Sunday, March 29, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
In response to discussion (surrounding Travis' Nichols recent post) on whether or not poetry is dead (or dying):
Dead is certainly the wrong word to use (portrait painting, for instance, is obsolete, but not "dead"). And it's not poetry that seems to be becoming obsolete, it's just poets. Poetry is thriving.
And let's be clear: we're just talking about print poetry. I mean, I can hardly throw a book of obsolete poems toward the garbage without hitting someone who either does Hip-Hop, slam, talks in spontaneous haiku, writes lyrics, participates in the almost liturgical word games that happen constantly on message boards , or posts their emo poetry to their myspace, livejournal, or deviantart page. Sure, no one reads poetry (in the traditional sense), but more people are participating in poetry than ever before.
It seems odd that we'd assume that the decline of print means very much for poetry in general. I mean, for prose yes, prose owes its current popularity largely to the printing press, but poetry was around for probably thousands of years before even writing existed. The printing press had a good run, short in the big scheme of things, but, like the oil painting, I'm sure it will be around long after we really need it. Hell, books of poems will probably still be real popular at the RenFest in a few hundred.
Or who knows, maybe society will collapse in a year or two, and we can shout poems to each other over the rubble of our former America. Whatever the future, we can be pretty sure that poetry will last far after the paperback has become an antique.
On another note, I wonder what the findings of this study mean for Bill Knott's formulation of TAPP (The American Poetry Public). Knott's formulation of TAPP is meant to be a reminder to poets to play to their audience. We're supposed to believe that the measly amount of sales that it takes to put someone on a poetry bestsellers list is in some way indicative of how "accessible" they are. But how can we ignore that TAPP (as far as on Bill Knott's terms it only includes print poetry) is practically nobody. In light of this article, how can people continue to argue that poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver are in any way "accessible".
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I am talking, literally, about visual-kinetic reading-space.
I essentially said that, whereas the reading of prose happens in just one dimension, the reading of a list often happens in four. (print poetry happens in two, for the most part).
Prose moves along from left to right and then down to repeat, so you could say that it happens two dimensionally. And you wouldn't be wrong, but in a way, we're not "supposed" to notice the second dimension. We're supposed to move on to the next line as if it seamlessly connected to the last. Prose is not composed in lines that stack up on each other; it is composed as one continuous line, and the margins force it into lines.
Poetry is composed in lines which stack, so poetry happens in two dimensions.
--First dimension: The left to right reading of most Western literary forms.
--Second dimension: Upward and downward reading. Poetry tends to only happen downward in this dimension, and sequentially. Lists on the other hand, are read upward and downward, both sequentially and non-sequentially.
--Third dimension: This dimension is also what I meant by "depth". The first, second, and fourth dimensions are literal reading dimensions, the third is more of a stretch. More of a simulated third dimension. Any item on a list (particularly on the Internet) can lead to another list. A list of tags leads to a list of content. An item on a list of blogs leads to a list of posts. This is depth. The reader moves further into the list, rather than around on the same plane of reading. Also the reader is often aware that items could be arranged in different orders (different perspectives).
--Fourth dimension: Since I am talking about literal reading space, this is the time dimension. Many lists have changing time-specific content. We don't tend to think of prose or poetry as objects in flux, whereas we do with many forms of lists. Lists are always changing, items taken away or added to them. The list of arriving flights at an airport, the Top 40, lists of sports stats, Craigslist. We check up on these lists for time-sensitive updates.
When I say "poetry", "prose", or "the list" I don't mean to suggest that I believe in these as absolute divisions. I'm just trying to identify the reading mechanics that are associated with these forms as we've constructed them.
In fact, I'm mostly arguing that we should expand how we think of reading poetry to include the vast array of mechanics usually associated with lists. Some say certain forms of poetry are too "difficult" for "average" readers. Only, the average Internet user must be employ diverse language navigation techniques, and multi-spacial reading in order to just use the Internet. I'd argue that if you can use the Internet, you can probably approach most Language poetry.
And there are certainly numerous examples where the mechanics normally associated with the list are utilized in poetry:
Rachel Blau-DuPlessis' project Drafts is one example of a work that occupies, at times, the 3rd and 4th dimensions. Occupying the 4th in that the pieces are called Drafts, telling us that we are not to approach these poems as stationary objects. And with Draft, Unnumbered: Précis we are taken "deeper" (3rd dimension) as the various titles of the previous Drafts are expanded into more sections.
Walt Whitman continuously updated Leaves of Grass, publishing the same book over and over, taking out some poems, and adding many others throughout his entire life. Some people have preferances as to which edition is the best. I think it is necessary to view the book as the entire life process of its various publications.
Ted Berrigan's work certainly occupies all four dimensions, as he too, changed the content of his books throughout his career. Also, many times, certain lines from other poems are brought back, and "expanded" into their own poems.
Tao Lin's book "you are a little bit happier than i am" begins with the table of contents, only it appears to be its own poem holding the title of the book. Each poem in the book functions as an expansion of each line in the opening poem.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
The Internet has changed the way we read.
If prose was the primary literary form of print, the List, via the Internet, has become the primary form of literature that we consume on a daily basis. The reason for this is that the List is (and always has been really) the form for navigation of language (tables of contents, indexes, glossaries etc.).
We need a list of tabs and windows we have open; we need a list of sites we've visited, and a list of favorite sites; Google generates lists of relevant content; blogs are listed in my RSS reader, which lead me to another list (of posts); comments come in lists; there are lists of tags to lead you to more lists of content; The most popular sites are list-oriented; Your facebook page has a list of your friends which takes you to other lists (interests, activities, their friends, lists of comments); The most popular content is lists (the 20 things list that was going around, top 10 lists are pretty much the most popular content on web 2.0 sites [another list-oriented style site], Ron Silliman's link-list that he provides every week is probably the most read poetry blog post).
Even prose, when it does happen has begun to take on various forms of the list. This is because Internet users approach reading text on the Internet very differently than they approach it on the page. People read even text as if it were a list. Paragraphs now tend to be approached as items on a list. Writers who realize this tend to structure their paragraphs entirely differently than one would on a page. Paragraphs tend to be shorter, and present one solid idea, before indenting again.
The article I just linked to seems to view this as a negative thing, as does Andrew Keen and many others. I don't really see the need to put a "positive" or "negative" spin on it though. It's "good" to be aware of how reading happens in various mediums.
In fact, I think that the way readers approach reading on the Internet is very similar to the often "4 dimensional" reading experience offered by certain 20th century poetry.
Other random thoughts about lists:
--Lists may be the very first "literature". Most written language systems evolved out of written number systems, which were first used for making lists of crops, livestock, various possessions etc.
--Lists have been employed in poetry for a long time. Much pre-literate poetry revolves around the repetition of certain structures (not just rhythmic and rhyme structures but there is plenty of pre-literate poems where every "line" begins with the same opening words) , forming sorts of lists.
--lists are not always assumed to be complete, whereas usually poems are.
--lists are "about", not just the items on the list, but their organization too. (alphabetical [forwards or backwards], numerical [forwards or backwards], order of importance, order of "first appearance", chronological order)
--lists have both more linear and non-linear capacity than, say, prose. For instance, in prose, the lines are fractured by the margins, where as lists (on the Internet), extend downwards perhaps infinitely. However, lists are often not read in linear fashion. Items are scanned for both linear progression, and for similarities between non-adjacent items (or just for one or more desired items).
--when approaching a list, the reader does not assume a particular (or even only one) connection between items. The reader knows he must, not only read the items on the list, but also infer many forms of connections between these items. (yet somehow, if the poet expects the poetry reader to do this, she is somehow being "too difficult").
--Lists are read multidirectionally. Traditional "reading" is used, but also scanning. Reading happens across, down, up, and even "through" (the "depth" possibilities I mentioned before).
--The presence of numbers on pages of a book make any page an item on a numbered list.
--Check out Wikipedia's list of Wikipedia lists.
--Lists have infinite "depth" possibilities ("traditional" writing rarely goes deeper than a first parenthetical). Any item on a list can (and often does) spawn its own list.
--any written poem (excluding prose poems) invokes the list on some level. Prose runs in one line (we're not supposed to think of the line breaks as "real"), whereas poetry is broken into list-like partitions of breathes, ideas, metrical completions, rhymes, etc.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
1. "reliance on buzzwords" (think: absence, abjection, the body, ellipsis, etc.)
2. "distrust of order" (as both theme and compositional principle)
3. "distrust of linearity and having a point" (call it Ashberying)
4. "anxiety over what words mean" (or, I'd add, the pose of anxiety)
5. "romantic bluster" (think Hart Crane on a bad day)
6. "imprecision" (I bet a comparison of contemporary poetic syntax and that of Swinburne would be instructive)
7. "sympathy for small critters" (I think this one's pretty self-explanatory)
I have a problem with this list on a few levels.
The list fails to get at the real issue here, It fails to pinpoint the problem that is behind any cliche poetry that exhibits these qualities. And, in fairness, Archambeau knows this (and in the end, I probably don't disagree with the sentiment of the list at all). He says:
But the point isn't that these are bad things, just that they've become a kind of decadent tradition in poetry, a set of gestures often made less because they have importance but because they are taken to signal "poeticness."So the real problem isn't the existence of these clichés in any poem, it is the very act of approaching the making of a poem with no other goal than aesthetic conformity.
In America these days, we hate clichés because they reveal the fact that the poet (director, author, etc.) is merely trying to create a marketable product. It's something we all know, but find disgusting to think about. We want them to (as the director in the Rocketeer says) "Act, but don't act like you're acting -- so act, but act like you're not acting".
So if the real problem is the approach to poetry making with no goal but aesthetic conformity, what does a list do? Why does Archambeau encourage reviewers to "print them out, make laminated cards, and hang said cards from lanyards around their necks"? Just what we don't need: more reviewers that work from a list of "thou-shalt-nots".
The List (not this one, the List in general) is a form that does specific things. The temptation is to make one under the assumption that each item accomplishes its own thing apart from its placement in a list. Pointing out clichés is one thing, placing them in a numbered list is another. (I should blaug about lists at some point, I love lists).
I agree with the list insofar as I agree that the items are clichés, but many of them are too general to be of any value, and any attempt to apply the list as a list of "thou-shalt-nots" falls quickly apart.
reliance on buzzwords. Yes, don't rely on buzzwords. Please though, do not create a list of words that you think of as buzzwords and comb poems for them. Do you really want to be a checklist-reviewer or poet? Gah. As soon as this item was placed on this list, it undermined it's own existence. The problem with buzzwords is that they discourage active reading, but so does combing poems for clichés.
distrust of order. This is utterly meaningless actually, without some very specific examples. So chaos is just cliché then?
distrust of linearity and having a point. Same problem as above. (And look, I understand that I'm not actually critiquing what Archambeau "means" by posting this list, and I'm not trying to. I'm addressing what the list actually "does" in its context of being a list of "thou-shalt-nots"). If western poetry has spent the past thousands of years or so being "linear" and "having a point", I think it's jumping the gun a little bit to say that anything that isn't "linear" is being cliché. Doesn't it seem a little weird to call anything that isn't "thing x" a cliché? So like, not towing the party-line is cliche? I was once called "cliché" for criticizing GWB.
What is actually meant by this item is probably a worthwhile thing that needs addressing. It's probably something like "there are endless ways to be non-linear, there's no excuse for just imitating Ashbery". Also, many people assume that non-linearity is something that needs to be forced out in some particular way. It would be interesting to study the very specific ways in which contemporary poetry constructs what it calls "non-linearity" (but what is really just another particular "style"). The item on the list doesn't address any of these more interesting questions though. It just creates two categories of poets: the "Linear" and "The Distrusters".
Q. What type of person frames the relationship between "linearity" and "non-linearity" as a dichotomy?
If you have an answer for this question, you lose.
anxiety over what words mean. What does this even mean? Archambeau adds "the pose of anxiety" which makes it a whole lot better. Am I really not supposed to be anxious about words anymore? Ok everyone, the Chaos of language is over. It is time to go home.
Once again, this isn't specific enough. And Guriel and Archambeau's versions of this item are the opposite. "anxiety over what words mean" vs. "the pose of anxiety over what words mean". The first suggests that the anxiety is cliché, whereas Archambeau suggests that the anxiety is what we need, and it's the fakers we need to root out (and I agree).
romantic bluster. Oh humans.
imprecision. Another ironic item. Who is it aiming at. Without specifics (Guriel gives one, but it fails to quite hit the imprecision mark) this is just a generic knock at whoever the list-wielder happens have in mind.
Any of these items could spark its own very interesting discussion, but placed in a list like this, they just become style points. And this is the whole reason your boring-ass poetry is so cliché in the first place, because you follow lists of style points, of do's and do-not's. You make your own rules, bro. Ok, I don't really think that either.
Here's a list of things to do to avoid clichés:
-learn to read (do this by bumbling around)
-learn to love or hate poems on command.
-learn to read (do this by sawing off other ways of reading)
-learn the insecurities you hide by hating certain poems
-learn to read (do this by accepting everything)
-learn how to run from your problems by hiding them behind a well honed style.
-learn to react to what is happening Now instead of the thing in your memory that the now reminds you of (do this by making/making-fun-of lists [also, it's good to keep in mind that this is all impossible, but so is communication, which has never stopped anyone.])
Thursday, March 12, 2009
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Monday, March 9, 2009
Content-Transfer-Encoding:from Draft 64: Forward Slash by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
quoted-printable Blank Rachel,
I just wanted to let you know
right here by writing this, that
I too am a stranger in these tangled
corridors of strangeness
threaded through the buried graffiti and strata,
prussian blue over burnt umber
a glyph of the twentieth century.
So far, this one, too.
I should warn you, the post that follows is pretty disgusting.
I read my name into Zukofsky's "A" in several ways. I do this, not out of narcissism, but as a celebration of the arbitrariness of names. Or... how better to escape from how disgusting narcissism is than by reveling in it? This is what naming does too, we escape from the arbitrariness of the universe by assigning arbitrary signs and sounds to things (we're pretty smart).
In part, my meditations on names began in high-school when, inspired by Shakespeare's multiple spellings of his name, I came up with 10,000 alternate spellings to my own boring 3 letter name (Ian). This was the same time I started spelling my name "Iain", which at the time was a lame invoking of my Scottish heritage, but has since taken on many more meanings for me.
Many poets have brought their names into their work in some way:
Zukofsky ("A" by "Z"),
Rachel Blau-DuPlessis pulls the "ache" from "Rachel" in one of the Drafts (can't find it right now, sorry),
Bach composes on the letters in his name in Contrapunctus XIV
Clayton Eshleman in JIG ("Before I was Clayton, I was clan toy,/ lacy ton, ant cloy, any colt.")
In Lorca ("how strange to be named Federico!")
John Cage built his acrostic poems around various poets names.
As I said, I read my own name into "A". Some examples:
-"I AM" (that iamb) is misspelled "Ian" several times in "A"-12 (in "Jackie's" letters)
-placing my "I" (pronounced "eye") into "A"'s implicit title of "An" also produces "Ian" (I:an)
-my spelling IAIN places I's (pronounced "ah, ease") around the A in AN
-"A" in german is "Ein", one the alternate spellings of my name.
EANM ("Ian M") is present in "A", particularly "A"-7 (MANE). EANM is an english tetragrammaton. It's various incarnations form our triune laws of language:
everything must have a NAME
every word must MEAN something
every "prayer" must end in AMEN (closure).
E begins the tetragrammaton (standing on one leg with its MANE of three I's streaming after it).
on "two legs stands A"
on three N
"four together M"
Read EANM as "E" an "M", as the letter E becomes an M when placed on its side, inviting us to further "turn" the letters.
Horses: who will do it? out of manes? WordsA horse's MANE is given voice by the wind (airs), or when it runs (work). But, here
Will do it, out of manes, out of airs, but
They have no manes, so there are no airs, birds
Of words, from me to them no singing gut.
Zukofsky is talking about wood horses (would horses), sawhorses (see horses) set up on the street to hang signs from (horses for working, but hoarse without air). Words will do it (words are NAMEs).
The NAME gives it a MANE, so that it can MEAN. AMEN.