Friday, July 11, 2003

Brian Kim Stefans bringing up the point--a class one?--that time is precious & therefore "reading (not to mention writing) should not be a matter of indifference."

Amanda made a similar point in an essay she wrote some years back.

Creeley: "I write when no other act is possible." (which is often for some & seldom for others)
ac, acr

Bitter. Bitter. Bitter.

Sour. Sour. Sour.

I forgot to save a note I just wrote explaining my take on the five exerpts from the Stephen Dunn article. I'll try to recreate them quickly. {Why am I doing this? I realized {after a friend pointed it out to me} that the stats & quotations seemed sour & bitter w/o careful tho't or close reading. I was simply copying & pasting bits of info like a journalist. But like a bad op/ed writer I was structuring the stats & quotes to imply certain critiques w/o actually creating arguments to support those critiques.}

It seems to me that many of my favorite writers working in the 60s used "fable or parable" (& myth) in their work. And writers quite different from Dunn created "ingenious" responses to the limits of language. In other words I'm not sure poetry in the 60s was lacking in fable, parable, & ingenuity (unless perhaps he is referring to straight--single meaning--fable & parable as opposed to using motifs & language from fables & parables). Who is he talking about anyway?

As for surrealism & realism, I go w/ Ecclesiastes & the birds: "there is a time..." But what most upsets me about the second passage is Dunn mocking "the belief that rationality was the smoke screen of the powerful." We are living in a time in which "rationality" is defined by a few very powerful people. So, w/in the terms & conditions of debate created by the Bush administration & complicit media, arguments for war were seen as "rational" though when those same arguments were viewed outside the terms & conditions established by Bush, et al, they were clearly suspect. The fact that Dunn gave this talk a few months ago & made no mention of the state of language in our nation's politics is disturbing. Bush has after all been the prince of mannerless & graceless (i.e. bullying) language. But instead of taking that on Dunn wld rather take a swing at straw horses: the out-of-control 60s & the irrational 70s.

Dunn connects "grace" with "decorum" emphasizing connotations of "refinement" and "propriety". I prefer to connect "grace" with:
Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill.
Mercy; clemency.
A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence.
A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.

The grace I find in John Wiener's poems has nothing to w/ decorum, refinement, or propriety but everything to do w/ a seemingly effortless beauty and charm of utterance.

"An artist is a god of very small universes." Why very small? Why not very big? The sentence smacks of mediocrity.
Sleep in your house. Go to work. Come home. Occasionally go on vacation. Make observations along the way. (Wednesday at an awards ceremony for young poets at the Sawyer Free Library, a local poet (author of a number of books & winner of a National Endowment of the Arts grand) said that "observation, description, and classification" are the keys to good poetry. Hmm. I thought composition of language as sound, image, and idea had something to do w/ poetry.) & above all don't bother the powerful. They're doing important work.

As for the final quotation, I'm going to leave that alone except to say that I too like vigorous poetry & don't care for "sloppy" poetry. Though, judging by his own poems, I'd bet our assessments of what is limp & sloppy would be quite different. His poems are certainly careful. They are clear. They observe, describe, and classify. These are the virtues of a particular poetics. He won the Pulitzer after all.

I should say that I don't begrudge his success or stature. It's entirely predictable given social and cultural conditions. I do crave the opportunity to question him on missing specifics (what poets are you obliquely criticizing?) and his definition of various terms (grace, vigor, sloppiness, etc.).

Maybe he'll search for his name & find this site. Maybe he'll email. Please do! In the meantime, I'm interested in other responses.

While I'm at it, thanks Mick Carr for your response which for better or worse spurred this missive.


Thursday, July 10, 2003

I liked this from Jordan Davis, especially: "This whole conversation {and poetry criticism and/or critique in general--added by j.c.} would be much improved if we all concentrated a little more on what qualities we share with those we admire/attack, and whether we admire or loathe these qualities in ourselves."
"Amazon Sales Ranks" for some of the books I am reading or have read recently:

The Amerindian Coastline Poem, Fanny Howe N/A {But available for $134.88, though a note on the dealer, Book People, says their books tend to be overpriced.}
Hermetic Definition, H.D. 474,052
End to Torment, H.D. 287,495
The New American Poetry, ed. Allen 284,373
Selected Poems, Fanny Howe 279,000
Descent of Alette , Alice Notley 225,578
Dreamtigers, Jorge Luis Borges 80,724
Justine, Lawrence Durrell 64,176
Collected Stories, Isaac Babel 52,421
Collected Poems, Federico Garcia Lorca 32,101
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , James Joyce (Penguin) 6,378 (Modern Library) 91,167 (Dover) 94,937
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino 3,056

Amazon Sales Rank of Billy Collins' Salling Around the Room:
920 (up from 1,210)

While doing research for a letter I dug this up:

"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet discusses poetry, manners and grace" (UDaily {University of Delaware} March 7, 2003)

Some of the best moments from the article on Stephen Dunn's talk:
"In the ‘60s repression was a dirty word," he said, "but repression as we know it can be good for language. It makes us resort to fable or parable. We might have to be ingenious under its hold."

The 1970s could be summed up as a decade of "surrealism without vision and right-mindedness without reality," Dunn said. Poetry was affected by the belief that rationality was the smoke screen of the powerful, he said.

"We live in a graceless age, as well as an age without decorum," Dunn said. "The word is nearly unbearable, nearly dead. Its common day uses rarely compel us to honor its meaning. Our daily encounters and shows like Jerry Springer crave grace.

"An artist is a god of very small universes. True grace often comes from pen, brush, camera and body."

"We need to correct the lack of vigor in free verse," he said. "We do see a great deal of sloppy poetry which exists in a sloppy world. And this world gets crazier as the days go on."
Funny thing to say for a poet whose idea of formal rigor seems to be maintaining the same number of lines per stanza. To see for yourself go here. Why do I bother with such things?

Better get back to writing.


Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The link to Yoo Doo Right didn't work in my last post.
Try the one in the left column.
I've tried to clarify a few things {and fix a few errors} in the post on culture & class that I finished in the wee hours of Sunday morning but was only able to post yesterday.

I look forwarded to responses.
See "Robin (can't sleep poem)" on Yoo Doo Right. That's how to end a poem!
After discovering that each of three books I was reading Saturday were blurbed by Creeley I decided to make polisiseyes a blurb blog, perhaps for a day. So please send your Creeley blurbs {& others of particular interest} here.
File Under: Homeland Security
"The selectment and two commissioned officers nearest the beacons [atop Governor's Hill] were to have charge of them, and, when an enemy's fleet was discovered, to fire thier alarm-guns, set the bells ringing, and cause the beacon to be fired with all expedition." Babson, _History of Gloucestser_

Monday, July 07, 2003

Thanks to Jim Behrle's encouragement I'm attempting to repost my latest notes on class. Here's to the end of the big post error! {Interesting that the posts are considered big--as in amount of memory used{is memory the right word?}; the posts are not called "long" {the word traditionally {schmaditionally} used to describe a lot of writing}.
Culture & Class
{Yes, I've created a new topic before addressing the old ones.}
Why discuss class at all? Christina's email on class {see below} reminded me to consider class & the conditions for the production of {& engagement w/} poetry {having a room of one's own, time to write/read, etc.}. But for the moment I’ll postpone my $.02 re: poetry & class, & instead slide poetry & class into culture & class.

Culture--as a contributor to a high standard-of-living to use --needn't of course be high culture {Botticelli, modernist poetry, jazz, etc.} but merely a living one {including for example folk arts, cooking, etc.} Unfortunately, throughout the U.S., mass culture--which is essentially passive in nature--has for many, many years been a weed overrunning varied *local* cultural ecologies.

It is, of course, now a cliche to say that as a participant in U.S. mass culture, one consumes a lot & produces little {culturally}. {For this very reason kids forming bands & playing in U.U. basements continues to be a subversive act. Literally the underground!? This reminds me also of The Bookcellar readings of a few years ago. Grendel's too? The literal underground. Also, Descent of Alette} Since participating in culture {U.S. style} means consuming culture {films, CDs, Olive Garden cuisine, vacations in Rome, etc.} is one then culturally invisible {or perhaps drowning under the surface of the mainstream} if one cannot afford participation {i.e. consumption}? I guess what I'm saying is that if one buys {nyuk, nyuk} the notion that culture=consumption {of mass-cultural-good-&-services} then one's ability to participate in the culture is limited {or controlled/dictated} by one's income, and more generally, by the access one has to mass cultural products.

{Where cultural production is valued folk arts thrive. One then needs time & whatever raw materials--musical instruments, recipe ingredients, wool, etc.—are available to participate in/produce a living culture. Improvisation & hybridity often result. But that’s another post…}

Of course there are readymade cultural products for nearly all income & education (class?) levels & through them one can always {in a reasonably "well" functioning capitalist society*} participate {i.e. consume}, but this does not preclude cultural striving as a form of social class striving; meaning tho' there are cultural products made for all social classes in the U.S. {ah, capitalism!} our characteristic class striving--our belief that social ascension gives life direction & meaning {which impedes class consciousness but that's another topic, eh?}--leads, in some cases, to cultural striving as well. When cultural products are valued primarily as indicators of social class {often but not exclusively as masks covering one's actual social class w/ the trappings of a higher one}, cultural products that do not support striving may have no value all {since it is the cultural-consumption-as-mask not cultural-consumption-as-experience (i.e. art) that seems to matter}.

[*"'well' functioning" meaning only that someone/something (corporations {corpse} are things often have more rights than someones; here's to etymology!) wants to take money from every strata of society: thus the scare-quotes around "well."
{Straying from class but then returning…}
For USAmericans even when not particularly concerned w/ striving {some psychographic groups, advertisers tell us, are not concerned w/ striving} cultural consumption is still used as a sign/mask to indicated one’s desired identity: class identity, ethnic identity, sexual identity, religious identity, regional identity, etc. and/or the erasure/masking of any of these. {Christina mentioned poor chic in a recent email.} Again, the one implication is that culture-as-experience {art?} is less important than culture-as-sign/mask.

None of this is particularly new but I’d like to propose some implications for poetry.
Though it’s true that the consumption of avant art, like the consumption of any other product cultural or other, creates a mask/identity--{“Have you read the right poets?” “Robert Lowell’s not one of them,” to paraphrase the Silliman silliness}—poetry-as-experience must trump poetry-as-identity-mask {or social gesture, or …} or else poets are simply brand names like any other. Consumption of x brand names=x cultural identity. {Another post about poets-as-brand-names & one about the virtues of hybridity is coming on but those must wait.}

Reading--experiencing words on the page {or aloud} & making something of the experience—is encouraged by work that is not easily reduced. Work that is easily reduced {or which readers-as-non-experiencers have reduced despite the work’s complexity {see also: high school English teachers, my colleagues} more easily becomes a cultural product that can be worn as a mask. Inventive, imaginative work read by readers keen on experience creates a dynamic in which the cultural participant is no longer merely a consumer but has become a maker/producer {producing a meaning or reading}.

There are of course other ways of circumventing the culture=consumption equation. Folk arts are one. To return to the class issue, folk arts often have the additional benefit of practical use. Wear the clothes. Eat the cooking & baking. Sleep under the quilts. Put your O.E.D. inside the bookstand. {The commodification of folk arts must have something to do w/ a desire to escape culture-as-consumption by paradoxically buying & fetishizing an object produced w/in a culture-as-production/creation. {I’d like to go into distinctions between production & creation, but no time. It’s already 2:10. Ach. I’ve been writing this for days/daze…}}

This, of course, has class implications but not binding ones. In other words, it is often assumed {in, for examples, arguments on the poetics list} that working class poetry tends to be more narrative. Working folk don’t have time for that avant-crap is how the argument goes. But then someone else chimes in listing the many experimental/avant-garde poets who come from working class backgrounds.

In my case, culture-as-experience was not highly valued. My father had a favorite poem or two—usual ones like “The Raven” & later “Prufrock”—but he was not keen to find new ones or experience poetry. A book of Eliot’s poetry that I gave him after discovering his interest in “Prufrock”—discovered in a community college class he was taking—went unread. Culture-as-experience was more valued w/r/t rock music. He would often play us albums—most often the Beatles but sometimes Zepplin or Jethro Tull--& would call it cultural enrichment. We would be relatively quiet & still while taking ‘em in. I remember my father explaining satire to me before he played us “Happiness is a War Gun”. This sort of excitement about cultural experience was rare though. TV was ubiquitous & deadening. The ultimate vehicle for culture-as-{passive}-consumption. {Even movies were more exciting; though I saw few movies {no VCR} until I began sneaking into the theater at the mall.}

As for the culture of creation/production, my father sold his guitar in the middle of my childhood. Before I was born he’d been in bands; after I was born he usually just played around Christmas. Folk arts like cooking were mostly neglected in favor of Shake N Bake, pasta w/ sauce from a jar, etc.

My mother did crochet—culture-as-production—quite a bit. She also sewed us pants, shorts, etc. in the manner of the latest fashions. {Culture-as-production forced to mimic culture-as-consumption.} My paternal grandmother knit us sweaters that I was embarrassed to wear. After she died I wore them often. I remember making things—w/ shrink-a-dinks & other such mass marketed Do It {but not all of it} Yrself cultural products—while spending a few weeks with my maternal grandparents in the summer. We also picked berries & made things with them.

Making things always meant conforming to patterns, directions, and recipes. This was not fun although using my hands & then using/experiencing the product was far better than passive consumption.

Much of this is memorable because anomalous. The radio & TV beat the equation culture=consumption into my head. One or the other was nearly always on. I could go into how thoroughly I bought this equation {memories of pouring over the Sears Catalogue Wish Book w/ my younger brothers} but I’ll spare us. In h.s. the equation became clear & so as part of my burgeoning class consciousness, I became proud of, for example, the clothes my mother & grandmother had produced. I also started to write.

Some of the most vital U.S.American cultural-products have come out of working class cultures. The culture=consumption equation has often created vibrant underground responses. One needn’t passively accept the dogma of passive consumption (see: the origins of hip hop & its blossoming in the late 80s & its survival as expression in misc. underground scenes today; see also punk music; see misc. imaginative uses of folk materials in rock music {Cat Power, etc.}) People struggle against the equation but such struggles are certainly marginalized by the dominant notion that one's culture is what one consumes & more importantly what one is fed & most importantly what one can afford to buy. Occasionally something vital {hip hop, for example} bubbles to the surface & is commodified. Thus, the girl in one of my classes who this year designed a utopia called “Punk Land” in which only “hot” boys would be allowed & they would be forced to conform to particular fashion rules {the details of which escape me}. I think they missed the point. I can think of no better illustration of how culture-as-experience becomes culture-as-consumption here in the U.S.


Posted this on the Buffalo Poetics List today in response to a question and statement from Kirby Olson:

"Does Gloucester have a poet laureate?"

Vincent Ferrini is the poet laureate of Gloucester.

"Perhaps it should be on the balloting -- and rival poems published in the
papers, so that citizens can choose!"

A local bookstore (The Bookstore) campaigned the city council and the mayor
to create the position and install Vincent. However, friends have thought we
should walk in the July 3 Horribles Parade, passing out the candidates'
poems and ballots w/ their names. (In the Horribles Parade, people dress up
in costumes, etc. though now many of the floats are sponsored by businesses
and religious groups.) A second group of walkers could collect the ballots.
An interesting experiment, no?

Perhaps even better would be for the laureate candidates to read their poems
on the back of a flatbed truck. A good spot for the poets' float would be
right behind the fundamentalist Christian float & its cloying,
kid-friendly(?) music.

But I also like the idea of using the _Gloucester Daily Times_, the local
paper in which Charles O. himself was published, as a means of determining
the poet of the polis. (See: _Maximus to Gloucester; The Letter and Poems of
Charles Olson to the Gloucester Times, 1962 - 1969_, edited by Peter
Anastas, foreword by Gerrit Lansing, 1992.)

As for Vincent, his letters and poems frequently appear on the GDT's Op-Ed

I had trouble w/ blogger while trying to post a long note about culture & class on Sunday. I saved the text so will try again when I get home from GHS.