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.


Anonymous said...

Safdie! Funniest straight man in poetryland, bar none.

Mentioning Tehran = not having to ever try very hard at poetry.


Anonymous said...

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. Personally I think it's great to see a thoughtful discussion related to poetics that features a diversity of opinions and ideas. Sure there may be problem areas. If you have something better or more interesting to offer than by all means do. We would all do well to ask ourselves at what point do we take to the streets and really truly put our lives on the line. No it won't be for poetry. But the practices we engage in and what those practices are in service to will certainly impact our level of discernment.

Iain said...

Patience Anon,

I'll be doing a complete reading over time. In the meantime, I've given Slow Poetry a good bit of my thinking time, and I'll be talking about my impressions as they develop "slowly". I'm really not worried about looking silly.

Feel free to jump in and illuminate how I "kinda sorta miss the point".

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is in grave danger of looking sillier than a bunch of grown poets earnestly discussing "slow poetry."