Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I want to very briefly return to my post from yesterday: The thing that intrigues/bewilders me the most in both Steven Burt's and American Hybrid's frameworks for reading contemporary poetry is the utter importance of nonsense.

In Burt's book, it's in the very title: for poetry to be good it has to come "close" to "nonsense", but refrain from going all the way into nonsense. And - as you can see in the quote from yesterday - he likes poets who are "at once innovative and traditional, alert both to the troubles of modern language, and to the resources of centuries past."

Likewise in Hybrid, the Editors keep repeating (for pretty much every poet) that it is very fragmented and indeterminate, but still human.

Now the importance of the "human" is I think the same old humanist schtick. And it has the same old problems. To put it in crude terms, (referring to the post two snippets below), Peterson is more "human," more *real* than those "metropolitan" dandies with their cool journals (that's you Jordan Davis!).

But what makes it interesting to me is the opposite pole, nonsense. In both books, "nonsense" is defined as fragmented and - importantly - amnesiac. Is there any poetry that is in no way uses "resources of the past"? But this myth is important it seems to both of these books, since they keep repeating it over and over.

My first knee-jerk reaction was that it was a defensive gesture toward Language Poetry and such. Giving Langpo a human face. But that's of course too reductive. Afterall, if all they wanted was to keep Langpo at bay, all they would have to do would be to set up another pole, another "avant-garde", another non-human. But they are both clearly quite enamored of Langpo and I think it's precisely because Langpo offers this illusory pure nonsense.

Because I think that's ultimately what "nonsense" represents for both of these books, a kind of illusion of formal purity. The idea that there is poetry that is so "pure" that it's not about anything; it's just pure language. I think that's a very important point. Both books pretty much focuses entirely on "formal" analyzes. American Hybrid mentions nothing about politics, except the very retro-New-Critical notion that by purifying the language we resist the contaminating influences of mass culture. Other than that, the book only discusses poets in terms of the relative levels of fragmentation. It mentions that some poets use narrative and/or images, but in those cases such lowbrow techniques are undermined by some kind of fragmentation that gives such poets "high ambiguity" (see my post about the Mark Levine entry a while back).

Burt does do some analysis that includes ideas and politics. For examples, he mentions that for some poets he likes, the self is a work of artifice. But he doesn't delve into these matters; using the "content" merely as a reassurance that beneath the formal play, there is a content. He spends most of his essays analyzing the formal features: Look at the way so and so uses adjectives or question marks.

Both Hybrid and Close Calls emphasize that recent American poetry thinks narrative is too simplistic. They don't explain why. I would like to know because I only write narrative poems with a whole heap of imagery.

But then I am crass.

Both Hybrid and "Close Calls" begin with histories of post-war American poetry. And both histories are almost entirely formal. Poets change positions because they are drawn to new formal qualities. Little mention of gender trouble, Vietnam, etc. People like the Language Poets because they are "difficult."

So "nonsense" seems to be a pole that pushes "innovation" toward greater complexity and "difficulty". Strange thing indeed - as Cole Swensen notes in her intro - that we're back in New Critical land after a detour in simplistic poesy. That simplistic poetry seems to be in part, yes, the quietist workshop, but also the Beats, anti-war poetry and feminism of the 1960s etc. Ie poetry that deals with sexuality, the body, mass culture: a lowbrow political poetry in other words.

In addition to New Criticism, I think we're in Greenberg/Pollock land: a hatred of kitsch, the heroic individual, the beauty of the complex surface. And of course the connection with Marjorie Perloff's language poetry of indeterminacy, in which indeterminacy is a kind of radical formal ambiguity. Perloff in a recent interview (which is somewhere on the web) describes herself as a High Modernist with a hatred for kitsch.

There are many problems with this emphasis on formal qualities: what Jed Rasula has called "The American Poetry Wax Museum." We admire the lifeless things encased and protected from the world. Though we like to pretend that it's a heroic escape from the instrumentality and crassness of mass culture.

And I think both books realize that (to their credit). That is afterall why the poems should be "close" to "nonsense" but not all the way there. Why they should be hybrids of purity and non-purity.

Behind the overt quietism vs langpo model for the hybrid, I think there's a more fundamental idea of the poetics of moderation, of hybrids between crassness and pure formalism.

One of the reasons I like the framework of "gurlesque" is indeed that it moves away from this obsession with formal purity and progressive innovation. I like how it lines up with discussions about sexuality and the body (see Dodie Bellamy's piece on the Gurlesque in Action, Yes) and queerness etc. For the Opposite of the American Hybrid's "high ambiguity" and Perloff's "high modernism", see Lara's article on Aase Berg in last issue of Action, Yes.

One more thing: there is of course no such thing as "pure nonsense". It's the myth of this that matters. That's my point more than anything. No language exists in a beautiful vacuum. Perhaps a more fitting "pure nonsense" than language poetry (which is afterall richly included in American Hybrid, thus not it turns out pure nonsense, but quite human afterall) is foreign poetry.

Or Marxism. Afterall, as anyone who was alive in the US during the 1980s, movies about the Soviet Union was always a struggle against the inhuman other; also why I can't seem to remember which movies were about communists and which ones were about lizards/robots/martians.

One final thing: Jordan is right, there are big differences between Burt and American Hybrid. I'm merely pointing out the similarities. Certainly Burt has a populist streak in him which informs the very concept of the book. Another day for that post.

End of transmission.

Gurlesque class

This sounds like a great class on the gurlesque.

I particularly like how she expands the concept to the visual arts. I would add Nathalie Djurberg to the visual arts segment (1:15 in):

One thing about the class that I like is that I haven't read several of the books on the syllabus (Pierce, Fisher, Ackerson-Kiely), despite babbling about the gurlesque so frequently. And I like the inclusion of the Harryman book.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ben Marcus reads at Notre Dame tomorrow!

Author Ben Marcus will read selections from his work at the Hammes
Bookstore on Notre Dame’s campus on Wednesday, April 29 at 7:30 pm.
The reading is free and open to the public.

Marcus is the author of three books of fiction: Notable American
Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String. His
stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications,
including Harper's, The Paris Review, The Believer, The New York
Times, Salon, and McSweeney's. He is on the faculty of the creative
writing program at Columbia University in New York.

Ideologues and Hybrids

Mark has a discussion of the charge of "ideologue" that Joseph Hutchison made against me after my discussion about Blatny a few weeks ago. The reasons he felt I was an ideologue was that I liked poetry he didn't like and I read it in a way he didn't agree with. So basically, if you present a different point of view, you might be an ideologue.

I think this charge has everything to do with "American Hybrid" and "third-way-ism" etc. The poetry in "American Hybrid" is actually quite homogeneous/focused. It has a definite aesthetic (which has quite a bit in common with a depoliticized reading of language poetry but very little in common with a lot of contemporary American poetry).

I think that's fine. OK. I don't love the aesthetic of contemplative immersion, but it's certainly one way to go. It's the rhetoric of open-ness and hybridity that I find specious. Throughout American Hybrid, poets are characterized by an openness to a variety of devices, which as a result make their poetry richer, more varied, better - than that of "ideologues" I presume.

The critic Stephen Burt has a new book of reviews out called "Close Call with Nonsense," which seems almost like the Cliff Notes for the American Hybrid. This book is full of the same critiques of "ideologues," people who have different opinions. Burt says he likes poets who are "at once innovative and traditional, alert both to the troubles of modern language, and to the resources of centuries past." Ie the American hybrid. And in fact a number of the American Hybrid poets pop up in this one (Jorie Graham, Rae Armantrout, Haryette Mullen).

This is what Burt writes about one such poet, Allen Peterson:

"If Peterson makes a good example of the difficulty, the indirection, that pervades American poetry now, he also illustrates what we ignore if we look at poetry in terms of cliques and schools: Peterson holds a graduate degree in visual art, taught for decades at a junior college in Florida, and wrote poetry for twenty years before his first collection appeared. Not coincidentally, the poets with the fewest hip connections, farthest from the metropolitan areas, are the likeliest to get overlooked: they can win competitions, as Peterson's volumes did, but aren't likely to sign on to manifestos, found cool magazines, win academic awards, or turn up at glittering po-biz events."

This paragraph made me pretty irritated. To begin with there is the coterie-hatred that Lytle Shaw has dealt with so insightfully in papers and his book about Frank O'Hara. Burt glorifies Peterson as a real person, not one of those cosmopolitan hipsters and their coteries.

OK, that's just old fashioned, moronic caricaturing, but then Burt goes on to somehow fuse the metropolitan hipster with people who write manifestos and win prizes.

Steve, one of these two are not like the other.

The reason people generally write manifestos (ie become "ideologues" in the eyes of people like Burt) is that they don't agree with the prevailing ideas of the poetry institutions. People who get "academic awards" tend to be the very opposite! People Like **Peterson** (who, as Burt notes, did win an award)! The logic here is startling. You don't start journals because you agree with the way things are going.

I also want to emphasize how ridiculously and low these attacks are: "glittering" and "cool" suggest a shallowness to these metropolitan poets, who in difference to the hard-working Peterson, just run around and effortlessly create "cool" (implicitly vacuous) journals. Running a journal is incredibly difficult and time-consuming.

[PS This is the address to Mark's post.]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Staying at Notre Dame

A lot of people have asked me whether Joyelle and I are going to stay at Notre Dame. I got a great job offer form a wonderful Creative Writing MFA program, but ultimately we decided to stay at Notre Dame.

There were several reasons we chose to stay, but one was that we've developed a strong relationship to the other faculty and the students.

My "poetry for majors" class this semester was amazing, even if they all wanted to write poems about "shag carpeting" after reading Danielle's "My Zorba." Joyelle taught a great grad seminar on "trans, inter, ultra" or something like that.

I'm currently translating an impossibly complicated essay by some neo-situationist art group in Sweden, so that's why I'm all writing entries and comments on people's blog. Ie I don't have the patience for this essay. And it's long too. But they are paying well.

Seth on Conceptual poetry

[I wrote this response to Seth A's comparison of glam rock and "conceptual poetry." I think the key here is that once the "new" has become a "tradition" (as Ron S put it a few days ago), it is not new, it's "the new." We know it as the new. But that doesn't mean that it's positions are useless. In fact they may be more useful once we start talking about what different aesthetics are up to, rather than discussing if they are new.]

[And perhaps it's good for people to see the connection between Ziggy Stardust and Conceptual poetry. This past year an undergrad at U of Minnesota wrote his senior thesis on me, Patti Smith, Baudelaire and punk music - it had nothing to do with newness and all about race. Why not. I couldn't have been in better company.]


I don't understand why you can't see how folks like the Dadaists and O'Hara and Stein aren't related to this aesthetic. Bowie and Lou Reed and such are quite explicit in their references to literary and artistic decadence/aestheticism.

I think Goldsmith/Bök are very invested in their historical predecessors - Bok does campy remakes of Ball's sound poems after all and Goldsmith uses "found text" pretty much exactly the way various Duchamp-influenced artists did it in the 1960s and Goldsmith it seems always repeats that he thinks the artworld of the 1960s was a kind of ideal that poetry has not lived up to. And of course he runs Ubuweb. Which is an archive.

But one can always find a predecessor. That game just isn't that interesting. A lot of people still write like Lowell, so maybe we still need people writing like Warhol.

The idea that conceptual poetry is invisible is ridiculous. This poetic group has received incredibly institutional support. I mean it's more or less created as a group for academic study.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Avant-Garde" (my post on Ron Silliman's blog)


I think you would do your argument a lot of good if you attempted to define what you mean by the phrase "avant-garde."

This is of course a term that has been much debated over the past couple of centuries.

In this post you suggest vaguely that it means writing in a "tradition" or being "influenced" by avant-gardist writing.

There are a lot of problems with these assertions. To begin with, as you hint, the idea of an "avant-garde tradition" is problematic, though not exactly for the reason you suggest. The main issue for me is that the word "tradition" makes it something stable, something to be studied. With that very word, you have made your own critical framwork a "compromise" or a "third way" so to speak.

Another problem: very many poets writing today were "influenced" by Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery (who had already forged their own "hybrids" or "third ways" of Auden and Bishop and European avant-gardism). If this was the sole criteria for avant-gardism, then all the students at the U of Iowa Writers Workshop are post-avant.

Perhaps certain elements of "influence" are more important than others?

You claim Surrealism is particularly easy to "uproot" from its "avant-garde heritage." But if mere "influence" is what makes for an "avant-garde tradition," then any super-pliable mushy-fatso surrealist is still in that "tradition."

You claim Moore as the first "third way" poet. But good heavens Ronny, Pound? Eliot? They all took notions from various European avant-garde groups.

This is certainly true of yourself. Your ways of reading - emphasizing mastery with its "good ear" and its fear of foreigners mucking with your "American Tree" - are fundamentally opposed to a lot of writers of the historical avant-garde, and fundamentally in line with what I perceive to be the central guiding principles of "quietism" (I prefer to speak of it as an institutional dynamic than solely a style).But of course, there are exceptions here too.

I think you need to move beyond the binary that asserts a kind of "avant-garde" purity against a kind of "quietist" purity. Get more specific about various aesthetics and politics and social formations.

And perhaps we can begin to discuss the fantasy of "the avant-garde" and how it has affected American poetry since the 1960s.

As you know, I have often defended your identification of "quietism" - it is important to see that "that way of writing" is not inherently natural or - in fact - traditional. It's largely a result of workshop poetics and the 1970s.

However, by making these vast, trans-historical statements about "quietism" (it goes back to the 19th century etc) you give "it" too much credit. It's not the tradition, it's a recent phenomena that was proliferated through workshops. Poetic lineages are simply not as stable as you would have them be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Facebook quizzes

I took two quizzes on Facebook tonight. Of "evil dictators" I am Castro (since when did he join the ranks?). Of literary periods, I am "postmodern." Which apparently mean that my personality somehow resembles Don Delillo's and Pynchon's novels. Very insightful. Almost as insightful as the "What Romantic Poet are you" quiz I took a while back (Shelley of course). I should have said something about impaling people in that evil people quiz and I would have gotten Vlad the Impaler.

Multilingual reading at IUSB

Anne Magnan-Park’s international students will give a poetry reading during the lunch hour on Tuesday. Here’s her info about the event:

How often do you get the opportunity to listen to poetry originating from 7 different countries during your lunch break? It is possible at IUSB! It is possible once a semester only! So pack your lunch and come and support our talented and courageous international students.

They will introduce and read poems in Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish, and Tamil, followed their English translations. A great way to celebrate poetry… and our international gems!

April 21, 2009, Tuesday
12:00-1:00 p.m.
Faculty Lounge (DW 3001)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lotta Lotass

was picked as new member of the Swedish Academy. She's an experimental writer in her forties. I translated something she wrote for an art show a couple of years ago. It ended with a cut-up of an old baedecker, causing me a lot of trouble. The essay was largely about Bakthin, Stein, and various adventures in non-linear narratives. So I think it was probably a good choice.

JG Ballard is dead

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What's Konrad's last name?

I want to quote him in my Raintaxi review of American Hybrid.

Gaga Video

OK, here's the "trailer" Josef made for Maximum Gaga:

Maximum Gaga from Josef Horáček on Vimeo.

Just so you don't forget, I'm also posting a video Peter Strange Yumi made based on my book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place:

"Poetries of the Stranger"

So apparently Boston College is holding an "international poetry festival" called "poetry of the stranger."

You might think that it's going to feature a lot of foreign, "stranger" poets right? Guess again.

It features James Tate, Fanny Howe, John Ashbery, Henri Cole (!!), Jorie Graham, Mark Strand (!!!), Adam Zagajewsky, Lucie Brock-Broido and Derek Walcott. So basically Establishment Central.

Has there ever been a more flagrant example of Zizek's "chocolate laxative" paradigm: foreigness without the foreign.

If you want a fancy festival of famous American poets, that's perfectly OK, just don't call it an international poetry festival. This makes me sick.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Review of With Deer

Is here.

This is how it begins:

"The excellent thing about this book is that it’s gothic, overwrought, and ridiculous (decadent? Baroque?) cover to cover. These prose poems don’t live in a hum-drum world that’s sometimes, melodramatically, punctured by the weird and/or horrible. They completely occupy an inverted world where things without shape or skin are devouring each other all the time."

That seems a good description.

Franklin Rosemont

has died. This is sad.

Archambeau has an article about him on his blog.

Rosemont and his wife Penelope were key members of the Chicago Surrealists. I guess Penelope still is.

Speaking of middle grounds and "hybrids": They never wanted to be moderate, temperate, compromised. They are/were Breton-surrealists through and through. No "American Hybrid" for the Rosemonts.

All the books they have written/edited/translated are very insightful and usually brilliant.

I first came across Rosemont some time in the 90s when I found his book "Morning of a Machine Gun" in a heap of old 1960s chapbooks in some used bookstore.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another With Deer Review

Thursday, April 09, 2009

With Deer review

Johan Jönson

The new press Displaced Press is publishing my translation of Johan Jönson's book Collobert Orbital, which is a kind of "translation" of Norma Cole's translation of Danielle Collobert's diaries (published by Litmus Press a few years ago). I just went through the proofs so it's about to be published. I'm very excited.

Johan is a strange literary case. He was published early on by a big press as a promising young poet type but then he was dropped and joined up with a strange performance troop in northern Sweden, Teatermaskinen (homage to Hamletmaskinen), which put on incredibly obscene, political spectacles. But now he's being published by both OEI and Bonnier (the biggest publisher in Sweden) and he seems to have gained a rather substantial readership (and a whole lot of haters).

Here is a youtube clip of a trailer by Teatermaskinen's piece Gransmaterial (Border Materials) (I'm pretty sure Johan wrote it):

Here are the blurbs for Collobert Orbital:

If Vicente Huidobro met Georges Bataille on a Waste Management(R)truck, the result might be something akin to Johan Jönsson's Collobert Orbital, the new manifesto of "the waste-disposal-working-class." At times soaring across "aerospatiality," at others existentially grounded in "an overheated world factory" of "all work, all healthcare, all logistics," Jönsson's linguistic propulsions and dynamic formal innovations challenge "a victorious bourgeois poetry order" to, once again, rearticulate verse experimentation to the politics and poetics of working a day job.

- Mark Novak


DNA bonanza contaminant reverie, target overhead. Flock to revelator gridded up to have no stake in history. See that their grave is kept clean. Fatalize wrong, upend amphetamachinic tort. Zero immunity. Cology — hyperplex mini flair, underalphabetic biodebt. Ssay. I couldn't remember the advanced memory formula. Dunno ergo soma. Autoquadrilateral & exogeneric, the transparencies regroup. Law intuition anything uncocked reason craters. Eco rad mono dead with note attached, incalculably inorganic property of the object continuity you just heard — the world, overtime. Mooniac, tricked-up torso love before discharges false dichotomies start stuttering. Ahysterical — swiftest closeup transplant nude spatiality. "To speak an ecstatic technology." The flattest are the busiest arterial munchies. Sextras: bend them over. Faster buckle conjure against choice as surrogate overheating extinction as obliteratable chew. Speed mash mouth lexicon amphetamaneuver. The goo goo amok, self torture broad-minded guts — interzonad gaffered all over you. Put tools in your face. Overdifferent anti-creamery daub up name. Existential logistics: a porous will, a rectal will suckling finality. Mutate epithet or no ending belowgistics. Buzzerless blisscharge, cuties with fists pry open your syllables. Cunnilanguage, cunnilanguish — hope, a surgical implant. Wishful stun: harmony is a warning where anything can breathe. Poppy, missile! Safe, natural, bombing run — victory post-mortem lab blubber. Difference gets you dead. Prey unwriting rumba complicity radio spook you white on white disgust. Whiteous coke on scalpel socialized ice cream. The larval class: vote yes. Cattle reward you, interzonked Fanonical swearing in cattle corporation. Dark retro, subtlety reverses it up the ass. Wage labor, context meltdowns. War — short term memory loss. You think about a lot of things when you're insoluble. Reptility: turn gold into cash. PEWS (Political Economy [of the] World System) refusal mash-up. Organize the slaves to vaporize hegemon. Any accident would be one ending.

- Bruce Andrews

[I like the fact that Andrews gave his blurb a title]

Oswald Egger

I totally recommend the book "Room of Rumor" (Green Integer 116) by the German writer Oswald Egger, who happens to be Aase Berg's German translator.

This makes sense because the book is steeped in dense and neologistic Germanic lines as well as apparently a kind of commentary on the act of translation.

In that way it seems to be very much a translation that figures translation as collaboration with his American translator Michael Pisaro.

This is what Pisaro writes in the afterwords:

"The process for me was like creating an alternate tuning of "regular" English - where the grammar, syntax and vocabulary may occasionally deviate microtonally from standard usage... And so this English lies somewhere between the state of the language (as I perceive it) and something else: Egger-German."

A very interesting and beautiful book. I would make an excerpt but I don't think the poem makes much sense as excerpt. Well, OK, here's a stanza:

Already in the early sun of the unwaves, over
cold-waltz colors - the river island slope-
hatches steam steps hill-watch graves-
grating in posts


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

readings this week in South Bend

"The Mishawaka crew’s poetry and prose never disappoint. From soapbox enthusiasts to film buff/civil war creators to hallucinatory college introverts, the characters that make up the work of Ryan Downey, Daniel Citro, and Jen Penkethman are priceless, engaging, and enraging. Please join us for their reading this Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 7:30 pm at Lula’s Café, 1631 Edison Road, South Bend, IN 46637. The evening is sure to be magic. Magical mise-en-scène evoking the gods."

And on Thursday at 730, Ron Klassnik, Jim Hall, Joe Hall, Joyelle and I will read at Tasha Matsumoto's place in South Bend:

330 West Colfax Ave, Apartment #113 in downtown South Bend,
in the vocational tech part of a renovated high school. There's an entrance on
Williams Street on the west side of the building--ring buzzer #113.

The Gothic and Hysteria vs Contemporary American Poetry

Here's what I wrote to Mark in the comment section. It's pretty long so I thought it qualified as an entry:

I agree about academics-gothic connection [That there has been a lot of academic interest in the Gothic etc over the past couple of decades.]. It's funny I've been interviewing for jobs and going on campus visits and such, and inevitably I get along really well with the Victorianists and they seem much more able to go along with my aesthetics than the general poetry crowd. On the reverse, a lot of the books I read are in fact studies of sexuality and the gothic and the grotesque. I think a lot of interesting work has been done in this area over the past couple of decades.

HOWEVER (and this is huge), these studies have not seem to filtered into Contemporary American Poetry. Contemporary American Poetry is still hugely invested in poetry as High Art. American Hybrid is a monument to this: it is poetry as high art and that's why the hysteria of poets as varied as Plath, O'Hara and Bruce Andrews (as Konrad notes) are not compatible with this anthology.

As I noted in my post on Iowa, poets like Lyn Hejinian post no threat whatsoever to the current Iowa Aesthetic. But the Gothic does. The grotesque does. Vulgar queerity does. Talk about deviance and sexuality does. It's not Serious Art.

For proof, just go to the most recent edition of Rain Taxi, in which the ad for Andrew Zawacki's new book admires him for his treatment of Poetry as "High Art." Or go to Laura Carter's Facebook page and see her complain that the Gurlesque is "too emotional" and not "Thoughtful" enough. It goes on and on.

I would also add to that that if anybody doubts this: go to the Plath thread on the Harriet Blog. That buffoon "Tomas Brady" for example says that "creeping" people out is not serious poetry. That pretty much encapsulated it for me.

I would also add about the American Hybrid that the very fact that it takes as the central dialogue a formalist discussion between quietude and Perloffian indeterminacy already indicates a suppression of a full range of issues and poetics. Even Notley's Gothic "Descent of Alette" is criminally turned into some high lyrical religious poetry (no mention of the Tyrant or damaged soldiers for example).

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Great Blog


Over at the Harriet blog they're having a discussion about whether Sylvia Plath is "major" or not. It seems to be mainly if she's good or not. A lot of talk about "rankings": of course the most reductive form of criticism. "Who's on top" merely seeks the approval of authority. Judging is the least enjoyable for of reading. I know that from the contest we had at Action Books.

There is little talk about what "major" means on the Harriet Blog. And why Plath is such a problematic figure for such discussions. Because I think she is. You can see it in the way even her proponents fail to make her into a major poet. In the 1980s they tried to emphasize her "craft" and skill and to divorce her from her lurid life story, the myth of Plath. This seems totally reductive to me.

I was just reading Dodie Bellamy's Letters from Mina Harker, which not only plays with this divide, but like Plath evokes a kind of rewrite of the Gothic (Mina Hark is from Dracula). On the whole the Gothic is not considered High Literature. Has never been considered major. Since Romanticism has been considered feminine, unserious, low, a prostituted mode. Something teenage girls like (and they do).

And I think that's part of Plath's problem (and Bellamy's). And part of that is of course the visceral power of Plath's poetry. High Art distrusts the visceral. It's hard to quantify, to put standards on.

The other day, one of my students presented on an ee cummings poem that personifies death as a young man. It's a great poem and we started talking about this trope of the personification of death and thanks to the Internet I was able to show them on the spot death personified in Bergman's Seventh Seal and midieval representations of Death/Plague. And thanks to the Internet I was able to call forth Plath's "Death & Co" which I read rather casually, assuming most people had already read it. When I looked up my students looked totally punched-out and blown away. I had forgotten what a great poem that is (masturbating glitter!).

But: Is that a serious response to a poem? Hysteria! Can't be major!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Some more thoughts about grotesque hybrids and revolting bodies etc

* I hope Max was the only person who thought I was entering into some kind of counter-criticism of Julie's review. I thought it was a great review. I merely wanted to think about some of the topics she raises.

* I think Julie makes a good connection between the post-human and the grotesque. The grotesque has been scandalous because of the way it unsettles the Christian hierarchies and and the idea of the Human. In particular it has tended to do this through a perceived over-formalism, repetitiveness, shallowness.

* Perhaps the best example I can think of was made by Colbey Reid at a panel I was on: She discussed how HG Wells' "Island of Dr Moreau" described the hybrids there in terms of textiles; and how Matisse caused a scandal with this one picture where the excessive lines makes a woman look similarly textile. Ie its unnatural and shallow. The "human" depth is removed in favor of an obsessive form. Colbey also writes a lot about Mina Loy for obvious reasons.

* I started to talk about American Hybrid again not because Julie's ideas or aesthetics have anything to do with that anthology (in fact Julie's aesthetics are notably missing from that anthology, as I will talk about later; her aesthetics could not be further from Cole's), but because of this rhetoric of the inbetween.

* This rhetoric is also notable in Stephen Burt's new book of criticism/reviews, "Close Call with Nonsense." In that very title, you can see the "hybrid" idea at work. In order to be poetic, the poem needs a bit of disjunction, but it cannot falter into that mythical camps of pure nonsense. Burt's canon is very similar to Cole's: Rae A, Jennifer Moxley and others.

* Mark: Both Cole and Burt like Language Poetry; I didn't mean to give the impression that Cole didn't. They have afterall made the dominant discussion of contemporary poetry a discussion between quietist emotion and language disjunction. Langpo working mainly to make the too simplistic quietism more realistic to a complex world; and quiestism giving langpo some more emotion. That is why Burt calls attention to Jorie Graham as a key figure for contemporary poetry - not just as a poet but as a teacher and taste-maker (perhaps more so for these roles).

* It should be noted what neither Burt nor Swensen seem to have any taste for. Some language poets are apparently not for them: Leslie Scalapino, Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews perhaps most notably. There is of course a reason for this: What does Lyn H, Rae A and Susan Howe have in common that distinguish them from Scalapino, Charles and Andrews? That's a pretty key question/answer.

* Well, enough of Hybrid/Burt. I'm writing a review of them for RainTaxi, which is why it's on my mind.

*One more unrelated thing: "Mainstream" poetry does not sell! Get over it! A few "mainstream" poets sell, but for every Billy Collins there are 100 winner of such and such first book award that doesn't sell any copies despite writing in a supposedly populistic style. So if "mainstream" defines a style, sales is not a good gauge. This despite the fact that this "mainstream" style has received 30 years of utter institutional support.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cook Review (1)

OK, here are some thoughts about excess, in part brought on by Juliet Cook's perceptive review of Lara Glenum's brilliant book "Maximum Gaga" (which I published):

I like a lot of what Juliet writes in her review, for example her suggestion about post-human body and so on. I think some of my comments in this post will elaborate on Cook's prompts and some will disagree with her.

In different to Stan Apps, I like the way Cook writes the review. As I noted there is a "confessional," or unauthoritative feel to it that I like. That's why I like to write my ideas on this blog, because I feel I can throw in things even though I haven't standardized them yet etc. In some regard, the form of the review is "excessive" (a term I will come to soon).

One thing Cook doesn't like about the book - or perhaps feels suspicious about - is the "gimicky" quality of some of the writing, elements she doesn't feel are "integral" to the piece. She expounds on this by writing:

"I tend to be interested in poetry … that borders the grotesque. Poetry that borders the pornographic and is visceral with a voluptuous horror. Poetry that experiments with such borders without dissolving into nonsense or total absurdity. Sometimes it’s a very fine line and I tend to be interested in flirting with fine line." Cook's problem is when Lara exceeds that "fine line."

And exceeding that fine line is defined thus: "It is not the over-the-top disgustingness of the content that occasionally seems to have gone too far. When I suggest that it has gone too far in places, I am speaking of a sense that the poet has lost some control of her own content."

What is transgressive is not the meaty imagery but something about the structure that seems out of control, and descend into "nonsense" and this is "gimicky."

I think this actually ties in with our discussion about Decadence a while back, a discussion which was prompted by various people claiming that some stylistic tics of contemporary writing were "decadent" because they were not true or integral to the "meaning" etc. (Or perhaps it's the reverse: form cannot control the content as opposed to being excessive. This also related to our discussion with Corey about Reines and Lara while back.)

These two are of course connected. The grotesque body is an unnatural body, a body that is not integral, a hybrid body, a decadent, artificial body that threatens to undo our very fundamental notion of what is natural and unnatural (the body is of course always the site of the natural - urges, feelings etc). This is why Par Backstrom in his article about Michaux talks about "language grotesque" - how Michaux's bodies and his "nonsensical" language both work like the grotesque.

This is interesting to me because it shows the connection between what Cook likes and doesn't like about Lara's work is very close, perhaps the same thing. That is she likes its formal transgressiveness until this impulse goes "too far" and becomes nonsense, and importantly "grotesque."

In his comment below, Ron K. makes a similar point: "Juliet Cook is, it seems, a fan of excess. But she wants the excess to be orderly, organized, "splayed out for a reason.""

The "reason" is key here. "Excessive" is of course always relative. Excessive to what? To whose standards? And also: when is something nonsense. It is interesting that in the comment field Juliet says she doesn't like "Dadaism." Dadaism for her represents what it represented to people in the 10s and 20s: some kind of state of utter randomness.

In more recent times in America, this is what "language poetry" has come to mean for a lot of people. For example, the entire framework for Cole Swensen's "American Hybrid" is based on the notion that there are simplistic poets who write utterly clearly (Quietists) and hardcore language poets (not Lyn H or Susan Howe etc) who write pure nonsense. But notable the hybrid is here the opposite of the grotesque hybrid - it is not inbred, it is healthy based on its multiplicity ("more is better" as my pal Juan always said at lunchbreak as he loaded on the fixings on his hot dog when we worked as landscapers in NYC.)

A related topic: Marjorie Perloff's high modernist concept of pure "indeterminacy." This is the flipside of the coin and, in its reductivenesss, I think provides Cole with the strawman she needs to make the argument for "the hybrid" (which of course is not grotesque at all - never grotesque - even Alice Notley has been purified in that selection!).

There is of course no Pure Nonsense. Just frameworks where certain things don't make sense. For example Joseph Hutchison apparently didn't know anything about unicorns, so according to his framework, the Blatny poem I discussed below did not make sense. Importantly, he conceived of it as "avant-garde tic" - that is, he's using that same rhetoric of "dadaism" as writing that is nonsense and, importantly, a "tic" - in other words "gimicky" or decadent.

Further, nonsense is always part of society; chaoticness doesn't take the text out of the social. For example, this is why Dadaism seemed so threatening to people in the 20s (that and the fact that it had the aura of "Germany" ie communist).

I need to go now but I will pick up on many of these loose threads later or tomorrow and I will also expound on some of Cook's ideas of "post-human" and how it pertains to the grotesque. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lara Glenum's Revolting Body

Juliet Cook has a very thoughtful review of Maximum Gaga up on "Gently Read Literature" (a name that seems somewhat at odds with the gist of this review/book):

"I very much enjoyed Glenum’s first poetry collection, ‘The Hounds of No’, which was also inhabited by a creepy plethora of hybrid creatures including assemblages of arachnid and manikin. Due to the multiple appearances of spider legs and manikin limbs juxtaposed with the blood and eggs and ovaries, that collection had more of an insectile and even fiberglass-like feel for me. The creatures of MAXIMUM GAGA strike me as more like steaming, sexual meat. It is almost impossible to read this collection without thinking about orifices. Orifices as both sexual holes and open body cavities, ready to be penetrated or excavated or to violently expel their own contents in unpredictable ways. ‘The Hounds of No’ was oddly visceral in its own right, but MAXIMUM GAGA is downright sodden with viscera, saturated with viscera, oversaturated with viscera..."

I'll talk more about the issues this review raises later today or tomorrow.

Blog post about With Deer

Ron K sent me a link to the following reading of the first poem of With Deer, Still:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jonathan Mayhew's Lorca

Although I tend to fundamentally disagree with blogger Jonathan Mayhew about just about everything, his new book Apocryphal Lorca seems like a really interesting project. Read the thesis here:

Hofer/Solorzano/Dorantes Tonight!

Dolores Dorantes & Laura Solórzano read with translator Jen Hofer tonight, 8:00 PM, at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, NYC.