Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What the hell, Boston Review?

So Boston Review has done an interesting thing, asking a pile of poets to write about "the most significant, troubling, relevant, recalcitrant, misunderstood, or egregious set of opposing terms in discussions about poetics today," focusing ultimately on the dangers of binary thinking in poetry.

Unfortunately, the first thing I came upon (thanks to reddit) is this piece of crap by one Katie Degentesh. I don't know her from Adam and she may be the nicest person in the world, but that doesn't excuse something like this:

"If it’s not a legitimate poem, your body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down, up to and including eversion, where your uterus could be forced partially or completely inside-out, or fall or be forced out of the vaginal opening (prolapse). For example, if you’re a man writing poetry about having gay sex with another man, you might get AIDS because your rectal wall is only one cell thick, or you might get fired from job after job because your poetry knows real jobs are for The Man."

Apart from kicking the tired GOPinhead horse here, this is exemplary writing of the pomo-naked-emperor school that Dawkins was decrying.

But let's look at the whole list.

Ange Mlinko has an interesting if ineffective heroic couplet jab at Marjorie Perloff (her essay "Poetry on the Brink" being the catalyst for this) which tries to be Pope and misses but still amuses.

Maureen McLane offers words that are skinny and on the left and not much else. Perhaps her work is an exercise on demonstrating the importance of syntax by its absence.

Stephen Burt writes an essay about "neo-modernism," saying "a neo-modernist poet makes art that tests the limits of “art,” requiring us to ask what counts as a poem, what counts as good, what we assume about art more generally, and whether we ought to reject our prior assumptions" which might be interesting if it weren't some bullshit rehashed from a Pound essay that's a century old. People: please understand that these questions aren't interesting. Don't ask us to figure out what counts as a poem. Don't test the limits of art. WRITE GREAT POETRY.

DeSales Harrison skirts the question entirely while talking about the role of the critic ("praise, don't trash" essentially) which is nice in some ways but entirely tired in others.

Matthew Zapruder actually talks about the binary distinction between poetry and lyrics, arguing that it is both  generally asked for the wrong reasons and ultimately useful and interesting.

Anthony Madrid writes an interesting introduction to an essay on the value of irony in the context of feelings but then had to go to lunch with Jesus and Jimi Hendrix so never finished the darn thing.

Sandra Lim's piece was, I believe, written by The Postmodern Generator. All it's missing is "praxis" and "ontological." And purpose, but I suppose that's the point.

Annie Finch, unsurprisingly, blows these folks out of the water (of course this is simply bias talking as much as anything else) with a lovely piece on "the stale form/freedom duel." Which, unlike everyone except Zapruder actually addresses a real question that interests folks beyond the fetishists of verse.

Dorothea Lasky has the kernel of what could be a very interesting essay-critique on the position of the poet in relation to poetry along the scientist-mystic axis. It isn't, though.

Evie Shockley argues against any binary distinctions by using binary distinctions. Or rather she points out where these are destructive to women and minorities which is an argument that can only be made by validating such dichotomies.

Rebecca Wolff makes a good (or at least interesting) point ("exigency over duty") in a horrible, terrible, no-good way, coming off as someone who has spent the better part of two decades in a one-sided conversation.

Lytton Smith namedrops more than I do to lamely make the point in overwrought, pretentious inkwash that poetry is important as a written and aural artform and we shouldn't neglect the latter. Hear, hear but leave the purple prose and hipsterism at home. Pound did it better and with more humor.

Noah Eli Gordon. No idea what the hell he's talking about. But he uses both "liminal" and Utinni! in the same essay so clearly he is a master of time and space, a post-modern (or is that neo-modern?) Colossus striding etc.

Robert Archambeau argues that binary distinctions can be useful if we let them run amok and use them for understanding and not control. Too much Adorno for my comfort level, though.

Cathy Park Hong writes about race which is its own dichotomy. Instead of insisting on continuing the dichotomy of a poet's color I wish she'd written about a poem's content. Ah well. That doesn't get one "academicized" which is apparently a good thing (?).

Dan Beachy-Quick sounds like Derrida mixed with Pirsig and, apart from an interesting etymological digression of "chorus" doesn't do anything new or interesting.

Marjorie Perloff, Marjorie Perloff is the worst of them all. Her "defense," which can only be described as "butthurt" doesn't tackle any of the interesting points raised (Zapruder, Finch, Wolff, and Archambeau come to mind) but instead attacks the low-hanging fruit of dreck written by pseudo-intellectuals (no need to re-name names). Here is an important note for you, Dr. Perloff--no one knows what you used to do. They only know your recent work. Now, I think it's important to argue (as Perloff does) that these folks could have done some more fact-checking if they wanted to attack Perloff's positions via something more than strawmen and ad hominems--but that doesn't mean they were going to and getting in a huff about it is puerile.

Perloff's Original Essay isn't much more than a collection of things I've read before. She does amusingly misplace importance and ambiguity in the point of the title "Today's Not Opposite Day," having missed, it seems, playing that childhood game.

Where it really fails, however, is buying into the silly idea that the story behind the poem makes the poem, telling us of so many great new works composed in or as a response to tragedy. Who cares? Give us great poems and if the circumstance is important to the poem put it in there. The poetry Perloff is praising can't exist outside of its own context which is to say it is either a fetus or a dying man on life support. It's high time to be born or pull the plug.


Anonymous said...

That's not 18.

G. M. Palmer said...

'Tis. The first is Katie Degentesh.

Anonymous said...


G. M. Palmer said...

start with Katie. go to Marjorie. that is 18. do you have anything of substance to say or is this literary sesame street?

Anonymous said...

17 + 1

Anonymous said...

(18-1) + 1