because the "lady" is a prostitute and he is erect (has a horn), but also perhaps because he looks ridiculous like a unicorn, a figure of childish innocence in a place of not-innocence.


The blood might be from the loss of innocence, from the strange violence of displacement, or - my favorite reading - from the montage "cut" in the poem. Going with McCabe's idea, it's the dissociated body of montage.


Another important thing: there's an element of montage about the entire "school" that is supposed to be the space of this poem. Frequently it appears to be a school, but also a military training camp, whore house and hospital. The room could be a hospital room with a nurse.

I love how the "misspelled" goes from being the "school" meaning of the term (something which a teacher corrects) to the physical damage/pleasure of the hospital/whorehouse. And in the process it comes to mean something much more profound, and physical than I might originally have seen in it, it comes to mean how all these things bear on the dislocated, dissociated, montaged body of the foreigner.


I love the unicorn. When was the last time you read a poem with a unicorn?

I read the unicorn in part as something akin to "camp." That is the appropriation of mass-produced kitsch to create a kind of art that is not so easily invested in heroic authenticity (Major Art, Macho Pollock etc), but a kind of inauthentic or minor authenticity. I think the unicorn functions in a similar way: but here not an emblem of the inauthenticity/perversion of the homosexual, but of the foreigner, another figure who is repeatedly conceived as a fake/perversion.

(No less by the kind of framework put forth by Ron Silliman: translations are not great! They are fake! Non-natives don't speak correctly! Or his insipid commentator Curtis Faville: Foreigners are ruining our English Tongue! Or all those heaps of people who used to attack me as a young immigrant for being gay: there's something weird about this guy! He must be gay! His body and language are inauthentic!)

OK, I hope these brief notes give you some idea why I think the Blatny book is one of the best books around. Certainly one of my favorite books publish over the last 20 years.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Here are some reviews I picked off the Internet for the page:

Glenum returns with another grotesque and fantastical orgy of poems. This time they seem to be connected like a weird Richard Foreman play translated into redneck red-light dadaisms. Her words blur and hiss like a radio not quite tuned right but you can't turn it off because they're saying things you've never heard or imagined before. These poems make even your weirdest dreams seem boring. --Kevin Sampsell

I am currently working on a review of Glenum's latest poetry collection, 'Maximum Gaga' and I found myself thinking of it as 'post-apocalyptic porno poetry' and then I thought that it wasn't just post-apocalyptic, it was also post-porno-and kind of post-gender-and maybe even post-HUMAN. None of which is meant to suggest that it's written in some kind of impenetrable, academic postmodern jargon. Not at all. It's more of a visceral fusion of creatures who are hybrids of human and animal and machine. It's not for the squeamish and certainly not for the prim and proper, but if you think you might enjoy some poetic material that plays with conventions of gender and sex in extreme and gut-churning ways, then check out Glenum's new book, as well as her previous collection, 'The Hounds of No'. Glenum is associated with an interesting new poetry movement called 'gurlesque' that fuses the cute and girlie with the grotesque with certain performative aspects of burlesque in a kind of re-appropriated force feeding of voluptuous horror. Both of her books were published by Action Books. --Juliet Cook

Lara Glenum's MAXIMUM GAGA is both a masterwork of the new grotesque, of innovation in lymph-adhering language, and a much needed kick in the lips for even those already in the business of wanting to kick lips without disrupting their own terror coma. --Blake Butler

Lemon Hound/Gurlesque

This is something I wrote in a comment field to "Lemon Hound" who is not "buying" the Gurlesque:

Lemon Hound,

I have a hard time taking seriously the claim that any poetry "moves us forward". But as someone who is finds the notion of "forward"-thinking problematic to say the least, I suppose I'm not in that "us." You guys continue moving "forward." I'm sure it will do your "us" a lot of good.

If the gurlesque has to do with the jouissance of the abject (which may not be true), then it's certainly not about moving forward. It's certainly not about being good citizens and all that.

I think one of the most insightful comments on the Gurlesque was made by my wife Joyelle Mcsweeney, who told Dodie Bellamy that the gurlesque was "the rejection of empowerment".

I'm curious as to why Chien Batard would be so offended by the Plath reference? Are you claiming that there is no element of camp/grotesque in these writers?

I'm also curious as to what he means by "this kind of poetry"? I think Arielle's idea was more of a vague notion involving camp and gender and the grotesque. It was never a movement, but a framework for reading some very varied poets. Lara G takes this even further afield by including someone who isn't even an American (Aase Berg). I think it's not even just women; I can think of several men who might fit into this general notion.

None of this commentry really deals with the poems in any specific way; thus it's hard for me to know what you really think that kind of poetry is.

Another Note:
I'm thinking about this: What is exactly is that is so hard to "buy"? That there are a lot of poets working with the grotesque and gender and camp? Like I said earlier on this blog, Arielle's original essay was by no means set-in-stone stuff; it was a hunch, an inkling. It was never a "movement". That's for example why I've said that there are things and poets in this framework that I can't see together, but it's certainly a move in the right direction: to have a discussion beyond post-avants vs quietists and such.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ugly Duckling

in the NY Times:

Really the most interesting part of the article is all the bile that is spewed in the comment section.

Really, Bill Knott, go read the books. I bet you haven't read the Blatny book I suggested below. If you did it might blow you away and give you your senses back.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Translation Boom

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.

Ron (1)

Ron Klassnik sent me this link to his review of Michael Schiavo's review of Matthew Dickman's poems. I think Ron is largely right. I read Schiavo's review and it seemed so strangely moralistic. There is a not-very-interesting article today in the New York Times about the connection between radical evil and the literary imagination. I mean, Lolita, etc!... However, I disagree with Ron's criticism of Brenda Hillman. If she wants to protest against the Iraq war, why not? In other words, Ron becomes strangely moralistic toward the end there.

I also want to say that I read this book (unlike Mr K), and I didn't find it as terrible as Schiavo does. I just thought it was an all around average book in the Tony Hoaglund average-ist school of writing, loosely influenced by American poets who depoliticized Neruda once upon a time. So it makes sense that it was published by Copper Canyon, which is that kind of press. And it makes sense that it was picked by Hoaglund for some kind of contest, because it's the kind of poetry that does well what Hoaglund does, thus totally un-threatening to him. But I've read far worse books and far better books (even as recently as yesterday).

And as far the twins getting awards and such: There are tons of awards given out and they're seldom given to poets that I find interesting. Awards tend to go to unthreatening, mildly original writers. That's what they are for.

Here's the note I got from Ron:

Michael Schiavo has written a very passionate and very negative review of Matthew Dickman and his poetry.

For the past several days I've been thinking about Schiavo's review and have just posted a response to it on HTMLGIANT

Here are some of the things in this post (i guess you could call it "a review of a review")

--the need for negative reviews and calling bullshit
--"America" (the word and the country, what we owe and don't owe)
--alternatives (if we criticize do we need to propose alternatives?)
--Walt Whitman: (among other things) liar, monster, con-man
--poetry that makes the world more "humane" and "honest"
--The War in Iraq

If you're interested then please check it out here,
and, of course, any feedback is appreciated,.....


Ron (2)

I just wanted to add that I fear I come off as some kind of Ron-basher. I actually like Ron's poetry and I appreciate the fact that he - unlike pretty much anybody else of his age bracket - cares enough to read, write and think about poetry of those younger than himself. My main problem comes with his critical framework, which seems very wax museum to me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ron Silliman & Originality

Ron "The Law" Silliman made an interesting post today about erasure and Janet Holmes. I think it could be the start of an interesting discussion. Here is my response:

Interesting post Ron. I think you begin to raise some interesting issues.

First of all, a lot of what this recycling is about making high art out of avant-garde techniques that were not in the 1910s and 20s meant to be high art.

I might argue that your own project is very much about this: Taking art ideas that were meant to be ephemeral and pop-y and turn them into "genuine" "aesthetic experience" and "complex critiques."

The "new sentence" for example is "new" in the sense that it makes certain avant-garde ephemera tolerable to the academy as rightfully high art.

Most obvious is your obsession with originality and authenticity. This of course comes out clearly in your dismissal of translation, which as much as any avant-garde practice trouble notions of authenticity and originality.

But you can see it in your note about seeing Johnson's work in his home (even before publication! Thus more genuine!).

Not only is Johnson's work a recycling of Milton; his process of erasure is hardly new with him. That stuff went on in Europe in the 10s and 20s (and probably before then!).

My favorite figure in this regard is Finland Swedish poet Gunnar Bjorling, who did not erase high literature Milton, but even more radically had a team of young boyfriends erase his own work for him (the more they erased, the better). He did this in the 1930s, in the provincial town of Helsinki (Helsingfors) and he was hardly the only or first one. For one he was inspired by Dada, a movement that was quite clear about its recycling policies.

And of course then we're back to translation. You recently argued that there was no work of translation was "Great." I might add, that no work by the historical avant-garde was "Great."

[Nor - thankfully! - is any work of Flarf "Great" (but often funny, perverse and insightfully ludicrous). There's also some irony in christening Flarf as genuinely new, when its practices are patently anti-genuine and anti-originality. Likewise, your repeated description of Kenny Goldsmith - who is equally overtly anti-original (even his idea of un-originality are very 1960s!) - as genuinely "new."]

Your high modernist framework of Greatness and Authenticity is itself opposed to these avant-garde gestures.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review of Kim Hyesoon

Let The Right One In (some thoughts)

Over spring break I watched two movies - the comic-book-based "Watchmen" movie and Kim Hyesoon's favorite movie, the Swedish vampire movie "Let the Right One In."

I'm not going to say anything about "Watchmen" because there just wasn't much to it except to say except that it is in many ways the very opposite of "Let the Right One In." "Watchmen" is populated almost entirely by adults and pretends to be about "Politics" but is really by/for 12-year-old boys. And it is disturbingly pro-life.

"Right One" is an interesting meditation on political/cultural issues but includes very few adults (and they are a pretty dubious, pretty alcoholized bunch), and it is decidedly pro-death (as in a 12-year-old vampire with a sewn-up crotch). "Watchman" is a typical mediocre comic-book-film, "Right One" is a pretty exceptional vampire movie.

I mean "exceptional" as in very good, not as necessarily totally defying of genre convention (one might say that the young-love-with-sinister-overtones has to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and this new series Twilight, which apparently has lots of young romance with vampires), but as in "pretty amazing."

It's strange that for all the talk I heard about Right One before I actually got to watch it, I never heard how disturbing it is. Most talk was about how sweet or cute it is. This is a really disturbing movie!

To begin with, it's a story obliquely about child abuse, except the roles have been reversed. The vampire-girl orders around and finally kills her "father"-figure, the way an abusive father might act toward a child (The girl's name is even Eli). And yet, Eli is the one who shows signs of neglect and abuse (she smells, walks around without enough clothes outside, bleeds, has blood smeared on her face etc).

Though perhaps the most disturbing thing is the ending: The boy ends up being the vampire-girl's new serial killer assistant. They ride off into the sunset so to speak, tapping love-codes to each other through her box, but they're riding off to kill people. We know they're not going to have a traditional romance (because of the previously mentioned crotch-shot).

This is important, especially in the sex- and child-concerned "welfare state" (or "folkhemmet" - "the people's home" - as the Social Democrats called it, it was one big happy family). Or perhaps more importantly, the "natural"-obsessed welfare state.

It's also largely a movie about immigration.

For some reason I haven't heard that mentioned, but it's quite obvious. It's in the convention of the vampire movie (Dracula is of course an anti-semitic figure, Nosferatu emigrates etc). The first page of any monster text: it's about the foreign/other etc.

And this movie makes it quite explicit. It's in the very title, it's in the choice of actors (Eli is played by a darkish actress and Oskar is played by a super-blond boy), and of course it's in the plot (a vampire and her strange dad shows up in the suburbs of Stockholm).

A boring anti-xenophobic film would typically show the Swedish kids tell stories about the poor immigrants, who then prove themselves as real human beings and are accepted. The abject is brought into the community.

Thank god, this isn't that type of movie!

Here the myth about the foreigner/vampire is literalized, but the community (or the suburbs) is not such a great place to be, and the story ends with the all-Swedish boy leaving the suburbs on a train (that mythical site of immigrants), opting for the unnatural and deathy, that which the city is always trying to keep out.

A note on the cultural background: It seems important to mention that the film takes place in the early 80s and that it is taking place in the suburbs of Stockholm. The time period is important because this is when the second big immigration wave to Sweden took place.

The suburb is also very important. To begin with, suburbs have totally different connotations in Sweden. They don't represent a place where the rich live (when I grew up in Sweden there were very few "rich" people; Sweden has historically been a very poor, very peasant-based country), it's where working class people lived.

The Swedish government built a whole lot of these in the 1960s as Sweden was changing from a peasant/rural country to a modern industrial nation. The factories desperately needed workers (which is also why the country brought in the first wave of immigrants), and the workers needed some place to live.

[You can see the transition in a film like "I am Curious" which deals with this change and - for all the hoopla about the nudity - paints a pretty perceptive portrait of Sweden.]

It is also noteworthy that when the wave of immigrations took place in the 80s, the Swedish government tended to situate these immigrant groups in suburbs. Because Sweden is very heavy on government-planning, they actually turned certain suburbs into immigrant cities (or "ghettos" I suppose). So the suburbs have echoes of immigration of various kinds.

Those are some incomplete thoughts about this movie. Maybe I'll have something more to say when the film has perculated in my brain a little.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Decadence (3)

I was doing some prepping and I came upon this very simple explanation for the trouble with "decadence" critiques. It's from Judith Halberstam's book on the Gothic, Skin Shows, but I think it applies to "decadence" as well:

"Gothic reveals the ideological stakes of bourgeois realism – namely, there is no one generic form that resembles “life” and another debased form that deviates from the natural order of things. There are only less or more fantastic costumes, less or more Gothic interpretations of reality." (62)


I like Gabriel's comment so I'll republish it here:

"I'm interested in the decadent, too. But, I think, less as an adjective that implies self-indulgence or as a platitude. I believe I bristle at its invocation in the same way I do when "avant-garde" is dehistoricized and implemented as a place-holder for any number of aesthetic possibilities. I'm all for the transformation of meaning and the mutation of words, so I'm not generally frustrated with But I do think that to use *decadent* as an indictment actually mirrors much of the Victorian backlash against the French Decadents and their off-spring (and predecessors). It's much more fruitful for me to think of the decadent as deeply involved, as décéder implies, in death, disintegration, and the dissolution of boundaries. More provocative to think of the decadent as a coda with a Hydra head."

I do think Gabriel's correct that Bob's critique of certain tropes as "decadent" is not entirely separate from the critique that led to the name Decadence in the late 19th century (it was a name that came from critics attacking certain poets). Although the "period style" defined by Bob's rules is not in my mind connected to the deathy French poets of the late 19th century, I think the critique reflects a similar notion: the idea that there is a natural, strong poetry and a weak, artificial poetry. And in some ways our recent discussion of the aesthetics of embarassment, softeness, cringyness has a lot to do with decadence (Ron Silliman's "Hard" avant-gardism seems its opposite).

Jon Spayde, a writer for Utne Magazines, came up to me at AWP and argued that Action Book, Guy Maddin and Juxtapoz Magazine are all part of a "new decadence" (but apparently Max beat him to the punch), and I took that as a great compliment (I love Guy Maddin and I know that Lara Glenum is a Juxtapoz-reader).

I think the most interesting tendencies and streams of modern art and literature can be said to carry on a certain decadence: For example, Mayakovsky's and Parland's Dandyism (and Mayakovsky's face paint), Sylvia Plath's and Kim Hyesoon's gothic montages, Bataille's expenditure, Bruno K Oijer's extravagant Surrealism Etc. And of course Lara's article in Action, Yes about Aase Berg's kitchiness.

(The strain of Modern art/poetry I can't stand is Minimalist Art and its quest for purity.)

As for "degenerate": I can only think of Hitler's exhibition of Degenerate Art. And that was indeed largely an attack on Decadence (most importantly, Expressionism). It implies the same worldview of a healthy original poetry that then decays.

We also talked about Edelson's "No Future" and that seems in many ways a kind of contemporary call for Decadence. And of course queerness is important to decadence (or the other way around).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I've seen this term used very strangely around the Internet as of late. Here is Archambeau using it to mean the use of empty manners. So does CK Williams in the little article that made me so irate the other day.

This seems like a strange use of the term.

I'm totally for Decadence.

(But I think Archambeau is largely right about "poeticky" features.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reading in Madison, Wisconsin

The Felix Reading Series


THURSDAY, MARCH 12 - 4:30 P.M.
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Monday, March 02, 2009

Translation/Poetry Magazine (cont.)

Somebody named Martin clarified Williams original article that Don quoted in his post. It seems I totally misunderstood everybody involved, though in part I think my excuse is that I hadn't read the Williams piece in whole. And as readers of this blog know, I am sometimes too punchy.


In other noteworthy developments, Max makes a startling amount of very good, important distinction in the comment field below. In particular, I think an important point out that it seems very touristic (not the right word, but it's the best I can do this early) to read foreign literature only to find something exotic and different than in US poetry. The result is too often that what we find of "difference" is in fact a very conventional idea of alterity.

This reminds me of when I went to the Henry Parland conference in Helsinki last fall. One paper was on my translations, and the speaker (a friend of mine) made a Lawrence Veuti-inspired argument, proposing that I could/should have "foreignized" Parland more than I had. And then he went in and showed his own translation which foreignized Parland. But the result was much like a cliche Language Poem (my friend studied at Buffalo). The irony is of course that such a "foreign" poem is far less foreign in its foreigness than my un-foreignized translations.


A lot of the Problems of Translation comes down to a very static notion of National Literatures. Something about finding the foreign abroad already suggests that we see ourselves as inherently separate from the rest of the world. We only go there to find something exotic.

The idea behind Action Books was indeed to undo this notion by publishing both American poetry and poetry in translation - poets in conversation across national boundaries. But here "cross" is important. I don't pretend that the linguistic boundaries can merely be floated above; they have to be crossed. And in that crossing, interesting stuff happens and languages interact.

In large part we started Action Books not to find something exotically different, but because we found our poetics were in conversation with poets from other countries as much or more than with most of the stuff published in the US. Ie we are in some sense looking for similarity, not difference. But like I said, we are also interested in the dynamics of what happens in linguistic border crossings. And Deleuze and Guattari's concept of "minor literature", which has a lot in common with translation.


Somebody named "Tomas Brady" left a pretty crack-pot answer on the Poetry Magazine website suggesting he was going to read other nations' poetry before he got to Swedish poetry. My main problem with his entry is that I don't give a damn whether or not he reads Swedish poetry (why should I?). But the more relevant issue is this idea that there is a set of Swedish poems, a Swedish poetry, which you can translate, then consume, then be finished with.

This was my issue with New European Poets - that it would enforce that kind of thinking. The truth is that there are a lot of different kinds of poetry written in Sweden (and most other countries) and you cannot ever master/complete any national poetry anymore than you can do so with US poetry. I find deeply problematic this anthological view of World Literature.

I think the Prufer/Miller anthology gets around this by stressing the unfinishedness of their project - that it is a process, and a beginning of the process at that.

But clearly the Tomas Bradys of the world still have this Museum of Nations attitude.


I want to correct a common misconception among commentators to this blog: I don't believe that you should read works in translation because they make you good (though I did in part entertain Hejinian's ethics of Barbarism). You should read it because you're interested in the poetry. However, I have noted that publishers of American Poetry and many "communities" of American Poetry seem oddly uninterested in foreign poetry (thus my controversial list of indie presses and their lack of translation titles - Chax Press 77-0!). I think that can be seen in their concepts of language and the poetic. That is, it shows little influence of that "crossing" of languages that I mentioned above.


Also, let me briefly return to the Jaderlund issue. I don't think Poetry Magazine is under any obligation to publish poetry that I like - their tastes in literature is very different from mine - or the most famous poetry. My irate discussion of their rejection of Jaderlund was based on my misreading of Don's entry, thinking he had argued that foreign literature is all the same. (When in fact that doesn't even appear to be CK William's point).

However, it should be pointed out that Poetry Magazine has as of late adapted a rhetorical stance of "openness" - look we publish works in translation, we publish Bernstein etc. But it's important then to note that the Swedish poet they chose to publish was a very conservative (New Formalist in many ways) poet. I can't help but to feel a little defensive here too; Poetry Magazine reaches a lot more people than my translations, and I hate to have people think that this is all that is going down in Sweden.