Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Raw vs Cooked (again)

I can't help comment on my pal (and constant straw man) Josh Corey's recent post about teaching.

As always, I disagree with Josh's split of poets into the crafty and the wild poets (who, according to Josh, "hurl feces"). In Josh's discussions, the raw camps are set up as free and crazy, unencumbered by the rules of art, while the cooked - his own camp, he repeatedly points out - are cerebral and concerned with rules etc.

Of course this dichotomy is totally false. Josh has used Lara Glenum and Ariana Reines to exemplify the raw crowd, but these poets take great care to explore certain formal registers. I would say they are both formalists in the way the Bolsheviks used the term (negatively). But they are concerned with form in fluid, dynamic way; not as a set of rules passed down through creative writing classes.

Perhaps the best example of how wrong this binary divide is: Artaud. His "theater of cruelty" is often misinterpreted as a mayhem-gone-wild of violence. But cruelty, as Artaud repeatedly points out, has to do with the precision of movements, and cruelty against him (Artaud that is). His model was the precise movements of Balinese dancers.

This is also why I reacted so negatively to Jim's cliche idea that avant-gardism is just chaos. Dodie Bellamy has repeatedly pointed to gay porn as a source for her writing - a highly formalist theater.

Another point: In David Lynch it is extreme formalism, aestheticism that leads to the "unconscious" - zigzag floor patterns, strange songs from the 1950s etc.

Rather than actually describe a crowd of poets, I think Josh's binary shows a strange longing for a Freudian model of the mind: a desire for a Freudian unconscious to exist, the wish for a barbarian force that needs to be technologized, restrained chaos.

In Josh's new post he moves this raw-vs-cooked model into teaching. He writes: "It's relatively easy to teach the first column, and in fact the notion of poetry as teachable derives from that zone. What's seemingly impossible to teach is the second column, and that more romantic notion of what a poet is inspires the saying, "Poets are born, not made," and lead all sorts of people to doubt and calumnify the value of creative writing programs. The best we may be able to do, as Bob suggests, is to offer students Noulipo-type constraints which will produce a poem of the second column using the methodology of the first." [That's a reference to Robert Archambeau, who wrote the post he respond to].

One way to move beyond this impasse is to pose student-centered, problem-based challenges, in which student have to read up on poets and writers in order to solve a problem in their own ways, based on their own views and interests. For example, you give them a bunch of ideas about performance and some performances and you leave it to them to figure out what a performance should do and how to do that. The teacher is according to this model more of a guide and less of an authority who imparts knowledge. But you have to abandon the set idea of what good poetry (or craft, form) is.

The only way Josh can see the "Dionysian" poet as a teacher is Jorie Graham's charismatic style of teaching. I think actually Jorie is an extreme example of teacher-centered, craft-based teaching. She depends on the dynamic of herself as an Authority. Although she plays the persona of a Romantic Genius, she teaches with very basic, craft-based critiques - re-arranging words and changing word-choices in order to make for a more breathless experience.

I saw a lot of fellow students learn a lot from Jorie's workshop in Iowa - and become much less original. That is the problem of that kind of teacher-centered teaching. It makes for conformists. And thus: a lot of the problems of a contemporary American poetry that is filtered through teacher-centered classrooms.


Blogger Rauan Klassnik said...

I'm reading "The Cow" right now (again, usually while in the bath.. what is it with water?) and am really enjoying it. This is not to say, though, that I think it's perfect.

1) i agree with yr calling her a kind of "formalist." Much of "The Cow" certainly feels this way to me.

2) I really like what Reines is doing (and i'm told the 2nd book is much "better",...) but i do though get the feeling that there's something like a Jorie Graham shadow in it: ie, some sort of influence ( an individual or collective school of writing) that has left the work not quite original as it might be....

anyways, that's just me,....

5:07 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I don't think there's any Jorie in The Cow. But maybe you mean something more general. I don't think one of her books are better than the other; but very different.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Matt Walker said...

Rauan, how do you keep your books dry? I hear about people reading in the bath, but I can never quite imagine how it's done. I've seen it in movies, but never in real life...

10:02 AM  
Blogger Rauan Klassnik said...

some books get a drop or two of water on them now and them. but that is better than blood or shit i guess.....

i do not know about other people but my trick is to keep the book above water level....

hope this helps


3:40 PM  

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