Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Inventions of a Barbarous Age: Poetry from Conceptualism to Rhyme—Now It's Out! Here's What's in It!

Inventions of a Barbarous Age: Poetry from Conceptualism to Rhyme—my latest book of essays—has just rolled hot off the presses at MadHat Press.  What's it all about? Well, the jacket copy gives you an overview (and a few complimentary blurbs):

What is the community for poetry? What is its fate, its future? Poet and critic Robert Archambeau begins Inventions of a Barbarous Age with these questions before ranging over the ridges and valleys of the contemporary poetry scene, pausing on the way to investigate mystic and Gnostic poetry, the norms of criticism, and the poetics of camp and the sublime. Taking in poets from W. H. Auden to Kenneth Goldsmith, and topics from poetic comedy to poetic tribalism, Archambeau is one of poetry’s great omnivores, and numbers among the leading poetry critics of his generation. 
Robert Archambeau is fascinated by the place poets stake out for their art, the claims they make about the relationship of poetry and power; and he is (sometimes uncomfortably) shrewd in ferreting out the motivations for such claims. His essays have the advantage of the best occasional writing—immediacy, a sense of responsiveness, conversationality—but Archambeau is also a “big ideas” critic, spinning his momentary interpretations of texts into penetrating insights about the place of poetry in the world.
—Mark Scroggins 
Archambeau writes prose that’s consistently welcoming, curious, and free of the anxiety that marks so much criticism.
—Jonathan Farmer, Slate Magazine
A notable poet/critic, Archambeau’s a perfect example of how one person can take on both roles.
—Barry Schwabsky, The Nation
Archambeau is one of our smartest poetic sociologists, and he tackles the biggest problems facing poetry in our time.
—Norman Finkelstein, Contemporary Literature
If you want to see someone having fun while thinking provocatively about contemporary poetry, try Archambeau. I always do.
—Stephen Burt 
Archambeau has perfect pitch.
—Marjorie Perloff 
If you really want to know about the book, though, here's the table of contents, along with a few notes on each essay:

I. The Future, The Present

            You Will Object: Four Futures for Poetry
            Poetry as ubiquitous, as commodified, as self-obsessed, as community-building. You don’t like one future? Try another!
            Who is a Contemporary Poet?
            In which I continue an old argument with Kenneth Goldsmith about what counts as contemporary. The fight is called off when Giorgia Agamben clobbers us both.
            The Future of Genius
            Does the old category of ‘genius’ have a future? The origin and destination of a category of literary analysis, with reference to Brooklyn hipsters in Warby Parker glasses.
            Invitation to the Voyage: Notes on the Trajectory of the Poetic Image
            How the literary image changed from Dante to Baudelaire, and what that says about where it has been and may be heading.
            Charmless and Interesting: The Conceptual Moment in Poetry
            What Conceptualism has going for it and what it doesn’t do very well, with reference to the old aesthetic category of “charm” and the newly-re-theorized category of the “interesting.”  As in “Conceptualism? Well, it’s… interesting…”
            Inventions of a Barbarous Age: Contemporary Rhyme in Poetry
            How has rhyme changed since it ceased being an unexamined norm in poetry? How can it be done well now? With a lot of talk about Anthony Madrid’s amazing unpublished history of rhyme and an examination of Michael Robbins’ The Second Sex, among other books.

II. Poetry and Community

            When Poetry Mattered
            Poetry matters most when things are really, really bad.  We should be so lucky that poetry matters less here than elsewhere, now than then.
            The Disinheritance of the Poets
            What happens when privileged people get kicked out of the realm of power and money and end up in the realm of poetry? More about rich white guys elbowing other people out of the way, intentionally or otherwise.
            In Solitude, In Multitude: Crowds and Poetry
            A quick trip through the 19th and 20th centuries of flâneurs, introverts, countercultural snobs, and poets othered for their identity, with reference to Crowds and Power.
            Between Facebook and Montparnasse: Poetry’s Lonely Time
            Long story short: we live at the moment of dialectical synthesis between bohemian enclaves and the academic dispersion of the poets across the vastness of all those rectangular states.
            Proud Men in Their Studies: On Mark Scroggins
            Wow, did Scroggins not like this.
            So a Poet Walks into a Bar: Notes on Poetry Readings
            Just what the hell is a poetry reading all about? Find out now, via rhetorical theory!

III. Mystics and Gnostics

            A Stranger from the Sky: Sun Ra as Poet and Alien
            Why haven’t we been taking Sun Ra seriously as a poet? He’s closer to T.S. Eliot than fans of either of them are likely to want to admit.
            The Open Word: An Essay and a Letter for Peter O’Leary
            The most linguistically audacious Catholic mystic in poetry since Gerard Manley Hopkins.
            A Scribe and His Ghosts: The Poetry of Norman Finkelstein
            Norman Finkelstein: because you needed proof that wit and mysticism could work together.
            “That’s a Real Angel You’re Talking To”: Robert Duncan and Mythological Consciousness
            This is really about the challenge Duncan’s insistence on the reality of myth poses to modern consciousness, and to Duncan himself. I mean, I’m not sure we really can read Duncan the way he wanted us to.
            Kenneth Rexroth’s Other Worlds
            In which I argue that Robert Hass owes a lot to Rexroth, and that Rexroth understood the sublime intuitively.
            A Strange and Quiet Fullness: The Uncanny Charles Simic
            In which I argue that despite some Cold War attitudes that don’t hold up all that well, Simic is the real deal when it comes to the uncanny in poetry.
            John Crowe Ransom’s Quarrel with God
            Long story short: a preacher’s kid starts to doubt God, has his doubts confirmed in the First World War, writes a defense of Christianity that is really an attack on Christianity, and develops a poetic based on these beliefs. It hardens into a dogma and damages the poetry, but it couldn’t really have been otherwise.
            History, Totality, Silence
            This is the most “high theory circa 1995” title of anything I’ve ever written. It brings in Walter Benjamin, John Matthias, and Levinas.

IV. Others

            An ABC of Gertrude Stein
            This is pretty much what it sounds like. G is for Genius, N is for Narcissim…
            The American Poet as European, or Egon Schiele’s Ladder
            This is mostly about aesthetic distance and what it can do for, or to, you.
            Poetry Ha Ha
            I don’t think we’re really good at talking about comedy in poetry. This is my attempt. A lot of Henri Bergson, a bit of Freud and Hobbes, and some funny stuff from Aaron Belz.
            Camping Modernism: Timothy Yu's Chinese Silences
            Why I think Tim Yu’ 100 Chinese Silences is a necessary rethinking of Modernism via pastiche and the aesthetics of camp.
            Ambiguous Pronouns are Hot: On Rae Armantrout
            In which Rae Armantrout does the voice of Paris Hilton (remember Paris Hilton?) and makes some crazy things happen with gender and power.
            If I Were A Freudian This Essay Would Be Called “The Mother’s Penis”:
                        A Note on Daisy Fried
            Another take on gender and power in poetry.
            Poetics of Embodiment
            If you don’t read Swedish, you should probably go hang out outside Jennifer Hayashida’s house and set off fireworks to praise her for translating Karl Larsson—because he knows how to explain the way embodiment comes into contact with language and power and lays open the dark disparities of our moment.  Also, there’s stuff about Joy Division.

V. On Criticism

            Hating the Other Kind of Poetry
            In which I examine what’s at stake in partisan poetry sniping, and try to understand my own sense that it’s a mug’s game.
            The Work of Criticism in the Age of Mechanical Recommendation
            What can a critic do that a recommendation algorithm can’t?
            The Avant-Garde in Babel
            What we talk about when we talk about the avant-garde, and why we’re probably all talking about different things. My attempt (with much help from Per Bäckstrom) to purify the language of the critical tribe.
            Fanaticism! Intolerance! Disinterest!
            This is really a kind of poetics of camp, along with an argument for why we need such a thing. It takes a turn through Kant and Schiller and back out via Situationist thinking about “the sepulcher of aesthetic disinterest.”
            The Abject Sublime, or: Jean Genet’s Vaseline
            Because a queering of the sublime via the abject shows us just how bad we usually are about distinguishing between different types of beauty, and because Jean Genet is the poet laureate of abjection.

VI. Afterword

            Death of a Bookseller

            This is really an elegy for a man who taught me as much as any of my professors. He ran a dusty bookshop in Chicago. Both he and the store are gone, and always with me.

You can find the book on Amazon and at the MadHat website, as well as at the more poetry-and-litcrit-friendly sort of bookstore (try the Grolier Poetry Bookshop if you're near Harvard Square).

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Poetry and Stupidity

Poetry and stupidity are, it seems, secret kissing cousins. Who knew? Lawrence Raab, that's who. Check out his short, punchy essay "Poetry and Stupidity," now online as part of the Essays & Comment monthly feature I edit, and sometimes write, for Plume.

Raab's essay starts like this:
One of the shortest and most provocative pieces in Paul Valéry’s “A Poet’s Notebook” reads in its entirety:
STUPIDITY AND POETRY. There are subtle relations between these two categories. The category of stupidity and that of poetry.
I can’t recall when I first read this, but I remember thinking it was true. Also funny. Also like some zen koan designed to knock me on the head. Was it true because it was so obviously untrue? Or because it seemed to provide no way to ascertain its truth? Or perhaps I just believed it because I didn’t want to feel stupid.
That Valéry’s equation didn’t appear to make sense was a plus for me. Did it even want to make sense? A little further down the same page, I found:
OBSCURITY, A PRODUCT OF TWO FACTORS. If my mind is richer, more rapid, freer, more disciplined than yours, neither you nor I can do anything about it.
This was spikier, more aggressively funny. Or maybe not funny at all.   And obscurity, unlike ambiguity, somehow seemed connected to stupidity—how dumb you felt when you didn’t get the joke.
The whole thing is online here.

Last month's feature, "The Barbarian Invasion of Poetry" (which I wrote) is available here. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Mathematical Sublime: Mark Scroggins on Contemporary Poetry

Mark Scroggins is, hands down, bar none, my favorite critic of contemporary poetry. His latest collection is out now from MadHat which, under new leadership from Marc Vincenz, is turning into a press I'm very into watching (they're about to publish the latest book by Michael Anania).  The Mathematical Sublime takes a broad and ecumenical look at contemporary poetry, often of the more adventurous kind, and examines a host of fascinating figures. I mean, Scroggins has taste in poetry, damn it, no matter what one thinks of his Doc Martens and skinny jeans in (shall we say) surprising colors. Poets discussed include:

Charles Bernstein
John Matthias
Eric Selinger
Norman Finkelstein
Maeera Shreiber
John Wilkinson
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Peter Quartermain
Nathaniel Mackey
Charles Alexander
Rae Armantrout
Daniel Bouchard
Julie Carr
Cris Cris
Stephen Collis
Joseph Donahue
Cecil Giscombe
K. Lorraine Graham
Janet Holmes
Tony Lopez
Tom Mandel
Geraldine Monk
Jennifer Moxley
Tom Pickard
Patrick Pritchett
Kit Robinson
David Shapiro
Ron Silliman
Stephen Vincent
Craig Watson.
Geoffrey Hill
Susan Howe
Robert Duncan
Ronald Johnson

Also, due to Scroggins' idiosyncratic reading, the great Victrorian John Ruskin and some guy named Robert Archambeau.

The fool who does not buy this book is, to paraphrase that icon of literary acumen, Mr. T., to be pitied.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In Which I Host A Deranged Literary Cooking Program

Some interesting reflections on my most recent book of poems, The Kafka Sutra, are up at the Queen Mob's Teahouse site.  Stu Watson has a number of nice things to say, but the one I'm thinking of keeping for a future blurb is "one at moments can almost imagine Archambeau as the host of a deranged literary cooking program." Read all about it here!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Inventions of a Barbarous Age, or: How I Finally Dressed Like Mark Scroggins

Here's the cover of my next book, Inventions of a Barbarous Age: Poetry from Conceptualism to Rhyme. I'll post something about the contents soon, but I'm not here to talk about the contents today, I'm here to talk about the cover.  Because it represents the first time I have presented myself as spiffily as Mark Scroggins, whose The Mathematical Sublime: Writing About Poetry will appear from the same publisher at the same time.

Mark, you see, is a snappy dresser. Here he is in his ordinary togs. If you wish to imagine me on the same day, think rumpled cargo shorts (summer) or rumpled Brooks Brothers (winter).  Either way, Mark wins:

But compare our book covers:

Twinsies! In fact, the resemblance is so strong that MadHat will be offering the books in a special, bundled deal for a reduced price.  Go nuts!

Friday, September 02, 2016

The Barbarian Invasion of Poetry (Hurrah!)

The barbarians are here! They've breached the walls of the fortress! The city lies in ruins! Poetry is at their mercy!

Well, it's all a bit more complicated and not so grim. Find out more in the first monthly installment of the new "Essays and Comment" feature at Plume. I will be editing, and sometimes writing, the feature.  I wrote the first one, "The Barbarian Invasion of Poetry (Hurrah!)" and it begins like this:
This just in: the Empire of Poetry has fallen to the barbarians. The fall was not sudden—it took place over the course of the last seventy years or so, and even before then alarmed sentries spoke of shaggy hordes moving in the dark forests beyond the far-flung border outposts, clutching their axes and the icons of their strange, compelling gods. Let me begin by making clear that I, bred within the confines of the old and dying Empire, welcome the barbarians as friends, and as a force to invigorate our aging and insular imperium. 
When I speak of barbarians, I speak of them as the Italian novelist and essayist Alessandro Baricco does in his study The Barbarians: An Essay on the Mutation of Culture, a book largely unknown in America, despite having been serialized in one of the most prominent Italian newspapers, giving rise there to a nationwide discussion of the changing nature of cultural production and consumption. For Barrico, the barbarians are a group on the rise, and not just in Italy, or even Europe, but worldwide. Ever more visible, they cause great distress among the more hidebound Catos committed to the old and dying virtues of the Empire—not, it is important to note, a distress that Barrico shares. Barrico sees the barbarians everywhere, marked not so much by their different culture as by the different way they think about culture, be it musical culture, literature, cuisine—even wine and soccer (Barrico is, after all, Italian). The old ways of the Empire are deeply traditional, rooted in an appreciation of the specific history of whatever cultural form is under consideration. But the barbarians see things differently. They are eclectic, these nomads from beyond the borders, and less attached to the traditions of the imperial past.
It goes on to talk about Frank O'Hara, Claudia Rankine, Michael Robbins, C. Russell Price, and others, with some notes on how to drink wine and listen to music.  You can find it here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Culture in the Provinces: A Very Short Note

I like just about everything about Sweden, even the weather. I like their intellectuals, too, mostly for being both meticulous and down-to-earth—at least by the standards of intellectuals. But when I think about the position of intellectuals in Swedish culture, I always think about a moment from the late 90s. I was at a party in the medieval Swedish university town of Lund—a quieter, less touristed version of England’s Cambridge. The man who’d hired me to give some lectures had kindly invited me to his house to a gathering of all his friends, including one of his oldest and dearest. The two had known each other since childhood, growing up in a small town and dreaming of Brecht’s Berlin theater and Picasso walking with Gertrude Stein left bank. My host had become an established professor in a fine old Swedish university, a man who spoke a refined English and (though it was hard for me to judge) a beautiful version of his native tongue. He wrote gracefully about culture for the main Swedish newspapers, translated poetry, and had authored a study of Renaissance sonnet sequences. His old friend, though, was the real success—and like so many truly ambitious citizens of small countries, had left to make his mark on a bigger stage. He held a chair at the Sorbonne, was the world expert on certain elements of classical civilization, was a member of the Swedish Academy, voting on the Nobel prizes. At the party he took me aside, punched me lightly on the arm, and said “You want to know about Swedish culture? Look at him…” he made a graceful, Gallic gesture at the host, laughing gently at someone’s witticism across the room. “In Sweden, there are 2,000 like him. The rest have snowmobiles.”

Make of it what you will.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Moleskine Outtakes: Three Short Notes

Like you, I love to have a small notebook in my pocket.  Me, I like Moleskines, preferably green (I am deeply superstitious about color).  The notebooks are usually filled with nothing more interesting than lists: things I need to do; writing deadlines I need to meet; things I'm meaning to read, and the other detritus of the bookish mind. But sometimes I scribble something else, a little more coherent.  When I was younger, these were often bitter little rhymes, like:

Lacking Auden's glib facility
Robs my heart of all tranquility
But I must say it helps a bit
That his later work was shit.

(I have either mellowed in middle-age, or learned to find things in the later Auden that I could not find when I was an eager young bastard).

Anyway: here are three outtakes from my most recent Moleskine.

The Pure Judgment of Taste
Setting morality aside, there's truth in this: the failure to appreciate something is a failure to understand it. But understanding, of course, brings us to the question of morality which, it turns out, can't be set aside.

The Climate for Poetry
Walls can stand without a roof, sure, sure. But a roof's only unimportant if it isn't raining.  I'm writing this because someone told me a poet should never explain his work.

The Book Written in a Variety of Styles
I know, I know, everybody's supposed to "find a voice" or "brand himself" or pursue a consistent project or whatever.  You know: produce a book that is somehow coherent.  But my plan? My plan was to be different, not to do what everybody else does, precisely by virtue of doing what everybody else does.