Saturday, April 9, 2011
The central conceit of a much contemporary criticism has been to raise the critic's musings on literature to the same level as the literature these folks intensely scrutinize. This seems a ploy to have literary critics form a new priesthood, an authoritative to be sought out no less than that of the poet, the novelist, the playwright, even the philosopher. Marjorie Garber is fairly typical of the academic who feels the need to produce a tract, composed almost entirely of weathered , rusty post-modernist adages, that demands that the reader requires the professional critic to open up the text for them and so facilitate a new rigor in how those so blessed think about the world. "The Use and Abuse of Literature", a manifesto intended to convince the readership she condescends to that their particular takes on books they've read and lived with are woefully incomplete, even shallow. We need to stop asking what things mean and investigate instead how they mean. If you labored for some years with attempts to grasp recent critical trends, you no doubt realize this is something that creates topic drift. Garber gives us permission to not debate ideas put forth through narrative conflict and metaphor and instead insists on turning us into mechanics. It's a messy and pointless labor, I think.
Anyone who knows me realizes that I am not anti-critic--my chief concern is that the profession and the practice resist the codification of closed-system terms that want to seal literature from the rest of the universe the art is assigned to engage and to prevent the interested reader from having a nuanced take on a writer's work that can stand beside the effusions of the doctors of literary chatter. True enough, the critic ought to guide, poke, prod and urge a reader to think outside the conventional , freeze-dried frameworks an entertainment media foists upon us; the activity , though , ought be a temporary thing, as the theoretical reader we're addressing should cease turning critics for clarification and consider them, instead, as a means to heighten their own insight. Critics , ultimately, should be a short-lived thing. Garber writes as if she thinks the assignation should be permanent. This is hubris made worse by her habit of asking continuous strings of rhetorical questions about the whys and wherefores of what creative writers do and then slipping away from her implied assertions as she glides to the next issue . It makes for a splendid bit of dancing had one the elegance of a Nabokov or a James to pronounce their vagueness with the sweetest and most distracting of verb al music. Garber plays no music whatsoever; this book is a consistent paraphrase of old notions presented in a droning monotone.
Even a critic I happen to enjoy, Harold Bloom, wrote a little instruction Manuel called "How to Read and Why", a grandiose albeit slight volume where the good critic plagiarized himself from other of his books about and offered up an inconsequential mumbling about reading in a correctly guided manner. Oh well, even smart people with insight and several levels of wit and discernment can be subject to a brief bits of blow-hardism. Though I do think that the there is a variety of "truth" that literature is best suited to reveal and bring forth for discussion, I am not taken with the idea that fiction and poetry and plays are intended to reveal facts. I have no objection to the questions that Garber wants to ask; the reservations comes with Garber's seeming need to rush past those questions and hurry instead to the next set of wonderings. She brings forth a continuous stream of inquiries and then defers, delays, goes diffuse at the edges. What this book lacks is a genuine discussion of any number issues, contradictions, controversies the task criticism contains. She resembles the critic Fred Jamison in this respect; there is a concentrated period of throat clearing and har-rumphing, followed by what can best be described as a gutless strategy of deferral. It makes you want to re-read Terry Eagleton's books on the critical arts, like "Literary Theory", "Problems of Post Modernism" or "After Theory"; background, thesis, argument. In general, I am interested in how literature works , indeed I am obsessed by it, but I am not willing to settle for the Professional Critic to be the priestly arbiter of what needs to be noticed, inspected, discussed; her insistence that the general reader's response is useless with out a Critic's watermark is implicit in this cozy apology.
In any case, Garber's insistence that the task of the critic isn't to discern what a book means but rather how it comes to mean is a handy method to avoid the harder answers a roving pundit might ask of an author's work; she seems very close to insisting that criticism defer a discussion of meaning produced by the form the author chose and instead shine the big lights on the forces contemporary criticism would insist the author is unaware of and beyond his control. This leaves little room for imagination as subject; it is a word many critics seem to fear. You wonder why, after all this time.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
"Odysseus Seeing Laertes" , a poem by George Kalogeris, has a burdensome title, if nothing else. We are made to think that a cataclysmic revelation is about to make us quake in our boots, that something had been written in a more formal age has resounded through the historical corridors and asserts its truism as prophecy. This isn't the case, however, and the portentous title does a disservice to the poem's real merit, which is more in line with sort of slight lyric that attempts to clarify a vague feeling but succeeds instead in producing another kind of beauty.The thinking here appears to be that this poem would resonate louder, brighter, more deeply if there was a classical gloss laid upon it. As there is nothing within the poem that clicks with the oblique title --no reference, that is, that would trigger the reader's own associations independent of a didactic explanation--the reference is merely decoration. The weight it adds isn't inherent significance , but merely freight. It threatens to make the poem ungainly and unspeakably pretentious; the poem, though, survives the author's striving to insert irony where it does not exist. All this is a pity , since this poem has the makings of being a nicely controlled bit of observational verse, an adult perspective of a distant childhood perception that has, by chance, influenced the narrator as he was growing up; through the fog of memory poet George Kalogeris could have situated the speaker's current state of mind and shown us what it was that made him grasp this faint memory with such a sudden vividness of recollection. I am thinking , of course, that this could have been an intriguing reconciliation between parts of himself that have never quite been at equipoise.
The poem, though, does work effectively as a snapshot of a something pulled up from one's distant past--there is that sense of someone going through their family photographs, placing them in the best chronological order they can manage. A narrative forms from the sequence, and what emerges in the telling, wonderfully spare at its best , uncluttered (save for the title) with quaint literary props, is a young mind as a blank slate which the world is writing upon. he elements from modern Greek culture aren't in dispute and, in fact, make this an interesting contemporary poem. The weak corollaries with classical texts, though, serve the poem not a wit. Themes of absence/presence regarding parent-child dynamics have fairly much been absorbed by the larger culture have, in fact, become common stock for poets, novelists and playwrights to make use of; this poem, as is, is fine as an evocation of an adult attempt to bring focus to a diffuse memory and can stand on its own merits. It does not need the Classical allusion the title provides; it's window dressing, a redundant signifier, an advertisement that the poet is well read. The poem does not need it, the reader does not need it, George Kalogeris didn't need to provide it. This is an alarm bell I've sounded before, tiresomely so; my dislike of poetry about poetry.One of the things that have been choking the life from much of the work of poets these days is the habit of many to clog the arteries of their stanzas with entirely self-conscious and self-admiring references to poetry and it's traditions. Indeed, too much of the the subject matter of poetry has been poetry itself; there are some with genius and talent enough to make the self-referential style swing and sing with real verve and brains, but genius is rare. In this case, anything less than that level of genius--of a Stevens, an Ashbery, a Silliman--is to not be a poet at all. It's a different kind of game, and it is fueled by its own waste products.
Friday, April 1, 2011
It took a bit of doing--sobering up, bad grades, failed relationships--for me to get wise(r) and actually read the work I thought unworthy, and the remarks of critics who've done their own work considering the aesthetics at length, and I've since backed away from trying to shoe horn all poetry into a tight fitting tuxedo. What was learned was relatively small, a revelation for the truly dense; poetry works in many ways, and the task of the critical reader cannot be merely to attack and opine but to make an effort to weigh a poem's elements on their own merits , studying how effects are accomplished, and then, finally, lastly, to offer a judgement whether the poem works . Not that I adhere to this prolix method--I shoot from the hip and often miss the whole darn target--but I try. Now the issue, from Slate's Poems Frame, is whether a poem can work if it lacks the glorious thing called "heart".
Anyone seriously maintaining that a work of art, be it poem, novel or painting is doomed to failure because it lacks this vague quality called "heart" has rocks in their head. Artists are creative people, on that most of us can agree, and by definition artists of narrative arts make stuff up from the resources at hand. Whether the source is actual experience, anecdotal bits from friends or family, novels, biographies, sciences, all these are mere furniture that go into the creation of the poem. The poet's purpose in writing is to produce a text according to some loosely arranged guide lines that distinguish the form from the more discursive prose form and create a poem that arouses any number of responses, IE feelings, from the reader. "Heart", I suppose , would be one of them, but it's ill defined and too vaguely accounted for to be useful in discussing aesthetics. Confessional poetry and the use of poetry books and poetry readings as dump sites for a writer's unresolved issues with their life doesn't impress me generally, as in the ones who do the confessing never seem to acquire the healing they seek and instead stay sick and miserable and keep on confessing the same sins and complains over and over. Journaling would be one practice I would banish from a poetry workshop I might teach. We are writing poems, not an autobiography .
I would say, actually, that one should suspect that poet who claims that every word of their verse is true, based on facts of their lives. I cannot trust the poet who hasn't the willingness to fictionlize or otherwise objectify their subject matter in the service of making their poems more provocative, worth the extra digging and interpreting. Poems and poets come in all shapes and sounds, with varied rationales as to why each of them write the way they do, and it's absurd and not to say dishonest that "heart", by which I mean unfiltered emotionalism, is the determining element as to whether a poem works or not. My goal in reading poems isn't to just feel the full brunt of some one's soggy bag of grief or splendid basket of joy, but to also to think about things differently.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
All thought, and all digestion, and pornographic
Inquiry, and getting about, and bewilderment,
And fear, avoidance of trouble, belief in what,
God knows, vague memories of friends, and what
They said last night, and seeing, outside of myself,
From here inside myself, my waving claws
Inconsequential, waving, and my feelers
Preternatural, trembling, with their amazing
Troubling sensitivity to threat.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The intent appears to be to make things that would other wise be mere remains and relics on the ground on which they were found into heavenly creations by making them airborne, momentarily free of gravity, suggesting that they could ascend directly to the next level just before they reach their penultimate height and give into the call of the flat, hard ground below. It's a fine idea for a poem, I think, bringing a child's idea into view and to capture both the expectation of miracle graces meeting an inevitable fact that gravity always takes its toll; even better that poet Kimberly Johnson has the child blithely ignoring whatever lesson adults might reasonably expect to be learned instantly and instead try the endeavour over and over and over again, until the agent of arced aviation is satisfied with the results, or, in other words, merely bored with her game.
Bored or not, the child's devices and desires were to see things in transcendence, in flux, exhibiting the glorious suggestions that a light of God might shine on them; I sense a childhood fascination with flying, sensations of weightlessness, the exhilaration of being freed from the grasp of mundane earth with it's regimen of cause and effect and perhaps, as a result of that liberation, becoming empowered to transform the world one sees; this has much to do with magical thinking, I think, a child's cosmology that deals with the dark mysteries about why life is the way it is, hard, without joy, abrupt, the creation of private myth making as to why things are the way they are, locked into position, beholden to arbitrary laws of nature.
Our catapult operator here desires a peak behind the wall that separates her world of neighborhoods, driveways, schools, traffic lights and the higher realm where everything that matters is a manifestation of grace; this could be a child's version of Wallace Stevens lifelong poetic task, to imagine beyond the cruelty of appearance and to get at the perfected state of Things In Themselves. The difference, I think, would be that the intent here isn't as baroque as Stevens' ruminations were; Johnson, young Johnson, perhaps, wants only a glimpse of what things might be like if solid, material things were closer to God's breath, just an idea of what it would be like to tap into a source of great power. Just a glimpse, mind you. Like Stevens, Johnson's young catapult operator wouldn't know what to do with the transcendent state for too long a period; Stevens seemed stunned into awed immobility and, I suspect, our protagonist here might have gone where ever else her curiosity dictated.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Red Alarm Clock"I want to sail down the Nile
Before I die,"
You said once, Cleopatra.
The room, I recall,
Had a plank floor,
A narrow bed, and a window
Facing a brick wall,
Plus a chair where I kept
A pint of bourbon,
The coffee cup we used as an ashtray,
And a red alarm clock.
It's not unlike some smooth camera work; you can feel the lens slowing panning the stark room, ending up in on the coffee cup --the additional bit of it being "used as an ashtray" is a precisely brilliant fit for the situation evoked here--and the red alarm clock, uncluttered with poetic language, it's color alone setting the tone of an urgency both these characters would rather ignore. The clock, though, is enough to bring home the fact that the clock is ticking all the same and that time runs out for everything, even regrets and reunions. Simic concerns himself with neither the back story nor the tale that continues after the last line, he focuses on this slice and creates, I think, a set of particulars that create a mood, if not a meaning.
The feeling of that time has expired is made more tangible even by the way the narrator says, lastly, at the end of his sentence, as throw away detail "...and a red alarm clock ." Unfreighted with meandering metaphors or latch key similes to ham handedly imbue the object with intangible qualities, Simic prefers the physical over the literary and lets the situation as described create the mood from within it's parts; the phone is mentioned,the color is emphasized, like something remembered , suddenly, brutally, an intrusion of truth that seeps into a conversation that reminds you that yes, whatever was the case before is done with and now is the time to move into respective horizons
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
A Secret History of the Twentieth Century
by Greil Marcus
Saturday, March 5, 2011
I like ugly, imperfect, ambiguous art, especially poems, but I also love form, elegance, an ordered pairing of opposing things that once, brought together, gives us a sublime thing indeed. What gets to me is a poetry that gets across what the poet attempts with a mastery of techniques that are true to themselves, not an ideology.Beauty is something that is limitlessly subjective, and as much as a protracted discussion about what constitutes a beautiful object can be, I'm inclined to think that poetry ought to be interesting on its terms, the best effort a poet and his or her craft can create with their talent and personal inclinations. The problem with insisting that a poem should be "beautiful" according to a standard imposes limits on what the poet can do with a work and, in effect, implicitly dictates that a work adhere to requirements that are ill-suited for an emotion, an idea, an event, an experience that would motivate a writer to compose some lines.
The beauty of the best poems I read comes less from their adherence to formalized structures and strategies as it does from those elements that seem to break away from the phrase-making one expects and combine with a writer's honed instincts for developing a rhetoric that allows a poem to stop you for a moment, ponder the phrase, parse the image, appreciate the shifts in tone and sound as layers are added, and appreciate the unexpected places where the stanzas stop, where they jump to, where they land. These are elements achievable in any number of ways. I care less for the aesthetic choice a poet selects from the outset than I do for the results he or she gets when they're finished with work and judge it ready for a reader's appreciation and response. The validity of any idea is in how it works. Henry James said that, in better prose.
"Interesting" might be a mild word, but I used it because I think it encompasses more things for discussion than whether one goes by whether a poem is "beautiful" or not; beauty, I think, is a banal consideration since it funnels one's concentration on the surface qualities of a work. You can discuss only so much about the heroic efforts of writers who desire to make their experiences--or the experiences they would like to have had--stand out because they've mustered up a High Rhetoric and a line of striking, fussed-over images. Beauty, more often than not in my readings, comes down to how well the world is made to harmonize in all its shades, hues, and tonalities, the conversion of notions into ideal types; what makes a poem interesting, the elements that bridge the gaps between experience, a philosophical position and the word choice which produce, in turn, that effect, the irony, the unexpected perception, gets glossed over. Interesting poems for me are those that get at the exactness of particular states of mind, shifts in personality, dissonant situations that are uncomfortably linked, and an understanding of what makes these written expressions fascinating makes for a fuller discussion, or debate, as it were. Beauty, for me, is a vague and useless term when applied on such a broad scale--as I mentioned before it's more compelling to discuss how successfully you think a poet is getting across those inexpressible things in terms of the unforgettable.
Too much of the time "beauty" represents a conservative, repressive and reductionist set of conditions that, at their essence, seek to contain whatever socially provocative or critical aspects a work of art, a poem, in this case, might contain and which could be delivered to a readership. Herbert Marcuse saw "beauty" as having become bankrupt a term in the late global capitalist formations after World War 2, and argued in his book "The Aesthetic Dimension" that the role of art is solely to produce joy, that state which comes from a liberated, enlightened condition, and that society's obligation to the artists was to leave them alone. I would agree with him, since what he wanted was a population that could uncover the wit and wisdom of a piece (in a manner of speaking) by considering the particulars artist's obligation is to be truthful to their gift, their talent, and to apply it fully so that the particular sorts of truth they're capable of sensing and sussing out from the dissonant happenstances that, presumably, are not readily gotten by those of us who go to work, have families, struggle with daily things rather than ponder the big questions.
This is Marcuse's point, in that he believes, quite beyond any political or philosophical predisposition regarding the default job and obligation of being an artist, that they are definitely the antennae of the race, that their senses are enhanced by their being poets, novelists, painters, architects and have the ability to make us aware of nuances and intrigues, truths usually not told nor considered. I would agree with Marcuse that the culture would benefit far greater from the work these folks undertook if the rest us changed the conversation about whether the poems, the paintings, the books , the buildings created by these folks adhere to a shackling set of imperatives and instead considered the work on its own terms--what is that the poem, for example, might be saying about a set of contradicting factors, and is the language adequate to the goal of helping you go further than the received reactions a duller aesthetic would have you settle for. It's a dialectic, to advance a singularly unoriginal idea about the process--I don't think the artist delivers a set of redecorated cliches about affirming life that experience proves to be patently false. Yes, the artist ought to challenge expectations, and the audience would need to argue how well the craftsperson succeeded in the attempt.
Friday, March 4, 2011
In some sense most of the poems we read tease the edges of a death wish, not in the sense that the poet desires to merge with the molecules and greet the large dark before him, but rather more like a curious soul daring the unknown and the unspoken dimension of human experience, the end of one's life, to reveal some knowledge. David Blair's "A Poem About Heaven" poem seems something like that, a fragmented, giddy swirl of associations that have been triggered by his mother's death; what this mind creates isn't a metaphysical speculation on ideal associations remaining permanent while the flesh fails, or an autobiography to where another's mortality furnishes the punch line to one of the chapters, but rather a rush of sensation, of images, associations that bump, careen and otherwise swerve around one another. As with the issue of rage, unleashed anger, overwhelming the mind to the degree that the world is presented as linked in a sequence of irrational targets that have misery to one's life, the shock that precedes the onslaught of grief is full of sensations of being whisked around a gallery of past events, significant and inane details dovetailing into one another against rational association. The silly and the sublime are not so much linked as they are twined and untwined in what seems like pulverizing vortex.
I am such an impressionist.
My legs get cold;
my arms get cold,
weird thinking of my mom dying
in my old bedroom, now the den.
And kneeling is weird. The northern lights,
weird. Arcade lights. Wildwood, New Jersey,
weird, inside my eyelids. But I'm not thinking
of Poe again and the dance of colors.
I'm thinking of the hierarchy
that my mind wants Heaven to be.
A house keeping is suddenly in order, a reinforcing of what one knows in their world is required; Blair gives is a hurried desperation of one examining the things of their world, their experience, their accumulation of habits, talents, material things, in an attempt to repair the gap a family death creates. What he does here with the fast jumps between stanzas, the giddy and the reserved clamoring against each other to set the tone for the young man's attention, is create the sensation of being in free fall. It's not unlike being thrust into the reality of an old cartoon where the coyote, during his chase, missed the bend in a mountain pass and finds itself in mid air, falling only when it realizes that there is nothing supporting his feet; I think the feeling of spiraling down, clawing at the air for anything that might be there to grab onto, is unmistakable.
from a deck of cards,
kings and queens kneeling down to Jesus
in the neon shoreline,
tunnel of love, of horrors, boardwalk
are blissful religious figures. They kneel
because they are weak in the knees.
So much goes through the mind, combinations of shock, anger, denial, fleeting relief; the narrator argues against the concept of heaven and assigns the kneeling tribute to a Jesus figurine not as an acknowledgement to divine presence but rather to weak minds or merely fatigue, insist instead that the things in the world he has grown to know, his family, friends, his community, have a significance that provides him with everything with everything Heaven was promised to be. The doubt is palpable, and the argument Blair's narrator tries to make lacks coherence, but this is someone trying to regain their balance, to brace themselves for the inevitable rituals he knows are coming.
<i>I go back downstairs
to a house full of the voices
of all my family, my whole life,
sure, we are going there.
There comes the point in all of this frantic self-scrutiny where one the dissonant, radio like static of doubt, denial, anger becomes white noise of kind and fades and one is left numb, finally, alone with a stark
set of facts that makes the best lyric poetry and most inclusive philosophies seem no more than an archive of chiseled sophistry; there is the irreducible fact that whatever one thinks the meaning of their life happens to be, whatever one thinks about how things should be or how they should turn out, that however high or low one climbs or descends on the scale of measurable things , we all, finally, going to the same place. Blair's protagonist, it seems to me, isn't at this moment convinced that it will be place where they will all meet again; he is convinced, though, that it will be a situation when the arguments stop and there is a peace only eternity, by any definition, can provide.I think of the last lines as a paraphrase of Samuel Beckett's famous line " I can't go on, I'll go on." The whole enterprise of living becomes an intolerable burden, and yet one pushes further and deals with what's in front of them--family, job, friends, --because one cannot simply resign from their commitments. It's not that one cannot resign, of course, only that it's not simple. Blair's narrator by poem's end appears to come out of the conflictied swirl of sensations and decided to return to the family that quarrels, cries and banters, thinking , perhaps, that in the meantime, the time before one's own demise, it's better to be amid the clamor of the irresolute than be be self-sustaining and isolated.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
I haven’t been to church in decades as a matter of habit, and confess the only time I set foot in a pew is for either funerals or weddings. One will have to take it on faith that while I haven’t renounced God nor made statements to the effect that ours is a reality without a spiritual r recourse, my ideas of spirituality have changed over the last forty years; it just seems to strange to think of God as being willing to be a bully demanding ritualized acts of devotion and loyality while a fate he won’t reveal , the “meaning of life” we drink too much booze and coffee to discern, unravels. Is the All Powerful a vain micro-manager? I don’t think so, and entreaties to Him can be done, I think, without wishing for more for oneself, or wishing harm to befall those who we think smited us. Yes, I turned my back and have little interest in investigating the religion of my youth, but surprise again, sometimes my curiosity is aroused, as it was when I happened across this fine poem by Mary Karr in online version of Poetry Magazine, a sly hymn called “Disgraceland”/Strange and wonderful; I am a lapsed Catholic at best (a curious agnostic, perhaps?), but I recognize the parallels Karr draws here with her truly ethereal poem.
Christ was of this earth and of the human race because his task was to suffer various degradations for preaching a moral philosophy that would, after all, deliver humanity from its base motives and actions, all this so he might transcend and come into that state of grace that is tempered, conditioned by experience. We come to know what it is we are being delivered from, the sins, their consequences, and their horrible toll. Karr's narrator, born into a Christian life, goes her own way, feeling each pain, pleasure, the exact quality of being human:
Eventually, I lurched out to kiss the wrong mouths,
get stewed, and sulk around. Christ always stood
to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away.
Christ was always there with the glass of water, that thing that refreshes and gives life to tired limbs, but he would not intervene to make Karr's wayward soul come into the house of his father; she must know her own experience, have her own narrative to fasten a merging faith upon, and come of her own accord to another way of being;
When my thirst got great enough
to ask, a stream welled up inside;
some jade wave buoyed me forward;
and I found myself upright
in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish. There, the arbor leafs.
The vines push out plump grapes.
You are loved, someone said. Take that
and eat it.
A phrase you might have heard of; she had to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. This has all the trappings of things I hear at AA meetings, yes, but AA shares are either drunkalogues or hard-core sales pitches that will speak of an intervening Higher Power in Street terms. The quality of a good AA share is that one This poem is jargon free, as I read it, and the mention of Jesus and references to spiritual things are voiced in a tongue that is plain but not dull; her rhythm is sure.
It has been remarked that this poem isn't much more than what you'd get in a better class of women's magazines and that what delivers is a rather conventional story, but I think there are crucial distinctions to be made.This is quite a bit different than what you'd find in women's magazines, in that the ground covered in those articles are tear jerkers, better class or no, and there's an inescapable residue of self pity/self congratulation through out these publications that creates a particular consumer mind set that is perfect for delivering an audience an empathetic audience to corporate advertisers. The swings of the downbeat and the upbeat do not go against the not so subtle requirements of the revenue stream. Karr's poem is somewhat different, and she tells the tale differently as well; it is the form of testimony, of confession and reclamation, and there is no wallowing in the details of a wasted past; as per the requirements of contemporary poetry, pace Pound, Eliot and Yeats, there are associative leaps in the narrative, elisions, ideas contained in images that convincingly, for me, convey the more abstract notions of life with and without grace. Poetry isn't required to dramatically thrust a reader into areas of consideration they wouldn't have thought of or might have been too lazy to explore, but rather work well on its own terms, within its particular structure, congruent with its unique ambition.
This needn't be the grand entrance of Christ as one can read in Flaubert's tale "The Legend of St. Julian Hospitator" from his book Three Tales. Karr , in her own fashion, speaks of the Personal Jesus much is made of these days and finds Him in an unconventional, almost banal manner, after a life that, while not chaste nor righteous, isn't portrayed as especially heinous or glutted with evil deeds. What takes me my surprise is Karr's conception of a savior who speaks not to saving one's soul for eternal salvation but instead a Christ who can help her appreciate the life she has and make something useful of. This is a Christ who wants her to live fully on this earth, not to treat her religious experience like it were an audition for American Idol. Surprise, this is a Jesus who wants us to live as adults, not pavlov'd dolts who drool when a bell rings.
What I especially appreciate here is that Karr
This is quite a bit different than what you'd find in women's magazines, in that the ground covered in those articles are tear jerkers, better class or no, and there's an inescapable residue of self pity/self congratulation through out these publications that creates a particular consumer mind set that is perfect for delivering an audience an empathetic audience to corporate advertisers. The swings of the downbeat and the upbeat do not go against the not so subtle requirements of the revenue stream. Karr's poem is somewhat different, and she tells the tale differently as well; it is the form of testimony, of confession and reclamation, and there is no wallowing in the details of a wasted past; as per the requirements of contemporary poetry, pace Pound, Eliot and Yeats, there are associative leaps in the narrative, elisions, ideas contained in images that convincingly, for me, convey the more abstract notions of life with and without grace.
Poetry isn't required to violently thrust a reader into areas of consideration they wouldn't have thought of or might have been too lazy to explore, but rather work well on its own terms, within its particular structure, congruent with its unique ambition.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
A funny book
Something about this world reminds me, fleetingly, of The Bed Sitting Room, a film directed by Richard Lester, where addled Brits go about their business after a three-second nuclear war, as if nothing had happened, unaware that their actions are very odd permutations of old habits. This , along with the fact that some characters are morphing into inanimate objects.
What's similiar is that they way you, like Lester, treat your inventions less as weirdness for it's own sake--Tom Robbins when he's boiling over--but how you keep the descriptions and the details of your character's lives in scale; your tone has the unfoldings and detail bask in the light of their own skewed logic: the details relate to one another. "Sea Oak" , with all it's reversals and inversions , pretty much gets the internalized logic of diminishing returns in strip clubs. The returned aunt from the dead, pissed an aggressive economic agenda for a family of whiners, was genius.His use of brief sentences and jerky dialogue makes this skewed universe clang and clack with a sound and feel not so removed from the actual world: his attention to the banal, and his twisting the items just so, makes this a wonderful set of satires. "Sea Oak" is particularly brilliant.
A basic and important strength in your writing is the spare style you prefer to use, as it allows you, it seems to be, to accumulate the carnivalized strangeness and build on it credibly, if that's the word to use. It gives your zaniness a subtle, additional dimensionality that makes this series of tales read like descriptions of a fully realized universe.
Monday, February 21, 2011
|The unreclaimable Monkees.|
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Anger as artistic virtue is short lived and becomes, too often, monotony. The idea that the artist must get himself into a full , frothing lather, burst out of his clothes while his engorged (and enraged) muscles morph to sizes beyond a believable scale is absurd on the face of it; the writer, the poet, the painter, the sculptor, the photographer, the artist, whatever the medium, would be too intent on screaming "Hulk Smash Puny Critics" rather than focus their energy on the literal and metaphorical canvas in front of them.
The artist, if nothing else,is that person who occupies themselves with experssing their sense of things in an externalized manner after the things that they've taken in--a heartbreak, being fired, a wedding, good sex, a death, a disease, a visit from the In Laws--has gestated for a period, has been assimiliated, so to speak, into one's being and the artist can attain equilibriu, for awhile at least, through the artistic act.
The experience, that is, becomes the raw material the artist will use after the rage has subsided and the painter, the poet, the novelist has had their offended ego return to human proportions. Passion will remain, to be sure, but the anger, well...I would venture that the anger is an impediment and needs to cool to something that one can pick up and examine and , eventually, use as something that motivates one to make reconfiguations, not commit homicide.
This has presented a credibility problem for both aging punkers and wrinkled heavy metalheads who find themself trying to live up to a past decade's reputation with a gasping exaggeration.
I find Chrissie Hinde attractive because she never lost her sense of humor or irony. Interestingly enough, she didn't market herself as an angry punk woman; the tone is bitter at times, more often bittersweet, and the attitude of her lyrics is that she pushes on toward the goal of making her life a good fit for the reality she's found herself in.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
A laugh and a good wicked snort can be had making fun of the habits of poets, but limiting the odd ways to white folks alone amounts to taking the easy way out no less than some of the poems that appear on Slate.
Everyone is in a hurry to get to an easy punchline, not in the interest of having an audience see their own foilbes but rather so the motor mouthing wise guying can jet through another batch of sarcasms so lame that one wouldn't even dare utter them at 1am on a Comedy Store Amatuer Night.
Is someone brave enough to investigate the wierdness that besets ethnic groups in particular once they become infected by the poetry flu? Not really, it seems, and white people remain the easy target one may mock with out the slightest fear of being called to the carpet for the stereotyping disrespect. It's a sorry, lame ass practice.