Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1999
Subject: Village Voice POLYVERSE review

Wednesday's Village Voice runs a lukewarm or even unfavorable
review of Lee Ann Brown's Polyverse, filled with gratuitous innuendo
about Language Poetry. The reviewer is named Thad Ziolkowski.

He doesn't wait any longer than the first sentence to mention Charles
(Bernstein), who selected Polyverse for the "prestigious" New
American Poetry Series, and to begin casting veiled aspersions against
him. We wouldn't have expected Polyverse as Charles' choice,
Ziolkowski says: we would have expected "ironic, warily analytical
work". Charles, here cast as papal, bishopric, or censorious by
Ziolkowkski, should have been more likely to give that his "imprimatur".

Ziolkowski criticizes Brown, basically, as too much a patchwork quilt of
styles. (An assessment which Sun & Moon's own Book
Description is not, at a more positive slant, far afield from: "many forms
and possibilities. Taking its cue from a wide range of modern and
postmodern poetics, Brown's work . . .") Polyverse, he says, fails in
echoing New York School, Beat, and Language, without synthesizing
those influences. (Nor does Z. entertain the inkling that syncretism is not
the only solution, that the Poly- in Polyverse may actually mean
something, and that the segregated stylistics Brown leaves behind is
more in tune with an aesthetic of polyvocalism.)

He finally treats this "thirtysomething" poet (his agism) as if, as I read it,
this were a beginner's problem that she will hopefully work out in time
("But then maybe the orgy among all these poetic influences is just
getting warmed up").

If it weren't for Brown eroticizing her Language-like "proliferation of
grammatical terms", Language Poetry by itself is just "lifeless automatic

He accuses Brown of seeming "dated, frozen in a sunstruck New
York--circa-1965 atmosphere". Oddly, it's her "references to Whitman,
Mayakovsky, Sappho and Stein" that Ziolkowski particularly singles out
as behind-the-times, but yet when he again cites her eroticism as "What
saves the book from this terminally reverent tendency", he quotes her
lines "She's a minor flirt,/a cloud in trousers" without so much as a blink
of open recognition that "a cloud in trousers", too, is yet another homage
and "reverent tendency" (O'Hara/Mayakovsky). Ziolkowski is left looking
as if he doesn't know he was quoting an appropriation of Brown's, at
cross-purposes, and hence is in contradiction with himself by saying
that what saves the book from a debility is the same debility.

His attitude may reach its pique when he writes: "You end up wondering
. . . what's particularly new about this New American." Fair question.
Personally, I am left wondering, if he was this global in treating Brown ---
whom ("Brown is . . . goofy in a troubadour-hippie-Fugs way") he
nonetheless seems to enjoy, despite his disparaging slant of praise ---
what kind of harsher polemic The Village Voice would have printed if the
book were indeed "ironic, warily analytical work".


Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999
Subject: Re: Village Voice POLYVERSE review -Reply

>>> Douglas <djmess@CINENET.NET> 08/13/99 08:05am >>>

>Thank you for the good analysis of a very wrong-headed
>review. I truly appreciate it.

>Douglas Messerli, Sun & Moon Press.


Thank you! . . . Sir.

I wanted to add, but decorum precludes:

The way he goes on and on about how the one "saving grace" of the
book is all this supposed erotica he quotes ("'As I pinch my nipples,'"
"Brown puts an erotic twist on this", "Beat erotics", "polymorphous
relation to gender" [my emphasis], "That and sex", "orgy . . . is just getting
warmed up"), Ziolkowski seems to be giving a single-mindedly horny
reading of an apparently very literary book . . . as if it were all some
sort of panty raid which Brown ("goofy in a troubadour-hippie-Fugs
way", like straight from Dogpatch) had lured him into. (Note the telltale
"Fugs.") I'd say, on that vein, --- and this is when he was in a good
mood and having his jollies, --- that Z. got stuck in a (heterosexualized)
he-reader/she-author wish fulfillment as to what the book might be, and
read it entirely through the fact that the cover has the name of a female
author on it. He seems to have misread the title as Per-verse, rather
than Polyverse (as I think his entendre about "polymorphous" brings to
the surface).