Saturday, October 14, 2006

 

Speaking of UC Press, you can now pre-order my next book, The Age of Huts (compleat), over the web. As you might imagine, I’m more than a little excited about this project, which is not only the first time that this entire project will have been in print in one place, but will also be the first time in 20 years that Ketjak will be available in its entirety in any form. Nor does it hurt that this is a press I’ve dreamed of having a book with ever since I was a student at UC Berkeley some 36 years ago. The book is scheduled to appear next April.

§

One place I am not this weekend is in Los Angeles at the Impunities conference. Apparently there is (or was) some printed literature that suggests otherwise, although I can’t find my name anywhere on the website. In any event, they did invite me but I never said yes, because my plans for this week were to be in Belgium. Now because of a family issue, I’ve had to cancel that trip as well. In any case, I apologize to anyone who attends the conference because they expect to see me at the REDCAT. In general, tho, it’s a bad idea for arts organizations (or anyone else, for that matter) to advertise people who have not agreed to appear at your event.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

 

If you were only going to own two books of poetry, you could do far worse than making them the two volumes of The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley. UC Press has finally released a paperback edition of the original Collected Poems, 1945-1975 to coincide with (and echo in look) its new Collected Poems, 1975-2005, which is just out in hardback. The two volumes together will run you $75 and change – that may be the best deal in all of poetry.

Robert Creeley already was the dean of American poets – I can think of no better way to describe him – by the time I first wandered onto the scene in 1965. It is difficult – impossible – to imagine that at the moment he was only 39 years old.¹ His first trade press book, the 1962 Scribners volume, For Love, gathering together material from eight earlier chapbooks, had made him the most popular – and accessible – of the non-beatniks involved in the New American Poetry.

His was also the last generation in which every young poet of substance could expect reasonably to have a book by a major trade publisher & thus in most bookstores in the country. Soon enough, the rapid increase in the number of poets & the decrease in the number of bookstores willing to stock much in the way of verse beyond Blake, Gibran & Rilke caused the trades to retrench into becoming essentially a small press scene of their own, albeit with distribution, ad budgets & some ability to influence institutional awards. Even poets just a few years younger than Creeley, such as Ed Dorn, soon found such doors shut to them.

So we turn out to be incredibly fortunate that Creeley had such distribution while still in his thirties & at a moment when it still meant something in terms of reaching a broader audience. The brevity of Creeley’s poems belies the fact that he was, throughout his life, one of the most brilliant of innovators & with perhaps the most subtle ear of his generation. If the arc of these two volumes differs, it is that the earlier one shows the work of a young man anxious to remake the world of verse over in his own aesthetic image. The poems are intense & often need to be read with a great sense of urgency & even an tone of anger or despair, pausing – as he invariably did – audibly at the end of every line. By the start of the second volume, Creeley was already the most widely imitated poet in the English language & was in the process of concluding his long relationship with Bobbie Louise Hawkins. In 1976, while doing a reading tour of New Zealand, he met Penelope Highton, who was to become his wife & companion for the last 27 years of his life. Both her spirit and the more settled domesticity of his last marriage are inseparable from the poems of the second volume. It’s easier going & the quest isn’t so much to change poetry – Creeley had already accomplished that – as it was to always stay attentive to the immanence of daily life.

Close readers of Creeley’s verse may be surprised to discover that there are only four “uncollected” poems to the second volume, works I suppose that were written after he’d completed the manuscript for On Earth which was in production at UC when he died. Here is the most amazing of the four, entitled “Poets”:

Friend I had in college told
me he had seen as kid out the
window in backyard of an
apartment in upscale Phila-
delphia the elder Yeats walking
and wondered if perhaps he
was composing a poem or else
in some way significantly thinking.
So later he described it, then
living in a pleasant yellowish
house off Harvard Square,
having rooms there, where,
visiting I recall quick sight of
John Berryman who had been
his teacher and was just leaving
as I’d come in, on a landing of
the stairs I’d just come up, the
only time and place I ever did.

If you’re still an undergraduate or elsewise challenged economically & your parents or spouse or whomever ask you what you want for this year’s forthcoming holidays, print out the online ads under the links to these two volumes above, and tell them to get you these. They’re a present you’ll keep – and use – for the rest of your life.

 

¹ This made him the same age as my mother, which I, in my teenage wisdom, was certain was a very old age. My own father died that same summer at the age of 38.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

 

It’s ironic that I should find myself in a dust-up over the question of blurbs right at the moment when I am reading what I at first took to be a novel written entirely as a series of blurbs. As it turns out, that’s not quite what’s going on in the late Gilbert Sorrentino’s Lunar Follies. Rather, the book is a series of 53 short texts, some of which might be blurbs, some of which might be reviews, at least one of which is nothing but a lengthy list in the form of a paragraph, and some of which might just be gallery guides for imaginary (and sometimes impossible) art exhibitions. Here is “Gassendi,” which carries the subhead, “Banville Teddie:Late Works”:

This small, exquisitely mounted exhibition shows works from the Gassendi Foundation’s collection of Teddie’s last miniatures. It is provocatively, if somewhat inaccurately presented under the title “In the Months of Love,” a phrase from the juvenilia of Ingelow MacGonagall, a Scottish poet much admired by Teddie, and comprises a group of late paintings from the mysterious “Primavera” series. They are hopefully dreamy, their microscopically gestural bravura “in love,” so to say, with the notion of ideal beauty, their colors almost vengefully Parassian. And yet, this dreaminess is quite proper, perhaps, to aesthetes, while not yet quote so to poets, to whom, en masse – as we know from Teddie’s recently discovered diaries – these delicate miniatures were dedicated, and for whom they were most certainly executed. This dreamy quality of Teddie’s work is often thought of as a flaw, and yet one cannot remotely conceive of the paintings otherwise. Teddie increasingly thought of himself as a poet, and of his colors as words, his forms, as he once put it, “[as] a shifting syntax, of sorts,” and his canvases as his “well-thumbed, scratched over, blotted” manuscripts, all brushed by the hand of the Muse, “yet no more than her hand, no more, no more.” The canvases, one must declare, are much smaller, even, than miniatures, and are each dominated by a cool, sherbet-like color, although other colors, tints, shades, tones, and highlights, lurk everywhere. These are, perhaps, after all, “the months of love.” Perhaps not. The pictures, so small as to be made out with no little difficulty, are madly ambitious, a kind of paean to a strange Teddiean spring, to his beloved primavera, and to the sun, the sun of the artist’s cherished Ringo Chingado Flats, the side of his last isolated studio; and, of course, to flesh, the flesh of his fellow humans, mostly women, that he honored and adored, even as he exploited, brutalized, and despised it.

Not unlike some of the work of Kent Johnson & Gabe Gudding, this is a high concept mode of satire – if you read such reviews, particularly in off-brand art journals of the sort one finds at some distance, say, from New York City, a piece that is at once both this pretentious & this vague is utterly plausible. Indeed, there are a few blogs out there of which one might say the same. It’s not the sort of laugh-out-loud humor of the New York School 2.0, but I find the silliness here quite delicious: Ringo Chingado indeed! And that’s exactly what this book is, one long & extremely rich dessert, richer still if you catch all the allusions Sorrentino makes in his work. For example, there was a 19th century French poet by the name of Théodor de Banville.

Perhaps Lunar Follies  feels to me like a novel because the chapters are all in alphabetical order (this makes for a positively spooky table of contents!), so you sense the procedural logic from beginning to end. Each chapter title is taken literally from the surface of the moon. Gassendi is the name of a crater as well as that of Pierre Gassendi, 17th century philosopher and mathematician.

Yet each piece, like the above, is perfectly capable of standing on its own, and indeed without any knowledge as to its indirect or sly references. There is nothing to suggest any inherent continuity between sections, at least at the level of content. For example, there is nothing to suggest that the same authorial voice stands behind each piece – in fact, there is a lot to suggest otherwise, as the tone seems to lunge from one vocabulary & diction to another. Lurking behind all of these is a lifetime of reading critical prose & art prose intensely, understanding where they fit together &, even more important, where they merely pretend to do so.

But if there isn’t a single voice to this project, then in fact we have something quite unlike the novel with the fictive’s obsession with character. Imagine a book with no narrator & that’s not so far from what you’ll find here. This gives Lunar Follies much more the feel of a prose poem, such as those written by Aloysius Bertrand early in the 19th century. Bertrand didn’t know he writing prose poems – Baudelaire had not yet declared the form – and I don’t think Sorrentino did either. Rather, I think that Sorrentino may have had a more fixed concept of the prose poem & that this project, lying outside it, therefore was/is something different.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter. What does is that many readers will find this book to be scrumptious – tho Sorrentino expresses attitudes, as he does at the very end of the piece above, quite consistent with the New American Poetry’s sense of gender relations (and, beyond that, a 1950s’ conception of these relations) – LeRoi Jones, the editor of Four Young Lady Poets, after all, was a close collaborator with Sorrentino during that period. All of which is to say that women here often are placed on a pedestal, but sometimes are found up there naked & prone. In this regard, Sorrentino may be a “guy’s writer” simply because history & his own limitations have closed him off to subsequent generations of female readers. Given that Something Said may be the one of the two or three best critical books to come out of that period & that Sorrentino subsequently developed into a master of the novel, this is a shame. But this is not a week in which I want to ignore the obvious (see aforementioned dust-up).

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

 

John Tranter responded to my comments regarding Aaron Kunin’s text that deploys both verse and prose within the same text without having to resort to haibun-like before-&-after effects by reminding me of this link on Jacket’s website. It’s a discussion of line lengths online, just a part of Jacket’s editorial style guide. One of the reasons that Jacket is the best online poetry publication – tho hardly the most important reason – is that it does think to have, and publish, its style guide.

All magazines, online & otherwise, do have style guides, although relatively few seem actually to know this. It’s something that any professional publication will have in some formal manner, just as every major corporation does, covering everything from use of the name in print to the colors of the logo (there is only one “IBM blue” & woe is he or she who gets it wrong). At The Socialist Review, we knew what it was, and discussed it at length, tho it was never written down anywhere. Later, when I worked for ComputerLand, there were enough people involved in writing & editing in the marketing organization that one could have heated, passionate debates over, to pick an actual example, the relationship of an em-dash to a comma. Often such organizations adopt a published style guide, such as The Associated Press Style Guide, The Chicago Manual of Style or Words into Type. The Chicago Manual has had something of a twitchy history of deciding whether or not to include a comma before the “and” in a series of terms, such as blue, green, mauve, and tope. One edition will have that comma, while the next will drop it. Then the one after that seems to bring it back. This happened at least three times while I was at ComputerLand (which, during the same period, morphed into Vanstar) and it brought out rousing debates each time. And I have known organizations that swore that they were committed to a long out-of-print edition over some convention that may have been no larger than that.

Most zines, hard copy or soft, tend to represent the effort of one individual, sometimes aided by some friends, more often not. In those cases, the style guide tends to reside in the editor’s head & he or she may or may not be able to give you some pointers as to what they are. But a good reading of a couple of issues will let you know, for instance, which ones are prepared to let a critic use an ampersand or spell though as tho & which are not.

The advantage of having a guide in print is that you can outsource some of the finer details of copy editing, whether to another member of the magazine staff, a third-party editor, or perhaps the submitting author, which is more or less how I read Tranter’s guide – it’s a how-to for the submission of articles and poems, so that he doesn’t have to spend forever making minute html adjustments to try and get your text into his format. For example, if I were submit this text to Jacket, I would have to address the fact that my blog’s use of dashes differs from his. I prefer the brevity of an en dash ( – ) with one space on either side to an em dash (—) butted right up against the words it disrupts. This is simply a matter of what pleases my eye. I use ampersands for much the same reason: I like the physicality of the symbol & the ways in which it reminds me of the constructedness of writing, which, after all, words as such preceded: our ancestors spoke for centuries, presumably millennia, before somebody started taking notes. I like the semi-colon as well, tho I tend to use it sparingly. If I have a list that requires semi-colons, I’m much more apt to run it as a list thus:

A

B

C

That breaks up the text for the eye & improves readability. I should note, however, that I have never found a satisfying convention for bullets, such as one might use with a list like the above, that works well with enough browsers to warrant deploying. My few attempts at this have all been regrettable.

Tranter, who once wrote a poem entitled “The Chicago Manual of Style,” isn’t inherently opposed to the idea of a Ginsberg-esque or Whitmanesque long line, but he is generally befoozled as to how best to represent these curling long lines in HTML & is willing to admit to it. Confronted with the same problem, I generally treat long lines as individual paragraphs with hanging indents and make a point of seeing to it that there is no margin, or what a typesetter once would have called leading, at the bottom – whereas the typical paragraph here tends to have 12 points of leading. Thus Ginsberg’s famous lines:

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz

are rendered via the following html code at the top of the first “paragraph”:

<p class=MsoNormal style='margin-top:0in;margin-right:.5in;margin-bottom:0in;margin-left:
.75in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;text-indent:-.25in'>

Whereas the bottom paragraph or line is coded:

<p class=MsoNormal style='margin-top:0in;margin-right:.5in;margin-bottom:12.0pt;margin-left:
.75in;text-indent:-.25in'>

I’ve boldfaced the key section of code that differs between the two. The so-called margin-bottom is how we get the space between quoted text and the regular body of this discussion. But note that you have to specify margins in all four directions.

That works in some cases, tho obviously not Kunin’s. I’ve seen some publications attempt to represent complex spacing in poetic lines – not just length, say, but also the kind of uses of blank space that I always associate in my mind with the work of the late Paul Blackburn, sometimes s t r e t c h i n g words out with blank spaces between every letter, for example – by rendering the text in a JPG file, treating it as an image. I have resorted to this myself here. Use it in the middle of a longer poem, tho, and you can be sure that some reader somewhere will set their screen to the “wrong” resolution & get text that differs wildly in point size from its immediate surroundings.

Possibly some future version of HTML, or whatever comes after HTML, will resolve these issues. I’m skeptical, simply because the people who are responsible for such things don’t read poetry & don’t worry about such things. An alternative that some online zines opt for is Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format. PDF certainly has its uses – it’s an acceptable format for ebooks, for example – but it slows down some browsers to a crawl. I use it at my job, and I use it to format texts I want to read later on my Palm Pilot, and once in awhile to help an editor understand exactly where my own lines should break in the poem, but a zine that alternates an HTML framework with PDF poems & articles has always struck me as something new for the abominations of Leviticus. Also, just try looking at a text like David Daniels’ Gates of Paradise in a PDF format on a small screen, like that of any PDA. It does not, as they say, compute.

I always worry that any new technology is going to have an impact on the verse that is produced & read there, and at some level I’m sure some of this goes on. Yet the omnipresence of the “green screen” of the pre-Windows days of computing did not yield a generation of poets who worked in 22-line forms, tho that was all you could see on the screen at one time. And it’s worth keeping in mind that the web is itself just 15 years old – Tim Berners-Lee first uploaded it to a server on August 6, 1991 – and that HTML is unlikely to be the standard we will be using a century from now. I don’t even want to think of the upheaval that a new format will bring if a new web standard is not backwards compatible.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

 

Robert Anton Wilson
needs our help

§

How indie bookstores
can change
to survive
the current market
(hint: get rid of
most of the books)

§

Fifty years
of independent books
in
Edmonton, Alberta

§

Even more
on indie bookstores

§

In Helena, Montana
this week
The Festival of the Book
will include
a live show
of Selected Shorts

§

The Allen Ginsberg
industry
is growing

§

Impunities:
An Experimental Writing Conference
next week
in
Los Angeles

§

Against the concept
of progress
in poetry

§

Naming the latest
literary tendency:
(new wave fabulists?)

§

Ruining
the Poetry Room

§

The best
political reporter
on television
today

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Monday, October 09, 2006

 

f
Eleanor Anne Porden (1797-1825)

 

Silliman’s Blurb

This past week has not been an easy one – I’m paying the piper, so to speak, for having taken some time off this summer & find myself in the midst of multiple major reports, all with deadlines, all more or less simultaneously. On top of which my sons are both starting high school, but at different schools in different counties (long story) – not even adjoining counties at that – and the gauntlet of orientations, open houses & curriculum nights has gobbled up what little other time I’ve got. Then Anne Boyer & Ian Keenan were kind enough to steer me in the direction of Elizabeth Treadwell’s blog, which has a note about my blurb for Pattie McCarthy’s Verso that interprets what I had written in ways I’d never imagined possible – my first thought, on reading Treadwell’s angry & dismissive comments, was that it was strange indeed for anyone to be reading another person’s blurb as being a statement about herself. I still think that may be a primary dynamic here, but at the same time there is another level on which I can see Treadwell’s argument as being completely reasonable. And some of what she writes points to important fissures in writing at the present moment.

Obviously, I brought this on myself. In writing a blurb sufficiently modular for Apogee publisher Alice Jones to edit it down to what she & Pattie wanted to use, I’d left myself open to one on the inherent dangers of any critical endeavor, even as simple as a blurb – I’d written something that could be taken out of context where its meaning comes across fairly differently (to my eye & ear, at least) than it does if one runs just the final four sentences. Here is the actual blurb as it appears on the cover of the book. I’ve italicized the portion that Treadwell quotes.

What if Frank O'Hara had been, literally, a court jester? Or, at the very least, tutor of the King's children? Those are questions that linger in the imagination as one reads Pattie McCarthy's Verso. McCarthy strikes a new tone in & for her poetry. At the same time, however, all of the concerns — with history, naming, gender, etymology & referentiality — that have always animated her work rage on unabated… She makes the membrane between the visible and its opposite her focal point… Pattie McCarthy has been one of our most intellectually ambitious poets— a tradition she shares with Rachel Blau DuPlessis & with H.D. And indeed with the likes of Pound & Olson. We can still count the number of women who attempt writing on such a scale on the fingers of our hands. So it is worth noting & celebrating this addition to that roster.

Any strategic hyperbole in the comparisons of the final four sentences comes across as simply unjustified blanket assertions absent the earlier text. With the full statement, tho, I might be wrong, but I’m not without my reasons.

The objectionable points, as I understand Treadwell’s remarks, as well as those made in its comments stream and in subsequent blog notes by Kasey Mohammad, Shanna Compton, Anne Boyer & Jessica Smith, in the comments streams thereto (see, for example, Jonathan Mayhew’s comments in Kasey’s blog, as well as those made to more than one blog by Ian Keenan & in Treadwell’s stream by Jim Behrle) as well as to the pussipo listserv, are functionally three: the use of superlatives, as such; a comparison with other writers, especially male other writers; and my “fingers of our hands” remark, which can be interpreted apparently as meaning that there would be as few as 10 such writers (tho that is not how I read the plural our). Beyond these surface issues, there is a question of a tradition that would include high modernists like Pound & H.D. with one of the early coiners of the term postmodern in Olson with a contemporary feminist poet like DuPlessis. And, if I read Jessica Smith’s blog – and several emails I’ve received from other people – a general irritation that “the language poets” and/or possibly just myself have far too much “power” on the poetry scene today. Lets take a look at each of these.

The use of strategic superlatives – Shanna Compton & Jonathan Mayhew are largely correct in their assessments of this – is one of the inherent risks of blurbing. One important reality – and part of what motivates Treadwell’s initial reaction, I think – is that there are, in fact, more good writers today than ever before. When you go from a few hundred publishing poets, the situation in this country a half century ago when the New Americans first came onto the scene, to the more than ten thousand who are now publishing, not just writing, there is going to be a major dispersal of the landscape. Blurbs are endorsements – unlike at least a couple of the New Americans, I won’t blurb a book I don’t like (just as, in my blog, I very rarely bother to write about a book I don’t like) – and superlatives are a foregrounding device.

Given that I could write “this is a terrific book” about at least 100 books in any given year, I use comparisons as a means of giving a better sense of shape to my experience of this landscape. Literature is not without its history & a little reading allows any reader to begin mapping out what matters to them – it is the primary device for making sense of the cornucopia of data points that 4,000+ books per year constitutes. As the alternate modes offered by Jack Spicer in his application for the Magic Workshop nearly 50 years ago underscores, there’s no one right way to see things, no Mercator projection that will always identify Gertrude Stein as having a value of X, e.e. cummings a value of Y. I know a number of mostly younger poets who chafe at being so pigeon-holed, but that is an act of denial I always reject. A work that stands truly outside of any plausible mapping of the landscape, not just of the present but going back at least to the start of the 19th century, can only be described in a few ways. One is the category of “things that don’t fit” or at least don’t fit yet. Another is works ignorant of history. A third is works with a lack of self-knowledge. Some really good writing can fall into these interstices – consider Bern Porter as an example – but the one sad certainty is that all these categories are paths to neglect.

A second plausible objection to my use of comparisons here is that I overhyped Pattie McCarthy’s work, placing it alongside canonical poets like Pound, Olson, H.D. & DuPlessis. This is where I think Treadwell’s quoting out of context distorts what I actually wrote. All four poets – regardless of how much one does (or doesn’t) think of them – were involved in larger literary projects that usually gets described as the composition of the “contemporary epic,” or “long poems containing history” (tho one can make a case that H.D.’s Trilogy at least is concerned more with mythology). Verso, like McCarthy’s earlier bk of (h)rs, strikes me very much as preparation for a project on the scale of The Cantos or Drafts. This doesn’t mean that such is the only path a serious poet can take – I would number Emily Dickinson, Larry Eigner, Rae Armantrout & Robert Creeley as four of my favorite poets of all time, not one of whom used that approach. Nor does my statement even mean that Verso itself is such a work – as a project in its own right, Verso’s scale is closer to that of Mauberly or The Waste Land or “Poem Beginning ‘The.’” But it is hard – for me impossible – to read McCarthy’s work and not be taken with the sense of intellectual horizon that is everywhere implicit in her poetry.

There is, at some point, a good piece that needs to be written on what actually constitutes a longpoem. From my perspective, there are questions of the scale of the text, time of composition (a different scale altogether) & scope of the project & its internal structures that all come into play. It is perfectly possible to write large books that are not so much long poems as they are fast ones – which is how I read Anne Waldman’s Iovis or John Ashbery’s Flow Chart or some of A.R. Ammons’ work – just as there are works that seem long in the literal sense of the number of pages, but which are deliberately narrow, a type of poem that Ted Enslin & Frank Samperi have elaborated & explored. These poems are long in much the same way that a block of clay can always be rolled into an ever thinner string thereof. There are also booklength poems that use different scales altogether, such as verse novels, Jack Spicer’s serial poems, Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets, most of Leslie Scalapino’s work. McCarthy’s first two books fall into this last category for me, but do so clearly invoking the tradition toward which I think she’s working. If we look at the actual tradition, it’s fair to ask how many poets of all kinds are attempting projects that engage that scale I implicit in McCarthy’s writing – not one of the poets listed in Treadwell’s blog seems to fit that definition, tho that doesn’t mean that several of them aren’t tremendous poets. But they are doing different things. Treadwell’s argument is akin to complaining that I haven’t included the likes of Susan Bee or Francie Shaw among a roster of great sculptors simply because they make paintings.

There is also a history yet to be written of the longpoem and its relationship to women, one that would include, for example, Eleanor Anne Porden – a woman with a complicated relationship to my own family tree¹ – as well as Frances Boldereff, Charles Olson’s mistress & unacknowledged collaborator, not to mention Celia Zukofsky, Hilda Doolittle, Beverly Dahlen & Rachel Blau DuPlessis. But while this history would need to look at the work of writers like Gertrude Stein or Susan Howe or a project like Diane Wakoski’s George Washington poems, it would be for the purpose of contextualizing the project within its actually existing history, not because they are doing the same thing. A history like this is nothing but comparisons. And a history that failed to be able to distinguish between Stein’s The Making of Americans & Doolittle’s Trilogy would frankly be a failure.

Superlatives & comparisons both make distinctions, which, complains Treadwell, “are divisive. “ But that is precisely what distinctions do. They are the fundamental device of organization: not this, not this. Not only do distinctions enable us in daily life to separate out the wolf from the dog, but the romaine from the hydrangea, which, however beautiful, is quite toxic. Any mycologist had better be able to distinguish which mushrooms are edible & which lead directly to liver & kidney failure & ultimately death. Distinctions are not inherently pernicious – they are, in fact, the primary function of culture itself.

Treadwell’s blog is itself an attempt at distinction, at dividing. She seems clearly to want to set in a motion – or at least to proclaim critical mass – a paradigm shift in American writing. Where Bob Grenier once wrote, all in caps, “I HATE SPEECH,” Treadwell’s argument in her blog, her choice of a strident tone as well as some of her comments to the pussipo list, all suggest that functionally – not personally, I hope – Treadwell proposes to substitute my name for Grenier’s noun.

Treadwell’s thesis as I read it is that women have sufficiently arrived as poets to enable them to constitute a literature without the help or examples or history of male writers. Fair enough. As I read it, this is different from the separatism of certain feminists in the early 1970s – Judy Grahn has characterized separatism as it rose up then in the lesbian community as a tool, not a program – tho its motivation may be similar. It is certainly true that with the thousands of interesting poets writing now & the enormous increase in the number of female poets since the early 1950s that a poet could easily read only women poets & still never find the time to read even all the good or great ones. So what Treadwell is suggesting is not at all implausible as a next stage in the evolution of writing in the U.S. As it stands today, it simply is impossible for a post-avant poet to read every other kind of poetry that has risen just out of the New American poetries of the 1950s, let alone, say, such post-dada (but never New American) tendencies as vispo or a good deal of what constitutes performance poetries. In a nation with 10,000 publishing poets, how will one choose what to read tomorrow? How will one constitute one’s tradition against such a landscape? These questions are the ones for which Treadwell appears to be proposing answers. And she’s right that they are major questions. And they lead to further, fascinating questions, at least one of which is what is the role of literary history. All are worth thinking about, dreaming on.

I will admit to a certain ambivalence to being proposed as the icon of all that is old. It’s an index of how far from what I experience as “the old world,” i.e., the institutions of what Charles Bernstein still calls Official Verse Culture, the world of poetry has come that Treadwell would think to pick a blogger with no academic affiliation, someone who has never once had a book from a trade press. Why me, rather than, say, Ed Hirsch over at the Guggenheim Foundation, Dana Gioia at the NEA, Harold Bloom, Christian Wimen at Poetry or Jonathan Galassi at FSG? In going after me, Treadwell is saying a great deal about just how much those institutions actually matter.

It is also, however grudgingly & ironically, a deep compliment. And, ever since Elizabeth Treadwell posted her blog note and the ancillary discussion began on pussipo, my blog has experienced a 33 percent increase in the number of pages read by each visitor – a sea change, given that that figure has been stable at 1.2 pages per visit for perhaps two years. This includes two days in which more than 1,900 pages were visited. Those numbers will surely go down again as the new readers Treadwell has brought either move on or focus instead just on what has been said recently. But I have to recognize & acknowledge that Elizabeth Treadwell has done more to bring people here than anyone in a long time. And for that I can only say thank you.

 

¹ Porden was the first wife of British explorer Sir John Franklin who my maternal great grandfather’s family was taught had been a direct ancestor. It has only been in the last couple of years that my cousin Richard Tansley has been able to prove conclusively that the John Franklin in the family tree in the first half of the 19th century was an illiterate fish monger, not the former Tasmanian prison master & naval captain. Porden wrote several longpoems – large booklength works in the epic mode, even if they were written fairly quickly, given just how young she was when she died, just 28. It was Porden’s longpoem on arctic exploration that led her to meet Franklin in the first place.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

 


Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell)
interrogates insurgent leader
Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan)

Season three of Battlestar Galactica is the first TV series to be based in part on the U.S. occupation of Iraq, told principally from the perspective of the occupied. There is a comprador government with a puppet president, brutal prisons that involve torture (one of the series’ regulars lost an eye), even – and the show is designed to make you root for their success – suicide bombers who take special aim at the police force recruited from among the occupied. In the context of the show, the actions of the insurgents – a term they use repeatedly – make total sense. They’re right intellectually and emotionally. The occupiers are cyborg type critters out to bring God, peace & democracy to the occupied, with summary executions if need be. Because their personalities can be downloaded & inserted into new roughly identical bodies, complete with their old memories, whenever they “die,” these toasters with attitude have a strong sense of the continuity of spirit & are basically crazy Christians – there is a Mormon subtext if you’ve been trained to pick it up. The occupied are humans, remnants of the population of Caprica, driven off-world by a revolt of their “Cylon” slaves, hunted to the edge of extinction. Now, however, the Cylons have had a change of heart & want to free the humans from their godless, violent lives. This of course makes the Cylons more lethal than ever. Dean Stockwell’s portrayal of Brother Cavil, a Cylon priest – or priests, actually, since there are a limited number of Cylon body types and we see the same characters over & over, sometimes several at once – as a kind of Donald Rumsfeld is spot on. Prisoners are moved about wearing Abu Ghraib-like hoods over their heads. Battlestar Galactica is the perfect antidote to fascist fantasies like 24. The opening episodes – the Sci Fi channel ran two shows back-to-back to start the season – will air again on Friday, October 13 at 1:00 PM Eastern & at 3:00 AM the following morning. Battlestar Galactica normally airs Fridays at 9:00 PM.

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