Thursday, July 25, 2013

how did poetry criticism get to this point where feelings have trumped concepts?

calvin bedient spills his feelings about the state of poetry in an article for the boston review entitled "against conceptualism".  it's about how this kids these days write poems using "concepts" instead of "feelings".  it's the latest, and truly one of the laziest, attempts to separate "poetry" into 2 camps pitted against one another where only one can win.  the entire premise is impossible to take seriously, but  luckily for bedient, since "concepts" are precisely what's on trial here, he need not be bothered with fleshing his own out.

bedient writes:
"back in my day, we wrote from our hearts... and damn it if we didn't even know that was a metaphor, because knowing things was for brains, and we wanted nothing to do with that".  
that may or may not be an exact quote, but it sure feels like it could be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

billy collins says something about poetry

so, Billy Collins has maybe 3 or 4 things he ever says regarding poetry, but somehow it's newsworthy every single time he says them. apparently two weeks ago, Billy Collins said (for the 14th time) that song lyrics can't be considered poetry. by the way kids, you can totally get away with saying indefensible things as long as their way too banal to ever have to defend.

though, i can't help myself from commenting this particular time, because the comments come after this interview that he gave last year. i just find it funny that the guy dismissing all song lyrics as poems readily admits to only having 37 songs on his ipod, and that he only listens to music to drown out the sounds of humanity. how was this guy ever thought of as whimsical?

where's the letter?

Kent Johnson sent me a couple links this afternoon. one of particular interest. Richard Allen writes:
I am in a unique position to comment on this development, as I am both a poet and a lawyer who practices in the area of media law from time to time. Based on Johnson’s blog post, I don’t think he should be worried… assuming the letter he says he has received actually exists.
Allen concludes, as i thought, that there's no legal precedent for defamation in this particular case. however, that doesn't mean that the Koch Estate can't make shit difficult for Kent Johnson and Richard Owens of Punch Press.

however, more people are asking the question "is the letter even real?" and still no letter has been produced. i'm still not making any assumptions for sure at this stage, but so far this seems to reinforce my suspicions that the letter doesn't exist (or rather, doesn't contain the content that we are to believe it contains).

to be clear, Richard Allen does include this update at the end of his post:
Richard Owens at Punch Press sent me a copy of the letter. Its contents, and some other information I received, have convinced me that it’s real. Owens has asked me not to comment on the contents of the letter for now, so I won’t, although there’s certainly more to be said.
so, perhaps the letter exists, but really, this is even more suspicious. quite notably absent from Allen's update is any kind of verification that the contents of the letter actually match the initial allegations.

also, i forgot to comment yesterday on this particular bit of hyperbole. this comes from John Latta's blog one day after this small press claimed to have received a letter that has yet to be produced:
Why there’s essentially no evidence of outrage forthcoming out the mouths of any of “our” “major” post-avant “playas” at such thuggery and attempt to censor: aucune idée. Toff pedigree of the careerist self-satisfy’d swell, one suspects. These days swoll’n—like a magpie—beyond all honor.
this is such a rediculously prematurely ejaculated attempt to indict the entire barely affiliated community of "post-avant" poets for not expressing immediate outrage at the utterly unsubstantiated claims of some small press.

there has been absolutely no substantiated developments that warrant any kind of outrage from anyone at this time. publish the letter, let it circulate a week or two, wait to see where people's alliances fall, then maybe you can start drawing lines. otherwise, this is just a waste of all our time.

if this letter turns out to be legit, i'm totally with Kent and Punch Press on this one. but i'm already beginning to resent this attempt to get people blame an entire loosely associated poetry aesthetic for the utterly unsubstantiated actions of a couple of (alleged) assholes. i believe "disingenuous" is the word i keep using.

more developments here and here (Kent's links).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

new Textsound

the new issue of Textsound is up! check out new work from Carla Harryman, Christine Hume, Theresa Rickloff, me (iain marshall), and lots more great michigan poets.

whole issue here.

my poem here.

Theresa's poem here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

more of Kent Johnson's antics

i've had things to say about Kent Johnson on this blog before. i frequently find the things he says infuriatingly annoying. but there's no denying that he's a master provocateur, though i suppose you could deny that that's an impressive title. regardless, when Kent speaks, i generally pay attention.

and every so often Kent does something interesting with that attention. Kent wrote an essay in the Chicago Review, which has now, i believe, been expanded into a book (forthcoming) regarding a possible alternate authorship to Frank O'Hara's poem a true account of talking to the sun at fire island.

Kent proposes that the poem was written by O'Hara's friend and fellow NY school poet, Kenneth Koch.

as usual, Kent's claim comes without hard evidence, however, there is certainly basis enough for the claim to make it an interesting thought experiment.

it's a great little poem (linked above if you haven't read it). a little background: it's no random poem that Kent has chosen to challenge the authorship of; it's a well known O'Hara poem for several reasons. first of all (as i already said) it's a great little poem, but secondly, it was discovered posthumously. thirdly, and most importantly, the poem seems to anticipate O'Hara's untimely death (O'Hara died following an accident on fire island, 1966). i don't think it's unfair to say that the poem is well-liked because of how it seems to foretell the poet's death. not that it's not a good poem, but O'Hara's work is full of great poems that don't get this much attention.

Koch read the poem as a sort of memorial 2 months after O'Hara's death. it's not hard to see how important the poem must be to O'Hara's friends. not hard to understand that, for the poet's friends, Kent is treading, somewhat carelessly, on hallowed ground. really, you'd be hard pressed to convince me that Kent isn't doing all this precisely because of the response it gets. those familiar with Kent know that there's no question too hallowed, too infuriating, too sociopathic for him to ask. but at least this time: it's interesting.

i'm certainly not sold on the idea that the poem was written by Koch, but i have gone back and read the poem as if i believed that it was authored by Koch. i was fascinated by how easily i could switch assumptions, and how those assumptions changed even the "voice" in which i was reading the poem. the poem is written in a style that could, for those familiar with both poets' work, be believably written by either Koch or O'Hara. ultimately though, (and this is just bullshit) the poem does feel like O'Hara: the line breaks, the way particular he transcribes speech, even if the tone could conceivably feel like Koch.

i can't say i would have written about this, though, if it weren't for this next development:

apparently, the Kenneth Koch Legal Estate is threatening legal action against Kent for publishing this book. what the fuck? if this is true (and i'm still somewhat skeptical for a reason i'll go into later), this is pretty seriously cowardly. first of all, the estate must know that there is no legal basis for this. it is clearly a scare tactic. and more than that really. along with knowing they don't have a legal leg to stand on, they also know Punch Press probably can't afford to defend itself. this bullying of such a small press is pretty despicable even if Kent's book is somewhat malicious (which honestly... it probably is).

here's my reason for doubting though: where's the letter? Kent rarely makes mention of correspondences that he doesn't publish at least very large chunks of. but here, we are merely told that the letter threatens "legal action". we are assured it's "unambiguous", but then why is there no direct quote? given Kent's penchant for exaggeration, i can't help but reserve judgment. show us the letter, Kent.

even though i can understand where O'Hara's friends Padgett, Berkson, Towle, and Davis might be a little put off by this, i really don't think this is worth getting all worked up over. i believe even Kent's said it's more of a thought experiment than a serious argument that Koch definitively wrote the poem. it's just ideas, people. anyway, this alleged letter is only going to end up selling more books. it's called the streisand effect, and it's a beautiful thing.


i believe this is the original argument(pdf) put forth by Kent Johnson (ignore all the Japanese names, they're all Kent). also, someone correct me if i'm wrong.

Tony Towle, a friend of both O'Hara and Koch responds
Bill Berkson's response.
still looking for Padgett's response, help me out if you can.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Silliman's backlog of comments lost forever?

[EDIT: when i wrote this post, i was under the impression that Kent's "malfeasance" comment was in regards to individual comments not being retrievable. upon rereading his comment, he was quite clear that he thinks that there's malfeasance because he views all the comments as being an integral interconnected part of Silliman's blog. i very much disagree with the accusation that there is any devious nature to Silliman's actions, but will have to address that more specifically in another blog... which sucks cause i'm pretty sick of talking about this]

first of all, everyone can calm down. few if any of Silliman's comment threads are lost forever. skip below for a list of resources that will help you recover his old comment sections. you do probably want to act quickly though.

Kent Johnson, and a few other people that he's managed to convince, are upset that Ron Silliman might have deleted all the old comment archives from his blog. he writes:
the deletion of that public record [Silliman's blog comment archive], with all its good and bad both, would be nothing short of–from an ethical and literary standpoint–a stunning instance of malfeasance.
someone should probably address this on a more well-read blog, because there is a huge misconception here. really, it's a little scary to think that anyone could possibly have been contributing comments somewhere for years under the assumption that Blogspot (or as Kent seems to think of it "Ron Silliman") would keep them forever.

archiving this amount of information takes a good bit of time and resources. why do people keep thinking that Ron Silliman needs to be putting in all this extra effort and resources into protecting your writing?

don't you keep copies of poems you send in to publishers? don't you keep copies of your side of a correspondence with someone? how could you possibly think that anyone besides you has an obligation to be archiving your own written material? especially when you're writing in a medium that's so famously ephemeral.

it's a little late now for Silliman's blog, but anyone who finds it important to archive comment sections should know that it's their own responsibility, but that it's not difficult to do at all. just subscribe to the "all comments" RSS feed on a person's blog (which you should then be backing up if it's important to you). also, on Blogspot, there's an option to have all comments on any thread you participate in sent to your email address (which you can then also back up somewhere else).

resources for recovering "lost" web content:

you can use the internet archive and the wayback machine to recover old webpages. (here's an example of an old Silliman thread with the comments still viewable using wayback). a little spotty, but you can find many of the comment threads.

also, you can use the google cache function. just press the "cache" link under any google result, or search "" on google. (example of viewable comments using google cache). google's cached pages do expire after 3 months (thanks to Steven Fama for reminding me), so be quick about grabbing stuff using this. you can get a text version of the cached results, which will make it a tiny file for saving purposes.

here is a greasemonkey script that's useful for browsing the internet using google cache (learn how to use greasemonkey here.)

find more resources for recovering old webpages here.

also, there's some likelihood that Silliman has old versions of his blog backed up, which would have all the comments in tact. i'll let everyone know if he gets back to me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

some thoughts on how to cultivate valuable discussion online

i'm sure that many people are going to walk away from Silliman's termination of his comment section with the idea that productive dialogue is just not possible on the internet. this is just not true. and if it is true for poets, then it's all our fault, not the internet's.

anyone arguing that the internet is bad for dialogue can go ahead and tell me what a better medium is for organizing 1,000+ people's ideas in real time.

it's not easy. it takes time, effort, and community cooperation (which is going to be the difficult part for poets). also, it's probably not something a blog with an unpaid staff of one can really reasonably accomplish. so it's probably not going happen on Silliman's blog without some good volunteer moderators. the Harriet blog could have done it, but they gave up for some reason, perhaps due to a lack of faith in their online users.

but it is done. valuable conversations happen online. Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog accomplishes it with hundreds of comments per post (and not just better than any solo writer's blog, but probably better than any other blog). Slash Dot and Reddit have had their ups and downs of useful large-scale discussion. there's plenty more, these are just the ones i've had direct experience over the last few years.

i can think of three things (right now) that the online poetry community has trouble with that contributes to the overall difficulty of having good discussions.

1. interface:
some of these sites that actually have good discussion are user moderated, where each comment can be given a positive or negative rating, and each user can select a negative parameter at which they'd like a comment to be hidden from them. for this to work, however, it requires a user base who truly desires to cultivate a community of varied voices, rather than a user base where each member's only desire is to be heard. you can't just downmod a comment because you disagree. this will be difficult for poets, i think. poets (online at least) tend to view a comment section as their own soapbox, issuing a strong demand to be listened to, and rarely to reciprocate.

2. banning users:
poetry bloggers are slow to ban users. this isn't entirely bad of course, valuing (or at least allowing) dissenting opinions is a necessary part of productive dialogue. poetry blogs however, have a high percentage of independent dissenters who tend to not respond to any kind of criticism themselves. these people will quickly flood the entire comment space if they are not reprimanded for some of their more obnoxious behavior.

poets are also among the whiniest people when they've been banned from something, running and crying on their blogs about how they've been censored. sorry, but obnoxiously dominating a thread with your long-winded, and only vaguely related comments on someone else's personal blog is not freedom provided by the constitution.
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: No you're not wrong.
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: You're not wrong Walter. You're just an asshole.
Walter: Okay then.
another problem with banning within the poetry community is that it's probably hard to ban people who's work you're familiar with, and may even like. for instance, ■■■■ ■■■■■■■, and ■■■■ ■■■■■ (names removed cause i'm at least trying not to be a hypocrite) are both very intelligent poets. they're productive contributors (in their own ways) to the larger poetry community, and both have uniquely important voices. however, acting the way they consistently do on any decently moderated forum would get them at least temporarily banned. whereas on poetry blogs, they are rarely banned, leading to them dominating threads to the point where no one wants to participate anymore.

3. comment navigation:
part of cultivating dialogue online is just having a user base that knows how to navigate online discussion. you can't respond to the assholes, and if you do, the results are partly your own fault. there's always going to be a few that sneak in, and you just have to ignore them. these people are called trolls, and all they do (whether it's their intent or not) is distract discussion. sometimes they offer a seemingly intelligent comment in an abrasive manner. you might respond to them calmly, hoping to quell their anger and spark a useful discussion, but the more you respond, the more everything just seems to spiral out of control. you've been trolled. you can't get a persecution complex (which is hard for poets, i know) you have to respond to the mature comments, the ones that add something, not just the abrasive controversial ones.

every single user bares at least some responsibility to cultivate useful dialogue. poets need to stop being so single minded about their own voices being heard, and start thinking about how what they're saying builds into the whole environment of conversation. saying that poets just need to develop thicker skins is just kind of boneheaded and lazy, as is calling Jessica Smith a "silly young self-righteous poet." "cultivating useful dialogue" doesn't mean we can't have heated, strongly worded conversations. it just has to have a point. it has to go somewhere.