FAKE PLATO

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Why is no poetry which is popular—none of it—deemed critically and artistically worthy? Going on almost 100 years? Or more than 50 years, if we quibble over “critically worthy?”

Why is poetry no longer sublime?

Why has poetry lost its reading public? (Poets “reading” one another in the confines of writing program networks is not a “public.”)

No matter how aesthetically wounded a society becomes, as long as there’s written language, as long as there’s diary writing, interesting works of fiction will be published and read.

But why do we have a public willing to spend hours, days, reading critically esteemed novels, making these at least somewhat popular, but this same public will not spend a few minutes on critically esteemed lyric poems?  So that no esteemed poems are popular?  The current state of poetry would seem to be the aesthetic canary in the mine, the proof that, even though fiction sells, something is rotten in terms of the purely aesthetic accomplishment of writing as an art form.

Why does this century-long gulf of sublime distances exist, this profound disconnect between public and poetry in Letters?

It isn’t the fault of the public.  It’s the fault of how poetry is conceived, written, marketed and sold.

Scarriet has argued that Modernism, in the name of revolutionary change, turned its back on Romanticism, and all that was popular in Romanticism (the accessibility of love poems, poetry as sublime and beautiful speech, etc) was lost, in the middle of the Modernist experiment, and the problem was compounded when the Moderns simultaneously secured a place in the academy (writing programs in the 1930s until the present) in which the loss of popularity was “fixed.”

The story of Modernism, revolutionary wacky on one hand, institutionally savvy and pragmatic on the other, is vital to understanding the problem—Marjorie Perloff, a Modernist (avant garde) advocate, spoke openly, not too many years ago, about how she was troubled by the fact that there are “too many poets.”  When there is no true criticism to weed out bad poetry, and when millions of “students” immediately become “poets,” well, of course there will be too many “poets.”  The Romantics (or other eras, if you wish) only had a few poets.  Why are they so much better than the millions of modern poets? Well, it doesn’t take an Einstein (or a Coleridge) to figure out why.

But there’s a deeper problem, which just came to our attention, thanks to Jon Baskin’s “On the Hatred of Literature,” published online by The Point.

Jon Baskin spends the bulk of his piece discussing Ben Lerner, who has made something of a name for himself with his 2016 book, The Hatred of Poetry.

Lerner, like many in Letters, is aware poetry is dying—but he hasn’t quite figured out why. Lerner has made something of a splash, however, simply because he’s had the honesty to admit art and letters doesn’t move him. Perhaps I am not the problem, thinks Lerner, poetry itself—as commonly defined by tradition—is the problem. Fair enough. A truly open mind considers everything.

But Lerner is wrong. Lerner, and people like him, are the problem. Poetry is not the problem. Lerner begins by blaming Plato, who called poetry “divine,” which Lerner, the modern, thinks it just silly; poetry, Lerner thinks, is not “divine,” and it makes moderns work too hard to make their poetry “divine.”  There is a certain amount of common sense here, but this doesn’t alter one bit the eternal truth of the whole issue: it is never poetry’s fault, or the public’s fault, when poetry fails.  Blame always lies with the poets and critics of a particular age—and to assert poetry is divine is neither here, nor there; the only thing that matters is the poets and the critics and the editors who make it divine.

Baskin examines Lerner’s recent autobiographical novels, and finds that for Lerner, poetry which is more political, or “socially responsible,” is the answer. No wonder Lerner is getting some left-leaning, mainstream attention.

Here’s Baskin: “What is clear is that, by the end of The Topeka School, political commitment has emerged as the socially responsible solution—even if it remains elusive to Lerner’s narrator—to artistic disaffection.”

And speaking of the Modernists turning their backs on the Romantics, we sat up with attention when we read the following in Baskin’s piece:

It was during a period of increasing politicization, and amid a boom for the proselytizers of scientific skepticism in nineteenth-century England, that Samuel Coleridge formulated his idea of “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” The famous phrase—“willing suspension of disbelief”—is easy to misunderstand. It does not mean we should suspend our capacity to think when we engage with artworks, or that we are to imitate children (or our fantasy of children) and pretend not to know the difference between fact and fiction. …….. Keats, building on the concept, would later coin the phrase “negative capability” to explain the specifically artistic virtue of being able to exist “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Both poets saw art’s highest potential as being to provide experiences that undermined the prevailing hierarchy of values in modern societies, a hierarchy that privileged detachment, skepticism and the “heresy”—as Coleridge liked to call it—of practical and political expediency.

But here’s the deeper problem, and it has to do with Plato, and the greatest literary trope of them all, one even more influential and profound than “willing suspension of disbelief” or “negative capability,” and this is, of course, the famous directive by Plato that poets are not welcome in the Republic.

There is little to say on this topic, as important as it is.  You get it, or you don’t.  If you don’t get it, you will over-argue it, you will over-think it.

Here’s the first four paragraphs of Baskin’s wonderful essay:

When I was in college, at the end of the last century, the prevailing school of literary interpretation was called “New Historicism.” The foundational assumption of this approach was that artworks were primarily of value insofar as they could offer us insight into the context and conditions of their historical production. The point of literary scholarship was to “unmask” these conditions—to show, for instance, how Mark Twain had unwittingly reinscribed the racist assumptions of his time, even as he attempted to expose them. It went without saying, on this theory, that literature was a conduit neither of timeless truths nor of trustworthy passions. Indeed our professors made it clear that, the more powerful of an imaginative experience a work delivered, the more important it was to learn to view it with skepticism and detachment. At best, and with the correct theoretical tools, what had been valorized as the height of literary culture in the past might offer us an unintended insight into what really mattered: politics, history, the shadow life of power.

I can still remember when, at the end of one of the departmental survey classes—our teachers having delivered a lecture on New Historicism as the culminating achievement of twentieth-century literary criticism—a student stood up in the back of the room. Nearly giving way to what seemed to me at the time (but not now) an embarrassing overflow of emotion, she accused the professors of “hating” literature. We had become English majors in the first place, she went on, not because novels and poems told us interesting things about history or politics but because they made us feel less alone, captivated us with their beauty, helped us to better know ourselves and the world. The professors, as far as I can remember, responded politely: after all, the student was only a sophomore. She would learn.

It is no secret that in contemporary America there are many people who hardly read at all, and then another sizable group who, though they keep up with news, sports and the latest fads in self-care or technology, have little interest in serious fiction, poetry or literary commentary. It would be wrong to say such people hate literature, for one has to care about something to truly hate it. What my classmate in the survey course had precociously recognized was that we were being introduced to a phenomenon both subtler and more sinister than the neglect or ignorance of literature. Our professors had a great deal invested in novels and poems; and it was probably even the case that, at some point, they had loved them. But they had convinced themselves that to justify the “study” of literature it was necessary to immunize themselves against this love, and within the profession the highest status went to those for whom admiration and attachment had most fully morphed into their opposites. Their hatred of literature manifested itself in their embrace of theories and methods that downgraded and instrumentalized literary experience, in their moralistic condemnation of the literary works they judged ideologically unsound, and in their attempt to pass on to their students their suspicion of literature’s most powerful imaginative effects.

The lesson was not a new one. Going back to Plato—perhaps the first hater of literature on record—philosophers and religious authorities have attacked art for the same reasons our professors taught us to deconstruct and distrust it: because it is unpredictable, unreasonable and often inconsistent with their preferred politics or morality. It was also a lesson that was destined, in the years that followed, to seep off campus. Even as New Historicism fell out of fashion in literary studies—along with the broader postmodern notion of “critique” that had produced it—the students it had trained were taking up positions in the public intellectual magazines and book reviews, where they now preside over the gradual disappearance of a distinctively literary mode of criticism: a criticism, that is, that attends to matters of form, style and character, that takes aesthetic experience seriously, and that appreciates the emotions inspired by an artwork as fully as, and as constitutive of, its politics. To the extent that this disappearance has gone unremarked, it is because the hatred of literature, though it remains almost unheard of among the general reading public, has become the default mode in the upper reaches of our literary culture. As was the case in my college survey course, the highest honors go to the most eloquent haters.

I will repeat something here I quickly wrote on Facebook, when I shared Baskin’s article, overjoyed at finding a new sane voice in Letters. Here’s what the article essentially meant to me:

It’s okay to love poetry over politics. It really is. It means you understand politics.

And here’s what I added on Facebook, re: my thoughts on Baskin’s article, and re: Plato:

I always said that modernist theorists, who at heart, hate poetry, are unconscious followers of Plato. Plato said, with common sense, Homer should not be read for wisdom on chariot-building or military strategy; he’s a poet. Similarly, poetry should not be read for politics. Nothing wrong with hazy, divine poetry. But there are subjects which, by their very nature, are not properly understood as poetry, but will be treated poetically nonetheless by the untruthful and the mendacious. This is what Plato feared. Plato did not really dislike poetry. But modernist theorists do dislike what makes poetry poetry, even as they unconsciously act like Plato, in theorizing poetry away.

For hundreds of years, Letters has responded to a Fake Plato—one who hates poetry.

But this Plato does not actually exist.

It’s never about liking or disliking poetry.  The question is: what is poetry, and where do you put it?

Having this Fake Plato in the back of one’s mind, entertaining even the faintest notion that somehow the aesthetic, the beautiful, the sublime, impedes the rational, the theoretical, and the socially responsible, is the greatest heresy of all.

Shelley called Plato a poet.  And he was.

How is the truth of poetry conveyed by one—Plato—who does not trust poetry?

This is the greatest contradiction in Letters—and not understanding it will hinder poetry.

But now.  Can we say this contradiction is solved at last?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOVEMBER 2017. THE SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

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1) Sushmita Gupta— When the waves lashed and the clouds loomed and I was alone.

2) Diane Seuss— I could do it. I could walk into the sea!

3) Rachel  McKibbens— as you lie still within the soft forgotten witch of your body

4) Daipayan Nair— The maker of a house carries its hardness.

5) Eminem— The best part about me is I am not you.

6) Sharon Olds—  I had not put it into words yet, the worst thing

7) Natasha Trethewey— two small trout we could not keep.

8) Billy Collins— The name of the author is the first to go

9) Terrance Hayes— but there are tracks of your syntax about the land

10) Robert Pinsky— The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

11) Bob Dylan— How does it feel?

12) Dan Sociu— the quakes moving/ for nothing, under uninhabited regions. (trans. Ana-Maria Tone)

13) Ben Mazer— Mother then/I am your son/The King.

14) Denise Duhamel— Ken wants to feel Barbie’s toes between his lips

15) Molly Fisk—  Then someone you love. And then you.

16) Sherman Alexie— They were common people who believed only in the thumb and the foot.

17) Jorie Graham— the infinite finding itself strange among the many

18) Charles Simic— Have you found a seat in your room/For every one of your wayward selves?

19) Louise Glück— In her heart, she wants them to go away.

20) Richard Howard— inspired by some wag’s verbose variations on the theme of semi-porn bric-a-brac

21) Donald Hall— so that she could smell the snowy air.

22) Stephen Cole— For the knowing heart the known heart cannot know.

23) Laura Kasischke— as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.

24) Mary Ruefle— the dead borrow so little from the past.

25) Tony Hoagland— Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

26) Kevin Young— a freshman, I threw/a Prince party, re-screwed/ the lights red & blue

27) Maxine Beneba Clarke— penny lane/on the Beatles trail/all the locals say and they nod/as if for sure they know/our tourist game

28) Carolyn Forché— What you have heard is true.

29) Mary Jo Bang— A plane lit down and left her there.

30) Dan Beachy-Quick— Drab bird unseen in the dark dark’s underbrush

31) Carl Dennis— Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.

32) Christian Wiman—  Do you remember the rude nudists?

33) Stanley Plumly— I clapped my hands just for the company.

34) Major Jackson— All seeing is an act of war.

35) Gary B. Fitzgerald— A life is gone and, hard as rock, diamonds glow in jet black skies.

36) Mary Angela Douglas—  the larks cry out and not with music

37) A.E. Stallings— From the weeds of the drowned.

38) Joe Green—  the teacup is filled with the eyelashes of owls

39) Dorianne Laux—  It’s tough being a guy, having to be gruff and buff

40) Collin Yost— I’ll love you when you’re mad at me

41) Rupi Kaur— Don’t tell me my women aren’t as beautiful as the ones in your country

42) Wendy Cope— The planet goes on being round.

43) Warsan Shire— when the men come, set yourself on fire.

44) Savannah Brown— Hi, I’m a slut. What?!

45) Brenna Twohy— My anxiety is a camera that shows everyone I love as bones

46) Lily Myers— My mother wanes while my father waxes

47) Imani Cezanne— Addiction is seeking comfort in that which is destroying you.

48) Ada Limón— What’s left of the woods is closing in.

49) Olivia Gatewood— resting bitch face, they call you

50) Vincent Toro—  This island like a basket/of laundry 

51) Koraly Dimitriadis— the day I moved out, I took my wedding dress to mum’s house

52) Nayuka Gorrie— I lose it and find it and lose it again.

53) Hera Lindsay Bird— Keats is dead so fuck me from behind

54) Marie Howe— Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?

55) Valerie Macon— You are the boss of your canvas

56) Patricia Lockwood—  OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

57) Danielle Georges—  O poorest country, this is not your name.

58) Frank Bidart—  In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead.

59) Eileen Myles— I write behind your back.

60) Leila Chatti— Are you also dreaming? Do you still worship me, now that I’m here?

61) Claudia Rankine—  After the initial presidential election results come in, I stop watching the news.

62) Anne Carson—  I can hear little clicks inside my dream.

63) William Logan—  the pastel salons require/the formalities of skin

64) Marilyn Chin—  lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency.

65) George Bilgere—  The mysteries/from the public library, due

66) Robin Coste Lewis—  what’s greyed/In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.

67) Daniel Borzutzky—  hieroglyphics painted on the/walls of financiers who accumulate capital through the/unjustified sexual behavior of adulterous/women

68) Maggie Smith—  Any decent realtor,/walking you through a real shithole, chirps on/about good bones

69) Kim Addonnizio—  a man who was going to be that vulnerable,/that easy and impossible to hurt.

70) Kay Ryan—  If it please God,/let less happen.

71) Dana Gioia—  there is no silence but when danger comes.

72) Megan Fernandez— The bullet is a simple, adolescent heartache.

73) Kushal Poddar— My mom, a wheelchair since two thousand and one

74) Sascha Aurora Akhtar— I ate/But I am/Hungrier than before

75) Jennifer Reeser— your coldness and my idealism/alone for all this time have kept us true.

76) Linda Ashok—  a sudden gust of Kalbaisakhi/changed the conversation.

77) Ramsha Ashraf— tremble and tremble and tremble/With every kiss

78) Amber Tamblyn— If it had been Hillary Clinton, this would’ve never happened to Harvey Weinstein.

79) Ruth Awad— Nothing grows from me except the dead

80) Merryn Juliette— I will love her all insane

81) Nathan Woods— The best poems swell the lungs.

82) Nahid Arjouni— My headscarf will shudder if you speak with anyone. (trans. Shohreh Laici)

83) Philip Nikolayev— the fool moon/couldn’t stand the iambic pentameter any longer

84) Saira Shah Halim— The rains left behind a petrichor of shared verses

85) Jay Z— I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.

86) Nalini Priyadarshni— mostly bookish, as sinfulness should be

87) Mark Doty— Into Eden came the ticks, princes of this world, heat-seeking, tiny

88) Paige Lewis— I’m making love easy for everyone.

89) Mary Oliver—  You don’t have to be good.

90) Lyn Hejinian— to change this nerdy life upon row upon row upon row

91) Afaa Weaver— I stand here where I was born,/ and the masks wait for me.

92) Alex Dimitrov— What is under the earth followed them home.

93) Ben Lerner— jumpsuits, they have changed/painting

94) Wendy Videlock— the owl devours/ the hour,/ and disregards/ the rest

95) Joie Bose— I own that you from that night in November

96) Amy Gerstler— Pardon my/frontal offensive, dear chum.

97) Nathaniel Mackey—  Some new Atlantis known as Lower/Ninth we took leave of next

98) W.S. Merwin— into a world he thought was a thing of the past

99) Juan Felipe Herrera— Where is our exile? Who has taken it?

100) Charles Bernstein—  Think about it, Mr./Fanelli.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

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1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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