Sunday, April 26, 2009

framing Oral Poetry vs Visual Poetry

In some of the comments in my last big post, people took me to task about renaming the actors in a poetic debate.

My intention was not to rebrand "School of Quietude" and "Post-Avant" as "Oral Poetry" and "Visual Poetry,"

my intention is to reframe the debate.  The problems that exist are not between the new and the old, as Silliman seems to think -- there's no rebellion here.  

The problems that exist are due to a critical impasse that has become a funcitonal and increasingly financial impasse -- so they're problems that need to be dealt with.

The impasse, as I've said is not new and old, but apples and pears.  They look sort of the same.  Their trees look sort of the same.  Heck, they're even members of the same subfamily

yet some people are devotees of apples and some of pears.

Some people like both.

But if you were a food critic and you couldn't distinguish between the two, there'd be a problem.  If you were a seller of fruit, and didn't know a bartlett from a macintosh, you'd hear about it.  If you were a customer, and the pears were in the apple cart, we'll, you'd go and pick up some of those novel oranges you hear everyone likes so much.

Now for some of you, you may be horrified that I'm speaking of poetry as if it were a commodity.

Well, it is.  It's art, yes -- but you've got to sell it to the people.  If you believe all art should be free and that no one should profit from it, please go start your own website and put all of your work up on there.  Good luck with that. . . If you aren't willing to do that, then you should ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable talking about the marketization of poetry.  

Marketization is important because that's partially how something thrives among humans -- why are there more cows than tigers?  Because cows taste really good.  If tigers tasted like bacon, we'd have tiger farms across the nation.  Now, this isn't always the case -- creating something commercially with no regard for taste usually gives you wal*mart white bread, pop 40 radio, and Billy Collins.  I'm not arguing for that.  What I am arguing for is that poets start to pay attention to the fact that they are producing not just art -- but a product as well.  Every other artist does that.  Jeez!
(back to the point)

And since marketization (of which criticism is a large part) is so important to the survival of poetry, we as poets owe it to ourselves, our audience, and our art (that's in reverse order of importance, btw) to really codify what the heck we're doing in such a way that it becomes conversate-able (that is, something that folks can talk about).

Ergo, instead of looking down our noses at the "inferior" poets who don't write what we think is the Platonic Good of poetry, we can see that they are not inferior -- simply other, and we can embrace them as another facet of art.

So to close with simplicity, there are two forms of poetry:

Oral Poetry:
Poetry whose meaning is independent of seeing its words on the page.  Though placement on the page may be used for reading guides, a written oral poem is essentially a piece of sheet music.  Any change in the words' placement will likely not result in a substantial change in the poem's meaning.

Visual Poetry:
Poetry whose meaning is dependent upon seeing its words on the page.  A visual poem is not like a piece of sheet music but a work of two-dimensional art.  Any change in the words' placement is likely to result in a noticable change in the poem's meaning.

Fair enough?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Now with Twitter

So I guess I'm a twit now.

It had to happen, I suppose, as I explore the realms of figuring out how to distribute poetry.

Well, I have to hand it to old Silliman, his plug sextupled the blog traffic yesterday.  w00t!

More later, I am trying to beat out a Korean POW Blues Epic:

in my memory / I build these verses
where only death / can tear them down
tuned on rhythm / I can't forget them
in North Korea / my blues are brown

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Skipping High School

Can we finally admit that American public education is largely broken, outdated, anachronistic, and unnecessary?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

School of Quietude vs Post-Avant is really Oral Poetry vs Visual Poetry

Update: go here for a definition of Oral and Visual Poetry

I've visited this topic before, but Silliman got me thinking today.

He mentions that he chose the term "School of Quietude" to piss someone off.  That he was hoping a young buck (or doe?) would do the work of defining the "movement."

Lots of people say there is no "Quietude" movement.  I would agree with them but add that there's not really a post-avant movement either.  There are several schools within each group.

But each group can be more easily and accurately divided by a name change.

the "School of Quietude" writes oral poetry

"Post-Avant" folk write visual poetry.

The difference is pretty simple.  Oral poetry can survive without the page.  It may have some interesting graphical trickery (like Dante's acrostics) but it fundamentally sounds like a poem.  It sounds good.

Visual poetry may also sound good but has part-to-all of its meaning tied into its existence as physical text.  Take Johnson's Radi Os, for instance.  Even the parts of the poem that work out loud are dependent upon Johnson's erasure of Milton.  The work can't leave the page.  All the work on Ubu fits this mold as well, likewise flarf and all the myriad things you can learn about by reading Silliman.

I don't wish any ill-will on the visual poets.  I'm simply not one of them.  I tried for a while -- if I still had my high school poetry notebooks you could see juvenilia rife with visual traps and tricks.  Perhaps that's where my low opinion of visual poetry came from -- it was something I could do (with panache) at 15.  

But come, those of you who felt "School of Quietude" as an insult.  Tell the world we are oral poets.  Noisy poets.  Poets out loud.  Poets of voice.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A different historical view

So this really has naught to do with poetry

But imagine yourself as a historian 500 years from now.

How will you see the USA? We mention "end of empire" as if it's an inevitability -- but then we think -- heck, Rome lasted a gabillion (okay, 1100 to upwards of 2000) years -- as a realy & influential nation, it probably had a good 6-800 year run. First in Rome proper and then as Byzantium. Which gives me pause.

England was the dominant power in Europe/the World since the defeat of the Spanish Armada until the end of WWIish. Certainly by the end of WWII they had handed the mantle to us (that's US), a former colony (and a rebellious one at that).

Those of you unfamiliar with the history of Rome might not know that when power began to be shared in the East and West (co-Caesars and co-Augusti and all that -- if you really want to get the digs, go here) there was conflict. War even. And that the (new) Eastern (part of the) empire felt free, independent of, and more progressive than the Western one. And that after a while, all the stuff done in the West simply came out of the East.

We've reversed that, of course, but I think it might be best from a future-historian view to look at the US as not separate and distinct but simply the Western United Kingdom.

Then our seemingly rapid descent into decadence makes much more sense.

and I'm proud to be a Western United Kingdomer
where at least my water's clean
and I won't forget my British folks
who made up laws for me. . .

Monday, April 13, 2009

Abuse of power


It seems that not even in my hometown can people avoid acting out of fear and insanity.

Not the way to behave, folks.

Damn the internet and damn politics

You know, Dante and Cavalcante still managed to meet in the middle and write some damn good poetry.

Even if their religion and politics were at odds (to say the least) they were drinkin' buddies.

But you sorta have to do that with your neighbors.

As we grow apart, first in urban-to-suburbanization, then in electronic group isolation, we lose that familiarity.

When I was at AWP, I don't think I met a person with whom I didn't get along. Heck, I'm buddies with Susan Schultz, whose politics and aesthetics probably couldn't be farther from mine. Of course, I took a class with her, which helped.

But then I look at all of this poorly written, shame-faced, shambling false poetry out there and my blood pressure rises. It gets worse if I ever take the time (which I do too frequently) to read the prose justifications of said poetry (note: if you've got to write a justification/explanation for your poem, it sucks; Eliot just wrote the notes for The Waste Land in order to get it to near book length -- quit being an imitating iguana). Worse still if I read the naive political views of so many of the authors (seriously, folks -- did you ever read your history books? Wikipedia has a fine collection of historical facts; perhaps you look at them for a mo').

I know, from the writing of The Declaration last year that the reverse is true. There was a tiny storm of poo from some circles. Actually, I know someone who stopped talking to me because of it ("know I am not your ally" says he).

What gives? Do we all need 3D printers/replicators and video chat so we can get drunk together?

How do you create a sense of community among people with disparate interests but who aren't in one place?

Is it even possible?

Perhaps that's the question of the next few decades. . . what diverse communities can we build when no one has to live together?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

T.S. Eliot rejected Animal Farm

For the right reason -- that it is a funamentally communist story.

Eliot, you must remember identified as a "royalist in politics". This was no slouch of a position. There was no dissolved Parliament in the 1930s.

Eliot was making a very charged political statement. Indeed his trilogy of "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, Anglo-Catholic in religion" was shocking and packed with meaning -- like most everything he wrote. In a time of increased chaotic modernism, Eliot embraced order, order, and order with a heaping dose of authority. And then produced his masterwork -- the Four Quartets.

A lesson to all of those writers floundering around in relativistic agony?