THE POETRY COMMUNITY LOSES ITS MIND

Over the weekend, thanks to Reb Livingston, we became aware of a brewing scandal in the poetry community.

Scarriet feels compelled to respond to the ‘anonymous sexual abuse outing document found in AWP restroom controversy,’ not because we have any special interest in it, per se, but because we believe the scandal currently poisoning po-biz manifests aesthetic attitudes of significant pedagogical importance.

Scarriet is a boutique—a high-end, up-scale, boutique, of what might be called expensive, high-fashion poetry and poetry criticism; we produce clothing and accessories for the soul, and we make no apologies for the beauty, love, truth, good taste and wit that we produce; and nor do we apologize for appealing to an elite class of soul (which has nothing to do with advanced college degrees or any of the credentialing nonsense that characterizes the pyramid scheme of so-called “professional” poetry, with its animal grunting and network stroking). We take poetry seriously, and don’t come around here with that ‘pyramid’ nonsense please. Our readers generally know, and do not.

This controversy has nothing to do with us, of course, because we are free of the odor of po-biz, and merely roll around in poetry. But this scandal affects us because it impacts how the world sees and practices poetry.

Scarriet is a high-end boutique precisely because we live the poetry, and can respond to a controversy like this without passion or self-interest.

Our position is this: poetry, some time around the beginning of the 20th century, was, in a series of adroit political and pedagogical maneuvers by Modernist poets, wealthy individuals, and government officials, coaxed away from its public role and public use to become a playground of pretense and experiment (all in the name of public and pedagogical improvement more accurately reflecting real life, etc).  Seducing poetry away from what it had been turned out to be wildly successful, since the seduction had a democratic appeal: obscure, fragmentary prose became the ‘poet’ standard anyone could reach, and, at the same time, one could ‘learnedly be modern’ and reject the ‘fussily moral’ past. (‘Could’ is not quite accurate; one did—the two necessarily went hand in hand.)

It is important to note here that “what poetry had been” is more accurately what poetry is-–as shown with poetry—by the best poets of the past. Shakespeare set a high standard, Poe set a high standard, Keats and Shelley and Tennyson set a high standard, Whitman and Wordsworth and Barrett set a high standard, not in the sense that professors are required to make us understand their poetry—the standard is a real one, in which accessible music joins accessible rhetoric in a highly skilled manner, clearly conveying things which the public is interested in: chiefly, relations between the sexes; moral philosophy; good taste; refinement; interest in nature and science; philosophical wit; wisdom, fears, loves and hopes common to all.

This high standard—which gave pleasure to a reading public, also took its inevitable place in the schools with the rise of universal public education.

Modernism piggy-backed into the schools as it managed to standardize itself there, and, gradually replacing the ‘old’ poetry with the “Red Wheel Barrow” and “The Waste Land,” used the force of its school-validation in combination with the rise of the Creative Writing Industry (Iowa, Paul Engle and his friends, the highly government-and-think tank connected New Critics, including Robert Lowell) as poet-teachers increasingly joined the piggy-back phenomenon in an orgy of self-interest that cut out the old standards and left no room for Byron. Poetry was no longer a public enjoyment—it was something only professors could teach, and as poetry became more experimental, inaccessible and obscure, the self-interested professor became more prominent in what became essentially a pyramid scheme of teachers/wacko explainers on the inside, and everybody else (including the public) on the outside.

Which brings us back to the scandal: an ugly manifestation of the ugly things which naturally occur whenever favors replace standards.

We don’t need to take sides here; we only need to point out—as we have just done—in the simplest manner possible, a truth, which, despite the brevity, we are certain everyone immediately understands (remember when poetry was like this?).

The accusers, in the current scandal, are accused of slandering the innocent (slander: 1. an important trope in Shakespeare, 2. used to destroy the reputation of America’s great standard-bearer, Edgar Poe).

The truth has yet to come to light. Accusations themselves can murk up the light on their own. We do not know the truth and do not speak of it, obviously. The rage of the accusers does not equal the truth; but their rage could be based on a truth; we are not taking sides. As we pointed out earlier, we have the luxury of not taking sides, since we stay clear of all po-biz insanity, and care for poetry alone.

The accusers open their letter (following a list of the accused names of the men) with a profundity which needs saying and which we agree with:

It has finally come to the attention of the literary “community” that women are abused and experience gendered violence just like women in all other social spheres of the world. The humanities do not save us, the assumed “humaneness” of the poet or writer does not exist. We say “community” in scare quotes because we have no shared actual commonality or trust that forms the bedrock of self-identified communities.

Yes. Poets and poetry need no special protection or defense, and it’s the Modernist (and contemporary) poets and their fans who play this ‘poet immunity’ card the most, even as they trash the reputations of a Poe or a Shelley. The accusers are right to expose this douchebaggery. And no more hiding behind “community,” either, which is code for the Creative Writing Era favoritism douchebaggery which has cynically steamrolled the standards of old.

But the accusers don’t get it entirely right, and come close to spoiling everything, for they go on to summarize:

This is a statement against the straight male cisgender patriarchy that enables this behavior: not only bringing direct harm to women, but those who have knowingly stayed silent while your fellow writers abuse people in positions of lesser power.

So we are to believe that gay men and women cannot, and do not, abuse women? How can one be interested in justice—and be so utterly naive?

The accusers, in their wrath, are strangely divided—they expose douchebaggery and yet they are victims of it, in almost equal amounts.

The reason for this is simple, as well. Since poetry has lost its public, there has been an increasing attempt in some circles to make poetry relevant to a public again by making poetry (poetry!) simply about hot button, political issues. But there are things like the essay which already exist for this. Here, again, we see the whole thing unfolding simply and naturally, due to the original Modernist error.

And now we bring our notice to a close, secure that Scarriet is the only sane, up-scale island left in poetry today. We are happy. We are  proud.

 

 

AWP AND THE CRIME OF CAPITALIST POETRY

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?

LOOK WHAT I FOUND!

 

Charles Bernstein: the ‘outsider’ has finally arrived, but he’s a bit old— about as old as the Found Poem.

The big news at the AWP Conference this year was the hot lovemaking of Flarf and Conceptualism and the sweet, almost sexual, beating up of Language Poetry.

As Charles Bernstein, the heroic “outsider,” offers his “greatest hits” from Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux ($26 –get ’em while they’re hot!) just in time for National Poetry Month, and Rae Armantrout, the Southern California Language Poet, wins the Pulitzer, and Flarfist Kenneth Goldsmith waxes theoretical on Harriet, I can only think of one thing.

The Found Poem.

It makes me feel all toasty-warm inside.

Everybody remembers that quaint, quirky, artsy-fartsy device, right?   

Grade school teachers who need to fill up an hour in the classroom can always rely on the Found Poem.

The Found Poem was amusing for a little while back in the 1960s.

Now, 50 years later, it’s the au courant big thing.

For, after all, what is Flarf, Conceptualism, and Language Poetry?

What do they have in common?

Hellooo, Found Poem.

Isn’t that what they are? 

Yup.

Third grade.  Right after milk and cookies, and just before show-and-tell…the Found Poem.   

This is not to diminish the importance of the found poem; the found poem is a heady idea.  What’s interesting, however, is that these theoretical juggernauts in contemporary po-biz, like Bernstein, never call what they do Found Poetry.

Why is that?

My guess is that ‘Found Poem’ is too quaint  a notion for Bernstein.  Professor Bernstein wants you to think he’s a little more philosophically profound than you are—you, hypocritical twin! who read those New Yorker poems and think they are ‘real,’ you ‘official verse culture’ idiot! 

Professor Bernstein, the post-neo-avant-neo, will set you straight. 

The publishing house of Farrar, Strauss & Giroux was so clever to release Bernstein’s book in April, National Poetry Month.  Bernstein might get more sales that way…and how about that every review of Bernstein’s book is positive!  How could it not be?  This guy’s good!  Dude!  For real! Bernstein, hater of “official verse culture” writes verse that is “hilarious” and “accessible!” 

Take that, New Yorker magazine!

Look at what you “official verse culture” slaves have been missing!

How did John Dewey put it?  “In order to understand the meaning of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and conditions of experience we do not usually regard as aesthetic.  We must arrive at the theory of art by means of a detour.”

Bernstein’s long trek in the wilderness has been that “detour.”  At last we can stomach Charlie’s horrible punning…er…philosophy.

The forces of real culture have found Maurice Vlaminck’s African mask.  Now they are showing it to Picasso and Matisse.  Ambroise Vollard is having that African mask cast in bronze.

And here’s our Charlie, cast in bronze, next to it, on the wall.

The detour was rough…but he’s home.

TENETS of FAITH: Being Right on the AWP, BAP, P&W, AoAP and even the PFoA.

It’s like all attacks on orthodoxy — if a criticism contradicts a tenet of faith it’s not only inapplicable but invalid!

Ask Barack Obama about that one right now, ask any Israeli or Palestinian, ask a Urighur or even the Dalai Lama. But hey, why not ask yourselves about your Poetry Faith too, the cards you carry as a Poet, the cabals and clubs and cartels you belong to, the schools, schedules, scores, deals, bonds and promisory notes you honor, even as poets? Ask around your Department, for example, or ask down the corridors of poetry power. Because even when there are such good people involved in such good work, so much good will and so many good reasons to make sense out of such good, good intentions, in Alabama, Chicago or the Upper West Side — oh, watch the Big Sheriff in you take over, the Travis Nichols right under your big cowboy hat and the “peacemaker” strapped to your hip.

Thomas Brady -6

Let’s look at this.

If the tenet of faith is that guns make you free, then guns are a non-negotiable matter. If it’s a tenet of faith that sex is bad then sex-education is a non-negotiable matter. If it’s a tenet of faith that men have a much higher sex drive than women, as it is in a great many cultures in the world today, including where I live, and that true men are truly driven by sex, then you get boys taken by their fathers to brothels at 14 while the mothers wait at home with the daughters until they can be married off as pure virgins–and the crowning irony of that absurd tenet of faith is that in addition to brothels on every street corner you get men who are butterflies and women who run the whole show!

The tenet of faith in American poetry is that the true poet is the product of not just higher but higher and higher and even higher “learning,” and that the more a poet pays (or gets paid) for it the more right he or she has to be called “successful,”  and the final arbitrator in doctrinal disputes!

Anyone who suggests that the poets, critics, editors or publishers who are running this extravagant industry are self-interested, or even, God-forbid, in it for profit or life insurance, is considered not a real poet. Indeed, I myself have been mocked as a jealous “loser” a number of times, and dismissed as “the product of a willful misunderstanding of the process of editing and publishing poetry in America!”

And you know who used those specific words? A famous contemporary “poet” and “critic” who is also involved in the business of getting poets published. [click here]

And you know where she spoke those words? In Poets & Writers magazine, that bastion of our contemporary Faith in exactly what sort of training you need to get published in America today, plus the retreats, conferences, camps, travel groups, summers abroad in castles and wine tastings and weekends you have to attend– and what they cost!

But you say you think the son should at least wash the dishes before he goes out to the brothel at 14 with his father?

Just ask the mother for an answer to even that question. “You must be joking,” she’ll reply. “Any true mother would keep her daughter carefully cleaning as well as clean at home so she can attract a true man for a husband!”

Ask David Lehman about Stacey Harwood. Ask Stacey Harwood about Seth Abramson. Ask Joan Houlihan about me!

So that’s a problem, both for the sex where I live and for poetry in America.

Yes indeed, ‘tenets of faith’ always polarize, always lead to intolerance, always lead to abuse.

There’s nothing wrong with virginity per se, of course there isn’t, any more than there’s anything wrong with sex. But oh the heart-ache when too much stock is placed in either!

There’s nothing wrong with training poets either, even in castles, it’s just when you make a religion out of it, install priests at all the altars, and charge an entrance fee not only to get into church but heaven!

And, of course, excommunicate those who say it ain’t necessarily so or, God forbid, come up with some statistics that don’t quite fit in like Seth Abramson!

Christopher Woodman

Harwood to Abramson: WTF?

David Lehman P&WReady To Serve
Stacey & SethP&W Rankings

Poets and Writers magazine published Seth Abramson’s (middle left) MFA program rankings in the last issue of 2009 [click here].  Stacey Harwood (bottom left), wife of Best American Poetry series editor, David Lehman (top left), wrote on the BAP blog that Abramson’s ratings are “based on bogus research methods. The author of the rankings has no credentials as a pollster.”

In the comments field she says, “we have received several comments from Mr. Abramson, which we cannot post not only because they are far too long but because they are inappropriate and defamatory.”

One wonders if the “inappropriate” comments mentioned that Lehman published Harwood as one of the best American poets without acknowledging their relationship.

AWP sided with Lehman and Harwood.

Now Seth Abramson’s blog is missing.

Luckily, I saved his response to Lehman, which reads in part,

Three years ago I objected (as an artist) to the editorial work of David Lehman on the Best American Poetry series on the grounds that habitually and indisputably publishing your friends, co-workers, students, assistants, and family members in a nationally-publicized, highly-selective annual anthology is not a creditable editorial policy per se–and is therefore an affront to art . . . more than two years ago–I became embroiled in a Wikipedia-editing debate with Mr. Lehman’s wife (Stacey Harwood) about whether the Wikipedia entry for Best American Poetry should acknowledge that, historically, the series has been criticized in the poetry community for cronyism.

Alan Cordle

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