THE DIGERATI SHOVEL BACK: Shoveling and Shoveling on Blog:Harriet..

Shovel Grab 0 copy

Today on Blog:Harriet, November 1st, 2009, marks The 60th day After the Banning of Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords, Alan Cordle and Christopher Woodman. To commemorate the occasion, we take the opportunity to examine the only thread in that period that has attracted more than a handful of desultory comments, and that is Kenneth Goldsmith’s rip-roaring, The Digerati Strike Back with a staggering 55 Comments!

To read the most recent of those comments and some even more staggering statistics, click here.

But don’t expect much about poetry, as even the posters themselves acknowledge it’s just shoveling, and because they are Travis Nichols‘ friends and colleagues, they’re obviously proud just to snip, snap and snuggle. Because that’s how you comment if you’re really on the  ‘in’ in the poetry establishment, unlike Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords or Christopher Woodman who actually read and write it, or Alan Cordle, so passionate and well-informed on the ethical and social issues, and a well-trained librarian.

But no passion please, we’re Blog:Harriet — no risk, no commitment, no challenge, no outrage or devotion, no Annie Finches, no Martin Earls, no Eileen Myles, no one who posts poems because they actually love them like Catherine Halley, or poets they would like to understand better like Joel Brouwer, and who give others both the space and the encouragement to explore difficult subjects in depth. Excellent Contributing Writers, and there are still some of those left, deserve better respondents — not just cynics and academics and a handful of groupies, insiders and glad-handers.

How sad, and nobody at The Foundation seems to care that Harriet is vacant. I guess that’s the way the Management  likes it, though how that serves Ruth B. Lilly’s larger mission remains to be seen!


  1. thomasbrady said,

    November 1, 2009 at 4:25 am

    As Gary said, Harriet knows how to shovel it on…

    Poets today are unable to extemporize– that’s why their discussions are so dull, why they go nowhere.

    In the Digerati thread, Kent Johnson felt compelled to link to an old article of his, of which I quote the first part:

    “In English-language poetry, Romanticism, of course, largely subsumed the old principles, replacing the passed-on torch of deference with the projecting lamp of vatic vision. And despite Modernism’s partial recovery (Pound, notably) of classical practices of imitation, and a few salient examples since (Lowell, perhaps most famously), the assumption that poiesis and its orders beam outward from the individual writer comfortably dominates our contemporary scene, including—waning theoretical claims notwithstanding—among our so-called post-avant, where gestures of intertextuality and citation seem most often proffered not in homage to and extension of what has come before, but in proof of the Poet’s encompassing purview and authority—Romantic ontology with a postmodern twist, as it were. If Harold Bloom is right about anything (and he’s certainly right about a lot), it’s that our age is still working through Romantic ideology.”

    Kent Johnson is parroting academic modernism here; he doesn’t believe a word of this, or even understand what he is saying.

    First of all, the idea that Romanticism “replaced the passed-on torch of deference with the projecting lamp of vatic vision” is an abstract exaggeration, a mere theory of no substance. Secondly, Johnson cites Bloom, but of course this mere theory comes from M.H. Abrams, author of ‘The Mirror and the Lamp,’ who was Bloom’s adviser at Cornell.

    Unable to have a real conversation, Johnson links to what turns out to be nothing more than hack graduate school paper rubbish.

  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    November 1, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Wouldn’t have even scored a passing grade at the Yale Graduate School in the early sixties. Would have been trashed for the style before anyone even tried to figure out what it meant.

    I mean, nobody would have even bothered!

    And this is Blog:Harriet!

  3. thomasbrady said,

    November 1, 2009 at 3:55 pm


    Part of foetic study: examine the teachers, and the teachers of those teachers.

    The typical academic, or ‘poet’ today, regurgitates the pablum which I quoted from Kent Johnson’s ‘Jacket’ article above–they lack historical sense.

    If one studies history, one finds that ‘Romantic’ precedents before the so-called era of Romanticism are legion; Johnson clearly doesn’t know what he means when he uses terms like classical and romantic; especially when he defers to Pound and Lowell as “classical” in a respectful manner. It is sterile ass-kissing in the throes of ignorance passed on by the New Criticism. One can use pat, established terms once in a while, but it’s easy to tell (hello, Kent Johnson) when pedantry is being slavishly repeated.

    The problem is modernism and new criticism,–which must be looked at foetically to be understood.

    To treat modernism as a mere scholarly affair and to take at face value formulations of the New Critics and Pound and T.S. Eliot is to live in ignorance, parroting the simpering pedantry of Kent Johnson, just instanced. Unfortunately, even Foetry superstars like Dana Gioia over-rate the Early Moderns–witness Gioia in his famous essay informing his readers that Ransom publishing Lowell’s poetry in his Kenyon Review was a shining example of the open, disinterested, good old days. (??)

    M.H. Abrams taught Harold Bloom at Cornell (one of the first Writing Program universities) and who taught Abrams?

    I.A. Richards, the father of New Criticism/ Close Reading, was Abrams’ tutor at Cambridge University.

    Gustave Lanson and explication de texte was the French forerunner, and we find Lanson at Columbia U. in 1911 and also traveling around American campuses, noting that American religion was losing it appeal on campuses to American football. Here’s an interesting topic for another day…

    You mentioned Yale Graduate School, Christopher, and this conjures up Bloom teaching Camille Paglia–who can be understood through the infuence of her tutors, Bloom, from Abrams, from Richards.

    Paglia hates Derrida, yet both come right out of close reading, or explication de texte. Paglia is in fact the Frankenstein’s monster of close reading, because she added a historical and sexual scope which made Modernist, New Critical scholars uncomfortable.

    Close reading quickly becomes a fetish, a disease, a distraction, but it was part of New Criticism’s agenda to make the study of poetry a professional career for the academy, rather than a popular and moral uplift for the general public. Paglia’s is a Fetishized Reading, which is what most Close Reading becomes. The ‘real time’ impression a reader gets from great literature is not the same as when one stops and begins to inspect the text–the latter can actually subvert the intent of the master. If a reader needs to ‘study’ a text to appreciate it, literature as popular entertainment no longer exists and is tied up, gagged, blinded and handed over to the white lab coats in the academy. The gulf impossibly widens between junk entertainment and high-brow fetish in the academy.

    Paglia is trickling away into irrelevance, wasting herself on political blogging, which is earning her hatred from Salon readers. She’s been floundering for years after a promising start of foetic, historical, and controversial insights. Her mentors, such as Bloom, have clearly weighed her down. No one is truly independent in academia–the system simply won’t allow it. Her book on poetry, “Break, Blow, Burn,” was a disappointment; she is not a good reader of poetry, and I blame this somewhat on her mentors Milton Kessler and Harold Bloom. If one cannot write poetry, one is more likely to be a slave to one’s mentors as a critic.

    I’d like to see Scarriet do a piece on Paglia, who seems to be losing the creds she had as an important thinker–each day she continues to blog on Salon.


  4. poetryandporse said,

    November 2, 2009 at 12:16 am

    I find it difficult to get worked up about the wan spats on the other side of the Atlantic, Tom.

    See, the thing is, these bores have Heaney as their ultimate symbol of what a contemporary poet is: to people posting there, even the coolest most savvy operator in with the gods, Heaney is an exotic Irish poet whose hocus pocus and hoodoo smoothly draws them into worshipping the man – but to me, here in Dublin, the one poet this side of the puddle, whose gravity in real life the drones would sell their grannies’ ghost to voice on the page and in person, is merely a bloke in the Palace Bar local pub on Fleet Street. Another mortal with a gift for ditties, and on reading the attempts to cast themselves as relevent, sincere, serious poetical types: one titters.

    After finding out about John Barr, that put it all in perspective. The heads at Harriet must ape the Hampton executive poet vibe to fit in, methinks, cast off the working class and embrace the blazer and plus fours.

    There’s no soul there, the chat is hampered by the fact that all there know, whatever they say, is all an act in the sense that the real passionate bluffers are here because the poetic grasp of Trav, and the team in agreement with him, is minimal to non-existent.

    I just wish they could come here for a few weeks and do a bit in the Crane Bar in Galway: experience a poetic reality so far removed from their received notions of it as expounded by the current crop of American janglers; they would find themselves surprised and a dose of humanity entering into ’em.

  5. wfkammann said,

    November 2, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Harriet the Blog:
    Fucktent for the self absorbed.

  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    November 2, 2009 at 6:13 am


    Dear Travis, Don and Catherine,

    I’m addressing you three without knowing what your precise responsibilities at Harriet are. I know Travis Nichols is the Assistant Editor in charge of Blog:Harriet, and that Catherine Halley is the Editor in charge of the Poetry Foundation Website. Indeed, I remember Catherine Halley saying that Blog:Harriet represented only about 3% of the traffic on the Website as a whole, so her position has a great deal more influence and, of course, a much wider responsibility than Travis’.

    I include Don Share because he has been the most active Foundation participant on Harriet, even though I know he has no specific responsibility for the Blog. I also like Don Share’s tone and input very much — I almost regard him as a friend, in fact, we’ve encountered each other so positively so many times. For this reason I simply can’t believe he wasn’t very concerned about what was going on with the Like/Dislike thing and all the subsequent bannings — and of course with what has NOT been going on subsequently!!!

    So my question to you three, Don, Cathy and Travis: why was Desmond Swords banned? I never saw him scolded on-line, and although I know he did receive one of those horrible July 10th warning letters from Travis Nichols about the length of his posts, he was never a frequent poster. And of course he did curtail his length very nicely after the warning — yet still he was banned 6 weeks later. And I want to know why?

    I mean, for what? Do you think I’m in cahoots with him, is that it, or Thomas Brady? Desmond Swords was as fresh and electrifying a bombshell in our lives as he was in the life of Blog:Harriet, I can tell you. Yes, we were thrilled by his scope, his passion, and his language, but we were also worried about his lack of table manners, for want of a better word, and you may recall that both Tom and I immediately entered into a dialogue with him. We loved every word Desmond posted, but knew he couldn’t last long on any blog without rapped knuckles or the riot-act being read, and we set about helping him to do what they call ‘fit in.’ Yes we did, and I even got a letter from one of you three thanking me personally for my efforts to prove it!

    Now what I want is for you three to look at what Desmond is saying in his last post, and tell me why that isn’t important to Harriet? Yes, go and review what you’re getting now on Blog:Harriet [click here], and tell me if any of it could cut the mustard at the Crane, or could stand up in the Palace Bar and not faint?

    Or are you all content that Harriet is just about Kent Johnson, Henry Gould, John and Matt? Is that what you want, as tame and old hat a parlor-game as that?

    And that’s not to say that Kent Johnson’s critical position isn’t interesting, or that he doesn’t express himself well, whatever you think of it. Or that Henry Gould’s sage humor and intimate experience of letters isn’t valuable. But if you don’t have any singers it’s going to be a pretty dull fast-food shop you’ve got there, and hardly the sort of place that poetry will feast and dance.

    Because when you banned Desmond Swords you banned a rare, random descent, and showed that you have no interest in Harriet as a gathering place for poets.

    This Note is a serious challenge, you three, and Tom, Desmond and I are not going to give in next door at Scarriet. Because the irony is that Scarriet’s traffic is now almost certainly larger than Harriet’s , which is staggering when you consider how recently we started! True, very few of our visitors comment, but most of them are in professional positions that might be compromised by our hair-dos and politics. But they’re fellow travellers for sure, good friends and companions. And if you can’t do better for Harriet, sooner or later you’ll have to look out for your backs. Because they’re there!


  7. thomasbrady said,

    November 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm


    Heaney has been the Poetry Star of Tribe Ireland in the States for over a generation; he gets big crowds when he reads at the Boston Public Library or at Harvard, but Heaney’s certainly no Dylan Thomas; Seamus lacks the poet’s charisma and passion; he’s one part visiting dignitary, one part humble craftsman, the perfect pet for someone like Harvard’s Helen Vendler.

    Heaney is a good research scholar; his temperament is perfect for it. A pity Heaney wasn’t a better poet, since he was in position to clear a lot of academic nonsense from the temple with Yeatsian fire; unhappily, he takes too much care with syllables and metaphors; his guttural craft, with weed-slowness and weed-care, crushes the life out of nearly everything he touches.

    His attempts at humor are like a bear attempting to be cheery. Too patient and fussy, he ends up making a poetic cartoon for the mouth and the mind, a thatched-roof, metaphoric wind. He’s the sort of poet who is satisfied to merely describe: a boggy landscape, etc His metaphors have a bull-in-the-china-shop-awkwardness. Heaney gargles while he sings: ‘Bog, nog, furkin, jerkin’– Rough Charm of Celtic Accent Pours Into Poetic Speech to Please Fawning Tourists Anxious to Love Emerald Isle.

    What do you think? Am I being cruel?

    Des, are there You-Tubes of Crane Bar in Galway poetry readings? How much is airfare to Galway these days?

    But do you know who Kent is referring to in the passage I quoted…?

    “…Romanticism…replaced the passed-on torch of deference with the projecting lamp of vatic vision. And despite Modernism’s partial recovery (Pound, notably) of classical practices of imitation, and a few salient examples since (Lowell, perhaps most famously), the assumption that poiesis and its orders beam outward from the individual writer comfortably dominates our contemporary scene… proof of the Poet’s encompassing purview and authority—Romantic ontology with a postmodern twist, as it were.” –Kent Johnson

    Who in the world is this “individual writer” who “dominates our contemporary scene” and “beams outward” with Romantic “vatic vision?”

    This is silly. What drug is Johnson on?

    “A postmodern twist.”

    Yea, make mine a double. No ice.


  8. cowpattyhammer said,

    November 2, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Make mine ditto, and pull up a chair for me beside Desmond’s.

    This is language I could listen to all night. This is the Night Thing that makes the New just a gargle with a hangover. This is us on the way while Kent and Stephen mop up the spills the next morning, empty the ashtrays and polish the brass.

    Thanks, Tom.


  9. poetryandporse said,

    November 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I never read Johnston seriously, because the vague beam of gobble dee goonery he torques out is sheer bluff. He made his name on being a fake, Fiona Cloud who kept up the pretence even though all knew she was the secret psuedonym of Glaswegian William Sharpe, who sought his poetic nous in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A guild of enchanterswhose secrets one could imagine KJ faking he was privvy to, in some boring conceptual enacment that only a handful of bores bothered with first time round, and whose imprimatur is…who cares, i mean, really: that the only person still pretending it isn’t a con, is the linguistic grifter who droned this (un)original non-drama up in the hope of everlasting fame as boyfreind to his muse, Henry Gould.

    Wow! two real energy, edgey, say-anthing, do-anything, crazy could-push-the-button anytime kinda academics who act …yeah, really excited about ’em.

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