Date: Thu, 9 May 2002
Subject: Why poets should read only cereal boxtops

I find this to be a bad attitude: anti-intellectual, divisive . . .

It works from a notion that poetry's input/output with its other related disciplines is a conveyor belt that goes something like



where the poet writes, the editor selects, the publisher puts into print/on-line, the unauthorized reader operates in a position of silence as unresponsive consumer, and the critic ---perish forbid--- responds. There is also a secondary/tertiary type of reader/critic position thought of as the "book review," which, unlike criticism, is welcome, as it's seen as a form of book promotion or advertising.

Anything that violates that flow chart, that chain of effects where the poetry is handed along with potatos in a potato sack race, such as critics overstepping their putatively derivative position and actually daring to become the inspiration or source of poetry, is regarded as a disturbance in poetry's ripple effects and should be avoided, condemned.

Even when not outright ignored and boycotted, it is in an antagonistic relation to the poet (J. Gallagher: "It's all something to work against.").

First of all, I think this is wrong in that the different types of literature workers are not different species that lack the genes to mate. They are roles.

Of the examples of the "stereotypical" academic critic position that Chris Stroffolino lists, ---Sianne Ngai, Lytle Shaw, Steve Evans, Juliana Spahr--- Lytle and Juliana are both poets as well, there is published and a novel poetry by Ngai (I have simply ever seen any poetry by Steve Evans and don't know if he writes poems), and, Juliana, multivalent, is poet, critic, and editor (Chain). At different times, one may fulfill one or the other function within the literary economy; they are not mutually exclusive.

(In fact, the academic (as graduate student) is a very short-lived position, in general: viz., the Poetics archives where .edus come and go and disappear. There are years where the names of the main participants, just as eagerly involved then as today's subscribers in the current debate, have totally vanished from public record, in many cases presumably phased out of academics and maybe even poetry.)

This conveyor belt model is based upon the fallacy of poety as, yes, definitely a stripe of language ("materialist") but poetry as an isolated discourse or form of text that does not engage in dialogue or draw upon and feed into the general element of language as fluidly as, for example, list posts do.

A better-educated poet is a better poet (a better-educated person is in a better position to write). One of the artificial boundaries that Andrew Rathmann's anti-criticism rant sets up is a wall between poetry and thinking. To the contrary, as ideas are, in the final wash, very much a part of poetry (and inescapably a part of language, in its ideological dimension), why shouldn't poetry be in an open give-and-take with any and every area of thinking? Academic criticism is simply the commentary (critique, analysis) of literateurs whose somewhat more comfortable, non-"working class" positions afford them a greater leisure and impetus to direct themselves at thinking. They're experienced, hopefully, at honing their reading into a sort of hypostasis with thinking.

Without the critic and feedback, ---how else does poetry advance itself? It's ~then~ that the raw power mechanisms of coterie, personal influence, private capital (publishing), etc., take on monopolistic dominance, and poets are promoted without studied justification beyond their proximity to major metropolitan centers, what good socialites they are, and so on.

This false division between poetry and criticism, between poetry and other modes of language, instead of a relaxed switching back and forth between modes, as a sort of "broken English," may in fact be much of why the Poetics List has, in general, abandoned poetics. If Steve Evans' writing is discussed at the cocktail party, it's to agree how terribly rude of him it was be such a brute over Rebecca Wolff,--- since poets choose not to engage with his Hegelian ideas or the possibility that any friendly fire was just the regretable casualty of his otherwise coherent thinking. That function is split off. If a subscriber's sign-on doesn't have a conspicuous .edu suffix at the tail end (really just a form of wearing a fraternity pin, as subscriber accounts can just as easily be set up to more anonymous or democratic alternative e-mail servers), there's no way of speaking ex cathedra. Poets become completely submerged in poetry as solely practice, without being interested in ---our capacity to do so increasingly atrophies--- articulating anything about the poem in non-poem language: that would only expose how unreflexive and blind-to-itself the process has become for most.

Oddly, too, the Language Poets that the List ostensibly dates back to were expressly engaged in producing their own, intellectualist poets' criticism, a genre that has largely disappeared.

Poets now presume that their poems should go out deafly into the world, like the penny dropped into the wishing well without making any sound. If it does encounter dialogue, questions, analysis, criticism, the reaction ---because the poet has maintained herself/himself in such an interaction-starved vacuum--- is that there's something wrong with that, and it would be better to leave the work self-contained, hermetically sealed. We resent people responding.

Personally, I think of the ultimate model of this New Man critic has having been the late Ramez Qureshi, someone who is at home and as hungry for the life of the mind as he was for the call of poetry. With no academic credentials beyond an on-line correspondence course B.A. that he was eternally completing, his criticism was quite serious, definitely respectable and sometimes exemplary in the insights it achieved,--- and he, at least, without any credentializing pay-off to be gained from it, was an absolute fanatic (fan) of Adorno's. (There should be a Ramez Qureshi Prize for Criticism established.)