Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Same - Only Different . . .

I was intrigued by Robert Archambeau's comments about continuity/sameness in US poetry – and have been thinking about it since July 9. His premise is that seemingly opposed “camps” often use the same lexicon to describe and discuss poetics. I’m a big fan of tracing similarities as well as differences in literary history (capitalism loves novelty loves difference masks similarity). He points to some rather suggestive similarities between the way that IA Richards and Paul Blackburn talked about poetry. The old-timey “godfather of New Criticism” (hmm . . . well, sort of) and the New American young turk are speaking the same language, as Archambeau sees it. Check out the much more articulate original.

While this comparison risks anachronism (Principles of Criticism was published in the 20s, “Statement,” in the 1950s), there is certainly more than a little truth in these observations, especially when Blackburn speaks of poetry’s power to help one “stand a better/chance of being a whole man,” juxtaposed to Richard’s desire for poetry to aid in (what would later be called) self-actualization. Both writers are interested in counter-acting instrumental rationalism (which, as children of modernism, both associate with modernity). Archabeau does us a service by linking this notion of literature-as-self-cultivation to Schiller’s – it is indeed an idea that grows out of late Enlightenment/early Romantic thought (esp. in Germany). A’s apologies for these men’s use of male pronouns is part and parcel of the formal individualist philosophy implied in their writings.

But for every similarity, there’s a difference. Richards desires a psychological “balance” within the personality; in “Science and Poetry,” he speaks of poetry’s power to act as “a League of Nations for the moral ordering of the impulses – a new order based on conciliation, not on attempted suppression.” While Blackburn has no truck with suppression, he is also suspicious of orders; he embraces, not conciliation but confrontation – hence his language about “the materialistic pig of a technological world” as the enemy. This is late Romanticism rebelling against early Romanticism – Shelley vs. Wordsworth.

Of course, both Richards and Blackburn locate poetry’s usefulness in its not being a means to an end. This may appear to some (like me) to be a bit of a contradiction. Richards wants us to see things “as they really are . . . apart from any one particular interest which they may have for us.” He is quick to concede, however, that “[o]f course without some interest, we should not see them at all, but the less any one particular interest is indispensable, the more detached our attitude becomes.” Our interest in poetry is its ability to render us disinterested – detached. This is a far cry from Blackburn’s cry for poets to “sing something from their guts.” But Blackburn also wants poets do so as a means to an end: that of “being a whole man.” Both writers thus echo Allen Tate’s claim that “poetry finds its usefulness in its perfect inutility.”

All of which might be an interesting angle on Dale Smith’s SloPo. The purpose of slow poetry is to sever poetry from any vestigial links to the market economy – and to help its devotees to move in that direction. This is, however, not a desire to destroy poetry’s use value; quite the contrary, since the point is to produce an improved quality of life.

Which brings us back to the family resemblances between all the writers from Schiller to Smith who are fundamentally anti-capitalist – whether they are Romantics or paleo-conservatives or anarchists. The enemy is really exchange value, not use value. Despite the opposition to instrumentalism, they embrace utility. However, this is not the result of some Hegelian self-identity inherent in (or emerging from) the nature of things. It is the material genealogy of an idea – an idea that should be considered within the specifics of particular moments in the history of liberal-democratic/capitalist society.

If you have read this far, you should probably just go ahead and buy my book and read it (above, at right).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Teach the Starlings

Who says you can't teach an old vermin new tricks? If you are looking for a mission in life, this one is as good as any and better than most. Be sure to turn your speakers on, and run your cursor over the word "Schieffelin" on the graphic.

Maybe we can teach them to compose and recite poetry, so human poets can spend more time blogging.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Buzz-Words of the Avant-Garde

This one is tougher than the one below, since it’s more like the fish describing the water, given how I read nowadays. But here are some cues that the book of poetry being blurbed is “avant-garde” or “experimental” or “edgy” or unconventional, or whatever buzz-label you will:

- [blurb concentrates on the form of the poetry while giving little indication of the poet’s tone, concerns, etc.]
- [blurb lists a series of concerns and topics that are wildly disparate, to the point of goofiness]
- between _______ and ______: the prose poem and the sacred incantation; the villanelle and the pasquinade; part _____, part _______. ________ meets ______.
- disjunctive [as implicit compliment]; problematize; construct; configures; manipulates; appropriates; displacement
- provocative; idiosyncratic
- vectors; processes; investigations; conceptual
- provocative vectors; conceptual idiosyncracies
- “political” [as implicit compliment; or, even more question-begging:] “social” or “cultural” [or, worse:] “a political intervention”; radical ______; intersections [better yet, interstices] between poetry and politics [or] private and public space
- the nature of language [or nature – or thinking, or any other abstract category that has a “nature”]

That’s the best I could come up with. Like I say, these are all things I like or am interested in, so who am I to say. But has this vocabulary (or the one in the previous post) changed much in the last 30 years? Sometimes I think everyone in the U.S. is too busy to have an aesthetic idea. I know I am . . .

Resolved: “In America, there will always be avant-gardes, b/c America will always be a country town,” vs.
Resolved: “In America, there will always be avant-gardes, b/c America will always be a market society that demands innovation as the only way to distinguish between the relative desirability of cultural products” –
Or: number two b/c of number one? Help me out, here . . .

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Buzz Words

I recently told a poet friend that there are certain tip-offs or buzz-words in poetry book blurbs that lead me to think that I probably will not like the books. But I couldn't say what those words/phrases were, at the time. Well, I went looking for some in a recent catalog, and here is some blurbese that set off my alarm bells:

- [if the blurb consists entirely of the author's publications and prizes]
- [blurbs that only address the subject-matter, not the form/style]
- 'the [abstract noun] of [abstract noun]': largeness of heart; compass points of the human landscape
- '[abstract noun or adjective] & (yet) [abstract noun or adjective]': meaning & beauty; tender & tough; timeless & particular; wit & wisdom; uncertainty & insight; mystery & acceptance; haunting & buoyant; fresh language & vivid images
- anything about bearing witness
- life-affirming or soul-infused
- any version of the verb 'to celebrate'
- authentic(ity); honest(y); visceral
- ordinary miracles
- insightful, meditative, philosophical, haunting, riveting, exhilarating, heartbreaking.

These are all real examples; and it may be that the authors of these books were wincing at the blurbs long before I was. All of which may simply be saying that I am the ungrateful whelp of the middlebrow-humanist culture that nurtured whatever interest I possess in poetry or learning today. As my Aunt Frances used to say, "If you can't think of anything good to say about something, just say, 'I don't know enough about it to appreciate it.'" But then, I don't go to Mass anymore, either, precisely b/c I know more about Catholicism than I care to recall.

Next time: Buzz-words of the Avant-Garde

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

SloPo Is Born

Check out "Possum Ego" (Dale Smith's blog - see link below right). He's been on a fine tear recently about "Slow Poetry." He even calls it "SloPo" and calls it a movement. I hope so. Anyway, check it out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Poem Including History as What?

I just re-read and re-re-read C.S. Giscombe’s Giscome Road, trying, once again, to come to terms with what it’s doing. As someone writing a biographical/historical “poem” (or whatever you want to call it), I thought it would be good to re-acquaint myself with this one. It is “about the constellation of places in northern British Columbia that were named, directly or indirectly, for John Robert Giscome” (n.p.), an Afro-Caribbean prospector who came to that country in 1858. But in what sense is it “about” Giscome or about the places that bear his name? Or maybe the question should be what does it mean to be “about” history – not to mention to “include” (subsume?) it.

In most of this book-length poem, history as narrative only appears within brief interludes of (gorgeous) lyrical meditation. There are certainly Olsonian moments:

“’To further his ends,’ Fr. Morice sd, of Dunlevy, ‘he established a post at Giscome Portage, a section of land named after a man he had for some time in his employ as cook.’

“But Rev. Runnalls gets to the point: ‘To further his trade w/the natives he established a number of outposts, one of wch was at Giscome Portage, a place wch was named for a negro cook in Dunlevy’s employ.’” (33)

However, the next page/section, “(Northern Road)” departs from that mold, and dives back into the stream:

“The arrival at the edge of water

some little end of the water come to & breached

(in a stretch forward or as though in a gesture
from, typically, one of so many edges),

a hiatus in the travel by water, the build

of negatives and switchbacks along the same old bank

the edge of a story” (34)

This passage seems to me more typical of the book as a whole: it is really an extended reflection on the process/nature of hi/story than a history. If it is “about” anything, it’s about fluid doublings-back, traces [in a decidedly Derridean sense], centers and peripheries (“You never know what name the periphery’s going to start with,” the poem ends). Moreover, the geographically and historically specific landscape invariably ends up becoming a metaphorical landscape; nouns like source, mouth, head, interior sit uneasily (and unreferentially) next to pieces (one a “centerfold”) of detailed topo maps. All space ends up being centerless, if you’re always on a periphery.

One suspects that, on a practical level, this may be a response to the apparent lack of information about Giscombe’s Giscome forebear (“the name’s the last thing to disappear”). But more than that, or perhaps because of that, G. seems to have a profound mistrust of “description” – the presumption that one can picture or represent anything at all. He also mistrusts narrative, which is probably not hard to do if you are African-American:

“or a staged show –

the endless old story footlit, the same old story

endlessly leaping from river to river but just ahead of the words

& without narration to give itself quantity -,” (49)

Giscombe manages to pull off that most difficult of poetic feats, the long lyric poem. But it left me feeling nostalgic for the de Man affair. That is, I don’t think G. would say that he has given up on history; in fact, he’d probably say that this is the only narrative that works – at least for his book. And that’s probably right – it’s definitely more complex than I know.

I have to wonder, though, if one can grapple with history via abstractions or even via trope. There’s something obdurate, even Special, about specificity; about physicality; maybe we need a special language for it – or need to give language “about” history an epistemological “pass.”

But, no – that just surrenders historical narrative to those who don’t wonder about such things. That’s the strength of Giscome Road – the wondering as it wanders. I certainly don’t think I’ve ever conceived of history as in any meaningful sense “knowable” (there are too many people doing too many things at the same time – each of which is meaningful in multiple ways). But I still feel a need to jump into the current and name the bubbles as I sink in it. Or some such trope.

Does skepticism about representation mean giving up on history (even as we gesture towards it – whatever it is)? And if so, is that a surrender? Or are these questions hopelessly late 80s?