Friday, July 17, 2009

this blog is normally reserved for poetry

But holy Jesus how cool is this?

Some of you may know my first performance/writing love (by about a year) was music. I was a rocker before I was a poet. So when I got a text message from a techy bud about create-your-own-rockband songs I (to be all 80s) totally flipped.

I'm not sure (yet) how to abuse this for poetry distribution, but if you are in a band or just like to write music and you don't exploit the living hell out of this, there is something wrong with you.

Look for my old band's cheesy bar-blues to be appearing (since I still have all the masters on cdrom) as soon as this goes live. w00t what!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Flarfers like to insult folks I guess

Well it seems I've pissed off Christian Bok. He called me a troll on his twitter page. Tee hee.

What he choses to ignore, of course (in a lovely tu quoque sort of way), is that Kenneth Goldsmith said "Conceptual Poetry" (his caps) was child's play.

Perhaps that Kinsey Gaffe wasn't so intentional after all, eh Ken?

Can ya ken wha I mean, Ken?

Update (7/17):
I've also cheesed off Silliman. He refers to my post below as being "so pained it's almost flarf"; in the comments section, Many Zeros says that the point of my post seems to be "get your ass down to K-mart and see what [the troglodytes] want in their poetry." Close, but no cigar, Zero Mostel. Those folks at K-mart with their trans-fat biscuits don't generally read (remember, only 1/3 of Americans read on a regular basis).

It would be useful to say, go to a Barnes&Noble or mine Amazon (or just look at best-seller lists) to try to figure out what readers like. . . at the very least we need to stop writing to please ourselves or to please other poets -- no more masturbation and incest, folks!

Keep it clean! Seriously you guys, the whole idea of exogenous creativity is that we get infusions of new blood and new ideas -- we aren't getting that from inside the realm of poetry, we've got to go outside our camp, beyond the land of the backslappers and grantgivers.

Poetry for schoolkids

So how many of you know teachers?

One of the ways we can reintroduce enjoyable poetry to the mass of readers is through schools. Most schools I know of encourage their teachers to put a "what is Mr. So and So reading?" spot on their walls or bulletin boards, etc. From experience as a teacher, kids even ask to borrow such books -- especially if they're reviewed or rated.

So what's a good book of (dare we hope narrative) contemporary verse we can get into the hands of teachers (and by extension, kids)?

How do we get it to them? MLA conference?

Note: my wife is now reading the Madeline books to our daughters -- those are books of poetry. . .

Monday, July 6, 2009

Flarf and Conceptual Poetry: by children, for children

Welcome, Sillimites! Don't forget to read these too!

The good people at the Poetry Foundation have lost their minds.

This month’s issue gives lip to the ALL-CONCEPTUAL ALL-THE-TIME crowd, which leads me to believe that Christian Wiman & Co. must have dusted off some old copies of BLAST and thought the 1910s still had some interesting poetry left to be squeezed out of them.

Beginning things is an introduction by Kenneth Goldsmith, whose “essay” starts off with the falsest of propositions:

“Start making sense. Disjunction is dead.”

I’m calling bullshit. Straw man argument is straw man. Perhaps in the avant-garde world that led directly from the most unintelligible lines of the post-war modernist poems to the disjointed madness of l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e “poetry,” the refuse that is flarf and conceptual poetry counts as making sense.

Here in non-navel-gazing-land, however, it doesn’t. Yes, yes, Mr. Goldsmith, we can see in your poetic examples that “whole units of plain English with normative syntax, [have] returned.” However, as Noam Chomsky so wonderfully pointed out, “plain English with normative syntax” doesn’t always make sense.

Nor can this poetry in any sense be said to be “juncted” (I suppose “coherent” is the word here). Mohammad’s “Poems About Trees” makes as much sense as an R.E.M. song crossed with a Pollack painting. Seriously, folks. Why are you kidding yourselves?

Let’s find out.

Goldsmith goes on to talk about “[feeling] language again” and the “delight” and “joy” it brings. He compares C/F poets to children wrecking things. Well perhaps he does know who he’s kidding. A “movement” which can produce such beauties as “I Google Myself” (I thought it would be impossible to do worse than the original; color me incorrect on that count) is nothing more than a bunch of children playing at poetry.

When I saw Mohammad speak at AWP this year, he went on and on about how he made “sonnets” out of nothing but anagrams of Shakespeare’s originals. My question now, as then, is “what’s the point?” By his own admission they were not good poems. Why waste the time?

Because Goldsmith has here committed a Kinsley gaffe. These poets are, in effect, children running around the island, doing as they please. It explains a lot, especially that heated, “we’ve got sharp sticks” look whenever you bring up reality or getting off the island or why we got here in the first place and isn’t that a boat right over there?

So in his first paragraph, Goldsmith does get at some truth: conceptual/flarf poets are children. Considering 1) that I’m a grown-up writing for folks who’ve little interest in living in Neverland and 2) Uncle Shelby’s books have the corner on the “kids’ poetry” market, I’m tempted to just point this out and let well-enough alone.

Except Goldsmith opens his next paragraph with this doozy:

our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers.”

The hell it does. Perhaps Mr. Goldsmith has never put down his Adorno and McLuhan. I neither know nor care. What is nails-down-the-chalkboard (is there a German word for that?) infuriating, however, is that Goldsmith continues, saying that C/F poetry is attempting to solve the problem of “what it means to be a poet in the Internet age” and answer the question “why use your own words when you can express yourself just as well by using someone else’s.”

Perhaps the irony is too deep for me. Maybe all these poets understand that they’re aping Ezra Pound in 1914. Or maybe they know they’re following in Duchamp’s footsteps, somehow pissing on new ground.

If not, however, let me answer these questions without having to resort to Conceptual and Flarf poetry. Question the first: “what it means to be a poet in the Internet age.” It means what it has always “meant” to be a poet – that you communicate through verse while at the same time “purifying the dialect of the tribe.” To use appraisal language, poetry is the “highest and best use” of language. We are its creators.

Answering the second question is even easier. You are always using someone else’s words. Admitting that, rather – being deferential to that, simply means you are an immature poet. Of course, we’ve already covered that, thanks to Mr. Goldsmith.

The real question is what does “this” mean in a world of 4chan memes and instant distribution? “This” of course, being the whole of writing and publishing and reading poetry. According to the current issue of Poetry, it means that hack writers can get their work and mini-manifestos published in a canonical rag. If all you’re interested is wrecking and playing, I suppose that’s enough.

What this new technology really means, however, what these Conceptual/Flarf people continually miss, is that there is now nothing between the poem and the audience.

There’s that nasty word I keep employing. That’s correct, y’all. What it means to be a poet in the internet age is not that you can more rapidly act like Burroughs and do cut-up poems, but that your poems have instant access to readers. To an audience.

You don’t have to be friends with the king, or the rich guy down the lane. You don’t have to blow your poetry professor. You don’t have to get a publisher drunk at a poetry conference.

You just set up a booth and go. No cost.

Now obviously this has worked in the favor of those crazy Conceptual/Flarf/Avant Garde/whatever Ron is calling them this week poets. I mean someone has to be going to those websites, right?

But all those folks have done is found themselves. Conceptual/Flarf poetry is the Rule 34 of literature. If you like amputees and gore, well, there’s an audience for you full of other folks who also have a disjointed sense of what writing is.

But what about that untapped audience for poetry? Is it 30 million Americans? 100 million? We don’t know. My guess is one-half to one-third of current American readers. Certainly it’s more than the 3 million we’ve got today. But one thing is sure – we aren’t reaching them and no one knows how to.

Why don’t we know? Because we’ve been given the most powerful publishing tool since Gutenberg and all we’re doing with it is turning walnuts into pigeons.

We should be ashamed.

Or, rather, we should be changed.

We must find what people like – what they’re “buying” if you can call it that – and make it for them. And make it in the most brilliant way possible – and when they buy it, they can find all the subversive, artistic things we’ve done. This is art, folks. Impenetrability and flash never make art. Expertly created work can. Art is work, not play.

When Mr. Goldsmith and his lost children understand this, maybe their work will grow up too.