Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uncollected or Unloved Poems?

There's a nice piece by Jennifer B.McDonald in the New York Times' Paper Cuts book blog about publishers using the phase "Uncollected Poems" as  a subtitle. She correctly wonders why the word "previously"  went missing , noting that once a clutch of stray poems have been formally gathered, edited and published, they become, ahhhh, collected.Hailing a poetry book as either "Collected Poems" or,less impressively, "Selected Poems" offers the buyer the sense that the object in their hand is the result of a specific project, or a coherent chronicle of an especially subject-rich period in the author's life. Those evocations may be true to varying degrees, but packaging for the marketplace has as much to do with it; few of us wish to invest in an untidy and ill considered grab bag of verse.

The hope, I guess, for the "Uncollected" sobriquet is that might resonate with as much as authority as the previous two qualifiers.The intention being that these poems are distinct in their own right. But distinct exactly how? As in that they've been ignored, set aside, forgotten about or rejected over the years for ever-multiplying and varied reasons? "Uncollected Poems" sounds like a hasty euphemism for "unloved poems". They hadn't been collected up to this point for reasons of quality; I can't shake the feeling that "uncollected" suggest a batch of poems a poet might have tossed out if he suddenly found himself having to move to another location. The first thing to go is whatever one has no use for , or is no longer found of.  The

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hip Hop's Intransigent Vulgarity

Kalefa Sanneh weighs in on the renewed focus on hip-hop's intransigent vulgarity in the New York Times and offers a typical middle of the road position about the music's part in encouraging violence and the furthering coarsening of American life. Don't blame the music, Sanneh writes, these words, these jokes, these attitudes have been part of African American and urban culture for generations, evolving from.   The tradition of "toasting" and graduating from the streets and the rent parties to the airwaves, discos, and television. The point of it all was to shake up the mainstream, upset the comfortably settled, and give voice at the same time to a vital life that boiled and roiled in the heart of every poor neighborhood languishing in the shadows of corporate America. Blame the corporations for disseminating the material to the larger population, blame your uprightness if you are offended and taken aback by the rough language and general ugliness of much of the work. Some points well taken, and I'm of the mind that music and lyrics, whether Muddy Waters, Elvis, the Ramones or NWA in themselves cause people to have unprotected sex and buy "cop killer" bullets--this is a controversy that gets replayed every few years when media critics and their employers have exhausted the current crop of pseudo-events for their capacity to inspire unending opinion-mongering whose collective outrage seems more scripted and assigned than spontaneous and reflecting real offense--but what irks me is the casual implication that if we'd relax and take a broader view we wouldn't get so upset. 

That's the old Lenny Bruce theory on foul language, that words are only words and that if we use them frequently and openly, they would lose their shock value and their capacity to offend. Nice theory, but very Fifties in fact, and one that does not travel well. Lester Bangs, writing of the N-word in a seventies piece called "White Noise Supremacists" in the Village Voice, examined his adherence to Bruce's notion to de-fang the quarrelsome words and found the formula lacking. The word is generations old, used as a powerful weapon to reinforce cultural and institutional racism and oppression, so much so, he found that no matter how ironic one tried to be in their attempt to liberate the term from it's originating pathology, the N-word hurt, it hurt deep, it still caused anger, as it was designed to. Violence is an inevitable consequence for some when this word gets used, and so it goes with the hip-hop's street-level idiom. 

The language will not be less upsetting merely because most of us shrug our shoulders and do nothing. The republic will survive, and the language we might object to will cease finding its way into our public spaces only when the reality the words reflect ceases to be attractive, enviable, romantic. We return to our original and ongoing problem as a country: the transformation of a political apparatus into a means that allows people to achieve lives worth living.