Friday, September 10, 2010

billy collins says something about poetry

so, Billy Collins has maybe 3 or 4 things he ever says regarding poetry, but somehow it's newsworthy every single time he says them. apparently two weeks ago, Billy Collins said (for the 14th time) that song lyrics can't be considered poetry. by the way kids, you can totally get away with saying indefensible things as long as their way too banal to ever have to defend.

though, i can't help myself from commenting this particular time, because the comments come after this interview that he gave last year. i just find it funny that the guy dismissing all song lyrics as poems readily admits to only having 37 songs on his ipod, and that he only listens to music to drown out the sounds of humanity. how was this guy ever thought of as whimsical?

where's the letter?

Kent Johnson sent me a couple links this afternoon. one of particular interest. Richard Allen writes:
I am in a unique position to comment on this development, as I am both a poet and a lawyer who practices in the area of media law from time to time. Based on Johnson’s blog post, I don’t think he should be worried… assuming the letter he says he has received actually exists.
Allen concludes, as i thought, that there's no legal precedent for defamation in this particular case. however, that doesn't mean that the Koch Estate can't make shit difficult for Kent Johnson and Richard Owens of Punch Press.

however, more people are asking the question "is the letter even real?" and still no letter has been produced. i'm still not making any assumptions for sure at this stage, but so far this seems to reinforce my suspicions that the letter doesn't exist (or rather, doesn't contain the content that we are to believe it contains).

to be clear, Richard Allen does include this update at the end of his post:
Richard Owens at Punch Press sent me a copy of the letter. Its contents, and some other information I received, have convinced me that it’s real. Owens has asked me not to comment on the contents of the letter for now, so I won’t, although there’s certainly more to be said.
so, perhaps the letter exists, but really, this is even more suspicious. quite notably absent from Allen's update is any kind of verification that the contents of the letter actually match the initial allegations.

also, i forgot to comment yesterday on this particular bit of hyperbole. this comes from John Latta's blog one day after this small press claimed to have received a letter that has yet to be produced:
Why there’s essentially no evidence of outrage forthcoming out the mouths of any of “our” “major” post-avant “playas” at such thuggery and attempt to censor: aucune idée. Toff pedigree of the careerist self-satisfy’d swell, one suspects. These days swoll’n—like a magpie—beyond all honor.
this is such a rediculously prematurely ejaculated attempt to indict the entire barely affiliated community of "post-avant" poets for not expressing immediate outrage at the utterly unsubstantiated claims of some small press.

there has been absolutely no substantiated developments that warrant any kind of outrage from anyone at this time. publish the letter, let it circulate a week or two, wait to see where people's alliances fall, then maybe you can start drawing lines. otherwise, this is just a waste of all our time.

if this letter turns out to be legit, i'm totally with Kent and Punch Press on this one. but i'm already beginning to resent this attempt to get people blame an entire loosely associated poetry aesthetic for the utterly unsubstantiated actions of a couple of (alleged) assholes. i believe "disingenuous" is the word i keep using.

more developments here and here (Kent's links).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

new Textsound

the new issue of Textsound is up! check out new work from Carla Harryman, Christine Hume, Theresa Rickloff, me (iain marshall), and lots more great michigan poets.

whole issue here.

my poem here.

Theresa's poem here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

more of Kent Johnson's antics

i've had things to say about Kent Johnson on this blog before. i frequently find the things he says infuriatingly annoying. but there's no denying that he's a master provocateur, though i suppose you could deny that that's an impressive title. regardless, when Kent speaks, i generally pay attention.

and every so often Kent does something interesting with that attention. Kent wrote an essay in the Chicago Review, which has now, i believe, been expanded into a book (forthcoming) regarding a possible alternate authorship to Frank O'Hara's poem a true account of talking to the sun at fire island.

Kent proposes that the poem was written by O'Hara's friend and fellow NY school poet, Kenneth Koch.

as usual, Kent's claim comes without hard evidence, however, there is certainly basis enough for the claim to make it an interesting thought experiment.

it's a great little poem (linked above if you haven't read it). a little background: it's no random poem that Kent has chosen to challenge the authorship of; it's a well known O'Hara poem for several reasons. first of all (as i already said) it's a great little poem, but secondly, it was discovered posthumously. thirdly, and most importantly, the poem seems to anticipate O'Hara's untimely death (O'Hara died following an accident on fire island, 1966). i don't think it's unfair to say that the poem is well-liked because of how it seems to foretell the poet's death. not that it's not a good poem, but O'Hara's work is full of great poems that don't get this much attention.

Koch read the poem as a sort of memorial 2 months after O'Hara's death. it's not hard to see how important the poem must be to O'Hara's friends. not hard to understand that, for the poet's friends, Kent is treading, somewhat carelessly, on hallowed ground. really, you'd be hard pressed to convince me that Kent isn't doing all this precisely because of the response it gets. those familiar with Kent know that there's no question too hallowed, too infuriating, too sociopathic for him to ask. but at least this time: it's interesting.

i'm certainly not sold on the idea that the poem was written by Koch, but i have gone back and read the poem as if i believed that it was authored by Koch. i was fascinated by how easily i could switch assumptions, and how those assumptions changed even the "voice" in which i was reading the poem. the poem is written in a style that could, for those familiar with both poets' work, be believably written by either Koch or O'Hara. ultimately though, (and this is just bullshit) the poem does feel like O'Hara: the line breaks, the way particular he transcribes speech, even if the tone could conceivably feel like Koch.

i can't say i would have written about this, though, if it weren't for this next development:

apparently, the Kenneth Koch Legal Estate is threatening legal action against Kent for publishing this book. what the fuck? if this is true (and i'm still somewhat skeptical for a reason i'll go into later), this is pretty seriously cowardly. first of all, the estate must know that there is no legal basis for this. it is clearly a scare tactic. and more than that really. along with knowing they don't have a legal leg to stand on, they also know Punch Press probably can't afford to defend itself. this bullying of such a small press is pretty despicable even if Kent's book is somewhat malicious (which honestly... it probably is).

here's my reason for doubting though: where's the letter? Kent rarely makes mention of correspondences that he doesn't publish at least very large chunks of. but here, we are merely told that the letter threatens "legal action". we are assured it's "unambiguous", but then why is there no direct quote? given Kent's penchant for exaggeration, i can't help but reserve judgment. show us the letter, Kent.

even though i can understand where O'Hara's friends Padgett, Berkson, Towle, and Davis might be a little put off by this, i really don't think this is worth getting all worked up over. i believe even Kent's said it's more of a thought experiment than a serious argument that Koch definitively wrote the poem. it's just ideas, people. anyway, this alleged letter is only going to end up selling more books. it's called the streisand effect, and it's a beautiful thing.


i believe this is the original argument(pdf) put forth by Kent Johnson (ignore all the Japanese names, they're all Kent). also, someone correct me if i'm wrong.

Tony Towle, a friend of both O'Hara and Koch responds
Bill Berkson's response.
still looking for Padgett's response, help me out if you can.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Silliman's backlog of comments lost forever?

[EDIT: when i wrote this post, i was under the impression that Kent's "malfeasance" comment was in regards to individual comments not being retrievable. upon rereading his comment, he was quite clear that he thinks that there's malfeasance because he views all the comments as being an integral interconnected part of Silliman's blog. i very much disagree with the accusation that there is any devious nature to Silliman's actions, but will have to address that more specifically in another blog... which sucks cause i'm pretty sick of talking about this]

first of all, everyone can calm down. few if any of Silliman's comment threads are lost forever. skip below for a list of resources that will help you recover his old comment sections. you do probably want to act quickly though.

Kent Johnson, and a few other people that he's managed to convince, are upset that Ron Silliman might have deleted all the old comment archives from his blog. he writes:
the deletion of that public record [Silliman's blog comment archive], with all its good and bad both, would be nothing short of–from an ethical and literary standpoint–a stunning instance of malfeasance.
someone should probably address this on a more well-read blog, because there is a huge misconception here. really, it's a little scary to think that anyone could possibly have been contributing comments somewhere for years under the assumption that Blogspot (or as Kent seems to think of it "Ron Silliman") would keep them forever.

archiving this amount of information takes a good bit of time and resources. why do people keep thinking that Ron Silliman needs to be putting in all this extra effort and resources into protecting your writing?

don't you keep copies of poems you send in to publishers? don't you keep copies of your side of a correspondence with someone? how could you possibly think that anyone besides you has an obligation to be archiving your own written material? especially when you're writing in a medium that's so famously ephemeral.

it's a little late now for Silliman's blog, but anyone who finds it important to archive comment sections should know that it's their own responsibility, but that it's not difficult to do at all. just subscribe to the "all comments" RSS feed on a person's blog (which you should then be backing up if it's important to you). also, on Blogspot, there's an option to have all comments on any thread you participate in sent to your email address (which you can then also back up somewhere else).

resources for recovering "lost" web content:

you can use the internet archive and the wayback machine to recover old webpages. (here's an example of an old Silliman thread with the comments still viewable using wayback). a little spotty, but you can find many of the comment threads.

also, you can use the google cache function. just press the "cache" link under any google result, or search "" on google. (example of viewable comments using google cache). google's cached pages do expire after 3 months (thanks to Steven Fama for reminding me), so be quick about grabbing stuff using this. you can get a text version of the cached results, which will make it a tiny file for saving purposes.

here is a greasemonkey script that's useful for browsing the internet using google cache (learn how to use greasemonkey here.)

find more resources for recovering old webpages here.

also, there's some likelihood that Silliman has old versions of his blog backed up, which would have all the comments in tact. i'll let everyone know if he gets back to me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

some thoughts on how to cultivate valuable discussion online

i'm sure that many people are going to walk away from Silliman's termination of his comment section with the idea that productive dialogue is just not possible on the internet. this is just not true. and if it is true for poets, then it's all our fault, not the internet's.

anyone arguing that the internet is bad for dialogue can go ahead and tell me what a better medium is for organizing 1,000+ people's ideas in real time.

it's not easy. it takes time, effort, and community cooperation (which is going to be the difficult part for poets). also, it's probably not something a blog with an unpaid staff of one can really reasonably accomplish. so it's probably not going happen on Silliman's blog without some good volunteer moderators. the Harriet blog could have done it, but they gave up for some reason, perhaps due to a lack of faith in their online users.

but it is done. valuable conversations happen online. Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog accomplishes it with hundreds of comments per post (and not just better than any solo writer's blog, but probably better than any other blog). Slash Dot and Reddit have had their ups and downs of useful large-scale discussion. there's plenty more, these are just the ones i've had direct experience over the last few years.

i can think of three things (right now) that the online poetry community has trouble with that contributes to the overall difficulty of having good discussions.

1. interface:
some of these sites that actually have good discussion are user moderated, where each comment can be given a positive or negative rating, and each user can select a negative parameter at which they'd like a comment to be hidden from them. for this to work, however, it requires a user base who truly desires to cultivate a community of varied voices, rather than a user base where each member's only desire is to be heard. you can't just downmod a comment because you disagree. this will be difficult for poets, i think. poets (online at least) tend to view a comment section as their own soapbox, issuing a strong demand to be listened to, and rarely to reciprocate.

2. banning users:
poetry bloggers are slow to ban users. this isn't entirely bad of course, valuing (or at least allowing) dissenting opinions is a necessary part of productive dialogue. poetry blogs however, have a high percentage of independent dissenters who tend to not respond to any kind of criticism themselves. these people will quickly flood the entire comment space if they are not reprimanded for some of their more obnoxious behavior.

poets are also among the whiniest people when they've been banned from something, running and crying on their blogs about how they've been censored. sorry, but obnoxiously dominating a thread with your long-winded, and only vaguely related comments on someone else's personal blog is not freedom provided by the constitution.
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: No you're not wrong.
Walter: Am I wrong?
The Dude: You're not wrong Walter. You're just an asshole.
Walter: Okay then.
another problem with banning within the poetry community is that it's probably hard to ban people who's work you're familiar with, and may even like. for instance, ■■■■ ■■■■■■■, and ■■■■ ■■■■■ (names removed cause i'm at least trying not to be a hypocrite) are both very intelligent poets. they're productive contributors (in their own ways) to the larger poetry community, and both have uniquely important voices. however, acting the way they consistently do on any decently moderated forum would get them at least temporarily banned. whereas on poetry blogs, they are rarely banned, leading to them dominating threads to the point where no one wants to participate anymore.

3. comment navigation:
part of cultivating dialogue online is just having a user base that knows how to navigate online discussion. you can't respond to the assholes, and if you do, the results are partly your own fault. there's always going to be a few that sneak in, and you just have to ignore them. these people are called trolls, and all they do (whether it's their intent or not) is distract discussion. sometimes they offer a seemingly intelligent comment in an abrasive manner. you might respond to them calmly, hoping to quell their anger and spark a useful discussion, but the more you respond, the more everything just seems to spiral out of control. you've been trolled. you can't get a persecution complex (which is hard for poets, i know) you have to respond to the mature comments, the ones that add something, not just the abrasive controversial ones.

every single user bares at least some responsibility to cultivate useful dialogue. poets need to stop being so single minded about their own voices being heard, and start thinking about how what they're saying builds into the whole environment of conversation. saying that poets just need to develop thicker skins is just kind of boneheaded and lazy, as is calling Jessica Smith a "silly young self-righteous poet." "cultivating useful dialogue" doesn't mean we can't have heated, strongly worded conversations. it just has to have a point. it has to go somewhere.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

the death of silliman's comment section is the end of civilization as we know it

poets! please! does every tiny event that somewhat effects your lives have to be the most dramatic thing ever? Conrad DiDiodato laments, in most hyperbolic terms, the end of Silliman's blog's comment section. his poast is entitled "Ron Silliman and the diminishment of free speech", and he writes:
Ron Silliman has, in a word, opted in favor of Internet censorship, radically curtailing the reader's right to offer intelligent, constructive criticism
not taking questions from the audience at a private event you entirely sponsored and organized is not a sign of the end of free speech. getting rid of the letters to the editor section of a non-profit publication that you pay for out of pocket is not a sign that everyone is being repressed by a totalitarian dictator. and getting rid of the comment section on your own blog is not the downfall of freedom as we know it.

you can't just go screaming that you've been repressed every time someone makes a personal decision that happens to violate your vastly over-inflated sense of entitlement.

Silliman's decision to end the comment section sucks, but your free speech is still intact. you can still go get your own blog, write something, and Silliman will probably even link to you every so often, put you on his blog roll and all that. the funniest thing about Conrad's complaints that free speech is dead is that i guarantee that Silliman will link to his post.

Silliman scours the internet every week for pertinent poetry discussions and links to them. he does this for free, for nothing, on top of his job, family, and poetry and blog output. how anyone can get the idea that they are entitled to this free service is completely beyond me.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

are poets really this immature?

Silliman announced today that he's shutting down the comment section on his blog.

what does it say about the larger poetry community that two of the largest public forums for poetry, Silliman's blog and the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog, have had to completely shut down their comment sections? are poets too stupid and immature to handle civilized dialogue? i still hope not, but that is what this seems to suggest.

i, for one, find it... hilarious (but the kind of hilarious where my faith in humanity dies a little bit).

the Harriet blog shut down conversations a few months ago, giving the nonsense excuse that "blogging is dead" (really? because if that were true, poetry would be so dead that the its myth would be more illusive than rumors of Atlantis). the real reason it was shut down probably being that the comment section made their readership look like complete morons. and please don't think that's an indictment of Poetry Foundation's actual readership. i'm more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the commentators were a vocal minority. but that minority did make us all look quite dumb. when Harriet introduced, for a short time, a comment voting system, their readers were completely unable to avoid downvoting thoughtful comments that they merely disagreed with. this is hilarious to me (for same values of hilarious as noted above) because this comment voting system is something that reddit, a large online community of mostly high schoolers, is able to use maturely with only minor difficulty.

i'm conflicted about the decision, though. the Poetry Foundation is undoubtedly one of the more valuable resources for poetry on the web right now, but there's also no doubt that they tend to spoon feed their readership. for instance, when they published some flarf and conceptual poems in one issue, the poems were bizarrely quarantined and effectively apologized for before their actual presentation. is shutting down comments an extension of a kind of lack of faith in their readers; a necessary choice that helps keep their site comfortable to some of their important but thin-skinned blog contributors; or just an attempt to maintain an air of propriety? i don't know the answer, but i do ultimately disagree with the decision. the blog has shifted from a place where people at least tried to deal with interesting poetics topics, to a general links-based overview of the poetry world. still somewhat useful, but much less daring. something has certainly been lost. though, in the "about Harriet" section, you'll still see the claim that Harriet "is dedicated to featuring vibrant online discussions of poetry and poetics." certainly not. if they're honest, that should probably be taken down at this point.

for Silliman though, a lone blogger, there's obviously much less of an argument that he has any duty to provide a discussion space for his readers. it's his decision to make as it's his unpaid time that gets spent on keeping out the bullies, sexists, racists, homophobes and other riff raff. Silliman does still foster conversation by linking once or twice a week to blogs that have responded to his posts.

it is still a disappointment, though. blog comment sections were, for the first 4 years of my serious commitment to poetry, my only access to dialogue about poetry. comment sections make the blogger seem more approachable. i've often assumed that the main reason some poets don't have comment sections on their blogs is because they have no ability to defend their positions. now that i'm more aware of some of the vile comments that Silliman says he has to censor, i guess i'm less likely to make this assumption.

my own approach to online poetry discussion has certainly been shaped by the acidic commenting environment. i've even, at times, been much more likely to enter into some of the more hateful discussions knowing that my ideas have more chance of actually being engaged with on some level.

the more interesting (i think) blogs i've written have been calm observations about poetics. however, my posts have never been engaged with as much as when i've tried to tear apart some of the more prevalent idiocy of those poets who, for some reason, could not stop talking about their hatred for flarf and conceptual poetry.

i'm embarrassed to admit that on at least 2 occasions i inserted insults into blog posts that i wouldn't have otherwise included because i knew that, as a completely unknown commentator, i'm more likely to be taken seriously (or at least engaged with) the more insulting i am. and by no means am i trying to blame the poetry community for my brash way of saying things. i'm all too willing to talk some casual shit about various poetics ideas over some beers with friends, but being insulting is not particularly something i want to be in a publicly readable forum.

on the other hand, while the comment community is unnecessarily petty and vitriolic, it's also clear that some people just have no backbone whatsoever. some poets just have no tolerance for people who challenge their ideas. i can't tell you how many times i've had my head bitten off by a blogger merely for offering a contrary perspective. even after considering to myself that i can often come off as harsh and forceful, and making sure that i've worded my challenges in as polite a demeanor as i could muster, some bloggers still made it quite clear that i was unwelcome to participate in discussions on their blogs. one blogger even emailed me privately, demanding i stop engaging his ideas on my own blog.

but sure, i can't deny participating in vitriolic discussions. and, even though i'd want to argue that it was my way of coping with the available dialogue, having a voracious need for poetry discussions and no other outlet, i also won't skirt the amount of blame i deserve for participating.

all that said, i hope Silliman's comment section opens again someday. though, what i'd really like to see is a truly open public forum for poetics discussions. hopefully something a little more sophisticated than some of the more popular listservs that kind of meet what i'd like to see. for now though, can we all please just grow the fuck up?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Jessica Smith hits on something i've been wanting to articulate for a while now regarding poetry blogs: the acidity and bitterness of the commenters and even many of the bloggers themselves. in a medium that could be used (and outside of poetry, largely is used) for vibrant discussion, why does the poetry blogosphere end up being mostly men saying mostly unthoughtful (and at their worst, quite degrading) things about other poets? Jessica writes:

in the case of poetry and Silliman’s blog specifically, the bullies are grown people (read: men) who, through some lack of ability to empathize, will lash out at anyone who receives attention they think they themselves should be getting.

this is very true. and for someone like myself, a young poet (albeit a somewhat angry male one), whose only access to the poetry world has often been through the blogs, it's extremely discouraging. like Jessica, i've often felt a desire to not engage with the poetry world at large, perceiving it to be too negative and petty to even bother with.

hopefully, this sparks a larger discussion. my theory (or at least my hope) is that the bullies and haters are a very vocal minority. i would love to see the poetry blogs turn into a more productive environment.

i've written posts to try to combat some of these jealous bullies (Kent Johnson most recently, though he wasn't attacking a younger poet at the time), but it's entirely possible (likely even) that engaging with them at all, even to expose their petty stupid conspiracies, only feeds into the whole fucked up cycle.

anyway, go read her post, cause she has way more interesting things to say than i do here. thanks to Jessica, and maybe i'll try to contribute to this discussion more later.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"reading 101" OR "reading lol" pronounced "lul" which i'm told is a way to say "asshole" in Dutch

Kent Johnson continues his pathetic vendetta against Ron Silliman. i so wish poetry beef was more like rap beef, without any of this sniveling, and pretending to be all wounded and shit. write a diss chapbook or something, and move on with your life.


the following is a dramatization of the dialogue thus far:

Kent: admit it Ron, you want to MURDER Eliot Weinberger!
Ron: uh, i was quoting someone. i mean, that should be pretty obvious from the rest of the poem. also, isn't it way dramatic to think that the actual speaker of those words actually wants anyone to die?
Kent: woe is me! doesn't anyone MEAN what they say anymore?
Ron: well, i DO mean it Kent, but i mean it in the context of it being a quote, as part of a collage of the language of my surroundings. is that really that difficult of a concept?
Kent: yes well, for some unknowable reason, i actually...and this is crazy... i believe... in my heart... that collage is UNETHICAL.
Ron: wow, that is really weird.
Kent: i know, right?

the background here is that Kent Johnson, poetry troll, believes he has, through some Glenn-Beck's-chalkboard-style reasoning, decoded a secret death wish in Ron Silliman's poem The Alphabet towards Eliot Weinberger. [my initial response here]

Kent Johnson quotes from a private email that "someone" sent him regarding the lines found in Silliman's poem (he basically, but not quite, says it was Ron Silliman): "My intent in quoting those originally was just to note the incredible cattiness of the poetry world". oh Ron, if only you could have known the true cattiness that those lines would latter incite.

Ron's response to Kent's pseudo-logical gymnastics is to inform him that it was a quote. Kent then (and here's the link again in case you missed it the first time) takes Ron's denial of murderous intentions as absolute proof that he is guilty, launching into some bizarre tirade about how quotes and collage are, yes, inherently unethical. His words:
To what extent has a flippant and self-serving attitude towards the materials one “collects” come to inflect, let us say infect, a good chunk of current avant aesthetic, vacating it of any discernible sense of ethic or moral claim?
uh, what sort of moral claim needs to be made to quote something you overheard someone say in public? and how is using overheard language at all unique to the "avant aesthetic"?

speaking of moral claim, i could never, in good conscience, create an imaginary windbag to straw-man the language poetry haters that is even close to being as ridiculous as Kent Johnson actually is. even addressing his arguments actually seems a little unfair to all the intelligent people who hate language poetry.

so... this is what i've gathered from Kent's "thinking":
the avant-garde actually invented the idea of quoting people in poems. not only that, they also invented saying things that weren't meant to be read as the direct first-person thoughts of the poet. really, they did. before language poetry, poet's never quoted anyone, or spoke satirically, or anything else that you've probably come to take for granted as the obvious spectrum of human communication.

remember before post-moderism when every poet meant every line of a poem in the most sincere way? sigh -- how humanity has fallen.

i think that it's safe to say, at this point, that Kent Johnson has never read a poem he's understood. actually, forget poetry, Kent pretends not to even understand how to interpret an introspective voice. for instance, i just thought the sentence "that chick probably has the hots for me" even though I know that she's just a good tipper. for Kent, poetry is not capable of exploring even this small level of nuance of meaning without shoving ethics (or Eliot Weinberger) right out the window. if a writer writes something, they can only "mean it" or "not mean it". of course, "not meaning it" includes quoting something, satire, stray thoughts, half-hearted musings, and really everything that's not the deeply held belief of the writer in question. and this entirely new way of writing, this "not meaning it" (as Kent must think of it) is DESTROYING YOUR WAY OF LIFE.

and what's next? think of the children, think of what language poetry will do to your children.

my favorite favorite part of Kent's post is when he thinks i would have to bring up his faux-poet persona Yasusada to make a point about it being disingenuous that he's complaining that it's unethical to take someone's words out of context. i mean... i'm speechless.

Monday, July 12, 2010

La Cucaracha

Conspiracy crackers John Latta and Kent Johnson, pasty basement dwellers, comb through the dangerous language poetry texts, decoding the hidden plans of your most beloved poets. Kent, why go to John Latta with this information? Why not alert the FBI? Everyone, Ron Silliman just may be guilty of... MURDER!

In Ron Silliman's 1,054 page poem The Alphabet, made up mostly of collaged sentences, found and lost language, jumbled musings (sincere and insincere), and other endless (and often exciting) non-lyrical techniques, apparently (on page 348) he once wrote the lines:
if only Eliot Weinberger
had married Carl Andre

How do you say “asshole” in Dutch?
So, I guess Carl Andre threw his wife out the window or something. I'll gladly go on and on about this in the comment section if you ask me to, but for now I know I don't have to explain to anyone who knows what a poem is why we don't quite have enough evidence to send in the SWAT team... yet!

The lines collaged previous to these 3 are:

perch baked in foil
with butter, tomatoes, squash -
and caraway seeds!
Clearly, this is proof that Ron Silliman wants to cook Eliot Weinberger like a fish!

Later, Kent whines about some long forgotten essay in which Silliman, decades ago, called him a "cockroach". Because clearly, this is proof enough of his character to insinuate conspiracy to murder.

Kent Johnson is the Glenn Beck of poetry. Why this guy has any credibility in poetry criticism is one poetry's best kept secrets.

What world is Johnson living in where we're supposed to gasp that Silliman dared call him a cockroach (in some publication read by the tens no doubt), but ignore his own obsessive creepy devotion to "exposing" the dastardly conspiracies of software-engineer-by-day/poet-by-night Ron Silliman?

"i'm not saying Ron Silliman wants to throw Eliot Weinberger out a window, i'm just asking questions"

Friday, May 21, 2010

Regarding "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day"

So, Everybody Draw Muhammad Day actually turned out to be pretty stupid and offensive. The artist whose work inspired it has even apologized. Some people might say "duh, of course it was offensive, wasn't that the point?". No. It wasn't, or really shouldn't have been. The intention should not have been to shove pictures of Muhammad in Muslim's faces, but to take a stand against the fear-based tactics of fundamentalists all over the world who want to scare people away from expressing themselves. Also, I have a special place in my heart for the Streisand effect.

There is a strong and disturbing anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, and there's no denying that EDM Day hurts that tension. If I were to ever to actually depict Muhammad (in a more traditional sense than yesterday) I would be happy to put a "NSFM" tag (or something more obvious) preceding the picture. That is where religious tolerance ends for me though. I would never abstain from depicting Muhammad if it actually added to something I wanted to express.

My own participation was pretty safe. I'm not really willing to be offensive toward Muslims merely because I *can*. I am, however, willing to participate in an armchair protest against violence at the risk of offending some. I only wish that many of the other participants could have been more thoughtful. I really wish that it could have been something that was more clearly NOT anti-Muslim, but honestly, that's probably asking too much from the Internet.

It's worth mentioning, for those that don't know: the South Park episode that spawned EDM day never actually depicted Muhammad. He appeared in a bear suit for the duration of the episode, and in the end turned out to be Santa Claus and not even Muhammad at all. Hence my Margritte tribute.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why is John Latta so bitter?

In fairness to John Latta's mad sloppy, carping critique/reading/commentary/review/whatever of Charles Bernstein's All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems, it is "only" a blog post, which, according to Catherine Halley and Travis Nichols, is a dying medium (more on that later).

Of all the imaginable criticisms of Bernstein's poetry, I've never heard anyone say he "talks down to the reader". That is, however, what Latta seems intent on arguing in what seems immediately like a contrived insult perhaps intended to counter Bernstein's embracing of past criticisms that he is "too opaque" or "too difficult". Latta gives, first of all, Bernstein's "Thank You For Saying Thank You" as the primary example of this "talking down to the reader":

This is a totally
accessible poem.
There is nothing
in this poem
that is in any
way difficult
to understand.
All the words
are simple &
to the point.
There are no new
concepts, no
theories, no
ideas to confuse
you. This poem
has no intellectual
pretensions. It is
purely emotional.
So that's supposed to be talking down to the reader: this downright whimsical knitting together of the nonsensical prescriptivist imperatives that are often lobbed at certain poets? It's an application of The Treachery of Images to language itself, but it's also a joke that he does immediately allow the reader to be "in on".

The only way to read this as condescending is if you are the sort of person who has ever argued that all poetry needs to "accessible" or written in "plain language" (Something that I can't imagine Latta arguing). The poem contains many voices and can be read in a variety of tones. That you can read this poem in a condescending tone is an entirely uninteresting indictment of the poem unless, as in Latta's case, finding something to indict it for is the whole reason you are reading the poem.

And honestly, even if you're reading the poem as demeaning... If you've ever told someone their poems need to be more "simple" and "clear" because their work is too "theoretical", you deserve to be talked down to.

It just looks like Latta decided on what his argument "against" Bernstein was going to be before even opening the book. Finding snippets that actually supported his argument was apparently too laborious a task. Certainly, he's more focused on getting in all the right jabs than in giving a useful or even interestingly negative reading. Latta's whole tactic (besides combing his thesaurus for unique pejoratives -- which in fairness, at least I know the word "rodomontade" now) is dropping the names of poets he likes more than Bernstein and just telling us that Bernstein isn't as good: "Clumsy Ashbery." and "the poor man's Frank O'Hara". Which I take offense to, as I am the "poor man's Frank O'Hara", still stuck in Ypsi. (Quelle stase! De plus en plus!)


Latta attempts to chide and mock Bernstein for chiding and mocking a little too much for me to not mention how ridiculous it all makes him sound that, on top of all his noise, he can't actually find good examples of Bernstein's deep sin (he's like the Nancy Grace of criticism).

The guy is bizarrely sensitive about Bernstein's use of typographical errors, "ventriloquism and mimickry. Mock voicings" in his poems. I can only assume that he's the sort of person cries watching Sponge Bob. It's just so difficult to imagine anyone taking this pretend concern for whoever Bernstein is "victimizing" any kind of seriously.

And he wants it both ways: Latta admits he has no idea who Bernstein might be "mimicking", yet nonetheless, suggests that it is being done in bad faith. The root of this insult is never expanded or revealed to be more than what it is at first glance: that Latta doesn't like the effect. To continue more presumptuously, Latta doesn't like that these effects (typos, disjuncture, "mock voicings", etc.) aren't being used to pull the reader into the virtual reality of language (as with, in particular, Ashbery), but to guide her along its materiality. This bias always sound tired when articulated, but the haters won't let it go for some reason.

And subjective judgments on what is or isn't a condescending tone aside: demeaning your haters in your poems is a time honored poetry tradition (from Catullus to Jay-Z). I mean, truly, it just is. But somehow Latta is too delicate to handle it. Does he really believe that saying a poet has some vaguely belittling tones in his poems is in any way a legitimate criticism? Can we now go through poetry history and apply Latta's bizarre puritanical moralizing to the "Classics"?


Latta goes on to lazily accuse Bernstein's "This poem intentionally left blank"-poem of being a rip-off of Tom Raworth's "this poem has been removed for further study”. To be fair, this is an extremely common mistake anyone with Latta's particular brand of nostalgia for whatever it is they feel poetry has always been about: judging a poem that shares a couple aesthetic similarities to another as a rip-off. It's a bizarre post-Modern conceit that ultimately derives from a (likely purposeful) misapplication of Pound's mantra: "make it new". Suddenly, post-Modern poems that display some similarity to other poems (whether in form, voice, content, gesture...) can be neatly dismissed as not being "new enough"... whereas before, we called that shit "influence". God forbid poets explore similar concepts in a similar way. Latta and others don't, of course, apply this argument to the poems that they put on pedestals, because, ultimately, they know it's a dumbass point. It's just a sloppy disingenuous way to dismiss poets you don't like.

An approximation of Bernstein's print-specific poem appears below (the original appears as the only text on the page):


And Raworth's,

This poem has been removed for further study

That these poems are similar is obvious. They are both short, and they are both self-referential. But that is merely the form that these poems take. To suggest that they're the same is like saying any two sonnets are the same. Now, I couldn't blame someone who doesn't actually read poems for thinking that they are getting at the same thing. But anyone who professes to love poetry, and actually stands behind the statement (which, we should remember, Latta may not) that Bernstein's poem is a rip-off of Raworth's should lose more than a little credibility.

Raworth's poem is sinister (in my reading), mocking the double-speak of censorship. Sous rature is the subject matter here. It refers to a "missing" poem. Some of the questions we might be meant to ask: Who removed the poem? What content could a poem possibly have that would warrant its censorship? [my answer would be: no content, honestly, that Raworth (or Bernstein for that matter) would ever put in a poem]. The "missing" poem, though, (and I'm just guessing here) is probably non-existent, and certainly not "removed" by anyone other than Raworth. We are merely meant to entertain the reality of it's simulated censorship.

Bernstein's poem is a reference to the printing practice of printing "THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK" at the top of blank pages. A practice with "purposes ranging from place-holding to space-filling and content separation". It's a Mcluhanite gesture, highlighting the extra-authorial influences involved in poem-making.

Censorship is not a subject of Bernstein's poem. It has more in common with Cage's "4'33" than with Raworth's poem; More Rauschenberg's White Paintings than his Erased De Kooning. Worth noting is that there's no immediate necessity for an "intentionally blank" poem to take up an entire page, especially if it were representing a "missing" poem as does Raworth's. The "blank" page is the poem. It encourages us to see a "blank" page, not in terms of what is absent, but as a presence all itself: a presence that moves and shapes everything around it.

The page, however, is not blank, nor is the poem. Bernstein's poem is a blatant lie. It calls to attention the reality gap that text (and language itself) often asks us to ignore. Rather than encourage us to indulge in the virtual reality of language (as Raworth's poem does), Bernstein asks us to step out of it with a message (poem-as-artifact) from the poet-as-printer.

Raworth's poem asks us to question an outside "authority". Bernstein's poem asks us to question the poet himself.

Just to be clear, I love Raworth's poetry. I just want to defend Bernstein's poem as being very distinct from Raworth's in this particular case.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

how to dismiss conceptual poetry (or anything else you have no substantial argument against, but are just generally grumpy about)

vaguely suggest that the thing you want to dismiss
is out of touch with some undefinable notion of a "common man"
by suggesting that they're over educated, "elite", or "ivy league".

most importantly, be passive-aggressive, indirect, and evasive.
if you present your points in the form of a blog post
people might think you want to have a discussion
that actually leads somewhere.

better to present your ideas as a vague poemy thing. because, as we all know, poems are for making statements that can't be challenged or defended.

be sure to make statements that seem like harsh accusations,
but make no kind of concrete references,
so as to avoid being challenged by anyone
who was actually present at the event you're criticizing.

give enough substance so that everyone who already agrees with you
will nod in masturbatory agreement, but anyone who might disagree
will be put off by the substanceless fast-food-discourse that is the main output
of anything associated with "slow" poetry.

actually, just accuse whatever you're trying to dismiss of being career seeking.
no one will ever notice that the whole point of such a accusation is to garner attention
while displacing the blame that you yourself deserve for the very same thing.