Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Response to Steve Burt on Abject Motherhood (part 2)

I thought i would follow up very briefly on my note about Steve Burt's essay on mother poetry in the Boston Review.

To begin with, I would suggest you read Joyelle's talk (on this blog, December 20th) in conjunction with this essay. That way you can just immediately see what's at stake: two very different takes on a similar issue.

I appreciate the fact that Steve writes so much about contemporary poetry, and I think this essay is probably a very good way to draw attention to the role of motherhood/child-rearing in post 1960s American poetry. It's interesting that he sees it as a source of "innovation," a term that usually has a very masculinist vibe. (Joyelle's essay rejects the whole idea of "innovation" as positivism.)

However, there is a feature of Steve's criticism that I don't like, and that's the way he assumes the role of patronizing, professorial gate-keeper of good taste, authority, refinement. And I find that particularly troubling in the final paragraph (which I quoted in my last post), where he writes that "inferior poets" - unlike Rachel Zucker (and I want to note that I don't know Zucker's book, this entry is certainly not a critique of her work) - merely "like to break taboos" and shock, but their poetry gets "old fast" because the shocks are not "formal."

In other words: these poets are flawed because form does not equal function. These poems do not lend themselves to a clean close-reading. There is an excess to their writing.

Throughout the piece he assures the reader that in Zucker's poetry - no matter how "beat"-like it may seem - does have aesthetic "goals." In other words, don't be scared, this poet is not chaotic, she knows what she is doing, she is "masterful" in her own way. At one point he says: "the raw feel of which belies its well-paced plot." And though he mentions "form" what he really seems to mean is that the poem's form reflects the very real life (he constantly refers to the poet as the speaker, and repeats Zucker's real life qualities like some kind of mantra of authenticity): poetry is still all about mimesis.

Insisting that something is well-made, well-wrought is of course the standard criteria of criticism of the New Critical lineage. However, I was struck by how often he repeats how "visceral," "raw" and "excessive" it is; how it's about "embodiment" and "the abject"; how it will "gross you out"; how it's coming up with these negative "affects" that are commonly overlooked in poetry.

The constant repetition of the word "excess" in particular is what struck me the most when I first read the review. It is as if he's trying too hard to convince us that it is "excessive" by just repeating the word without actually investigating the term. If I saw this enough times, this will be "excessive" poetry!

And still, most of the essay is meant to reassure us through close reading that this is indeed still well-made poetry, poetry in which the shocks are "formal" not just pointless, *not* just "excessive".

So it seems we have a contradiction here: Steve wants Zucker to be excessive, but also not excessive. It's a bind. And it's a bind that I think comes from Steve seeing criticism as gatekeeping: there is a lot of excessive, abject poetry out there that is challenging his notions of well-made. The way you deal with this is of course not to criticize that poetry (which would draw a lot of attention to poetry that would otherwise not get attention), but to set up a safer poet as a limit and then strangely "abject" the truly excessive poetry out of the essay by criticizing it without giving it a name or giving the poetry any space in the journal.

This is of course the old "I'm neither raw nor cooked", "hybrid" approach. And just like Lowell wanted to deal with the threat of "the New Americans", this is an attempt to deal with tasteless poetry that now threatens Burt's refinement.

I think a more honest approach would be to mention one of these masses of "inferior" poets who are just plain shocking, and to show what he means when he says that they are merely shocking.

(Steve does mention in his 'historical' overview that Sexton and Sharon Olds were "less formally interesting" (as if that were an objective historical fact) but it doesn't seem like that's who he's talking about at the end of its piece. It's very hard to believe he's dragging Sharon Olds out for another horse-beating.)

Also, in an essay that would seem to desire to cast a spotlight on contemporary poetry by women, a patronizing sexism surfaces in this piece, both in the potted-history of the first few paragraphs, in which judgements of taste double up as historical fact, or when he says that the poem about going to a support group "is strange and more demanding than such facts might let you expect," or when the obviously belittling term 'mommy poetry' sneaks into the essay on the second page. The latter example makes it clear why interventions like the Gurlesque anthology are still necessary.

In the end what I take away from this review is a fear of the poetry of Ginsberg, Plath, Sexton and Olds and what they represent. What they have in common is beside being women and queer that their poetry is popular, that is affective, that challenges the idea of poetry as a refined, tasteful, disinterested.

[One more thing: From the quotes in the review it's absolutely obvious that Zucker is deeply influenced by Plath, Sexton, Ginsberg. Why does Zucker have to be rescued from her influences like this? The same way, when Steve wrote about Mark Levine's first book Debt some 10 years ago, he made Berryman into Levine's main influence, when Mark was almost overtly channeling Plath? Why must Plath be written out of our poetry?]


Blogger Kate Zimmerman said...

I really don't get all of the Plath haters. There's this idea that Plath is "juvenalia" and so not "serious," and I really think it has to do with the fact that she wrote about the abject body and motherhood and madness, etc. I hope to explore these ideas in an upcoming post as well, certainly bringing in your post and Joyelle's essay.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Kate, you might be interested in an article my friend, the poet Sarah Hannah, wrote on Plath's [overlooked, underestimated] poetics. It's a very good article. The citation is "Something Else Hauls Me Through Air": Sound and Structure in Four Late Poems by Sylvia Plath," Sarah Hannah. Literary Imagination, 2003; 5: 232-266. Looking forward to your blog post on Plath.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Johannes knows I don't exactly share his views on this "abject poetry" line.

Still, I'm a bit surprised that he didn't state the obvious, somewhere in this eloquent post: that Helen Vendler is, in the deep critical sense, Steve Burt's mommy.

I say that with all due respect, as a fan of Steve's significant gifts...

12:48 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

Yeah, the essay more or less does say that Zucker's "excessive" language is finally justified because it fits into a representation of real life/character, even as it stretches that representation perhaps to its (to him reasonable) limits.

The idea that language in a work of literature should be subordinated to a presentation of character is of course par for the course in mainstream literary (read "realist") fiction, and appears in all the most generic fiction-writing textbooks.

Mayer's Midwinter Day, by the way, is certainly an excellent portrayal of character and situation. But it's also about the uncontainable elements of language, memory, and experience even on a given day--that is, it's both about character but also about all the things that character can't contain.

Steve's innovation as a critic is (like that of some notions of the hybrid, as you suggest, but not all) is that he is able to use quite fluently some of the critical language formerly associated only with more radical poetics, while incorporating that back into an aesthetic whose goals are ultimately much more traditional.

It's not a move devoid of impressiveness or power; although the comparison isn't exact, I think Eliot managed something similar in The Waste Land, and look where that move got him.

Steve though is the kind of thoughtful, verbally sophisticated critic that more radical poetries would benefit from. Where are they? I'll save for another time my thoughts on why there aren't many, although not surprisingly I think it's related to politics and social conditions.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Becca and Arielle's essay on Plath as "girlhood poet" that one must "grow out of" is well worth reading on this point.

(I also found it very interesting that the "girlhood poetries" were what I was reading/doing/writing as a teenager - it seems that if you don't do Bukowski and worship your cock you're not a real boy. As one of my friends is forever reiterating, hypermasculinism and patriachy hurt everyone)

4:09 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Just wanted to say that I have not forgotten the issues you raised beneath the Joyelle talk. I'll get to them.

Please expound on your ideas about "radical critics." I think actually Kent's comment is not without value here, as it gestures toward some of Burt's institutional standing.

I'll check out the article about Plath.


7:14 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Thanks to all of you for the attention. I screwed something up pretty badly if I come off as considering Plath formless or uncontrolled (whoops)-- quite the reverse, and I don't mean to be patronizing; literary criticism is, necessarily, and not exclusively, a series of acts of judgment-- I try to justify my judgments, as you try to justify yours. Judgments of taste are historical facts, in that they are facts about one way to read literary history-- fortunately there are others. (They are social facts rather than natural facts of course.) As for the rest of it, I think Johannes might have me and my limits exactly right: I like poetry that pushes or renegotiates or argues with, or picks a fight against, boundaries, limits, institutions, and inherited modes, I like poetry that alters the way in which we see those modes, but I very rarely embrace poetry that imagines it can destroy all those modes and then go on constructing a life without them. This difference isn't just aesthetic: at the very highest levels of generality it is probably ethical and political too: I admire some elected officials, I'm not a big fan of the 1972-style New Left, and I think it's usually a bad idea to try to change the government by using guns. It's also an argument about William Carlos Williams, who uniquely in that generation seems to have made possible a way of writing by testing and remaking limits (aligned with craft and with political liberalism) and a way of writing that imagines life without limits (aligned with ideas about spontaneity, and with "radical" political goals). But now I'm discussing dead guys again, when I probably should be thinking about living women and the poetry that they have been inventing recently. I haven't seen the Gurlesque anthology-- is it out yet?-- and you've got me very close to making a promise to write about it, somewhere, if someone will let me, once I've seen it.

7:21 AM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I don't mean that much that's more than obvious. Steve's a high profile critic with a top flight job whose writing doesn't just appear in limited edition scholarly venues. He's also obviously a very smart man--although I have no idea why he seems in his comment to correlate so absolutely the "1972 left" or "changing the government with guns" with the range of more extreme literary practices that he claims not to be a fan of.

So why aren't there similarly high profile critics who do like more extreme practices (whether aesthetic, political, or both)? It's probably a rhetorical question, since the answer's obvious, isn't it? His high profile is directly related to the fact that he doesn't write approvingly of such things.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Mark Wallace wrote:

>So why aren't there similarly high profile critics who do like more extreme practices (whether aesthetic, political, or both)? It's probably a rhetorical question, since the answer's obvious, isn't it? His high profile is directly related to the fact that he doesn't write approvingly of such things.


The above is very odd to say. What about Marjorie Perloff? She used to be President of the MLA. Charles Bernstein is quite high profile, his books published by Ivy League venues, etc. Bob Pereleman, for example, too. There are quite a few high profile critics with "top-flight jobs" who have written sympathetically about innovative poetries in high profile places. This goes back to the 1980s, actually; check out the archived issues of Critical Inquiry. Joshua Clover seems to be one of the new academic stars of the literary world. He's been writing about Badiou and socialist revolution for quite some time. There are lots of up-and-comers... No need to be so grumpy about the situation!

Really, to say it's "obvious" that Steve has the visibility he does, or the career position he does, because he abstains from writing about more "extreme practices" (which is not true, in any case-- check out The Believer) seems like trying to make a point the Language poets had to stop making already ca. the mid-90s. To be "avant-garde" or to write approvingly about the a-g these days in no way necessarily keeps one from being professionally successful-- it's now a well-proven a career path!

Unless I'm just completely not getting your argument?

11:02 AM  
Blogger kathleenossip said...

Maybe it goes without saying, but I want to say it: Stephen Burt's essay is itself working within a pretty constricted mode, the mode of the reasonable-yet-clearly-alpha-male-critic. This mode dictates that all hostility is couched in dry little digs ("undistinguished apprenticeship," "inferior poets"), and emotion is whitewashed by intellect, and no delight can be unqualified. People seem to want to buy into this kind of writing, but there's no "new thing" here.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

"there's no "new thing" here":

I love it. That put a grin on my face.

2:12 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I'm not thinking about those earlier generations, Kent, I'm thinking more about more recent ones, and I'm thinking more about attention outside academia. Clover might be a decent counterexample except I don't think of him really as writing approvingly that much re a huge variety of poetics; he writes more about pop culture, music, and Situationism/Marxism than he does about extremes of poetics, which I think he's been skeptical about to some degree.

Did Gary Sullivan or someone write something approving of flarf for the Village Voice? I think maybe so and that might come closer to being a workable counterexample to what I'm saying. Who writes regularly and approvingly of experimental literary practices in large circulation magazines or newspapers? If there's a critic I don't know about, I'd be glad to have them pointed out to me.

Of course, I don't agree with you that it's a "well-proven career path." It's more like putting a camel through the eye-of-the-needle these days. But in fact that can be said for maybe about all but one or two percent of all types of poets under 40. Viva the great bright academic future for poetry. I'm just hoping that the ship hasn't entirely sailed.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Did Gary Sullivan or someone write something approving of flarf for the Village Voice? I think maybe so and that might come closer to being a workable counterexample to what I'm saying. Who writes regularly and approvingly of experimental literary practices in large circulation magazines or newspapers? If there's a critic I don't know about, I'd be glad to have them pointed out to me.

Mark, I hardly think Gary S. would fall within your critical "high profile" category...

I mentioned Steve B. and The Believer because he's written approvingly of Flarf there. Did you not know of his article on Degentesh and Flarf?

Anyway, regardless of the opinions one may hold of Burt's positions and tastes (they're actually quite catholic), I think it's important to recognize that his rapid ascendancy is primarily due to his unusual analytical skills and eloquence. Naturally, not everything is equally good--his New Thing essay was surprisingly weak--but almost always, like in his TLS essay on Ashbery, there's an impressive deal of useful framing and insight.

So I think you're aiming your ire in the wrong direction. Adam Kirsch would be a better target!

7:46 PM  
Blogger JP said...

One of the issues in the essay seems to be the need to constrict excess and certain modes of experience within the lyric voice -- as Mark says, "real life/charater." The fact that she is a "new yorker," etc. But the aspects of her writing that I find most interesting are those moments when the lyric voice dissolves, when a much more ambitious and non-humanist approach is brought in...As far as Plath goes, I think she's immensely under-rated. She's less like Lowell and (in her utter theatricality, her interest in the inhuman) more like Artaud...

8:01 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Hi again! Two serious questions for Kathleen: first, would you really prefer it if this essay (and others before it) included list of names of not-very-famous, early-career poets whose work I found derivative, boring, second-rate? Would I be a better person, or a better critic, if I routinely published such lists? Second, "no delight can be unqualified" strikes me as a statement about life, or about adult life, not about alpha males. I fear that it's a statement about my life. It's not, of course, a statement about all lives.

4:47 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you for the plethora of inspiration you engender.

6:29 AM  
Blogger kathleenossip said...

Hi, Steve --

I guess I'm craving criticism that would expand or explode the staid old form of this type of essay,

that might focus more on communicating the physical and intellectual delight of the poetry that engages (or even visceral disappointments and frustrations of poetry that doesn't)

and less on the "objective-fair-and-balanced" quibbles

that might even present multiple and conflicted viewpoints, which are also a hallmark of adult life

and yes, this kind of criticism I'm craving might be open to charges of incoherence and might not be as satisfying to those.

My frustration is also a function of the way the essay is framed and presented and contextualized as some kind of ultimate statement or pronouncement

and I'm wondering why this seems so desirable in criticism

(I feel that desire too, I'm even a sucker for Bloom!, but I don't trust it)

Thanks for the exchange,

8:35 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Mark and Kent,

I think your disagreement suffers from relying on the old langpo era idea of radical and establishment binary. That doesn't mean that it's an open field day for everyone in every venue. The discussion must become more specific.


11:22 AM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

Johannes, the attempt to set up the interchange between Kent and I as an old school binary sets up a new binary, with you as the new and us as the old.

As it turns out, I guess, binary thinking is easier to reject than to avoid.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Let me quickly be a little more specific myself: It's too easy to say oh Charles Bernstein is now published in Poetry Magazine, everybody must love poetry that challenges established conventions. That kind of thought depends on the old binary langpo vs establishment. That's why I think we need more specific criticism. Of course that old binary was never "correct."


2:11 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I agree with that, Johannes. The total literary (and the academic too; the literary and academic overlap but are hardly the same) system of any time is comprised of specific individual cases (publications, programs, people etc) with specific tendencies that have differing relations to each other, and they change. There's a synchronic and diachronic, right? And absolutely there was never any unchanging "Poetry Wars" binary--for instance, why did Robert Duncan and Barrett Watten have their famous public tiff if each of them was on the same "side"? Clearly there's far more than just one thing that divides poets and there always has been.

Which is why some notions of the hybrid seem out of touch to me--there's not just one rift that's been waiting around to be "healed."

The total literary system is made of constantly shifting camps, schools, critiques, individuals. Which is of course also why it's easy to fall back on binaries. The system both has an immense variety of differences and those differences are also subject to change, so I think it's no surprise that people fall back on overly simplified descriptors, since getting an actual description is close to if not entirely impossible.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Johannes and Mark,

I've got no problem with what either one of you is saying about the importance of specific cases, the "synchronic and diachronic," and so on.

But lets not let a nominalist bent keep us from recognizing or talking about bigger things. Or as the saying goes, make it so we can't see the Institutional forest for the particularities of the innovative trees.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Yes, and lets not forget that you are absolutely absurdly wrong in your claims that somehow all of literature is so welcoming to what you call "post-avant" poetry. Absolutely and ridiculously wrong.

And part of the reason you're absolutely and ridiculously wrong is that you apparently see no difference between different modes of "post-avantism." And you seem to have strangely little information "from the ground."

Because a few of this very heterogeneous group have gotten jobs, books published etc, you think the poetry world is opening its arms wide. That's simply not true. I had to start a small press to get Lara Glenum and Aase Berg published. To the Steve Burts of the world, most of the poets I read and find formally interested, remain abjectable and threatening. Etc.

I find most "experimental poetry" pretty dull, maintaining the same values I find disagreeable in the Jorie Grahams and Steve Burts etc ('high elegance', poetry as tasteful, poetry as elevated expression etc).

So before you start in on your the world loves you post-avantists, you should get some information from the ground. And to get that information, you might consult some trees.


12:31 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

And besides, life is not all flowers for those "experimental" poets I disagree with. Most of them struggle to get jobs, to get their work published etc.

Maybe you're talking about American Hybrid type writers but those are all of your generation, they all have tenure-track positions etc. And as you could read in my review of that anthology, I totally disagree with its premises.

It's also incredibly important to look at pedagogy.


12:36 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...


Give me a list of influential journals or magazines that refuse to publish or review "post-avant" writing today.

Then give me a list of Awards and Prizes that remain closed to "post-avant" work.

Then make a list of University presses that refuse to consider "post-avant" writing.

After you do this (there will still be a few, of course), make a list of the above from, say, fifteen years back.

Then compare the then and now lists, and tell me that things have not changed in ways that have implications worth considering for "avant-garde" practice.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...


>Maybe you're talking about American Hybrid type writers but those are all of your generation,


1:20 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

You're working with very vague terms. What does "post-avant" mean?


1:36 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

And more importantly what's your point? When you talk in these broad terms with no real argument, I have a hard time seeing your point.


1:44 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...


Hm. I thought my categories for the then-now (fifteen years) comparison were pretty concrete.

But I forgot the most obvious and important one:

Make me two lists, then and now, of AWP-affiliated MFA programs that were/are hostile to "post-avant" practices (including "radical" ones, like Flarf and Gurlesque)...

1:53 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I'm not doing any work for your. Especially when you don't have an at all insightful argument.

Yes of course things have changed. I'm obviously pleased about that.

But what's your point? I mean I hope you have a point beyond that.


2:06 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Yes of course things have changed. I'm obviously pleased about that.

Why, Johannes... You just DID do my work for me!

3:06 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


No, Kent, you've just avoided yet another interesting argument out of sheer laziness.


5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Johannes, I find it weird that you want to criticize Stephen Burt for not naming the names of poets he doesn't like but you want to call me a "safe" poet without reading my book. I'd be more than happy to send you a copy of my book so at least you can call me something for a reason. I'd be even happier to trade you a copy of my book for one of the Action Books books which I love and admire.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I think the problem with the oppositional framework is that, if it is not a binary (ie with the hybrid "third camp"), then it describes a one-dimensional continuum - with the still-undefined (yet supposedly homogeneous enough to group) "post-avantism" at one end, and "SoQ" at the other. If we're going to be spacial about it, then the cartography needs serious work - 2, 3, maybe four dimensions, if transhistoricity comes into the equation.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Laurel said...

Okay, wow. We seem to have left the original conversation (and a woman whose poetry I find much more interesting that the tail- end of this thread) in the dust.

1. I think Johannes SHOULD make a list. For Steve. I think he should make us all a list. Of the work he finds unboring and inelegant and good. I'd like a JG reading list myself. I think we are now ALL speaking in generalities and as someone who (it seems we all claim this position) feels I embrace the middles, the hybrid aesthetics, I'd love to know what we're discussing here. Didn't Steve state initially that HE liked work that renegotiates boundaries, etc? Make me a list!

2. "As it turns out, I guess, binary thinking is easier to reject than to avoid." Um, yeah. Larf!

3. I'm bothered by the degree to which this thread contains no mention of mothering or Rachel, which was the point, at least in part, of the article. Johannes, you were bothered by the overuse of "excess" (because, I guess, you questioned the authenticity of that statement? Or because it felt inconsistent to you? Not exactly sure.) but I can't help thinking about how apt a metaphor THAT (overuse of excess) is for motherhood itself. Seems odd that one might be willing to embrace excess in relation to this subject (mothering), but find oneself surprised by that embrace. Not sure what to think about that... as it relates to gender, identities, etc. Feels like there's a fetish there,if there isn't a wholehearted transformation, though really, I loved the article, and it totally resonated for me.

4. Oh, yeah, also, I love these fucking poems.

4:27 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I'm sorry if that's the way it came off. I was analyzing Steve Burt's thinking, not your poetry. But if you want to trade me your book I'd be pleased to read it.


6:59 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I tend to assume that I speak to the same 5 people who read all my blog posts, but obviously that's not the case. (I just looked at the "site meter" my friend Seved installed on my blog last summer and find that there are a few hundred more than I thought and, interestingly, that more people were interested in My Own Private Idaho than any poetry posts.)

This is to say, that my posts assume in part that the reader has read Joyelle's talk on "The "Future" of "Poetry"" (a talk at which Steve was present), where she deals with the connection between motherhood and the abject. You can find it on my blog on December 20th if you are interested.

I don't know what middle aesthetics are and I think everyone writes hybrid aesthetics.

I thought the article was patronizing and policing of "mommy" poems.


7:06 AM  
Blogger Laurel said...

Fair enough! I can understand your read, but wanted to enter the conversation with my stained-diaper-flag waving.

As a lesser mommy-poet I welcome your defense of my art.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...


Maybe some of this would be relevant to the topic. It's a roundtable on the meanings attached to the term "post-avant." Steve and I were among the participants. My first two extended comments would be the ones from me most linked, at least suggestively, to some of the issues raised here.
I'd probably throw in a couple of qualifiers on Burger, if I could rewrite. But in discussions of a-g theory, Burger has to be dealt with. Recent debates on a-g practices in the visual arts--among the October crowd, in particular-- take Theory of the Avant-Garde as starting point.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I think the problem here - and in that stuff you linked to, Kent, is the idea of "a" singular, hetrogeous, Avant-garde (or "post-avant). My understanding is that this is what Johannes has been getting at - and this leads to the two-camp oppositional system (which just makes people shore up their barracades, or feel smug about themselves).

8:25 PM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Hi Ross,

I'm aware of the "micro" aesthetic differences. But I think it's important to give more attention to some of the "macro" (and often unacknowledged) sociological forces inside which those aesthetic differences unfold. Differences of form often obscure more substantial unities. Bourdieu has some important things to say in that bigger regard.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I suppose - I'll have to look at the Bourdieu - but what I mean is that, i think, the umbrella of "post-avantism" creates a simplistic, and often unhelpful picture of contemporary poetics - and the binary with SoQ seems to be neccessarily oppositional (also creating an unhelpful focus on the middle ground - hence Johannes' review of the Hybrid anthology - aside: I've always thought of Hybridism as neccessarily grotesque - is that Baktain? it's early in the morning and I'm not quite functioning yet). Furthermore the internal differences within the supposed camp are very large - compare, say, Bok and Lara Glenum. The umbrella implies at least some level of homogeneity, and I'm not sure that's fair to those involved - especially where there are large philosophical differences (Siliman and Johannes, for one example)

12:41 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

I'm ever so late to this conversation (blame motherhood, vomit, travel), and I'm not reading the entire comments stream carefully, forgive. Still:

1. I adore Rachel's book, wrecking and wonderful. The whole time the poet is standing there talking to you, anything could crumble. It's ludicrous and terrifying.

2. "The point is that these...lines...can portray what it is like to be this person, this mother and teacher, at wit’s end: exhilarated, exhausted, exasperated, and able to show how it feels." This strikes me oddly twee. Rachel's book doesn't tie up the chaos so neatly. "The point," if there need be, is that "this mother" performs series after series of physically articulate tasks (eat, feed, sex, ride subway, pick up child). She exists in a simultaneously discreet form (person, New Yorker, body) and mutable form (woman-mother-wife, reproductive body), while an ever-expanding field (chasm?) of existence-sans-fathomable-form opens up inside her. False starts, doubts, inside accidents, the inability to label one's own set of feelings. If we want to get all shamanistic about it (and MoA really has these gorgeous pissed-off-to-find-themselves-shaman moments), it's as though each pregnancy dug the mother out further. "[E]xhilarated, exhausted, exasperated" sounds more like a romantic comedy.

"More like a heifer than a sunrise, I want to bite, stroke, swallow you so stop lying there trying to think of something to say and trying to understand me. / I am the body next to but unlike yours. / You already know me. You already know what I'm made of." You know you can't know me, except in this limited way. A total sacred cow.

I don't know, I think the text more menacing than Burt's essay suggests. She makes it exactly as hard to "know how it feels" as it should be. Not that this isn't redeeming. Maybe here I have found my morbid optimism, because the book does seem to insist on a future, and the possibility of living in that future, but it's completely astounding that "this mother," or any freaking "mother" is able to move (unable to stop moving?) forward.

1:44 PM  

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