Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ron's interview with me about Aase Berg

Ecstasy of Dismemberment:

yes, just in time for X-Mas !!

On my blog now is an email interview i conducted with Johannes Göransson re his translation of Aase Berg's "With Deer."

Aase Berg is, for me, one of the most exciting poets alive today.....
Johannes's transaltion of "With Deer" (Berg's first book) releases this Spring from Black Ocean

In this interview Johannes touches on (and more so)
Surrealism ("fat" and other kinds)
Swedish "fairy-tale-scapes"
"visual fascination"
Ecstasy of Dismemberment
Sylvia Plath and the bee box
Refined Sensibilities
and much more

to read it all go to

"With Deer" is violent, persistent--and it is beautiful.

Here's a relatively mild sentence from one of its early poems ("In the Guinea Pig Cave") which originally appeared on Conduit:

There lay the guinea pigs and they ached all over and their legs stuck straight up like beetles and they looked depraved and were blue under their eyes as from months of debauchery.

Here are Bios that Johannes supplied me.

Johannes Goransson is the author of three books - Dear Ra, Pilot and A New Quarantine Will Take My Place - and the translator of five books - "With Deer" by Aase Berg (forthcoming shortly), "Collobert Orbital" by Johan Jonsson(coming soon), "Gingerbread Monuments" by Victor Johansson (poems) and Klara Kallstrom (photographs), "Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg", "Ideals Clearance" by Henry Parland. He is also the co-editor of Action Books ( and the online journal Action, Yes

Swedish poet Aase Berg's first book, With Deer, was published in 1996. Since then she has published Dark Matter, Transfer Fat, Uppland and Loss. She is considered one of the most influential and unique poets in Sweden, and her poetry has been translated into English and various European languages. She also works as a translator and has translated several young adult books into Swedish.

happy holidays!

and check out Aase Berg. She's worth it.


Monday, December 22, 2008

On Second Thought

Maybe it's best to leave Quietism as a mere style. I'm not sure why I want to involve it in larger systems. Perhaps I stress too much continuity, and perhaps it would be better to merely say that Quietist lyric is that certain highly restrained personal lyric with an epiphanic ending that became perfected by writing programs in the 80s (see The Morrow Anthology of Younger Poets, in which almost all of the poets are practically identical). This is still the dominant style in many AWP programs, but it has lost its monolithic hold.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Quietism: Response to Seth Abrahamson

Seth Abramson post a bunch of ideas over at his Suburban Ecstasy blog, in which he mentions me and Action Books so I thought I would respond to some of his claims. But ultimately I think I will respond mostly to his assumptions. I will also make a few statements about other commonly held assumptions.

1. One problem with the notion of a quietist/post-avant divide is that it is way too simple and binary. There are not two separate modes of writing, but many.

2. The biggest problem (among many) in discussing Quietism is that although Ron's terminology suggests it is a movement, it is not. Rather it is the dominant literary system in the US as it was organized with the creation of Creative Writing Programs in the 1960s and 1970s. This system allows for a certain level of stylistic variation (though really not much). But certain values have remained pretty constant. It is also not without internal conflict, which serves to hide its basic homogeneity.

3. There has been a lot of resistance to Ron Silliman's quietism-vs-post-avant breakdown, and I've taken issue with it as well. To a large extent the resistance comes from the fact that an important marker of Quietism is that it denies that it has a point of view, instead claiming to be neutral or "traditional". I would argue that the Quietist style is not in fact "traditional". Is it in the same lineage as Edgar Allen Poe? Whitman? Etc.

4. Of course the idea that Quietism is style-neutral and traditional is not true. It has a set of aesthetic and social values that largely comes out of a few mid-century sources: New Criticism's emphasis on the autonomy of the artwork and that this autonomy battles the chaos and general fallen-ness of the modern world and mass culture, an emphasis on authenticity that comes out of the New Critics' progenitors 1960s poetry (Donald Hall etc). This poetics of authenticity comes I think out of the institutionalization of this poetic stance - ie that Donald Hall crowd were the people who were hired into the new creative writing programs in the 1970s.

5. They then educated a whole heap of students with similar ideas (and this continues). The important thing to consider here is that this is not a "conspiracy." Not some people saying: Lets get these folks to write the same way. The institution of literature - most notably the hiring of professors who educate new professors, but also prizes and such - rewards complicity and discourages non-complicity. Ie if you don't write using the basic ideas of Quietism don't usually get jobs or win prizes etc.

6. Seth writes: "... a question of identifying and building up from first principles. Grammar. Diction. Considering the texture of words, images, sonics." The idea that poetry is based on a refined consideration of the "texture" is the formalist foundation to Quietist aesthetics: it is the autonomous text not its place in society for example that matters. Somehow being refined enough makes us more authentic than the hasty and distracted aesthetics of mass culture and avant-gardism.

7. One of the big lies of Quietism is that craft is a neutral, objectively apparent *skill*. This emphasis on craft and skill entails a certain idea of what makes certain textures good and bad, a definite aesthetic in other words. Further, it denies the fact that any poem exists in time and place - why is this not the 'basics' of poetry? In sum the craft-based aesthetic represents a hierarchical idea of culture: if you learn enough you will be more refined. And this idea provides for the retrograde philosophies of a lot of workshops: the teacher is more refined so he/she can tell you how to rein in your excesses and make a more refined poem.

8. An important factor: the wellwrought urn. There should be no noise in the poem. Every word should "matter". A reading of a poem entails basically a formal analysis of how refined a text is. This interacts not just with the notion of the autonomous artwork but also with the teachable poem. It is easy to spot how various poems are clumsy or awkward (that is they don't comply with the standard). It is much easier to teach by calling for students to cut those out than it is to try to understand the ideas of the students.

9. Workshop poetics is generally not interested in acknowledging that different poets have different ideas about the world and poetry etc. That's generally what people talk about when they argue about poetry. Removing that, most discussion becomes about whether an artwork has been constructing correctly. That's why workshops often fall back on everybody talking about the poems doing "too much" of this or that, or if it isn't "enough" of something else. That is, the discussion becomes entirely normalizing because workshops don't account for different ideas.

10. The fascinating result: Quietism is more about complying with a series of rules rather than coming up with something interesting. That is also why so much of this poetry is boring and why nobody wants to read it. Why read something only to admire it for not stepping awry.

11. Common illusion: That Quietism is "Traditional" while other poetry is non-traditional. The current Quietist style does not go back very far, possibly the 1970s. Meanwhile Kenny Goldsmith's found texts go way back. Swedish poet Ake Hodell for example was using instruction booklets for sewing machines as books of poetry back in the early 1960s, not to mention "readymades" and such, which of course go back to the 1910s. Goldsmith is such a traditionalist he has made many statements wishing American poetry would return to the 1960s.

12. All statements such as "Best New Poets" etc as well as statements such as "most innovative new poets" cover up the fact that there are many different ideas about poetry, it forecloses a very necessary and interesting debate.

13. Seth writes: "The poets in that anthology are aware of, and likely feel a similar warmth toward, the aesthetic traditions Johannes and his Action Books hold dear." Then why is their poetry so different? When I read the anthology of the "New Best Poets" I was rather struck by how totally opposite their very concept of poetry is from mine. My guess is that they do not at all share the same sources as Joyelle or I do. Who are these?

14. In addition: Part of the way Quietism is to acknowledge the mad genius but then don't let that writing guide their own writing or teaching of students. For example, strawman A might say, that Alice Notley is a genius! She needs a little editing and she's totally off her rockers, but she's a wonderful and very strange poet! But if any student started writing poems channeling Eluard or Mitch-Ham, they would say, this poem is too hasty, you need to put more pressure on the words. Or perhaps more effectively: praise the student as well, but not give them good fellowships, not pick such poets as winners in contests etc.

15.Seth's conclusion: "At base, we're all in this together." This piece of rhetoric flames up all the time in poetry discussions: the desire to make it all the same. Or the need to argue "This is not new". I tend to think there are many different opinions out there and many of them are very different. Arguing that we don't hold different opinions is the same rhetoric as "Best of" etc: another way of not actually acknowledging that there is an institutional aesthetic that is simply not traditional or neutral.

16. Seth argues that the reason that "avant-garde" writing doesn't ever get prices because there is so much more Quietist writing. Not true. Prizes and money and professorhips are the main way Quietism retains its importance. There are not more Quietists than non-Quietists. There is no fact to back this up. But part of getting an MFA - becoming a legitimate poet - and getting one's work published has come to mean writing in a sanctioned way. Thus in order to be a poet one must to some degree learn to comply with Quietism or not count as a poet.

17. There is a common assumption that Quietist poetry is more populist. Totally untrue: it's highly elitist and also boring. Written largely by white folks who went to fine schools. And the proof is in the pudding: After all the money and all the educational centrality of quietism, poetry is totally unpopular. I think "elitist" Flarfist books on the whole sell many more copies than your average Quietist book for example.

18. Seth: "How urgent is it that a writer in the first two years of a sixty year long writing career jump straight into the aesthetic cloister of fifty-something post-avants? Isn't it reasonable--in fact, helpful--to ramp up to that first? It's become trite to say one can't subvert the tradition until one understands it, but surely there's some truth to that; I'm not at all certain reading Lorine Niedecker without reading (to pick a random "foundational" poet) Walt Whitman is fair to Niedecker, let alone to the young reader of Niedecker. I tend to think most deceased postmoderns would themselves say, "Look, take two years--a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things--to read up on Whitman, Dickinson, Crane, Stevens, Eliot, whoever, and then come to me.""

Problems with this very common argument: the quietist style is not traditional; it frequently has very little to do with Whitman; and absolutely most importantly: people don't all start out with a Quietist taste and then move on the avant-gardist-influenced work. This is one of the foundational lies of Quietism. People have very different points of entry. I imagine for example that it is *way* more common that people come to poetry through Allen Ginsberg than through Donald Hall and all the rest of that crew combined. I came to poetry through Ginsberg among others and I have consistently felt that my schooling has been focused on delegitimizing many of those original sources of inspiration and of getting me to stop writing poetry. I have largely felt Quietism to be a way to discourage me from writing, to get me to abandon my interests in poetry.

Moreover this argument recapitulates the whole 'tradititional' quagmire associated with Quietism. It's just not the case that quietism was the tradition and that recently 'post-' anything messed with it. Instead, we can find the lineages of what we now consider 'avant-garde' writing right there at the beginning of writing itself, as Rothenberg etc has shown, with runes, hexes, spells, numerical writing, curses, prayers, etc.

19. Important: I think it's important to move away from Quietists vs Post-Avants. It's rather that we all interact with the Quietist System in different ways.

20. I'm actually quite optimistic about the future of poetry. But more about that later.

21. I appreciate both Ron's and Seth's grappling with these issues.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rain Taxi


Our benefit auction has returned, and this year it's enormous! Held on eBay, the auction lets you support Rain Taxi while simultaneously getting rare and marvelous stuff for yourself. Most items were donated by authors or publishers to help Rain Taxi stay in gear: You'll find signed first editions, gorgeous broadsides, rare chapbooks, seminal graphic novels, quirky collectible books, handcrafted items, and more! M.T. ANDERSON, John ASHBERY, Paul AUSTER, Charles BERNSTEIN, Robert BLY, Paul BOWLES, Stephen COLBERT, Samuel R. DELANY, Neil GAIMAN, Patricia HAMPL, Richard HELL, Jaime HERNANDEZ, Garrison KEILLOR, Jonathan LETHEM, David MARKSON, Henry MILLER, Rick MOODY, Barack OBAMA, Ron PADGETT, Jerome ROTHENBERG, Joe SACCO, Arthur SZE, Jeff VANDERMEER, Anne WALDMAN, Keith and Rosmarie WALDROP, and Marjorie WELISH are just some of the authors whose works you'll find. To see the full listings, go to our online benefit auction now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Lamination Colony

is here.

Lots of interesting work, including Ron's meditation on Dodie Bellamy and this blog.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Joe Milford to Interview me this Saturday

Join us this Saturday at 5pm Eastern time live for another great poetry reading! Go to:

Be sure to tune in because I'll be making all kinds of spectacular statements and I will speak through the soft body of a seashell.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Engdahl etc

I kind of hint at my view in the entry below and Max really wants there to be a bias against America (as in all cases). However, in this case he is somewhat correct. I actually do think there is a bias against US lit AND against Swedish lit AND against poetry in Engdahl's worldview.

(Of course, there will always be biases. That's why discussing "Best new poetry" and such is a waste of time. People who are invested in "the best poetry" are fools at best, footsoldiers at worst.)

Max says that Yes there is an anti-American bias but no not an anti-Swedish bias because Swedes see themselves as part of Europe and has therefore received tons of prizes over the past few years (Gunter!). However, in that very statement Max hits on the very reason that there is an anti-Swedish bias in Engdahl's worldview. His strong emphasis on cosmopolitanism, the great literary debate of Europe forces him to not only disregard a lot of American writing (because it is really not concerned with the great literary discussions of Europe) and Swedish lit (because to go Swedish would be to deny his own cosmopolitanism). This is two sides of the dangers of this kind of cosmopolitanism - it both excludes and swallows up.

The interesting thing is that this is I think a very Swedish concept of both literary greatness and "Europe." So in that sense, it's not anti-Swedish. It is very Swedish to be proud to read works from other countries, it's part of a Swedish ideology. Another sign of this ideology is Swedes' obsession with geographic knowledge (Americans don't know the capitals of Europe they always like to point out) and cosmopolitanism. And knowing what is going on in other literatures. Having read the new Pynchon in English as it's published in the US. I will talk about this more later.

Now Transtromer and Ashbery are up against some other odds as well. In order for poetry these days to be considered Nobel-worthy it has to be written in some kind of politically dire situation (Szymborska for ex), giving it political weight, or be an epic (Walcott). Because this Great European Tradition Engdahl demands a kind of direct political engagement we don't find in a whole lot of lyrical poets. So I think both Transtromer and Ashbery are considered too apolitical (no interested in the Great Debate of Europe in other words) - and both were attacked in the 1960s for being apolitical. Transtromer is also considered a largely national poet - that is, Swedish poets don't really read him but his collected works are bestsellers.He's a people's poet.

Another factor: Not everyone on the academy is a writer. I just checked the list and there is a lawyer, two linguist, one author who was long active in the Social Democratic Party, a historian, an art critic (who made his reputation in the 1960s discussing happenings, Duchamp and such - Swedish art was really cutting-edge in the 60s artworld), a poet who also worked as the editor-in-chief of a newspaper and has been devoted to many political causes, a proust translator, a professor of history (who is also a poet and a literary historian), and some more traditional poets and writers. But this is important. There is a totally different dominant concept of writing in Sweden: the idea that literature should be part of the social/political debates, it should be reviewed and discussed in newspapers, and that it is for a lay audience (as is history, politics etc).

I think some things are good about this model of literature and some things about it are tiresome and stifling. Everybody has to be so responsible and serious. Yawn. That's why for example, Aase Berg's work can both be incredibly popular and accused of elitism/hermeticism (she sells more books in Sweden than "major" american poets sell in the US, a country with some 250 million more people). In some ways it's the "Major" vs "Minor" literature that Deleuze and Guattari talk about; a concept that doesn't entirely fit into America, where - as I think Jasper Bernes pointed out in a previous discussion - literature is not ever really hold a major position. I do think he's right about that, we need something slightly different - major and minor but with the added axis of "high" and "low" - we're still in the 19th century in some ways ("contemplative" poetry etc).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Tree of No by Sandy Florian

The Tree of No, Sandy Florian's second book, is now up for sale at the Action Books site. We are not officially releasing it until February, but to celebrate the end of the Year of the Squealing Pig and the start of the Year of Lemurs (All Over Our Bodies) we are starting to sell the books on our website early.

This book is one of the most amazing books I've read in a long time. The first time Joyelle and I heard Sandy read from the book, we were spellbound and knew we had to publish it. I use the word "spellbound" because at times it feels like a spell with its odd, mysterious rhythm and its arcane religious imagery.


Here's an excerpt:

I become pregnant with a hole. Scoop it out and the void comes down on its head. Then give it thanks and sing into the pit. For he is mindful of me. For he is manful on me. I make a beast of him like I make a beast of the bird, like I make a beast of fish, like I make a beast of the sea scrolling under my feet.


At the start of the new year, we will release Lara Glenum's new book, Maximum Gaga, and post a spectacular new double-issue of Action, Yes. Various objects of derision and instruction booklets for how to kill Experimental Poetry to follow...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Horace Engdahl (second thoughts)

It's remarkable that nobody has pointed out a very obvious point in the whole debate surrounding Horace Engdahl: The Swedish Academy - which supposedly is so incredibly anti-American - has given no awards to Swedish writers since 1974 (when it went to Harry Martinsson), and before that to no Swede since Lagerkvist in 1951, unless you count Nelly Sachs (who i believe lived in Sweden but wrote in German and got the prize in 1966).

(Should be noted that there were a few Swedes early on that got, not including the most important modern Swedish writer, August Strindberg, who was passed over but received "the anti-nobel").

In all the babbling about this topic, I've yet to read someone say, "These Swedes don't appreciate their own literature." In the same period, the US have received quite a few (Morrison, Bellow, Brodsky, Walcott, maybe I'm forgetting some). Yet, I've read (and continue to read) how much Swedes hate American literature.

There have also been very few poets awarded as of late. Notable here is that arguably the world's two most prominent poets are one Swede (Thomas Tranströmer) and an American (John Ashbery).

I bring this tired issue up again because I'm writing an essay about it for a journal.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Issue 1

Here's an interesting take on Issue 1 by Barry Schwabsky, art critic and poet.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Some more responses -Surrealism etc

I should apologize for being so slow to respond to all the interesting responses to the entries below (still contemplating the Messiah who doesn't come). I've been sick and such. Right now I'm trying not to vomit.

I wanted to say a few things about advertising and mass culture and the argument that because Surrealism was "co-opted" by advertising and mass culture, it somehow suggests a flaw in Surrealism.

Here are some thoughts:

1. I am not for some kind of of return to Primeval Breton. However, I don't believe Surrealism was ever "hard surrealism," that is unified, homogenous etc. The various exclusions and rejections and continual changes in manifestos suggest to me that Surrealism was very soft, full of conflicting perspectives. What I see as the most interesting surrealist work in the 1920s and 30s often too place on the outskirts or in direct opposition to Breton - Artaud, Bataille, the Documents group.

2. However, I agree that there are lots of problems with the sometimes flaccid idea of "freedom." Mostly I think Breton's greatest writing is from the 1920s.

3. About advertising and co-opting. Not only was Surrealism very easily brought into mass culture - Man Ray and Dali more than anybody, despite the protests from Breton - but its sources include mass culture - advertising, pulp fiction, the movies etc. This is not a flaw, but a sign of its power.

4. I have a lot of issues with many contemporary poetry people who like to imagine that poetry or teaching in a university gives them an out from Capitalism. For that line of thinking, advertising is inherently bad, the movies are evil etc. In many ways I think this line of thinking is a retread of New Criticism's claim that poetry was a rejection of vulgar mass culture. In "I'm Not There," Bob Dylan/Rimbaud has a great quote where he says something like, "Folk music is for people who want to isolate themselves from Evil." I think we need a new model for understanding the relationship of poetry/art to the rest of mass culture.

5. And to Evil. (I'm with Kenneth Anger!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blake Butler

Rauan Klasnik has interviewed Blake Butler over at his blog:

Here's a trailer made by Derek White, who is publishing Blake's much anticipated (by me)book Ever:

Blake is also the editor of one of my favorite literary journals, Lamination Colony, which I've written about numerous times on this blog.

He's also writing something obscene with Sean Kilpatrick, another of my favorite contemporary writing people (or aliens).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Foust/Wagner Reading at Notre Dame

Please join the Creative Writing Program for a reading by poets Graham Foust and Catherine Wagner. They will read selections from their work at the Hammes Bookstore on Tuesday, December 2 at 7:30 pm.

Foust is the author of three books of poems, most recently Necessary Stranger. He lives in Oakland, California and directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, where he teaches in the graduate and undergraduate programs. According to Publisher's Weekly, his third book, Necessary Stranger is "intense, hip, ironic and subtly humorous."

Wagner was born in Burma (Myanmar) and grew up in Baltimore. Her books include Macular Hole, Miss America, and many chapbooks, recently including Everyone in the Room is a Representative of the World at Large, Hole in the Ground, and the forthcoming Bornt. Her work, also according to Publisher's Weekly, shows that she is "a wary critic of consumer culture questioning linguistic givens." Wagner teaches in the MA program at Miami University in Ohio.