Went to a great panel on "Poetry and Politics" moderated by McCaffery which featured Retallack and others. Contemplated "neo-liberalism." Disagreed with Perelman, but in an overly nice way (I don't think I'm a very good Marxist). Perhaps most interesting was Rodrigo Toscano's contribution to the panel, a poem-essay rumination about class which bristled with localized deployments of polemic, ridicule, and its own variety of jargon-related luminous opacity. The poet looks down from a tower in Germany to observe two women fighting at an ATM, and records the reactions to these women by various passersby. Structured like a Studs Terkel narrative rewritten by Frederick Jameson and run through a blender, this piece moved me to think about the ways in which certain kinds of open-ness, collage, double-negations, and other techniques of inconclusive focus can be useful for "political poetry."
Such devices keep alive certain possibilities by obscuring the easy rhetoric of predetermined (perhaps pessimistic) options from ourselves. IE, take Bahktin one step further and say it's not just a question of avoiding some monologic, commodified narrative -- it's a matter of psychological survival for the artist in an age of persistent self-commodification by all artists. It permits the alleviation of an almost immobilizing despair. The most interesting part of Rodrigo's piece for me was its alternation between telling and showing modes that kept political activism in play as an issue of conscience, without feeling a need to make the "big statement" that will fix everything. Instead, please feel free to complete the circuit yourself, through participating. After all, politics itself is a series of constant negotiations and constant flux. Maybe in reality I'm a micro trans-feminist crypto-marxist wa-wa pedal enthusiast. Maybe I just want to feel hopeful about something.
Another zinger of a post from Ange here. I self-consciously volunteer to help write those phenomenologies of the Modernist elements. The Stevens-Williams axis (with a nod to Eliot and Moore) have been powerful attractors for me. Anyone influenced by Ashbery is probably influenced by Eliot and Stevens, duh. But liking Thomas Stearns makes me slightly embarrassed, while Stevens has probably not been equaled since.
One of the things that I think is fascinating about Williams and Stevens was that the best aspects of their work are not effects that they consciously intended, in the sense of the usual critic's "here, the poet does ____" which grants complete agency to the writer. For Williams, such effects would include the delightful clumsy clarity and prose gawkiness of his poems (a friend and admirer of his work used the term "ineptitude," which I also like). For Stevens, such unintended effects would include his surface so densely and richly folded back upon itself, encrusted with incomprehensible symbolisms (which he could nevertheless explain at length in his correspondence with Williams and others).
Both of these writers would perhaps be insulted if confronted with what is most pleasing about their poetry. One thing many of the Modernists seemed to share that I miss is a wonderfully pedantic, bossy, autodidactic quality that seems to have disappeared among contemporary poets. They really had this grandiose idea that their works were going to be read in the greatest detail by everyone, and that illusion gave them the confidence to produce amazing poetry. But they also showed, through this very work, that the discourse of mastery is more or less dead.
It's the often stunning dismantling of intentions which occurs in that folding over, that exposing of unintended consequences and unintended effects to the writer herself, by a reader, that stays with me. This is the most relevant part of the legacy we derive from Modernism.
I'm pointing back to Ange's discussion of Notley's "if you're a poet and you aren’t somewhat ravaged" then "there's probably something wrong with your poetry," and I like her angle. There's something a little too James Wright-ish about the romanticizing of ravage, as if the way of stating the problem were the problem. A pop-up ad flies by -- I have wasted my evening. Meanwhile, Nick heads squarely for a "raw and the cooked" dualism, while Jack gestures toward his own determinedly idiosyncratic version.
Well, people like me who use the word "romanticizing" probably aren't very ravaged, either -- but that's what YOU think, sweetie. Which is why I protest in the first place. Drawn to neither taste-making nor some Moulin Rouge huggy-bear scenario, I'd have to go with my old standby Walter Benjamin, who in his comparison of Baudelaire with Hugo evoked a bohemianism at the center of which one found a difficult political engagement and a social vision. When you talk about the "boheme," this is primarily a political disinction. You're talking about artists whose style arose from the fact that they allied themselves with the radical element, the conspirateurs. Confronting the masses that have become a mob: at first revolutionary, now wavering, now limiting their revolution to the domain of art, now cultivating scruffiness and about to invent another bloody style.
Let's take it from a dialogic direction instead: if you've got a poem that isn't somewhat ravaged, then there may be something wrong with your poet. Isn't that ridiculous? Our audience has been known to break into giggles when confronted with the slim echoes of such dramatic, manifesto-like yawns. But we can work with that.
Performers include: Charles Bernstein, Andrew Bolotowsky, Steve Clay, Joe Elliot, Kenny Goldsmith, Mimi Gross, Mitch Highfill, Alison Knowles, Kimberly Lyons, Chris Mason, Charlie Morrow, Marshall Reese, Joan Retallack, Theresa Salomon, Anne Tardos
DOINGS: ASSORTED PERFORMANCE PIECES 1955-2002 by Jackson Mac Low Edition size: 1000, 226 pp, ISBN: 1-887123-70-9, Dimensions: 7.5" x 10.5" Binding: Paperback, includes CD and 5 gate-fold pull-outs Price: $50.00 Published by Granary Books
That neologism evokes overtones of a polymorphous meat-lure scenario I suppose, the feeling of interacting with humans in a social setting where you suddenly realize they don't see you at all -- instead their clotted, leery eyes are vaguely focused on a point somewhere beyond you, thinking "Mmm...krill and other small prey about to surface."