whacked to pulp
between slits
in cinder
blocks laid
in gravel.
A path
to these
porch steps,
their chipped
blue paint
–the rain-
stained wood
cracked through.

“Path” is a work that aims at perfection in all dimensions. As an act of description – [Joseph] Massey is principally a descriptive poet – the attention to the minutest detail is immediately evident. Although the title offers one focus, the two sentences that make up the poem’s body present the literal path of the occasion from two very different vantages, the first being the weeds that are not allowed through the cinder blocks, the second being the stairs at its end.

Ron Silliman on Silliman’s blog, July 26, 2010

Yea, it’s been a long, hot summer.   Not all of us are thinking clearly.   Still, we need to nip this madness in the bud.  Whatever else we may say about it, there is nothing precise or “detailed” about “Path” by Joseph Massey.  I know the humidity, combined with too much coffee, can make us a little crazy, but that’s no excuse for slipshod criticism.   American Letters is not a joke, or it is, or it is not, depending, but we think Ron Silliman is serious in what he says, and this may be cause for alarm, since summer heat can sometimes be dangerous.  We just want to make sure Ron is alright.

Ron writes: “the attention to the minutest detail is immediately evident.”

Evident to whom?

Whose “attention?”

“minutest?”  More minute than what?

Silliman uses a comparative, “minutest,” and yet “weeds” are not minute. They are quite visible.  Further, the poet, young Mr. Massey, does not distinguish one weed from another, nor does Mr. Massey examine a weed with any sort of attentive eye to detail at all.  How and why does Silliman believe that Mr. Massey earns the plaudit: “attention to the minutest detail?”  There is none.  No “attention to minute details” at all.  “Weeds,” “path” “steps” and “chipped blue paint” (oh pardon me!  “chipped/blue paint”) are observed, but there is nothing in the poem in which “attention to the minutest detail” is even faintly approached.  Where is Mr. Massey’s microscope?  Never mind the microscope, where is Mr. Massey’s knowledge of weeds?  There are many kinds of weeds, but “Path” is so bereft of detailed observation that no “weed” is identified.

I think we can all agree that Criticism, at the very least, should be accurate, even in the middle of a hot, humid summer, a hot, humid summer choked with “weeds.”

Careful, Ron, that you don’t trip on that “path.”


  1. notevensuperficial said,

    July 27, 2010 at 6:30 am

    Yes, attention to the minutest detail is immediately evident is an embare-assment of exaggeration.

    I don’t think the “minutest detail[s]” – referring to a superlative, right? – are meant to be “weeds”. Rather, whack-pulp “between slits” and cracks (in the wooden steps) chipping apart the steps’ “blue paint” are, I guess, the verse-fruit of the poet’s eagle eyes.

    It’s an interesting idea: the “path” of human manufacture and the natural world (“weeds”, the effect of “rain” on “wood”) penetrating each other, substrate and phenomenon fighting – what – to become each other. To ‘be’ substance. A struggle intelligible through paths of appearance.

    Well, that’s a lot of phenomenology for an apparently slight “act of description” to bear – good for Massey, or bad for me, as you might call it, Tom. We might agree in asking: why miss the path for the pleasure of Silli hyperbolic puff?

  2. thomasbrady said,

    July 27, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Reading Massey, Silliman is so anxious to issue hyperbolic praise that he fails to really see what he is observing. I think it’s more than just a failure to name correctly; Silliman actually sees what is not there. This is true of all avants and post-avants and manifesto-ists: they make crucial fundamental errors in judgement because their readings are invariably based on the exaggerated importance of some part of the poetic process, a part to which they lend (in their own minds) a super-real importance.

  3. horatiox said,

    July 29, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    About the only thing worse than the Ode to the Weed Whacker could be Silliman’s bizarre, semi-dyslexic attempt at analysis of it. No ideas but in Weed Whackers? No!.

    El sueno de Razon produce …monstruos–Senor Goya fue correcto

  4. thomasbrady said,

    July 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I fall on the floor laughing when I see the pedants praise

    whacked to pulp


    Weeds whacked to pulp

    You can’t believe anyone could really buy into this…but they do…scholars! It takes one’s breath away… Pedantry can turn into a kind of grand, madhouse spectacle that becomes an addictive opium lounge in its own right…I can’t think of any other way to explain it…

  5. horatiox said,

    July 29, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    It’s just f-ing ridiculous, really. In a sense one could (tho I’m not a marxist) read it as a type of false consciousness–the “poetry” schtick or something. As if say WWI or WWII could be summed up in a few lines of vers libre. Blame the “beats” (and/or their pimps) as much as modernists. Even Bukowski’s street rants or Kerouac’s reveries were superior to this whole new lang-po, flarf or precisionist jive.

    Buk. struggled for life and death for years. His writing’s raw, even ugly or obscene at times, but real (as was the best of Ti Jean). The poetic-decorator school doesn’t know jack about that: they get their MFAs paid for by rich daddies, and write their little nature odes and neurotic whatever, or spew arty chaos ala Silliman. (scuzi rant)

  6. Ezra said,

    July 29, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    How would Massey know the type of weed referenced when, as the poem clearly states, they were “whacked to pulp.” You can’t really be that dense, Thomas? Are you taking your medication?

  7. thomasbrady said,

    July 30, 2010 at 2:09 am


    How did he even know they were “weeds,” then?

    Maybe it was Kentucky blue grass?

    “Pulp?” So every last leaf was destroyed beyond recognition, between every cinder block slit, and everywhere else? How did the weed whacker get inside the spaces to turn every last piece of vegetation to pulp? That doesn’t make any sense.

    Let’s move in for a closer look…

    Mmmm…what do you see, Ezra?

    Come on…look closer…

    Do you really think this is helping your client, Mr. Massey?



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