Author Archive

“Visual Fascination”: More Thoughts on the “Nearly Baroque” and the “Baroque”

by on May.08, 2014

We have had some discussion of Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article here on Montevidayo. Mostly we have been critical of the article, but I wonder if we cannot use it as a starting point for some more discussions of taste, translation and excess.
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I certainly still believe that excluding any discussion of translation, especially translation of Latin American poetry, is at best what Joyelle called “a missed opportunity” and what Lucas said indexed “a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”

As I noted, this is an article that is very much trying to come to terms with a notion of taste, of the value of restraint as a model of taste. I wrote about this matter a few days ago. What is the pedagogical value to warn against “going too far”? Or using a “nearly baroque” to set up against an over-the-top baroque? (continue reading…)

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Is the Foreigner Baroque? (Haroldo de Campos and Yoko Tawada)

by on Apr.30, 2014

In response to Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article, Lucas and Joyelle wrote posts questioning the exclusion of the foreign, and in particular the Latin American engagement with the baroque. Lucas suggested that this “nearly baroque” not only omitted the Latin American poets, but that in fact it was a way of dealing with the threat of the foreign (fully baroque).

For me this is a key issue. One of the volatile aspects of translation is that it asks us to question what might be domestic tastes and conventions. I am fond of stating that translations cause problems because they generate too many versions of too many texts by too many authors. And as we know from the “too much” trope that has become increasingly common in contemporary US poetry discussions, this excess is tightly intertwined with the idea of taste. Taste saves us from the too much, the “plague ground.” It’s in fact because of the too much that we need taste. (See for example my Ranciere post from a while back.)

As I wrote in my last post, “baroque” is a kind of tastelessness, a kind of excess. The tasteless art that is seduced by the artistic, causing it to write too much, to put too much into the writing/art.
(continue reading…)

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Is the “Baroque” Tasteless?

by on Apr.29, 2014

There has been some discussion here and on facebook about Steve Burt’s article on the “Nearly Baroque.” And not surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on this “nearly,” a word that suggests both an open-ness to this baroque, and a restraint, an an ability to control this (possible dangerous, decadent impulse). It’s “extravagant” but not *that* extravagant.

I agree with Lucas’s (and Joyelle’s) suggestion that it has to do with a defense against the foreign, that the “fully baroque” may not even be a particular foreign poetry, but a more general foreign-ness. Lucas asserts:

“The exacted inexactness of Burt’s ‘nearly baroque,’ his ‘almost rococo,’ thus indexes a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”

*
I am interested in how Burt’s “nearly” plays into a dynamics of Taste, a sense that I think is enhanced by Burt’s standing as an arbiter of taste. For isn’t the most obvious meaning of baroque in fact “tasteless”? The word was first used as a derogatory term calling attention to an excess of ornamentality (which equals crime, thanks Modernism). And this is largely how Burt uses the terms as well. With this important change: the poets he writes about are “NEARLY” baroque.

Or: NEARLY TASTELESS.
(continue reading…)

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Kim Hyesoon Trailer

by on Apr.16, 2014

Paul Cunningham made this awesome trailer for the new Kim Hyesoon book, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books):

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Corpses and Ruins: More on “Ruin Porn”

by on Apr.04, 2014

Memories
From Eva Brauns’ body snow in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass.
– Lars Noren (from Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death)

Yesterday I wrote a piece about ruin porn inspired by my visit to Detroit. It was really more about the critique/condemnation about “ruin porn,” how this critique stages a condemnation of art and art’s deformation zone, how it also stabilizes something volatile about art, and especially the image.
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I see the same condemnation/stabilization in a lot of the rhetoric around kitsch. So that Saul Friedlander condemning kitsch for its connection to Nazism is a little like condemning art as “ruin porn.” Friedlander could be talking about these Detroit pictures here:

“Here is the essence of the frisson: an overload of symbols; a baroque setting; an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing – nothing but frightfulness and the night. Unless… Unless the revelation is that of a mysterious force leading man toward irresistible destruction.”

But if it’s “porn”, how come there are no bodies in it?

Of if these pictures have bodies in them, they must certainly be corpses, right? Corpse porn?

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And Blanchot pointed out a long time ago the intimate connection between images and corpses:

“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects—absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible—something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”

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Maybe we need a “parapornographic” reading of Detroit?

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Detroit is Baroque: Ruins, Pornography, Kitsch, Pedagogy

by on Apr.03, 2014

This past weekend I went to Detroit to give a reading at the Salt and Cedar press, and it got me to thinking about “ruin porn” again, a pet topic of mine. As probably all of you know, “ruin porn” is the phrase used to condemn beautiful photographs of the ruins of Detroit (though I’ve also seen it on a local level, photographs of the ruins of South Bend at the local museum interestingly):

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For example, I found this quote in a Huffington Post article summarizing this discussion: “Some have expressed frustration at the way decline is glamorized or exploited — it’s called ruin porn for a reason — rather than seen as part of the city’s larger ills.”

Glamor is a kind of exploitation because it is so purely aesthetic; it does not pay enough attention to context. And this comes up over and over in these discussions: these photos aestheticize or fetishize or glamorize the ruins. The key point is of course: they make art out of ruins.
(continue reading…)

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Strange Tongues: Arielle Greenberg on Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon in APR

by on Apr.01, 2014

In the new issue of American Poetry Review, Arielle Greenberg has an essay on the state of translation in contemporary poetry:

“Nonetheless, as new poetry books have been arriving on my doorstep over the past couple of years, I’ve been deeply heartened to see so many weird, wild, exciting works – both modern and contemporary – in translation…”

Arielle Greenberg

Greenberg goes through some of the anxieties about translation – how she doesn’t have access to the cultural context, the original etc – but concludes that she nevertheless thinks it’s important to read foreign works in translation:

“… since many of the literature that have avant-garde American poetry originated on other soil, it behooves us to have a more complex sense of the ways in which idea and art intersect and develop across cultures and tongues…”

She then goes on to discuss Graham Foust and Samuel Fredrick’s translation of Ernst Meister, Tomaz Salamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game (translated by Sonja Kravanja), Lidija Dimkovska’s pH Neutral History (translated by Ljubica Arsovka and Peggy Reid), my translation of Aase Berg’s Mörk Materia and Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!.

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This is how Greenberg describes Dark Matter:

“Dark Matter is, as its title suggests, a relentlessly macabre collection of prose poems in sections (though certain landscapes and characters seem to melt from one into another), informed by imagery from sci-fi and horror movies and video games: black shells, glowing castles, radioactive lemurs, crystal germs. The whole book feels LCD-screen-blue in a blacklighted cavern, and in true Gothic mode, the body is itself the site of horror: “I haul myself,” the speaker with a gashed-up mouth laments in “Life Form”…

Greenberg’s method throughout is to draw connections between American and the translated poets:
(continue reading…)

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“Let me drown you in milk”: The Narrative Poetry of Gro Dahle and Dolores Dorantes

by on Mar.21, 2014

One of the great cliche conventions of 90s experimentalism was that narratives were inherently conservative. In part this came from the (justified) criticisms of the “narrative poetry” (or “Quietism”) that used to be imposed on students in most poetry writing classes. But the problem with the Quietist poems is not necessarily that they are narrative but rather that they use narrative in a boring way: I look out the window (literally or metaphorically) and see something that makes me remember and based on that memory I have some sensation of transcendence or epiphany.

These Quietist poems depend on a self-righteous sense of interiority and authenticity that allows no interesting language. You have to find your “voice” (interiority) but it’s a voice that sounds like every other quietist voice and anything interesting you might do with language will be a threat to that voice. And the narratives tend to be from behind the “window,” remembering, so it rarely feels that anything is at risk.

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(I often quote that essay by Robert MnRuhr where he uses disability theory to critique the epiphany as an ableist model of coming back together, becoming whole.)

But narrative is not the problem. Narratives are often fascinating. I remember when I was a child, my grandmother telling me stories about Swedish kings poisoning each other. Years later, I found a photograph of my grandmother dated to “Berlin, 1933” and my uncle told me that she had had dubious political sympathies back in the day. Narrative can be mysterious. “She’s full of secrets,” the little man says of Laura Palmer’s ghost in that famous Twin Peaks dream sequence (Of course in Quietism there are not supposed to be any secrets, that would be too thrilling.).
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Some of the most interesting poetry books of the past few years have been explicitly narrative: Think of Chelsey Minnis’s poems with fashionable killers in Zirconia (“… uh… I want to wear hot pants… and rest my boot on the back of a man’s neck…”) or Bad Bad; or Ronaldo Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man and how those two get muddled up in Poems of the Black Object (“So tonight, when you saw this white man, in glasses, mid-30s with an early grey mullet, lift up his Alpaca sweater to reveal the slit in his abs beneath the bloody curtain of his shirt, you said “Welcome to Brooklyn.””).

I love detective/crime novels, but I only like the first half. (continue reading…)

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Exploded Tranströmer: On Ye Mimi and Translation

by on Feb.25, 2014

The past few months I’ve been reading and re-reading the little chapbook His Days Go By the Way Her Years by the young Taiwanese poet and filmmaker Ye Mimi – and translated beautifully by Steve Bradbury and published beautifully by Anomalous Press.

You can read some of the poems here.

A few months ago, after she came back from the Hong Kong poetry festival, Aase Berg wrote to me that she had come across an amazing poet: Ye Mimi. (Apparently YM appeared with a very impressive guitar player as well.)
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That is funny because when I first read Ye Mimi what came to my mind was a somewhat controversial article Aase wrote in Expressen after Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize the other year:

I have already begun to view Tranströmer’s poetry – purely internally, in my brain – as kitsch. That makes it easier for me to communicate with it because I see kitsch as something generative: banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union. The idea of Tranströmer’s images as kitschy allows me to associate to other images, instead of getting stuck in an image mysticism which may seem chokingly water-tight.

Ye Mimi’s poems are wonderful in that way: as “banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union.” In fact they read a little like Tranströmer poems in which the metaphors flip out, go off in tangents. And a Tranströmer poem in which the tenor of the metaphor is not privileged – not over the vehicle, not over the “banal” everyday stuff (pink hoodies, telephone booths etc).

My favorite Tranströmer poem is “To Friends Behind a Border”

To Friends Behind A Border

I.
I wrote so sparsely to you. But what I couldn’t write
swelled and swelled like an old-fashioned zeppelin
and drifted at last through the night sky.

II.
Now the letter is with the censor. He turns on his lamp.
In the glow my words fly up like monkeys on grille
rattle it, become still, and bare their teeth!

III.
Read between the lines. We are going to meet in 200 years
when the microphones in the hotel walls are forgotten
and finally get to sleep, become orthoceras.

Part of what I love about this poem is how lovely and ridiculous his famous metaphors are here: the letters become monkeys (like in a Disney fantasia), the spy-microphones becomes fossils.

This element of goofy-brilliant metaphors are all over Ye Mimi’s work:


but he is bored to pieces and has to have a smoke
a ghost nods off beneath the blackboard tree in a punitive gesture the kittens are made to crouch in tummies
we are mortified at vomiting a layer of sea
the skin of which could not be whiter

(from “And All the Sweat is Left There”)

One big difference is that Ye Mimi’s work is more flippant, following the odd metaphor off in different directions, creating an effect like Exploded Tranströmer.
(continue reading…)

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The The Kristen Stewart Debates: Poetry, Taste and Mass Culture!

by on Feb.20, 2014

I’ve meant to write down a few thoughts about Kristen Stewart’s poem published in (or recited for) Marie Clarie Magazine a couple of weeks back and the ensuing controversy. I think this discussion says a lot about taste, mass culture and poetry.

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* I don’t know Kristen Stewart’s acting career very well but I saw her in a movie in which she was wonderfully paralyzed in the face. I also know that she was in the vampire movies, Twilight (which later turned into that S&M novel fan fiction).

* It’s interesting to see what kinds of people said what about KS’s poem. Marie Claire and the celebrity, mass culture magazine all seemed to repeat the line that KS herself used to introduce the poem: she said it was “embarrassing.” A celebrity sites seemed to merely repeat that word “embarrassing”. We can take that as a sign of their laziness, sure, but I think it says something else: Poetry – even though it’s supposedly “high culture” is – seen from the point of view of “mass culture” – embarrassing. Always embarrassing.
(continue reading…)

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Rachel Galvin on “Lyric Shame” and Modern Poetics

by on Feb.18, 2014

I think Ravel Galvin’s response to Cal Bedient’s essay “Against Conceptualism” is very thought-provoking. In particular, I am interested in her depiction of “lyric shame” in modern and contemporary poetics:

I’d like to add to Yankelvich’s observation by arguing that casting authorial intent as an “embarrassing indulgence” is symptomatic of the very dynamic that Gillian White identifies inLyric Shame: Producing the “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry. This embarrassment congregates around poems seen as offering abstracted, “personal” expression—particularly Romantic, Confessional, and “mainstream” poetry—belonging to what is assumed to be the transhistorical genre of lyric poetry. From the twentieth century onward, such poems have been criticized by scholars, critics, publishers, and writers for their “expressivity,” which is understood as narcissistic and often politically conservative. White tracks how being associated with lyric poetry has become a source of shame in many literary circles. It is disparaged for being monological and oppressive, for relying on a lyric first-person speaker (a coherent “I”) to guide the reader and articulate the perspective of her single subjectivity, or for offering closure. The lyric poem is accused of being so directive as to put the “author” back into “authoritarian.” White argues, however, that such lyric poetry doesn’t actually exist as a form or a genre, but rather is called into being through reading practices. She persuasively explains that the dynamics of shame, and lyric-expressive reading (nineteenth-century constructions of lyric codified as reading methods by twentieth-century critics), have combined to denigrate some poetry as “retrograde, politically conservative, self-indulgent.”

While affect studies have become fashionable across several disciplines (anthropology, psychology, literary theory), “lyric shame” has continued to thrive, and Goldsmith has brought Conceptual poetry to the White House and to The Colbert Report. At the same time, in academia, the question of whether the lyric may be considered a transhistorical genre is producing influential reflections (such as in the work of Virginia Jackson, Yopie Prins, Jonathan Culler, Meredith Martin, White). The entry for “lyric” in the new Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, written by Jackson, specifies thatsince the eighteenth century, “brevity, subjectivity, passion, and sensuality” have been associated with lyric poetry, but that “lyric” has not always named the same thing throughout history. She writes, “The story of the lyric charts the history of poetics.” The current conversation about conceptualism is part of this larger-scale history of poetics. It has struck a nerve with poets and critics alike, because we are at a moment of category fracture, when it is clear that the old terms won’t do, but we don’t have any new terms yet. Where are we to go after Hegel’s assertion that lyric poetry expresses personal feeling, and John Stuart Mill’s idea that poetry is an utterance overheard? And should poets also be activists? Commentators? Outsiders? Visionaries? Media mavens or PR wizards?

Today’s conceptualism debate is not really about constraint or procedure and their relative merits for writing poems, although that is the way Bedient’s piece leans. It is about the fraught notion of the lyric, the “lyric I,” and the possibility of emotional sincerity in art. It is predicated on polemical distinctions between sources of poetry (rational and planned, or “method” poetries versusirrational and “inspired” poetries), which all derive from a metaphysics of origin. Today’s debate once more asks the fundamental, mystifying questions, Where does poetry come from? How is it made?

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New Books from Action Books!

by on Feb.10, 2014

We have four new books from Action Books for sale now at www.actionbooks.org: Wet Land by Lucas de Lima, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer and Only Jesus Could Icefish in Summer by Abe Smith:

Wet Land by Lucas de Lima:
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“Lucas de Lima’s stunning book affected me so profoundly at all the stages of reading it, encountering it—before it was a book and afterwards, when it was. In the work of this extraordinary writer, the fragment is not an activity of form. It’s an activity of evisceration.”
– Bhanu Kapil

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon (trans. Don Mee Choi):
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“Her poems are not ironic. They are direct, deliberately grotesque, theatrical, unsettling, excessive, visceral and somatic. This is feminist surrealism loaded with shifting, playful linguistics that both defile and defy traditional roles for women.”
– Pam Brown

Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer (various translators):
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“Valerie Mejer keeps writing poems that, in their disconsolate perplexity, disclose a sweeping prospect in which biography, landscape, memory and dream erase their respective margins, making clear to us that what we come to call existence is simply a modality in which we claim our right to weakness, defeat, hemorrhage, because only through radical vulnerably can the urgency of love arise.”
– Raúl Zurita

Only Jesus Could Icefish in Summer by Abraham Smith
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“Abraham Smith carries greatness like a splinter in the lining of the heart. He carries it like a poison drunk up in infancy, a bone shard that traveled from a smashed rib or a flint of exploitation that was planted there by a bad friend or a wasted economic system. Yet music pours from Smith like blood, cheap wine, car-radio and bird song. Abe is an ecstatic, standing outside himself and singing to himself, the whole pulling-apart yet encapsulated pageant of Keats’ Nightingale played out in the person of one poet.”
– Joyelle McSweeney

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Publishers Weekly on Valerie Mejer, Rain of the Future

by on Feb.06, 2014

Publisher’s Weekly on the new Action Books book, Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer:

“Things brought together by violent chance/ that could be stitched-up with a word” astutely describes the latest from Mexico City–born Mejer. In this collection of translations edited by Wright, reality and dream are carefully stitched to form a different fabric of sense: “I have a chest broken as a broken bone/ I have a home broken as a broken hand/ I have a bird broken as a broken chest/ I have a girl broken like a broken pencil// And no one gives me assurances because no one can.” These dreamscapes, infused with nightmare throughout the book’s four sections, subvert symbol and sign to reestablish new meaning—some in tight lyrics (“Today the roofs wear water./ Tomorrow I will have died:/ This is the rain of the future,/ humidity that returns to the country of eyes”), others in short prose (“But a nightmare is a single mare in the night or the night turned mare. Here they breed and a giant trembles in all of his leaves. The next day was as tall. The next day was like a son, even taller”). Andre Breton famously wrote “Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all”—Mejer convulses steady as a beating heart. (Feb.)

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