Archive for June, 2013

Poetry is Not A Profession: A Few Thoughts on The Poem Assessor

by on Jun.13, 2013

So I went off the internet for like a day yesterday because I had sad friends scattered throughout the city and I thought I could make better use of my time in cheering them up than in sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. I was right. After a day of walks in the park, cigarettes on various fire escapes, and experiments in cooking with balsamic-truffle oil glaze and teeny tiny bowtie pasta, I settled into my room to paint and edit poems for an hour before the very reasonable hour at which I went to bed.

Which is why I woke this morning at 6 AM to read my horoscopes and check my e-mail and saw that I had been tagged or mentioned in a bunch of things across social media outlets regarding this “Poem Assessor” business.

Remember like, a year-and-a-half ago when that I Write Like thing was super popular? I just analyzed the above paragraph and it said I write like H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a cute party game for when you’re really, really bored. And the people behind I Write Like were clearly just having fun and trying to bring a little culture to the webgame table. I played it a bunch that one week it was cool, had a few laughs, and promptly forgot about it.

Yesterday I had some poems go up on Similar:Peaks::, which is one of the few things keeping me really engaged in any kind of poetry community outside of my actual close friends. This morning I learned that some of the good folks behind SP were upset because The Poetry Assessor(s) were rating poems from their site and tweeting the scores. So I logged onto twitter and I looked at the conversation and it was annoying. They gave my poem “Red Mess” a 2.5 on their scale, equivalent to that awarded to Plath’s “Crossing the River,” which they use as an example on their website. I put in another poem from the same manuscript and it scored like, a -1.8 (positive scores being “professional,” negative scores being “amateur”), and then put in poems by poets I really like and saw that most of the poems written by people I love in real life scored on the positive end of the spectrum. I was like wow, I have great taste in people if everyone I love is a Professional Poet.

The Poem Assessor uses an algorithm (described in detail here) that defines whether or not a poem is “professional” based on word choice, variety of vocabulary, sound devices, and conveyance of emotion. The study notes that professional poems are more optimistic than amateur poems, which is obviously false because every single poem by a friend I entered that got a positive score was super sad.

What’s bothersome about this is not the existence of The Poem Assessor nor the inadequacy and obvious failings of its systems (the whole point of poetry is that it’s human – now go ahead, someone, tell me about how we should let computers do it because that’s avant-garde) – poetry exists and is necessary because society requires that a measure of its humans put time and effort into exploring the interaction between the internal and external worlds, creating bodies in which a fusion of the two can exist. What irks me is this attempt to define the Professional Poem/Poet.

Here’s a lesson I learned hard and well: Poetry is not a profession. It is not a career and it is not an investment. It’s a vocation, like becoming a priest. You don’t have to give up sex thank god but you have to give up a lot of other stuff, like dignity and a solid sense of self. No one in their right mind would do it unless they had no other option. That’s why there’s a lot of sucky poetry in this realm of the “professional” – you can’t filter out insincerity with a paradigm. You have to have the blood on your hands.

Poets of the world, “Professional” and “Amateur” alike, don’t get upset about what The Assessor says. In a week we’ll all be making those paper cootie-catchers embossed with the names of poets we want to sleep with or something.

The end.





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Reviews of Lara Glenum and Sandy Florian

by on Jun.10, 2013

I read a couple of great reviews today.

Here’s Paul Cunningham on Lara Glenum’s emoticon-opera, Pop Corpse!:

The later surveying of the “meat brothel” (pp. 126-127) describes the sculpting of a variety of fake cocks. In the earliest pages, a character named Blubber Socket exclaims, “Ooo! I want me a fake cock, too!” This book of phonies and fakes—of identity-dictators and prostheses—of tailfins and those without—will leave Land-Dwellers demanding an explanation. Derrida and de Man might have never agreed on ‘poetic voice,’ but there’s no denying that the icons and “code” within this book will trigger a jarring musicality inside the mind of any reader. I can think of no better setting for these poems than a stage. Pop Corpse rapidly became one of the most challenging nights at the opera I’ve ever survived. Its perplexing emoticons, neologisms, digi-syncope, and other downright extravagant shit will leave you thinking, ‘No wonder this book has its own intermission.’

Here is Robert Savino Oventile on Sandy Florian’s Boxing the Compass:

If Sandy Florian’s novella Boxing the Compass is the answer, then the question might be: is the era of climate change spawning a specific literature? Some exploration of this question will lead us into the astonishing work of mourning Boxing the Compass is…Whatever else climate change is, it is an event in language. The extinction of myriad species of fish should make writers differently aware of the biotic referents of tropes such as “to spawn a literature.” Extinctions bring about irreversible absences. The prospect of the extinction of Homo sapiens draws language into a hurricane swirling words up and away, or down and out, from anthropic referents. What happens to words as their referents irreversibly disappear? In becoming bereft of their referents, words may kindle mourning. Within language, climate change is metamorphosing frighteningly many words into words of mourning.

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"There can be no immigrants in utopia": John Yau on Haute Surveillance

by on Jun.06, 2013

Adam’s comments about pornography below reminds me that I don’t think I ever posted a link to this wonderful review of my book Haute Surveillance by brilliant poet John Yau.


What the poets associated with “Flarf” recognize — and the literary mainstream still ignores to a large degree — is that the Internet has flattened daily life into a constantly swirling, cacophonous mosaic. Instead of extending that jarring, two-dimensional world into poems, Göransson has absorbed Frank O’Hara’s “intimate yell” and made it all his own. Haute Surveillance is a world of wounded voices.

“I have a nightmare about a girl covered with blood and when I wake up sweating my wife tells me a fairytale.”

For all the disparate information that Göransson brings swiftly and confidently into play, Haute Surveillance is not a collage. None of it feels arbitrary, which is nothing short of miraculous. At the very least, the author’s ambition was to write a new “Song of Myself” addressing these confusing, contradictory times in which we are at war, as well as to construct memorable situations without resorting to a plot or other familiar literary devices. He succeeded at both. His reasoning is simple and direct:

“Sometimes I want a room of my own, but mostly I just want a room without all these corpse-patterned wallpaper.”

Göransson’s fast-paced, present-tense writing critiques itself while moving forward, collapsing together all of discourses and vocabularies associated with the nightly news, feminism, sexual identity, Hollywood movies, science fiction, performance art, onlline pornography like fucked tube, and poetry invested in the stable lyric “I.” Bots from academia mix with bits of the street.

Haute Surveillance is written in blocks of prose, lists, and lines. The collapsing together of different discourses doesn’t stop at the literal. Goransson turns it into a book that is unclassifiable — part epic poem, part science fiction, part pornographic film, and all literature. He writes sentences that the reader has to stop and think about. This is what I found so powerful about Haute Surveillance.

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Blake Butler on Fence Books and Haute Surveillance

by on Jun.02, 2013

Blake Butler has written a column for Vice Magazine about Fence Books (and the journal), “Fence has been Reconfiguring the Literary Landscape for 15 Years.” Fence has obviously been hugely influential to contemporary poetry over the past 10-15 years.

Since 1998, Fence magazine has been independently publishing a biannual journal of prose, poetry, art, and criticism; in 2001, they began publishing several lines of innovative, ambitious books. While most magazines (this one excluded, of course) and literary journals can be dry and tedious, each issue of Fence seems to raise its own benchmark. There’s always something in there to befuddle you, to challenge the idea of what could appear on paper, to make you wonder how or why a thing was made. Fence occupies a rare place in new language, and has charged itself with the noble “mission to encourage writing that might otherwise have difficulty being recognized because it doesn’t answer to either the mainstream or to recognizable modes of experimentation.” Editor Rebecca Wolff is unique in that she doesn’t aim to control or even codify the work the press presents: the work is the work, thank God, and understanding is a product of the experience of reading, rather than a kernel to be swallowed.

Red the full thing here.

Blake also wrote a recent Vice review of my new book Haute Surveillance:

There’s an ecstatic kind of media collision at work in the body of language produced by Swedish-born Johannes Göransson. Over the course of six books of his own, as well as translations of major Swedish authors like Aase Berg and Henry Parland, he has assembled an incredibly volatile and feverish vision, somewhere between Artaud and Lars Von Trier, though one more interested in the awkwardness and orchestration of the profane than simply milking it. His latest work, Haute Surveillance, may also be his most provocative. Here Johannes has assembled a feverish and explicit set of images and ideas revolving around power, fetish, porn, media, violence, translation, punishment, performance, and aesthetics. Taking its title from a Jean Genet play of the same name, it’s kind of like a novelization of a movie about the production of a play based on Abu Ghraib, though with way more starlets and cocaine and semen.

Read the whole thing here.

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