. . .

Nothing Personal, 1

A discipline's bad conscience shows in its insults. When programmers accuse each other of inefficiency or rock critics accuse each other of being uncool, the verdict's always "You're both right!"

Lyric poetry: a crafted yet sincere voice talking to itself in order to be overheard and found to be everyone else's voice, too.

With that set-up, try to escape a charge of insular self-aggrandizement. It's built in. (It might even be what makes the thing run.) Being so conveniently on one's person, it's the first missile chucked when neighboring tribes threaten.

* * *

Customers demand Emotion Recollected in Tranquility. But that's a recipe for Dirty Bathwater Consommé, and, come the health inspectors, what's the chef gonna say? Canny neurotics long ago learned the value of (a pretense of) depersonalization, from Yeats's Hallowe'en masks and Eliot's "It's Trad, Dad!" through Berryman's minstrel show to Merrill's Weejee board and Forché's Hollywood foreign correspondent. Still, their weak point should be pretty obvious.

Although I confess in my teens, and even into legal drinking age, I completely bought into "shit for propulsion, form for lift" propaganda; tried to read the APR and everything. It wasn't until after causing a fair amount of collateral damage myself that I realized Marilyn Hacker must enter into relationships more or less anticipating their outcomes.

But similar ghouls show up in every group, Post-Avant or Pre-: Prometheus-wannabes vulturing their own livers.

Even stuff which has been attacked as too heartless or defended as just heartless enough will, sooner or later, be found (or made) to be taken personally. Zukofsky's sexless domesticity? W. C. Williams's scavenging of private letters and private practice? Feminist scholars long ago got to that one, and to Stein's referent bleach-job. The Language Poets' critical stodginess obscures just how autobiographical or self-dramatizing their most popular work has been, while their dullest reads like rock tour diaries. As for Found Poetry, isn't the job of any artistic technique to produce the sort of thing the producer finds interesting? Well, then, what's the issue? A web search can tell a lot about a person.

. . .

Nothing Personal, 2

A certain type of ambitious twentieth-centry poet I saw, writhing, quivering, in whose throat was lodged the heavy black snake of subjectivity.

As muffled retching goes, some of John Berryman's "Dream Songs" still seem melodious. Mostly, though, I'm stuck with horror, hatred, loathing, pity, and so on.

Even to my teenage ear, his refrain of "Delmore" thudded flat, the wake an excuse to make a crying jag a chore; not nearly as believable a gesture as Bellow's snatch from the dead man's drawers. What's it say about isolation when a melancholy traditionalist can't even pull off an elegy?

I read this interview, with its literally monologic annotation "Delusion.... Delusion...." and its pathetic disavowal of "Henry". (As the poet sang, "There's a man who looks like me, and talks like me, and acts like me. But that's where the similarities end.") And I see homophobia in the Greek sense of "homo".

And there cries out of me the admonishment: "Swallow! Swallow!"

. . .

Nothing Personal, 3

Around 1960, Robert Lowell and James Wright switched to publishing free verse. In hindsight, I take these "raw" breakthroughs / breakdowns as resigned admission that the sole craft their readers sincerely cared for was the craft of self-fashioning in this case, crafting the role of sour overbearing alcoholic old bastards. And they called their act: "The Aristocrats!"

I prefer their later stuff myself, if "prefer" is the word. Consider Lowell's clunker couplet:

free-lancing out along the razor's edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.

Or this top-of-the-line 1959 stanza from Wright:

Nothing to mark you off in earth but stone.
Walking here lonely 1 and strange now, I must find
 A grave to prod my wrath.
Back to its just devotions. Miserable bone
 Devouring jaw-hinge, glare gone blind,
Come back, be damned of me, your aftermath.

And compare the conclusion of "Ars Poetica" in '73:

We had a lovely language,
We would not listen.

I don't believe in your god.
I don't believe my Aunt Agnes is a saint.
I don't believe the little boys
Who stoned the goat
Are charming Tom Sawyers.

I don't believe in the goat either.
When I was a boy
I loved my country.

Ense petit placidam
Sub libertate quietem.

Hell, I ain't got nothing.
Ah, you bastards,

How I hate you.

Play to your strengths, you know? The first is a naked hairy bald fat guy demonstrating solo Twister on a stage. The last is a clothed bald guy muttering to himself on a barstool. Much more dignified.

My favorite cussing's by Alice Notley, though:

I can't get to the poem of this
though I choke with it again being there
in another decade being here's not much different
the rage of unremunerated work
can't you hear the voice in my head
can't you hear the fucking voice in my head
of course I'm not right I'm never right
I'm fucking lazy unskilled and you deserve your money.

It sounds better.

Now, I'm not going to pretend anything about metrical analysis, assonance, all that stuff. It's a difference in tonal quality, all right, but tonal as in "Don't you dast take that tone with me, missy." Missy Notley takes surer tones. She knows who she's talking to.

1 I typed this as "online" at first.


I don't believe that footnote for a second. Too perfect, I say, too perfect. SEK

Too perfect is right I almost posted it that way without noticing. It says something about our own chosen form's vexed attitude toward community that I'd swap the words.

. . .

Have you read The Poetics of Coterie yet? It's quite articulate, very fine.

Nothing Personal, 4

What is hell? Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections.

No particular technique or taste associates T. S. Eliot with post-1940 conservative American poetry. Only agreement on what poetry is, practically speaking, for:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be....

What a silly complaint. Hamlet was a loser. We're supposed to feel sorry for you because you're not Hamlet? Who the hell would want to be Hamlet?

Answer: No one. But lots of us would want to act Hamlet. What rankles is not being John Barrymore on Tour, nor being meant to be.

Eliot's legacy: a nation of Malvolios performing air soliloquies in front of their mirror.

Whenas, opening up the cast, the best of the New York School were willing to play Sir Andrew, Feste, or Sir Toby Belch.

Consider their collaborations and plagiarisms, and imagine the scandal if Jarrell had ripped off a stanza of Lowell, or Sexton of Plath. In a democratized revival of manuscript culture and sprezzatura, these were social acts.

Try to reach directly from the alienated individual to the vasty universal and you're apt to sprain something. Instead, poets could escape solipsism by embracing and populating insularity. The lyric "I" presented a formal problem whose formal resolution wasn't so much supported by coterie as it expressed the music of the thing itself or, as Lytle Shaw put it, The Poetics of Coterie. 1

By that I don't mean to imply that all of O'Hara's or Mayer's best work, or any of Ashbery's or Guest's, is "occasional verse" in the traditional sense. Remember: This is New York. Is a momentous event upon us? Only with every little breath I take.

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don't refuse to breathe do you

I've acted perfectly dreadful, true, but why should I pretend to be so upset and expect you to be interested? I've acted perfectly dreadful at lots of parties.

Sure, it's an emergency; that doesn't mean it's serious.

Because (as the poet sang) every time you chase me down the street with a knife, it's a real special occasion.

1 You should listen to John Latta and Professor Bugg and read this book. The digest version doesn't do it justice.

Although I wonder whether it (much less I) can really add all that much to Peli Grietzer's two paragraphs:

It's a shame to make the I vanish though, rather turn it into a technicolor multipurpose toy to be interacted with for fun and profit. And I'm not just talking of poetry.

(Isn't that the lesson of O'Hara? I always thought that's the lesson of O'Hara.)


Peli responds with kind words followed by an understandable protest:

But, way unfair on Eliot!

It's hard to properly state my contention and I'm stuck with rabidly overstating it, so please downgrade its volume when reading : Starting to feel like I've had a linguistic error and in America Avant-Garde refers to a personality type -- vaguely correlated with the poet's aura being vigorous, excited and humanistic or stoically domestic (meanness is allowed in measured dosages, as long as it's a vigorous meanness) -- and has fuck all to do with one's approach to constructing texts. To you guys Paul Celan is probably indistinguishable from Anne Sexton.

Ah, but I didn't say that was all there was to Eliot I said that's what conservative poetry took from Eliot.

More generally, I agree I'm emphasizing personality here more than seems realistic. That's because I'm trying to balance my more ingrown tendency to overstate the possibility of pure formalism. (When I was eighteen, Frank O'Hara sounded like noise.) What counts as a correction in my own course would count as a wrong turn for some other navigator on some other trip.

It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when he awakens and quite reasonably says to himself: "I will never play The Dane."

. . .

Nothing Personal, 4a

John Rastell reminds me that alienation and appropriation are near-synonyms:

Alienation, is as much to say, as to make a thing an other mans, to alter or put the possession of lande or other thinge from one man to another.
- An Exposition of Certaine Difficult and Obscure Wordes and Termes
of the Lawes of this Realme
, 1579

Alice Notley reminds herself of one occasion and me of another.

Once, in London, I got so tired on
New Year's Eve, Chip Delany cooked
the leg of lamb for me, & still I
got so tired I was just me
now in America no matter
what. And Chip said, So
what? If your friends are
heroes, then of course the
years aren't. America
is where the Block is but we don't
care so we just live there, because
that's where they get to have us,
us heroes of the non-book part
So Bless your heart & try to
get into the book too, if you
want to.

(This is the middle stanza of five. I wish I felt comfortable quoting them all. They're nicely linked, and the end of the last one would strengthen the illusion that I know what I'm talking about. But the collection is readily available, and she's fucking lazy unskilled and deserves your money.)


Josh comments:

As the years go by, I get less and less excited by the fact that America is where Block is: the only work of his that I return to is that song on Dave Van Ronk's second album.

. . .

Nothing Personal, 5

What does it mean to talk about a poet's "voice"? Or to praise a poet's contribution or opposition to "diction"? Something about a poem in a particular context, context and poem held as a unit.... It's an intuition of vocabulary and aim, stops and breaks, approach and territory. It's what good parody flushes out of its home digs and into the open.

Whatever it is, what I wrote earlier didn't quite get it. Personality per se isn't the issue and depersonalization isn't the goal "depersonalizing"'s just another formula for sounding like a poet. Personality is undiscardable: it's not in our hands to discard, being a matter of how a subject is perceived. Posing or not, once the camera snaps, I'm captured in a pose. With all the will in the world, ideas seep into our things.

No, Marcel Duchamp wasn't trying to escape marcelduchampitude. What he disliked was not himself, but a certain rhetoric of self-presentation which leads to a certain social relation....

For example, to comments which read like a pro-anorexia support group's. Honestly pursued self-indulgence is a rare thing; what usually goes under that name is a desperate fraud of self- and peer-flattery. Jack Spicer's and Frank O'Hara's flatness "I am a real poet" opens up that window lets the bad air out.

Not that window openers necessarily benefit directly. Unhealthy as their verses sound to me, Duncan, Ginsberg, Berryman, and Lowell all outlived O'Hara and Spicer. A fresh expression of acerbic alcoholism is nicer than a stale one, but that doesn't make it safe to operate heavy machinery: you're still alone in a room with a hangover. The mostly-sober Objectivists were unusual in being able to take the matter of the contemporary lyric past how someone fucked you over, how you fucked someone else over, or how fucked up you are.

Which may in itself be enough to justify associating them with Language Poetry.


Sense of Doubt?
As much as their left-wing earnestness and their formal choices *what*?

I see what you mean. Would I could return the favor. I hope trimming the sentence helped a bit letting it grow didn't seem to.

Speaking of compression artifacts, I got an email this morning titled "GMT Book" and starting "Dear GMT Event Contributors," and I must've spent two minutes trying to remember when the hell we ever discussed time zones on the Valve.

. . .

Nothing Personal : Interlude

From Carve Her Name with Pride :

For Teddy Adorno and Sylvia Plath


Lawrence L. White critiques:

Man, that's one tough workshop. But it's got an excellent teacher-student ratio!
and Hold the Epitaph.

. . .

Nothing Personal, 6

Pop music makes a horrifically misleading comparison point. English song and poetry in English have diverged too much since Campion's day, and as much as I love the lyrics of Chuck Berry, Lord Melody, Smokey Robinson, Tom Verlaine, the Coup, Mos Def, and Slug, none would fit a little magazine or chapbook.

A closer demotic relative of contemporary lyric is stand-up comedy, with its definitional dictions, its canonical revolutionaries, and its School of Quietude.... They're different forms with different capabilities, but there are examples from both who'd fit either.


Ask Ron Silliman about the Russian edition yoking him with Louis Zukofsky and Woody Allen.
"a something along these veins .."
And while we have for decades been told that the lyrics of Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith et al (rarely however is this said about Slug) can be read without music as standalone poems, the same is never claimed for the work of Richard Pryor or Eddie Izzard.

Ah, but Steven Wright...?

Peli writes:

First thing they teach you in Narratology school is in the face of a literary theory scrutinize the selection of evidence. I counter with: Brian Eno, John Cale, 'Berlin' David Bowie, Early and mid Beck, Destroyer, Jonathan Richman, Pavement, MF Doom, Li'l Wayne, Ghostface Killah, and a bunch of Israeli stuff. Not that their lyrics are in anyway better or more interesting than your batch, just that they're all both a) very good, b) modern poetry is a somewhat relevant frame of reference to their work either historically or theoretically or both.

. . .

Nothing Personal, 7

It's not true that only poets read poetry. It is true that keeping up with poetry comes close to a full time job, like keeping up with international cinema or popular music or genre fiction.

Job markets vary by geography even avocational job markets. Taking similar land routes, I and Joshua Corey traced similar reading histories, and the ten years between us made comparatively little difference. Although a quirk of publishing history had led to Zukofsky being stocked by the Chillecothe, Missouri, library, and although the Black Mountain lost-leaders were widely available, there was no collected Niedecker or Spicer in my youth, and what I could find in Philadelphia and NYC led me, like Corey, to posit a post-1940 decline into the poetics of lithium. (Things are better in Brooklyn now.)

When I moved to Cambridge, Mass., I lost access to international cinema but gained access to WordsWorth Books and the Grolier. (I also gained a three-hour daily commute, and I also lost my lover and my mind.) At one of those shops, I bought Sal Salasin's first book because it reminded me of Ed Bluestone in the National Lampoon. And I bought Bloomsday by Jackson Mac Low because it was Bloomsday. And then I bought Sulfur 24 because Jackson Mac Low was in it.

I can't find that issue must've lent it to someone and never gotten it back. The web tells me it included one of my favorite Ron Padgett poems, and something by the incomparable David Bromige. But what struck hardest was a long excerpt from Ron Silliman's Toner.

"It spoke to me."

Diction is about shared assumptions, and diction varies because what's "universal" varies. For example, pace Berryman and Hacker, not all of us have had the universal experience of sleeping with our students. So it's possible that you just need to have been a commuter to really get Silliman's poetry. But I got it, and got it bad: here was someone who'd experienced this previously unsung, astonishingly stupid side of life, and found redemptive lyric possibilities in its suspended-yet-mobile state of consciousness. A suspension so extended that it became epic: Kinda-Ron kinda-Endures.

One Age of Huts later, I walked away with the ugly mossy block of In the American Tree. I wouldn't say it changed my life I haven't led that sort of life but it certainly changed my buying habits.

What the anthologized pieces shared was an absence of recognizable names (other than the dedicatee, Larry Eigner) and anything resembling well-established subjective lyric stances. The range of alternatives seemed even wider than what Donald Allen had come up with. And yet Silliman didn't present himself as an outside arbiter or professional event organizer; apparently this range belonged to something he thought of as one group, his own.

The nearest thing to a new norm here was parataxis, which seemed to account for many of the precursors paid tribute in the essays at the back of the book: Ashbery (although not Allen's Ashbery), Stein, Spicer.... Still, there wasn't a "standard Language Poet poem" as far as I could see at least not among the ones I liked. Lyn Hejinian's My Life and Bob Perelman's a.k.a. were both beautiful little books of paratactic prose paragraphs, but you couldn't mistake Hejinian's VistaVision montages of Northern California for Perelman's grim resignation to "cleverness", young Beckett pressed into an old Beckett role:

He heard the music and stood up. Played at appropriate speed, incurable motion out the window. The names are maintained to prevent the accumulations of self-esteem from crashing too harmlessly into private abysses. As if hearing were a perfection of air perpetrated among rivals, sets of teeth, synonyms, sentence structure, ruptured blood vessels. He held on, in advance. Night fell, and I lived through that, too, expressing the expressible in terms of the expressed. On good terms with neighbors, dependable, daily, there, smiles, and is currently writing and reading this sentence.

Susan Howe suffered megalomania of the archive in a way I found much more congenial than Charles Olson's: high on dust mites and the glare of wide margins, the texture of the paper, the impress of the type, a whited-out thought balloon of imminent immanent insight tugging gently at our scalps....

And sure, lots of us have words appearing on our foreheads, but Hannah Weiner was the first to accurately transcribe them.

Depersonalized? No, just respecified: new specs in front of the eyes, less heavily tinted, and, in some cases, less smudged.

I moved to San Francisco in 1991, when Small Press Distribution and Small Press Traffic both had storefronts, and my binging intensified. Like Corey, I learned to browse bookshelves by publisher name. Some of Silliman's also-rans were as good as he'd implied: Rosemarie Waldrop, Robert Glück (who turned out to be a very different sort of writer indeed), Beverley Dahlen, Alice "Notely", Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Some of the included gained importance: speaking of Campion, Stephen Ratcliffe's spaces in the light said to be where one / comes from is subvocalized MDMA. Some seemed to drop out: Stephen Rodefer's Four Lectures were primo, and his Villon translation was a pungent pinch of Spiceresquerie, but then what happened?

Most were uneven. There was such a thing as The Charles Bernstein Poem, and I didn't think much of it, but just often enough he'd come up with something unexpected like "Artifice of Absorption" or "I and The", and even The Charles Bernstein Poems had their place. On the other hand, Susan Howe, always worth reading, was worth surprisingly less in dowdy paperbacks than in her expansive expensive smaller press editions. Silliman's Tjanting played to his weaknesses, despite the conceptual catchiness of its form.

But they continued to be more uneven sometimes than others, and they led other places, like Jackson Mac Low had, and so the binging goes.

Here ends my happy consumer conversion narrative. "Or like stout whosits when with eagle eyes," "Nirvana made me a better student," "I can't believe it's not butter," and so on.

Happily, I wasn't a participant.

Next: I finally get back to where I was more than a year ago!


Joseph Duemer has some questions.

. . .

Nothing Personal, 8

"But then Michael Palmer might not be a Language Poet. We won't know until he dies and they cut his heart open and see if L=A can be found there.... And the politics of it all is fascinating, but there are people who are much better equipped to speak about it than I am. You might want to go and talk to some of them about it, if you're interested."
- David Bromige

Note: The following is based on second-hand hints and third-hand extrapolations. That is, it's gossip. And since I'm art-for-art's by nature, it's not even good gossip. But my essay's carried me out of my depth, and in this deep water I'll paddle. Feel free to administer a little paddling of your own.

I told my conversion narrative because it's not unique. (It's not interesting, either, but that wasn't why I told it.) For me it happened in 1989; for others it happened in 1982 or in 1999, or it will happen in 2007. All that changes is the number of precursors and passersby clumped into the Katamari Damacy of "Language Poetry".

No conspiracy lies behind that phenomenom, and protests were futile. It's merely a side-effect of success, enthusiasm, and inattention. I've witnessed similar confusions in punk and hip-hop, and a recent museum show dedicated to "the Beats" included work by Frank O'Hara and Jess.

What distinguishes LangPo is the stability and range of its success. The Beats weren't moving by the time of that pleasant curatorial blunder; the Language Poets continue. And the formal advances responsible for that success were political ones:

Instead the group's glue is found in the non-poetic work of "poetics": self-publication, self-promotion, self-defense.... Creative members could parlay any diction they liked so long as they cooperated with the critical members. And, David Bromige aside, those critics weren't fooling around: they've been painfully sincere, with most of the pain directed outwards.

This community, like any community, coheres by selective memory and selective attention. I share a class background with Ron Silliman, and an allergy to academic power structures. Naturally we except our friends from our prejudices. Silliman, however, sometimes deploys those prejudices even in defense of his friends and despite the disposable incomes which back their publications. Then there's the contrast between Perelman's finger-wagging and high-fiving, and in another way Susan Howe sacrificing her own layouts while insisting on the primacy of Emily Dickinson's....

I don't mean to characterize them as villains in this history. (They are, after all, three of my favorite writers.) Conservatives and the old-garde haven't been shy about marking their dry discolored turfs, would-be Young Turks tried similar tactics, and when Bromige enlivened the Buffalo Poetics list, the mob who shouted him down wasn't led by his fellows. The Language Poets didn't invent the game: they only managed it better.

I do mean to imply that the game has a human cost. If I haven't heard versions of Luther Blissett's story quite as often as versions of my own, still I've heard them. And worse, the one-time-enemy may be appropriated: I remember some poet I respect (whose name I don't remember) being asked by someone somewhere if she considered herself a Language Poet, and her answering something like she wouldn't have minded but someone I respect less (whose name I also don't remember) said she wasn't Marxist enough. (As I warned, my gossiping skills are weak.) Then there's Benjamin Friedlander, often called a Language Poet because he paid them close attention, and scarred by them for the same reason.

Given the human payback, though, was it worth it? Could any avant-garde have managed the scarcity-economy of print better?

I don't know; I just hope the post-print world does.

* * *

The web hosts an economy of attention: Who's attended to? Who should I attend to?

It's one question with two faces, self-ish and other-ish, inseparable yet rarely perceived simultanously. We become two-faced in asking it. We lament the lack of attention paid our so worthwhile work and then spend a half-hour responding to an irksome comment made by someone who doesn't particularly interest us.

In the mailing lists, there was no way around it: you had to slog through mire to reach anything at all. While the web allows for greater selectivity and wider browsing, established algorithms steer us towards continued dysfunction. Jordan Davis may have closed Equanimity to focus on other projects, but (as usual) I fear the worst. And there's Gary Sullivan's recent comment....

The next innovation in American poetry might better target LangPo's social aspects than its lyric ones.



Mark me as a Luther Blissett story. Sure, I like\love 80% of first-gen LangPo, but would you speak as kindly of the things you rightfully mention to be the actual correlate of the LangPo appellation -- their theory, norms, critical language, self-definition of their practice, analysis of literary history? This aspect wasn't only lackluster, but managed to salt the earth rather thoroughly with unimpeachable dogmas, and as much as I love A.K.A and Sunset Debris it wasn't worth it.

It *isn't* worth it, even. Which is why I'm halfway to goodbye poetry hello video-games, and even though I probably won't, I'll always feel a little miserably about my field of interest\study in a way I never thought I would before I discovered that the guy who wrote Tjanting has essays.


A God's mask have ye hung in front of you, ye "pure ones": into a God's mask hath your execrable coiling snake crawled.
shiver down the spine


Turbulent Velvet extrapolates.

. . .


We wake from a dream to enter, clearly, a daydream.
- Nick Piombino, 1980, as reprinted In the American Tree

I balked a bit at that last, writing about something I don't particularly understand or want to research for the sake of readers who don't particularly care. I've never acted suave with a fake ID I forget what my last name's supposed to be, all that.... So it's not by chance that I opened by asking you for correction and closed by advising you not to argue with a fool, or that mid-balk I went priggish over expertise, or that I began it around the anniversary of my resignation from the Valve.

Or that I've been thinking of Nick Piombino, who wrote discursive lyric prose decades before blogs provided a medium, who avoids fruitless debate, and who, I suspect, has sometimes been prompted towards more recognizably generic approaches.

Or that I've been reading his book, and noticing how easily this peculiar form moves between paper and browser, so that I can desire both the bound Eeksy-Peeksy and the re-clicked-through fait accompli with no hunger pangs, just a drowsy anticipation of surplus.

Or that I've been looking through my own notebooks, which, like Nick, I've mixed in promiscuously from the start, albeit without dates, not having noted them in the first place, and thinking I've prompted myself too far from those impulses, and it's time to renew promiscuity. How did Delany put it? "On the smell of old effort, new effort bloomed"?


Nick Piombino provides relevant contradicta and a gawjuss re-selection from In the American Tree.

. . .

Nothing Personal, inconclusion

Criticism being a discursive form, it's natural that readers should guess at the critic's intention. And since I didn't describe my intentions at the start, some readers guessed wrong. Not surprising at all, very much business as usual, but given what those intentions were, I'll attempt a settlement.

(Although I've always been lousy at wrapping up. I look at the rumpled wads covering the gift and hope it's the thought that counts, but when the gift itself is only a thought you really have to wonder....)

  1. No, I don't believe we should judge poems by the lives of their authors. I've denied that across all my changes of taste.

    But somewhere enabling that bendable "taste", like the wire embedded in Gumby, I suspected a thin core of hypocrisy. The experience of poetry conveyed more "person" than my preferred critical rhetoric allowed. (And, yes, it also conveys more "other-than-person" than the rhetorics of political righteousness or self-help or histrionic heroism allow. But what would be the point of arguing with people who aren't my friends?)

    And so I investigated my terms, flipping over each rock until "diction" paid off, insofar as one can describe an unattractive pale slimy creature as a payoff.

    Immersion in a writer's work creates an ephemeral social contract, each author founding a Republic of Letters in which we feel welcome or not, an aspect of poetic experience which the communally-rooted blarney of pop music criticism gets at more directly than close reading ever could. I wondered (not for the first time) if it would be possible to achieve a similar informality (creased jeans allowed) in poetics. But however I tried styling it, the admission didn't come naturally to me. Only this morning did I find a clear formulation:

    Poetry can't depend on the personal but can't avoid conveying a personality. Readers grasp that personality and put it into narratives. And there's apparently some peculiar glamor in imagining oneself the sort of person who gets put into such imaginary scenarios.

    The same uncomfortable state of affairs holds for the performing arts: Professional ethics dictate the loss of self; audiences dictate a pseudo-self back again; and finally a host of wannabes dream of jumping straight to the vices. The "depersonalizations" found in literary history might be compared to theatrical techniques like "the Method" or "the alienation effect", originally taken as ways to make the actor invisible, while in retrospect we see the usual shtick and celebrities.

    I don't mean to celebrate this process only to acknowledge it.

  2. No, I don't believe "the New York School" or "Language Poets" hold exceptional positions. (At least not more exceptional than anyone else.)

    I started from Eliot, but I could've started anywhere, with Yeats or Swinburne or Tennyson, or Byron's millefeuille of sincere insincerity, or his contemporaries' sometimes literally fraudulent tapping of the national soul, or the sweat-soaked Augustans, or the political-sexual-financial desperation of Tudor classicists. Always the risk that the Muse ain't talking, it's just ol' Virgil makin' shit up.

    No, I retraced this particular arc of the literary roundabout only because someone on the Valve had expressed a certain conception of "the New York School" and then someone else on the Valve had expressed a certain conception of "Language Poets", and I'd promised to attempt reconceptualizations.

    Message, if not legible, at least delivered. Or if not delivered, at least sent.


A Derrida reference? Quelle horreur!



Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.