Ariana Reines: in Seth Oelbaum’s anarchist vision, she’s in the top one percent!! Yea!!

What was Seth Oelbaum, of HTMLGIANT literature blog, thinking?

This attack on the capitalist AWP goes a little far in its Marxist critique.

An oft-quoted portion is specific—and sort of funny and cogent:

Denise Duhamel’s (Florida International University) irritation with her husband’s habit of falling asleep after a meal doesn’t constitute poetry; Mathew Rohrer’s (NYU) 30th birthday has nothing to do with poetry; Ben Lerner’s (Brooklyn) Spain woes, Aaron Kunin’s (Pomona College) sore throat, Kenneth Goldsmith’s (Buffalo) weather transcripts – none of these (and one could compose a list at least six million times as long as Schindler’s) are poetry or literature.

And most would agree, if grudgingly, perhaps, with the author’s observation in the following quote, just in terms of raw economics and mechanics:

What’s of consequence is the mere corporeal book (not what’s inside) and the name attached to it — the name that places the corporeal book on a CV to try to acquire employment…The AWP is American economics, not literary.

But here the argument begins to slip into a familiar rant:

The AWP corresponds to the tasteless USA motto that any one can be anything. Any one who has a bit of money or is down for some debt can enter one of the hundreds of MFA programs and be considered a “poet.” But I refuse to abide by this capitalistic credo.

And here it explodes in a stink-bomb of insult in the face of even the most Marxist of poets:

Poetry has nothing to do with equality, fairness, or public opinion. “The Soul selects her own Society,” says Emily D. “Then – shuts the door — / To her divine Majority.” Poetry is exclusive and elite — a one-percent medium. Nearly all the MFA students and teachers aren’t poets.

Here we see that the politics of poetry is more interesting than the politics of politics.  The author argues from a Marxist perpsective—and an elitist one.

The communist tyrant is bred in the field of aesthetics.

The contradiction is blatant: capitalism glories in buying and selling—which brings (AWP) people together—while Oelbaum’s communist position, shunning the market for a deeper human bond, cries out that poetry is a “one-percent medium.”

Everyone knows that a “one-percent medium” is an advertised capitalist creation, not a socialist one.

One-percent??  Inequality is capitalist.

Emily Dickinson’s “Soul”—of the Communist State.   Hmmm.

Can Emily D. “select her own society” in Oelbaum’s anti-capitalist, socialist utopia?

How can a communist elitist exist?   Well, they do exist, and there’s lots of them, but still we wonder, how do they reconcile the great contradiction?

Oelbaum’s wants “drama” and “commotion,” which is left-wing, revolutionary and only mildly offensive.  But he adds to it literary judgment:

There are only three Ariana Reines books, three Chelsey Minnis books, and just two Lara Glenum books. These are actual poets, poets shrill enough to warrant Joyelle’s atrocity-esque praise. But 99 percent of the books are by bourgeois like Jorie Graham, Joshua Beckman, Matthew Zapruder, &c. These are the antithesis of monstrous. Actually, there is no actual poetry “glut.” Actually, there’s a poetry famine. Poetry isn’t messy: it’s mitigated. It isn’t even poetry: it’s market exchange. The AWP isn’t a space for literature. It’s an extension of capitalism, another space where products accumulate.

Is Oelbaum saying that Reines, Minnis, Glenum equal a Grand Guignol?  Reading their work, it seems like pretty typical ‘chicks-happily-letting-you-observe-their-neuroses’ poetry. We don’t see Oelbaum’s “one-percent” at all.   We do see a kind of Let’s not talk about books. Let’s fuck animus in these poets.  OK.

The message of Oelbaum’s three “one-percent” poets: There’s a great deal of life that we just can’t understand and let’s not pretend to do so. 

But how is this anti-capitalist?  Oelbaum, again:

I want drama too. But there isn’t any drama at the AWP. The AWP isn’t the place to cause a commotion; it’s a space for commerce, for what everyone else does in America. The AWP is not related to actual literature or poetry. It is another way in which the common components of the insufferable middle class are reinforced. 99 percent of the attendees don’t have any gift for poetry: they only have (had) money (or a depth of debt).

So let’s cause a commotion at the AWP?

Let’s interfere with the capitalist event?

Let’s hate on the “insufferable middle class?”

It does finally seem rather naive.

Of course Oelbaum will say, “I’m not communist!  I don’t believe in any State! I’m for freedom and anarchy!  Just because I’m against capitalism, doesn’t mean I’m a socialist!”

The problem here is that Oelbaum is clearly talking politics—but without really talking politics at all.

And talking literary judgment—without really talking about that, either.

Anarchy.  A heavy load to bear.

Maybe these poets, Reines, Minnis, and Glenum, are Oelbaum’s friends?

Is this simply a Foetry story?


  1. marcusbales said,

    March 1, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Skinny Young Girls

    I’m sure that the girls think they’re fiercely rebelling,
    that folks think their poetry’s pretty compelling;
    but their photograph looks like a singles-night flyer;
    whatever the story they think they are telling
    it’s pretty damned obvious what they are selling:
    it’s skinny young girls in provoking attire

    The presses keep finding delectable creatures
    to put on their covers and read at their features
    each dressed like they’re actively seeking a buyer —
    they write about sex in free verse like their teachers
    and venues are filled to the virtual bleachers
    for skinny young girls in provoking attire.

    The cultural value of art reassures us
    that though we’re in lust with the image that lures us
    like fanboys and girls who desire desire,
    we love the mass-markeeting feat that inures us
    to merit and value just so it procures us
    those skinny young girls in provoking attire.

    So pose in your outfits and play with your tresses
    pretending you want more than gazes’ caresses,
    and fanning that marketing flame ever higher;
    it’s true that sex sells but what really impresses
    is knowing the next step is take off your dresses
    you skinny young girls in provoking attire.

    So while you have got them to show, I guess, show ‘em
    and while you can choose you can choose to bestow ‘em —
    but the next generational prospects are dire:
    the publishing weenies will want you to blow ‘em
    then work on that pole while reciting your poem,
    you skinny young girls in provoking attire.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    March 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    The Rubble Is Around Us Now Stay

    While you were joining your critical faction
    You missed the memo: poetry is action.
    A love letter, said Dante, and poetry’s use
    Is breeding, said Shakespeare (he wasn’t obtuse)
    A poem’s merit is simple: attraction.

    Haven’t you noticed? A nerd, wanting sex,
    Uses poetry to make nerdy sexy.
    Between lovers there’s always a text,
    A heartbeat between what happens next:
    True love is always over-sexed,

    And where is true love found?
    Not upon the wintry ground,
    Not on the merry-go-round,
    Not in the critical faction.
    Here is the beginning of the action:

    I saw you far away
    And I thought of something to say
    But when you came near I wasn’t saying
    Exactly what I wanted to say:
    The rubble is around us now stay.

  3. drew said,

    October 12, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I find very interesting and politically INcorrect stuff here.
    I am curious though – I instinctively want to hit like after looking at most posts. – yet I notice NO ONE has been “liking” stuff here.
    Is it UNCOOL to “like” things @ Scarriet? Is it discouraged?

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 12, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Liking is kind of uncool these days. Scarriet is cool, though.

      • drew said,

        October 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

        OK. Kapich. I need to stop liking this stuff…

  4. noochinator said,

    April 3, 2015 at 10:17 am

    John Sayles’ satirical short story about the Old Left, “At the Anarchists’ Convention”, read by Jerry Stiller:

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