Date: Thu, 9 May 2002
Subject: Why poets should read only cereal
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
AUTONOMOUS POET >
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
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
(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
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.)