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.

1 comment:

The Smack Daddy said...

Good post, good post. I think a lot can be ciphered out from the beginning notion of this whole "kerfuffle" (makes me think of fluffy popcorn), which is that Poets can produce Products.
Can Poets really use words, language, and whatever-the-hell-else to create something so distinct that it could be worthy of Product-hood? i.e. Patentable? Seems we should be concerned with that idea before we even worry about whether or not we're overproducing it.
Maybe it's helpful to compare it against the big kerfuffle the food industry has gotten into over the patenting and controlling of seeds after the Supreme Court said corporations could start patenting living things. Once that is in place, you have to control the natural order of things, and the function of the Earth, in order to reasonably make use of your patent - you end up having to create artifice and monopoly.
If we're going with that same model of product-hood for language, what are the implications then if a Poet can reasonably lay claim to their words as "their own?" as "their product?" How many words do you need in a row before they become your own? Must you then drive out all mutations, or presence of your words in other places in order to maintain the sanctity of your product?
Maybe language can never actually attain Producthood.
Been thinking a lot about Monsanto recently, as you know, hence these thoughts. Perhaps I'm really off-base with the comparison, but I see it as nigh impossible to reasonably lay claim to most bits and relics of language.

Ok, byebye.