Sunday, April 26, 2009

hu man

For some reason, I've been having trouble finishing blog posts lately. This is late coming I suppose, but still relevant.

In his post on Audience, Seth Abramson writes:

For myself, when I see something human in a poem I know that it came from a human place and a human motivation, and as an active and imaginative reader who embraces negative capability I can and am willing to go wherever the writer wants to take me (provided I trust the authority of their voice; trusting the authority of their vision is not paramount to me). But when I read a poem and can detect nothing human in its construction--when mastery has clearly been divorced from a primal need for what is on the inside to be seen by someone somewhere on the outside--I recoil. It's that simple: I recoil. In (for instance) Ron Silliman's best poems, I see something human, and I love them dearly for it. In his less successful ones, I don't see this, and I remain unaffected and disinterested.
I swear this is becoming an epidemic. Joseph Hutchison has said that there is something "unhuman" about Flarf and conceptual poetry; Henry Gould has said (somewhere) that poetry should remain "rooted" in the "human voice"; the other day, Don Share quoted Jim Powell saying that contemporary American poetry "is essentially adolescent. Its concerns never really get past that personal subjectivity. Aristotle would say it's not even human." [and since I began writing this post, Johannes Göransson has made reference to the editors of American Hybrid employing the term "human" to refer to what I guess is supposed to be the opposite of "nonsense"]

What the fuck people?

I've been meaning to blog about this for a little while, but I figured I'd approach some of these people and try to figure out where they were coming from. Hutchison responded to some of my concerns, we had a few arguments, but he never responded to my problems with the "human" comments. Seth responded with something that didn't quite sound as if he read the question, deleted it, and then disabled comments on that thread. Maybe my question wasn't clear enough, or maybe something else.

I'm trying to give people the benefit of the doubt here that what they're trying to say isn't as stupid as it sounds. I would really love for someone to explain to me what it is that they mean by "human". What attributes do some possess that makes them more human than others. How is Flarf not human? Does this really not sound stupid to people?

When I hear "poetry should remain rooted in the human voice", I hear something like: "poetry should remain rooted in cellular respiration" OR "People who don't have voices, shouldn't write poetry". In the end, my best guess is that he means that spoken language is "pure" language and everything else is a bastardization. That writing imitates speech, and has no value outside of it's ability to emulate the spoken word. Weird.


For myself, when I see something unhuman in a poem I become fascinated by such an anomaly.

For myself, when I see something porcupine in a poem I know that it came from a porcupine place and a porcupine motivation.


As I said, I want to give this the benefit of the doubt, but with this I can't quite get anywhere if I do that. For myself, when I see something stupid in a blog post, I assume I'm missing something.

A list of

Things it sounds like when you say "But when I read a poem and can detect nothing human in its construction--when mastery has clearly been divorced from a primal need for what is on the inside to be seen by someone somewhere on the outside--I recoil. It's that simple: I recoil":

-it sounds like you are putting certain human attributes into categories, one category ("human") holding things like "feelings"/"emotions" and "primal needs", and another unnamed "unhuman" category containing "mastery", being "analytical", and "not wanting people to see things that are inside of you".

-it sounds like the word "human" is being used to just mean that you read poems to find things that you identify with in the poet. If you don't identify with the poet, you recoil.

-it essentially just sounds like you're unwilling to engage with things you don't understand.

-it also sounds wholly narcissistic and masturbatory.

Most people can find something human in the stars in the sky, in clouds, in splatters of ink, so if you can't find something human in a poem: you're doing it wrong.

very interesting to me is that Seth ends the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this post with: "Still, what is human is human and (as Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography) I sometimes do feel as though I know it when I see it."

So that's kind of scary. With this approach, a reader will never learn to value the humanity he does not immediately "know when he sees it" and identify with.

For myself, I've never encountered any poem that couldn't be considered human. In fact, I tend to look for poems that I don't immediately identify with. I don't know about anyone else, but I tend to assume that my personal experience is not equal to the human experience as a "whole". I assume that there are hordes of people out there who I can't immediately identify with, whose approach to life, to poetry, to whatever is wholly perplexing to me. These are things I'm interested in, things I want to encounter and learn about.

talking about Kenny Goldsmith and Flarf, just cause they are the ones that tend to get mentioned the most as not "human". I think I'd rather be more specific than just "Flarf", but this is about as general as the attacks are, and honestly, since I can't afford to buy a lot of new books, my knowledge of the individual flarf poets over time is much less than I would like.

In Kenny Goldsmith's poetry, I see more passion for life than I see in most other contemporary poetry. I very much relate the love and need to engage with life that his work portrays to the same that I find in Whitman. And really, the pleasure and intense energy he brings to the dull, the boring, and the monotonous is something Whitman only writes "about". Goldsmith acts it out. How is it not human?

In Flarf. Despite whatever repelling elements I first encountered reading flarf poems, the more I read the more I find the most sober, honest response to the contemporary "language experience" of any other poetry. I say that partly because I know it's the opposite experience of flarf's "opponents" (sorry to even use that term), and partly because I do honestly experience flarf in this way. Aesthetically yes, it is the least "sober" and the least "honest" poetry every written. But I see the language of my daily life actually being engaged with. It is honest in its dishonesty, and wholly sober in its drunkenness. The most offensive thing about flarf really seems to be that it forces its reader to face parts of what is "human" that we're used to seeing hidden with poetry.

So in that it is human to run from the parts of reality that are discusting, and to create clean escapist fantasies to believe in, then yes, perhaps Flarf is not human.

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