YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

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1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR…POETRY’S HOT 100!!!!!

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1. Valerie Macon—Credentialing 1, Poetry 0

2. Patricia Lockwood—“Rape Joke” first viral-era poem to go viral?

3. Paul Lewis—Poe scholar brings Poe statue to Boston: The Jingle Man Returneth

4. Marjorie Perloff—Every era needs its Uber-Critic

5. Charles Wright—New Poet Laureate

6. Camille Paglia—Zeitgeist, Firebrand, Sexual Ethics, Gadfly.

7. James Franco—Can Hollywood make poetry cool again?

8. David LehmanBest American Poetry best anthology gathering-place.

9. Richard Blanco—interviewed in Vogue

10. Garrison Keillor—King of Quietism

11. Kenny Goldsmith—We understand some people take him seriously

12. Marilyn Chin—New book, Hard Love Province (Norton)

13. Amy King—Lesbians trying to take over the world!

14. Charles Bernstein—Papers going to Yale

15. Tao Lin—Alt-Lit unravels

16. William Logan—Every era needs the Kick ass Review

17. George Bilgere—Imperial is new; only poet who can out-Collins Collins.

18. Stephen Burt—Harvard’s frenzy of sweet political correctness.

19. Josh Baines—rips apart Alt-Lit on Vice.com

20. Don Share—Steering Poetry Foundation Mother Ship

21. Ron Silliman—Guiding Avant-garde ships through Quietism’s shallows

22. Ben Mazer—Neo-Romantic publishes Collected Ransom, the South’s T.S. Eliot

23. Frank Bidart—Punk Rock Robert Lowell

24. Paul Muldoon—Drives the New Yorker

25. Philip Nikolayev—Bringing back Fulcrum

26. Vanessa Place—Museum performer

27. Casey Rocheteau —Wins a home in Detroit for being a poet!

28. Natasha Trethewey—Bids farewell to the Laureateship

29. Billy Collins—Ashbery with meaning

30. Terrence Hayes—Wins MacArthur

31. Harold Bloom—Anxiety of Flatulence?

32. Mary Oliver—Nature poetry sells?

33. David OrrNew York Times Book Review column

34. Adam Kirsch-New Republic critic

35. Susan Wheeler—“narrative glamour” -John Ashbery

36. Andrew Motion—President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England

37. Khaled Matawa—2014 MacArthur Winner

38. Richard Howard—James Merrill lives!

39. John Ashbery—Old Man Obscurity.

40. Eileen Myles—“always hungry”

41. Mark Doty—Brother of Sharon Olds

42. Rae Armantrout—Silliman is a fan

43. Al Filreis—MOOCS!

44. Anne Carson—“inscrutable brilliance” –NY Times

45. Michael Robbins—The Second Sex (Penguin)

46. C.D. Wright—from the Ozarks

47. Lisa RobertsonChicago Review gave her a special issue

48. Claudia Rankine—Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

49. CAConradPhilip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) is his new book

50. Ariana Reines—“To be a memory to men”

51. Kim Adonizzio—“I want that red dress bad”

52. Frederick Seidel—Nominated for Pulitzer in Poetry

53. Kay Ryan—U.S. Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010

54. Edward HirschThe Living Fire, new and selected

55. Christian Wiman–ex-Poetry editor

56. Cornelius Eady—Nominated for a Pulitzer in Drama

57. Bin Ramke—Georgia Foetry Scandal

58. Jorie Graham—Collected Poems coming this winter

59. Erin Belieu—VIDA vision

60. Forrest Gander—anthropological

61. Amjad Nasser—run in w/Homeland Security

62. Ann Lauterbach—her poetry “goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time” -John Ashbery

63. Rita Dove—editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

64. Sharon Olds—Mark Doty’s sister

65.  Carol Ann Duffy—High powered, story-telling, Brit

66. Robert Archambeau—Rhyme is returning

67. Monica Handme and Nina, Alice James Books

68. Margo Berdeshersky—“understands how eros is a form of intelligence” -Sven Birkerts

69. Shelagh Patterson—“succeeds in forcing students to become critical thinkers” from Rate My Professors

70. Jennifer Bartlett—“this will all be over soon”

71. Lynne Thompson—“Vivaldi versus Jay-Z”

72. Allison Hedge Coke—Editor of Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas

73. Dan Chiasson—Poet and critic who teaches at Wellesley

74. Martin Espada—Teaches poetry at Amherst

75. Gina Myers—“Love Poem To Someone I Do Not Love”

76. Jen Bervin—Poet and visual artist

77. Mary RuefleTrances of the Blast, latest book

78. Mary Hickman—“This is for Ida who doesn’t like poetry but likes this poem”

79. Catherine Wagner—professor of English at Miami University in Ohio

80. Victoria Chang—PEN winner

81. Matthew KlaneYes! Poetry & Performance Series

82. Adam Golaski-Film Forum Press

83. Mathea Harvey—Contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB

84. Amanda Ackerman—UNFO

85. James Tate—Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, 1967

86. Jenny BoullyThe Book of Beginnings and Endings

87. Joyelle McSweeney—professor at Notre Dame

88. William Kulik—the lively prose poem

89. Tamiko Beyer—Raised in Tokyo, lives in Cambridge, MA

90. Julia Bloch-–teaches creative writing at Penn

91. Brent Cunningham—co-founded Hooke Press

92. Richard Wilbur—Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 & 1989

93. Patrick James DunaganRumpus reviewer

94. Matthew Zapruder—Wave Editor

95. David Kirby—“The Kirb” teaches in Florida, uses humor in poetry

96. Alan Cordle—Foetry.com founder

97. Lyn HejinianThe Book of a Thousand Eyes

98. Cole Swensen—Translates from the French

99. Aaron Kunin—Teaches Milton at Pomona

100. Dana WardThis Can’t Be Life

SILLIMAN’S LINKS

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!

TO BE CONTINUED…

HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

RAE ARMANTROUT AND HEATHER MCHUGH CLASH IN THE WEST

Heather McHugh writes poetry with word-play.

Heather McHugh has two poems in Dove’s anthology.  Armantrout was not included.  Dove doesn’t have much patience, as we mentioned earlier, with the Language Poetry crowd, or crazy white people’s nonsense, as we might put it.  This poem of McHugh’s, which will do battle with Armantrout, seems to have been selected by Dove for its political content:

LANGUAGE LESSON 1976

When Americans say a man
take liberties, they mean

he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw
a kid on a leash look mom-ward

and announce his fondest wish: one
bicentennial burger, hold

the relish. Hold is forget,
in American.

On the courts of Philadelphia
the rich prepare

to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,
in which love can mean nothing,

doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying
doubletalk to me. I’m saying

go so far the customs are untold.
Make nothing without words,

and let me be
the one you never hold.

We can’t say we like this poem; the reference to tennis: “court, serve, fault, love” is perhaps a reference to Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John’s 1975 song? and the meaning of “hold”—why in the world does this matter?  The whole thing strikes us as jejune. 

Rae Armantrout is in a position to advance against this weak effort.  Let’s see what she counters with:

MANUFACTURING

1

A career in vestige management.

A dream job
back-engineering
shifts in salience.

I’m so far
behind the curve
on this.

So. Cal.
must connect with
so-called

to manufacture
the present.

Ubiquity’s
the new in-joke

bar-code hard-on,

a catch-phrase
in every segment.

2

The eye asks if the green,

frilled geranium puckers,
clustered at angles

on each stem,
are similar enough

to stop time.

It has asked this question already.

How much present tense
can any resemblance make?

What if one catch- phrase
appears in every episode?

Does the language go rigid?

The new in-joke
is a pun
pretending to be a bridge.

“Does the language go rigid?”  Yes, I suppose it does.

Armantrout and McHugh are the same age, and their publishing history, professonial lives, and style of poetry are similar.

McHugh 66, Armantrout 54

SILLIMAN’S LAMENT

The following, “Silliman’s Lament,” is a bit of inspired madness by one of the most interesting scribes living—Marcus Bales:

For Ron Silliman, who posted on FB how far he’d driven.

I’m a poet and critic, a serious man —
The School of Quietude’s my famous phrase —
From right around the Chatterley ban
Til now I’ve followed my poetry plan:
To argue that poetry ought not scan.
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

There isn’t a city where I won’t go —
My revolution important and potent as Che’s –
To see that no more arts are beau
So quietudeness doesn’t grow,
And maybe make a little dough:
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

I also write my famous blog
Where only I may speak, but all may gaze,
No meter, only prose’s slog
Should leave the po-biz crowd agog
And that’s the lang-po creed I flog:
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

With postmodernism’s new malaise –
Not just wrong, but wrong in the wrong maze —
I must redouble my drive to raze
Your art so our art may amaze
As all that’s left us after the blaze.
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

Envoi

Armantrout! Mix your final muddle
Uninspired enough for me to praise!
Then join me in a pure Platonic cuddle:
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

NARRATIVE, OR GOING TO THE GYM IN THE RAIN.

Kim Addonizio, interviewed by a former Workshop student Susan Browne, said the following:

I do believe in poems making a kind of sense—the sense of each part being necessary to the whole. But when a poet seems to be setting out to say something, and yet that “something” remains obscure even with a lot of investigation on the reader’s part, I end up as frustrated as you.

This got John Gallaher, the Ashbery fan, upset, and he reacted with a piece that begins like this:

As part of her line of questioning, Browne apparently wants Addonizio to talk about the “split” in American poetry. Is there “a” split? I think it’s probably more like a net of fissures. But over and over again, when I hear people talk about contemporary American poetry, they often talk about it as if it were these two creatures. One is a semi-autobiographical (or autobiographical-sounding, or pseudo-autobiographical) narrative/lyric that revolves around a realistic-feeling scene with an identifiable lone speaker going through some generally domestic task. The other side of the split is usually described as something like “energetic word play.” What bothers me most about this, is that the first category is centered around content, and the second, around an attitude toward language. That sets up the question of what we’re looking for when we go to poetry. We know examples that are usually trotted out for each. For the first category, we have Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins. For the second, we have John Ashbery, et al, and groups with names (LANGUAGE poets, Post-avant, experimental, etc).

The problem—well, one of the problems—with this is that it isn’t so cut and formed as that. Where does Dean Young fit, for example? Category A, we agree. But why? Where does Kay Ryan fit? Also A, but why? The lines are, in many ways, political. It’s like party affiliation. So lately I’ve read things by people trying to claim Rae Armantrout into Category A, from out of Category B, so that people can feel OK reading her work, I guess. Or something like that.

Gallaher will never forgive Dan Chiasson for his New Yorker piece on Rae Armantrout in 2010, in which Chiasson attempted to make Armantrout palatable to the masses by presenting her narrative/autobiographical side.  Chiasson is who Gallaher has in mind when Gallaher fulminates above, “lately I’ve read things by people trying to claim Rae Armantrout into Category A, from out of category B, so that people can feel OK…” 

This was no doubt triggered by my August 12 piece on Chiasson and The New Yorker—Gallaher’s rant against narrative by way of Kim Addonizio appeared on August 13.

Why do I call  Gallaher’s article on narrative a “rant?”  Gallaher, like most avants, is really a pretty simple fellow.  His thinking, no doubt, went like this: he read Scarriet’s skewering of Chiasson, not without a certain pleasure, but couldn’t help being reminded of Chiasson’s greater sin—one Gallaher himself had tirelessly pointed out—Chiasson’s attempt in the New Yorker to make avant star Armantrout into one of them—the poets who are narrative and accessible.  Nothing freaks out a fan of the avant-garde like the idea of one of their idols being eaten and digested by the insensate mainstream.  In a panic, Gallaher decided he had to turn the tables, and quickly whipped up an article of a narrative poet moving away from narrative—Kim Addonizio, a ‘column A’ poet, seeking to free herself from her chains.  When Gary B. Fitzgerald, who also visits Scarriet, showed up on Gallaher’s blog, to bash Ashbery, Gallaher snapped.  Gary B. was banned.  A piece on narrative begun in high anxiety had ended with a punishment.

Here is part of the interview excerpted by Gallaher, with his comments right afterwards.  You’ll see what I mean:

Addonizio: I just created a poem out of a revision exercise I gave my students. It’s from The Practice of Poetry. You cut up an old, failed poem and save just the good parts—little bits of intriguing language—and it usually turns out there aren’t very many good parts. My poem was originally titled “By Way of Apology.” I had a few phrases, one of which was “a pair of big, invisible hands.” Just for the hell of it, I made that the title, and got led into a very weird and fun piece. Another surprising one was generated by a writing exercise I found on the Internet that poet Josh Bell had given a group of students. It had all kinds of random requirements to follow. I love how, using chance, you still pull in the things you need to address. Some level of your brain puts it all together. And it’s more interesting to me, right now, than sitting down to tell a “this happened, and then that happened” kind of story. I love narrative, but the way I know how to write a narrative bores me, and I want to do something different. I want the drama to be lyric, and not narrative, if that makes any sense.

Browne: I want to hear more about that.

Addonizio: Take a poem like “November 11,” from Lucifer at the Starlite. As Orwell said, “The war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous.” That poem has narrative moments: a character drives to the gym and thinks about various deaths—first some closer to home, then it moves out into the war deaths, and slings back to a neighbor’s niece. So all that happens in the poem is that she runs on the treadmill. But of course it’s not about the gym. That’s the framework.

Browne: It’s interesting how you weave little bits of the narrative all the way through. If you didn’t have the narrative, I don’t think I’d be there. . . What about emotion, which seems so suspect in much contemporary poetry? I’m thinking of another poet—call him Poet X. His poems have interesting language play. Maybe, at the very end, they have a glimmer of heart. Then I say, OK, and go on to the next poem and a bunch of language pyrotechnics that are nicely done. Even though I have a pretty good vocabulary, I look up these words and learn some new ones, and the poem is over, and I feel nothing. So is it me? Maybe it’s me. And I don’t care how much Poet Y has been broiled over the non-narrative fire and turned into a brisket because of that—but I can’t wait for her next book to come out because I think I’m going to hear, as William Carlos Williams said, some human news.

+

Browne’s response is as interesting as Addonizio’s comment. It seems to me Browne is almost admonishing Addonizio to keep from straying too far from the narrative (the party line): The Narrative, the solid Category A platform. It’s quite an interesting moment. The poet, Addonizio, is expressing boredom with the party, wanting a little of that Category B mix-it-up attitude, and is being nudged back by her reader, Browne.

And why must there be this frame? This narrative frame of the person going to and then at the gym? Is it a counterpoint? Is it necessary? Life vs Death? What would the poem be like if it were to be just the stuff Addonizio seems to want to talk about (the piles of dead), rather than what she feels she needs to add? It’s a small moment, but telling, when it comes to our predispositions, our assumptions about what art needs. Browne is reminding Addonizio not to forget to add the frame. Why? Because if it weren’t there, Browne wouldn’t know how to follow it. But why does the narrative frame help? Why can’t the poem just be the web of accruing associations around the idea of death? Would it then be a Category B poem? Possibly. Might this be the line of distinction?

Gallaher celebrates a “moment” in catching out a narrative poet confessing that the personal narrative element in her poem is only a “framework,” and not the important element in her poem—what is important, evidently, are the journalistic “piles of dead”.  Gallaher is perfectly in his rights to ask: why do we need the narrative frame, if the “piles of dead” are the crucial item? 

But Gallaher is confusing means and end: as Addonizio explains to Browne in the interview, her poem is not just about ‘the deaths,’ but about the poet’s personal view of them as overwhelming—and therefore ‘going to the gym’ places the mundane activity of the overwhelmed narrator in the poem—and secondly, the rain is a metaphoric expression of the high death count (beyond the narrator’s grasp) and it’s an easy matter to have it rain while going to the gym.  

Here’s an excerpt from the Addonizio poem, “November 11”:

to say what killed him, his wife is fighting/with the Palestinians over his millions, the parking lot/ of the gym is filled with muddy puddles!/ I run 4.3 m.p.h. on the treadmill, and they’re dead/ in Baghdad and Fallujah, Mosul and Samarra and Latifiya –/ Nadia and Surayah, Nahla and Hoda and Noor,/their husbands and cousins and brothers –/ dead in their own neighborhoods! Imagine!/ Marine Staff Sgt. David G. Ries, 29, Clark, WA.: killed!/ Army Spc. Quoc Binh Tran, 26, Mission Viejo, CA: killed,/ Army Spc. Bryan L. Freeman, 31, Lumberton, NJ — same deal!

Gallaher’s hero, the Pulitzer-prize winning, Rae Armantrout, might write this poem sans narrative, and leave out the trip to the gym, and try to express the feeling of being overwhelmed by the deaths in a more concise manner, using exclamation points, a reference to puddles and rain, a shorter list of deaths; but if we agree the end of each poem is precisely the same, and the means is less narrative by Armantrout, more narrative by Addonizio, it really just becomes an issue of clarity in acheiving the end: the narrator is having these feelings, and damnit, she wants the reader to see the narrator on her way to the gym in the rain.  Addonizio said the poem was not about “the gym,” but she did not say the poem was not about her feelings or the rain present (to express the metaphor) as she went to the gym, or her thoughts interrupted by her mundane activity at the gym, and Armantrout, attempting to write the same poem, would fail or succeed on precisely this same issue: is it clear to the reader what I am saying? 

Gallaher, the clever avant, is missing the whole point, confusing “the gym” with the necessity of being clear, and he compounds his error by going off the deep end philosophically, by seeking a duality: narrative v. non-narrative, which simply does not exist.  The issue is merely one of clarity, and clarity should never be an issue, unless, like the avant, you are under the burden of some tremendous neurosis, and you neurotically strive to be unclear.

This issue is never whether or not there should be narrative, for narrative should always exist; the question is whether it is done well, or not, and in this particular case it is not done well; the self-serving, third-rate Addonizio poem is naturally vulnerable to attack by an avant critic like Gallaher, who has no trouble prying the hapless poem from its “frame,” in order to make a non-point.

Once you begin referring to your narrative or your plot, as merely a “frame,” the game is over, and transparently cretinous, avant-garde tricks, like “so much depends upon all those deaths in the news,” are probably the next step in your writing career.

The near-insanity of the avant sensibility is on full display in this comment on Gallaher’s article:

In poetry the only law is that of gravity, but here are a few things I’ve always thought about poetry, in no particular order:
The extraordinarily fertile and preternaturally lit-up imagination of a poet like Tate may need to be counterbalanced by a limiting force, either narrative or structure. (I may be echoing an essay by Gregory Orr.) Narrative seems to be the limiting force in the Tate poems most people like best. (I may prefer some of his old stuff that doesn’t work that way—poems circa Hints to Pilgrims. But I’m all over anything he writes.)
BUT. “Narrative does not dictate image; image dictates narrative.”—Charles Wright.
Eli is quite right about poetry as “the new metatropism.” Writing poetry is passivity not activity. You watch your thought grow like mould on cheese in the fridge. I is an other. You don’t write the poem; it writes you.
You should work FROM, not TOWARDS, words. Dylan Thomas said that a long time ago, but recently Elisa Gabbert said the same thing in connection with Bill Knott. Begin with words not ideas. Make poetry out of words not ideas; seek ideas for your words, not words for your ideas.—Valery? Mallarme?
“So many lousy poets/So few good ones/ What’s the problem?/No innate love of/Words, no sense of/How the thing said/Is in the words, how/The words are themselves/The thing said:…A word, that’s the poem”—James Schuyler. Mallarme said every word of “L’Azur” cost him several hours of searching. What Ted Berrigan cared about most was the startling pieces of language he overheard or read.
The language must be fresh. There must be delightfully strange combinations of words in almost every line. But the lines without startling contrasts have to be good, too. All the lines should sound cool by themselves. IT’S PERFECTLY FINE TO CHOP OUT A LOGICAL CONNECTION IF THAT’LL MAKE THE LINES SOUND COOLER. Fuck logic.
IF YOUTRY TO IMPOSE UNITY ON THE POEM, IT’LL FALL APART. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE CONNECTIONS; THEY’LL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. ORDER IS LIKE YOUR SHADOW: IF YOU PURSUE IT, IT’LL FLEE FROM YOU.
“A poem SHOULD remain mostly inscrutable.”—Ashbery
“What it’s about” is only one aspect of it. There are—or should be—equally important things going on. (I tend to worry about those other things and let “what it’s about” take care of itself.) “The pleasure one gets from reading poetry comes from something else than the idea or story in a poem, which is just a kind of armature for the poet to drape with many-colored rags.”–Ashbery
You don’t have to understand your poem in a way that enables you to explicate it.
There’s nothing wrong with confessional poetry but the name. Poets who expose their intimate thoughts in a painfully honest, uncensored way—e.g., Ginsberg—are doing a great thing.
Don’t sit on any arse poetica—raw or cooked, autobiographical or “energetic word play.” Keep your mind open and try the other side, like Addonizio. “Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.” –Emerson

The commenter, David Grove, just wants to be wild and free, and believes Charles Wright’s “image dictates narrative” and his own “a poem just grows like mould on cheese” How French!  That must be Mallarme talking…  And Ashbery’s “words, not ideas…” For Grove, “narrative” is a “restriction.”

It takes but a moment’s reflection to realize that narrative in the literary arts is not simply a “frame,” but a cause-and-effect network of vast importance and nuance.

Narrative is first and foremost, temporality. Avant poetry is feeble, by comparison, as it declines to use what might be called time’s flesh, and all subsequent imagery, harmony, melody, and thought-like music ranged upon that flesh’s movement reflects the movement of life itself; the speech of the statue, the glittering of the stream, the warming of the sigh, the deepening of the night, the steps of the traveler, the lifting of the bird, the singing of the dactyl, or the sigh-inducing advancement of the dance towards you; the lack of all this makes avant poetry a bland, or self-importantly clever, re-telling. 

Which makes avants like Gallaher feel empty.  And angry.

CLAP YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR EARS! IT’S THE CRITIC WILLIAM LOGAN!

William Logan: School of Smirking Badass

The best reviewers make us laugh.

Laughter is just reward for the pain of pretentious, tedius, over-inflated writing.

The bad writer turns gold (nature) into lead (his work), and when, in turn, honorifics are bestowed upon that bad writing, the lead becomes millstones about our necks.

The good critic turns this lead and these millstones into gold (laughter).

There is no single individual (they are always alone) so vital in Letters than a good reviewer.

Without the good reviewer, our literary gardens would be weeds—and worse, the weeds would all be thought of as fruits and flowers.

Ron Silliman includes William Logan in his School Of Quietude, but this is a vile misnomer: Logan, like Poe (responsible for the term) provokes loud noises (both indignant on one hand, and merry on the other) with an eye that sees through quackery.

Join us for a little merriment, then, with our greatest living critic, William Logan:

Rae Armantrout’s poems are micro-dreams of sly vanity, their brute coyness typical of much late-generation avant-garde poetry. Money Shot lives in stark juxtapositions—sometimes there’s a snippet of science (“each// stinging jelly/ is a colony”), sometimes a scrap of old-fashioned suburban imagism (“Stillness of gauzy curtains// and the sound/ of distant vacuums”), sometimes a touch of cut-rate surrealism (“Give a meme/ a hair-do”).

The “money shot” is a porn-factory term for filmed ejaculation, the eruptus of coitus interruptus. The dust jacket demurely shows the Duchess of Alba’s hand from Goya’s famous portrait—the connection is scarcely less mystifying than a few of the poems, though it could allude to her alleged affair with the painter, her supposed appearance as “The Naked Maja,” the price of Goya’s commissions, or any number of things. It’s a tease, as much of Armantrout’s work is a tease.

Most of her poems offer little resistance to the conscientious reader (the book could be read on a lunch break), but now and then they revel in the iffiness to which experimental poetry is dedicated:

IndyMac:

Able to exploit pre-
existing.

Tain.

Per.

In.

Con.

Cyst.

IndyMac was one of the big failed banks, the Independent National Mortgage Corporation.

Armantrout commented on this passage in an interview with Chicago Weekly Online: “‘Mac’
. . . suggests McDonald’s, but also now ‘Mac’ing down’ on something, or ‘pac-man’—suggests a greedy franchise. And it’s paired with the word Indy, which suggests independent boutiques.
. . . Then ‘Able to exploit pre-/ existing’—that’s a phrase that I got from a newspaper article about banking. . . . You know, the banking system was able to exploit the pre-existing blah-blah-blah. And then the poem breaks into single syllables: ‘Tain.// Per. In. Con./ Cyst.’ All those syllables . . . occur in words like maintain, retain, persist, insist, consist, and then there’s just the word—cyst. I guess the words that are just syllables are a kind of cyst, free floating references to acquisition and attainment.”

This is not nearly as helpful as it is hilarious—I don’t know which is better, the loopy free-association or the blah-blah-blah. Yet how private these associations are, and how hopeless the road map to them. (There are free-floating cysts in the iris; but how you get from IndyMac to Pac-Man is a mystery—as criticism this is the Higher Ditziness of the Humpty Dumpty School.) If the Mac in IndyMac can mean McDonald’s, then Indy can mean Indiana Jones, independent film, Indianapolis, or any number of irrelevant things. As for that jumbled wordplay, sure—persist, insist, consist, as well as pertain and contain (though not intain). As for maintain and retain, it’s as if she hasn’t read her own poem.

Armantrout relies on a cloud of knowing to organize this unknowing, but you have to be Armantrout to live in the cloud. The temptation to make meaning by juxtaposition can be overwhelming, but it’s a temptation that should sometimes be resisted:

The pressure
in my lower back
rising to be recognized
as pain.

The blue triangles
on the rug
repeating.

Coming up,
a discussion
on the uses
of torture.

This is funny, then not funny at all. The self-absorption of a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet should not come at the expense of those who have suffered real torture.

The defense of a poetry of splinter and shard, of tessera and ostrakon, has long been that our fragmentary, disconnected modern lives are best reflected in fragmentary, disconnected forms (no wonder that after a little post-post-modernism a reader would kill for a little story). But why should art always imitate life—and why should its form somehow be imitative, too? (I doubt that life seems more fragmentary and disconnected now than during the Wars of the Roses.)

But they’re lying,
which degrades them.

An immigrant
sells scorpions
of twisted electrical wire
in front of the Rite Aid.

I look away before.

You can say various things about this poem, which seems perfectly easy to interpret. Ah, but I confess I just opened the book at random and picked out a stanza here or a line there—we have long needed a postmodern sors Vergiliana, and Armantrout is just the woman to provide it.

Armantrout is a museum exhibit of how unexperimental experimental poems have become. She relies on a very small bag of tricks, many of them old when free verse was young: the short, breathless lines; the smirking ars poetica (“‘Why don’t you just say/ what you mean?’// Why don’t I?”), the bodice-heaving antithesis (“The fear/ that all this/ will end.// The fear/ that it won’t”), with enjambments like stop signs—or, worse, bottomless abysses. Does she end a poem on “the”? Of course she ends a poem on “the”! Wallace Stevens once ended a poem on “the,” but he used it as a noun—and the poem was a much better poem. It wasn’t trying to imitate some fall into the emptiness of unmeaning.

I love Armantrout’s idea for a film genre called “diversity noir” (“a shape-shifter/ and a vampire// run rival/ drinking establishments”). She has a gift for the sneaky phrase (“Money is talking / to itself again”), but like a lot of experimental poets she can’t resist bossing the reader about. Poems that tease are appealing, but not ones that are teasing and bullying at once, that have a come-hither look and a go-thither command. The best poems here don’t try so hard to force the reader to go where the poet wants. Far too much experimental verse comes out of two phrases William Carlos Williams wrote in haste and perhaps regretted at leisure, phrases for which anthologists have been grateful ever since: “So much depends upon” and “This is just to say.” You could staple one or the other to the beginning of most avant-garde poems, and the poems would be no worse. They might even be better.

Those who think Logan is “being mean” miss the point.  Armantrout is not funny; she may be clever, but she is not funny.  Logan makes her funny, and this is a good that transcends right, or wrong, or mean. It allows the polite smile of approval to explode into merriment and glee, and gladness makes us see. Polite smiles are blind. Poetry may make nothing happen, but criticism—which makes us laugh—-does.  For laughter changes the way we think.  If we think like Armantrout wants us to think, if her poetry is “successful,” then, indeed, nothing happens.  But if Logan changes the way we ought to think about Armantrout, something does happen: a dialectic, felt in the body as laughter, and this moves society’s stream.

It is also important to note that in his brief review, Logan presents Armantrout’s own words—the mere arrangement, the voice which tells us it’s OK not to like this, these two do most of the work: what we feel about her work is already there and Logan merely brings it out.  Logan also points out what he likes; the dislike gets the attention—but this is not Logan’s fault.

What about Ashbery?  He is funny.  What does Logan do with him?  As you might expect, he makes him even funnier.

John Ashbery’s nonsense is a lot more amusing than most poets’sense. What he does well is nearly inimitable, as the mutilated bodies of his imitators show (what he does badly nearly anyone can do, though most poets wouldn’t even try). In the past decade, as old age has stolen upon him, he has published over nine-hundred pages of poetry—if there were a poetry Olympics, Ashbery would take gold, silver, and bronze, as well as brass, antimony, tin, and lead. He turned seventy-three this year—when did poetry have a more boyish septuagenarian? Will Ashbery ever grow up?

In Your Name Here (a witty title that reminds us of all the sneaky things he can do with language), Ashbery has started making sense. This will come as a shock to most readers, because his poetry has lived a long time on the subsidizing strategies of sense without making much sense at all—Ashbery writes poems that promise everything and deliver nothing. He’s the original bait-and-switch merchant, the prince of Ponzi schemes. Over and over, you’re lured into a poem, following along dutifully in your poetry reader’s way; then the trap door swings open and you’re dumped into a pit of malarkey—or a pile of meringue. And that has been the pleasure.

This was from a review in The New Criterion (where you can always find Logan) from 10 years ago, and you can see how Logan won’t let himself take seriously the poets who don’t want to be taken seriously.  No, Logan isn’t mean; quite the contrary—it’s the poets and the blurbists who waste our time who are mean—Logan merely presents the soul of wit in a 500 word review.  Logan gets Ashbery better than anyone; Logan merely seems mean because he doesn’t pile on the reverence—the coin of ‘blurb my book and I’ll blurb yours’ po-biz.

Logan is very much at ease trashing poets who hide beneath trash; the flip, the caustic, and the hip go down just like the rest of them:

The title of Tony Hoagland’s new book, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, is the funniest thing about it. Along with Billy Collins, Dean Young, and a giggle of others, Hoagland has thrived among the gentle practitioners of gentle humor, sometimes with a gentle dash of the gently surreal, who have given American verse a New Age school of stand-up comedians.  (Their motto: Humor, or else.)  His new poems celebrate that great American religion, shopping, and that great American temple, the shopping mall.  The art of American consumption was part of our literature long before Babbitt and The Theory of the Leisure Class—Henry James knew all about the golden bowls of the Gilded Age, Trollope’s mother went broke starting a Cincinnati bazaar (right idea, wrong location), Mrs. Lincoln’s dresses almost bankrupted her husband, and even Whitman was astonished by the ready commerce and “gay-dress’d crowds” along Chestnut Street.  You might say that the subject of Americans and what they buy, from Thomas Jefferson’s rare books (or, when he went on a spree, the whole Louisiana Purchase) to O. J. Simpson’s Bruno Maglis and Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks, is an embarrassment of riches, or just a bunch of crap: “the little ivory forks at picnics and green toy dinosaurs in playrooms everywhere;// the rooks and pawns of cheap $4.95 chess sets made in the People’s Republic of China.”

There’s not a lot to say about American consumerism that wasn’t said by Veblen, even if shopping is a Darwinian metaphor for the manners and mores of American life. Hoagland wisely turns his eye to all those lives impoverished—or, who knows, made infinitely richer—by that endless buying, buying, buying.  Still, when he thunders on about the “late-twentieth-century glitterati party/ of striptease American celebrity” he sounds as if he’s channeling Billy Graham channeling Billy Sunday.  Denouncing Britney Spears is like invading Rhode Island.

Hoagland has a superficial ease and charm—he’s likable, and his poems are likable, but they’re often less than they promise.  He’s a wonderful collector of the junk with which Americans furnish their lives, but it’s hard to turn junk into poems.  Hoagland is the Updike of American trash, forgetting nothing—but he hasn’t figured out how to recycle rubbish into art.  All too soon, Spears will seem dated as a Stutz Bearcat or a man shouting “Twenty-three skidoo!” There’s a quieter and more unsettled poet inside all this bric-à-brac:
And when we were eight, or nine,
our father took us back into the Alabama woods,
found a rotten log, and with his hunting knifepried off a slab of bark
to show the hundred kinds of bugs and grubs
that we would have to eat in time of war.

“The ones who will survive,” he told us,
looking at us hard,
“are the ones who are willing do [sic] anything.”
Then he popped one of those pale slugs
into his mouth and started chewing.

Hoagland doesn’t quite know what to do with the complicated feelings this evokes—it’s smug for him to say, “That was Lesson Number 4/ in The Green Beret Book of Childrearing.” (Things could have been worse—he might have turned the scene into Deliverance2.)  In the silent desperation here, the real subject might have been the father’s misplaced expression of love.

Hoagland is skittish about love, though he knows that romance is often absurd and comedy the catharsis of fear. His hymn to American courtship scares me:

It is just our second date, and we sit down on a bench,
holding hands, not looking at each other,and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over
and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved.

This goes on to peacocks and walking-stick insects (“she might/ insert her hypodermic proboscis delicately into my neck”), but you get the idea: Man is the animal who spends a lot of time thinking he’s not an animal.  Like so much of Hoagland’s work, the poem softens into sentimental mush; yet for a moment the poet has seen the darkness in love, the animal passions released and endured.

These whimsical, mildly satirical poems about modern anomie, composed with far too much corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, want to rouse primal fears, then comfort the reader with a warm glass of milk.  Sometimes this arch joker forgets the point of humor—a poem on the D.C. sniper, which starts with the mystery of God (that riddle ever invoked when life is cruel or unfair), comes all too close to ridiculing the dead.  Next he’ll be making fun of Holocaust victims.

Poets who often take themselves too seriously—Mary Oliver, Franz Wright, Don Paterson, or Carl Phillips, for instance, are easy targets for Logan; but again, he’s not mean when he reviews these poets, for a critic’s job is always to see—not to support.  And if seeing poetry is easier for a critic than for the poet investing his or her life in their own work, this is not the critic’s fault.  Critics who are “mean” are merely mean the way Nature is mean, and this is true in every case of mean.  Even a critic with a grudge is better than a critic with a blurb. Grudges are more interesting and more complex—in their origins and their results—than blurbs.  It doesn’t matter how we look at a poet, as long as that look is an interesting one.  Every poem should be able to handle, and gain from, a different look—even if it’s mean.

And when Logan’s bullets bounce off a poet, as here in this review of Billy Collins’ latest, the result is still funny, entertaining, and enlightening:

Billy Collins is funny, everyone agrees.  The birds agree, the bees agree, even the fish in the sea agree: Billy Collins is funny.  Yet why do I feel, half an hour after closing a Billy Collins book, a sharp grinding in my stomach, as if I’ve eaten some fruit cake past its sell-by date?  His wry, self-mocking poems wouldn’t hurt a fly—but they couldn’t kill a fly, either, even if they tried.  Readers who have whetted their appetites for drollery on previous books may open Ballistics and be puzzled.  Our Norman Rockwell of sly winks, and elbowing good humor, and straw-hatted, flannel-shirted American whimsy is no longer funny. Worse, some of his new poems take place in Paris.

Billy Collins’s method has been to borrow a dry nugget of fact or some mildly absurd observation and see how far he can go.  Say you read that the people of Barcelona once owned an albino gorilla, or remember that Robert Frost said, “I have envied the four-moon planet,” or find yourself talking to a dog about the future of America.  Why, the poem would almost write itself! Collins’s gift was to make the poem a little odder than you expected.  The problem with his new book is that the ideas are still there, but the poems have lost their sense of humor. Here’s what happens to that gorilla:

These locals called him Snowflake,
and here he has been mentioned again in print

in the hope of keeping his pallid flame alive
and helping him, despite his name, to endure
in this poem where he has found another cage.

Oh, Snowflake,
I had no interest in the capital of Catalonia—
its people, its history, its complex architecture—

no, you were the reason
I kept my light on late into the night
turning all those pages, searching for you everywhere.

There must be a lot of comic things to say about albino gorillas, things that don’t require sentimental guff with a twitch of self-pity.

Say you recall the day Lassie died, when, after you finished your farm chores and ate your oatmeal, you drove to town and scanned the books in Olsen’s Emporium—and what books they were!  An anthology of the Cavalier poets, The Pictorial History of Eton College, The Zen Teaching of Huang Po.  Why, who knew?  This is a send-up of Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”—the book titles mock his purchase of New World Writing (as he said, “to see what the poets/ in Ghana are doing”).  But then what?


I’m leaning on the barn door back home
while my own collie, who looks a lot like her,
lies curled outside in a sunny patch
and all you can hear as the morning warms up
is the sound of the cows’ heavy breathing.

And that’s it.  This labored parody of O’Hara’s famous ending (“I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of/ leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT/ while she whispered a song along the keyboard/ to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing”) isn’t side-splitting at all.  The premise has become just another excuse for softheaded mush—Collins doesn’t even get round to mentioning (SPOILER ALERT!) that Lassie was played by any number of dogs, that she was male (because males have glossier coats), and that, besides, Lassie is immortal and can’t ever die.

Collins has managed to be what he rarely was in the past—dull. The ending in many of these new poems falls flat, the speaker gazing at the moon or listening to a bird in hopes of revelation. If Billy Collins can’t joke about death, for example, well, who can?  When he pokes fun at writers’ guides (“Never use the word suddenly just to create tension”), or of teachers who ask, “What is the poet trying to say?” he’s still our best poet at piercing the pretensions of the whole literary shebang.  Get him off the subject, however, and the poems are suffused with mild gloom and misanthropy.  He writes of having tea “with a woman without children,/ a gate through which no one had entered the world.” You think that he’s blundered, that he can’t possibly be talking about her vagina.  Oh, yes, he can!  “Men had entered the gate, but no boy or girl/ had ever come out”—I’m not sure whether this is wickedly inventive prudery or plain bad taste.

When comedians stop being funny, they must invent themselves anew or retire for good. A number of poems here mention divorce in a roundabout way, reason enough for a man to take off his rose-colored glasses and book a flight to Paris.  Indeed, the most hilarious poem in the book is titled “Divorce,” and it’s also the shortest:

Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks

across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.

If Collins can become the bitter philosopher of such lines, there’s hope yet.  Otherwise, Poetry must do what Poetry does when a poet runs out of gas, or screws the pooch, or jumps the shark—give him a Pulitzer and show him the door.

Logan is simply wrong here: Collins’ “Oh, Snowflake” and “the cows’ heavy breathing” is funny.  But no matter: Logan’s sense of humor still prevails, and so the review, attempting to neutralize Billy Collins (O what do we do with Billy Collins?) is a great read.  Poets are the first to tell you poetry transcends objective standards of wrong and right.  And so does humor, when it reaches a certain charming pitch.  When William Logan crashes into Billy Collins, pure joy ensues.

JOHN GALLAHER: NOTHING TO SAY AND UNFORTUNATELY SAYING IT

The following is transcript of John Gallaher’s Dec. 4 blog post, lyrically entitled, 20th century-Ashbery-Armantrout-My Philosophy of Life,  in its entirety, with Thomas Brady’s comments.

John,

“BEING and TOTALITY were mid-20th Century master narratives, and we’ve come away from them shaken. What is art to aspire to after that? (The same things as it always has.)”

Do you teach this in the classroom? 

What sort of pedagogy takes universals like “being” and “totality” and vaguely applies them to the “mid-20th Century?” 

“we’ve come away shaken?” 

Who is “we” in this statement?  What exactly has been “shaken?” 

“What is art to aspire to after that?” 

Is this a real question? 

“(The same things as it always has)” 

The “same things”?  Do you mean “being” and “totality?” 

Is your tautology intentional?

“If our time is ‘in the shadow of’ 20th Century art and philosophy it’s because the art and philosophy of the 20th Century were totalizing, and our time is one of contraction, of a counter movement rather than a redirection or revision.”

First,”contraction” is not necessarily “counter” to “totalizing;” secondly, I think most would find this too general to mean anything.

“The error of our age is when we treat occurrences as instances. Not all walks to the mailbox are fraught with the weight of history. Usually it’s just junk mail.”

This is grandiose: “The error of our age is when we treat occurances as intances.” 

But it’s countered with insight:  “Not all walks to the mailbox are fraught with the weight of history.”

Really?

Usually it’s just Ashbery?

“If 20th Century master narratives are cages, 21st Century competing narratives are shadowboxing. Either can yield great as well as forgettable art.”

Well, as long as “cages” and “shadowboxing” can “both yield great as well as forgettable art…”

“There are some things we do not want to say so we remain silent. We are social.”

Are you still talking about “being” and “totality?”  Or “cages” and “shadowboxing?”  Anyway, yes, we are “social” and for fear of offending, we don’t always speak…OK…

“Because in the artwork the instance must emerge, the experience of time is disrupted by attention.”

Because…?  I’m afraid I’ve lost you.  “the experience of time is disrupted by attention”?  “in the artwork the instance must emerge”?

“In art, time is less sequentially monadic and more prismatically nomadic. Obvious examples: think of the structure of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Terrantino’s Pulp Fiction. You can even find this tension in Wordsworth, if you must. It’s always been this way. But it gains currency in the early 20th Century.”

“Prismatic” time in art has been commonplace for centuries.  20th century art has no monopoly on this at all; in fact, it could easily be argued that in both high brow and popular 20th century art, (abstract art, movies, imagism, Hemingway-ism) things actually became simpler in that regard.

“It will be a long time before we’re done dealing with the early 20th Century.”

I don’t know what this means.  It’s far too general, especially in the context of what’s been said so far, to mean anything.

Now we leap to the purpose:

“And we have the idea of time layered in Ashbery”

Excuse me?

“And we have the idea of time layered…”

Instead of specifics, we continue to be put off by the vaguest sort of rhetoric, the same which characterized the whole introduction: how, exactly is “the idea of time layered…?”
“where the poem often advances by shifting horizontally, geographically, one time to another—an accretion of middles of instances culminating in a panorama, the visual representation of the previous disparate occurrences.”

But the most ordinary sort of narratives “shift horizontally, geographically,” feature more than “one time,” feature “an accretion of middles of instances culminating in a panorama, the visual representation of the previous disparate occurances.”  Terms such as “previous,” and “visual representation” and “occurances” are not unique to Ashbery.

“Armantrout, my other go-to example from our time achieves a similar effect by shifting time not across individuals and instances, but down the line of instances vertically, organized by one consciousness. Where Ashbery can appear as montage, clustered instances, Armantrout uses montaged, sequential absences.”

So Armantrout “shifts time” not using “across instances” but “down the line of instances vertically, organized by one consciousness?” 

And Ashbery’s poems are organized by more than one consciousness?  But Armantrout by only one? And Ashbery “shifts time horizontally” and Armantrout “shifts time vertically?”  And further, Armantrout writes with “sequenced absences?”  And Ashbery only uses… “instances,” and not… “absences?”  I see…

“The art object exists as an encounter its perceiver constructs alone. It is less a presence than a prompt. It is difficult, therefore, to agree to criteria for excellence, for whatever excellence one sees in art is really an encounter one is having with oneself.”

Ah, yes! “difficult to agree to criteria for excellence…” Of course…

“How can one succeed, then, in convincing someone that a poem is worthy of praise? (When all parties are being honest and not cynical, we’re like the priest, the rabbi, and the Imam on a lifeboat comparing mythologies.)”

One cannot, obviously.  Unless one is “honest and not cynical.”  And, in that case, if you are “cynical” you won’t agree with my poetic judgments, but if you are “honest,” you will.

“Arguments about art, necessary as they are (or appear to be), are necessarily beside the point.”

Right-o!

“When one is saying a poem fails, one is saying that it has failed to prompt that person into an encounter with her/him/self. The operation of that failure doesn’t necessarily reside with the poem in question just as it doesn’t necessarily reside with the perceiver. None of these are givens.”

Who, exactly, is saying the poem fails?  Is the “self” encountering the poem always the same?  Has this self-encountering “self” anything to do with “being” and “totality?”
 

“It’s always as much about form as it is about content. Form is about content.”

Well, sure.

“Art need not be a representation to be an ecstatic presence.”

Agreed.

“Art is not social. In this way, art contends that every wedding you attend is a wedding of people you don’t know. Call it a philosophy of life . . .”

What does it mean to “know” a “person?”  Again, are we talking in terms of “totality” and “being” with this example?  Do pre-20th century notions apply to this “wedding?”  Who, exactly, is at this wedding?  Poets?  Teachers?  Members of a drug cartel?  Does it matter?

Reading the Asbhery poem itself, I find the narrative easy to follow.  I don’t see any spectacular “time shifts.”

I found your entire post full of very questionable rhetoric. This is why I asked if you taught this stuff, John.  With all due respect, I hope you don’t! 

Posting rude bumper stickers and academic rants on a blog is one thing, but the classroom…now that’s different.

Thomas Brady

P.S. Here, for our readers, is the Ashbery poem, which to my mind, just reads like a slightly kidding, ruminative letter to a friend; there are no multiple points of view or time shifts.  To my mind it’s a clever, slightly drunk guy, reasonably happy, sort of bored, writing a letter to someone who knows his friend Ashbery and his sense of humor well enough, that the letter wouldn’t warrant a: “John, are you okay?  You’re not losing it, are you?”  Read the following as if you know John well, and he’s writing you a letter; I think you’ll discover that ‘a friendly, goofy letter’ is just what it is…

My Philosophy of Life
John Ashbery

Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea—
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude. I wouldn’t be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I’d sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate
I thought I’d stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him—not saffron, not lavender,
but something in between. He thinks of cushions, like the one
his uncle’s Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush
is on. Not a single idea emerges from it. It’s enough
to disgust you with thought. But then you remember something William James
wrote in some book of his you never read—it was fine, it had the fineness,
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and his alone.

It’s fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler. Nearby
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well,
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they’d do after using the toilet
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out
into the open again. Had they been coaxed in by principles,
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort?
I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought—
something’s blocking it. Something I’m
not big enough to see over. Or maybe I’m frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise—I’ll let
things be what they are, sort of. In the autumn I’ll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won’t be embarrassed by my friends’ dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that’s the hardest part,
as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn’t even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he’s
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him—
this thing works both ways, you know. You can’t always
be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
at the same time. That would be abusive, and about as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don’t know.
Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one . . .

COMBAT LOVE

Combat love,
Steel your breast against its call,
You won’t be able to resist it if you are soft,
You won’t be able to resist it at all.

I met a man as cold as a knife;
But he stood on sentiment and sorrow
Horrified that one slip
And he’d be a puddle tomorrow.

Sorrow is not like love,
Sorrow is OK.
Be a child now
As you were one yesterday.

I was once a child
Who threw a great big fit,
And when I got older
I became a poet.

Am I in this poem?
Who shapes my speech?
Is Rae Armantrout close to me
Or too far out of reach?

Who will I be when I leave this poem?
Am I a poet now?
How will I speak when I leave this poem?
Can anyone tell me how?

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.

SORRY, RAE! MARCH MADNESS COMPETITION NOT GOOD FOR ALL POEMS

  

Rae Armantrout:  Not Worthy?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2010 Best American Poetry March Madness memo to the heart-broken:

The competition leading up to the tourney this year was not kind to the sly, modest poem of aphoristic insight.

The Rae Armantrouts, the Charlie Bernsteins, the Robert Creeleys were thumped by poems of lean muscle and fine excess.

The insouciant observation, mixing humility and pun, the delicate flower of look-what-I-found philosophy got hurt and hurt, often. 

The playoff atmosphere isn’t kind to the little poem read silently in the corner with a bemused smile.

The well-known risk of using zen puzzles in a poem increases during March Madness: if the audience ‘gets’ the poem, digestion could mean forgetting; if the audience does not ‘get’ it, befuddlement could mean frustration. 

~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~                                     

“Do you like the poem, or not—yes or no?” is not necessarily a fair question, even when it’s only a soft voice in the back of the reader’s mind, but it’s one that emerges, and loudly, during a fast-paced tournament.   Some types of poems are simply not up to that question. 

But it will be asked.

And it wants an answer.

In the March Madness pressure-cooker, poems with backbones, poems with force and weight, prevail. Judgment in playoffs is different from normal judgment; adrenaline tends to see through coyness that ordinarily charms.

We really ought to point out that, likewise, in the hurricane winds of playoff intensity, poems that try too hard to be funny, poems that force their points, or take too long to get to their points, get blown apart.  Not only the small, but the bloated, fail at playoff time.

We know the School of Ron Silliman will be broken-hearted when it learns Rae Armantrout failed to make the tournament.  Part of the problem is that her best work has not appeared in the Best American Poetry series.

Rae Armantrout’s “Almost” (Hejinian 2004) almost made the tournament.

Here’s the danger of using self-conscious language: what strives to be memorable may fall into the black hole of the poem’s self-effacing scientific observation.

When Armantrout ends her poem:

come find me
I stand
behind these words.

She aggressively tropes a cliched formula:  the poem’s life having an actual existence in two places: in its words and behind its words, and what better way than for the poem to speak of “these words?” 

Armantrout builds up to her assertion (that a life exists behind her words) with what sounds like a couple passages lifted from her diary, in which she reflects how words spoken between friends (or perhaps lovers) are gone, and if they were retrieved, hauled back into the light of day, out-of-context, the speakers would be embarrassed by them. 

The “tenor” of their “talk,” she writes, in the first part of the poem, is worthwhile and has been consistent and lasting—she compares “tenor” to “soul”—and then she praises their word play which deliberately “suppresses content/ in advance/ of time’s rub-out.” 

In part two, (the poem contains two parts, part one about 60 words, part two about 30) Armantrout describes a playful billboard message which reads “Size matters,” and hides its product in the corner “so we need to search for it.”   Then we get the ‘look for me behind the words’ ending.

The poem’s observations are somewhere between the scientific, on one hand, and late night dorm room bonding with just the right combination of homesickness and weed-toking on the other: these ingredients certainly can add up to a poignant poem.

Unfortunately, Armantrout’s poem founders on the rocks of its own unoriginal trope.  Too much empathy is required of the reader to rescue Armantrout’s poem by “finding” her poem behind her poem.

And so Rae Armantrout failed to make the cut. 

Few poets do.

Don’t see your favorite poet in the 2010 March Madness brackets? 

Another poet wanted it more.

Sorry, Mr. Silliman.  It’s playoff time.

TRAVIS NICHOLS WARNS: LOUSY POETS WANT TO EXPERIMENT ON OUR BRAINS!

Beside running Blog-Harriet into the ground, Travis “The Enforcer” Nichols has another gig writing scientific articles for The Huffington Post. 

The mission: Attempt to make really bad contemporary poetry mainstream.

Step One.   Find a fairly eclectic topic covered by the mainstream press.

Take it away, Travis:

As you read this, Dr. Jacopo Annese is slicing up a brain. Not just any brain, but the brain of Henry Molaison, a man famous for his inability to form new memories after he underwent brain surgery in the early 1950s. Dr. Annese, a San Diego scientist, is digging into Molaison’s gray matter with hopes of figuring out exactly how human memory works. The NYT reports that recordings of Molaison’s brain slices will “produce a searchable Google Earth-like map of the brain with which scientists expect to clarify the mystery of how and where memories are created–and how they are retrieved.”

“The NYT reports…”   Good job, Travis!  That’s good. “The NYT reports…”  I like that.   OK…you’ve found something about the brain.  Good.  Someone is “slicing up a brain.”   That’ll perk their interest. 

Step Two.  While no one is looking, change the topic to poetry.

So Dr. Annese and his compatriots are, in effect, plunging into the greatest poetic mystery of all time.

Yeaaaa  “…greatest poetic mystery of all time.”   Way to go!   

Step three.  After mentioning a few dead poets in a erudite manner, politely name-drop your contemporaries as much as possible.  It might prove helpful one day.

Memory–and the wonder and terror it inspires–has generated great poems from Simonides, famous for eulogizing ancient Greek nobility, to Coleridge, who longed for his faraway friends in “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” to the contemporary poets writing an “experiment in collective autobiography,” The Grand Piano. These poets–Ron Silliman,  Rae Armantrout,  Lyn Hejinian,  and Carla Harryman among them–have spent their careers using poetry to prod the brain in other areas besides just the comfortable spot where (to paraphrase Wordsworth) emotion is recollected in tranquility.

“…have spent their careers…”   Nice touch.  People will think you had no choice but to mention them in your article. 

Step Four.  Discuss the work of your contemporaries as if it’s new and important, even if it isn’t.

Poetry in this tradition–one that is less interested in telling stories and more interested in exploring how story-language works–attempts to make the emotion present in the reading experience. Tranquility can come later. They’re not re-telling memories in a poem (like the memory recounted in William Stafford’s much-anthologized “Traveling Through the Dark”, but rather using word combinations, sound patterns, and different types of sentences to engage a reader’s brain while he or she is reading (Bernadette Mayer‘s writing is a great example of this kind of thing). To varying degrees, these poets have delved into what literary critic Reuven Tsur has called Cognitive Poetics, a field of study that has taken “reader-response” theory to a whole other level.

For example:  “…using word combinations, sound patterns, and different types of sentences to engage a reader’s brain while he or she is reading…”  “…different types of sentences…”  Great!

Step Five.   By now, the only readers still with you are those contemporaries you’ve name-dropped.  So you might as well name-drop some more.

Tsur makes the case that certain sound patterns have inherent properties that fire up the “poetic” parts of the brain, and that by paying attention to those patterns we can read poetry in an entirely new way. A wave of contemporary poets–the Grand Piano folks as well as Clark Coolidge, Bhanu Kapil, Renee Gladman, Eric Baus,  Christian Bok,  and, in his way, Tao Lin–have taken up Tsur’s ideas about reading and used them in their writing. A “Cogntivie Poet” won’t simply say “When I first made out with so-and-so, I did the happy dance!” Rather, she will use word combinations that cause the attentive reader to feel, to create a new experience, a memory, by the act of reading. It will make the reader’s brain do the happy dance.

Step Six. It might make one or two people suspicious if you do all that name-dropping and don’t quote at least one bit of actual writing to demonstrate your thesis, so find a poem by someone hot and throw it out there.

Here’s how Bhanu Kapil handles a childhood memory in her poem “The House of Waters”:

Mud walls whose surfaces belonged to the plantar surfaces of human hands. I could see finger marks, whorls. Once, I was a living being, embellished with skin: fortunate and blighted in turns. I turned. In circles. In the adventure playground, which was concrete. When I fell, the nurse would daub me with yellow smears, that stang.

 “Mud walls.”  That’s good.   Now praise what you’ve just quoted and be sure to mention a dead poet in connection to it.

It’s heady stuff, and it follows in Gertrude Stein’s footsteps much more than Robert Frost’s.

Artsy-fartsy is the new brain science.

Step Seven. Finish up, lest a reader ask themselves what bad poetry has to do with the science of the brain.

It also can be full of messy failures that achieve nothing at all besides piles of linguistic gobbeldy-goo (it’s experimental, after all). For these reasons, only the most adventurous poetry readers have so far taken it up . This kind of poetry isn’t a comfort. Rather, it’s a challenge. It’s an experiment much like that of Dr. Annese, who, when he first sliced into H.M.’s brain uttered the quite expressive phrase, “Ah ha ha!”

“Ah ha ha!”  

Warn them, Travis, warn them!

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