The Western bourgeoisie has long known its rôle in art is to be abused by the avant-garde; however, groups outside this tradition or class don’t easily see why they or their culture should be insulted or patronized by relatively privileged people. It very often seems to members of such groups to be merely a continuance of abusive patterns rooted deep in society.That's from a new essay called "To Witness," on poetry's responsibilities, by Ian Duhig. It's a wide-ranging and thoughtful piece, looking back to Caroline Forché and the poetry of witness, and to contemporary controversy involving the work of Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place, and Claudia Rankine. Along the way he takes a look at some skeptical statements of my own about the political claims of experimental poetry. Anything Duhig writes is worth reading on its own merits—but this is particularly notable for our own moment.
Another piece of writing with intrinsic merit, and with particular relevance to our moment, also came out today: Timothy Yu's book of poems 100 Chinese Silences, which, like Duhig's essay, looks to the intersection of poetics, identity, and politics. Here's what I wrote for the book jacket:
I can’t remember when I last read a book as necessary, and as wickedly fun, as Timothy Yu’s 100 Chinese Silences. Yu responds to, rewrites, and reforms a whole poetic tradition of Western representations of China and the Chinese, from Ezra Pound to Gary Snyder to Billy Collins. Yu wears his learning lightly, and his various parodies, pastiches, and campy retakes on the poetic tradition balance a love of the poetry he’s spent a career studying with a necessary critical edge. Our age demands a re-assessment of old representations of the “mysterious east,” and Timothy Yu has come through with exactly what we need. 100 Chinese Silences has “breakthrough book” written all over it.Ordering information is available at Les Figues.
And in other news, my own essay on Charles Simic, trauma, and the Cold War is now online as well as in the Boston Review.