Monday, March 31, 2008

Perloff on Polyglot writing

Marjorie Perloff writes about , what she sees as a Jolas tradition.

Joyelle and I are reading in Chicago on Thursday

[From Joshua Marie Wilkinson]

Dear Chicagoland friends,

Please come to Loyola! This Thursday evening

Who: Joyelle McSweeney & Johannes Goransson
Where: Loyola University, Lake Shore Campus (Rogers Park), Damen Hall 340
When: This coming Thursday, April 3, 7:30pm
What: A reading of fiction, & poetry, & translations

Directions: Red Line to Loyola Stop and campus is across the street
Here is a campus map:

Joyelle McSweeney is a professor at Notre Dame and is the author of four
books, most recently two novels: Nylund, The Sarcographer (Tarpaulin Sky)
and Flet (Fence).

Johannes Goransson is the author of several books, most recently Pilot
(Fairy Tale Review),
A New Quarantine Will Take My Place (Apostrophe), and Dear Ra (Starcherone).
Plus, he's published book-length translations of Henry Parland (Ugly
Duckling) and
Aase Berg (Action).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Funky Forest

I don't know what blog I read about the Funky Forest (maybe Gary Sullivan or Jordan Davis), but I'm glad I did. This film is super. It's kind of like Joyelle's poetry but a Japanese movie.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

SvD about American translations of Swedish poets

I just got an interesting newspaper clipping from my aunt Berit. Jesper Olsson (Editor of OEI) has written an article in Svenska Dagbladet, the biggest Swedish daily newspaper, about various translations of Swedish poetry in America - my translations of Henry Parland and Aase Berg, Jennifer Hayshida's translation of Fredrik Nyberg, and Fredrik Hertzberg's translation of Gunnar Björling.

"American Translations Bring Oxygen to Swedish Lyric"

Here are a few quotes:

""One of the most interesting new poets of 2007." With this selling phrase, the language poet Ron Silliman began his poetry blog (one of the best on the Net) on January 22nd this year. The object of his praise is a Finland Swedish modernist who died nearly 80 years ago: Henry Parland."


"One thing that fascinates Silliman is how poorly Henry Parland fits in with the common idea of Modernism from the 1920s. Rather Parland reminds Silliman of American Objectivism (Zukofksy etc) - or quite simply poetry today. Parland is in short up-to-date."

[a few paragraphs describing the various works and arguing that these are positive choices of translations because they move beyond essentialized notions of Swedishness - forests, the wind, lakes etc]

"And in a loop this interest comes back to Swedish readers. We too can read the texts anew. When the poet and critic Charles Bernstein positions Björling with Emily Dickinson and Robert Creeley, or when Silliman places Parland next to George Oppen, a new entryway is opened to Swedish poetry where new oxygen and light flows in. It's time to start reading again"

[ends on a quote from Ideals Clearance]

Also, my review of Picabia books

is in the most recent Raintaxi.

It takes me forever to write reviews, so read it and weep.

Joyelle on Hannah Weiner's Open House

Here's Joyelle's terrific review-essay of Hannah Weiner's Open House, the collection of Weiner texts/events/poems edited by Patrick Durgin.

Tran Da Tu

Here are some insightful poems from the Vietnamese poet Tran Da Tu, translated by Linh Dinh.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jacket review of Quarantine

I am thankful for homeless languages, lucky to be alienated. I believe in artifice that can panic well, that reflects the undeniable chaos of interpersonal communication.

- Jacket, Sean Kilpatrick on my book "A New Quarantine Will Take My Place"

In the same issue there's a special of the Dusie Collective. This to me is a far more interesting way of assembling anthologies.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shepherd on Bruns on Stevens

Reginald Shepherd has an interesting review of an essay by Gerald Bruns (of Notre Dame's English dpeartment), in which Bruns seems to make a very similar argument about Stevens that I often makes - that it's a poetry meant "to keep otherness from happening."

I'm anthological

Yes, it's sad (not really) but true: New European Poets, edited by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer, features some of my translations of Swedish poet Ann Jaderlund's work. Rika Lesser edited the Swedish section and it reflect definitely a generational taste - mostly work by writers born in the 1950s, and the younger poets are not my favorites. Hakan Sandell is part of the "retrogarde" movement in Sweden, a very different movement from the retrogardism of Laibach in Slovenia (which I am whole-heartedly in support of). The Swedish version is a bit like New Formalism but more Romantic.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Brief History of Swedish Poetry and avant-gardism

[Someone asked me if I could tell him about the history of Swedish poetry and its relationship to euro avantgardism and how Aase and I fit into this, so I wrote an incredibly reductive history:]

Some of this can be seen in an issue of Typo (an online journal) that I edited a while back. I will also send you a special issue of the journal 14 Hills that I edited a while back as well.

Basically, the most important figure for Swedish avant-gardist poetry was Edith Sodergran. She was actually Finland Swedish, but grew up in St Petersburg, and never even visited Sweden. She had the Russian influence, and then read a lot of French decadence/Baudelaire as a young woman, then she got TB and was sent to Switzerland to recuperate. In Switzerland she read Nietzsche and a whole slew of German Expressionist poets (and according to one scholar currently researching the matter, Emily Dickinson). She returned and wrote pretty outrageous poetry and that was the start of Modernism//avantgardism in Scandinavia. She died young in rural Finland after the Bolsheviks had ruined her family. There are a couple of books of her poetry in translation.

She led the way to Diktonius and Gunnar Bjorling, both heavily influenced by various European and Russian avantgardists (Mayakovsky etc) in the 1920s. [Note: these guys loved American poets Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg, who they saw as American proletariat avant-gardists]. In the late 20s, Bjorling fell in love with a young Russian kid named Henry Parland, who helped Bjorling bring Dada to Swedish poetry. But Henry died at 22 and then Bjorling went on to have perhaps the most important avantgarde career in Scandinavian poetry, developing a very strange, erasure-based lyric.

At the same time, the French influence became pronounced. Gunnar Ekelof lived in Paris as a young man in the 1920s and brought Surrealism with him back and for about 30 years that was a big influence on Swedish poetry. It merged with a kind of Romantic nature poetry (result: Tomas Transtromer). Although I don't like this part of Swedish poetry, it did result in a continually strong influence of French literature, and in particular Surrealism.

In the early 1960s a revolutionary left wing movement -the New Simplicity - took over Swedish culture and remained in charge until the 1980s more or less. A lot of their stuff has been translated - Goran Sonnevi is the most important of them, still remains the most sort of canonical living Swedish poet. They were pretty intense. Very much anti-nature poetry, anti-surrealist. Their journals are full of Althusser and such, often more politics than poetry. As you can tell from the name, they were in certain dialogue with various avantgarde movements of political activism from the 1920s.

At the same time -mostly in the early 60s - there was a Concretist group of incredibly experimental, McLuhan-obsessed, LSD-dropping poets and artists. The most important one was Oyvind Fahlstrom. Some of his work has been translated because he became an internationally renowned artist in the 60s. He's been a big influence on my work. This group also included Ake Hodell, somewhat famous for his experimental music (Sonic Youth played on a tribute album). In the early part of the 60s they were part of the same "movement" as New Simplicity - gathered around Leif Nylen's journal Rondo. At this time, the "simplicity" had much to do with the French New Novel (Robbe-Grillet etc), but by mid-60s -when the journal ended - it had become Marxist, and move that intensified over the late 60s and early 70s. At some point around 1966, Lars Gustafsson - who later ended up in Austin, TX - declared Concretism dead for the normal reason: it was decadent, a-political, bourgeois experimentalism, pro-Americanism etc.

Concretism was really a very intermedia movement - Fahlstrom is more of an artist (happenings, games, paintings), Hodell an artist and experimental composer. It was also in touch with Rauschenberg and New Yorkers - largely through Fahlstrom (there's a Raymond Johnson collage named after Fahlstrom, Rauschenberg has constistenly been a big Fahlstrom supporter over the years) - and an interest in pop art - but as a politically radical phenomena (as Huyssen describes in After the Great Divide) - and actual pop art (Bob Dylan for example).

One of the great independent figures of the 60s was Gunnar Harding, who published Underground Poetry from the US (published in the late 60s), which introduced O'Hara, Ashbery and the Beats to Sweden, and that had a big influence on the 70s youth poetry. Harding is also an interesting poet in his own right; I once heard Ashbery read one of his poems, saying it was a favorite of his.

Also, during the 1960s Lars Noren - now internationally acclaimed playwright - wrote some amazing Surrealist/concretist books of poetry. Teenage genius. That whole bit. I like those books a lot. And they were a big influence on Aase and Johan Jonsson, another young Swedish poet I've translated.

Perhaps the most popular poet probably in Swedish history is Bruno K Oijer who wrote in the 70s, and he is a mercilessly, drammatical Surrealist - part bob dylan, part Rimbaud, part Breton. He was a big influence on my writings, but until recently the Swedish critics have dismissed him as a "beat"-imitator. Don't think he's been much translated (until the next issue of Action, Yes). But he had a huge cultural impact - performs with alterna rock groups like Kent in stadiums (still, in his 50s). Had a big influence on my favorite childhood band Imperiet, a kind of Weimar-ish synth band with decadent lyrics that was the big pop band in the 1980s. He's really uncool now (Jesper Olsson's is that he was simply too popular, in a mass-culture way, the way Ginsberg is uncool for the same reason).

In the 80s two really important women poets came around - Katarina Frostensson and Ann Jaderlund - part decadent, part surrealist-ish, part grotesque. Jaderlund in particular was big influence on Aase. In the late 80s there was the so-called "Ann Jaderlund Debates" - where the critical establishment (still Marxist) attacked her in all the big daily papers for her obscure hermeticism. She was just totally savaged. But then many young women poets defended her and that generation kind of grew out of the Jaderlund Debates. The 90s was a decade largely shaped by young women poets - including Aase.

Aase actually came out of a hard-line Surrealist group - THe Surrealist Group of Stockholm. They have a web site. They're very prominent in Surrealist circles internationally. But Aase left the group, primarily from what I gather because she didn't agree with the more violent aspects of their ideology etc. Because of this association, mostly Aase's work intitially drew from French Surrealism - Artaud, Bellmer, Michaux - not Swedish poetry at all. Also, Plath. And Eva-Kristina Olsson, a wonderful poet of the Jaderlund Generation, whose work has just gotten stranger and stranger. I'm a big fan of her work (my book Pilot is to some extent ripped off from her).

Later in the 90s she was influenced by the introduction of a bunch of American poets - Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe. They were introduced as part of OEI I think. OEI was a journal Jesper Olsson started, in large part inspired by having been a visiting grad student at SUNY Buffalo with Charles Bernstein and seeing all the activity among the grad students there. That journal has now become rather prominent - even receiveing a write-up in Art Forum the other month. It still has a fairly prominent American influence, but more on what can be seen as the neo-conceptualism of people like Kenny Goldsmith. Though I think the best description of it is a return to the pre-political New Simplicity, to Rondo.

My favorite poet of this crowd is Johan Jonsson, but he doesn't really entirely fit in squarely with OEI, even though they publish a lot of his books. Throughout the 90's he was part of a small avantgardist theater/performance group called Teatermaskinen, whose work was largely influence by Heiner Muller's "Hamletmachine" etc. His work - collected as "In the War Machine" - came out on a small small press throughout the 90s. Teatermaskinen put on these really obscene performances in northern Sweden, as well as conducting workshops in rural and working class schools (a big tradition in Sweden since the New Simplicity).

Aase "re-discovered" Johan when she was briefly in charge of the big literary journal BLM. Johan does have quite a bit in common with OEI and American poetry as well. When I was last in Stockholm he described to me how he had read Bruce Andrews using a dictionary. Sounds like the right way to do it. You can only wish that Americans would do the same to Johan's work. Fortunately they won't have to since a book of my translations are slated to be published this fall/winter.

Basically Sweden has gone through periods of incredibly cosmopolitanism and periods of intense insularity. That's the lot of a provincial country.

Response to Kasey


I'm sleep-deprived but I hope I'll make some sense today.

Basically I agree with most of what you say; your disagreement with my original statement comes largely from my sloppy way of writing.

1) I absolutely agree with you that neat divisions of poetry into innovative vs quietism on the whole don't hold up. My reference to these divisions in the original post was meant in large part to evoke the rhetoric of these presses, journals, anthologies etc. Or perhaps, the rhetoric of our current time: Seems like everybody says, I'm open to the whole spectrum, from Hejinian to Revell. This is what I take from Reginald's posts on the Internet when he says: there is no outside because both Hejinian and Revell are being published. Well of course there is a whole lot of poetry that has to do with neither poet.

2)This space of compromise (or inclusion) seems to have a lot to do with defending an idea of the "lyric." And it is the seemingly unquestioned nature of this "lyric" that I would like to see more discussion about. To me, this idea of the lyric suggests elevated language,which suggests a language with a center. Major poetry. This is clearly just the very tip of the iceberg so to speak. I just think there should be more questioning about this “lyric.”

3) In the space of compromise, it seems like poetry is formalized. I mean a large part of what made Langpo great was bringing out he politics of language. In this space of compromise they become formal innovators. You’re right that given this context, someone like Waldrop comes off was “elevated”. She’s turned into “formal innovation” (what could be more dreadful!?). This is true of Scalapino perhaps most of all; her poetry seems incredibly involved in the social and now it’s turned into this beautiful book. [Notice: these are poets who are already established. That’s key.]

4) You ask me whether my describing Revell as “ultra-quietist” has to do with his poetry or his criticism – I would say both. I would say, aren’t they part of the same business?

5) I would absolutely agree with you that ultimately this is about “legitimacy.” And that’s in large part what irritates me about a lot of this – what Joyelle called “anthological thinking” in her “Numbers Game” article on Delirious Hem. This constant production of the “teachable”, the legitimate – this is poetry we are supposed to admire in its casing in the American Poetry Wax Museum.

6) You’re right that the Cali books are beautiful and some of them I’ve liked as well. Mark Levine’s second book, as an anthem to castration, is pretty interesting. But I much prefer presses that don’t try to “represent the spectrum” but have a vision and are going for it – I was just reading Black Ocean’s latest book “Holy Land” by Rauan Klassnik, which seems to be part of their ongoing project to engage with Henri Michaux’s “new torture operations”. Or whatever press published “The Thorn” and “Dark Brandon” – they were really going for something, from the black blank cover to the video collages inside. Etc.

7) I really don’t think UCA press is open to just any old style. That’s a way way overstatement. And it does go back to the lyric and its baggage. I really do think it has to do with defening an idea of the lyric. And if I could be more specific I would be a good critic. But I do think this is something to examine.

8) I appreciate your response and I’ll think more about it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Compromise = order

I just received in the mail "It's go in horizontal" the selected poems by Leslie Scalapino, published by U of CA Press. Of course it looks fantastic.

It has me thinking about a peculiar phenomenon: presses whose vision of contemporary American poetry is a self-conscious compromise. U of CA press is publishing old works by Ron Silliman and Leslie Scalapino side by side with very "lyrical"/Stevensian works by younger poets like Clover, Levine and Geoffrey G. O'Brien.

In a more obvious case, Omnidawn publishes Lyn Hejinian next to ultra-quietist Donald Revell (if we just pay "attention" we won't let social conflict or ideology ruin our work).

Claudia Rankine edited that anthology of women poets called "where lyric meets language" or something like that.

Reginald Shepherd has edited an anthology of "lyric postmodernisms," featuring Revell and others who are still writing lyrical poetry.

This is the description from the Counterpath web site:

"Lyric Postmodernisms gathers many well established poets whose work transcends the boundaries between traditional lyric and avant-garde experimentation. Some have been publishing since the 1960s, some have emerged more recently, but all have been influential on newer generations of American poets. Many of these poets are usually not thought of together, being considered as members of different poetic “camps,” but they nonetheless participate in a common project of expanding the boundaries of what can be said and done in poetry. This anthology sheds new light on their work, creating a new constellation of contemporary American poetry."

There seems to be this trend to establish a canon that holds various "camps" together. And to use langpo as a way of showing that the "lyric" can be "innovative" (whatever that means), as a way of dealing with the anxiety that some kind of "postmodern" poetry (I wonder if this comes from Paul Hoover's usage of this word in his anthology a decade ago) eliminates "the lyric." Or is it an attempt to turn Silliman &Co into formal innovators(something he has on his blog done a pretty good job of himself)? Into lyrical poets?

What does the "lyric" mean in these contexts? It seems seldom to be questioned.

For me, the lyric equals the monoglossic notion of poetry as elevated language.

And that is why I will always have a problme with using the lyric so unquestioningly.

I've also noticed that Reginald often invokes Adorno on his blog - Adorno as an apologist for the autonomous artwork, as a way of bringing a Marxist slant to an otherwise New Critical view of art (and, importantly, opposition to mass culture). Although that may be a somewhat reductive reading of Adorno, I think it's fair enough.

But you also have to take into account that Adorno criticized Heine for writing in impure German. I think that is absolutely key. And for me that brings in Deleuze and Guattari's notion of minor literature. The Lyric as major; the minor as the contaminated ("yiddishized" to invoke D+G's Kafka-book). In Heine (as in Kafka) the foreign intrudes and deforms the heightened language of the lyric.

It should also be noted (Mark, sorry for being a whiner about this!) that these anthologies are anthologies of American poetry (and largely white America). Try to put them in an international context and see what happens. For one, the stable notion of language of the lyric (even with "slippages" as a formalist device) would be undermined by the translated text, the text that is not "there." There is something inherently minor about the translated text, a threat to the autonomous artwork.

In Reginald's "defense", his anthology includes Rosmarie Waldrop, somebody whose work does not fit into this notion of the lyric.

Just some thoughts on a beautiful Easter Sunday in South Bend, Indiana.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Publishing question from student

I'm answering some questions from a student in a publishing class. Here are the first few answers:


Here are some answers (more to come later):
> 1. In my Small Press Publishing class, there seems to be a stigma against
> major publishing houses. What is your experience with this?

Of course I can't speak for your class, but I can speak more generally about attitudes in the poetry world. In the general American culture, major publishing houses have a huge advantage. They have the money to advertise the books; they have promotional crews; and most importantly, the big majority of American poetry readers/writers still confer a high level of prestige on books published by major publishers. That is to say, a book published by a major publisher become "major" in the eyes of many people.

This is strange to me for many reasons. For one, I don't know who the editors are of most of these presses (and here I include university presses) or why their taste should be considered more important than those editors who have proven themselves as interesting poets and critics. The answer is to a large extent: money. Money confers prestige in American poetry. This has all kinds of problems.

Some people prefer small presses to large presses for inherently ethical reasons: the feeling that there is something less estranged, more immediate about small press publishing; people are interacting with each other on a smaller, less mass-media level. This goes hand in hand with the ethicalization of "the community," this too having to do with a desire to undo the alienation of modern mass society.

The reason I prefer small press publishing is that it has proven itself much more open to new and foreign poetry than the regular presses. Very few of the books I have loved over the past 10-15 years have been published by major publishers, or even prominent indies like Graywolf or Coffeehouse. A lot of them have been published by Fence: my wife Joyelle McSweeney, Chelsey Minnis, Catherine Wagner, Ariana Reines. A lot of them by Ugly Duckling Presse: Ivan Blatny’s The Drug of War, Alexsander Skidan, Tomaz Salamun etc. Zephyr Press has published a bunch of Russian books in translation. Somebody from your program started Switchback Books, which recently published Monica de la Torre’s book of poems. Bigger presses have utterly failed to publish foreign works in translation (other than “classics” like Neruda etc). Small presses seem to want to bring new ideas and poetries to American Poetry, while the major presses at best seek to remain relevant, at worst attempts to restrict. I think my own background as a foreigner has forced upon me an awareness of this.

> 2. How did you get your start in the editing world?

I was sick of the insular, static state of poetry publishing. In particular I was annoyed at the lack of interest in foreign poetry. I wanted to help change that.

3. How do you decide what pieces to publish?

The books we’ve published have had different routes to us. The first book we decided to publish was Lara Glenum’s “The Hounds of No.” That was part of reason we started the press. I knew Lara and had read the book and was frustrated that nobody in Amerincan poetry had the guts to publish it. I first heard Sandy Florian read at a reading in Denver and was aboslutely blown away. Joyelle and I first read Don Mee Choi’s translations of Korean poet Kim Hyesoon and we contacted her and told her we had to publish the book. At that point she was far from ready with the book, but two years later we put out the book. So it happens in a lot of different ways.

Parland in Publishers Weekly

Hip by contemporary standards, Henry Parland was a Swedish modernist poet whose short, visionary, often funny poems written between the two world wars are new to American readers. Ideals Clearance (trans. from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson); Ugly Duckling Presse [SPD, dist.], $14 144p ISBN 978-1-933254-22-7) is packed with irresistible lines: “Youth:/ hunger/ or a weariness that/ dances?”

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Here's a little bio Fredrik Hertzberg wrote about Henry Parland.

Here's a review of "Ideals Clearance" by Jason Lester in The Badger Herald. Here's a snappy excerpt: Parland’s poems have aged in such a way that they seem neither foreign nor a stuffy sentiment of the past. It is astonishing how he beats Kurt Cobain by more than 60 years when he proclaims, “Of all words/ the greatest:/ whatever.”

Friday, March 14, 2008

We Own The Night

This is the worst movie I have ever seen.

Kasey reviews Mommy

Kasey, the new "constant critic," reviews "Mommy Must Be A Fountain of Feathers," Don Mee Choi's translation of Kim Hyesoon's poems over at the Constant Critic.

This is the beginning of the review:

I saw Don Mee Choi reading some of the poems of Kim Hyesoon’s she had translated for the Tinfish chapbook When the Plug Gets Unplugged (2005) a couple of years ago at a conference in Austin, and had an experience I don’t often have at poetry readings: I was genuinely disturbed, made viscerally nervous, as though one thing had been peeled back to reveal something else, something I didn’t necessarily want to see. That same feeling revisits me upon reading the collection of Kim’s work recently published by Action Books (and incorporating the poems in When the Plug), Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers. Kim’s surrealism is not a precious affectation or a sterile literary convention, but a way of conveying nightmarish states of existence through the most effective means available [...] a beauty, like Rilke’s, that threatens to be more than one can bear.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Difficult Poems"

Just in time for my aside about Spring break and "difficult poems" comes the new "The Writer's Chronicle" with the most inane article I've read in a long time, Charles Harper Webb's "The Poem as Fitness Display." Webb uses a metaphor (though he suggests that perhaps it's more than a metaphor!) that poetry displays evolutionary fitness - ie you write a good poem and that makes mates want to reproduce with you (to make the argument brief). Not sure how Frank O'Hara fits into that equation.

To show yourself as evolutionarily fit, you have to be moderately difficult - difficult enough to be admired but not so difficult nobody can understand you. He goes on to make some pretty pedantic arguments about this difficulty.

But of course - like most poetry articles published in The Writer Chronicle it seems - the article ends up being an attack on language poetry. (Seems this is true of everything I read in this journal. It may start out as an article about fishing or writing about gramma, but sure enough it always comes back to a critique of langpo - please!)

He makes a distinction between elite and folk art: "Elites... often try to distinguish themselves from the common run of humanity by replacing natural human tastes with artfully contrived preferences... [by which they] can display their intelligence, learning ability, and sensitivity to emerging cultural norms."

Here, the article gets really weird. Somehow evolution has "prepared" people to "admire and enjoy" WS Merwin's poem (which I don't get at all), but not to "admire and enjoy" langpo and other "elite poetries."

Why, you may wonder, do so many people enjoy this poetry then?

Well, for one thing they flourish in academia (as opposed to Webb himself, who happens to be a professor). Secondly many poets like to write difficult poems because the difficulty "erects a screen between writer and audience, protecting the writer from self-revelation." But most importantly, it allows writers to feel superior to "the mob." As a result, these academic types (not Webb) can use their hocus-pocus to advance their standing in academica (which frankly seems like a very evolutionary fit thing to do!).

Also: "Self-delusion also enters the mix. Most difficult bad poets thing they're good poets. They may even think they are accessible."

And: "When it comes to writing very difficult poems, though, no group surpasses the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets." Because: they ask the readers to do work, to create the poem out of nothing. This is apparently very difficult to do.

Another problem with langpo: It's difficult to judge. How can we tell that it's a good or bad poem? The horror!

The judge he posits is a "general reader" - who is ""an adult, somewhat above average in intelligence, literate but not literary specialist, and the possessor of natural human taste." This person, Webb speculates, probably enjoys Garrison Keiler and Billy Collins.

I'm glad to say that my tastes are totally "unnatural." (and so it seems are most people in the world!)

Anyway, this article pretty obviously ridiculous. My main point in bringing this up is ... What the hell is wrong with this journal? Stop publishing these inane articles. If you want to offer a critique of langpo, there are lots of intelligent ways of doing it - just like there are intelligent ways of discussing any number of different kinds of poetry. Writing something is "unnatural " or "too"-anything is the hallmarks of people unable or unwilling to actually engage with the poetry.

Most people who red this blog will probably say: Yes, Johannes, this is inane, but why do you waste your/our time writing about this nonsense? Because people like this are teaching students all across the country. And everyone in a CW program gets a copy of this journal. It is powerful in that sense.

"Teaching" here meaning "weeding out "unnatural" people, pushing them out of poetry. We don't need teachers who make rules, but who encourage students to explore.

And: I object to people using the word "difficult" because so much poetry that is considered "difficult" I don't find difficult (Ron S. for example), and so much that is supposedly "natural" I can't get (Jane Kenyon etc).

The concept of the general reader is of course deeply problematic; the "natural" general reader, even more so. For me the (un)general reader of poetry is an immigrant teenager who wants art to be interesting and strange, not merely something h/she can judge as good/bad based on an "evolutionary" standard.


Josh Corey has a blog entry about Backstrom's article about the avant-garde in the most recent Action, Yes.

Abe Smith Reading

Abe is reading at Teachers and Writers Collaborative in NYC. If you live in the area, please go seem him. He is one of the absolutely most riveting readers I have ever encountered.

March 14 – 6:30 PM

Here are directions to the event from Penn Station:

Exit onto Eighthth Ave.

Walk north on Eighthth (towards 35th).

We are at 520 Eighth Ave between 36th and 37th

Suite 2020 (on the 20th floor)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thoughts from Spring Break

Here are some thoughts/experiences I had during spring break, as Joyelle and I traveled to Iowa city and Minneapolis.

- Apparently it is pretentious and off-putting to start one's reading by reading a part of an essay that refers to Deleuze and Guattari and Bakhtin. Apparently this will make the audience think you are a jerk. At least that is what I was told... (The manifesto/essay is forthcoming in Mark Novak's XCP so you can judge for yourself.)

- What is a "difficult poem"? Somebody at the Workshop asked Joyelle how she taught "difficult poems." Charles Bernstein used the same phrase when he spoke at Notre Dame last year. I still don't know what is meant by that.

- The fallacy "Good books end up winning contests" or "good books will in the end be published" is still being spoken, even by intelligent people. This is the most atrocious fallacy I know, since most of my favorite books by people my age remain unpublished while every day I glance through books that are a waste of paper. The very notion that there is a "good" should at this point have been debunked. When asked what this means, most people seem to mean "finished," "uniform," "even" or "ordered." Secondly, contests seldom lead to original books being published - because usually there are "readers" who are instructed to remove books that don't fit a certain normalizing mold.

- Maria Damon and I are still searching for Brian Horihan, who was an undergrad with me at the U of M and one of Maria's students. In his apartment, Brian had a couch, a shelf of Pasolini, Burroughs and various pervy sci-fi, and an aquarium with a snake called Max. Last thing Maria knew, he had graduated with a film degree from UW Milwaukee and was moving to France.If you know a person that fits this description, tell him to contact us.

- When signing a copy of my book for Maria, I accidentally referred to her book Dark End of the Street as Darkness at the Edge of Town. She said she likes Bruce so it was no big deal.

- It was also nice to see John Minczeski, who was my first poetry teacher (My mom enrolled me in a summer camp when I was in 8th grade to keep me out of trouble. According to John I showed up wearing a shirt with Nietzsche's face on it. Apparently nothing's changed...)