Saturday, February 24, 2007

Situationism: The Smackdown

Imagine if you will your humble blogger seated at his study table, surrounded by ghostly spirits. As they swirl in their disembodied way about his head, each calls out in thin-voiced dismay, urging the seated man to a course of necessary action. "Revise your old manuscript! The press wants it reformatted, and cannot wait!" urges one wispy and ectoplasmic entity. "Heed not those words," urges another "for you owe the editor of a book some notes on your contribution!" A third spirit whirls feverishly through the air, gibbering insistently about an omnibus review of an under-appreciated poet for which the immutable deadline looms. Then another ghastly apparition arises, sending the previous speakers off to cower in the corners of the room, by the unread stacks NYRBs. "Grade your students' papers!" it commands, its hollow eyes offering vistas of the abyss. What to do when confronted with such poltergeists? The humble blogger rolls up his sleeves, and, turning to his age-old strategies of semi-industrious avoidance, undertakes some research for a new book, a project for which no deadline exists.

No doubt this will lead to terrible regrets later. But I gotta tell ya, I'm glad I did things this way today, because the research involved reading an exchange between two scholars of Situationism, and watching the first scholar smack down the second was at least as exciting as watching Roger Federer crush the will of yet another hapless opponent. (I was actually watching both smackdowns at once, reading with tennis on in the background. God knows how I stood the excitement).

The exchange on Situationism took place in the pages of Social Justice's special issue on "Art, Power and Social Change" (that's vol. 33 #2, 2006, for those of you running to your archives or rooting around on the coffee table to find it under the remote control and that bag of Funyuns on which you've been secretly gorging). It began with a piece by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen of Copenhagen University, to which Simeon Hunter of Loyala (New Orleans) replied. It ended with the resounding thud, as Rasmussen threw Hunter down in a devastating-yet-politely-professional riposte.

Before filling you in on the specifics, a few words on Why This Matters, beyond the base thrills of the gladiatorial arena. What's important about the exchange, I think, is this: it shows us two important things that can happen when we equate aesthetic actions with political actions (as so many on the avant and post-avant tracks seem to do). Firstly, the exchange shows us how this can lead to the overt subordination of aesthetics to politics, which can be deadly to art (this is one of the conclusions Rasmussen draws about Situationism); secondly, the exchange shows us how easy it is for those of us immersed in aesthetic activity to think of aesthetic gestures toward politics as much more grand and powerfully subversive than they actually are (this is the conclusion I draw from watching Hunter try to form a coherent reply to Rasmussen).

  • Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen on the Situationists

    The story Rasmussen tells about Situationism comes, for the most parts, from his thinking about Guy Debord. If I had to paraphrase it in narrative form, I'd say it goes something like this:

    Back in 1957 Guy Debord and his crew looked around and saw nothing but the ruins of old avant-garde movements. The old avant-garde had been killed off, or suppressed, or marginalized, or had their radicalism domesticated and commodified and reduced to mere style. But Guy and the others were young enough and idealistic enough to think they could revive all that was best about the interwar avant-garde. They told themselves that, like the heroes of Dada, they could mock and undermine bourgeois norms and art and values; and like the heroes of Dada, they could liberate art from the institutions that had separated it from life, reducing it to useless decor and toothless aestheticism. They also told themselves that, like the heroes of Surrealism, they could break down the barriers between life and art and revolution. They turned for inspiration to the Surrealist notion that the unleashing of the unconscious and the repressed would bring us freedom, since the unconscious is not controlled by the social powers that be.

    But soon enough Guy Debord and his crew looked around again and saw that they hadn't managed to accomplish much, and they decided that art was not the solution they had hoped it would be. Debord came to the conclusion that our social order had evolved to the point where it was dominated by spectacle — by a system of images that colonize our minds and reduce us to passive consumers and obedient producers, and that dissolve all social associations that don't serve the dominant order. Art was simply appropriated by this system, and the spectacle even managed to colonize our unconscious. Debord looked down at the two six-guns he held in his hands, the one called Dada and the one called Surrealism, then looked up at the towering Godzilla that was the spectacle, then he looked over his shoulder to his companions shouting "our weapons are useless against it!" and ran for cover. [Rasmussen, who looks like a very serious man with serious glasses, didn't put it this way, and might not be too happy with me for so doing, but I believe I'm not too far off, really, in paraphrasing his position].

    When Guy and his band of outlaws reassembled in their secret caves, they gathererd round the fire they'd built from the only available materials (a couple of old chair legs and a dozen copies of Dialectic of Enlightenment, if I remember correctly), and asked themselves a question: in a situation like this, with Dadaist and Surrealist techniques rendered useless, how can we remain true to the spirit of the avant-garde? The answer came from Guy himself, from where he'd ensconced himself behind a protective wall of film-canisters containing the complete cinematic works of Jean Cocteau. In a voice not untinged with sorrow (indeed, in a voice not unlike that of Milton's Satan, as he addressed the defeated army of rebel angels), Guy told his companions that the only way to stay true to the revolutionary ideals of the avant-garde in an age when art was co-opted by the spectacle was to abandon art. Hear the voiceover to this sad scene, as narrated by Rasmussen himself:

    There was no doubt in Debord's mind: it was time to affirm the historical necessity and transcend the obsolete pseudo-communication of art.... Art had to be negated and realized in revolutionary practice even if that meant losing art. The Situationists had to abandon art; historical development necessitated this dramatic move.

    And so the Situationists were through, theoretically, with the production and criticism of such obsolete entities as literature and visual art per se, and set about a path of radical refusal: they "restained themselves from making artworks out of fear of commercial integration and institutional cooptation." The attempt to form a politics fused with aesthetics led, in the end, to the abandonment of aesthetic activity. Art died, that ideology could live.

  • Simeon Hunter's Reply

    Simeon Hunter's attempt at rebuttal begins promisingly enough: he asks us to look not at Debord's philosophical positions, but at the actual practice of a multitude of artists who follow in the Situationists' footsteps:

    I do not propose to object to Rasmussen's exposition. Rather, I wish to suggest that his account is overly pessimistic and that the value of Debord's text lies less in its argument and more in the possibilities that it opens despite itself. If we are to measure these possibilities, we need to focus our attention on those tangential visual practices and evidences that Debord seeks to close off, but which his thinking nevertheless propagated and indeed continues to propagate.

    What's that? Yes, I know, I know, Hunter's verb tense choices are a bit iffy, but quit being such a language nerd, why don'tcha, and listen to what the man has to say. Jeez! What Hunter means is that, despite Debord's sense that art could not significantly contribute to the big historical revolution of which Debord and his cronies collectively dreamed, there is still a lot of art that came out of the Situationist tradition, and such art is in fact politically efficacious. Debord may have thought such art futile, but, according to Hunter, it came into being anyway.

    Most of what follows in Hunter's essay is a list of various Situationist-inflected art projects (I say "inflected" rather than "influenced" because it isn't always clear that there is a direct line of influence). The examples include, among others, works by Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girls. I'd like to look at these in particular, because I think the distance between Hunter's claims for what the works accomplish politically, and the actual effects of the works, is huge. And the vastness of that gulf between claim and effect speaks stongly about the sentimentality of those whose interest in the aesthetic is justified by politics.

    1. Warhol. Hunter tells us that Warhol's work was, among other things, an example of art that worked to subvert the spectacle-driven social order Debord described. "The really clever part," says Hunter, "was that [Warhol] managed to make his critique so close to its subject that the system unquestioningly distributed the work for him.... It was reproduced, celebrated, and distributed by a commercial media unable to spot the subversion." Sigh. I mean, do I really have to say this? Well, okay: a subversion so subtle that it goes unnoticed as a subversion doesn't subvert much at all. It is reasoning of this kind that maketh one shudder when one hears one's fellow poets and professors speak blithely of the subversive nature of their favorite art. The question of tangible results has to be swept under the faculty-lounge carpet (probably by non-unionized immigrant labor, too).

    Several of Hunter's examples are roughly analogous to the Warhol example in terms of the question of tangible results. My favorite is that of the Lettrists, text artists who, according to Hunter, "sought to unify sign systems into a single politico-poetic voice designed to ameliorate the conditions of living for all by disrupting those specializations that the Enlightenment had imposed..." One yearns to grab a Lettrist by the lapel and ask "Say, that project of ameliorating the living conditions of all by getting jiggy with fonts? How's that, you know, working out for you?" Round the colossal lack of impact of such projects the lone and level sands stretch far away...

    2. The Guerrilla Girls

    Some of Hunter's examples involve work that does, in fact, have plausible claims to having had tangible effects. But a look at the most convincing of these examples, the Guerrilla Girls, shows us the limits of the kind of effect they have, and the overblown nature of the claim that they fulfill the Situationists' massive goals of social transformation. [Full disclosure: I think I was in some weak way connected to the committee that brought the Guerrilla Girls to visit Lake Forest College a few years back, but memory fades...]. I mean, consider the following statement, drawn from a Guerrilla Girls' piece consisting of a parodic recreation of the Ten Commandments:

    Thou Shalt Admit to the Public that words such as Genius, Masterpiece, Seminal, Potent, Tough, Gritty, and Powerful are used Solely to Prop Up the Myth and Inflate the Market Value of White Male Artists.

    The politics of the piece are pretty typical of the GGs. I actually think they've got valid points, and I think they've had an impact on the art world. But these are very limited politics — the politics of art institutions. While such things do have an eventual broader impact, this isn't exactly the revolutionary liberation of society for which the Situationists longed. It isn't revolution at all: it is an urging of the reform of some institutions that serve the privileged classes. And it is first and foremost about modifying the way we talk about art. If this is Situationism, it is a greatly diminished thing, in terms of social goals. (Was it Dwight MacDonald of the old Partisan Review crowd who used to look at the shrinking goals of his radical friends, and speak of an imaginary species of bird that went extinct because it could only fly in smaller and smaller circles, until eventually it disappeared up its own ass? Anatomically dubious, but one takes his point...)

  • Rasmussen's Smackdown of Hunter

    It was at this point that Rasmussen, who had been quietly positioning himself high up on the ropes of the ring, leapt down and slammed Hunter to the mat. And as he took Hunter down, he twisted the poor guy's body in two directions. First, he wrenched Hunter over to the corner to our left, and banged the hapless art-historian's head on the turnbuckle while uttering through gritted teeth that there has been "a widespread effort — visible in Simeon Hunter's reply, too — to turn the Situationist project into an art movement," despite the Situationist rejection of art. Having knocked his opponent around sufficiently at that end of the ring, Rasmussen the Dangerous Dane pulled the staggering Hunter to the center of the ring, cast him down, and delivered the coup de grâce, saying:

    We must still come to terms with the proliferation of images, but without repeating the damned grandiose themes of the Situationists, for whom it is a question of all or nothing, requiring the destruction of images to liberate the imagination.

    It is at this point that the bell rang, and the referee mercifully intervened, raising Rasmussen's arm in a spectaclular display of victory.

  • Monday, February 19, 2007

    Jabès and/or Beckett

    A bunch of Chicago-area poets will soon be braving weather conditions that would probably send a Floridian to an early grave in order to assemble at Garin Cycholl's place to talk about Edmond Jabès, so I've been reading The Book of Questions.

    This isn't actually the book we're supposed to read, but out of some poorly-defined nostalgia connected to the aging process I'm reverting to my old undergraduate habits — instead of reading the assigned text, I'm reading a different work by the same author. I used to do this out of a deeply misguided and pathological anti-authoritarianism. Oh, the craziness and general imbecility of it all. I can see Young Archambeau now, grumbling, beneath all that hair gel: "ain't nobody gonna tell me what to read! Old man thinks he knows about books... hah! I know about books...mutter mutter, grumble grumble" [fumblings in one's backpack for one's 1987-era walkman, placing of headphones over ears, sullen slouching away across the quad, to the sound of Hüsker Dü's Candy Apple Grey accompanied by tape-hiss and adolescent moping].

    Anyhow, as a way of getting a handle on Jabès, I've been doing little compare/contrast exercises as I read. Here's today's effort, hot from the pages of my notebook:

    Jabès: Like Beckett

  • ambiguous and abstract settings
  • stories that do not get told
  • language that gestures toward a truth it cannot attain or present
  • primal issues: death, God, death of God, etc.

    Jabès: Not Like Beckett

  • not funny

    According to Rosmarie Waldrop's memoir Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, Jabès was funny in person. But the work is solemn, people. Solemn.


    In other Beckett-related news, I have finally discovered that the entirely unsolemn pal of Beckett, Raymond Federman, has a blog. Rejoice!

  • Sunday, February 18, 2007

    The Poets as Professors

    Maybe it's because I've been hanging out with Ray Bianchi lately that I've been thinking a bit about the en masse movement of the poets into professorial robes. Ray's a poet but not an academic, which makes him two things at once: A. the historical norm for poets; and B. an aberration among the poets of early 21st century America, for whom "professor" is almost certainly the single most common job-description. Ray's been ruminating over this situation, and I suppose listening to him do this over lunch the other day at a local joint has got me chewing things over a bit, too.

    It's not that I've got a Romantic sense of the poet as glamorous outsider. In fact, one of the things being a prof has done for me is to give me enough of a historical sense to know that the poet as outsider, free from any attachment to institutions, is only a brief chapter in the history of poetry. For most of the history of poetry in English, the bulk of poets have been affiliated with one or another kind of institution. It could be courtly (Edmund Spenser, say, or Wyatt) or eccesiastical (the later Donne, or George Herbert), or it could be a matter of sub-courtly aristocratic patronage, or the odd, eighteenth century combination of patronage and incipient market-oriented publishing (Pope and Johnson). To a degree, the Romantics really were knocked loose from institutional support by the disruption of the old patronage system and the rapid development of forms of writing more commercially viable than poetry. The situation continued for much of the nineteenth century, despite prominent exceptions. But by the early decades of the twentieth century a lot of poets had found support through affiliation with journalism, and after World War Two the migration into academe was on. Now, with the MFA mills running into overtime shifts, we're probably close to the zenith of the poet-as-professor era. With the huge overproduction of credentialled poets, after all, we're going to have more of them than can possibly find academic, or even para-academic, work. The whole process feels vaguely dialectical, but I've descended too far down the declining side of my caffeine curve to follow up on all that just now (no doubt to the relief of all concerned).

    Anyway, I think I've found an angle from which to approach the question of what the migration into academe may mean for poetry. It comes from an essay called "The Review: Culture's Medium" in the very-academic sounding collectionThe Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism. The essay was written by my favorite Romanticist this side of Jerome McGann, Marilyn Butler. Butler's essay is, essentially, an examination of the role of the various cultural reviews of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in influencing the way poets and novelists saw themselves. Because Butler is fiendishly clever, she blows right on by the commonplace notion that the reviewers for these journals were in a position to praise or blame various kinds of poets. Her topic, she says, is "Reviews rather than reviewing." That is, she's interested in how the format of journals, and the kind of discourse they represent, influence literature. It isn't individual book reviews she cares about, it's the conditions of communication that the journals created that matter to her. (I believe my colleagues in Communications have a term for this, but Dave Park hasn't returned my phone message yet, damn him, so I'm going to have to do without it).

    Long story short, Butler's argument goes something like this:

    1. The important journals of the late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century (Butler is far too sophisticated to write as if there were firm start-and-stop traits for these things, but I'm not above a rough handling of delicate materials) treated literature in the context of various social and political ideas and events. The journals reviewed literature along with works on other issues, and often treated works of literature from a socio-political standpoint. Importantly, writers responded to this treatment, and tended to see themselves as part of a general public sphere in which large social and political issues were discussed in generally accessible terms. My favorite example here involves not poetry but the novels of Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth. Butler tells us "most late eighteenth-century novels were viewed as entertainments and as fodder for the female reader," but journals like The Edinburgh Review and The Quarterly Review, in treating literature along with Adam Smith-ish political economy, created new horizons of literary expectation. Butler writes:

    The Edgeworth family took both quarterlies, Scott wrote for both of them: between 1809 and 1914 Maria Edgeworth and Scott "turned" novels to documentation and social realism and into that discourse of contemporary history and social analysis to which the serious nineteenth-century novel belongs. Edgeworth's Ennui (1809) and The Absentee (1812), the best-received of her Irish tales, appeared at just the right time to win accolades from both quarterlies. Naturally so, for these tales mirror the qualites and contents of the higher journalism. Firmly grounded in the science of society, they are composed in vivid, accurately observed scenes that seem to invite selection as quotations — that is, virtually to anticipate a second career in the columns of either quarterly....[T]he nonfictional elements that make ... Edgeworth so newsworthy, so much at home in these periodicals devoted to the public scene, repeat themselves in Scott. Both novelists echo the quarterlies' commitment to social order and government.

    So the journals in which literature was reviewed created a climate to which the writers responded. Writers, seeing their works treated in the context of social debate, came to see themselves as participants in that debate, and wrote accordingly.

    2. As the nineteenth century rumbled along, many journals that reviewed literature became more specifically literary. That is, they became more interested in literature, and less interested in the broader issues of political economy that had formed the main concerns of the earlier journals. 1820 seems to be the watershed date: "An ordered separation between literature, especially poetry, and independent or reformist or scientific thinking was in train by 1820" writes Butler. She demonstrates this in many ways, but the most striking example for me was the change in the kinds of people who were profiled in biographical essays in the journals:

    Reviews were getting professionally self-reflexive, in that articles and books on the lives and personalities of men and women of letters were filling the place once reserved for articles and books on statesmen and men of action.

    What's interesting about all this to me, as I think about the migration of the poets into the English departments, is this: if, as Butler convincingly argues, the context in which literature is presented and discussed has an effect on the way writers see themselves, and the way they write, we can expect the academization of poets to have far-reaching consequences for poetry. The inclusion of poetry in a more general cultural discourse leads to certain results; and one imagines the limiting of poetry to specifically literary contexts — as has happened in our own time — will lead to very different results. I don't have anything like the scholarly data set required to make a proper statement about these consequences, but don't think for a moment that this is going to stop me from opining.

    So what's our situation, exactly? Well, it is a situation where an unprecedented number of poets teach in English departments; and just as importantly, it is a situation in which poets publish, for the most part, in journals devoted only to literature. It is also a situation where poetry is reviewed and discussed primarily in literary journals. There are exceptions, of course, to this publishing situation. There are journals that place poetry and discussions of poetry alongside more general material (think of The New Yorker, say, or the Times Literary Supplement) but the percentage of published poems appearing in such venues is minimal. And what are the effects of this situation? Well, for starters, I'd offer these two:

    1. Style über alles. If poets are affiliated with literary institutions such as English departments (as opposed to institutions of power, say, like the court of a Wyatt or a Spenser), it is the most specifically literary element of literature that we can expect to see at center stage. We can expect poets to claim prestige by stylistic affiliation, choosing either classic old-school forms or the newest-and-most-advanced forms as means of establishing cultural capital. You can just about hear the distant rumble of canon-fire from a battle between New Formalism and Language Poetry, can't you?

    2. Sentimental politics rather than politics of a more hands-on variety. Academics tend to have pretty thought-out political opinions. But we don't tend to, you know, do much, except maybe cut a check to the Green Party and go to a demonstration near the campus cafeteria. I'm not against this, but it isn't the same thing as union organizing. I mean, there's a real difference between Charles Bernstein telling us "as a poet, you effect the public sphere with each reader, with the fact of the poem, and by exercising your prerogative to choose what collective forms you will legitimate" and Carl Sandburg (a poet of the poet-as-newspaperman era) working to organize for the Wisconsin Social Democratic Party, back when such organizing had very tangible consequences (like winning elections, or getting your head knocked in by a billy club).

    I don't want to present our current situation as a kind of fall from grace. Nor do I mean to imply that we've reached the final state of things. In fact, Ron Silliman has pointed to two trends that seem to me to point toward the end of the era of the dominance of the poet-professor: the production of poets by the universities on a scale such that only a very small percentage of them can go back to the universities as professors; and the rise of the blogosphere as a venue for the publication and discussion of poetry.

    It's too soon to say what these trends will mean. But it seems likely that the poet-professors, while not actually decreasing in numbers, will soon enough be overwhelmed by new breeds. And they (or, I should say, we) will stand agape, like a cluster of old genteel Yankees of the early twentieth-century gawking with incomprehension at the strangely-garbed crowds pouring through Ellis Island.

    Friday, February 16, 2007

    Between Baudelaire and the Catholic Left: An Open Letter to Ray Bianchi about César Vallejo

    Ray Bianchi's got an interesting post up about César Vallejo, the great Peruvian poet, revolutionary, and denizen of Parisian bohemia (it was in his capacity as Parisian deminondaine character that Vallejo got his portrait sketched by Picasso, as seen to the left). Ray makes some good pints about the Andes as a cultural region (and he ought to know: he lived in Boliva) and mentions, with some frustration, the relative obscurity of Vallejo in the United States. Despite his less-bulky output, Vallejo ought to be the peer of Neruda, but comparatively few have read him. I confess to having been one of the ignorami until a few weeks ago, when Ray turned me on to Vallejo's work. By way, perhaps, of starting a bit of a dialogue, here's a letter I sent to Ray after reading Vallejo for the first time:

    Hey Ray,

    Just read Vallejo's first book, Los Heraldos Negros. I can see why you like him. I remember you writing,a propos our meeting about Celan, about how Celan didn't appeal to you, in part because of his rootlessness. On a first reading, I'd say that Los Heraldos Negros is a profoundly rooted book, even though it is by a man who is soon to go into a kind of exile.

    What strikes me most is the strange combination two things: on the one hand, there's a strong, socially-concerned, Catholicism-and-Familia element to the poems; on the other hand there's an almost equally strong Baudelairian sense of the poet as accursed and isolated.

    My touchstone poem for the first side of Vallejo is "El Pan Nuestro." I think James Wright really gets at what's important in this side of Vallejo when he writes:

    "His home town was small and provincial, with an ancient and living tradition of large, affectionate families who were of necessity mobilized, as it were, against the physical and spiritual onslaughts of death in its ancient and modern forms: disease, undernourishment, and cold on one hand; the officials of the tungsten mines on the other..."

    And for the late Baudelairian (or very late Byronic) sense of the poet (something akin to what Baudelaire gives us in his poem "The Albatross" -- do you know that one?) there's Vallejo's "Espergesia," with its refrain "Yo nací un día / que Dios estuvo enfermo."

    Anyway, thanks for turning me on to Vallejo. I'm looking forward to reading the more surreal stuff from Trilce, and to what I'm told are the strongest poems, in Poemas Humanos.

    All best,


    ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    In other news, Michael Anania will be reading at Danny's in Chicago on the 21st. As the famous father of one of my former students would put it, "I pity the fool who misses this."

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Two Versions of Intertextuality

    Welcome, welcome, please find a pew and be seated! Reverend Archambeau's sermon today is his much-anticipated exordium concerning intertextuality in different kinds of poems, featuring not one exemplum but two exempla! Yes, I know it's exciting. If you're lucky he may even end with his acclaimed peroration concerning the pleasures of allusion! Oh, look, here he comes now, the great man himself! Oh dear! No! He seems to have knocked that flower-filled vase to the floor with his flowing robes! And now he's tripped on the hem! How unsettling. Maintain your composure, please -- this is the Non-Denominational Church of Ecumenical Poetics, after all...

  • The reverend commences, after an undue shuffing of notes and squinting into the light from the stained-glass window:

    Brethren and, uh, Sistren...

    Stephen Collis and Reginald Gibbons seem like two of the most thoroughly decent, laid-back, generous, non-deranged poets I've ever met. I say "seem like" since I don't really know either of them well: I first met Reg when he came up to a John Peck reading I hosted, and he came over to the house to hang out with Peck afterward. Later, when Reg was one of the readers at the Lake Forest Literary Festival, he proved to be a model of calmness, coolness, and collectness while I ran around like some kind of caffeine-crazed oranguatan trying to make sure all the AV equipment and catering supplies got to the right places at the right times. I think those are the only times we've met face-to-face. And Collis I've known even less: we first met in the Louisville airport after one of those 20th C. Lit conferences: it must have been '97, because we exchanged our first chapbooks, his The Birth of Blue for my Citation Suite. After a few days of seeing (and embodying) the excesses of academic posturing I found Collis remarkably down-to-earth: all enthusiasm for poetry, no axes to grind. (Of course, both Steve and Reg could be cannibals, ax-murderers, or even Bush-supporters for all I know, but all signs, including Collis' incorrigible Canadian-ness, indicate otherwise).

    Anyway, Steve and Reg have both been cool about sending me their new work as it appears (more proof of generosity), and today I found myself thinking about the two poets in comparison to one another. The occasion, really, is the appearance of two things: Steve's new chapbook, just out from Toronto's always-interesting Bookthug Press; and a new poem by Reg, "An Aching Young Man" in the latest issue of A Public Space. What interests me about placing the two poets side by side is this: they're both deeply interested in intertextual references, but in completely different ways.

    The best jumping-off point for understanding the difference is probably the distinction between expressivist and constructivist poetics outlined by Marjorie Perloff in 21st-Century Modernism. Perloff's book came out in 2002, and I remember liking it when it came out, and saying a thing or two about it in a big omnibus review, but I hadn't thought about it since then, until David Orr mentioned in last week's New York Times. Orr does a better job of briefly outlining the expressivist/constructivist distinction than I could, so here's a quote from his piece in the Times (and quoting an essay that quotes a book is in the spirit of intertext, right?):

    In her book “21st-Century Modernism,” Marjorie Perloff, a professor emerita at Stanford and longtime champion of the avant-garde, claims the “dominant” mode in poetry these days is “expressivist,” whereas experimental writing involves “constructivism ... the specific understanding that language, far from being a vehicle or conduit for thoughts or feelings outside and prior to it, is itself the site of meaning-making.” She fleshes out this concept with quotations from several contemporary avant-garde poets, who argue among other things that “there are no thoughts except through language” and “as soon as I start listening to the words they reveal their own vectors and affinities, pull the poem into their own field of force, often in unforeseen directions.

    So (to simplify a bit) for "expressivist" think Romantic, or post-Romantic: the poem as the overflow of what is inside us (emotion, meditation, stored anecdote, what have ya). For "constructivist" think Modern, or post-Modern: the manipulation of found bits of discourse to tease out strands of meaning. Gibbons' new poem seems to me like a good example of expressivist intertextuality, and Collis' a solid and exciting version of constructivist intertextuality. Check it out...

  • Expressivist Intertextuality: Reginald Gibbons' "An Aching Young Man"

    Gibbons' poem in A Public Space is a narrow little thing, running more or less down the center of three pages with its staggered syllabics. It tells the story of a meeting between the (very Gibbons-like) speaker and a young panhandler with a grotesquely injured hand:

    An aching young
            man on the street
    approaches, stops
            me with his eyes
    and saying Sir?
            Sir? he shows me
    his right hand, it's
            purple and red,
    blood-spotted, gro-
            tesquely swollen,
    he says he fell
            while chasing a
    thief who grabbed his
            backpack, with his
    wallet in it,
            he has to get
    home by bus to
            Carbondale, he
    needs sixty-five
            dollars, he has

    (I am inordinately proud of having finally figured out how to create line indentations with html — if you wish to follow in my formerly-luddite footsteps, check out the section called "space" at

    So, okay. The speaker talks back and forth with the injured man for a while, offering the kind of advice you or I would offer. He suggests a visit to the emergency room, an idea the man dismisses, saying "...I don't/have a thousand/for that bill..." He's rebuffed, too, when he suggests that the man should at least get some Advil, and when he suggests that the man not poke or press the wounded hand, he finds himself wondering whether he even knows what he's talking about. This takes us through the first half of the poem.

    Okay, I know what you're thinking, oh advanced poetry reader, swept in from the blogosphere! You're thinking this is just a cliché of our times: the anecdote in which the speaker (a stand-in for the poet) proves his sensitivity by reacting to some suffering. And you'd be right, too, if not for two factors:

    Firstly, the anecdote-of-suffering (or beauty) that elicits a sensitive response from the speaker/poet isn't just a cliché of our times: it is has been a cliché since at least the late 18th century, when it became a mainstay of the Literature of Sensibility. Has anyone got a copy of Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown's Glossary of Literary Theory ready to hand? I seem to have dropped mine among the rhododendrons outside the sanctuary. Ah, yes, thank you, thank you, young fellow. Now let me see. Ah! Here's the passage defining the L. of S., not that you need the refresher, or course, but some of the children may be coming to this for the first time. Ah yes. So here it is:

    "Literature of Sensibility": A term used to describe literature of the eighteenth century which exalts emotionalism over rationalism. According to the School of Sensibility, feelings are more reliable guides to truth and conduct than are principles and abstractions. Against the theories that view human beings as motivated by enlightened self-interest, the literature of sensibility views benevolence and sympathy as definitive human traits.

    So we've seen these kinds of poems for centuries.

    Secondly, this Sensibility business isn't all there is to Gibbons' poem, not by a long shot. The poem goes on, showing us the speaker's sympathy for (and inability to help meaningfully) the injured man, until suddenly our view shifts to a billboard hanging over the scene:

    ...a liquor
            ad, a face half
    woman and half
            leopard, a face
    this age wrongly
            puts on fortune,
    maybe, wronging
            the woman, the
    leopard, and us...

    This kicks things up a notch or two. Here, suddenly, we get an emblem of the society (capitalist, image-driven, consumption-oriented, spectacle-oriented) that has produced the situation of pain and inequity in which our speaker and the injured man find themselves. The speaker can't point to just how the inequities and injuries are the product of this system (one of the many inadequacies — like his inability to give good advice or help to the injured man — to which the poem guides our attention). But he intuits the connection.

    Now here's the interesting thing, and the intertext: this move makes the poem into an echo of Wordsworth's famous poem "Simon Lee," another narrative with a sensitive speaker who witnesses suffering; and also another poem that offers emblems of an unjust society that has indirectly caused the suffering. (This reference to a Romantic text shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did: a year or so ago Reg sent me his Fern-Texts, a poetic reworking of Coleridge's notebooks, so he's been reading the Lake District crew pretty attentively for a while).

    Interestingly, Wordsworth's poem is a reinvention of the literature of sensibility (I'll explain in a mo'), which makes Gibbons' poem (which does have a few key differences from its source text) a reinvention of a reinvention of the literature of sensibility. Here's the deal...

    "Simon Lee" takes the established tropes of the Lit of Sensibility and makes them tougher by adding a political edge. The poem tells the story of an old huntsman (the title character) who has fallen into poverty. The speaker meets him, tries to help him out with his present task (cutting through the roots of a rotten tree stump, a task at which Simon was foundering), and feels terrible about the whole thing, especially when Simon Lee expresses a too-humble gratitude. Here's the end of the poem:

    The tears into his eyes were brought,
    And thanks and praises seemed to run
    So fast out of his heart, I thought
    They never would have done.
    --I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
    With coldness still returning;
    Alas! the gratitude of men
    Hath oftener left me mourning.

    If that had been all there was to the poem, it would lie pretty much in the center of the Lit. of Sensibility tradition: the sensitivity of the speaker (and therefore his virtue) having been established, we could all identify with the speaker, close the book, and feel good about ourselves (there are countless poems like this still being written — believe me: I used to edit a poetry magazine, and wade through submissions as one might wade through a trout stream, seeking the elusive prize amid the emptiness and bone-chilling currents). But there's more!

    There is, for example, the invocation of image representing a social order: we're told that Simon Lee, before he became old, shriveled, displaced and pathetic, was a proud minion of the (now vanished) agrarian order:

    Full five-and-thirty years he lived
    A running huntsman merry;
    And still the centre of his cheek
    Is red as a ripe cherry.

    No man like him the horn could sound,
    And hill and valley rang with glee
    When Echo bandied, round and round,
    The halloo of Simon Lee.
    In those proud days, he little cared
    For husbandry or tillage;
    To blither tasks did Simon rouse
    The sleepers of the village.

    So, where the Lit. of Sensibility offers us a sense of the "benevolence and sympathy" inherent in all of us, Wordsworth adds a socio-political edge. He attributes Simon Lee's suffering to a cause (the end of the agrarian order, the rise of capitalism), and implies that sympathy may not be enough: we may need to take political action to solve problems like Simon Lee's. (This is, of course, a conservative or Tory critique of capitalist modernity, not a left-wingish critique). The Literature of Sensibility is both employed (the plot and circumstances of the poem come out of that tradition) and criticized (Wordsworth implies that the solutions offered by the Lit of Sensibility are inadequate).

    Gibbons' poem, like Wordsworth's, offers an image of the society (the advertisement), but it isn't an image of the just society we have lost (which is how Wordsworth conceives of the old agrarian order). Rather, it's an image of the society that has produced the problem. And where Wordsworth implies that there is a known solution to social problems ("let's all return to the old order"), Gibbons is tougher-minded and more cynical: he doesn't pretend to know how to set the disordered society right, nor does he even pretend to know just how the society works. All he knows is that something is rotten, and he doesn't quite know where to turn. No Wordsworthian Tory sentimentality is available: this is a reinvention of the Literature of Sensibility for the age of triumphant capitalism, when decent and viable alternatives are both desperately needed and, apparently, not available. Sure, the poem is a bit despairing, but it points to a problem unflinchingly, and I'll take that over any tacked-on ending about the need for The Revolution (want to see how such an ending can screw up an otherwise solid, even kickass, poem? Have another look at Gary Snyder's "I Went Into the Maverick Bar": I'm convinced it reads better without the last stanza, with all its Lenin-echoing certainty).

    So what's gained from the allusion to Wordsworth? Well, there's the sense of a tradition and all its changes; how we move down a big entropic spiral, from the optimism of Sensibility's consolations, where If We Care It Will Be Enough, to the tougher edge in Wordsworth, where there's some political work to be done, to the kind of angry, disillusioned impasse that we confront in Gibbons' poem. The allusion gives us a big, historical sweep, and makes a statement about where we're at politically. It also shows us that there's a non-sentimental path through (and not just around) the conventions of Sensibility.

  • Constructivist Intertextuality: Stephen Collis' Compression Sonnets

    Stephen Collis has been writing a poetry rich in intertextual references since before I met him. In that first chapbook, The Birth of Blue he worked in what seemed like a Robert Duncan-ish way, but since then his work has been a bit more Oulipo-ish: more systematic, less intuitive (he's got two full length books out, Mine and the truly wonderful Anarchive ).

    So how is Collis' intertextuality different from Gibbons'? Well, for starters, Gibbons' intertextual references in "An Aching Young Man" are matters of parallel incidents, images, and plot-points. The language of the poem isn't pillaged directly from Wordsworth, but is presented as the speaker's own voice, and the speaker is, quite plausibly, a version of the poet himself. This is very much the "expressive" tradition Perloff describes. In contrast, much of the language in Collis' book comes directly from his intertextual source material, and even when it doesn't, the language isn't really presented as "voice" at all (the poet's or otherwise). You feel less like you're listening to someone, and more like you're looking at words or phrases that have been cut out of various sources and arranged with tongs on a table to form various combinations. You feel that Collis is seeking what the words can tell us, rather than using them to tell us something: an attitude very much in Perloff's "constructivist" tradition.

    As the name of the collection implies, Compression Sonnets is a collection of abbreviated sonnets. Here's some of what "Alfred Noyes" (Collis' pseudonym for the collection — I think he's developing a Fernando Pessoa-like series of personae for his various writings) has to say about the treatment of the sonnet form in a headnote to the collection:

    [The sonnet] at its best, was a form of condensation. I have sought here only to see how far such condensation may be taken. Fourteen lines, if nothing else, every student recalls at least this. What might come of only fourteen words? What of the 'sonnet' remains? A turn after the eighth word? At the thirteenth (a concluding 'couplet' of words)? What of the sonnet's traditional themes? I am interested only in economy — in what might be said with less.

    So the book consists of 14-word poems, of five lines each. The metric is: four lines of three words each, followed by a single two word line. These are grouped into five sections (the first one of these has 14 poems, suggesting a kind of sonnet-of-sonnets form). The sections do different things: the first section, for example, seems to meditate on the conditions of poetic production, featuring poems like this one, which references Adorno's famous interdiction on poetry after Auschwitz (and you thought I'd make it to the end of this without dropping Adorno's name! No such luck, oh long-suffering interlocutor!):

    A poem appeariing
    After Auschwitz dear
    Unflappable ghost we
    Must address a
    Torn fragment

    But it is the second of the five sections that most interests me in the present context, because it is among the most thoroughly intertextual sections in the book, and because I'm most comfortable with the allusions in this section. They come, cleverly enough, from the works of the great innovators of sonnet writing in England, guys like Wyatt, Spenser, Philip Sidney, Shakespeare, and a probably a few others I haven't caught yet. Here's an example:

    Great sonnety huntsman
    Self same assay
    Upon swept strand
    Subtle second hand
    Washéd away

    Didja catch the source text? Come on, anybody? Yes, the bearded fellow in the back, with your hand raised. Right! Exactly! Edmund Spenser, "One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand" from the Amoretti. What's that? You can recite it from memory? Okay, great, have at it!

    One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
    But came the waves and washèd it away:
    Again I wrote it with a second hand,
    But came the tide and made my pains his prey.
    Vain man (said she) that dost in vain assay
    A mortal thing so to immortalise;
    For I myself shall like to this decay,
    And eke my name be wipèd out likewise.
    Not so (quod I); let baser things devise
    To die in dust, but you shall live by fame;
    My verse your virtues rare shall eternise,
    And in the heavens write your glorious name:
    Where, when as Death shall all the world subdue,
    Our love shall live, and later life renew.

    Uh, thank you. That was a little loud, and I'm not sure the oratorical gestures were entirely merited, there, Mark, but if you'd help Mrs. Ferguson pick her hat up from where you knocked it I'm sure she'll stop glaring at you. Thank you.

    So, to return to the contemplation of the text. As you no doubt noticed, there's a reference here to another one of the Amoretti as well, the one in which Spenser compares himself to a huntsman and his beloved to a pursued doe (no, no Mark, no need to declaim that one as well, thank you very much). So the "sonnety huntsman" is clearly Spenser himself. And the washed away text? Well, in Collis' slicing-and-dicing of the original, it ceases to be the name of the beloved that Spenser had wanted to make endure, first in his writing on the sand, then in his sonnet itself, where he claimed it would live eternally. Now the washed-away text is Spenser's own sonnet.

    What does this signify? I suppose it says something very similar to Spenser's own poem: that art endures. But the emphasis is different, as is the nature of endurance. Where Spenser stressed the sonnet as a vehicle to enshrine a love and make it endure in fame, Collis' poem doesn't reference love directly; rather, it emphasizes writing. So it isn't the referent that endures, but the act of writing itself. The emphasis shifts from referent to writing. And the durability is only ambiguously affirmed: we aren't dealing with an undamaged text, but a partial one. What to make of this? One way to think of it is as roughly parallel to Shelley's "Ozymandias," a poem in which a carved message, meant to express an enduring sentiment, is changed even as it survives. Another way to look at Collis' poem is as an assertion that writing endures not in some gallery of canonical splendor, enshrined in the anthologies, but in its influence, in how later poets pick it up and work with and through it. The real survival of poetry is (to borrow Auden's phrase) "in the guts of the living."

    There's more going on here than I've covered (I'm convinced the way Collis has grouped the poems in this section, in subsections of 3, 3, 2 and 2 poems respectively, is in some way important, for example, possibly in relation to the two unequally weighted parts of a Spenserian sonnet). But already I'm impressed with what he's able to do. The methods are very different from those of Reg Gibbons, but the effect is every bit as interesting.

  • Peroration? What Peroroation?

    You still want that peroration concerning the pleasures of intertext? Really? No, I didn't think so, and anyway I'm out of breath and I've got the DVD of The Battle of Algiers due back soon,so that'll be all for today's sermon, the moral effects of which I'm sure are already uplifting you all. The tithe box, brethren, will be prominently visible to your left on the way out. Give 'til it hurts!

  • Monday, February 05, 2007

    "Thank You For Warring"

    So there I was, during one of the Balkan wars back in '99, preparing some teaching notes and exchanging email with Dubravka Djurić. I was in my office at Lund University in Sweden, she was in Belgrade, and we were arranging for her review of Charles Bernstein's Close Listening to appear in Samizdat. I had my radio on, and suddenly the broadcast was interrupted. The announcer, in the immensely solemn voice available only to European jazz DJs, gravely told us that American B-52s had left their bases in Germany en route to bomb Belgrade. (I'm ashamed to think how badly my always-shaky command of Swedish has fallen off since then: I'd be hard pressed, now, to read the back of a Ryvita package). Though I knew that any annoucement made in Sweden would have made use of information so broadly available that the Serbs would have knowledge of the attack, I couldn't bear the thought, however remote, that maybe Dubravka hadn't heard about this, that maybe she was in some isolated room and hadn't got the word to take cover. So I tapped out a quick message to tell her she should take precautions. She wrote back, clearly in haste (such grace under pressure! I'd have dived under a table in the basement without any kind of response), and there was a typo in her response. Instead of thanking me for the warning, as she'd meant to do, she had typed "thank you for warring."

    Dubravka survived unscathed, I took some notes on the exchange, and then, sometime between 1999 and now, I worked them up into a poem by trying to find the parallels between Dubravka's typo and another typographical error made in dark times, the famous one from Thomas Nashe's poem"A Litany in Time of Plague". The poem I put together is, starting today, up online at PFS Post.

    Sunday, February 04, 2007

    "You Gotta Go Through Us"

    When I was down in Tulsa last fall at the Modernist Studies Association convention, I ran into Barrett Watten in the corridor between the coffee urns and the book display. (Watten's always been cool about answering questions — I think I've had, say, a half-dozen brief conversations with him in similar corridors at other conferences over the years, this being almost the whole extent of our aquaintance). We talked a little bit about different generational perspectives on language poetry -- with me arguing that it doesn't look very much like an outsider phenomenon anymore to people under 40. He agreed, more or less, surprising me by saying that nowadays, despite various forms of resistance to langpo, "if you want to talk about poetry you gotta go through us."

    Today, I've finally decided Watten's statement was no hyperbole. My evidence? David Orr's new piece on Robert Frost's notebooks in the New York Times, which begins with two quotes from Marjorie Perloff's Twenty-First Century Modernism, and seeks to bolster Frost's rep by asserting his affinities with the tradition for which Perloff speaks. Who'd-a-thunk-it, back when the Donald T. Regan Professorship of English at the University of Pennsylvania was just a gleam in Charles Bernstein's eye?

    Saturday, February 03, 2007

    A Few Last Thoughts for Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1940-2007)

    It was very sad to discover, over on Pierre Joris' blog, that Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe died on January 27th. A philosopher and a critic, Lacoue-Labarthe never really had the American fame of some of his peers, like Derrida and Lyotard. Maybe he came a half-generation too late to ride the rising tide of French theory in the eighties and early nineties, maybe his reluctance to work in English played into this (from what I understand, this was an ethical choice, not a matter off inability). I'd just been reading him, for the first time in years, in preparation for a meeting about Celan with some of the poets of Chicago. Eerily, I see that on the same day he died I copied this short passage of his into one of my notebooks:

    A poem has nothing to recount, nothing to say; what it recounts and says is that from which it wrenches away as a poem.

    The remark seemed especially pertinent to Celan's Threadsuns, which resists narrative and mimesis with an energy that Lacoue-Labarthe's phrase "wrenches away" catches exactly.

    Part of me feels like I should stop here, having said something positive about the man who has died. But I think it would be more in the spirit of inquiry, critique and debate that Lacoue-Labarthe served for me to keep going, and think a little bit with his ideas.

    One surprising thing about Lacoue-Labarthe's statement is how closely it parallels Archibald Macleish's famous assertion in the poem "Ars Poetica," that "a poem should not mean but be." I'm fond of moments like this, when someone from one tradition (especially a despised tradition — and Macleish's appropriation by the New Critics makes him a part of such a tradition) seems to have arrived at a similar position to someone from another tradition. Of course there are all sorts of differences in the two poetics of refusal (my term for the kind of poetry that turns away from statement, mimesis, and narrative). For one thing, Macleish seems to come to his position out of a powerful conviction that the poem must be an object for the senses:

    A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit

    As old medallions to the thumb

    Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds...

    Macleish's is an aesthetic conviction, first and foremost; in contrast, the Celan/Lacoue-Labarthe position seems to come from what is primarily an ethical conviction (in my last post I quoted Clifford Duffy about Adorno's effect on Celan, and I think this backs up the idea that Celan's later style emerged in large measure as an ethical act).

    Another difference is this: unlike Lacoue-Labarthe's statement, Macleish's poem is fraught with an irony that is not always noted. If, for example, a poem should "not mean but be," then how can one account for the thesis-driven, statement-oriented, position-taking element of "Ars Poetica"? If you wanted to be uncharitable to Macleish, you could say this is contradictory and probably unintended. If you want to take a more positive view, you can say that his poem is an intriguingly self-consuming artifact, one that tears itself apart by driving in two directions at the same time. It asserts the need to turn away from meaning, but in the process turns toward statement-making and meaning.

    Lacoue-Labarthe, good critic that he is, describes the wrenching action of poetry. In a different context, and a different — perhaps opposite — way, Macleish enacts that wrenching.

    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Celan Salon

    Last night, in a break from my usual wild-ass Wednesday night of ordering Chinese food and seeing what kind of Netflix residue has washed up on my shores, I hoofed it down from the burbs to the glorious city of Chicago to hang with the local poets and talk Paul Celan. When I finally figured out the intricate system of buzzers that allowed me into Garin Cycholl's inner sanctum, I rallied with Garin, Mike Antonucci, Ray Bianchi, Bill Allegrezza, Jennifer Scappettone and Stefania Heim and, suitably rallied, set out to scale the heights of Celan's Threadsuns in Pierre Joris' translation. Since Ray put this whole thing together and bought a cake, I can't hold it against him that he forgot to print out Pierre's responses to the questions we'd sent him by email — and I'm sure Ray will be passing those around when we get together to talk Vallejo in a few weeks. I'm looking forward to them, since comparing various translations left us with more questions than answers, despite an emergency phone call to our German language consultant.

    Threadsuns is an opaque work, even for Celan, and a lot of our discussion centered on the nature of the opacity. Allegrezza threw down the gauntlet by declaring that he felt Celan's mental health at the time of composition (which was sketchy) and his subjection to electro-shock therapy (which was appalling) played into the book's fragmentation. I'm sure there's some way that these experiences enter the poems, but I tend to see this at the level of image and theme more than at the level of fragmentary form. I'm too late-afternoon fried-out to type up a long poem, but here's a short one from Joris' translation of Threadsuns that seems to me to reference Celan's mental-hospital experience:

    The excavated heart,
    wherein they install feeling.

    Wholesale homeland pre-
    fabricated parts.


    Okay, it isn't exactly One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but among the various fields of reference, there seems to be something of the normalizing/therapeutic form of psychology ("the excavated heart" and all that). And Celan doesn't seem too keen on this instrumental view of psychology.

    And this brings me to Adorno. I know, I know, I've been reading Adorno, so the answer to any question I'm asked lately seems to be "negative dialectics" As in the following exchange:

    Local Guy: "Hey Archambeau, what do you figure the Bears are going to do in the Superbowl?"

    Archambeau: "Negative Dialectics, man! There're going to take the notion of the totalizing instrumental reason of the Colts' defence and seek out its fissures and disunities and... hey — where did everybody go?"

    Anyway, in reply to Allegrezza's thesis about mental health and fragmentation, I made some semi-articulate claims about the extreme crypticness and fragmentariness of Celan's late-period poetry, most of which I cribbed from an old listserv post by Clifford Duffy, from back in '98. Here's an edited version of Duffy's post, in which he claims that Celan's fragmentary and cryptic work is, in essence, a stylistic reply to a criticism made by Adorno (I've edited this down a bit, and left in the eccentric punctuation — remember, this was written as an email, not a formal piece of writing):

    In the early 50's Paul Celan published his poem ** Death Fugue ** . This poem became very widely read and universally accepted as a powerful statement 'about' the death camps of Europe. The poem is exacting, intense entrancing, and excruciating. It pushes to an extreme an emotional response that the reader undergoes while reading it…. Sadly by the early 60's the poem became so widely antholgized in Germany and had become a standard part of the learning of German children in Western German education. I say sadly because of this. The poem by sheer dint of repetition had lost some of its intensity and had (through the abuse it has been subjected to, and as the biographer of Celan infers, Guilt on the part of the generation of teachers and educators 'teaching ' this poem to their children) had become a standard' tool of analysis. …. It got to the point where school children in Germany used it to analyze metrics effectively undermining its meaning and its impact. …It has its place. -- But the Poem was diverted from its path...When ** Death Fugue** was published Adorno read it and said in a written statement. This is too beautiful One cannot write Beautiful poems about the Holocaust. One can only be silent in the face of what happened there. …. The effect on Paul Celan from what I have read was very strong, if not close to devastating.

    In this view, Celan's choice of fragment, arcane reference, and the like, are strategies of refusal: he doesn't want the poems to be appropriated into generic tools for the learning and teaching of conventional poetic techniques like metrics. I'm pretty convinced, really. I'm also about to miss my train, so I'm outta here.

  • BREAKING NEWS (added Feb. 4, 2007): Mark Scroggins (who has been keen on debunking bad footnotes to James Joyce of late) points to the merely semi-accurate nature of Duffy's post. I'm thinking of changing Mark's nickname to "Hawkeye," but I'm not sure how he'll feel about having to give up "T-Bone"...