LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE FOR A MINUTE

Vanessa Place: Art School Cool Forever?

Which of the following four individuals are racist, everything else being equal:

1). A white man who reviles black men and sleeps with black women.

2). A black man who reviles white men and sleeps with white women.

3). A white lesbian who writes on Facebook that we need to carefully listen to people of color and not let our white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

4). A black lesbian who writes on Facebook that white people need to listen carefully to people of color and not let their white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

The answer is obvious.  You know the answer, don’t you?

The issue of race is complicated—but not.

Poetry is complicated—until a good poet comes along.

The bad is complicated.

The good is not complicated.

Academics have been talking a lot about race lately—and making it sound extremely complicated—even as they try to make it sound extremely simple: white privilege.

A couple of conceptualist poets—Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place—used racist material for “art” and the “art” remained stubbornly invisible in the Conceptualist manner, leaving the Conceptualist Poets themselves looking a bit—oops!—racist.

Since every revolution has its purists, looking “a bit” racist can get you in a heap of trouble, and now Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith, once museum-curator-poet cool, are verging on not being cool.

Conceptualism messed with Ferguson and Gone With The Wind and learned the lesson of the dyer’s hand: like Lady Macbeth, Vanessa Place wishes her hand clean again.

Avant-garde poets sympathetic to Conceptualism, like Ron Silliman, have suddenly been reduced to apologetic whimpering re: the once proud 20th century poetry avant-garde which he and his friends represent (male and white…shhhh).

We at Scarriet have been Silliman’s gentle scold and conscience for quite some time.

Now it’s official:

Quietism 1 Conceptualism 0.

Remember Rita Dove versus Marjorie Perloff?  That seems like a minor dust-up in comparison to what’s occurring now. Or was it? Perhaps it is only possible for the scandalous and the wrong to exist this minute?

The cool-kids-trying-to-be-cool-again are fighting back, of course.

Vanessa Place, who was thrown off a committee because of her insensitivity to racism, may be a beloved martyr tomorrow: who knows?

Her defenders will say: Her hand is not clean, but no one’s is.  Nothing is clean.

We said the complicated is bad, and the simple is good, so here’s the whole Place controversy as simply as we can put it:

Those attacking Place are anti-Racists.

Place is anti-Pro-Racist.

This is like the early stages of the French Revolution: in the ‘race atmosphere’ which exists now, everyone is potentially a saint or a sinner in the blink of an eye.

The possibilities are endless.

Listening to everyone—especially academic poets—discussing race is amazing: talk about twisting oneself in knots.  “Am I good, or am I being too patronizing?”  “Am I being too honest?” “Shall I speak up? And what shall I say?”

Some just want to talk about art. Art, the concept, is the only umbrella that protects. Conceptualism thinks art is a useless concept, which is why the conceptualists feel unprotected and uncomfortable now.

The wheel is turning.

In Silliman’s latest, “Je Sui Vanessa,” Silliman cracks from the pressure of watching his beloved avant-garde  peeps, Goldsmith and Place, become totally uncool.

Silliman equates those attacking Place with hate crime murderers.

When morals are questioned, discomfort results. When cool is questioned, all hell breaks loose.

This is one of those points in history where you feel yourself moving, even as you are standing still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE AVANT-GARDE IS LOOKING FOR A NEW (BLACK) BOYFRIEND

Cathy Park Hong: “Fuck the avant-garde.”  But does she really mean it?

For its whole existence, Scarriet has hammered away at Modernism—and its Avant-garde identity—as nothing but a meaningless, one-dimensional joke (the found poem, basically) tossed at the public by reactionary, rich, white guys in order to make it ‘cool’ to stifle truly creative efforts accessible to the public at large.

The controversy surrounding Scarriet’s claim lies in this one simple fact: the Avant-garde (Ron Silliman, et al) identifies itself as politically Left.

In Leftist circles of the Avant-garde, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are championed for their poetry, not their politics.

We might call this Pound/Eliot phenomenon the Art-Split: Bad Poet/Good Poetry.

By accepting this “Split,” the reactionary, white, male, Avant-garde is given license to dress in Left-wing clothing.

You have to believe, of course, that Pound’s poetry is important and good, and that Hugh ” The Pound Era” Kenner’s trashing of Edna Millay, for instance, was a good and noble effort to debunk old-fashioned “quietist” poetry, and not chauvinist, jealous bullying.

Leftist Ron Silliman has no taste for Edna Millay, and the “Split” allows this to appear perfectly normal.

The embarrassing and obvious truth: 1. accessibility to the public at large is democratic, 2. befuddling the masses is reactionary, gets a yawn, too—because of the “Split.”

The reason the “Split” works as an excuse is that it appeals to both Left and Right intellectuals: the greatest ‘am I an intellectual?’ test is if one is able to grasp (and embrace) the idea that a person can be bad but still write good poetry.

We do not believe this is true; we believe the opposite: one cannot be a bad person and write good poetry. If the poet is a truly bad person, the “good” poetry was most likely stolen, or written before the soul of the poet became  rotten.

And this is why Modernists hate the Romantics—because the Romantics were poetic individuals, while the Modernists (because of skyscrapers and aeroplanes and women getting the vote and other lame excuses) were not.

The “Split,” the source of so much modernist mischief, is a red herring.  The almighty “Split” even makes one think Ezra Pound must be a good poet: one must believe this is so to have intellectual, avant-garde creds—simply for the reason that for so long now, the “Split” has ruled over Letters.  The wretched, sophistical, school-boy “And then went down to the ship,/ Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and/ we set up mast and sail on that swart ship/” is somehow good because Pound is badAnd because it is wretched, it is avant-garde, and because it is avant-garde, it is wretched, and therefore better than, “What lips my lips have kissed and where and why.”  This is how those who think themselves very good judges of poetry convince themselves that Ezra Pound is a great poet.  Yes, it is truly frightening.

Despite the “Split,” rumblings about the reactionary nature of the Avant-garde were bound to start, as Scarriet does influence the culture it observes.

Witness the explosion of Left indignation in the latest Lana Turner Journal as the “Split”-fooled Left vaguely catches on.

We have Kent Johnson, an imaginative and brilliant man, in “No Avant-Garde: Notes Toward A Left  Front of the Arts,” reduced to the most pitiful, quixotic Old Leftism it is possible to imagine. In his essay, he imagines splendidly well, and he knows a great deal, but he’s very bitter, obviously, as the ugly truth—the Avant-garde is, and has always been, reactionary—sinks in.

We have Joshua Clover, in “The Genealogical Avant-Garde,” complaining in the same vein.

The current avant-gardes in contemporary Anglophone poetry make their claims largely by reference to previous avant-gardes.

The genealogical avant-garde is defined by a single contradiction. It has no choice but to affirm the very cultural continuity which it must also claim to oppose.

The “Split” is always rationalized.

The “Split” in this case, however, is not Bad Poet/Good Poetry, and in some ways it is far less problematic.

The “Split” now imploding due to common sense is: Bad Mainstream/Good Avant-garde.

The Avant-garde, as the progressive intellectuals finally understand it, is the Mainstream—and thus, bad.  Had they been able to see, 100 years ago, the nature of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, F. O. Matthiessen, and their New Critic allies, they would not have taken so long to understand the clever reactionary agenda.

But now they are finally getting it.

Cathy Park Hong (writing in Lana Turner no. 7) definitely wants a new boyfriend.  And it ‘aint Ron Silliman.

To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.

Poets of color have always been expected to sit quietly in the backbenches of both mainstream and avant-garde poetry. We’ve been trotted out in the most mindless forms of tokenism for anthologies and conferences, because to have all white faces would be downright embarrassing. For instance, Donald Allen’s classic 1959 and even updated 1982 anthology New American Poetry, which Marjorie Perloff has proclaimed “the anthology of avant-garde poetry,” includes a grand tally of one minority poet: Leroi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka. Tokenism at its most elegant.

Mainstream poetry is rather pernicious in awarding quietist minority poets who assuage quasi-white liberal guilt rather than challenge it. They prefer their poets to praise rather than excoriate, to write sanitized, easily understood personal lyrics on family and ancestry rather than make sweeping institutional critiques. But the avant-gardists prefer their poets of color to be quietest as well, paying attention to poems where race—through subject and form—is incidental, preferably invisible, or at the very least, buried. Even if racial identity recurs as a motif throughout the works of poets like John Yau, critics and curators of experimental poetry are quick to downplay it or ignore it altogether. I recall that in graduate school my peers would give me backhanded compliments by saying my poetry was of interest because it “wasn’t just about race.” Such an attitude is found in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith’s anthology, “Against Expression,” when they included excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip’s brilliant “Zong!,” which explores the late 18th century British court case where 150 slaves were thrown overboard so the slave ship’s captain could collect the insurance money. The book is a constraint-based tour-de-force that only uses words found in the original one-page legal document.  Here is how Dworkin and Goldsmith characterize Zong: “the ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their détournement in the service of experimental writing.” God forbid that maudlin and heavy-handed subjects like slavery and mass slaughter overwhelm the form!

The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be “post-identity” and can casually slip in and out of identities like a video game avatar, when there are those who are consistently harassed, surveilled, profiled, or deported for whom they are.

Even today, avant-garde’s most vocal, self-aggrandizing stars continue to be white and even today these stars like Kenneth Goldsmith spout the expired snake oil that poetry should be “against expression” and “post-identity.”

From legendary haunts like Cabaret Voltaire to San Remo and Cedar Tavern, avant-garde schools have fetishized community to mythologize their own genesis. But when I hear certain poets extolling the values of their community today, my reaction is not so different from how I feel a self-conscious, prickling discomfort that there is a boundary drawn between us. Attend a reading at St. Marks Poetry Project or the launch of an online magazine in a Lower East Side gallery and notice that community is still a packed room of white hipsters.

Avant-garde poetry’s attitudes towards race have been no different than that of mainstream institutions.

The encounter with poetry needs to change constantly via the internet, via activism and performance, so that poetry can continue to be a site of agitation, where the audience is not a receptacle of conditioned responses but is unsettled and provoked into participatory response. But will these poets ever be accepted as the new avant-garde? The avant-garde has become petrified, enamored by its own past, and therefore forever insular and forever looking backwards. Fuck the avant-garde. We must hew our own path.

Yes, “fuck the avant-garde.”  But we might just add that it is the avant-garde that has always been the problem; in this case, the tail wags the dog.

The New Critics (ex-I’ll Take My Stand Old South reactionary agrarianists) got an “in” when they launched their textbook, Understanding Poetry in the late 30s—it praised Pound and attacked Poe.

Popular poets like Edgar Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay were the Mainstream “good” ambushed by the clique of Eliot, Pound and the New Critics.

How blithely and unthinkingly Cathy Park Hong takes up the “quietist” definition of the avant-garde (and ostentatiously Left) Silliman.

Unfortunately, they will get fooled again.

SCARRIET’S NEW HOT 1OO!!

1. John Ashbery –Still the most respected living U.S. poet
2. Billy Collins    –Still the most entertaining living U.S. poet
3. Kenneth Goldsmith  –Does the avant-garde still exist?
4. Stephen Burt  –Is Criticism respected anymore?
5. Marjorie Perloff   –Has avant-garde criticism any controversies left?
6. Helen Vendler  –the 21st century Pater
7. Harold Bloom  –the 21st century Emerson
8. Frank Bidart  –cooked until raw
9. Sharon Olds  –the honesty of woman
10. Robert Pinsky  –the 21st century Untermeyer
11. Paul Muldoon  –New Yorker poetry editor
12. David Lehman –Best American Poetry editor
13. Don Share  –Poetry magazine editor
14. Al Filreis  –Video Education Guru
15. Garrison Keillor  –Folksy Poetry Lives!
16. William Logan  –Knife Wielding Critic
17. Anne Carson –Brainy School
18. Ron Silliman –avant-fustian, necessary
19. Natasha Trethewey –Second term U.S. Poet Laureate
20. Kay Ryan –Cute School
21. Jorie Graham –Sky-Is-Falling School
22. Mary Oliver –21st century Wordsworth
23. Derek Walcott –21st century Southey
24. W.S. Merwin –21st century W.S. Merwin
25. Tony Hoagland –plain-talking hipster poetry
26. Philip Nikolayev —Fulcrum editor, Russian translation
27. Franz Wright –21st century John Clare
28. D.A. Powell –the quite good gay poet
29. Marilyn Chin –de Stael of Asian chick poetry
30. Charles Bernstein –Langwhich
31. David Orr –NYTimes Poetry reviewer
32. Rita Dove –anthologist who freaked out Vendler and Perloff
33. Erin Belieu –VIDA
34. Michael Robbins –“Where competency ends,” Ange Mlinko “begins”
35. Kevin  Young –Studied with Heaney
36. Ben Mazer  –Studied with Heaney
37. Ron Padget  –LA Times Book Prize
38. Lucie Brock-Broido –rococo
39. Louise Gluck –quiet confessionalism
40. Rosanna Warren  –Robert Penn Warren’s little girl
41. Christopher Ricks –professor at B.U.
42. Anis Shivani  –MFA smasher
43. Amy King –twist and shout
44. John Koethe –a philosopher poet
45. Carl Phillips  –teaches at the college founded by TS Eliot’s grandad.
46. Charles Simic –compares elegant checkmates in chess to elegant endings of poems…
47. Robert Bly –at Harvard with Rich, Koch, O’Hara, Hall, Ashbery…
48. Vanessa Place –avant-garde book of dollar bills
49. Dana Gioia –the essay that shamed us all…
50. Robert Hass –has a book, “20th century pleasures”
51. Simon Armitage –leading Brit
52. Frederick Seidel –controversial, 1962, first book prize
53. Cole Swensen –post-Language school
54. Matthew Dickman –works as a baker
55. James Tate –teaches at Amherst
56. Lyn Hejinian –“it is not imperfect to have died”
57. Eileen Myles –diary poetry
58. Geoffrey Hill –gnarled syntax
59. Paul Hoover –institutional ‘new’
60. Alfred Corn –Harold Bloom called him ‘visionary’
61. Rae Armantrout  –avant-garde, in brief
62. Terrance Hayes –began as a visual artist
63. Henri Cole –a Thom Gunn award winner
64. Seth Abramson –pro-MFA lawyer poet
65. Peter Gizzi –tenuous lyric
66. Mark McGurl —Program Era author
67. Janet Holmes –we can never remember how to spell Ahsahta…
68. George Bilgere –Billy Collins in waiting…
69. Matthew Zapruder –editor of Wave books
70. Ange Mlinko –see #34
71. Cate Marvin –VIDA, too
72. Maya Angelou –remember her?
73. Brenda Hillman –“Allow form.”
74. Galway Kinnell –why don’t these legends write tell-alls?
75. Dorothea Lasky –teaches at Columbia
76. Nikki Finney –“us giving us away”
77. Noah Eli Gordon –#34 called his work “simply dead.”
78. K. Silem Mohammed –was a featured writer for Blog Harriet
79. Ariana Reines –“I know that really beautiful women are never alone.”
80. Richard Wilbur –Old Man Rhyme
81. Rowan Ricardo Phillips —When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness
82. Garrick Davis –editor, Critical Flame
83. Alan Cordle –the foetry revolution!
84. J.D. McClatchy —Yale Review editor
85. Philip Levine –‘Whitman of the industrial heartland’
86. Clive James –from down under
87. Robert Archambeau –his blog is Samizdat
88. Matthea Harvey –skittery queen?
89. Laura Kasischke –“not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling of the elderly”
90. Paul Legault –The Emily Dickinson “translations.”
91. Lynn Xu –Waste Land’s child
92. Laura Jensen –Donald Justice-era Iowa Workshop grad
93. CA Conrad –pop-inflected Bukowski
94. Jynne Martin –“Draw any beast by starting with a circle!”
95. Traci Brimhall –believes in The Next Big Thing
96. Adam Fitzgerald —amour de soi
97. Cyrus Cassells –Lambda Literary award winner
98. Richard Siken –“no one will ever want to sleep with you
99. Naomi Shihab Nye  –fights terrorism & prejudice
100. U.S. Dhuga —Battersea, baby!

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