Archive for September, 2013

The Threat of the Foreign: The Role of Other Nations in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry

by on Sep.05, 2013

A while back, Kent Johnson sent a link in one of the comment section to a review of Marjorie Perloff’s entry on “Avant-Garde Poetry” in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. So I picked up the encyclopedia and read through it. I think that the encyclopedia brings up questions that are essential in thinking about the relationship of American poetry to the poetries of the rest of the world, but also to my recent discussion of the role of scholarship in contemporary poetry, and the definition of poetry as a “field” that we as academics can “master.”

While Johnson commends the overall encyclopedia for included entries on other national literatures, he argues that Perloff’s entry for the term “the avant-garde” is too American-centric, that it excludes not just individual poets (such as the great poets Cesar Vallejo, Raul Zurita and Alejandra Pizarnik) but that the definition, the conceptualization of the term “avant-garde” does not account for writers that are not American or European (by which he means French, German, Russian basically, she doesn’t draw on examples from less central European countries either).

I actually think Perloff’s essay is very good in that it does what it sets out to do: it gives a short, very canonical overview of the term. It doesn’t trouble the term with movements from foreign countries because the entry is not supposed to be a theoretical re-consideration of the term “avant-garde,” but an encyclopedia entry that defines “the Field” of “the avant-garde” in a manageable way. She didn’t have too much space and she crammed it with stuff.

However, it’s exactly this “manageability” of the encyclopedia that I have a problem with, based on what I wrote a couple of days ago. The encyclopedia in itself is based on the idea of knowledge as a field you can master.

Based on this element of encyclopedic mastery, you can perhaps see why I disagree with Johnson about the inclusion of other national literatures in this encyclopedia. Of course you can’t say anything worthwhile about a whole national literature in just a little encyclopedia entry. We find out for example, that the hugely important Swedish poet Ann Jäderlund combines rhythm and image. And that the hugely influential Kim Hyesoon is a woman’s writer in the confessional mode. We don’t in other words find out anything at all about the rest of the world. Other nations are just reduced to some pointless summarizing.
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Valerie Mejer on Raul Zurita

by on Sep.03, 2013

Valerie Mejer (whose first book in English Action Books is going to publish this fall/winter) has written an evocative consideration of the great poet Raul Zurita’s work over on the Poetry Foundation’s blog:

At the end of the book Zurita’s father was as silent as the snowman, as silent as the snow that swallows the sounds that exist and those that shouldn’t. We could now say that that poet exists. His masterpieces behind him (Purgatory, Song For His Disappeared Love, Anteparadise and the amazing Zurita) prove this, but if you ask him, Zurita himself cares only about the page in white before him, it’s her that could or could not give him life. And at times the page shows up. And other times, she doesn’t. And I see with melancholy all those letters that repeat “it always starts from zero” and the letters that quote that line of Baudelaire’s: “God grant me the grace to write a couple of beautiful poems to help me feel that I’m not the worst of men, not even inferior to those I scorn.”

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Against “Macabre Poets”: Phil Hopkin’s Criticism of Rauan Klassnik, Blake Butler and Me

by on Sep.02, 2013

Over at HTMLGiant, this guy Phil Hopkins has been trolling Rauan Klassnik’s posts. Apparently one of the reason why Phil was so angry at Rauan was that he had written a negative review of Klassnik’s second book, Moon’s Jaw, and that none of the Internet journals that he sent it to wanted to publish it.

Hopkins saw this as evidence of conspiracy, but I think really the review just isn’t that thought-out, it’s more like a hatchet-job against some writers that the journals in questions have aesthetic concerns in common with. So it’s really no surprise they didn’t publish it. If Phil had looked around among more conservative journals, I’m sure he could have gotten someone to publish it.

But, I thought what the hell, lets publish it here.In the spirit of engaging with people of different points of view.

Actually the review interests me because it repeats some of the common rhetorical put-down that I’ve described in the past: this poetry is masturbatory, not public, not mature, not grown up (in fact Matthew Cooperman uses some of these in his comment to my post about Brooklyn from earlier today).
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Against "Macabre Poets": Phil Hopkin's Criticism of Rauan Klassnik, Blake Butler and Me

by on Sep.02, 2013

Over at HTMLGiant, this guy Phil Hopkins has been trolling Rauan Klassnik’s posts. Apparently one of the reason why Phil was so angry at Rauan was that he had written a negative review of Klassnik’s second book, Moon’s Jaw, and that none of the Internet journals that he sent it to wanted to publish it.

Hopkins saw this as evidence of conspiracy, but I think really the review just isn’t that thought-out, it’s more like a hatchet-job against some writers that the journals in questions have aesthetic concerns in common with. So it’s really no surprise they didn’t publish it. If Phil had looked around among more conservative journals, I’m sure he could have gotten someone to publish it.

But, I thought what the hell, lets publish it here.In the spirit of engaging with people of different points of view.

Actually the review interests me because it repeats some of the common rhetorical put-down that I’ve described in the past: this poetry is masturbatory, not public, not mature, not grown up (in fact Matthew Cooperman uses some of these in his comment to my post about Brooklyn from earlier today).
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In Defense of “Brooklyn”: The Role of Scholarship in Contemporary American Poetry (pt 1)

by on Sep.02, 2013

I have finished with my blogging for the Poetry Foundation and in a week I’m going to Sweden to finish my Sugar Book/Sockerboken (it was either Skåne or Los Angeles, I chose to go home), and after that I don’t know that I’ll be doing much more blogging.

But before I go, I feel like I should throw out some ideas about academic criticism and its role in contemporary American poetry, because that’s a topic I have thought a lot about, and I hope this might lead to some interesting discussions. I have obviously very ambivalent feelings about this subject matter. What strikes me first about a lot of scholars is that they are very eager to critique MFA programs for creating homogeneity etc, but seem totally clueless about how their own PhDs have very similar effects.
brooklyn1
*
I have written a lot about the prevalence of the rhetoric of “too much” in contemporary poetry. It is not surprising that it is critics like Steve Burt and Marjorie Perloff – critics who have actually ventured out of the ivory tower of academia to try to assess contemporary poetry – that have expressed this sentiment most consciously. They’ve seen the plague ground of the contemporary! But really, this rhetoric is incredibly pervasive in academia, and it’s just as pervasive among experimental or “avant-garde studies” professors as “traditionalist” professors.

The reason for this is very simple. Academia is based on the idea of “mastery” of a “field.” A “capacious” sense of the field, but mastery all the same (this is why the current incarnation of “the avant-garde” almost entirely coincides with the study of contemporary poetry, its’ a perfect fit, but more about that in a future post). In this case “the field of contemporary poetry.” To master this field, scholars need to have read the right texts (canonical poetry as well as secondary scholarship).
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In Defense of "Brooklyn": The Role of Scholarship in Contemporary American Poetry (pt 1)

by on Sep.02, 2013

I have finished with my blogging for the Poetry Foundation and in a week I’m going to Sweden to finish my Sugar Book/Sockerboken (it was either Skåne or Los Angeles, I chose to go home), and after that I don’t know that I’ll be doing much more blogging.

But before I go, I feel like I should throw out some ideas about academic criticism and its role in contemporary American poetry, because that’s a topic I have thought a lot about, and I hope this might lead to some interesting discussions. I have obviously very ambivalent feelings about this subject matter. What strikes me first about a lot of scholars is that they are very eager to critique MFA programs for creating homogeneity etc, but seem totally clueless about how their own PhDs have very similar effects.
brooklyn1
*
I have written a lot about the prevalence of the rhetoric of “too much” in contemporary poetry. It is not surprising that it is critics like Steve Burt and Marjorie Perloff – critics who have actually ventured out of the ivory tower of academia to try to assess contemporary poetry – that have expressed this sentiment most consciously. They’ve seen the plague ground of the contemporary! But really, this rhetoric is incredibly pervasive in academia, and it’s just as pervasive among experimental or “avant-garde studies” professors as “traditionalist” professors.

The reason for this is very simple. Academia is based on the idea of “mastery” of a “field.” A “capacious” sense of the field, but mastery all the same (this is why the current incarnation of “the avant-garde” almost entirely coincides with the study of contemporary poetry, its’ a perfect fit, but more about that in a future post). In this case “the field of contemporary poetry.” To master this field, scholars need to have read the right texts (canonical poetry as well as secondary scholarship).
Continue reading “In Defense of "Brooklyn": The Role of Scholarship in Contemporary American Poetry (pt 1)” »

20 Comments more...