Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Poetry Magazine

Seems to have a very overt agenda: continue to support very well-wrough-urn-ish, well-behaved poetry while making symbolic overtures to poetries that might challenge its poetics.

So, they have a special little quarantined section of "visual poetry" and a special translation issue and poems by famous language poets, and even - in its most recent issue - a special "manifesto" section dedicated to the 100-year-anniversary of the Futurist Manifesto.

Only most of the manifestos are not manifestos.

Only Poetry Magazine's poetry tends to be the kind of poetry that doesn't acknowledge that Futurism or the historical avant-garde ever existed. Just as the poetry is not on the whole at all influenced or in conversation with foreign poetry or language poetry or visual poetry etc.

In poetry magazine, the manifesto seem to be doing the opposite job from what the manifesto of the historical avant-garde did: they are here to diffuse antagonism and to render art apolitical, to put it in The American Poetry Wax Museum where it cannot offer a point of view.

It's like Republicans appointing an African American guy to be its party secretary while keeping all its racist policies in tact.

It's curious to see Josh Clover and Juliana Spahr denouncing poetry magazine with their manifesto and then Poetry Magazine being really pleased about this denunciation so they put a blurb from it on the back: look we are so open-minded, we are open to everyone! We are even open to people who hate us!


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

It's as though the lineage (there's that word again) is not through Futurism and the historical avant garde, but rather skipping over them and coming straight from late Romanticism and Victorian poets, mixed in with the Trancendentals. It's like the line from 'Field of Dreams': "No, you had two fifties and skipped right on into the seventies."

The desire is to have a manifesto that essentially reaffirms their positions, rather than challenging anything about poetry or anything else. It's like kids that shop at Hot Topic at the Mall: there's nothing "counter-" about it- it's still the mall and it's the same Fall Out Boy shirt you can buy across the country. It's a fabricated opposition.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Max said...

While I would tend to agree with your sentiment, I also think it puts publications like Poetry in a tricky position, where they're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't (if they don't include marginalized poetry, then they're just being themselves; if they do, then they're just co-opting it, putting it or putting it in a "wax museum"). How could they have done it right, Johannes?

8:10 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I'm not saying there is a right. What I am calling attention to is their strategy.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Matt Walker said...

I always say the only real problem with Poetry Magazine is the name. All they have to do is change it to A Certain Kind of Poetry with Occasional Token Examples of Other Kinds of Poetry Magazine. Problem solved.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Johannes -

I do think it would be interesting, though, if you voiced an opinion about how such a thing might be done well. I'm not saying that this would mean formulating a catch-all method. Obviously there is no one "right" way to do anything. But I think it's kind of silly that you constantly complain about U.S. publications being closed to this type of material, and then when a big one opens its doors, all you (and others) can do is complain about cooptation, or how the material is being put in a "wax museum."

Could Poetry magazine have done this well under any circumstances? And if not, what does that mean for the possibility of larger, more mainstream U.S. poetry publications opening their doors? After all, if it's not even possible for them to include this type of material in a satisfactory way, then pissing about the fact that they don't do it is kind of pointless, no?

4:36 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I don't think they're open. I think they're incredibly selective about what they allow into their journal. An exceedingly close-minded journal that wants to create the illusion of open-mindedness through a few choice harmless inclusions that suggests they appear open-minded.

I believe in journals that have ideas about what they want to promote and then do it. That doesn't mean you have to be close-minded. We try to include things in Action, yes that challenge us, but at the same time they have to be part of a conversation we are interested in. I'm not going to start publishing POetry-magazine-style neo-Robert-Lowell stuff.

You better believe: Poetry is a very narrow and selective journal, that was my main point. The "alternative" symbolic representations are always very tame and safe.

I don't believe there is a way they can do it "right." Because I think they're a "wrong" publication. I don't believe in journals that try to restrain and contain poetry into some kind of lame, 1950s ideal. I am fundamentally opposed to Poetry Magazine in its current incarnation (certainly the opposite of Harriet's rag back in the day).

Also, I'm not "constantly complaining" about US journals not being open to "this type of material" (manifestos? Langpo?). I'm not complaining about US journals doing anything. Most of them are terrible and boring. That just makes my journal look better.

So stop dragging my arguments down into "complaining." Having critical opinions is not "complaining". It means having a point of view. Calling that "complaining" is the worst kind of reactionary bullshit way of discrediting ideas.

However, I will say that there's a more complex agument involving Poetry Magazine and translation which I may specify tomorrow.


5:09 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Johannes -

You are constantly complaining about how U.S. outlets for writing are "insular" and whatever else! How can you possibly argue that you've never said such a thing? That you don't believe such a thing? This is the worst type of intellectual dishonesty, and I'm sorry, but you engage in it all the time. You say one thing, and when somebody calls you on it, you say "Oh, that's not what I've been saying," even though it's very clearly what you've been saying. You can be the most gigantic tool sometimes, you know?

But aside from that:

Most of them are terrible and boring. That just makes my journal look better.

Then why even pitch a fit when they do the type of shit that Poetry magazine just did? If all they're doing is making your journal look better, then they are actually performing a good service for you. You should be praising their existence! Also, you're quite full of yourself this evening, aren't you?

5:14 PM  
Blogger François Luong said...

I'll one-up Johannes and say that not only poetry magazines are too insular in publishing mostly American poetry, but they are even more insular because they only consider poetry and nothing else. When will we see poetry magazines engage in things not related with navel-gazing, but in conversation with, say contemporary dance? I'd love to see something on Lawrence Weiner or Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance!

And were this appear in Poetry Magazine, yes, it'd be reduced to some bourgeois bore.

5:25 PM  
Blogger François Luong said...

PS: Of course, there is art being featured in some literary magazines (Gulf Coast, Washington Square, ...), but it tends to be either boring and not in conversation with the concerns of contemporary art, and it tends to be segregated in its own section.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...


Without getting into whether Johannes is a tool or not, I think the argument he's trying to make is that Poetry magazine relies on poems that are "safe." We've all kind of talked about the idea of "difficult poems," and that's something that Poetry wants to avoid. They seem to be following a formula, Max, in that they're looking for poems that meet a certain arbitrary standard, rather than looking for work that goes against standards. They're not interested in work that doesn't something new that makes you think- they're interested in work that fits into the mold they've set.

I think the reason to "pitch a fit" is because people look at Poetry magazine, I believe, and say "This is what poetry is." Poetry magazine is putting up the front that "Yes, what we publish is exactly what's going on. This is what poetry is and what it ought to be," and of course, that's not the case at all. Now, is any publication perfect? Of course not, that would be crazy. Even Action,Yes fits a certain type of work into each issue. However, I don't think that Johannes would deny this point. Ask Poetry magazine that and see what you get. I'm sure they would tell you that they are publishing broadly and encompassing everything and everyone, and that's simply not the case. They're attempting to homogenize a poetry of their understanding and ostracize everything else.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Max said...

francois -

I agree. I'd like to see more of that, too. But pissing and moaning about how there's none of it, and then unproductively putting magazines through the grinder when they DO include something, it's just really silly. I'm not defending Poetry magazine. I'm trying to get some idea of just how this inclusion works in practice. If it's impossible for most U.S. publications to ever be inclusive in a satisfactory way, then what is a possible solution to the problem Johannes bitches about day in and day out (and which he now claims, absurdly, to never bitch about at all ... har-har)? Would a possible solution require a complete paving over of the U.S. publishing landscape? And if so, can the problem even be considered as having a solution, since that is of the highest unlikelihood?

5:34 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...


I think sometimes you're missing that Johannes isn't just "bitching"- he's doing something about it. Action, Yes is the action wing of Johannes' arguments herein. He's not like myself: he put his money where his mouth is. I think your opposition here would do well to go into AY and see if you find any sort of hypocrisy going on. That might be interesting.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Max said...

And I guess perhaps the bigger question is: Does Johannes even want things to be more broadly "inclusive"? I don't think so, because that would be to dissipate the sainted status he (gives himself) gains from running his journal and press. As usual, it's all about the accrual of power. He wants an opponent. In fact, he requires one.

What an empty shell of a human being.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Amish -

Well, according to Johannes's comment here, there is nothing most already existing publications (outside his own and a select few) can even do to satisfactorily include marginalized works. That's the entire problem! That he poses a dilemma to which he (and a select few others whom he respects) are the only possible solution. Can't you see this for the hackery it is?

5:46 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Well, first off, Max, I don't know that you're one to call anyone else an empty shell. If you think all Johannes is doing is complaining and needs some kind of opposition to make his points and have arguments, then what are you doing here? If you think this is all a waste of time, why not quit coming here and complaining?

Now, if you want to have a serious discussion, that's cool, of course, but to say Johannes is an empty shell who only posts in order to get a rise out of folks, then don't give him the satisfaction.

By the way, I realize what you're about to say is that Johannes doesn't want to have a serious discussion either. And my response to that is why do you bother? Why do you care?

5:48 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Max, I don't see that as hackery at all. Obviously, that's just one losers opinion, but I think part of the issue is realizing that there's not simply a change that can be made. A publication like Poetry has itself set up in a certain way. Action, Yes too has itself set up a certain way, and you can probably argue that that cannot be changed either, until the three principles see something they are doing wrong. I think part of the issue is that Poetry magazine's editors don't see what they're doing.

So of course there's nothing these publications can do, Max! Who would be willing to change a formula that works for them? They sell their subscriptions or whatever. People they publish get published elsewhere and in books. Why would they change that?

Now, if you're in opposition to what they're doing, does that simply make you a whiner or someone that's just a jilted submitter? Maybe, but I'm not feeling like that's the case here. Certainly I have my biases too, but who doesn't? At least I can be open about them.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Actually, you're wrong about that. I think I post here because I believe, having met and spoken with Johannes a couple times before, that he actually does wish to have real discussions about things, but that quite often, his blog posts are just this ill-thought-out, fickle things. And while I understand that not everything a person posts on a blog has to be an airtight dissertation, I would expect a bit more rigor, a bit more of a sense that he had thought through potential counterarguments, before he hit the submit button. I don't know, I guess the blog persona is quite different from the persona I thought was there. Maybe they were always the same, I dunno.

Anyway, I think I really am exercising Johannes's ideas here, and I really do think that his last comment (the one about how all the other journals just make his look better, and how most journals can't possibly do anything to make themselves more inclusive) is rather despicable, and is just being swallowed wholesale by you guys. Not only does it reek of vindictiveness on his part, and qualify as, I think, a pretty stunning revelation about at least part of why Johannes does what he does, but it renders most of his complaints about the U.S. literary landscape kind of moot. I don't see why Johannes gets to consistently accuse me of complaining but offering no positive ideas, while he gets to complain all day long about the U.S. literary landscape, and then he is lauded for providing his press (and the select presses of a few others) as the only solutions, completely shutting down the idea that, aside from paving over the publishing world and starting anew, nothing can be done outside of a small coterie of presses, of which Johannes & Joyelle's is conveniently a big part.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Amish -

But Johannes lauds the early days of "Harriet's rag," which implies that a change occurred at some point, which furthermore implies that a change can occur again.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Right off the bat, Max, I should say that the blog has the beauty of being the sandbox and that no one, Johannes, myself, you, or whomever should feel that anything requires a specific polish, especially one as a result of status or position. Quick example: I often say the opposite of what I really think on my blog, simply to flush out an argument that I might well be having with myself. I believe this to be one step below informal (no reflection on Johannes or his blog, or you and your blog, Max).

All that crap said, I don't know that we're buying anything "wholesale." Johannes' comment about other publications crappiness making his publication look better- I don't see how you're taking that as vindictive. Selfish or smug, perhaps, but not vindictive. Again, you're making it sound as though we're all here to brood over our rejection letters from the so-called mainstream folks.

Eh, I don't even know what to say anymore, dude.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Change can certainly occur, but only if those that are in a position to force change are aware of it and are willing to do so. I think this is where we can discuss Johannes and what you believe is his cabal of folks: he sees publications doing things he doesn't like and sees publications that are doing things he does like. Don't you, Max? Don't you have things you read and things you don't? You must have someone you feel who is doing it well and someone doing it poorly.

I think you're assuming Johannes is attempting to avoid a bias here, which I don't believe he is. Perhaps you feel that we should all move towards some kind of "objectivity"? Johannes has biases, as do I have, and no doubt that you do as well.

6:32 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

Hey Max, have you really only met Johannes a couple times? The way you try to pick apart everything he says, I had always assumed until now that you guys were longtime friends.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I thought Max might be an IRS agent auditing Johannes- or his proctologist.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Amish -

It's fine to say "Hey, these publications do things I like" and "Hey, these publications do things I don't like." Everybody does that. But when you argue that publishing in the U.S. is basically stagnant, one imagines that you might have an idea of how it could become less stagnant, aside from buying Action Books (TM) books and reading Action, Yes (TM) online journal. I'd like to think that, if Poetry magazine was something defensible many decades ago (as Johannes points out), it can be something defensible in the future.

What's become clear through his comments is that Johannes fancies himself some kind of saint doing the good work that only He can do, fighting off the insularity of the irredeemable U.S. publishing community. Fair enough, but I'd always assumed that, beneath the tired complaints of insularity, there was something a tad bit more hopeful than "all you can do is buy my books and the books of a few select presses who are doing The Right Thing, start a press of your own, or shut up."

9:08 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Also, you guys act like he's pouring every single thing he's got into Action Books, but I'm fairly certain they receive outside financial assistance. If I'm wrong about that, shoot me dead where I stand.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...



Why do all your arguments have to come down to personal attacks?

This is why I'm not interested in your line of reasoning. It's ultimately all about finding some way to attack me. That's just not interesting to me. That may seem "rigorous" to you, but to me it seems pointless and sophmoric.

Again: I don't see why you insist on coming on my blog and misstating my opinion in some kind of personal grudge match. Go to some blog devoted to personal attacks and do your business there.


7:04 AM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

here's a link to a forum where i post'd a couple of interesting links to articles talking about Poetry & big pharma money/ G O P

a little about PoFoundation


7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was nice meeting you today and madison. thanks to you and joyelle for making the trip and reading for us.
Paul Baker

7:34 PM  

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