Archive for August, 2011

Tony Hoagland on the "Strange" Influence of the New York School

by on Aug.19, 2011

I got the new issue of The Writers’ Chronicle yesterday and was not surprised to see Tony Hoagland once again get on the bully pit denouncing the insubstantiality of “youngish” writers (his term, not mine) in the essay “Blame it On Rio: The Strange Legacy of New York School Poetics: An Evolutionary Story of Delight and Dissipation.”

This article adds to his attack by creating a *lineage” for the current state of affairs, and that lineage begins with The New York School, and in particular Frank O’Hara. I think Hoagland is actually kind of perceptive when he points out that O’Hara might be the most influential poet right now because of his “sociability, associative speed, a love of perceptual and social detail, the affection of scatterbraineness, an intimate voice of self-deprecation and badinage, dazzling offhand abstract asides…”
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The Sookie Stackhouse Anthology

by on Aug.18, 2011

Pam from True Blood

All the authorities who write about what [folk music] is and what it should be, when they say keep it simple, that it should easily be understood—folk music is the only music where it isn’t simple. It’s weird…Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes about from legends, Bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death.   — Bob Dylan

I’ve been watching season 4 of one of my favorite TV shows at the moment, True Blood, and I’ve also been re-listening to Harry Smith’s seminal Anthology of American Folk Music, very possibly the best complication of songs ever put together in the States, and I can’t help but see one as haunting the other. Unlike, say, Friday Night Lights, which gives the viewer an earnest portrayal of “the south” (or at least Texas), with its quotidian vision of small town life, a vision that is clearly trying to give us a sense that this is an authentic world we are watching, with real-life problems, both the Smith anthology and True Blood revel in the more grotesque notions about the south. The south they present is spectral and excessive and gargoylean. It’s not a place so much as a fever dream of images and narratives.
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Strategies not factions, microclimates not cliques, and enough already with the churlishness.

by on Aug.17, 2011

My basic beef with the factions discussion is twofold: 1. poetry isn’t a finite territory. We don’t set out in wagon trains for the land known as Poetry, we aren’t hopped up on manifest (murderfest) destiny. Nor do we divide material resources among the people, or legislate their affairs in the most direct fashion. We have wiggle room. We have room to continue down an unproductive route, try something implausible, or otherwise fuck it up.

2. We’re talking about two different things when we say faction or camp or clique. We mean both the poems that fall under the faction’s heading and the poets who participate therein. Poetry is a set of strategies, and the poems are products of those strategies. The poets are the lucky humans that have so many strategies to choose from, and when a poet ends up in a group of poets pursuing similar strategies, a great (or pissy) little micro-climate forms. This can happen in real time party-like fashion, or disconnected over decades. You can be in a big microclimate like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, or a small one like Gurlesque. You can be in a microclimate that pronounces itself simply climate, and you might even believe that what you’re doing is simply and only poetry, but that takes an awful lot of squinting and fudging, and a lot of us are very tired of how homogenous your strategists appear. (continue reading…)

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Factionalism #2: Influence, Affect, Mapping

by on Aug.17, 2011

I’m going to write a response that maybe will respond to the comments to my inquiry about the anxiety about “factionalism.”

As many of the commentators noted, discussions about groups inevitably has to do with ideas about individuals. Groups threaten our sense of the autonomous individual, that sovereign, rational figure who makes choices. The group has connotations of “group-think.” As if by aligning yourself with a group hinders your ability to think for yourself. Turns you into a “zombie” etc.

It’s remarkable how that idea mirrors in many ways various “groups'” idea of themselves as thinkers because they are outside of a thoughtless “mainstream.” See Language Poets, Punk rock scenes etc. And most of all, see Clement Greenberg, whose “avant-garde” was “avant-garde” precisely in that it remained outside of capitalism, in its own little community, offering “critiques” or “subversions” of the mainstream culture.

Of course, poetry has for a long time positioned itself as “outside” of the mainstream, mass culture. That’s as true about the MFA “mainstream” poetics (I’m using these terms very provisionally) as any avant-garde. “We care about language, mass culture is excessive” tends to be a common line of thought amongst both “experimentalists” and “quietists” (again, these terms are provisional).

What’s at stake in a lot of these discussions seems to be the sovereign, autonomous individual. It seems to have to do with a model of agency. Tony Hoagland fears the “skittery” poets and poets who are too influenced by Dean Young because they seem indistinct to him (their poetry is indistinct, they are indistinct). He does not fear language poets (anymore). Why? Because they now have a hierarchy and “great poets” like Lynn Hejinian. He does not fear Dean Young himself, in fact thinks he is a master – because he is a master. It’s the copies, the counterfeits, the influenced, the group must be castigated. And for some reason his copies becoming aligned with mass culture – they are “of the moment,” fashion victims, ephemeral.
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Mark Wallace on Factionalism

by on Aug.17, 2011

I google searched for other discussions about factionalism in american poetry and came upon Mark Wallace’s post from a long time ago:

“There have been now about fifteen years of claims that the distinction between so-called “mainstream” and “avant garde” literatures are increasingly irrelevant and/or old-fashioned. And in fact the contemporary poetic landscape shows that to be true. But that’s not because poetry exists in any greater state of unity than before. Just the opposite: probably we have more differing claims than ever regarding the value of contemporary poetry. The American Hybrid and Shepherd’s anthologies represent not a new middle ground but instead posit specific schools of thought that oppose themselves to other schools of thought.”

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Bolano's Blood Meridian

by on Aug.15, 2011

from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I’ve been reading Between Parentheses, Bolano’s book of essays and nonfiction pieces. Bolano is definitely a critic in the Walter Pater mode: just as, say, Pater’s famous essay on the Mona Lisa could easily be read as a Baudelaire-influenced prose poem, Bolano’s reviews are not so much “critiques” as a kind of aesthetic response of their own.

Criticism as Art. Or: Art messily spawning more Art.

One of my favorite pieces is his review of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. (Evidently, McCarthy and James Ellroy were the two American writers Bolano respected most. Both of them haunt the margins of 2666. And McCarthy and Bolano have another similarity too: they’re both Dionysian though they wear the mask of Apollo.)

Here’s the last part of the review:

Blood Meridian is a novel about place, about the landscape of Texas and Chihuahua and Sonora; a kind of anti-pastoral novel in which the landscape looms in its leading role, imposingly—truly the new world, silent and paradigmatic and hideous, with room for everything except human beings. It could be said that the landscape of Blood Meridian is a landscape out of de Sade, a thirsty and indifferent landscape ruled by strange laws involving pain and anesthesia, the laws by which time often manifests itself…

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Question: What's the Deal with "Factionalism" in American Poetry

by on Aug.15, 2011

I see a lot of criticism of what apparently a lot of people see as a problem of “factionalism” in American poetry. There are too many groups – “tribes,” “camps,” “movements,” “cliques” etc – in American poetry. What’s the problem with this? What’s the alternative? Why is it that this criticism is so pervasive? How much of this goes back to the cold-war two-camp model of the 1960s “anthology wars”? Is “American Hybrid” (an establishment based on a model of compromise) the only solution? Is it even a solution? Do we want a solution?

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On Proliferation, a third helping (or, the pleasure of the search and the gesture)

by on Aug.12, 2011

Mole Hand

Maybe (and I’m sure it has been said before) poetry proliferates exactly because of and in spite of its interaction with silences, boundaries not really there except they are drawn by some hand or eye or ear, by perceived absence. I always think poetry describes absence by the presence of the missing, the chalkline often referenced in this webspace. Poetry exists alongside silence, the differences between persons, the necessity to communicate, the inability to speak, to know ahead of time what one means to say, to elaborate after the time has passed or in absence/death.
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The "Corpse Language" of Geechie Wiley, Ezra Pound and HP Lovecraft (or The Necro-Media of the Image)

by on Aug.12, 2011

I’m going to return to some familiar themes, go back to my previous couple of posts about the death of poetry, plague stages and Art’s saturation. And I’d also like to again talk about the common trope of “accessibility” and “difficulty” in contemporary poetry and how the “gothic plague stages” (of Herzog, Aase Berg, PJ Harvey and others) totally don’t fit into this model.

In a comment to my last post, James made the good observation that it makes perfect sense for PJ Harvey to have invoked old-time American music in her vampirical, gothic phase of art’s saturation and masks (“Down By The Water”) because a lot of this old-time music is very gothic and perhaps even vampire-like.

Both James and I love this song by Geechie Wiley, “Last Kind Words”:

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Art is of the Animal: Tori Amos & the Breastfeeding Piglet

by on Aug.11, 2011

If To Bring You My Love was the album that overwhelmed and saturated PJ Harvey by turning the musician into a dramatic vessel for art, it was Boys for Pele that took Tori Amos’ mediumicity to new lows and heights beyond theatricality. Staged in the Gothic south, the album’s artwork unravels its own staginess.  While one photograph depicts Amos in a rocking chair with a gun in her lap, dead cocks at her side, and snakes slithering on a deck, in the enclosed booklet Amos accidentally suckles a piglet as per an interview:

“Um, that day, the little critter was 4 days old. And he was with me for hours. And was scared, and hungry, and just kind of fell right in on there.”

In the same interview Amos jokes about “nurturing the non-kosher” and explains the photo as a reclamation of shame.  In another interview, she recalls a childhood memory of her father covering her eyes before another woman’s exposed breastfeeding.  If it’s clear that the photo thus responds to the ways in which women’s bodies are estranged and debased, the piglet attached to Amos’ breast exceeds identity as an interpretive frame.  Identity, I think, is just what the photo ends up evacuating (along with any possibility of a mask).  As a disorientation of the “Madonna and Child,” the image achieves its sacred glow precisely through profanation.  In the piglet figured as Jesus, we see an improperly Christian separation of life–an unthinkable and unnamable cross-species encounter that awes us because of the nonhuman infant it exalts.

While elevating the piglet religiously, however, the photo reduces and confuses the porcine and human at the level of flesh.  This posthumanism, as it were, lies in the sudden conviviality of bodies opening up to each other:  Amos herself sings in the album’s “Blood Roses,” “Sometimes you’re nothing but meat.”  Sometimes, in other words, art emerges as the accidental scene of authenticity–of an act that spills through its subjects, spills subjects into each other, spills over the art-frame.  The authentic act thus erupts as a matter of bodily matter, or unrestrained and unpredictable touch, taste, milk, blood, flow:  a totally undifferentiating sensation.

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Some Thoughts on Planking

by on Aug.11, 2011

Planking has been attacked for being dangerous, culturally insensitive, and just plain stupid. In their warnings, rants, and denunciations, the media, both mass and social, have tried to endow the craze with some of sort of cultural significance, but so far they have thoroughly missed the mark. One death and a few arrests is hardly enough to label the activity dangerous. On account of cultural insensitivity, it has been argued that planking, in both name and appearance, too closely resembles the particular way slaves used to be stowed into the cargo holds of ships for the transatlantic journey. I’d like to imagine that somehow all the white plankers function as unwitting participants in a massive re-enactment of the slave voyage, but for the most part, nobody’s paying much attention to this argument.
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Foucault's dandy and some thoughts on modern poetry

by on Aug.11, 2011



The dandy as philosopher: It is will known that in the last decade of his life, Foucault moved away from attempts to describe power as simply normalizing and repressive and towards a notion of power that could be seen as creative, stimulating, constructivist. A form of power related to his notion of “the care of the self.” At its most radical, the “care of the self” can be seen as a continual and systematic experimentation upon the self.

Foucault: “From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art.” But this isn’t a redrawing of the existentialist map. Foucault, unlike Sartre, does not dilute his insights with the concept of authenticity. Rather, for Foucault there can be no appeal toward an authentic self (no matter how we situate that authenticity, be it Freudian, Marxist, etc.) and no final appeal to the sciences (economics, psychology, sociology, etc.). All we have, and all we can ever have, are different forms of fiction.
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Out of Nothing at All: Non-Diegetic Truth and Influence

by on Aug.10, 2011

[the above image is a clickable link to a trailer for DAN HOY’S STANLEY KUBRICK’S 2001 — couldn’t get the video embed to work for this for some reason]

I’ve been silent on Montevidayo for several weeks while attending to the coming apocalypse. Now that the apocalypse is finally coming all over our faces, I’m free to re-dematerialize and offer up some digital artifacts for the world we love to hate on. One of the projects I’ve been working on is a remake of Kubrick’s 2001. By ‘remake’ I mean I’m swapping out all the non-diegetic tracks with tracks that bore me less but still attain the kind of non-diegetic heights that Kubrick was going for (or that I would go for, whatever). I decided to do this after I realized I rip off Kubrick all the time anyway, specifically his use of text as interruption (see his terrifying use of banal title cards like ‘WEDNESDAY’ in The Shining) and his tonal approach, which I would characterize as a kind of patient impatience. I realized this around the same time I realized Gasper Noé, whom I adore (despite limited exposure to his work), is another Kubrick ripper-offer. For reference and enjoyment, here are the opening credits to his Enter the Void:
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