Kenneth Goldsmith: Not one concept in his head.

If you are really curious about beer, the expert will tell you there are only two kinds: ale and lager.

Likewise, there’s only two kinds of wine: red and white.

I can glance out my window right now and see the sunlight increasing as the clouds disperse, and then notice the artificial light over my desk steadily burning.

Neither the outside light nor the inside light are considered “art,” but what visual art does not take account of it?

We understand terms like the “art of beer” or the “art of wine,” even as we might say to ourselves, “Well, that’s not really art—maybe science…”

But the moment we tackle the “art of art,” we come up against that sort of learned confusion which may befuddle in a pleasant manner those seasoned and learned enough to enjoy such a thing, but which ultimately derails all true understanding.

The confusion is due largely to the great blurring between art and reality mentioned above: if the artificial light above my desk behaved more like the sun on a partly cloudy day, we might even call the constantly changing light emitted by the light bulb above my desk, “art,” just because of  the way the man-fashioned bulb above my desk cunningly copies nature’s changeable light.

This year’s Conceptualism hullabaloo, which happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show which brought modern art to America, is a debate forcing us to acknowledge what is nothing less than art’s most important idea since art began: imitation.

Both John Keats and Kenneth Goldsmith must confront this reality: Art is a pale representation of nature.

Goldsmith’s avant-garde solution is to focus entirely on “representation.”

Conceptualism, in Goldsmith’s case, or in the case of Warhol/Duchamp’s found objects, is a terrible misnomer.

Goldsmith and his Found Poetry takes Nature, or Reality and “finds” it as Poetry, and “find,” here, means purely represent.

We are free to ignore the actual work of Goldsmith’s, as many have pointed out, but this is not due to Conceptualism; it is because of its opposite: Representation.

Reality is art’s flesh, and until art lives, it is not art, but reality.  (How art lives is something we’ll get to in a moment.)

We err whenever we do not understand art as reality first, and art, second.

Plato offended (certain easily offended) artists with this practice: he saw art as reality first—what does art do within reality? was the most important question for Plato.

Found Poetry is an ineffective challenge to Plato, seeking to reverse Plato’s ‘look-at-art-as-reality’ admonition; superficially, Found Poetry is looking at reality as art, but the moment we look at reality as art, we look at art as reality-Plato’s strategy!

To look, as Plato does, at “art as reality,” is to see reality “showing through the art,” as it were; this “look” is the “harsh look of the cynical Critic,” who refuses to see the art on the artist’s terms.

This “look” is, in artistic terms, the methodical “look” which offends aesthetic passivity with its real-life action.

The “raw fact” of art, no matter how intricate, is not allowed to lie there passively; the active Platonist Critic places art in a context of reality—and does not allow it to remove itself into a pure, amoral, state where reality is walled off from the representation (the art).  Once “this wall” is allowed to go up, art is free to make rules for itself that have no connection to reality and to proclaim itself purely valid apart from reality, which, on a grand scale is similar to a person withdrawing from reality into a dream, or a wealthy person cutting themselves off from the everyday needs of others.

Art has moved in this direction, away from Plato, away from art as reality, and towards art as pure art, for over a hundred years, now.  This very movement is defined as Modernism by John Crowe Ransom, in his brilliant essay, “Poets Without Laurels.”   Impressionism in painting, Imagism in poetry, Abstract Painting, a poem like “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” by Wallace Stevens, these are all attempts, along with Found Poetry, to escape Plato and his Conceptualism and to enter into a world of attenuated representation, the sensuality of partial imitation, that is sensual imitation without mind, reason, or morals.  Modernism, for Ransom, not only moves in the direction of “pure art,” or “art for art’s sake,” but it is also a movement of science dividing itself into finer and finer partitions.

The beginner learns about the science of beer or wine, starting with ‘ale or lager,’ ‘white or red,’ but this beginner’s lesson contains all that the expert knows—when it comes to science.  As science gets down to the details of its field, the broader truths must be constantly kept in view, and this should be true of art, as well.

Visual art is concerned with these two: Color or line.

Writing?  Prose or poetry.

These divisions involve the science of art, which is much easier to understand than the art of art.

Plato can be scientific about art, even while morally condemning it, and one could argue it is the scientist in him that morally condemns it, while at the same time, examining it on a purely material level—which Plato did, even though Aristotle took it a little further; Aristotle broke most famously with Plato with his “catharsis” theory, telling the lie that we can “purge” our emotions by bathing in what triggers them.

Even Tom Wolfe got it wrong, then, with his withering critique of Modern Art when he called avant-garde painting the “painted word.” This, again, errs, in the way we have just illustrated: Modern art is not conceptualist; it is merely crudely (purely) representational.   Like Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” it is so obvious, everyone has missed it.   What we call “Conceptualist” is just crudely imitative.

How could so many have been so wrong regarding Conceptualism?

We can easily blame it on two things:

First, Modernism, a movement which is all about “moving ahead, about being self-consciously “modern” while forgetting the past.

And secondly, confusing art and science.

Science tells us there are but two kinds of beer: lager and ale.

Science, too, could also sound wiser by saying: beer as beer is more essential than the distinction between larger and ale.

Science, like criticism, can say anything, can be everywhere at once.

The poor artist, however, needs to imitate and make a certain kind of imitative sense to be effective, even if it is laying on pure color as an abstract artist.

Critics are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, not poets.   Unless we call Plato a poet (which he was, according to Shelley).

One of the results of the movement known as Modernism has been the elevation of prose poetry over its cousin, verse.

Verse, in Modernism’s eyes, is crudely denotative, rather than suggestive—the key to poetic prose.

Just as every discriminating artist is concerned with both line and color, every writer should create art that both denotes and suggests.

If we look at the matter scientifically, we will find that metrics can aid both denotation and suggestion, and the same goes with prose meaning.

Modernism, with its crippling -isms, needs to be done away with at last.

Drink all kinds of beer.

Don’t call Kenneth Goldsmith a “Conceptualist” ever again.



Time magazine’s Camille Paglia article headlines with “Cyrus’s derivative stunt reveals artistically bankrupt musical culture,” and one hardly needs to read what predictably follows from everyone’s favorite anti-feminist, pro-porn, classical-sweep culture queen: Madonna, with her “daring European art-film eroticism” was artistically ground-breaking and “projected the magic of sexual allure”;  Miley Cyrus should “go back to school.”

So says the professor in her analysis of big production sleeze.

But, wait a minute.

Madonna’s derivative stunt reveals artistically bankrupt musical culture.”

Doesn’t that work, too, professor Paglia?

Paglia: “Young performers will probably never equal or surpass the genuine shocks delivered by the young Madonna.”

How do we judge “genuine shocks?”

If Madonna had to be “shocking” to be effective, what is the point of saying Madonna’s “shocks” were better than Miley’s?

Madonna “sensually rolled around in a lacy wedding dress and thumped her chest with the mike while singing “Like A Virgin” at the first MTV awards in 1984.”

It sounds to us like Ms. Ciccone and Ms. Cyrus were appealing to the same audience, and for the same reason, and only a phoney-baloney professor would attempt to make an important distinction.

Paglia does make some common sense critiques on the music industry, but when you set yourself up as an expert on sex, you’re just another dignified professor covered in mud.

Remember! An expert’s farts are not just farts!

“Sex has been a crucial component of the entertainment industry since the seductive vamps of silent film and the bawdy big mamas of roadhouse blues.”

But what if an audience finds 20 year old Miley Cyrus prancing about sexually sexier than “bawdy big mamas of roadhouse blues?”

Is it about sexiness, or not, professor?  If it’s not about sex, then don’t say, “Sex has been a crucial component…”  And if it is about sex, all bets are off.  Even if one argues that the issue is really about ‘sex-under-the-surface,’ to say that Miley Cyrus ‘crossed a line’ makes no sense, because obviously that “line” has moved a bit since those “bawdy big mamas” entertained us in the 1920s.

Young performers today are “consumed with packaging and attitude,” says professor Paglia—as she defends Madonna.

We can argue like this forever, but here’s the real lesson to all this, and it really applies to art:

Art’s function is really a very small one.

Life is so vast in comparison to art, that art barely occupies a place in it.

Further, art is not really a part of life at all; art is truly art only in that subset of Life called ‘How To Deal With Life.’

By art, we include the Criticism of Art by those like Camille Paglia.

Things like sex overwhelm us, and so to deal with forces like sex, we call on art to protect us, that is, to tell us how much is too much.

Paglia’s finger-wagging at Miley Cyrus is a small example of what art does for us.

It doesn’t matter how sophisticated or amoral the critic or the artist present themselves to us.

The secret reason for art eclipses everything else we might say about it.

Art, despite the common wisdom, is really an act of censorship, not expression.

Art is a police action.


How Can I Tell

How can I tell you how my day was?
A day is a thousand years.
Charm always, always uses less words.
Only simple gestures are certain.
What then shall I do with excess,
Which is at the soul of leisure and play?

I want to know how your day was.
Talk to me for a thousand years.
I don’t care if you invent words.
Just sound as if you are certain.
Because I love you, I want you in excess.
A thousand years is only a day.


Who Are These People?

Who are these people
Who think they can be objective?
They cannot, unless in a jury trial
Objectivity is handed to them as a mission.
Left alone, they pursue a revery of sorts,
And John Ashbery may join them,
Wearing white shorts and a carefully concealed bra.



83. NY Times Sunday Book Review presents Story Coaster, a cute cartoon drawing of a standard fiction—“climax, falling action”—analysis depicted by a roller coaster. har har

84. artspace writes on Twitter as Art, quoting a few artist’s tweets. How is that “art?” ah, but when did contemporary art make any sense?  Ed Ruscha is mentioned, and he seems to be everywhere, all of a sudden; and a Yoko Ono tweet is quoted, “Walk until you feel like dancing, then dance, and you’ll sleep better,” to paraphrase the tweet.

85. BBC’s Tech page tells us how Xerox mistakes can cause legal issues when a text is altered: the number ‘8’ may turn to a ‘6.’ Who is liable?

86. NY Times asks a few authors to come up with hypothetical pen names.

87. The guardian publishes more speculative folly on the biographical Shakespeare, this time by Saul Frampton.  Interesting glimpse into the ‘John-Florio-was-Shakespeare‘ camp, though.

88. Legal rumblings around J.K. Rowling’s exposed pseudonym by the BBC.

89. Another slightly boring “best of” list: Martin Amis (looking haggard in his photo) tops the “10 best writers-in-novels” in the guardian.  

90. A story published in the 1980s by John Updike on the Library of America site.  Breathless, clotted descriptions of pretty women in the pretty suburbs.

91. In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Robbins tackles that endless subject, Song Lyrics v. Poetry, and like everyone who else who tackles the subject, says in a rather sweet manner, nothing.  We come away from it merely thinking, “Oh, you like that song?”  It’s not you, Michael, it’s the topic.

92. Times Times 3 features Harry Northrup’s poems.  Mediocre beatnik poetry.

93. Gossip about the English-Irish boy band, The Wanted in the Sun.

94. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who played behind Dylan when he first went electric, get some ink on the NPR website.

95. Opening chord of Hard Day’s Night is discussed by Randy Bachman on the Open Culture website video.  This is cool.

96. Audiovisual Salvage: a conversation with Phil Niblock, who films working people doing their work.

97. NY Times reports that Bob Dylan’s paintings (portraits) will open August 24 at the London National Portrait Gallery.  He paints like he sings, a little roughly.

98. artspace features a husband-and-wife team who do interior designs of apartments in Paris which include their own abstract paintings.

99. According to artspace, contemporary art is doing fine.  Higher ed art education still attracts students.  The royal family of Qatar still spends a billion dollars a year on modern art.

100. hyperallergic reports on Andy Warhol’s birthday celebration: a livestream video of visitors to his grave.

101. The NY Times tells you how to buy stock in local artists.

102-104.  NY Times, New Yorker, and Deadline Detroit on the Detroit Museum’s idea to sell off art to help bankrupt Detroit.

105. Debtfair asks readers to tell how their economic realities impact their artistic practices.

106. Scientific American explains how artworks naturally decay.  It must be the Conceptualist debate that has Silliman linking all this art news.

107. on Nelson Shanks, a figurative artist who does portraits of famous people.

108. Auction at Christies will include Francis Bacon’s old brushes, according to hyperallergic.

109. Now this BBC story we like. Voted by the people, an “Art Everywhere” exhibit on billboards in the UK features pre-Raphaelite and mostly figurative art!

110. Glasgow School of Art threatens to expel artist for his graffiti, as reported in hyperallergic.

111. artspace does a story on a couple of old gents who have come up with a modern art collection in their apartment without spending too much.

112. “FBI-Seized Forgeries Get A Gallery Retrospective” at Fordham University, according to hyperallergic.

113. hyperallergic looks at the artist Basil King. We’d rather not.

114. BBC looks at a Dutch artist and his Calligraffiti.  Cute.  The artist is Niels Meulman.

115. A performance artist sits at a school desk outside a government building.  Some people assume he’s been punished for something.

116. NYT Books looks at new book on Ballanchine.

117. In the NY Times: Paul Szilard, dancer, 100, has died.

118. “Vienna principal flute speaks out about her ‘racist, sexist’ dismissal” in arts journal.

119. Hi Fructose looks at Scott Scheidly’s Pink Frames.  Artist portrays famous criminals, tyrants and thugs in pink.

120. Artspace: Jeffrey Deitch retires from LA Museum of Art.  And a whirl of gossip in the art world…

121. continent interviews performance artist Daniel Peltz who is working on businessmen in drum circles.

122. Artspace on Doug Wheeler:  “page no longer exists.”

123. “Lone Ranger’s” failure at the boxoffice: star and director blame critics.  In the guardian.

124. New film, “Museum Hours” directed by Jem Cohen and reviewed by A.O. Scott in NY Times. Shot in a Vienna art museum.  Rave review.

125. hyperallergic reports a study in which test subjects like good art over kitschy art the more they are exposed to the two kinds of art.  Only two paintings (landscapes) are used: John Everett Millais’ “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” (1892) and Thomas Kinkade’s “A Peaceful Retreat” (2002).

126. British playwright Mark Ravenhill says artists who do not feed at the government trough will make better art.  From the BBC.  We’re not going to touch this one.  But we see Ravenhill’s point.

127. trinketization provides some Adorno/Marcuse correspondence. 

128. one more time for the blog continent: “The Media Have Become Superfluous” is worth reading for its cultural historic sweep in a brief space.  Otherwise not worth reading.  But it’s pretty impressive for that first reason.

129. A send-up of Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek on you tube to the tune of “The Great Pretender.”

130. Chicago Tribune: Poet Michael Robbins reviews a book on Karl Marx, saying Marx still matters.

131. Story in the guardian defends Edward Snowden, shouting out, wake up, people!

132. first monday blog features a very dull essay on “micro-targeting” of voters in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere.  It put us to sleep.

133. The NY Times magazine does a heartwarming story on author George Saunders’ commencement speech on “kindness.”

134. Oakland Unseen has a story on hipsters leaving Oakland: “Jack White flight.”  It seems to be a joke.  “Where are they moving?  Some say Detroit.”  Yes, it must be a joke.

134 links???  Ron Silliman, are you kidding me??   Well, thanks, Ron… until the next one…


And the critical look at the Silliman Links of 8/12/13 continues…

61. Galleycat reports that “USA ranked 23rd in World for Time Spent Reading” which we have a feeling is one of those stats that means absolutely nothing.

62. The TYEE, British Columbia’s “Home for News, Culture and Solutions” asks “What’s Happened to Canadian Literature?”  This might sound cruel, but, who cares?

63. Janet Maslin reviews David Rakoff’s novel in verse, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, which to us sounds like the worst title for a novel, ever. But the well-written review makes this book sound pretty darn good.  The rollicking “Twas the Night Before Christmas and all through the house” meter of Anaspestic Tetrameter is used to tell a largely tragic American tale of Dickensian dimensions and we say bravo to the late David Rakoff for writing it and the NY Times for noticing it.

64. Lisa Darms reviews her own book, Grrrl, Collected, ‘zines of feminist punk, the 90s Riot Grrrl era, in the Paris Review.  Women will always be women, no matter how many different styles of attractive walls they put around themselves.  Go, Riot Grrrls!

65. “America, Meet Your Poets,” says Seth Abramson in the Huffington Post.  America’s Poets, according to Abramson, are the exploding population of Writing Program graduates—and this is a good thing. The English Major is dying, Abramson points out, but no need to worry: Creative Writing is here to stay, and Abramson quotes John Ashbery saying “what first awakened him to the joys of poetry” was realizing that poetry was not something “lifeless” in a “museum,” but “must have grown out of the lives of those who wrote it.” This is not only wrong on many levels, but also a big flag with John Crowe Ransom’s name on it: the document that Abramson needs to read and the truth he needs to get can be found in Ransom’s 1930s essay, “Criticism, Inc.” The English Major who studies Shakespeare does not study something “lifeless.”  And if a living poet is a bad poet, as far as he is a poet, that he is “living” is a bad thing.  Ransom’s complaint that professors of Keats were just “watering their own gardens” and his solution: professional critics trained by the academy to understand “the new writing” is the template of the Program era.  Poets breeding in universities is not precisely what Ransom set down, but he was smart enough that we can easily blame him.  Today it is simply out of control, and so everyone is to blame.  Poets like Abramson, who are simply perpetuating the problem, are not nearly as clever as Ransom—who started the problem.

66. Scottish Review of Books presents Iain Bamforth and Rob Mackenzie.  “Crackling tower” and “roots of mountains” poetry.

67. NPR reviews Robert Pinsky’s Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters. Note the prominence of “write” over “read”—a result of the Program Era.  Also note “Masters”in the title: again, a reaction to the Program Era—Pinsky is going over the heads of contemporary poet professors in the university and conjuring up a pre-Program Era golden age when poets learned their craft, not from some obscure poet who managed to get a cooked-up writing prize and land a teaching position, but from the masters. We have only a couple of things to say re: verse and song in poetry: 1. Edgar Poe’s long essay “The Rationale of Verse” is all one needs to read on the subject.  2. The current fashion of talking about verse in terms of what your lips, teeth and saliva ought to be doing is absolutely disgusting, not to mention the inanity of “breaths” and “white spaces” and “line-breaks” and “sentences” and “cadences.”  Just shut up, all of you.  We’ll tell you what you can do with your “Singing School.”

68. “On being too old for Saul Bellow” brings us to “Slate’s Best and Worst Summer Romances.”  Wrong link.   But let’s push on…

69. Poetry Daily looks back 10 years: Bush was president, Dana Gioia was the NEA Chairman, and Laura Bush had cancelled the Poetry at the White House.  Daisy Fried’s “Snapshots at a Conference,” takes a journalistic peek at a state poet laureate pow wow in New Hampshire in April, 2003.  Fried observes, ruminates, and tries hard not to be condescending.  A good piece of writing.

70. Flannery O’Connor and her peacocks, a story in the NY Daily News.

71. Black Mountain College archive snapshots reveal the rather mundane “farm life” aspect of this storied avant-garde institution.

72. continent.  More hackneyed philosophical musings from this amusingly pretentious website. “What is a Compendium? Parataxis, Hypotaxis, and the Question of the Book” earnestly defines terms like hypotaxis until you wish you were just curled up with a good dictionary. They quote Sartre at one point, and this sums up the whole tenor of their approach: “For when one has nothing to say, one can say everything.” Right.

73. Here’s an exciting story from the NY Times: U. Texas, Austin, acquires archives of McSweeney’s.

74. Stephen King and his wife got their kids to record books-on-tape for them.  The NY Times magazine looks at the King family.

75. Public Radio East reports that Barbara Mertz, mystery novelist, dies.

76. Rob Wilson attempts to prove in his paper “Towards the Nuclear Sublime: Representations of Technological Vastness in Postmodern American Poetry” that the “nuclear sublime” dwarfs all other literary sublimes and fails—the premise is bankrupt.  It doesn’t matter how big a nuclear explosion is, or how many people are afraid of it; the literary sublime exists in words. We don’t like to state the obvious, but in the face of Wilson’s pedantry, what can we do?  Not that the paper is not without its minor interest (as Wilson quotes Robert Lowell, we catch a whiff of Mark Edmundson!) but the Post-Modernist audacity of favorably comparing the atom bomb to Niagara Falls in terms of aesthetic sublimity, is merely cute—and block-headed.

77. Here, in his infinite wisdom, Ron Silliman links Scarriet: “Poetry Will Be Dead In 15 Minutes, Or Modernists, Flarfists and Po-Mos Just A Bunch Of Assholes?”  Now that’s sublime.  Ron’s link says,
Scarriet declares itself both anti-modern and pre-modern.” Yes.  A time-traveling aesthetic is a noble thing.

78. Australian director Brian Fairbairn has made a short film on “What English Sounds Like To People Who Don’t Speak It.”

79. The LA Times calls for Op-Ed-Poems in old-fashioned forms (no foul language) for its August 25 issue.

80. The Missouri Review offers “10 Things Emerging Writers Need To Learn.” The 11th is: ignore this list.

81. The poet David Kirby heaps praise on emerging poet Adam Fitzgerald in the NY Times Sunday Book Review. To make his review more believable, Kirby goes out of his way to acknowledge how much “bad poetry” there is today as he insists that Adam Fitzgerald is a “new and welcome sound in the aviary of contemporary poetry.”  But then we get a sample of Fitzgerald’s poetry:

These stanzas from “The Map” suggest the silky luxury of the entire book:

I was shipwrecked on an island of
The sun’s pillars bored me though, so I
set foot on a small indigo place
below orange falls and hexagonal

I was able to stay there a fortnight,
restlessly roaming the buttered air
inside tropical rock enclosures,
caves of foliage that canopied dankness.

Humming water and fetid air felt nice.
But the gentle leisure of itching, staring,
distracted me. I frequented streets
in dreams, or in the paintings of dreams.

This is perhaps the worst poetry we have ever read.  “I was shipwrecked on an island of clouds” is not something even A.A. Milne would have Winnie-the-Pooh say.  Winnie-the-Pooh rose into the sky by a balloon with the purpose of getting honey from a nest of bees in a tree.  But the poet Adam Fitzgerald finds himself “shipwrecked on an island of clouds.” He gets “bored, though” and so “set[s] foot on a small indigo place” and is “able to stay there a fortnight,” and there “restlessly roam[s] the buttered air.”  How to imagine this: buttered air.   Restlessly roaming the buttered air.  Then it gets all the more wonderful, as the poet finds that “humming water” and “fetid air” feels “nice.” But oh no!  “The gentle leisure of itching, staring,/ distracted me, I frequented streets/in dreams…”

82. continent, in a brief July 9 post, opines that “to love literature is to be in love with the dead. Necrophilia.”  Well, I’ll be damned!



21. Scottish Poetry Library blog mourns the death of young singer-songwriter, poet Lise Sinclair. We do, too.

22. Boston Book Review interviews Maureen McLane, author of Her Poets, chapters of which first appeared in the BBR.

23-26. issues notices of Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Symborska, Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, and Alexsander Wat.

27. British Museum blog reports another digitized translation of Homer’s Iliad. Silliman does care about the past!

28. Small Press Distribution blog reports sales rankings for the last few years.  We’ve never read any of these books.

29. Blues.Gr blog interviews Jim McCrary, poet from Lawrence, KS, who partied with Ginsberg and Burroughs.  We’re supposed to envy the snobby/workingclass tawdriness of it all.

30. Jean Daive poems (wretched little things).

31. Denver Westword Blog interviews Anne Waldman on her new book, Grossamurmur, The Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University at Bolder, etc  She’s a good Buddhist.  And good.

32. The Economist reports Germany’s state owned railway is discouraging the use of Denglisch: German Anglicisms.  Those Germans.  Always up to no good.

33. Brooklyn Poets interviews Matthea Harvey, who feels very five minutes ago.  She thinks pets are really cool, which is just great.

34. Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, the first page (typed) with his edits.  The archival humanizing of Ashbery begins.

35. Fiction Writers Review: “Why Fiction Writers Should Read Poetry” by Lucas Hunt.  Boring, trite.  “Poetry is the mud that grows the seed that becomes the forest.”  Or something.

36. The Atlantic “The Hole In Our Collective Memory”  Amazon numbers: books still under copyright (mid-20th century) lose out to very recent books and books in the public domain (19th century, early 20th cen). More research that bears out the obvious.  But nice to know.

37. Huffpost Blog piece on plagiarism by famous poets and songwriters by David Galenson, Professor of Economics at U. Chicago: Lots of big photos of the Beatles, etc.  Not one example of plagiarism.  Doh!

38. Paul Hoover cheerfully interviewed on all the reading that went into compiling his Norton Post-Modern Poetry anthology.  On UPenn.  Good for you, Paul.

39. Huffpost Detroit: Elmore Leonard in hospital.  (He’s now dead.)

40. Sesame Street parodies “Sons of Anarchy” with “Sons of Poetry” reports USA Today.

41. NYTimes on government’s victory over Apple on E-book price fixing.

42. BBC: Publishers defend Apple.

43. Web Urbanist tells us that a closed Walmart now houses the largest library in the U.S.

44. Solmaz Sharif, by way of William Carlos Williams, makes several artsy-fartsy remarks in the Kenyon Review blog on the Washington Post seeking op-ed political poems.  Apparently some poets are incensed the Post wants new opinion couched in old-fashioned poetry.

45-50. Jorie Graham’s in-laws sell Washington Post. Weighing in briefly are the Economist, HuffPost, and the New Yorker, the latter joking that Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos clicked on “Buy Post” by mistake.  Walter Isaacson says Bezos is OK; just a “customer service” guy.  According to Huffpost Business, the recent failure of Kaplan Higher Education, the for-profit college conglomerate, a revenue winner until recently, and owned by the Washington Post, was key to the Post’s financial troubles.

51. Economist looks at star journalists breaking away from their newspapers.

52. Philadelphia Business Journal looks at newspapers’ financial fall.  In a related itemThe New York Times owned The Boston Globe. That sports injustice has been revenged, as John Henry, Red Sox owner, just purchased the Globe for a song.

53. A review of Jane Yeh’s book of poems, The Ninjas.  The reviewer is excited.  We’re not.

54. continent is a new blog which sounds like undergraduate philosophy students trying to say something clever about Modernism so that it makes a kind of abstract, theoretical sense without making any sense.  In this particular link on Samuel Beckett’s “Failure to Fail,” Beckett and Gertrude Stein are quoted as producing language that “goes on” without making sense—which is pure “genius,” apparently.

55. Endgame by Becket on-line.

56. George Stanley’s book of poetry, After Desire, has a trailer on Vimeo.

57. continent on “Political Poetry” in terms of Capitalist-hating, lots of weed-smoking, self-consciously optimistic in a “negative capability,”pro-art, pro-writing kind of way.  Touchingly sincere. Predictable.

58. Flavorwire’s “23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry in 2013”  This list has been roundly attacked for being too “white.”  As for the poetry, Patricia Lockwood’s “Rape Joke,” which has made something of a Facebook splash, reads like a New Yorker short story, except for the repetition of the phrase, “the rape joke,” which means “the rapist.”  “Rape Joke” has a darkly comic narrative power, which we applaud.  Unfortunately, none of the other poems linked are very good, with perhaps the exception of Ariana Reines—who just happens to write about “fucking” a lot—whose poem has a certain coherency and intelligence.  The typical poem here, the chief feature of which is “I’m a bored adolescent who can’t write in complete sentences!” doesn’t fly.  Not that neatly written prose—the poem by Thomas Sayers Ellis, for instance—automatically makes a poem better.  We see the prosaic and the non-prosaic.  But not much poetry.  O Program Era, what hast thou wrought?

59. Flavorwire’s “A List of Things to Ask Yourself When You’re Making A List of Poets” falls under the category of Duh.

60. Vincent Toro’s list on the English Kills Review, a counter to Flavorwire’s, is an indignant ethical list of 23, but it is a list, on a quick read, with more interesting poets: Natalie Diaz, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Urayoan Noel, Idra Novey, and Patrick Rosal.  6 out of 23 is a pretty good percentage these days. We especially liked “In the Faraway Suburbs” by Noel and “My Mother Will Take A Lover” by Guerrero.” Congratulations, Vincent.  You win the battle of the Lists.


File:Ruins of an Ancient City by John Martin, 1810s.JPG

We thought it might be amusing for Scarriet to take a full tour of Ron Silliman’s Poetry Links.

Ron provides this service every couple weeks, an internet feast of what’s happening in the poetry/art world.

So without further ado, let’s get started!  There’s 134 links!

Scarriet looks at August 12, 2013:

1. Rae Armantrout interviewed by Poetryeater blog—Worshipful, boring.   Long question re: “Section breaks.” zzzzzzz  Interviewer: “current fetish for metrics.” ???  “I wish I could write like E. Dickinson” —Rae A.  Uh…quit being so damn clever in the modernist mode and write poetry. 

2. USA Today story: Jane Austen replaces Charles Darwin on 10 Pound Note, as English women pushed for more representation after Winston Churchill replaced Elizabeth Fry on another piece of money.  Bad for Darwin, good for Darwinism?

3-6. BBC stories on twitter abuse against women campaigning for Austen; Tony Wang, Twitter UK boss, apologizes; male is arrested for the twitter crime.

7. Book Riot reports singer Kelly Clarkson cannot have the Jane Austen ring which she purchased; it belongs to England!

8. Jacket Book promotion: Boston scenester poet William Corbett (recently moved to NYC) remembers good times with his friend, the late Michael Gizzi.

9. Fanny Howe wins $100,000 Ruth Lilly prize, the Vineyard Gazette reports.  Shit, there is money in poetry.

10. Locus Solus: The New York School of Poets Blog features Kenneth Koch’s daughter Katherine. She has written an essay on growing up among the New York School scene, which basically highlights the fact that few New York School poets had kids, and they didn’t pay much attention to kids when they were around.

11. “33 Reasons Not To Date A Small Publisher” from Five Leaves Publications Blog’s Ross Bradshaw.  Now this link is really worthwhile!  Hilarious!  “He will be broke.”  “He might be a poet.” “He will talk non-stop about how terrible Waterstones is.”  “His office will be very untidy, spilling over with unsaleable books.”

12-13. Guardian on the 500 fairy tales recently discovered in 19th century archives of Franz Xaver von Schonwerth and one copied out: “The Turnip Princess,” which is not very impressive: cluttered, contrived, confusing.  Perhaps we have enough old fairy tales?

14. Kenneth Goldsmith in the Globe & Mail says he likes “smart dumb” and lists The Fugs, punk rock, art schools, Gertrude Stein, Vito Acconci, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, Seth Price, Tao Lin, Martin Margiela, Mike Kelley, and Sofia Coppola.  But couldn’t this list go on forever?  How about Victorian poetry?  American sitcoms?  Yoko Ono.  Yoko Ono, by the way, seems conspicuously absent in all these Conceptualist discussions.  Everyone remembers her “Yes” at the top of the ladder John Lennon climbed.  Duchamp already told the joke that’s being told over and over again, but even Ono makes Goldsmith seem old hat.   Isn’t all comedy “smart dumb?” Aren’t Shakespeare’s clowns “smart dumb?”  Isn’t everything “smart dumb?”  Goldsmith is spreading himself too thin, like the Risk player taking too many countries at once.  This can’t end well.

15. And Kenneth Goldsmith, according to the News & Record of Greensboro, NC, does “Printing Out the Internet,” where about 600 people send tons and tons of printed out internet pages to a gallery in Mexico.  It’s a memorial for Aaron Swartz, somehow, the JSTOR downloading suicide, which, we suppose, makes it criticism-proof, since it’s a memorial.  But really, who has time for this?  Well, we suppose if one does have time for this, that does make one superior, somehow, in an elitist sort of way…  Just having time for something is a statement of sorts…Look, we might as well admit it…Kenneth Goldsmith is on a roll…

16. Over at Rumpus, Marjorie Perloff tries to shout down Amy King in the Comments section to Amy King’s “Beauty & the Beastly Po-Biz” piece, pointing out “Conceptualism is the only game in town” is not really what she said, but it is what she said, because her only stated alternative is “the return of the lyric” as “found poetry,” which is Conceptualism, anyway.   Perloff’s objections are hollow.   More interesting was David Need’s comment, who questioned “fighting capitalism” as the “standard  that MUST BE MET, for art to be credible.”  How about this standard, instead, he asked: “Successfully bringing up a child.”  We like that.

17. On Blog Harriet, Robert Archambeau defends Conceptualism (while pretending not to) with his piece, “Charmless & Interesting.”  Again, the ghost of Duchamp is raised, as Archambeau says Conceptualists are not charming, but they are interesting.   Really, Bob?  We thought it was the other way around.  But more importantly, the Conceptualist joke is charming once, but not over and over again.

18.  More Conceptualist ado, this time from the ever long-winded but keen Seth Abramson on the Volta Blog: Conceptualism doesn’t exist, according to Abramson, because the concept self-negates the work and Goldsmith is wrong that anyone will be interested in discussing the concept, so that leaves nothing.  Like an enraged New Critic, Abramson points out Conceptualism makes us look at the poet rather than the poem.  Abramson defends the avant-garde, though, which makes his attack all the more interesting.  Or problematic?

19. Jeffrey Side, in his blog, also raises the ghost of Duchamp as Conceptualism’s modern founder.   A popular guy, this Duchamp, all of a sudden.  Side quotes Archambeau: “In what sense is pure conceptualism poetry?”  Side says it is not poetry.

20. Tony Lopez on his blog, discussing something called the Dublin Pound Conference, says it’s great to “go out in Dublin for drinks and dinner.”  Good thing he didn’t talk about Pound.  Thanks, Tony!



They come from nurseries into college,
Looking old before their time,
Wearing old peoples’ clothes and smoking.
Weren’t you just in the playroom
Trying out nursery rhymes in a little girl’s voice?
And now here you are, trying out sexual intercourse
And learning about sorrow.
Childbirth and death are nigh.
Let the adolescents sigh.
W. C. Williams says we don’t talk that way (in poems).
X__ swings her arms while walking.
A whole bunch of us were ignored and now we’re thinking what to do.
The tour ends at the Institute of the Sly Satyr for Senior Citizens.
A cough, and then the crematorium.


Form is her attire;
She leaves color for the younger ones.
The argument for desire
Is as simple as the Arno that runs
Brown and sometimes white into the sea.
As simple as fire,
Simple and easy.

Form is her attire,
And by the second stanza you can see–
If you observed closely the Mississippi–
How simple and easy
Is the argument for desire,
As simple as fire,
In a rush, but lazy.

Form is her attire.
Leonardo Da Vinci said painting is geometry
And further, what is real
For painters is the point, which is immaterial.
The vanishing point of my argument
Must point out where form and color went
So the end of the vista can be an argument for desire.

Form is her attire.
She does and does not want me.
She has no quarrel with the painterly,
But geometry sees where we belong.
Precision melts into the artful blur.
Desire says I may not precisely see her.
And that’s the end of the song.


Painting of Boxing

Yes it is.

And here’s why.

In thinking generally about anything–and all creative thinking is general thinking–it is always better to think in dualities.

If the universe has a fundamental building block, it is a duality. The One doesn’t exist.

The universe begins with two, and whenever we ponder philosophically about anything, a duality naturally makes itself manifest.

So it isn’t the material/spiritual issue that’s so important as the duality itself.

This helps us solve the greatest mystery, by the way: why is there something and not nothing? As we notice, that question itself is a duality.  Once we’ve got a choice, we’re on the way to not having nothing. The duality, or choice, is the primitive, pre-existing thing.

So let us examine this material/spiritual duality as simply as possible, with confidence we are on the right track, in a general, creative way.

As simply as we try to look at it, however, we find the very nature of dual thinking performs the unexpected.

To keep things as simple as possible, so that our pondering does not get sidetracked, let’s call ‘material’ a thing and ‘spiritual’ the feeling about that thing.

Now look what happens: since we cannot experience a thing without having a feeling about that thing, the duality of ‘thing/feeling about thing’ collapses into ‘feeling about thing.’

One side of our duality, ‘thing,’ has vanished, and yet look: ‘feeling about a thing,’ the remaining side of the duality, is a duality, just more compressed, since thing and feeling are not divided, but attached–‘feeling about a thing’ is feeling and thing existing together apparently as one.

Or is it one?

It is a duality to ponder the One; duality is inescapable.

Why fight it then?

Love someone completely.  Obey the Two.

Increase your wisdom and understanding: empathize with the other side.  Enlightenment is the Two, not the One.

On vacation this week, and enjoying leisurely conversation with family, typical left-leaning Americans, concerned with the destruction of the planet, I had the pleasure to roam Sunapee, New Hampshire’s annual craft fare with them and observe the strange beauty of sculpture and clothing and furniture and hand-made jewelry and woodworking and ceramic and brass and glass work, the gamut of art work in general—and it happened to co-exist briefly in my mind with what is considered odious: its opposite, the burning of fossil fuels, the activity now considered villainous.

The art work is the spiritual materialized.  Energy finding its rest in the material work of art.

The work of oil and coal companies is material turned into energy.

As human beings, we are both: we are a work of art, a material manifestation of interest and beauty.

We also are burning with energy and because of this burning, we will die.

No wonder oil companies are both antithetical to art and a metaphor for death.

From oil barons to oil states, the last 200 years have burned brightly with wealth and inequity, and energy realities have made us aware of human mortality bound to a limited planet.

But to live, we must burn fuel, we must turn the fuel into energy.

And to be artists, we must do the opposite: somehow arrest energy in the art piece.

This goes a long way to explaining the great rift in our nation today between the ‘artistic liberal’ and the ‘big oil conservative.’

But this duality does not need to explain anything.  It was just a pleasant rumination as I moved among the craft pieces arranged in booths with the craftspeople forced to sell their wares (quite expensive, they were) like businessmen.

Dualistic thinking is always surprising.  As soon as a duality is established, it is in its nature to collapse, but this energy is what generates more thinking and makes the dualistic enterprise so profitable, as long as we don’t get impatient with all the collapsing.  We need to stick with it.  It is a lovely way to allow the mind to move along.

It was a beautiful day at the crafts fare, both cloudy and sunny.  I found myself looking at a ceramic piece, its shape, its color, and imagining it in my home and guests coming into my home and how would it speak to them.  I noticed that I was often attracted immediately by the unusual bright colors of a ceramic piece; but then I would examine it more closely: is this too gaudy?  Is this me?

Judgment is spiritual—the thing itself is not spiritual.

The New Critics insisted a poem worked like a clock; they would examine a poem as if it were a pure object.

The New Critics believed True Criticism should look only at ‘the poem, ignoring the biography of the poet and the poem’s effect on the reader.

The New Critics made the fatal mistake of ignoring duality as they viewed the poem as a singular, self-contained product.

But can we know a light bulb (the poem)—without studying its light source (the poet), or the light which it produces? (the reader).

The fanatic and the purist, who disdain the constantly evolving duality (Socratic dialogue) resemble the professor who resents the ‘wrong’ kinds of questions, the questions that undermine his singular belief system.

There has been some controversy in the poetry world, lately, on the topic of “Conceptualist Poetry.”  Is it just a fraud?  From what we have been saying, it is easy to notice that “Conceptualist Poetry” is not conceptualist at all.  Like any art product, it is conceptual poetry’s material result that matters: conceptualist poetry, like any art, is a thing whose spiritual (or conceptualist)  dimension depends on what an audience feels about it.

Clever enough to guess right away what a conceptualist poem is, I look at a conceptualist poem and feel nothing.

What shall I feel about Kenneth Goldsmith’s rusty bucket?

It is safe to safe to say a conceptualist poem lacks a conceptual/spiritual/intellectual element.

It is the art product which produces no feeling at all.

It may as well be burned—like a piece of coal.


This day is the best day.
It is better than all the other days.
It is today.

They were good, but they didn’t stay.
This day is the best day.
The wall calendar will sing of May,
The clock face will sing of seven.
A day will say it is made of days
But this one looks like heaven.
This day is the best day,
It is better than the rest of the days.
It is today.

This tree makes the same pattern
Against the white sky.
Do not presume to speak for me.
I was there—as the minutes went by.
This day is the best day,
It is better than all the other days.
It is today.

Put these memories away.
There’s nothing to say.
It was only stuff arranged in a certain way.
Tell me this day is the best day.
Tell me it is better than all the other days.
Tell me before I turn away.
Tell me today.


Look how a sadness has become a madness,
Yet love, the madness, cured me—
You were more alone than alone,
But when I spoke, you heard me.

Look at the beauty reflected in the glass.
It will pass, it will pass.
See all the seeing seen by your eye.
It will die, it will die.

Yet how much that dies, returns!
Our love was dead—
Now look how it burns.

Love that hid in those leaves
Could not survive.
Now look what throngs into your mind:
Memories that thrive
More than when those leaves were alive.

We spoke with words and eyes.
Now astronomers applaud
Your face behind the skies.


The Sleeping Lovers

“How wonderful is Death” -Shelley, Queen Mab

Too much desire and we tire
Of desire for desire.
Too much desiring, and weary,
Still loving, we are leery
Of doom from a fiery desire;
Water will not cool desire;
But fire may end fire.

Away from you, desire for you
Yearns and writhes and frets:
What things will desire desire
If desire never forgets?

How can we live in the hour?
A moment dreams a flower,
A moment speaks its mind:
Desire is not always kind.
Moment to moment goes in deep.
But this moment falls asleep.

Drop the trophies of our desire
Into the tallest fire.
From our dream we learn:
Love melts, but doesn’t burn.


“A man in black with a Meinkampf look”

The biography of the poet—how important is it?

For Romantic Poetry, it is of paramount importance, for Humanist and Renaissance and Platonist reasons—the poem is a reflection and extension of the human.

Our interest in John Keats, for instance, cannot be separated from an interest in the poetry of John Keats.

Biographical interest was considered heretical by the New Critics, who, as self-appointed “moderns,” were anxious to leave the Romantic era behind and root out those Keats professors merely interested in—“watering their own gardens,” as John Crowe Ransom impatiently put it—to replace them in the universities with what Ransom called “the new writing” professors.  Ransom’s 1930s essay was called “Criticism, Inc.” and is one of the crucial founding documents of the Program Era, though it is forgotten/ignored by the avant-garde today.

The now-famous Program Era was ushered in by the New Critics and their allies like Professor Crane at U. of Chicago and Paul Engle at U. Iowa—who was awarded his Yale Younger Poets prize back in the 30s by one of the Fugitive set.  Ford Maddox Ford, who met Pound off the boat in Great Britain, was an associate of the New Critics and helped to launch the Program Era in the U.S.  If you are still following this, the Fugitives, the Southern Agrarians and the New Critics (all Rhodes Scholars) were a single evolving animal, and very influential in terms of text book and canon in the last century.

T.S. Eliot, the Modernist master, went out of his way to attack Shelley’s character; Eliot was fiercely anti-Romantic in his writings.  People write poetry; one cannot eliminate biography entirely, but Modernism sought to dismantle its importance—Shelley, the Heroic Natural Man was replaced by Prufrock, the Grotesque Fictional one.  Writing became detached from reality.

The current debate re: Conceptualism is problematic for the very reason that its really a natural outcome of the Modernist Avant-garde: Writers like Amy King and Seth Abramson, Program Era products, attack anti-humanist Conceptualism without understanding its roots—or, understanding its roots but without any understanding of how they themselves are tangled up in them, having themselves completely swallowed the doctrines of the Modernist avant-garde.

One has to embrace the Romantics, as Scarriet does, and see the Modernists for what they are, to escape the “conceptualist” dilemma.

Suppressing biography to enhance the poem was an interesting experiment, especially in light of the fact that all the New Critics are now unknown, overshadowed by a single Romantic Ballad-like poem : “Daddy,” by Sylvia Plath, dripping with blood and biography.

In the Tournament contest today, Plath faces off against living poet Tony Hoagland and his poem, “Why the Young Men Are So Ugly.”

Hoagland’s poem is about young men in general.

Plath’s is about her father and her husband.    (The poem is explicitly about Hughes, but this fact is often overlooked.)

Guess which one wins?


They have little tractors in their blood
and all day the tractors climb up and down
inside their arms and legs, their
collarbones and heads.

That is why they yell and scream and slam the barbells
down into their clanking slots,
making the metal ring like sledgehammers on iron,
like dungeon prisoners rattling their chains.

That is why they shriek their tires at the stopsign,
why they turn the base up on the stereo
until it shakes the traffic light, until it
dryhumps the eardrum of the crossing guard.

Testosterone is a drug,
and they say No, No, No until
they are overwhelmed and punch
their buddy in the face for joy,

or make a joke about gravy and bottomless holes
to a middle-aged waitress who is gently
setting down the plate in front of them.

If they are grotesque, if
what they say and do is often nothing more
than a kind of psychopathic fart,

it is only because of the tractors,
the tractors in their blood,
revving their engines, chewing up the turf
inside their arteries and veins
It is the testosterone tractor

constantly climbing the mudhill of the world
and dragging the young man behind it
by a chain around his leg.
In the stink and the noise, in the clouds
of filthy exhaust

is where they live. It is the tractors
that make them
what they are. While they make being a man
look like a disease.


You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time—
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

 An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Tarot pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
and drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat, black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

Plath wins, 69-43 and advances to the Sweet Sixteen!


He took his love to Sylvia,
They loved all day.
They didn’t want to do anything else.
So he went away.

I hated you a poem,
A poem like no other,
I hated you a poem,
Because you were my lover.

Why don’t you go down?
Life is not what it seems.
Life is bruitsh and overwhelms
And we just want to live in dreams.

Beauty looked her in the eye,
Beauty took her to its face,
Beauty is alien, really.
Beauty is its own race.

Pride prevented her from being whole,
She could not reveal how life betrayed her and what it stole.
Some cannot understand how getting what you want
Takes its toll.

If you are looking at this picture of Sylvia Plath,
Be happy, you are lucky—
Life cannot be so bad—
And if you happen to be ugly—laugh.


You lie in Shelley’s arms, condemned,
In the sweetest bed,
Far from the public sun.
Banished by the morality of the crowd,
You fear your love-making is too loud,
For with discovery,
All you built with chaste lips will fall
And public disgrace
Will ruin your face
That Shelley now rains kisses on.
You would fly a kite
By the sea with him—but cannot.
Fate chose you and this is your lot.
Secrecy is your sea.
The world is Shelley, Shelley, Shelley!


What to make of this recent article in The Atlantic, which finds that any critique of contemporary Letters is, by definition, an attack by an angry white male?

Joel Breuklander in The Atlantic takes eleven writers—Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Verlyn Klinkenborg, J. Robert Lennon, Lee Siegel, Philip Roth, Ted Genoways, George Steiner, Frank Kermode, Alvin Kernan, and Mark  Edmundson—and with a few quotes and great deal of innuendo, finds them all guilty of 1) literary criticism and 2) being straight, male and white.

Merely using random quotes out of context, the author of this brief Atlantic piece, titled “Literature Is Dead (According to Straight White Guys, At Least),” beats the old theme of eroding white male privilege, yet in none of his examples do any of the accused white male authors say literature is dead or dying because there’s not enough straight white males writing it.

In fact, not one shred of actual racist or sexist content is unearthed by The Atlantic.  The charge of racism and sexism against white males is made simply because examples found of “Literature is dead or dying” critiques are written by white males.  So The Atlantic is either racist or stupid.  We’re going to be nice, and say stupid.  Here’s what a stupid person “wracking their brain” sounds like:

Surely there are a decent number of straight white men in the world of literature who aren’t doom-and-gloom pessimists about its future. But despite wracking my brain and looking through online media and academic archives, I could find no female or non-white writers who have made comparable statements, none who have similarly contributed to this literary despair.

The Atlantic’s ire is focused on the author of the recent controversial Harper’s essay, Mark Edmundson, the villain who is guilty of wanting the poet to speak for everyone.  Joel Breuklander is so irate at this notion that he loses all perspective and claims that Edmundson’s wish is somehow “factually untrue:”

Edmundson’s point is factually untrue. Poets of all kinds still use ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘us.’ But if they do so from the perspective of a gay man, a woman, a black woman, a Hispanic man, their attempts to look at big themes are often overlooked or dismissed rather than championed.

The Atlantic says the desire for the poet to speak to all races is racist.  The poet, according to The Atlantic, can only use “we” when speaking to their group.

We have now arrived at the Great anti-Racist Racist Ideal: Universality is racist.

Feeling confused?  Feeling like no matter what you say, you are racist?  Welcome to the club.

Joel Breuklander trots out the example of Richard Blanco’s Inauguration Poem and then points an accusing finger at Edmundson:

Does Blanco, who is gay and Latino, even count for Edmundson?

Yes, Mr. Breuklander, obviously, Richard Blanco, the poet, doesn’t count for Mr. Edmundson, because he is gay and Latino.  There is no escape for Mr. Edmundson.  He is obviously guilty!

And horrors!  Edmundson “ignores the entirety” of a poet’s work—and that poet is a woman!  Whenever someone makes a negative comment about a poet we like, we can always satisfy ourselves by saying the malicious critic is “ignoring” the “entirety of the work” which looms over whatever the point happens to be.  In this case the point is “sex as a major subject of poetry,” and Breuklander “proves” his point by selecting from the “entirety” of Carson’s work one quote–-which dismisses sex as a subject!   “Sex is a substitute…”

Edmundson dismisses Anne Carson, too, as “opaque” and “inscrutable”—the same Anne Carson who became a hit when her compulsively readable, gay coming-of-age “novel in verse” Autobiography of Red was name-dropped on Sex and the City. When Edmundson asserts that “no well-known poet” writes about big subjects like sex, he ignores the entirety of Carson’s work. Take just one example from her collection Plainwater: “Men know almost nothing about desire / they think it has to do with sexual activity / or can be discharged that way. / But sex is a substitute, like money or language.”

As a woman, though, does Carson count? Do her broad statements on gender and sex not matter for Edmundson’s thesis?

Maybe it’s just that Edmunson doesn’t like the hyped-up Carson’s poetry.   Should this be a source of outrage?

For Breuklander, accusing someone of racism without evidence is fine, but not being wowed by someone’s poetry is a crime against humanity.

Breuklander hasn’t considered that literature’s “decline” hurts everyone, not just white people.

Literature would hardly seem in decline to the women or ethnic or sexual minorities just now getting access to its hallowed halls. That’s why Edmundson’s silliest assertion is that nobody finds themselves represented by poetry anymore. “No one,” he writes, “will say what Emerson hoped to say when he encountered a poet who mattered: ‘This is my music, this is myself.'”

But if Edmundson only recognizes himself in older, white, male poets, it may just be because he’s older, white, and male.

We quote The Atlantic a final time—note the illogical leap here: somehow it is racist to accuse contemporary literature of “technical narrowness,” being “boring,” or being “professionalized.”

I’ve suspected for a while that these essays, as a category, might somehow be rooted in declining privilege: Literature has never been a majority interest in America, so I’ve wondered if these writers might be projecting some kind of status insecurity onto literature. Still, until recently I’d never thought to look at the identities of the authors before. And I certainly never thought I’d discover that every last author whose work I had read on the subject would be a white male—or that all but one was straight.

Take The New York Times’ Verlyn Klinkenborg, who recently wrote that a “technical narrowness” is responsible for the “decline and fall of the English major.” A few months prior, J. Robert Lennon derided contemporary literary fiction as “fucking boring” in Salon. Before that, Lee Siegel informed us that today’s fiction is “irrelevant” because it is too professionalized, and because nonfiction got quite good.

We don’t know if Seth Abramson is safe, or not.   In a very recent piece in the Huff Post, he dismisses Edmundson’s “jeremiad” as “poorly researched.”

“Poorly researched” in this case means that Edmundson did not read the “entirety” of every poet’s work now writing in the United States.

But then Abramson—a white person!!—risks a “Literature is Dead or Dying” critique of contemporary literature:

American literary study and discourse has, regrettably, devolved since Epstein’s and Goia’s direct assaults on the state of poetry a quarter of a century ago.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, in 1991 Yale University graduated 165 English majors; it graduated 62 in 2013…

What?  No mention that Joseph Epstein (Who Killed Poetry?) and Dana Gioia (Can Poetry Matter?) are white?

But wait, perhaps Abramson is safe, because he claims that literature is not really dying at all:

Yet the recent history of literary study in the U.S. isn’t nearly as grim if we consider the evolution of creative writing, an English department specialization that from 1971 to 2003 grew by 908 percent—that’s not a typo—if we measure the discipline by how many terminal-degree graduate programs are devoted to its study.  The effect of this unprecedented growth is that in 2013 there are aproximately 250 terminal-degree graduate creative writing programs in the United States. In 1991, when Gioia wrote of his concern about the future of American poetry, there were but fifty such programs (and half of these had, at that point, graduated five or fewer classes of poets).

Welcome to the Program Era, where literature is dead, but everybody is writing it.

And now Abramson rises to the occasion, quoting the aged poet John Ashbery:

As the nation’s most critically acclaimed poet, John Ashbery, once detailed in an interview with The Paris Review, what first awakened him to the joys of poetry was seeing that “poetry wasn’t just something lifeless in an ancient museum, but must have grown out of the lives of the people who wrote it.”  Ashbery, still a working poet today, is exactly right: If we want the nation’s youngest readers to take up an interest in poetry, we must introduce them to more working poets and fewer academics, and indeed make exposure to working poets in real-time mandatory precursor to the reading of contemporary American poetry.

So here is Abramson, who evidently thinks there is something magical about the phrase “working poet,” selecting for a rare specimen of wisdom an utterance from “the nation’s most critically acclaimed poet” and what is this wisdom?

If something that someone has written is in a museum, an “ancient” museum, (!) it is “lifeless” and has not “grown out of the lives of the people who wrote it.”

This is absolute rubbish.  Can it be “the nation’s most critically acclaimed poet” in the U.S. actually believes this piece of stupidity?

Surely poetry is not afflicted with the racism The Atlantic has “discovered”—and stupidity like this from John Ashbery as well?

%d bloggers like this: