Wednesday, December 9, 2009

There are Two Kinds of People: People Who Think There Are Kinds of People, and Those Who Know Better

In one of the earlier posts below I entered into that very strange (for me, semi-hermit living at the northwest edge of the continental U.S.) set of arguments, restricted it seems to me almost entirely to the blogosphere, that make up the ongoing flarf/anti-flarf virtual smackdown.  This isn't so much a tisk tisk at those engaged in this set of debates (e.g. me last week), but rather an acknowledgment on my part that I'm unsure what the stakes are.  If flarf, as I mentioned briefly last post, is not particularly new in terms of strategy, procedures that (in part) generate the poem, etc., then there is no real categorical disagreement to be had.  The question is, then: what is the poem doing?  How is it working, and in what ways does it speak to, or speak under, the larger context? Perhaps I'm too much embedded in my own habituated reading framework, but I'm always inclined to ask, regarding the statement "flarf is [insert epithet]" - Which poem(s)??? .  Same goes for the quote end quote flarfist who makes a categorical claim on one movement or another, or one supposed movement or another.  And that, to clarify, was partly what I was getting at in pointing to Nada Gordon's post on what she dubs (mainly west coast) "docu-po."  Not to deny that there are different poetics, and with a poetics, comes a set of formal and otherwise commitments, but "kinds" of poetry sounds like so much set theory, and to again reference LW: I challenge you to define for me what a "game" is.  

Also to clarify, because Gary Sullivan wrote an extremely thoughtful response to my previous post, my aim wasn't or isn't to rag on Nada, or to hold her up as one of the main culprits in poetical type-token "fuck [insert abstraction as definition of, here]."  Not at all, despite the looseness of my writing--"idiotic" in reference to the blog post I wrote about below (I was thinking, tho vaguely, about how to turn around Nada's once speaking of her work as a poetics of idiocy, which I found terribly interesting).  Rather, I linked to this post, and made it one of the focal points of my discussion because it was so uncharacteristic, in my estimation, anyway, of Nada's work--which, both the poetry & the criticism, I often love.  It IS characteristic of a lot of online discussions, tho.    

In going back and reading some of Nada's newer work (eg, the wonderful snippets of Folly up at Shampoo), and the work of others with radically differing poetics (during this couple hours of working on my partner's lecture re performative poetries), and due also to some of the questions Gary poses below--as both he and Nada are constantly, and admirably, looking for, very simply, new, exciting ways to collaborate in text arts--I'm inclined to think about how amazing it is that any of us can continue to produce interesting works, consistently, in an environment where poetry's (art's) use value is nearly completely occulted by the market from which our work emerges, the dominant pressures of capitalism.  (Note: I'm aware that this is no deep interrogation here, but rather, a moment of baby-drooling awe).  So how is it that our online discussions are often so categorical?  Perhaps this is a feature of blogging, one of its built-in grammatical understructures?  A sort of tunnel-vision-space to play, to be loose, to playfully snipe and all that, as a sort of essaying towards more succinct discourses elsewhere? That a clubbiness is so pervasive in the arts, especially in poetry, that this clubbiness spills out beyond the materials of java script & xhtml, tho, means that there are broader, socio-economic elements to this phenomenon (duh).  (And by clubbiness I don't mean the existence of differing poetry communities or movements, ones that end up demarcating because of a shared, sharply defined set of aesthetic questions & commitments; I mean the sort of mob-ish, knee-jerk protest or support of categories, types, whatever non-existent set-term you want to invite here).  In a country where art is so minimized, so unsupported institutionally (thinking here about the constant fight teachers have to put up to maintain some art education in schools), the divide and conquer strategy manifests in myriad ways, including our recapitulating those divisions once accomplished.  And the internet, specifically blogging, allows us to become closer while maintaining an unnecessary distance--the common areas are places where we meet but don't meet...

Next post I'm going to throw around some of the stuff I discovered the other day--make sure to point you (me?) to specific pieces of art that have been sent my way or that I've bumped into, that I think need our attention.  For now, I'll end with the below, as I realized--also thru Gary's response--that I'd been categorical too, crafted my earlier post in such a way as to seem that I, too, am categorically anti-flarf/conceptual poetry, etc.  Tho I do hold to the thesis that there is nothing particularly new in the scrounging of flarf (cf. poetic terrorism al Hakim Bey), but that some moves to democratize and de-construct capital P Poetry (an impulse of a lot of Nada's work, which I love) threatens to fall into recapitulating the virtual Alexandrian fire without radical intervention (and yet this, too, for most pieces, such as Nada's Haromonity, from Folly, can be challenged--the lifting of the work and shining a light on it, so to speak, might be considered a radical re-narration in itself).  As Gary points out, the three of us, in this particular discussion, "aren't all that far off."  And I agree--tho my poetics differs pretty substantially, we're all interested in reconfiguring lyric, deeply committed to rigor thereof, and my work, too, involves a great deal of appropriation: tho I do not work much with the web, my poems tend to be overheard and found, or sought, as an intertextual/polyvocal poetics.  The similarities need be noted just as much as the differences, and in the service of understanding how particular works work, where their use value lies.  

In the spirit of blurring demarcations--but also to undo what I think may have sounded like a lame pitch to buy my forth. book of poems/essay--below is a few small parts of the essay from Prefab Eulogies to which I referred in that last post.  I think it fleshes out a bit where my interests are--in the use value of particular radical poetic strategies and their citations, not so much in "kinds" of poetry per se.

From "Example of an Essay: Power Point Poetics," Prefab Eulogies (forth. 2010, BlazeVox):

  • ·       "Things arrive in the forms they’re given" -- Rae Armantrout
  • ·       Prefab Eulogies also seeks to critique via submission capitalism, militarism, and neo-liberalism, the prefabricated power structures from which the poems brought under the projector in Volume 1 have emerged. In this way, Prefab Eulogies is also a critique of pure celebration (on the one hand) and pure lament (on the other) of our contemporary poetic lives--the gift economy that is our defaulted situation. Infected by the structures into which these poems are born, the gifts that make up the poetic gift economy are very often attempts to overcome tropes of "fitness" (Robert Kocik, Overcoming Fitness) that confront them (via chancing, new lyric, and other decentering poetic modes).  Insofar as this is true, the poems that Volume 1 is in conversation with (as well as these poems here), as inversely analogous to the prefabricated news loops on our televisions, are therefore, also, evidence. ...
  • ·       Some years back I wrote an essay called “Marxist Poets Dining With The Deans” as part of a symposium at Columbia University on “art” and “social change.”  Poets speaking to poets about poetry.  Visual artists speaking to poets about visual art. It was an exploration of the observation that some of us (myself included) use Adorno’s ideas about the division of intellectual labors to sleep well at night (where the graven is the terminal node of a project of dissensus) & where, in institutional settings, the obvious divisions between “artistic-writerly” and “activist-political” practices are often spoken of as problematic, yet in the speaking the divisions are reinforced, e.g., in the way this sentence is reinforcing such divisions. Someplace in the essay I wrote
  • ·       “We need to learn how to organize others to interact with our work without sterilizing the work itself.  It won’t, I’m afraid, happen spontaneously.  Nor will it happen via overtly simple sloganeering—the crude protest poem, as it were.  Nor will it happen via abstracting away, attempting to dive into the illusion that the poem can detach itself from its conditions of production. This is to say we need not change our poetic practices but change the way we invite others to take part in them.” ...
  • ·       I’m still after the question. Why should one engage with “poetry” in the first place? And how to invite, where access to a very specific set of discourses is increasingly difficult?
  • ·       Where “one” is “person x engaged in organizing for social & economic justice but who might not have any familiarity with contemporary poetic practices.”
  • ·       Where, here, poetry is assumed to have use value beyond itself.
  • ·       Where there’s a gulf between the arts, especially many contemporary poetries, and left political engagement—that very assumption.
  • ·       At some point I began to think of poetic practice as connected to, but only contiguous with “poetry” often construed.  I began thinking of poetry as a power point presentation.  In two, contrasting senses (warning: false binary below).
  • ·       Of, on the one hand, derivative structures left wanting, forms empty
  • ·       Of faith in their impetus, dissensus.  And on the other
  • ·       Of often occulted social-poetic practices, larger poetical environments, those which fuel the scribbles in this book – work that activates in myriad ways, from ambulatory guerilla projects such as Frank Sherlock & CA Conrad’s PACE or David Buuck’s BARGE, to critical-creative interventions such as Laura Elrick’s Stalk, to workshops, and discussions a la Nonsite Collective, ON Journal, Tangent, Essay Press, the Belladonna Series, or Palm Press – just to name a few.
  • ·       Of militant sound & site investigations.  Or, to put it in Buuck’s own terms, maps for further exploration in the service of complicating dominant modes of discourse, seeing, sensing.
  •     kari edwards’ work comes immediately to mind here as a crucial example of a political-poetic avant-garde which has, for many years, influenced a growing number of poets interested in text arts as radical re-narration, and done so (unsurprisingly) with little acknowledgment among both the workshop crowd and those inclined to take only a cursory glance at the contemporary poetic landscape and proclaim it “post-avant.”  
  • ·       The Power Point presentation 1) implies but does not ultimately signify (it admits of, and revels in, its emptiness, or hopes to passively con us into a system of belief) and/or 2) is the evidence of extra-typographical activity.
  • ·       Regards (1), there has occurred more than enough sterile, vacuous, albeit “enjoyable” poetry over the past decade that has mimicked Language Poetry so-called (or other “difficult” and now semi-canonical forms) such that one taking that cursory glance could think that is all that’s out there—poem after poem that revels in its open lines and hard returns, each anchored in nothing but publication desires and reification strategies-as-ad pitches.  
  • ·       David Baptiste-Chirot, though writing on work (Jenny Holzer’s) that, to me, does not necessarily succumb to a kind of corporatization, nonetheless captures this phenomenon as part of a discussion on how some “conceptual poetry” (if such a thing exists) might operate (capitulate), thus allowing us to imagine that the conceptual poem is not to be read but “presented,” perhaps via Power Point:
  • ·       “The Concept of Conceptual Poetry…is one that resembles a form of training for the embrace of working in bureaucratic and corporate settings as an "impersonal" manipulator and mover of masses of material in the form of words…a "discipline" for the production of "well adjusted functionaries" carrying out the "boring" tasks of filing, copying, sorting and arranging word-data. The "unoriginality," "impersonality" and boredom raised to the level of "Conceptual Poetry" is perhaps a way to aestheticize the dystopian existences of millions of "lower level" workers in globalized corporations and bureaucratic State apparati.”
  • ·       Kenneth Goldsmith’s “definition” of conceptual poetry echoes Chirot’s: “Language as…something to be shoveled into a machine and spread across pages, only to be discarded and recycled once again. Language as junk, language as detritus.”
  • ·       As part of an anti-capitalist poetics I’m sympathetic to this set of gestures of submission – the act or ritual of dictation brackets and highlights the tyranny of wage laboring, then plays with its joints in the very act of composting.  But there is nothing in Sports, for instance (the end product as opposed to the ritual) that reveals or activates other than the one-off acknowledgment of its existence as reminder of dead labor and its waste, its product as more junk, its lateness. What Goldsmith’s Sports (as opposed to, in my opinion, his work with the 9/11 tapes) gives us, it seems, is a poetics without the poetry.  A poetics that I find politically appealing for projects of radical re-narration.  Without the radical re-narration (or the transcription ritual as book, in favor of something more cleaving post-ritual) this power point presentation threatens to recapitulate the norm and not much more.  Goldsmith’s is partly a critique of any possibility to escape the spectacle, as it were, but a potentially coercive one in its veiled circularity.
  • ·       It is the extra-typographical activity of (2) above that I’m interested in emphasizing now as a way to avoid (1), but unlike Goldsmith, I am deeply committed to the possibility for the results of this activity—the “type,” the page, the poem often construed—to be itself a crucial site of activation.
  • ·       Or: it’s that which goes into or results from the poem often construed, this part of the poem, which makes the poem an environment, an ecosystem, a site of activation and social practice, rather than a terminal node of typography or “solitary” graven activity, some product of the illusion of reification. However, that typographical node is a crucial area of triangulation, often the motor which runs conceptual projects, or the results of those projects, results which activate yet other projects. 
  • ·       The extra-typographical activity of (2) may or may not involve using large-scale materials, and may or may not be a largely expropriative project.  The project may indeed be page-less.  What matters is whether and how to matter.    ....
  •       Quote-end-quote conceptual work that is grounded in counter-narrative (David Buuck’s BARGE, “Buried Treasure Island” is, I think, an excellent example), that has use value beyond itself, offers the worker-writer(s) multiple triggers of engagement, hence further development of a radical politics, allows for a sharing of radical social experimentation to occur, including fully participatory critique of the project’s consequences, its framing, what it reveals and what its revealing hides. ...


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