Saturday, June 27, 2009

slopo gallery 2 and karl young

Reading a lot of things, but finally read gallery 2 of the slopo feature. Also A 2009 Note on "Notation" by Karl Young, which I somehow missed before jumping like a fast food junkie to gallery 1.

--Joe Safdie's essay, 'Empiricism and "Slow Poetry"', touches on some interesting things, but doesn't really "get into" some things as much as I'd like. It's milk, not meat, which if you want to work with reifications of metaphors (as is often done in this feature with the word "slow") then at least that means it's more environmentally friendly.

The essay's basically about how just because the past is irretrievable doesn't mean we shouldn't retrieve it and proceed as if we'd been 100% successful. Ok, I'm being stupid. This feature is wearing on me. So many of these pieces just seem like they're reactions to mischaracterizations. Safdie works with this idea that flarf is "just for fun" or "just ironic". And hey, who says you have to understand what you're reacting to to be successful. Not me.

However, it would be nice if it didn't feel like I was trying to be sold Slopo as if it were a new thing.

Safdie's article does seem to argue that if poetry isn't at all times operating out of empiricism, then it's a disservice to humanity. At one point, he seems to deride anyone who thinks that poetry can also use intuition.

--Karl Young's piece is interesting. It also contains your now obligatory dig at flarf, which still perplexes me. How did flarf become the mortal enemy of a movement aiming to create a more environmentally friendly poetics?

Why do you expect to find clear cut poetry equivalents for "fast" and "slow" food? Through a series of bizarre reifications you've come to the conclusion that flarf and conceptual poetry must be "fast" (rather than just coming to the conclusion that you don't like them, and moving on with your lives). And so to counter flarf, we need more "thoughtful" poems. Need to "think" more about what we write. People, we're poets. We all think way too much about shit that nobody cares about. There is no "fast food" equivalent in poetry. Even Billy Collins isn't the "fast food" of poetry (maybe the T.G.I. Fridays?). The fast food of poetry are more like greeting cards and advertising. Except you can't even say that advertising is ruining language like Monsanto is fucking up the food industry. It doesn't work like that just because you can make the analogy. I know we're poets, but let's try not to become too mesmerized by our own metaphorical comparisons.

Anyway, Karl Young's piece. It needed more on this statement:
In the contests between ever more greedy copyright battles to preserve the ownership of such essential items as the image and likeness of Mickey Mouse for longer than radioactive waste, and the casual sloppiness and celebration of ignorance in much of what runs under the artistic rubric of "appropriation," provision for the enhancement of shared efforts and building on what's already there seems more likely to benefit all concerned than quick grabs and dreams of immortality through eternal ownership.
We get Mickey Mouse as an example for the one side of the extreme, and nothing at all as an example for the other side, we're just supposed to dismiss everything that calls itself "appropriation". Also, he doesn't tell us where in the vast area in between these two extremes his position lies.

I mean, one of the central issues for Slo Po should be copyright. We're in aching need of a huge overhaul to our copyright laws. Our current copyright laws are a big hindrance to many aspects of any "green" movement.

It would have been interesting for Karl Young (or whoever) to lay out at least some ideas for a better copyright. Possibly connect these ideas to the real world where there are tons of people brainstorming and proposing solutions. To mention a need for revamped copyright culture and not mention Laurence Lessig and the Creative Commons seems lazy.

As it stands, the bit about copyright just seems to function to reinforce the stereotyped caricature of an "appropriating artist" that I guess I was supposed to have before reading the article.

The last half of Karl Young's piece is about recycling. My only real issue here is that it's 2009. Not that you can't talk about recycling in 2009, but let's have some acknowledgment that this is not a new issue, nor is it an issue that any particular group of poets is unique in caring about.

Also, how can you talk about "green" issues surrounding the carbon footprints of various printing techniques, recycling, etc. and completely miss talking about the Internet? I have to be fair and admit that I am reading this feature on the Internet. So, obviously it's not something the Slow Poets have decided to completely ignore. But why no real mention of it as a distribution alternative? If you think that the carbon footprint of printing is a big enough problem to devote the last half of your piece to talking about, then how can you completely miss even mentioning the Internet? This seems totally bizarre to me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Billy Collins wants poetry to be transparent

Billy Collins, like Kanye West, is often the top selling artist in his field (although in the music world that actually means something). In a recent interview he spoke on why people don't read much poetry: "It's not the public's fault. There's an awful lot of bad poetry out there. I'd say about 87 percent of the poetry in America isn't worth reading." And also said the vague statement that "Poetry should be transparent".

You might be thinking "wait, I think I read that interview a year ago". No no, he just says that every single time he's interviewed. It's basically all he ever says about poetry. One of the many reasons probably that he doesn't have a blog or give many interviews.

Now, of course he doesn't name any names, give any examples of poems he doesn't think are worth reading, or even talk about what it is he thinks "transparency" is. Which of course allows any admirer of Collins to just give up any time they come across a poem that challenges them in some way. (funny thing, it wouldn't have annoyed me if he'd said 90% of poetry isn't worth reading. Saying 87 makes it sound like "oh, yeah, I've just finished reading all poems, and the final statistic turned out to be...")

I'm wondering though, what the big difference is here between Collins statement and Kanye West's identifying as a "proud non-reader". One difference is that Kanye was only talking about himself, and he's not a big figure in the feild he was dissing. On the other hand, Collins is seen as more of a teacher and mentor (I mean, he was poet laureate), and he's telling readers not to try very hard.

Contrast this with Kanye (whatever you think of his music), who is a relentless advocate and promoter for an enormous amount of talented artists, younger and more obscure, even does stuff to promote artists that the average hip hop listener wouldn't ever have listened to. Between promoting other artists on his blog, producing for other people, and being featured on other artist's tracks, he spends more time promoting other people's work than he does his own. Say what you want about his enormous (and annoying) ego, his self obsession has nothing on Billy Collins.

Was just thinking, Billy Collin's statements give a disturbing insight into an already disturbing poem of his: Taking Emily Dickinson's Clothes Off. This is a poem about a creepy older dude (played by Collins) removing the clothing and underwear of a younger (and ridiculously better) 19th century poet. We're not told whether she wants this in any way, as Emily is not given any kind of voice or character in the poem. Also, we know from Collin's statements on poetry, that this poem cannot, in any way, be about him reading her poetry.

For instance, if it were about reading her poetry, then it would be about reading a very complex and multi-layered poet (as Dickinson is of course):

The complexity of women's undergarments
in the nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
Billy Collins' says that poetry should be accessible, "easy to enter, like a building". Which is the opposite of saying "poetry should be harsh and terrifying, like the arctic". The metaphor here paints the picture of an arctic explorer committing suicide on an iceberg. All that of course sounds similar to the experience of reading Dickinson, however, is the exact opposite of what Collins has consistently and explicitly stated that a poem should be.

And remember, this poem isn't about Emily Dickinson taking his clothes (or his head) off. This is yet another reason it can't be about reading Dickinson. In Billy Collin's view of poetry the reader shouldn't have to do anything. If it's a bad experience, it's all the poet's fault. All the reader need do is lie back and think of England, or you know, whatever the poem happens to be about.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kristin Prevallet's Slow Poetry

Kristin Prevallet writes:
Isn't the work we produce and produce, publish and publish, linked to the same treadmills of production that are ruining the planet?
No. Well, ok, in our culture it mostly is, but...

The problem with this question (and the answers to it that follow) is that, right off the bat, it assumes that there's no way for art to transcend Capitalist notions of Product. Slow Poetry tends to wholly buy into the idea that poetry is just the Product of a poet, and therefore that product is governed by the same market mechanics that govern any commodity. And therefore, it's no wonder that they have this idea that by "slowing" down the production, you become adequately transgressive.


Kristin Prevallet, in her quest for a more contemplative output, asks herself several rhetorical questions in one section of her essay. I'm going to quote them here, but answer them as if I were asking them to myself (my answers are mostly trying to show that her ideas of what's "contemplative" and "slow" are pretty arbitrary, and honestly, not very well thought out):
For whom am I writing?
For anyone who wants to read or engage on any level with my poetry.
And why?
Because I'm fascinated with language, thought, communication, the nature of perspective, the nature of learning... I want to be able to explore these things outside of at least the direct prescription of empiricism. (if poetry has taught me as much as it has, should I want to "slow" that down too?)

Very unsatisfied with the above answer.
Do I need, out of psychological necessity, to sit at a computer and hammer out words as fast as they come?
If I've never done this, yes I should. There's a lot to be learned about how one's thinking happens at various speeds.
Am I so enamored by my language that I have to display it like a peacock, flaunting the surface of language to fill up pages and pages of notebook-thoughts?
Yes, completely enamored. By not just my own language, but everyone else's too. My pages and notebooks full of thoughts and language acts are research. What other fields should limit their research, and how does that help anyone?
And then publish them?
I wouldn't publish anything that wasn't something honestly capturing my interest. Perhaps if I'm arrogant enough to think that no one can be as fascinated by the minutia of language as I am, then no, I shouldn't publish them.
Is my thinking really so magnificent that I need to churn it out, not missing a single thought bubble?
Am I so magnificent a judge that I can tell immediately what thoughts will or won't be of use to me later? By experience, I can certainly say no. I am constantly wishing I could have captured some thought or language act as it was happening.
How, ultimately, is self-expression really so different from globs of
plastic shaped into cheap toys?
As John Tipton writes, “Time to stop and think for a minute before we pick up our pencils.”

Why am I supposed to believe that Slow Poetry is more "thoughtful" than anything else? Please please please make this argument to me, someone. Why is thinking in your head more valuable and less wasteful than thinking on the page? That is a very important question to me. I think more slowly on the page, and tend to get more out of it since I can retrace my thoughts. For instance, my poetry is never a "representation" of my thoughts (nor are my blogs for that matter). "Thinking" and "writing" are too different mediums to me for me to try to accurately translate one to the other.

That's one big problem with Slow Poetry's (and this seems consistent across the feature) conception of "thinking" (which is conceived as "internal") and "poetry" (which is conceived as "external" and as "product", and for that matter, as the "pure product" of "thought"). "thought" and "writing" (or any action) are fully intertwined, inseparable, both products of the other.

And does all this talk against producing more work sound familiar (Kenny Goldsmith anyone?). And indeed, she comes to the conclusion that she shouldn't write any new poems but allow her older poems to inhabit a new conceptual space. Instead of writing poems she sets up a war protest memorial with an American flag and 3 numbers: "500,000 = the estimated number dead from depleted uranium (which they stopped counting in 2002); 93,067 = the
Iraqi death count, July 1 2008; 4,650 = U.S. soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, July 1, 2008."

Unfortunately though, she doesn't assert this relatively lame gesture (feel a little bad calling it that, but that's what I think) as poetry, in fact the grounds she was using to stage this thing asked her to write an artist's statement and she said she "hadn’t thought of the memorial as a work of art".

So, if I'm not supposed to judge this as a poem or a work of art, but as a memorial, I'm afraid that, as a memorial, it kind of sucks. I mean, we've all seen dozens upon dozens of these memorials with flags and casualty numbers. Usually, you see more, the more liberal a town you're in. These memorials unfortunately function as little more than penance for our liberal guilt. After all, the congressional majority that we liberals and self-proclaimed leftists voted into office is the force that ultimately gave its stamp of approval for the war.

A more friendly reading of this, and possibly the one I'm supposed to have is that Prevallet is refusing Capitalist notions of Product in that she is refusing to produce more of her poetry. Except, she refuses to produce new poetry that would be published in Big Bridge, and instead writes this essay that takes up the same amount of space.

Once again, I can't help here pitting Prevallet's version of Slow Poetry against Conceptual poetry. They're just so similar. Both Prevallet and Goldsmith are against this constant writing and "creating" new products. Both say we don't need more poetry. Prevallet fails because she doesn't break idea of the poem as a Product. She just creates something different, and thinks that by not calling it a poem, it's not responsible for the accusations she brings against "poems". Whereas conceptual poetry removes the poem from the world of Products by setting poetry up as something that happens between persons (a la Personism), or something the happens within the reader.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

many things

--Sadly, Shaman Drum (an independent bookstore a city away from me) is going out of business. I had heard that they were going to go non-profit, but unfortunately it looks like they're shutting down for good. Got some books from there today though: Suites by Lorca, translated by Jerome Rothenberg, and The Romance of Happy Workers by Anne Boyer.

--Read a good bit of The Romance of Happy Workers. Anne Boyer is a poet who I always find perplexingly energizing. I say that because I don't know that I've spent enough time with her work to talk confidently on why I like it so much. Particularly liking the poem Ode O... : "Who sings of viewless wings opened?/ Who manhandles the daytime with sloppy/ Quills?"

(I really have to learn how to do proper indentation in Blogger)

--Listened to 6 Feet Deep by the Gravediggaz. I've been going through Wu Tang Clan's (and affiliates') discography. There's just a daunting amount to listen to, I was trying to go through it quickly, but Raekwon, O.D.B., and Method Man's first albums were all running together in my mind. Slowing it down a bit has helped, though RZA's production is pretty distinct on 6 Feet Deep anyway.

--Made it through Gallery 1 of the Slopo feature. Kristin Prevallet's piece was particularly frustrating. I'll talk on that more tomorrow or something. As far as the poems go, it's hard to read them without immediately placing them in context of the arguments/statements made in Dale's introduction and Kristin Prevallet's piece. This may be at least slightly unfair, but it is what is. More in depth later.

--The poem Nada Gordon just posted is a necessary read.

--More great stuff from Theresa.

--also worked nine hours today in case you think I just read all day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

blogs, completeness, and "pathologos"

I've been wanting to say something about completeness. This gives me the chance. The other day, Anonymous commented on my post about Big Bridge's Slow Poetry feature:

You seem like a reasonable intelligent guy. Perhaps you should give yourself the adequate amount of time to do a complete reading of this. Then take what you find useful and leave the rest. It's obvious in your post that you kinda sorta miss the point more than once. Which does nothing but make you look silly when you comment publicly about it.
I'm not interested in writing a blog (or an anything) that is the complete and final word on anything. I'm interested in a blog that shows my thinking, as it develops over time. I'm very careful to make clear what my level of interaction with Slow Poetry has been, and to only speak from that experience. As far as that goes, I'm really not concerned with whether or not I "look silly". I'm not trying to refine an image here, I'm trying to participate in a conversation.

So many poets have this idea that language is permanent, that "good art lasts". No, Art and Language are wholly ephemeral and become irrelevant the moment the act is "complete". It's only in the recontextualizing, the engaging with, the talking about, that it becomes relevant again.

Print people tend not to know how to approach blogs. Don't realize you can make mistakes, think "aloud", say stupid things and learn from it. I shudder at the idea of working only with print. I say too many stupid things, and have too many stupid ideas to worry about filtering all of them out of my blogs/poetry. And actually, the fucking-up and "looking silly" aspects of writing/making are particularly interesting to me. I filter out plenty as is. For instance, so far, during the writing of this post, I've tapped on the keyboard during times where I was thinking and then erased these:

tellenine amnd;lkjasdf

putputputputputputputpine ie ie ipu e;lkanfn



I'm WARTY (I was trying to type "I'm wary" but somehow accidentally hit capslock and another T)



I fiddle when I think. And I think the artifact of that fiddling is interesting. It reminds me of the physical nature of thought, and the kinetics of language (something that I've heard many "school of quietude" poets say is absent from all but spoken language).

I'm wary of cutting things out of things I write. I learn a lot from the mistakes I make, get a lot of ideas from bumbling around. I'm not against editing or some shit like that. I'm no "first thought, best thought" kind of guy. I'm interested in the mechanics of the whole process. First thought, first thought. Second thought, second thought...

Martin Earl once commented to me:
don’t your think that in the end grammar will prevail over ephemera, which is the stuff of the blog?
I responded:

I do not think that grammar will prevail over "ephemera", in fact I actively try to promote an ephemeral view of grammar (in the sense that it’s always in flux). I also don’t agree that “the stuff of the blog” is particularly more ephemeral than any other language act. For instance, if you delete your blogs at Harriet, they are still stored in my RSS reader (which is in turn backed up on my hard drive) for me to access any time I want. In fact, in that the blogs are easier to traverse (easier to find desired information), blogs are somewhat less ephemeral than books. Sure, my books are still there, but since I’m rarely at my apartment, it’s as if I discard them for most of the day.
When you say “ephemera” in the print world, you’re talking about something that’s very wasteful. Whereas on the Internet, it’s just time/context specific material, which is the case with all language acts to a degree. I don’t think there is anything about the blog (or rather the Internet) which hinders the creation of more “lasting” content. Rather than use the word “ephemera”, I would, myself, describe the Internet as being geared toward “language-in-process”.
I guess though, at this point, I'm more ready to agree that ephemera is "the stuff of the blog". Or rather, that the blog is more suited than print to the already ephemeral nature of language. It's much more suited to the way I think and communicate. And looking "silly" is certainly a part of that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slow Poetry feature at Big Bridge

I am reading the Slow Poetry feature at Big Bridge. It's going to take me a little while to get through, and think through some responses. I'm actually a pretty slow reader, and tend to think about works for long periods of time. And this is part of what bothers me about SloPo's attempts to characterize the poetry and poem-making techniques that I tend to gravitate towards.

If SloPo had spent more time appealing to my white guilt and bleeding-heart liberal sensibilities, my red flags wouldn't have gone up so fast. No, but really, the initial things I heard about Slow Poetry were its desire to combat hyper-expansionist capitalist mind-sets, and I was like, fuck yeah, i'm in. But then thought, wait, what does that actually mean in practice?

This is where things fell apart. Rather than spending time outlining how Slow Poetry could swoop to the rescue of our country's miring in its increasingly unsustainable practices, in came all these bizarre accusations and characterizations of language poetry, Flarf, and conceptual poetry.

I thought, perhaps this is some new form of surrealism where you pick a random worldview and a random strain of poetics, and you have to construct a mythology where this random poetics is the mortal enemy of that worldview.

Here's an example of what I mean. On conceptual poetry Dale wrote:

Goldsmith’s taste for the unreadable can only be sustained in a culture that values expansion over fruitful production; growth over more local forms of evaluation; multidirectional vectors of meaning over meaningful and willful perceptions of the world poets inhabit.

I responded:

I think this is a pretty unfair characterization of Kenny Goldsmith's work, or at best overly simplistic. I don't mean to be overly nit-picky, I'm genuinely intrigued by SloPo. I just thought this point was worth making. I don't think that Goldsmith can be characterized as pro-expansion/production (even though he's probably said that he is). This is a guy who has said "we don't need the New Sentence, the old sentence reframed is good enough". He's said that Pound's mantra of "make it new" is no longer relevant. His whole poetics is centered around not composing new material. He actively encourages people not to buy or read his books, that having just heard about them is enough. He's a huge proponent of publishing on the internet rather than on the page. He's said that he is pro-capitalist, but at the same time, his work shows no concept of intellectual property, preferring to reuse rather than "produce".

Now, in fairness, after this, Dale removed the statements that were directed towards conceptual poetry in that particular post. However, the issues I brought up were never really answered, and this bizarre characterization of conceptual poetry generally continued.

There's plenty of other examples, such as attempts to say (by some people, not necessarily Dale) that the disassociation of words from their meanings that is supposedly happening in Language Poetry and Flarf is analogous to the disassociation of labor from its value that happens in Capitalism. I talked a little on that at the time.

Now, you may or may not be aware, Slow Poetry takes it's name from the Slow Foods movement, and other "slow" movements. This could be a problem. The biggest product of movements like this is not change, but self-righteousness. Not to say that I don't really really want to be proved wrong, but local food coops have been around for a long time, and our food industry gets more fucked up every year.

Here's the biggest reason why my poetry is better for the environment than Slow Poetry: Because I'm not under the ridiculous delusion that my poetry can help the environment. Now don't get me wrong, I'm one badass bike-riding, food growing, coop-shopping, recycling motherfucker. If you want to throw down over green-cred, you be my fucking guest, cause I will tear your shit up.

but one thing you really need to keep in mind if you want to live green is that everyone thinks you're a huge tool. Now, I know, you're thinking that that shouldn't deter you from doing what's "right". And it shouldn't (it doesn't deter me). However, you need to keep that fucking self-righteous bullshit buried deep inside you, or you will RUIN EVERYTHING.

Thinking that buying organic/slow foods can solve global food issues seems very libertarian idealist to me. Not that you too many libertarians want to see the world eat organic, but there's just this idea that the market will work itself out if we just get people to buy the right things. This is extraordinarily naive for so many reasons, and completely fails to understand the real mechanics of the problem.

And speaking of self-righteous bullshit:

Joe Safdie, a poet and critic who appears in the Slow Poetry feature, comments at the Even Slower Poetry blog (which parodies SloPo) "What a waste of time . . . products of a dying empire. Hope a lot of people don't die tomorrow in Tehran." Are you fucking kidding me? You think your poetry is helping people in Tehran? Or you think that parodying SloPo hurts the Iranian people's chances for democracy?

Keep in mind that that was a comment made on a blog, which are always ripe for frivolous hyperbole. Hopefully Safdie realizes that it was a beyond asinine thing to say. And I've said some dumbass things on blogs before. But I will be watching to see if this type of self-righteous fantasy land that Safdie's comment inhabits is a recurring theme.

words I noticed while scrolling through the Slow Poetry feature at Big Bridge

(feature can be found here)

Gallery 1:

Practicing retinal Clark
Perhaps removal
can't stop producing pencils poetry mourning
a few days fireworks
citizens gradual
edgy mid-life clay-mation formal
pushy still a forces of printmaker
correlated first lollipop, my first Wonder Woman
I saw beneath your stand-by-me rain fucking
flash red split open water
new eruptions watch social criticism
nobody's coffee everybody needs
prance weekend doubting
evident saints said

Gallery 2:

immediate strength reason damned
Sunshine hustling spasm
girly buck open mechanized
adjustable cameraman bodies
shenanigans traffic
nice subterfuge piled waist bound
talk hate president's Christmas
drive skimming fucking cuts
rescue earth century bread
paranoid same dampness
represents rationality Slow human
whatever independent unprepared Michigan
sunburnt royal supercollider

Gallery 3:

encouraged technology seems
clock rather imaginative cornerstone
evidence assuming doubt technologies
innovation dogged bloodthirsty measure
hermetically sealed boyfriends should be human
best copies distribution competition
thresholds husk shine say good
I've continued slowed simple
others head upon night
crop gift horizon irregularities
civilization maximum moonlight
function moment mercy
teaching cold hands in life on DVD
butterflies number town couldn't

Gallery 4:

slowed practice compost activism
matters flamboyant
library context sometimes sleeping
barely gunshot joke
physical seriousness
also write characteristics
Howard social meanwhile displays
paintings raw echoing
uncontrollably seemingly unmistakable
elusive Language life
everyone thinks ogres are letters
country likeness dead notable
they say vacancy because
particular film driving crackle
chemicals adolescent coming

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kanye West: proud non-reader

Kanye West's status as a "proud non-reader" sets him a good distance from the average person in America: he's comfortable with what everyone else feels really guilty about.

The print media's reaction to his statement is pretty pathetic. We're supposed to laugh it off, and think he's really stupid. I mean he said "I would never want a book's autograph". What an idiot, books can't sign autographs (if you look at the statement in context, it was a dumb pun, but certainly not the betrayal of ignorance we want to see from a proud non-reader). As we all know, books are necessary to be a successful language user. Now stop right there, and don't think any further. Completely forget about the fact that West's success is arguably primarily due to his proficiency with language.

Now, I'm a reader. Wouldn't necessarily say I'm a "proud" reader, but whatever. So, I'm not jumping behind his statement here, but let's all keep one thing in mind when thinking about this: this is a petty power struggle. This is about oratory skills (specifically rapping) vs. print writing. As writers, we're supposed to laugh at rappers "inability" to speak like we write. Their mastery of language is a threat to our mastery of language. Now, if you've ever scoffed (however internally) at a rapper for not speaking the way you write, for not following the rules of print-grammar when talking, then you're just as close-minded as West.

And yes, this is just about print reading. He was talking about books. West reads plenty of blogs, and is always very up to date with what people on the Internet are doing and saying.

Our culture is (for now) primarily centered around print for the way we pass down (force down) knowledge. Print media wants kinetic, aural, and visual ways of reading information to be seen as secondary to prose. The others are 3-dimensional, chaotic, and unpredictable. Prose is 1-dimensional, linear, ordered, and most importantly (and because of the previous reasons) it's the most controllable.

West's statement is nothing more than an artist asserting his own medium over the others. If a sculptor says he doesn't watch films, we might think of him as close-minded, but would there really be the same level of scoffing as at a rapper who "can't talk right"? Do you scoff at a musician that can't read music, but can play back anything he hears at one go? Why is this different?

We want "success" in language to mean writing only. We want rapping to be seen as a "low" art, and that's more what all this is really about. It's just a petty squabble between two mediums.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mr. lain Marshall ate with hot sauce the inner organs of fruits and vegetables

Didn't realize it was Bloomsday today. Which works out, since my plans were to bumble around Ypsi for various foods and drinks anyway. I've already eaten an indulgent breakfast and checked out someones butt, so I'm off to a good start. Actually, I've never been one for holidays, even literary (maybe especially literary) ones. (Actually, not holidays, but I do have a bizarre obsession with eating things that are in books that I like). Also, if I were celebrating Bloomsday, I'd hope I wouldn't be doing so as Leopold Bloom. Blech. Or anyone else in that book for that matter. Maybe I'll read a bit of it today though, it's been a couple years.

"Give her real immoral pleasure pondorosity ornithology wherret bobsled": a spam email title I just read.

Been so scatter brained lately. Consuming slightly less "poetry" lately, a shit ton more gangsta rap (Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A., O.D.B., Ice Cube, Tupac, Biggie, some Dr. Dre. Also, newer Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Mos Def, Eminem/D12). I've been interested in gangsta rap for a while, but lately I've been thinking about it in comparison with everything various people on the Harriet blog complain that poetry "should" be. For instance, that poetry should do more with rhyme, and meter/rhythm constructions. Gangsta rap does it. That poetry should appeal to a wider audience. Gangsta rap does. That poetry should do more with the lyrical "I". Much gangsta rap does (and much more interestingly than most lyric poetry). Martin Earl recently argued that poetry needs to be cathartic. Gangsta rap is. Gangsta rap also accomplishes this while being a thoroughly "postmodern" art movement. It uses appropriation, insincerity, chaos, nonsense, self-referentiality, explosion of the lyrical "I", suspicion of "normal" syntax, etc. It's often wildly political but slow to back any political movement. I'd argue that a large reason that middle class white America is aware of the conditions of the lower classes is because of gangsta rap. And of course, it has some problematic elements (as does most any interesting art).

I'm also reading Kathy Acker's My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Her use of the play script format is very exciting, and is really energizing my desire to make poems.

Our noise band (Miss America: the Movie) is screening our soundtrack for The Titanic tonight. It's at 8:00 at Theresa's house. If you know who that is and where that is, you can probably come. If not, sorry, I'd rather have coordinated a larger venue too. Hopefully we'll do something similar to this soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More on digital photography and reader "empowerment"

I was thinking more about Martin Earl's recent post on Harriet.

I remembered something he said that ends up being pretty ironic to his point, not sure why I didn't catch it when I read it (he's talking here about the effects of digital photography on the photography medium:
Instead of doing the work of making an image, we could “capture” hundreds and pick the “one” we wanted, deleting the rest. And that one image (the result an aleatory process) could then be altered in Photoshop to suit our inner vision of the outer world: change the sky, add clouds, ramp up the saturation, remove the undesirables, like airbrushing away an apparatchik fallen from grace.
Of course the argument here is that digital photography has made us more lazy and less thoughtful. He's arguing that analog photography "empowered" us more than digital photography (rather than the opposite, which is supposedly the general assumption). However, that airbrushing-an-apparatchik-fallen-from-grace-bit (remember this statement is in the context of Photoshop) got me thinking about a great reason why he's wrong. It's a reference to the Soviet's practice of "erasing" party members that they no longer wanted people to remember, going so far as to remove them from all photographs that they may have appeared in.

What's so lovely about this reference is that this all took place before digital photography, and before Photoshop. In trying to make his point, Earl reminds us of why he's wrong. The digital revolution was not the dawn of photo-manipulation. There's all kinds of little things you can do to falsify even analog photography.

However, what the digital revolution did bring us was this: no government can actually get away with that shit anymore (not that they won't try). The reason being that we all have access to photo-manipulation software, and a pretty large amount of people understand how it works, and what to look for in a fake. Or, even if you can't spot a 'shopped photo, we're so saturated with manipulated photos, we never take a picture at face value anymore. Especially if it seems amazing or revealing of something.

Because of digital photography and photoshop, we understand how simple it is to fool the viewer. So we approach images with a healthy amount of skepticism. That same amount of skepticism would have been just as healthy in the days of analog photography, but we were so mesmerized by what we thought the technology was doing we didn't realize how we were being fooled.

So once again, Earl is wrong when he argues that digital photography makes us less aware of how the technology works. Rather, because we're free from having to understand as many of the mechanics that go into making a camera work, we're more able to understand other very real effects of photography that we were previously less aware of.

As a sort-of-aside, this is all sort of the same reason that Wikipedia is better than other encyclopedias. No, not because it's more accurate (which it generally is, by the way), but because it creates the correct amount of skepticism that one should have when approaching any text. When reading a Wikipedia article, one generally thinks "well, this seems helpful, but didn't just some asshole somewhere write this?" This is exactly the approach one should have to Encyclopedia Britannica. Why should we care about experts? Shouldn't we care more about cited sources? Wikipedia fits more with the model of what an encyclopedia is supposed to be.

Wikipedia may, in the end, be a better example of reader empowerment than "Language" poetry. However, let's say "Language" poetry failed, which actually I think is a stupid thing to say, and not because I think it was "successful" either, but whatever, say it failed. That's no argument against the need to empower readers. I mean, for fuck's sake, did Earl really say this?:
Empowerment ran against the two thousand three hundred year old notion, first formulated by Aristotle in his Poetics, of catharsis.
Really? We can't empower people, because it's a western tradition to not empower people?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Martin Earl on the digital revolution and Barthes

Martin Earl on Harriet, The Fallacy of Rejecting Closure. Martin laments the "death" of analog photography. Essentially saying that digital photography (and I really don't think I'm putting words in his mouth here) is too democratic to be as "valuable" as analog photography. Of course, he uses this as an analogy to talk about certain 20th century literary criticism. Speaking for the masses, Earl concludes that "readers" (all or most?) don't want to be a part of the making of meaning. That reader/author meaning-model should not be democratic as he says Barthes advocates. (it's been a while, but I'm pretty sure Barthes, in The Death of the Author didn't say that the reader "should" be constructing the meaning of the text, but that she/he, in fact, does. In any case, that's what I would say.)

And I know he's using the photography thing as an analogy, but I just can't get past this: he talks about the effect digital photography is having on "the art":

the technology was gradually replacing the subject. It was no longer the look of the world that fascinated, but the look of the way a very compact and, for most, incomprehensible system had taken that look and manipulated it according to a pixilated grid and its underlying Boolean system of endless recombinations, algorithms of plusses and a minuses: an amorality of one or the other.

So, he's longing for the return of the long gone day when the medium wasn't the message. Some 12,000 years after image-making was born, we finally created the pure image making device, something that put the viewer in direct contact with the world. Only through photography were we able to view the true imagery of the Real. Photography completed the work that began with eyes; our ocular evolution was over. And then digital photography ruined it all because... uh... it's too easy. And cause... people don't have to rewind the film with that crank anymore (or whatever it's called). And now, unlike the age of analog photography, we can no longer put our full trust in the images we see.

Monday, June 1, 2009

typing a sentence over and over, erasing it if typed successfully

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