Thursday, January 22, 2009

They do the poetry police in different voices

"I hate the critics of poetry when they are themselves the brutal policemen of what they think is a game." -- David Shapiro, from Kent Johnson's forthcoming interview with him...

From csperez' blog, this prediction for 2009:


--by October 31, 2009, Linh Dinh will publish his 300th post at the Harriet blog. On November 1, 2009, the Harriet blog will be renamed the "Linharriet" blog. sadly, Linh will not receive a dime for his harrowing efforts. happily, Linh will post various series of translations: 7 Poets from the Romanian, 7 poets from Swahili, 7 poets from Urdu, 7 poets from the Nahuatl, and 7 poets from Catalan. All of which he would have translated himself (don't hate! the man's a genius!)

--it will take 5 years for Wanda Coleman to fulfill her Harriet contract. each post will not be longer than a paragraph. and no one will ever comment.

--because the Harriet blog is like being in the high school library where all the kinda-nerdy-cool kids hang out, the blog will have a poll where you can vote for certain categories. the winners will be:

best hair: Javier Huerta
most likely to succeed: Rigoberto Gonzalez
most annoying: Michael Robbins
most talkative: Kent Johnson
best dressed: Olena Davis
most likely to change the world: Mark Nowak
cutest couple: Kenneth Goldsmith and Henry Gould

--one day, the white people who run the Linharriet blog will be toasting their inclusiveness--praising how they managed to include one latino/a, one african american, one asian american, one overseas white, and one at home white poet in every rotation. and yes, at least one will be gay and one will be avant. after a couple bottles of wine, one of them will drunkenly exclaim: "maybe we should have an indigenous blogger!" they will all laugh. then there will be a grave silence. and then, as if an ancestor entered the room, they will hear a whisper: "Craig Santos Perez". the very next day, they will contact "Craig Santos Perez" and offer to pay him to blog on Linharriet. "Craig Santos Perez" will happily accept the offer. When he receives the dirty money, he will buy all of Anne Boyer's books.

And now for something completely different... more David Shapiro:

"When I asked Borges what he thought of chance techniques, he dazzled me by saying: 'Randomness leads to vanity.' He was a good example of the integrity that takes the false avant-garde and wrings its neck as strongly as Rimbaud wrung the neck of the rhetoric he despised."

... & here's Reb Livingston's rejoinder to Wanda Coleman:

"... I've lost my patience with poets blaming the internet for destroying poetry or discourse. Like we don't come across uninformed assholes in print, on TV, radio, etc on a daily basis. It's like having to listen to some old coot go on about how great the 1950's were and how we've lost our way since then. Sure the Beav was awfully sweet, Dennis a lovable scamp and who doesn't pine for a malt that only cost a nickel? But I hardly think I need to point out that a lot was fucked-up back then. Or wait, maybe I do."


Jordan said...

What'd Burroughs say, scratch an American find a cop?

Imputing one's feelings, wishes and qualities to others... some would say, the American way. Doesn't make it any healthier.

Don Share said...

Jordan, check this out: scratch a Frenchperson and get.. a slogan!

Jordan said...

I like to imagine it was better for both countries when we coll-- I mean worked together.

michael robbins said...

what kind of prize do i get

Bobby said...

Ah, when all else fails, blame the critics...

With all due respect to David Shapiro (and I mean that seriously, not in a Ricky Bobby sort of way) I don't think the problem plaguing American poetry is rampant critical brutality. There are many critics whom I trust nearly implicitly, but I can't think of a one who has the power to make or break a career, not with Vendler and Perloff mostly out of the game. This is poet-on-poet violence, pure and simple, and its history is decades old at this point: Langpo vs. New Formalism, Langpo vs. Sulfur, post-avant vs. SoQ, Kent Johnson vs. Flarf, etc. Gangs of New York, in other words, not Dirty Harry.

Jordan said...

I've heard of the Gang of Four, but the Gang of One? Or do heteronyms count...

Don Share said...

Bobby, he says he hates them when they are the policemen "of what they think is a game," as presumably the critics you have in mind do not. I can think of a few Harriet folks who fit this category, however.

Bobby said...

Yes, Don, but just that section of the quote makes it sound like these policemen-critics of his are the worst kind of cynics: engaged in something whose value they don't really believe in for the sake of pure power. But I don't think that even Kenneth Goldsmith, who professes to hold something akin to that position, really believes it. As annoying as I, too, find all the repetition and one-upsmanship on Harriet, I think that the arguers really do feel that these questions are important. I don't doubt that Henry Gould and Kent Johnson and Michael Robbins like to hear themselves talk (I do too, for what it's worth) but I also don't doubt their commitment to the art. This is probably the point where Michael will accuse me of mealy-mouthed liberalism, and so be it, but Shapiro's apparent high-mindedness really struck me as an unfair dig. Which is a nice irony to go out on: me playing the cop to a complaint about cops. Oh well.

Anonymous said...


It's perfectly true I like too much hearing myself talk in comment boxes. I succeeded going pretty much cold turkey for about a year (I haven't been on a listserv for some years now), until, alas, I discovered Harriet some months back. I am addicted to Harriet because many of the topics there are very relevant and they are presented to a large and diverse poetry public. So I feel like my comments might "count" at least a little bit, sometimes. But now I'm overdoing it again, posting too much, even though Harriet and Squandermania are really the only two blogs where I do (rarely at Silliman's). Sometimes, when people like Jordan Davis pursue me (as he has been for eons), I get excited, and this makes me post even more. No, just kidding, I love Jordan, and I know he secretly loves me.

I wanted to say though, and I think it is only fair to point it out: I have never had a blog, and so when people accuse me of talking too much online, or of loving to hear myself talk, which again, I do, I always wonder why *poetry bloggers* never get accused of loving to hear themselves talk, when they, on average, do much more jabbering (and much of it, let's face it, is perfectly banal and narcissistic, having only tangentially to do with poetry) than I do. Or than Michael Robbins does, who doesn't have a blog either... Henry Gould has a blog *and* over-posts in comment boxes, so he's got the bug bad (though one should not doubt, as you say, Henry's commitment to poetry). Jordan Davis has a blog (or used to) *and* over-posts in comment boxes, so he's got the bug bad, too (though I would never doubt his commitment to poetry either). And one could go on.

So my point is that yes, I post too many comments at Harriet, and I aim to correct myself, especially after being named to Craig Perez's yearbook and having a poem written about me at Linh Dinh's porno blog, The Lower Half, all of this in the last day. But I want again to say this: There are many people posting their poetic musings at *much higher* quantities and volume than I, stuck here in the basement of poetry blogland as I am, banging sadly on the piping in my personal code.

That said, here's the most important thing.: Wait until you see the whole David Shapiro tour de force. There has never been anything like it in the history of the poetry interview, trust me. Don has the manuscript of it because he is kindly writing an introduction. It should be available in a few weeks.

OK, that's it.


Jordan said...

Actually, my policy is only to rebut misstatements of fact.

People are reading these comments, as Kent mentions every time I post to correct the record. It sounds as though he means it scoldingly, but I hear it and am consoled.

Looking forward to the interview.

Bobby said...

Hi Kent,

Well, just to be clear, I was defending you, or thought I was.

But since you bring it up (and I suspect you know this much better than I do, but okay, I'll play the patsy) I'm pretty sure that not having a blog is part of the reason people give you a hard time. It's not a question of how much writing you do online; it's a question of where you do it. I like the convention that says you and I are in some ways guests of Don's right now; it's a civilizing force on an internet that badly needs it. Maybe you don't like that convention; maybe you despise it; but even in that case you shouldn't be surprised when people ding you for neglecting it.

I've often thought of asking you, in fact, why you don't start a blog. You know that I'm generally a fan of your person and your writing, but that doesn't mean I like coming across whole essays pasted into the comment boxes at Harriet or watching you and Jordan reenact old arguments that have nothing to do with the post at hand.

In any case, can't wait to see the interview, especially with a promise like that attached to it...

Anonymous said...


Wait, I didn't at all take your comment in a negative way. When I mentioned the blog stuff I was not speaking against the idea of blogging, and much less was I suggesting that your blogging was any sort of undesirable thing. In fact, I probably got more from your blog (printed lots off) about the financial meltdown than from anywhere else, and I think it's a terrific thing that you put your mind to those kinds of issues in addition to matters poetic. (An interesting anecdote: When I wrote Ron Silliman to ask him why he didn't link to your blog, that you were Editor of the magazine he'd called one of the two or three most important in English, or something like that, he wrote back, in full: "What? That's not a poetry blog!" This was when you were posting daily on the banking crisis. I think the next day he put up a long post on Project Runway.)

In any case, what I was mainly trying to say in that prior post is that almost all those who have criticized me at one time or another for writing too much are people who write online much more than I do. And many of these people, quite frankly, have been driven by unstated agendas in their criticisms. This has been obvious to me and also to other people. But I know that this is part of how the field operates, too, so in the bigger picture, it's no big deal.

However, on the other things you say, I think you are in general correct. I don't think I've done it all that many times, but yes, a few times in my enthusiasms for a topic under discussion, I've pasted longer pieces in that I've written, and I know this can be obnoxious. But sometimes it can be productive, too: Johannes Goransson wrote an approving post about the linguistics thing after I shared it at Harriet the other day, though he then took it down. When I wrote to ask why, he told me he was tired of dealing with the Language poets, who, from what I could gather, were giving him trouble about it. But still, that's an exception, and I do think your criticism there is fair.

And like you, I do have a great deal of respect for Don Share (that's why it's one of the two places I post comments to!) and hope that I haven't come across in any way as being disrespectful of this space he hosts.

So I just wanted to say this, as I think I may have not communicated what I meant.


michael robbins said...

It isn't so much the specifics I disagree with in this conversation - I agree broadly with Kent & Bobby, & wonder again why Jordan is so angry - but the broad strokes. We have to ask what is meant by "game," no, Don? If "game" is taken in its Bourdieuvian sense, then, yes, of course poetry is a game, & what's the problem with saying so? It is a game I & the others you have in mind are, as Bobby rightly says, passionately committed to. There are games, & then there are games. Am I to believe in some Shelleyan conception of the universal significance of poetry? Men get by just fine every day for lack of what is found there, & more power to them. It makes a difference in my life & those of many others. That's enough for me.

Bobby said...

Hi Kent,

Thanks for the clarification (though, honestly, I didn't even consider that you might be talking about my blog; it being "not a poetry blog!" I figured digital emunction was exempt ;) ). I just wanted to make sure that my original--er, second--comment was clear and to try to address some of your concerns.

But you really should reconsider the blog thing. It would be nice to have the collected Kent somewhere easy to find.

brian a j salchert said...

I have some thoughts about these constant companions. I have some thoughts about myself. None of the thoughts I have would anyone want to read. Mayhaps I'll paste 'em ont one of my blags one day. Frisbee, anyone?

the unreliable narrator said...

He wrote back, in full: "What? That's not a poetry blog!" This was when you were posting daily on the banking crisis. I think the next day he put up a long post on Project Runway.


I do agree—itinerant Kent, it would be most convenient for us hangers-on if you'd set up shop somewhere. On the other hand, look what happens to people who do. Us leaving our muddy e-feets all over Don's pristine spaces.

My next t-shirt will say, "Randomness leads to vanity."