Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Can There Be Poem Criticism Without PoBiz Criticism?

This post grew out of the conversation in the Comments section of the post "Thread: Writing Forum Survey" . . . and is oriented especially as a response to Monday Love's comment (#13). As the scope of Monday Love's (and the below post's) topic is much larger than any response to the survey, I thought it would benefit from having a topic of its own.

I'm inclined to take a small (?) detour from the insightful and compelling argument of Monday Love (regarding the dynamic of polarized insider/outsider coteries in the poetry world today and the relation of this dynamic to the functional criticism of poems themselves) posted in the comment section of the post: "Thread: Writing Forum Survey". I'm not so certain that discussion of poetry can or should stand in the place of a discussion about the current social and psychological behaviors and attitudes of poets or of the PoBiz (if that is was Monday was implying). I tend to see it the other way around, i.e., no functional discussion of poetry can take place without first "deconstructing" (and more importantly, understanding) the platforms from which those discussing speak . . . and perceive. My feeling is that this blockage is due to a "tribalization" inherent to the PoBiz organizational dynamic. In other words, various splinter schools of thought in poetry do not have any successful interactions or relationships with one another (no cross-pollination . . . they don't even have an abstracted symbiotic relationship in the same ecosystem).

Take the various tribes that seem to cluster around poststructuralist, academic notions of language, the "post-avant" or those influenced by language poetry and by postmodern, culture-theory-laden, literary criticism and philosophy. They come up with new names for their tribes pretty frequently. They are fashion horses for the clothing of names ("signifiers"), but the mindsets and core beliefs don't change (nor does the love of naming things for the sake of naming things). From what I've seen, the various splinter tribes that could be categorized by these things do not very often self-criticize the writing within the tribe, but often write scathingly about more "mainstream" poetic styles, using intellectually derogatory terms like "quietude" to issue a merely tribalistic or prejudicial rejection of those poets who don't belong to the "post-avant" tribe.

At the same time, those poets who identify strongly with the mainstream, "workshop-bred" writing that most classrooms and poetry journals are devoted to, respond to the "post-avants" with general ignorance. It seems to me that any discussion of poetry and poetics between these two groups is essentially pointless, because tribal prejudices eclipse any functional reflection on the poetry itself. One might as well listen to the politician's campaign ad slam of his or her opponent in the hope of getting a fair, critical assessment of that opposing candidate. If we are to provide useful critiques and reflections on the poetry coming out of these two (perhaps the largest two?) camps, we must write from a perspective that transcends or avoids the tribalistic, Us vs. Them warfare. This doesn't require poetic knowledge or "good taste" or critical expertise so much as it requires a psychological and sociological understanding of group behavior (especially, in my opinion, of tribalistic group behavior . . . which is the conventional social structure of academia, precisely where today's poets inherited it . . . with a surprising eagerness to join and partake of the empowerment of "professionalization", and with a distinct lack of reflection, I might add).

Equally, the understanding of how contemporary poetry publication impacts what kind of poetry is published, taught, and celebrated cannot be derived entirely from an examination of the poems (and the complimentary ignorance of those poems that are generally not getting published). We would need to understand the dynamics of the market, how and why it buys and sells what it does . . . how money comes into the publication system and who is giving and receiving and channeling this money. That seems especially important to me because the two largest sources of funding for poetry today are (I believe) contest submission fees and grants (from government and other organizations). It is hard to calculate another channel of funding, which comes from the tuition of the many thousands of undergraduate and MFA students who are paying universities to make them into poets and/or help give them access to publication venues. Only people as starry-eyed and detached as academic poets could ignore the realities of market systems and economics in this capitalistic day and age . . . divorcing themselves both from modern reality and from the scope of thought beyond their specialized field (as a creationist might ignore evolutionary biology's ideas and research).

I think that what happens all too often in the poetry world today is that the poets are not really analyzing and questioning the system in which they strive to create and find identity and audience. They are not asking how the system affects poetry, defines poetry, determines poetry in America. Poets are not looking at the systemic level, at complexity and interrelation. They are looking only at the short term and only through the lens of abstract ideologies that falsely present contained sets of conditions, as if poetry today existed only in its own little Petri dish. They are thinking in terms of "How can I get published/find an audience/gain status (and maybe a career teaching)?" They are not considering externalities or consequences of the system. They are not asking whether the system commodifies poetry or how that commodification affects what poetry is or how it is defined (by the PoBiz system).

Poets feel their world and their ambitions are so small that there could not possibly be such externalities . . . but if poets were 1/10th as well-read in the psychology of groups and crowds (and tribes) or in the study of complex systems, they might be more inclined to understand how cause and effect occur in such a system. The naive faith that many poets share regarding the "smallness" of the poetry world is effectively negated by the lack of adequate diversity in that world. I mean the lack of poetic diversity, the lack of a diversity of attitudes toward poetry, poetic status, and publication. When the vast majority of the agents (an anthropology term denoting individual volition and some degree of self-interest, not meant to imply anything like "agent provocateur" to the more paranoid readers out there) in this social system are doing and wanting the same things, the system does not benefit from the counterbalances (i.e., "self-regulations") greater diversity could provide.

Another common belief among poets is that anything that benefits the increased publication of poetry is an absolute good. This belief is the typical reaction of poets to the recognition that poetry is not widely read or paid attention to in America. Therefore (they conclude), it requires some kind of "affirmative action". There is no contemplation among most poets of how this "affirmative action at any cost" might negatively affect the system and the poetry it produces. There is also little to no reflection on the fact that boosting poetry book and journal sales with grant and contest money does nothing to encourage non-poetry readers to start reading contemporary poetry. The audience for poetry is an audience of poets, almost entirely. Another fact that is not often noted is that there are more poetry books published each year in contemporary America than there every were in previous (less-academic) eras. Some poets who have recognized this flaw in the notion that poetry publication requires social welfare subsidization have hailed this as a golden age in poetry publication. But again, this glut of poetry publication is funded largely by aspiring poets paying contest fees on the gamble that they, too, can be published poets, poets of status. The sales of contemporary poetry books to non-poets or those who do not aspire to become poets is dismal (as most would expect).

I think it is essential that we look at facts like these and contemplate the effect they could have on the character and quality of American poetry. And this, I think, should be done before any aesthetic discussion of published poetry can be entirely valid. In other words, I suspect that there is a very strong effect on the character and quality of poetry based on a simple observation of the current publication system.

And I mean with this that we should go back to fundamentals in the criticism and study of poetry. We should be asking all over again, "What is a poem? What defines poetry? What defines a poet?" When I read contemporary poetry, one of the primary questions I ask of the poem and poet is "What are you doing to make sure this poem is not a commodity of the PoBiz marketplace? What and where is the individual (unaffiliated) vision behind this poem." Almost every contemporary poem I have read fails this personal criterion, because the poem and its author seem to lack the awareness that poetry is even in danger of commodification. The great disease of today's poetry is a lack of awareness of the larger world, of humanity as a species in its modern predicament. Today's poetry mostly looks academically specialized and small-minded to me in the same way that most academic writing has no appeal or meaning to non-academic readers, readers who are not professionals in the specific field being written about. From my perspective, most of today's poetry looks exactly like it was written within an academic market system like the PoBiz offers . . . and without any awareness of the compromises and dangers such a system presents to art and to the evolution and adaptivity of language itself.


As an additional minor note, although I don't deny that the dynamic Monday Love describes (in which an outsider/insider polarization exists) can potentially occur, I haven't personally seen any real evidence of this in today's poetry world. What I have seen is very few outsiders and poetry dissidents . . . a surprisingly tiny number, in fact, especially considering that I have also observed a great deal of dissatisfaction (even in academia) with the current state of poetry and its publication. Of the dissidents I've met, I've yet to meet one whose poetry (if I had the opportunity to see it) struck me as absolutely aesthetically defiant of PoBiz or contemporary academic conventions. Much, even the well-written and most interesting, was "regressive" and resembled the poetry of an earlier era. "Regressive" is not meant as a criticism here. It's merely meant to indicate that the poetry did not really directly challenge the PoBiz system in its conception or style . . . except in the sense that fundamentalisms always react against modernisms (i.e., not progressively). What I'm saying is that I have yet to read any contemporary poetry that really progressively transcended the inheritance and indoctrination of our PoBiz era.

Back in the Foetry.com days, I once questioned whether one could be a true "Poet" these days by writing poetry at all. Perhaps the qualities and voice that defined and/or should define a Poet (e.g., individual vision, functional innovation in thought and language, the desire and effort to speak to and for a large and diverse social collective, to articulate the thoughts, feelings, and voices this collective can't seem to put into words, etc.) have been barred from the language form published and labeled as poetry. Of course, most poets were and will be nonplussed by this proposition. But I still feel this notion is viable. And by "poetry" here I am not referring to poetic stylings, spoken word, rap, performance oration, etc. . . . but to what is defined (by the PoBiz) as poetry, what literary artifacts are deemed "poems" by the poetry establishment, what is published in "poetry journals" and in "poetry books".

In the very small, very underground, very disorganized resistance to the PoBiz, there is simply not enough mass and muscle to create the kind of self-defeating polarization with the "insiders" that Monday Love describes. As far as I have seen, outsider poetry of literary quality (not just adolescent, neo-Beat, rebellion poetry) has yet to be written in America. Or if it has been written, it has yet to find an audience or be disseminated or recognized . . . even by an underground of "Anti-Foets". I would even venture the guess that we, none of us, know what such poetry would even look like. It hasn't yet been conceived, because in order to conceive it, we would have to throw off the shackles of the PoBiz indoctrinations, monopolies, and colonizations that still imprison our thinking about poetry. I suspect that it is only after these shackles are slipped that we will be able to embark on the creation of such a poetry (or poetries, more likely). And that creation will not begin with a bang of genius, but with fumbling in the dark, wild misses at a glorified goal. Moreover, only when great critics discover, comprehend, and promote this poetry effectively would any sort of movement be able to start.

I think that there is some genuinely good and a great deal of well-written poetry coming out of the PoBiz publication factory . . . but any truly great and revolutionary poetry must, I feel, cut its umbilical cord to the PoBiz clean through and find a wholly new soil to stand on and cultivate in. This has, I believe, been the model of many if not all the major movements in poetry recognized today. Reinvention. Not an absolute reinvention (which is probably impossible), but a recognition and rejection of the element of contemporary poetry that makes it moribund. I believe that this moribund element of today's poetry is the PoBiz. And the PoBiz is a set of beliefs, ideologies, dogmas, habits, taboos, and totems (perpetuated and empowered by an indoctrinating, academic market system). The PoBiz is a culture unto itself, a mindset, a collective way of being a poet that is not only accessible for more aspiring poets than any previous forge of poet-making, but is actually a purchasable commodity. Poethood can be purchased today, and this purchase is significantly easier than earning poethood through the old-fashioned means, an individuating "trial by fire", an initiation not into the tribe, but into unaffiliated selfhood. The kind of selfhood that is not bolstered and comforted by a group of like-minded believers. This poetic selfhood is also every bit as much a strangerhood.

It is this strangerhood, in my opinion, that the PoBiz has emerged to protect aspiring (and practicing) poets against. The fear of individuated strangerhood is a great menace to poets and always has been, claiming many victims in every era of human life and creation. But I think we need to start seriously contemplating that, menace though it may be, such initiation into strangerhood could very well be the truly essential "education" one needs to become a Poet. Accepting and enduring this threshold of self-creation had always been the traditional and ritual poet-maker . . . until it was replaced by the model of purchasable poethood the PoBiz now mass-produces and sells. We must, at the bare minimum, ask of this transformation: what was lost and what was gained? And what is the value of each?

--Matt Koeske

62 comments:

  1. Matt,

    Great essay.

    One question to start. You write:

    "When I read contemporary poetry, one of the primary questions I ask of the poem and poet is "What are you doing to make sure this poem is not a commodity of the PoBiz marketplace? What and where is the individual (unaffiliated) vision behind this poem." Almost every contemporary poem I have read fails this personal criterion, because the poem and its author seem to lack the awareness that poetry is even in danger of commodification."

    I think we both agree that po-biz is a kind of insect capitalism, or an "academic" capitalist state.

    But I imagine most poets, professors, and editors today would object to your 'commidification' complaint by saying, "Poetry today is not capitalist! if anything, we are a socialist paradise! How can you say, on one hand, that poetry doesn't sell, and yet accuse poets of 'commodification?'

    I believe that po-biz, when it reflects upon itself, thinks of itself in more ideal terms, as a kind of "Motherland" of happy, contented poets, safe from the evils and temptations of 'commodification.' So what do you say to these poets who believe they reside in a socialist nirvana, free to write poetry which does not have to appeal to the marketplace?

    There are many fine points in your essay, but I'm wondering if you could comment on this.

    Monday Love

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  2. Great post!

    From what I can gather, this essay is directed towards written poetry. I wonder what your view is towards performance poetry and spoken word?

    One,
    Desmond
    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good question, Desmond.

    In your view, how might Matt's post relate and/or not relate to performance poetry and the spoken word?

    Your views might make for a good post in itself!

    ReplyDelete
  4. DLUX,

    "Performance poetry" does not exist. There is no such thing as "performance poetry."

    Poetry was born out of the inability to perform; poets are naturally suspicious of 'performance.'

    The greatest 'performance poetry' happens in gospel churches, and the 'written word' is the basis of those churches. Religion, especially ecstatic religion, is what poetry transformed into 'performance,' comes nearest to resembling.

    Let me read you a simple dictionary meaning of 'performance' (my paperback Oxford American Dictionary). I'm not even going to mess around with etymology here, just the dictionary meaning:

    1. to carry into effect, to accomplish, to do 2. to go through (a particular proceeding), to execute, 'performed the ceremony' 3. to function, 'the car performed well when tested' 4. to act in a play etc., to play an instrument or sing or do tricks before an audience

    Does this sound like poetry to you? 'to accomplish, to perform the ceremony, the car performed well, to act, to play an instrument, sing, do tricks before an audience?

    Are you kidding? Poetry has been perfected for centuries precisely to get away from 'performance.' Do you think the village elders want the 'ceremony' to be 'performed' in any which way? No. The 'performance' is NOT the 'ceremony.'

    The 'ceremony' is pre-written so that the 'performers' do not offend. The ceremony is written and poetry is written. Performance is something else altogether.

    Great poets, like Socrates and Christ, wrote nothing, but their world-influence did not occur until their words were recorded and put into books. Any performance can, and will be 'written down,' and no performance is quite real before it is 'written down.'

    No event (no matter how miraculous or fantastic) happens in the world-at-large until the reason reflects upon it.

    Performance, as Nietzsche wrote in 'The Birth of Tragedy,' is dionysian, not apollonian. Performance is 'a trick,' and true poets should regard it warily. Reason cannot be 'used' to insult what we dearly love, but 'performance' will gladly take up that task; poetry should aspire to reason, not 'performance.'

    Athena

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  5. I don't agree this is a great essay at all, Monday Love, or at least not in the context of poetry. Indeed, it's obviously written by someone who is angry at poetry, that feels poetry hasn't delivered the goods to him, so to speak, as it obviously hasn't to Christopher Woodman either. That's not to say it hasn't, just that I suspect that neither of them feel it has, and they're hurt and crying out with indignation and hunger.

    But this kind of crying is hardly going to bring comfort, what is more the new poetry!

    Rough stuff, but you've got to be sure you're dealing with a problem that's really out there and not within your own shadows. I feel Matt is writing here in a totally self-involved way as if his Jungian psychodrama were somehow poetry's unconscious!

    Here's what Matt says: "I think that what happens all too often in the poetry world today is that the poets are not really analyzing and questioning the system in which they strive to create and find identity and audience. They are not asking how the system affects poetry, defines poetry, determines poetry in America. Poets are not looking at the systemic level, at complexity and interrelation."

    Well there's a recipe for disaster for poets if there ever was one, I'd say--to check out your place in the system of things before you start writing the poem? Self-consciousness is the number-one hang-up that prevents the majority of human beings from becoming artists, isn't it? I'd say we're all almost equally gifted, we men and women, some of us just don't stay young enough what's more keep a screw loose long enough to become poets! And that screw in all of us that's NOT loose is the one that keeps us steady, in step, on time, apt, appropriate, aware, good and ripe for psycho-analysis!

    Poets used to be all crazy, witches and shamans and banshees, and the real ones mostly still are. Everybody likes to laugh at the pathetic pretentions and neuroses of T.S.Eliot, as if the poetry were somehow still great inspite of the hang-ups. Whereas the poetry is actually great BECAUSE of the desperate and demeaning inadequacies--somehow poor, bedraggled Tom managed to cling in there and send us back messages from the dead!

    So why do you think Stanley Kunitz spent so much time in his garden? And have you seen a photograph of John Ashberry recently?

    Poets aren't part of what you're talking about at all, Matt, they're not from that planet!

    "Poets feel their world and their ambitions are so small that there could not possibly be such externalities . . . but if poets were 1/10th as well-read in the psychology of groups and crowds (and tribes) or in the study of complex systems, they might be more inclined to understand how cause and effect occur in such a system.

    HMFG!

    Robocop

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  6. Athena,
    Maybe I'm missing the point and maybe my understanding is limited but here is what I think.

    When poetry is written, is not meant to be read? When you read poetry do you not hear your own voice reciting the words?

    Assuming you answer both question yes, then it would make sense that if I want to share my poetry with you I could present with it written form or I can recite it to you.

    Once I start to recite my poetry orally it becomes a performance. Again I may be missing your point and I apologize.

    Performance poetry does exist. It is not such an oxymoron as you may think.
    Ask Saul Williams, Taalam Acey, Jessica Care Moore, and too many other poets to name and they will definitely show what performance poetry is.

    Poetry is about communication and performance poetry uses the power of the voice, body posture, eye movement, hand gestures, and all of our being to communicate our thought, ideas, and ultimately the emotions we want to express.

    Just remember Athena, that you saying that performance poetry does not exist actually proves its' existence. How do have a debate about it if it does not exist?

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  7. DLUX,

    For what it's worth, I enjoy performance poetry. I have witnessed some stunning performers, who can bring alive a so-so poem.

    Of course, the best kind of performance starts with a great poem. Humans are naturally sensory creatures, so, for most people, to hear and see poetry in motion is often more entertaining than just reading it.

    Most readers don't analyze what they read (especially poetry), so they need that sensory experience.

    In fact, poetry, actually a form of storytelling, is meant to be read out loud.

    Best, Jennifer

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  8. Thank you Jennifer! I can sum it like this...

    "The written word has no power if it is not read and Words have no power if they are not spoken."

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Christopher WoodmanJune 11, 2008 at 3:54 AM

    Fair enough, Robocop, I have to accept what you say because, yes, I have chosen to take a strong stand and inevitably that limits me. But I'd much rather post my poetry than my positions on things, because my poetry says so much more than my positions ever can. The problem is that nobody reads poems that way, because everybody assumes that a poet who posts a poem is just seeking a critique, that the poem is posted as a commodity, to be assessed for its value at auction, so to speak, not for what it happens to say!

    Which is also my reply to you on a much higher level than just my hurt feelings.

    On June 8th, Matt Koeske also wrote a bit about my motives ["Forum Survey" thread], and I've been meaning to reply. He said that he liked my "outraged approach" with regard to what has happened to me but that he felt my "self-presentation of utter innocence" should be scrutinized. "It is a persona, in my opinion, but not a lie."

    That's good, yes, I can accept that, and certainly I'm no innocent. But I would also like to say that EVERYTHING we human beings do, write, feel, discover and then rediscover yet again deeply buried in the self is a fabrication, an approximation, a translation, a guess. Only when what we do with it becomes "art" are we capable capable of telling any kind of universal truth about ourselves.

    I like what you say about Eliot--I agree with that completely. But would Eliot have agreed? Obviously not--he insisted throughout his life that there was nothing personal or private whatsoever in his poetry, and in a sense of course he was right. I go for the same conundrum in myself. Do I feel my poetry hasn't delivered the goods as you say? Well I know it hasn't, but I nevertheless believe in it with all my heart, and I'm not ashamed to say I think it's probably the best poetry I've ever read!

    If my work were more readily available do I think it would be successful? Only if readers wanted to let it speak to them, and behind that lies a huge number of imponderables, including who else reads it and talks about it. I too wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, you see--are contemporary readers prepared to put up with that sort of shit? Will they embrace a dated and pomaded persona like that?

    An odd question perhaps--but show me the poet that's memorable that isn't a person we've decided we not only already know but we like?

    Thanks, Robocop--keep coming.

    Christopher

    ReplyDelete
  10. DLUX,

    You say that poetry is meant to be read and that when you read it, even to yourself, there is a kind of 'performance' going on inside your head, and therefore, 'performance poetry' does exist? Is this what you are saying? But doesn't the poem deterimine what sort of 'performance' happens in your head when you read it? There are talented actors who could literarlly turn the phone book into great performance, but is the phone book a great poem? I'm not denying that 'performance' exists; what I'm saying is that poetry and performance are two different things, two very different things.

    Secondly, I think we need to be more specific; I cannot let you just say things like 'poetry is communication' and therefore...poetry is 'performance,' because this covers up the real issue.

    First, do you concede that poetry and performance are two different things, or not? I think we need to settle this first before we can have a real discussion.

    And I must add that I am not dismissing any 'performance poets' out there, per se. I am not going to judge them; these people you mention may be great because of their 'poetry' or because of their 'performance' or both; all I am trying to do is examine the nature of poetry and performance as two separate things.

    Let me add two very specific examples to my argument. Dante, in his "Vita Nuova," is so in love with Beatrice that he completely loses self-control; he faints, he loses consciousness; and 'the love letter,' according to Dante, is the origin of lyric poetry. The secrets of divine eros which Dante investigates I consider one of the most important tropes in the history of poetry. For Dante, the poet's 'performance' includes being so overwhelmed in love, that public performance becomes impossible.

    Secondly, a written poem can itself be too 'performance-y.' The power of reason, to which the poet should always aspire, which I spoke of earlier, includes within it, criticism which analyzes the written poem in terms of 'performance.' That Criticism which judges all poetry does not push 'performance' away as some 'activity' which does not belong in poetry, or does not exist, no, rather the actue critic sees 'performance-ness' as a quality which exists in the text itself. Remember, I am not saying 'performance' does not exist; I am exploring what it really is, and comparing it to poetry, as it really is. There is a poem by Rafael Alberti translated by Mark Strand, called "Buster Keaton Looks In The Woods For His Love Who Is A Real Cow" and there are lines in it, such as this: "Georginaaaaaaaaa!" and "(Mooooooooooooooo)" Now, I'm sure this poem, read aloud before an audience, by a good actor, would be screamingly funny. "Oh, what a funny poem," they would say; "How great that we don't have to be so serious about poetry! What a wonderful poetry performance!" Etc But is it a good poem? No, it's not. And why? Because it strains after 'performance.' It succeeds as 'performance,' as 'comedy,' or, let's say, in a specific environment, such as in front of a slam audience, it will always succeed. But is it finally good poetry? Or is it selling out to something that will be poetry's immolation?

    Athena

    ReplyDelete
  11. dluxthelightblog wrote:
    From what I can gather, this essay is directed towards written poetry. I wonder what your view is towards performance poetry and spoken word?

    Hi Desmond,

    My knowledge of spoken word/performance poetry is minimal, so I am not in a position to provide anything like an essay on it. My feeling is that performance poetry and written (usually academic) poetry have diverged greatly and have less in common even than they seem to. Performance poetry and intelligent hiphop and rap reach a lot more people, and tend to reach them where they live. There is, in this sense, more hope that these art forms can communicate to a real (and diverse) audience. In a sense, these forms of poetry are folk art (which I don't mean as a criticism, as I happen to love be influenced by many kinds of folk art). What I mean is that they don't draw from a tradition with complex rules . . . "ceremonies", as Athena said. I think this is both their strength and their weakness.

    It allows them to evolve and adapt themselves to more immediate and realistic conditions in the world. And that's good. Academic poetry is terrible at this (these days, but not so much in the past). On the other hand, this disconnection from tradition (and from many intellectual traditions) puts many spoken word poets in a precarious position (that I'm not sure they really recognize or care about). Namely, in a position in which they have to recreate the whole history of human thought in order to think intelligently and pertinently about everything they say or write. The performance poetry I've heard has had a kind of emotional appeal to the audience, because it reflects back what the audience is thinking and caring about. This is an essential part of great poetry of any kind . . . but this approach can also be too superficial. It can tap into the upper surface of what people are thinking and feeling and obsessing over, but it doesn't necessarily dive deeper and find a way to make sense of these things in relationship to the inner world.

    Human beings have been thinking about themselves and the universe for thousands of years, and in that time, wonderful thoughts have been thought. Many innovations have been made. When a modern academic thinker wants to contemplate philosophy or psychology or religion, s/he turns to intellectual history and finds out what has been thought and written before on that subject. Then s/he reads more recent reflections of other writers on the ideas of the older writers. Then s/he formulates his/her own opinions and perhaps elaborates his/her own theory of these things (if s/he can wrap his/her mind around that immensity of knowledge and still find ways to improve on it). If we didn't think this way, building on history and on previous cultural developments and on the reflections and arguments of our peers, we wouldn't be as "intelligent" as we are now. That is, human intelligence is more a product of communication, education, and culture than it is a product of individual and independent "genius".

    This kind of traditional thinking and use of language is something that written poetry can do better than any performance poetry that is not educated in and drawing from all the same intellectual and artistic traditions. In my opinion, academic poets today don't adequately take advantage of the history of thought in the way I'm describing it. They know contemporary poetry well (their peers), and a little poetry from previous eras . . . and maybe a little postmodern criticism, but they typically know much less about things like linguistics, psychology, biology, philosophy (i.e., theories on the meaning of human behavior and consciousness). Poets of previous eras did know about these things (inasmuch as they existed in these eras). That was back when there was "classical education". We don't have that anymore . . . and although that classical education had its limitations and prejudices (which postmodern critics have especially pointed out), it also had more valuable stuff. It provided a foundation for all thought and expression: Greek philosophy and mythology, primarily. This foundation is more valuable than I think many poets today realize. It allowed poets and audiences to compare contemporary feelings and thoughts to classically known situations (in myth, mostly), thereby relating present to past and seeing the human condition and the development of civilization as a continuous and connected event.

    This thread through history had resonance for the audiences of poetry. It allowed poetry to encompass both "spoken word" and "academic writing". I think that without such a foundation and connection through history (the history of the species, not just its civilizations), poetry today is wounded. I'm not saying we should go back to a Greek mythology system or emulate the Golden Age somehow. But I think we are broken and lost . . . and our poets reflect this. I also think that it is up to poets (or the poet in any of us) to find a way to reinvent some kind of similar foundation, to bring the complexity of the human condition back into poetry. Because we are so splintered into tribes today (lifestyles, clubs, cliques, classes, schools, belief systems, etc.) . . . even as the world is "globalizing" (the two are directly related, I suspect), we lose sight of the universality of humanness and think more and more in terms of "my tribe/your tribe". We identify with our lifestyles or clubs, our little group of fellow believers, and lose sight of the commonalities among all of us (which are less cultural and more individualistic).

    I think that performance poets have just as good a chance at accomplishing this as academic poets. But either kind of poet will need to find a way to reconnect the thread of history to the present and bring meaning to our current conditions. And that will require a great deal of learning and reflection. The more complex the thoughts and feelings we are dealing with (and want to express), the harder it is to communicate this immediately to a live audience. It's not like everyone knows the "truth" and merely needs to be told or reminded for it to click. The hardest and most important truths we learn require intense meditation and debate . . . and often great personal sacrifice or transformation. These things that make us who we are cannot just be passed over to us like objects to be slipped into our pockets.

    Written poetry does have an advantage in communicating these more meditative and complex ideas . . . but I don't mean to say that this can't be done with performance poetry. But, in my limited understanding, performance poetry is largely dependent on immediately connecting with the audience and often winning their approval. In my experience, most of the things that really need to be said tend to confuse and anger audiences at first. People don't like to change . . . and they prefer to have their conviction reinforced by their spokespeople. Managing to accomplish such speech with any kind of audience (readers or listeners) is not easy and requires a masterful dance, an exquisite craft.

    Yours,
    Matt

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  12. Athena,

    Don't you think there could be a good poem that is also enjoyable and good when read aloud? I don't think it's just black or white when it comes to performance versus written poetry.

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  13. caestice,

    Oh yes, absolutely, and I thought I said as much. 'Reading aloud' has its virtues, 'performance' has its virtues, and good poems can also be good when 'read aloud,' or 'performed,' yes, indeed. I only wanted to point out (in the most provocative manner possible!) the dangers of blurring 'poetry' and 'performance.' The 'ceremony' and the 'performance of the ceremony' are distinct, and for a reason, a reason that goes to the heart of all religion, all morality, all aesthetics, all philosophy, and all knowledge.

    Athena

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  14. Robocop,

    You’re really holding Matt’s feet to the fire, and mine, too, because I’m writing in the same vein. Matt’s essay in question was written in response to something I wrote in which I was putting myself in the shoes of poets like yourself: ‘what’s this questioning of publication/prizes/reputation have to do with writing poetry itself? Why should I, as a poet, care?’

    So here you are, questioning Matt’s belief that poets should question po-biz as thoroughly as possible in order to make poetry better. You, Robocop, are saying, “Listen, as a poet in the United States in 2008, I can write any sort of poem I want. What’s your Jungian analysis of po-biz got to do with the poetry I write? Your pontifications have nothing to do with me as a poet, and if poets start getting self-conscious about their role in po-biz, their poetry will get worse, not better. Even if I agree with you that po-biz is a system of self-serving crap, why should I waste my time getting embroiled in its crap-ness, just because no one’s reading your poetry? Thanks for your concern, but I don’t want to be part of your bitter, pompous revolution.”


    There’s many ways I could respond to you (and I hope I've captured the gist of your argument), but let’s try looking at it this way:

    The catch-all, Marxist way: Your work defines who you are. The type of work you do, the morality of the work you do, the ethical nature of the work you do, every aspect of the work you do, physical, mental, and spiritual, shapes you as a person, which, in turn, shapes the work you do, etc. If you work in an office and shuffle paper, but have no idea what the company you work for does, are you an enlightened worker? You handle documents; you are just ‘doing your job,’ so what’s the problem? You are just ‘feeding your family,’ you don’t know or care what your company does. Fine, right?

    You might stop me here, and say, ‘wait a minute! This analogy is unfair! I’m not working for a corrupt company! I’m just writing poetry!’

    ‘Just writing poetry.’ Well, now here’s the rub.

    I think it will help us to ask what ‘just writing poetry’ entails, and we might discover that my analogy is accurate: ignorance is always ignorance, whether we are talking about poetry, or working for the mafia, or being the president of the United States, or working in an office, or teaching at a college, or sleeping on a park bench as an unemployed person. Isn’t ignorance always ignorance, no matter what environment we are talking about?

    That’s not all. Poetry, unlike the material conditions under which labor or capital operates, is, by its very nature, a phenomenon which comprises a vast number of acute, historically-interconnected, motivated transactions, none of which are trivial or irrelevant.

    Also, precisely for the reason that poetry is free of material concerns, poetry’s 'being' absorbs and reflects the history of era, individual poet, audience, politics, and all surrounding critical apparatuses, and ignorance of any aspect of this phenomenon is never to the poet’s advantage.

    A poem is a picture of an historical event in the past, including all past (and present) accompanying judgments of that poem’s worth and significance which is presented to the reader in a certain manner of publication, advertisement, and recommendation, all depending on whether this event, and its subsequent shaping, does, or does not, advance someone’s career, or is to someone’s advantage for a variety of social, political, aesthetic reasons.

    In addition, all of this is reflected in both the form and the content of the poem, in thousands of subtle ways—and this always operates, whether you are a student in a MFA program, a professor, an editor, or a homeless person wandering into a library: “Why are there so many books on Wordsworth? Who was Wordsworth?”

    All these things all matter. You can’t escape them. ‘Wordsworth’ will never simply be ‘a poet’ or, ‘poetry.’ Po-biz and all its participants in the field of editing, publishing, critical commentary, the writing of poetry itself, whether it is your poetry, or someone else’s, will always shape and be shaped by billons of pieces of information, and much of that information will be ‘po-biz politics’ (contests, editing, teaching, career advancement, etc) and not just ‘poetic content.’

    This is factual whether you want it to be this way or not. And it's not just poems which are shaped this way, and poets, but readers, as well.

    Audiences for every kind of poetry are 'argued' into existence.

    Little in the jungle is 'live and let live.' Nothing in poetry is 'live and let live' (unless we are speaking of the ignorant).

    So, Robocop, in this sense, Matt is correct and not just making vain argument.

    OK, but let’s say you accept this argument as obvious information. “Sure,” you say, “everything affects everything else, and no poem and no poet and no reader stands alone, blah, blah, blah. But that still doesn’t mean my emphasis has to be Matt’s emphasis. We still choose, to some extent, which parts of this torrent of information we use; we can be paranoid and obsessive about all the ‘tribal’ and ‘Jungian’ influences, or we can be reasonable and take responsibility for our writing, and take responsibility for our role as world-citizens outside the po-biz universe, and also, be more aesthetically focused—it’s up to us.

    At this point, if this IS how you reply, one can see how you and Matt may never see eye-to-eye; you and he will just go back and forth, forever. But if you do at least concede the point that a great deal more information is relevant to poetry than most of its officials and keepers will admit, something, at least, will have been gained.


    Monday Love

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  15. "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

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  16. "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

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  17. Double post unintended. No message there...just clumsy.

    Original post intended. Point?

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  18. Or is this a synchronicity

    in some strange form of poetry?

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  19. Christopher WoodmanJune 11, 2008 at 11:09 PM

    Gary,
    You know, we're all ladies when it comes right down to it...

    But what Matt is doing here is not. He's rather taking the time to address a criticism that lesser folk might dismiss as just a pot-shot, and addressing it with his whole mind and heart. That takes courage.

    If you feel he's said too much or, in his own terms, feel he's been a little 'prolix,' then say that. The lady doth protest too much implies he's covering something up, or not being fully candid. If you feel that you should follow up on your hunch and say what you think he might be hiding.

    I'm sure he'd answer if you did. As it is he may feel discouraged and decide we're not worth the effort, that if he makes himself vulnerable as he's done we'll take advantage of him and not listen to what he says, just snicker at his privates.

    That's what's so special about this site, in my opinion--there's so little macho sparring. Sarcasm is the very name of the game at Poets.org, for example, where the moderators model hurtful repartee and, indeed, use it to keep order.

    Respectfully, Christopher

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  20. Athena,

    Let's keep one thing in mind. That terms "good" and "bad" are relative. What you may consider a good poem others will disagree.

    I never meant to imply that poetry and performance are the same thing. They are not mutually exclusive. You can perform many things including poetry.

    As far as when you read a poem, there is a voice you hear. Performance poetry in my seeks to recreate that voice, use that voice to express the emotion of the poem.

    From what I hear, it seems you and Matt believe that performance poets /spoken word artist write poems for the performance only. This is not true. While the performance is a factor it has to start with a great poem. We have to meditate and reflect on complex emotions just like academic poets. The difference is that we acknowledge the act of speaking as another tool for communicating these complex ideas in our poetry. Not all spoken word artist do this but the best ones do. The things that make us who we are may not be understood until they are spoken.

    I have to disagree with Matt about the advantage. I think the advantage is to the performance poets because we are actively communicating these ideas by speaking. Not just ink to paper and then publish and then wait for the book to be picked up by only those interested. By speaking, we tell all in ear shot about different elements of the human condition. Some may be fans others may not be, but they all hear it. Which actually fights against the separation that matt was speaking of, by not just writing for the choir.

    One question I have to ask, have you considered the possibility that the history of poetry may be one sided? Meaning it was documented from one point of view. There are traditions and ceremonies that were orally based that will never be recognized because the traditions were not able to be past on. This does not make what has been documented as poetry history invalid (maybe incomplete), but for academic poets to not allow room for the oral forms of poetry is very divisive.

    The reason I say poetry is communication, is because we write what we hear from that voice, the inner monologue. We say the words internally as we write them. The act of writing is a performance(probably not worthy of attention from an audience) and so is the act of speaking. Going to your example of Dante, he wanted to communicate his love to somebody even if he was too afraid to publicly declare it to the woman of his desire. Otherwise why would he press pen to pad, forever documenting his emotions? Maybe they were never meant to be read, but he was so filled with emotion that he had to perform some act. So he wrote because he couldn't speak but if he could of spoken I think he would of.

    Going back to the issue of being divisive, a statement like "performance poetry does not exist" is, as such, divisive. Instead of seeking clarification before making such a statement (Asking what does he mean by this statement and then proceeding to explain your position, Athena) you make an instant judgment on a art form you do not understand, denying its existence. I am the first to admit that I do not know much about the academic poetry world. I explore blogs like these to learn and improve on my poetry. When I pose a simple question then I am met such a response, I am not encouraged to continue my interaction with the academic poetry world (I will, because I ain't never scared(warning:hip hop reference you may not get it)).

    You said "The power of reason, to which the poet should always aspire,...." I think it misses the point of poetry as art. Art has to speak to you on an emotional level in order to have value. You may critique poetry by the way the text performs, but to deny that way its read can not influence the critique or the meaning is short sighted. This limits the growth of poetry. Poetry does exist on the page and can come alive on the stage as Performance poetry. This may blur the line, that people want to draw, but consider Shakespeare. Most consider the way his plays were written as poetry. Would his poetic way be so important if they were not performed?

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  21. Christopher WoodmanJune 11, 2008 at 11:50 PM

    Dennis,
    Would anybody have difficulty distinguishing between Seurat's painting, "Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte," and Steven Sondheim's exquisite "Sunday in the Park with George?"

    Paintings have the advantage over poetry that they are usually quite cumbersome and need a certain amount of space to display them--also guards, lights, benches, tickets, humidifiers etc. A poem is such a dinky little thing, just a scrap of paper, and indeed no poem can exist as more than just that little scrap of paper without being performed. But when a reader reads a poem silently on the subway, for example, that's a performance--when a good reader reads a poem a few seats down on the same subway it may even amount to a great performance, one that forever changes how the world reads poetry period.

    That's possible.

    But the same poem is still there, and it will be performed a great many other times too, perhaps even by you. But like Georges Seurat's painting, a performance of it even by 30 beautiful actors and singers on the most gorgeous of all sets has nothing whatever to do with the painting's definition, provenance or art.

    Christopher

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  22. Who is Dennis?

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  23. Forgive me, DLUX. I can't imagine who that Dennis is either, but I could have sworn that was your name. But then let's be honest you and I, I'm an old man...
    Sorry, C.

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  24. What I'm attempting to do, Christopher, is add the one missing ingredient to this delicious stew: a sense of humour.
    Some if us seem a little taken with ourselves.

    ReplyDelete
  25. And apparently you didn't catch my little Jungian quip back there.
    I read Matt's comments to Robocop in their entirety. I think my reply was appropriate.

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  26. You say some of us seem a little taken with ourselves, Gary-- which of course we are, and almost certainly what Robocop was trying to make us see.

    I would say that in such a context a little quip is probably not enough. You need to spell it out in much more detail because if it's valuable it's almost certainly something else we've not yet seen--or at least something else we need to wrestle down like Matt and share in brave new words.

    C.

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  27. DLUX,

    You seem to be arguing, then, that one cannot avoid 'hearing a voice' when one reads a poem, even silently to oneself. And I would say, yes, that's right.

    So, ANY poem, just by its existence as 'a poem' is 'a performance.'

    Would you agree?

    If we agree on this point--and why shouldn't we?--then I have a question for you: why should we even bother with this 'performance poet/spoken word' label? Why does anyone need to announce to the world that they are a 'performance poet?'

    If academic poets, or poets who don't call themselves 'performance poets,' give readings, have books-on-tape of their poems, put their poems on CDs, then what's the difference, really? All poems 'get heard' in some capacity. Do I need someone to scream and yell and do a dance to T.S. Eliots' "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?"

    "Prufrock" already exists in recordings which express that poem quite well. Why isn't Eliot a 'performance poet' then, rather than an 'academic poet?'

    I'm not defending the academics. It doesn't surprise me that you've been disappointed when you question them. But I don't think the so-called 'performance/spoken word' crowd is any better; in fact I'm suspicious of any group that tries to define itself in an unexamined way.

    In the beginning of the 20th century, new songs were only available in sheet music, and that's how people experienced new songs--they bought sheet music, took it home and played it on the piano. Now, if some people were playing new songs on the piano to gatherings at their homes, without printing the sheet music, were they special because they didn't put their songs onto sheet music?

    All songs are performed. All poems are performed. Performances can be good or bad. End of story.

    I'll say it again. "Performance poetry" as a category does not exist. As you say, a good poem is a good poem. If a poem that you 'perform' is put into print, I should be able to read that poem and say, "Wow, that's pretty good!" I don't need to see it 'performed' to appreciate it, and this is true for ANY poem, unless the 'poem' is disguised as a screenplay, or something.

    If "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," a classic 'academic' poem can be 'performed,' then why even have this distinction between 'performance/spoken word' and something else?

    Athena

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  28. I don't know about you guys, but I want to see that recent pic of Ashbery.

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  29. I don't say performance poetry to create more separation. I say it as another form of poetry. As you
    would have with haikus, epic poems and so on. These are different types and forms of poetry. We may just have to agree to disagree.

    "But I don't think the so-called 'performance/spoken word' crowd is any better; in fact I'm suspicious of any group that tries to define itself in an unexamined way. "

    Again you are making assumptions about a group you do not understand. To me this statement feels like you think group people just woke up one morning and decided to call themselves performance poets. Like there was no deep introspective process within ourselves and our communities. We just got on the mic and started shouting. This is deeply insulting, Athena.

    "If a poem that you 'perform' is put into print, I should be able to read that poem and say, "Wow, that's pretty good!" I don't need to see it 'performed' to appreciate it, and this is true for ANY poem, unless the 'poem' is disguised as a screenplay, or something."

    There is a point that is being missed. Language is more than just the written word. Language is written but primarily spoken. We write to document what we want to say. Spoken word artist seek to use both aspects of language, not just the written. Once you get that you will understand spoken word alot better.

    This conversation reminds me of this story about 3 generations of women cutting the edges to bake a ham. The daughter asked the mother why it was done this way. Mother says thats the way my mother baked it. Finally the daughter asked her grandmother and she answered "well back in my day, the pans were only so big. So I cut the edges to make the ham fit." Just imagine all the ham that was wasted.

    My point, I believe the classic poets would be taking advantage of the new media. With that I think they would consider how the words spoken in creating their poems (This is just an opinion). Why waste another tool of the language.

    If this would help you can call the genre spoken word poetry and define it as a form of poetry that encourages the dynamic recitation of poetry. We don't write exclusively for the performance, but we recognize the power of the spoken delivery as another way of using language as art(i.e. Poetry).

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  30. Matt,
    Why do you think I’m here? Would I bother to engage you in debate if I weren’t interested in what you were saying? I thought I had made it clear that I would almost certainly join forces with you eventually. I also thought you understood that I felt the best contribution I could make at the moment was as an outsider anyway. Because the occupational hazard of idealism is always polarization, isn't it, out of the frying pan and into the fire? I thought it might be valuable to have someone who could look at you from both sides of the fence at once.

    What I would really like to do is to see if I could help you with the new energy you have found at Poets.net so that when you big jumpers jump you might land somewhere else beside straight in the fire. You’ve got so many great, curious, gifted writers assembled here at Poets.net, but as you yourself have said so often, Matt, you’ve got to avoid the mistakes that were made in the past. I also thought I might get you to slow down a bit, gather your forces, know who you were and of course each other too a bit better—and of course get a sense of why, how and wherefore before you moved on.

    You say at the very end you thought I was capable of much sharper thinking, and certainly more than just the old “sour grapes” accusations. That surprises me. Indeed, I disagree with you completely that this debate is losing touch with the issues. Because it so obviously isn’t—indeed, I’d say it’s never been more on track!

    Because who else says the kind of things you have just said, Matt, and in such eloquent and passionate detail? 4.0 and you quit a full fellowship, in POETRY, walk out on a leading MFA program? What a coup, I’d say--the winner kicks away the hearthrug, pulls the plug on the Iowa hot-tub, and even stops writing the stuff?

    Alright!

    Yet Gary was also partly right when he said you protest too much, Matt –but I’d also say lucky for us that you did! Because what a wonderful storm of an essay that howl of protest kicked up for Poets.net—a real jewel in it’s newbie crown!

    On the other hand, I feel there is a disconnect between us as well, and on another occasion I’ll attempt to address it at greater length if someone else doesn't instead. I would just like to say at this point that I think there are two, quite distinct states of mind we’re talking about, one which our culture calls, and with considerable ambivalence, mind you, “self-consciousness,” and the other which we really don’t know how to talk about at all, which we fear, in fact-- because it’s so different from our own, so ‘other’ to what we assume about just who we are. As poets we have Keats’ “negative capability” remarks to stand for what might be called “non-self-consciousness,” but not much else. Indeed, as a culture we tend to dismiss that condition in psychological terms, often pathological, and are more likely to medicate it than to praise it!

    On the other hand, it’s very interesting how little enthusiasm we display for what Keats says about “negative capability’s” opposite, the “egotistical sublime," even though it so clearly defines us. Of course Keats doesn’t mean the “egotistical sublime” is “bad” either, or even more limited, for that matter--just that it's a wholly different talent from his own capacity to remain in “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” We all know the words, but balk at what they mean.

    In a nutshell, my own feeling is that theoretical language tends to lead to statements rather than perceptions, and that although you, Matt, use your very fine mind and abundant intellectual energy so well, and of course flay the PoBiz to the bone, I don’t think that discourse is the most effective way to find out more about poetry—or at least that you have to be careful when you use it. To say as I did that you were “angry at poetry” and felt that it had “let you down,” was a sort of test, I admit, but I still feel that the way you take up positions with regard to Ideas may limit the new sort of discourse I would love to see developed on this site. You're a giant of an orator--so you have to be especially careful of what you say.

    Anyway, Matt, you’ve won this exchange hands down—and just think how many diamonds the pressure has thrown up (what an image!).

    (Want to try something on “negative capability” anybody, or “non-self consciousness” as I proposed calling it? How might this idea assist us in our struggle against the PoBiz, or in defining a new sort of criticism, or readership?

    Robocop

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  31. DLUX,

    I've experienced slams, spoken-word, 'microphone poets,' etc.

    Again, you are putting a sacred curtain up around some mystical 'community' of 'performance poets' which in your view I am supposedly incapable of grasping.

    Poetry which is 'spoken' is not confined to 'performance poets.' I thought I made that point. All poetry gets spoken, or has the potential to be spoken, or performed.

    I just don't consider the distinction you are making to be very important.

    And please, I want you to understand, I'm not dismissing anything you are, or your friends are; I'm only rejecting 'the distinction.' I realize some people make a great deal of these sorts of distinctions and it's very important to them.

    My impulse is a universalizing one.

    No artificial distinctions between poets, thanks. I realize there are many substantive differences, and I welcome those.

    Athena

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  32. Robocop,

    You say some provocative things.

    It is interesting that Keats attaches the ‘egotistical sublime’ to Wordsworth—the man had no ego whatsoever; what ego Wordsworth had bowed down to daffodils and copses, or trailed after his sister Dorothy, or took the form of trees reflected in lakes.

    I think what Keats meant was that Wordsworth had a fairly narrow vision, compared to Shakespeare—who Keats identifies with the more protean and imaginative ‘negative capability.’

    Wordsworth was content to imagine muddy-shoed Wordsworth for us, hiking through the Lake District, pondering Nature and Nature’s God.

    Shakespeare, by contrast, gives us wars and loves and kings and slaves--we have no literary portrait of the solitary Shakespeare, the rustic genius, contemplating his boots on the mountain-top.

    The American poet as solitary rustic genius was what the sermonizer Emerson proposed, and Whitman fits the bill of ‘egotistical sublime’ even more than Wordsworth.

    Everywhere one looks in Whitman’s writings, there is Whitman, waving to us from the highway: ‘Hi, Walt!’

    Poe, like Keats, did not have a high opinion of Wordsworth (Poe also did not think much of Emerson; Poe did not live long enough to see Whitman). Poe is America’s poet of ‘negative capability; Poe is American’s Shakespeare; look in Poe’s works and, as in Shakespeare, there are all sorts of fantastical shadows, but no Poe.

    The great tradition of ‘egotistical sublime’ v. ‘negative capability’ winds down to a minor skirmish in the persons of Frost and Eliot, respectively.

    Keats’ brother found a home in America, and Keats looked affectionately towards the new world; Wordsworth became laureate of an Empire which sought to make the world a great natural park with her Majesty as park ranger; the towering mountains, the mighty rivers, the crystal clear lakes, a little opium exported by the East India Company, some friendly soldiers, and Britain rules the waves (and earth).

    America would spoil those plans and become something of a pro-anglo Empire herself, but this was still in the future; during the Wordsworth/Keats/Emerson/Poe era America was a hopeful dream of ‘negative capability’ and Great Britain a towering presence of ‘egotistical sublime’—which had nevertheless produced Shakespeare, Keats, and Shelley.

    Monday Love

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  33. Athena,
    How many ways can you say "I love you?" How many ways was your name called as a child? From the way your name was called, it could let you know if you were in trouble or not(a very important distinction to make). Your name did not change, just the way it was delivered.

    I'm not debating you on the importance of performance distinction. Again, importance is another relative term. The recitation of poetry does exist and can be used to enhance an already great poem. The Greek Homer was known in his time for his recitation.

    You may not consider the recitation an "important" criteria for poetry, but there is a group that does. To truly seek a universal truth in poetry, you can't dismiss how poetry is created from a different prospective. It is not diversity to wash out all the differences, that's assimilation.

    If the world of poetry shifts to place emphasis on the performance of the poet's work, going back to the oral poetry of the African griot, then the performance distinction becomes more important. If poetry stays in between pages the distinction is less important. These two worlds of poetry do exist today. Importance is relative to what group you interact with. But my point is that the element of performance does exist as a criteria for poetry. It may or may not be important for your understanding of a poem, but it is still there.

    "My impulse is a universalizing one."

    It doesn't feel that way. "Performance poetry does not exist" feels more like "hip hop is just a fad," "rap music is not real music" and other statements said about hip hop in the 80's.

    "Performance poetry does not exist" makes spoken word the Pluto of the poetic Universe.

    "And please, I want you to understand, I'm not dismissing anything you are, or your friends are; I'm only rejecting 'the distinction.'"

    If we choose to define ourselves by this distinction then how are you not dismissing us? I guess I was taught to look for the similarities and appreciate the differences. Not find similarities and ignore or dismiss the differences.
    How do you define Universal? Only One or many apart of one?

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  34. I tend to agree with you here, DLUX, this is a bit discouraging for you--I mean, there's not much room to maneuvre when a definition assumed to be universal doesn't include you, and your distinctions aren't even part of the picture. I suppose you could posit several universes, but as you are unlikely to perform in more than one of them your space, and options, have been distinctly curtailed.

    But nobody ever said wisdom was going to be easy, and debating Athena leaves no room for slip ups, even when you haven't made any.

    But goodwill always triumphs in the end anyway, and you've got tons of that.

    All the best, Christopher

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  35. DLUX,

    I'm glad you are sticking with me, for I speak the truth, and truth is both beautiful and harsh.

    I hold 'performance' very highly, so highly, that I hate to see it whored out.

    Yes, the way my name is called will tell me much, but not everything, and even saying can say the opposite of what the saying seems to say. I have a great deal of acting experience and I love the theater. I remember watching a famous film actor act "Hamlet" on stage, and at first, I said to myself, since he didn't seem to be bringing much energy to the role, "He's not even acting!" and then, later, as I began to appreciate later in the scene what he was doing, I said, "Ah, yes, he's NOT acting!" So there it is. Shakespeare does not need to be 'performed,' nor does Homer. If someone were to hoot and holler Homer I would cringe.

    Yeats was known to chant out-loud, to 'perform' as he was composing. Beautiful. You put the 'performance' IN the poem, it lives there--without the human voice, without the flapping of the arms, the screaming, the strange, wild looks. It lives, as silent as a dream.

    I am not dismissing you. I am saying I don't care for the artificial side of you, but the real side of you will be all the artificial side of you tries to be, and more.

    Performance is so powerful that it is a kind of love, the kind of love that is dangerous and the kind of 'free' love we often avoid, because it can turn our world upside down. But passion avoided is poetry, too. Oh, yes, 'no' is poetry, too.

    I fell in love with Edna St. Vincent Millay, reading her poems silently. What was that love? When I first heard her read, in a scratchy recording, I sobbed like a baby, even more in love with her. Her 'performance' was a spear right through me. But I knew, having read her poems, that I would love her voice reading the poems, because Millay 'has it,' whatever it is, and 'performance' is surely part of it, or maybe it is all of it, but I don't know that my crying is anything, or that performance is anything, but I do know that a scratchy recording, was, for a moment, everything.

    Athena

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  36. Christopher WoodmanJune 14, 2008 at 11:34 AM

    You're a brave man, DLUX, to have been able to get all the way to this tribute--to have butted bellies with Athena like a Sumo poet-wrestler, and found that the ultimate performance was just a scratchy recording of Edna St Vincent Millay.

    "How do you define Universal? Only One or many apart of one?"

    The answer I would say is pretty much like this.

    Thanks for being here with us, dear friends--both of you. Thanks for modelling the language, the mood, the imagery, the humor, the intensity, the commitment, the audacity and above all the astonishing delight that poetry off the scheduled rails can provide!

    C.

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  37. Thanks for the kind words Christopher.

    Athena, I think there is an assumption about performance poets you are making. That performance has to be over the top, a hyperbole of poetics. Your assumption is not far off, but the best spoken word artist don't contrive a performance. It just happens.

    I'm glad you seek truth, Athena. I'm glad you seek to speak the truth as you see it. Again, I pose argument that there are many truths. That truth can be harsh and beautiful. It makes 100% certainty impossible to achieve.

    "I am not dismissing you. I am saying I don't care for the artificial side of you, but the real side of you will be all the artificial side of you tries to be, and more."

    I was told the kind of love that truly last is unconditional love. This statement is full of conditions. While we don't strive to be artificial in any way we are as people. That is part of the human condition. And while you may consider the performance of my work to be artificial, and determine that to be realest part for me. I try to live up to the words that I declare in a public. I am more than just me words. I am the sum total of my words, actions, thoughts, emotions, and the energy that is felt when I am experienced live in person.

    Again, it goes back to relativity and personal judgment. It seems that my point was made. Not conceded, but made.

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hi All,

    I apologize for not being able to keep up the pace here. Too many other obligations at the moment.

    Let me offer some preliminaries (I still haven't read all of the posts in this thread, including Robocop's reply to my long comment).

    First, Christopher's comment on my behalf to Gary is pretty accurately representative of my feelings. As my time is limited for participation on this site, I don't really desire to particpate unless I feel like real exchanges are going on. Anyone can snipe and cast out lazy thoughts. I know this is considered acceptable in the PoBiz and on many poetry forums (including Foetry.com, when it was operative), but to me (and from the perspective of intelligent adults in other fields, I think) this is a rather childish waste of time. And as I already give of my time as generously as I possible can, I really don't want it wasted.

    There is this common belief (a product of PoBiz indoctrination) among poets today that "people who take themselves seriously "are like "old geezers from another era" to be scoffed at. This is just the biggest load of crap, and it dismays me to see so many poets proclaiming this bit of dogma unthinkingly.

    It is HUMAN to take oneself seriously . . . and to expect those humans you communicate with to do the same. A failure to take oneself seriously when debating something that matters (in this case poetry and ethics) is a failure to be human. A failure that is the product of feeling ashamed of oneself (as a poet and a human being). Additionally, no one take themselves more seriously than poets, even lousy and stupid poets . . . so any insinuation on behalf of one poet that another takes him or herself too seriously is unbelievably hypocritical, hypocritical to the point of absurdity. The fact that these criticisms are so often exchanged among poets is, from an outsider's perspective, farcical.

    There is more subtext in the "humor" of dismissive quips than there is in my enormous post above . . . and that subtext is a declaration of pride in ignorance and massmindedness.

    When I see this sort of thing, although it doesn't surprise me any longer coming from poets, I just think, "Why do I bother trying to communicate with these people at all?" This is one of the significant factors in my retirement from poetry.

    I treat other people with respect and hear them out. I consider their opinions seriously, even if I disagree with them. I do my best to put myself in their shoes. I expect only a small reciprocation of this respect in return. If I didn't expect and feel I deserved this mutual respect, I would be the victim of my own sense of shame and devaluation.

    Generically, I see any response to a well-considered argument that attempts to ignore that argument in favor of personal attacks and quips as dishonorable and unproductive.

    But I believe in the value of a genuine debate and exchange of ideas. In such an arena, I have no problem having my ideas either contradicted or disproved. If anything I theorize can be disproved, then I have learned something useful . . . which is the reason I enjoy debate. I will do my best to be here for debate, but I have better things to do than hang around to be psychoanalyzed without justification or skill.

    . . .

    Desmond, I find that I agree with much of what you are saying about performance poetry and communicating directly to an audience. It was my intention to note this as a positive in my earlier post, and I'm sorry that you did not see my intention as such. My experience of poetry is as a writer. I have only had a few occasions to read my poetry to others, and when I was able to orate it, I felt it was slightly better comprehended than it was, for instance, in workshops in universities. But my writing is very complex and multi-layered. What a live audience seemed to respond to was the voice . . . but the more subtle content and structure of the poems was not ascertained in the way it could have been if it were read. And I wrote these poems to be both heard and read, not merely one or the other. My personal aesthetic as a poet is to write the meat of the poems into the subtext of the language. This is harder to "get" than a more overt intellectual or emotional statement. It requires a certain degree of meditation . . . and I crafted these poems to invite the reader/listener into such meditation by laying down difficult subtextual questions that are not often considered. I approach the audience through their unconscious, and so consider myself a poet of the unconscious (similar in this respect to one of my favorite poets, Russell Edson).

    Like Edson, I can read my poems aloud as voice-forward, quirky surrealism, but also like Edson, there is a deeper layer. It's that deeper layer where the real art happens, in my opinion. That's where I live as a poet and as a human being. I enjoy quiet and thoughtful meditation and subtle complexities that are not always initially apparent. This is not impossible with performance poetry, but it is not the performance poet's favored aesthetic.

    Beyond that, I question the possibility of performance poetry truly challenging its audience, risking putting them off and breaking conventions that they expect, just to be able to plant a seed that might not begin to take root until long after they leave the performance. Can the performance poet do this and not get booed off the stage? Maybe, but if you tell me that this sort of challenging poetry is not difficult to take into the performance poetry venue, then I wonder if you are not being disingenuous. It's difficult in any venue to challenge the expectations of your audience. I think we need to acknowledge this as part of our method of relating to the audience. I also think today's written poetry fails such tests at least as miserably as performance poetry does, so please don't think I am comparing performance poetry to PoBiz academic poetry. I mean only to bring up the pros and cons of reading to an audience live vs. being read by a single individual reader at a time. I'm talking about poetry in its ideal, doing what the medium can do as well as the medium allows.

    In general, I am a strong advocate of reading poetry aloud and have little interest in poetry that lacks oral sophistication and listenability. Poetry that can't be read/heard, that has no physicality, for me, has no soul and can't move me.

    . . .

    Robocop, I haven't had the chance to read your reply to my long post yet, but for now, I'd like to apologize if I seemed short-tempered with what you originally said. Although I did feel like your approach was a somewhat offensive and uncalled for misdirection away from any real argument, and this took me a bit by surprise, because I felt your previous comments were pretty astute (and thus, that such an appraisal of my ideas was beneath you) . . . my reaction, though I think fair, was also excessive. I was writing my reply to what you said based not only on your comments, but on similar things I've heard said as misdirections to me and to others many times before. Hearing these things so many times (not necessarily directed at me, but at Foetry.com and its members) eventually contributed to my loss of faith and feeling that poets weren't really worth any attempt at argument or capable of much consciousness.

    If poets don't want to fight for better circumstances and better poetry, if they want the PoBiz as their kingdom, then they can have it. But many people simply can't take this cultic silliness seriously. That's why non-poets don't read poetry. I'm on the fence about this. I don't give up on people easily . . . and I have seen a great deal of dissatisfaction from those indoctrinated into the PoBiz. Dissatisfaction, but an inability to address this dissatisfaction with courage, to suffer the consequences of dissent or even dangerous thinking, and an inability to articulate this dissatisfaction or to propose a remedy. This is what I have directed my PoBiz criticism toward.

    But I have found that the poets who hate the PoBiz the most and suffer the most for its tendency to disempower them can be just as (in my opinion) cowardly and incapable of recognizing and combating their PoBiz indoctrination as those privileged by the PoBiz. If poets who want help can't help themselves, then what can I do to benefit them? So I tend to get frustrated and feel that poets deserve the dystopia they have made for themselves. Elsewhere, life goes on . . . and I'd rather devote my energy to living then "raising the dead". I have no desire to be a savior or miracle worker for poets. They are not my tribe, and I am not any kind of member in theirs. I hope that what I write can be taken as useful articulation of dissatisfaction with the PoBiz and that my arguments make sense. But I don't have any desire to lead a movement or even really be part of a movement of new poetry and poetics. When I say I am retired from this game, I mean it. My Jungian writing is much more satisfying to me than my poetry is or was. I see the Jungian intellectual realm as the place were I belong. Not poetry. Not academia. What I have written for this site, I have written because I felt it could do some good to help raise consciousness in the way Poets.Net wants to do, because I recognize that my analyses and opinions on some of these things are unique, and that if I don't say them, they will not be said (at least, I have yet to hear much of what I have written articulated elsewhere).

    And I think that my assessments, even when stated to irk somewhat, are valid, and valid on their own terms (not as personal resentment or sour grapes). They are analytically valid for a distinct majority trend in the PoBiz, which we all embrace to varying degrees and with varying levels of success. This is not the world that I would want to practice poetry in, and I suspect that many others feel exactly the same way . . . although they may be less likely to stand up in protest or to risk their admission to the game by boycotting the PoBiz or even sacrificing their own stake in the gamble entirely.

    Again, for channeling my frustration at many poets, insider and outsider alike, into my last response to you, I apologize. As a "retiree", I'm no longer as willing to stick around to trade barbs or tolerate what seems to me mistreatment and disrespect.

    -Matt

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  39. Matt,
    You've unmasked my identity! :) Anyway.....

    "I'm talking about poetry in its ideal, doing what the medium can do as well as the medium allows."

    I agree with your overall statements. I also think again that the challenge is relative based on the poets individual abilities. I hate singing the same tune of relativity but I believe this is the truth.

    Our experiences colors our perspective so there is no true objectivity. You are coming at poetry from the written prospective. I from the spoken prospective. It would make sense that we each think our way has the advantage. Both can be right and wrong depending the audience you face, written or on stage.

    From my prospective, I have experienced a deeper understanding of poetry once I heard it. It triggered a thought process which led to intense introspection of myself. When I read (or read in general) poetry often my mind wonders and the point of the poem is missed. I may not get the meaning of your work until I hear you speak it or recite it for myself. I am forever a student of all poetry because I would like to know all the ways which communicate my poetry. So I won't knock the benefits of the written word and would hope poets like yourself would not knock the benefits reciting your words (spoken word).

    I also teach. When I teach I try to take into account that some are visual learners and others are oral learners. In teaching a poem I read aloud and write it down. To make sure I reach everyone in the room.

    One,
    Desmond
    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  40. "I'm talking about poetry in its ideal, doing what the medium can do as well as the medium allows."
    Athena

    I don't know if Athena has bothered to notice it or not in the sense of allowing herself to be bothered by it, but there is a controversy raging over at Poets.org about 'Prosody.' The question is, is a mastery of the Science of Prosody, i.e. the Rules of Metrical Analysis as laid out in modern, on-line tracts, going to become essential to the reading and writing of poetry today?

    There are two camps engaged in the dispute, the Academy of American Poets 'Academicians' on the one hand, and a small group of irreverent 'Irridescent Harlequins' led by the critic, Tom West--who also appears from time to time on this site.

    The argument is about the role of Prosody today in the definition and evaluation of poetry. The AAP Academicians, whose livelihoods, needless to say, depend on teaching the stuff, want everybody to promise to agree that unless you know the On-line Rules of Prosody and apply them correctly, any critical pronouncement you make is invalid--no "anacrusis" no line, no line no poetry, no poetry no poet, no poet no prize, no prize no job--as simple as that.

    Opposing the AAP Magister Ludis are, as I said, the Irridescent Harlequins. Essentially critical carpet baggers, or at least that's how they appear on the site, they feel like most tent-show magicians that every trick in the critical bag is valid as long as it works. More than that, and much more threatening to the Magister Ludis, needless to say, the Harlequins feel that obsessively clinging to just one tool at a time is boring, that it's aesthetically extremely limited and wrong, and that it leads to cruelty and tyrannical obsession.

    Needless to say, the Irridescent Harlequins are a scarcely tolerated intervention on a Forum based specifically on tool-control, and in the past weeks two of my close friends have been quietly banned from the discussion on the grounds they were actually me! Oh, and the thread on which all this is transpiring is called "On Aspiring Writers Becoming Successful Writers," a TomWest formulation, of course, and oh yes, which was started by 'ACommoner'--i.e. me.

    20,000 visits too!

    Got it, then? You make the tools essential to poetry, for reading it as well as for writing it, so that you actually own the tools. You've got them and you've patented them, and the Laws of Po-Land decree that without them no one can get certified as a "Successful Poet." Like lawyers, the AAP Para-Critics control access to the Laws of Poetry by making them so complicated and abstruse, and expressed in foreign languages too, of course, that you have to pay the Para-Critics if you want them to protect you, or to assure your security, or to intimidate other poets as you gradually work your way over their heads and all the way on up to the top.

    I wanted to pause for a moment to remind you that this Big Fight is in progress over there at Poets.org-- I thought you might want to go and see it. Here at Poets.net we've got something as well, I mean, we've got the World Championship in Poem Critcism between Athena and DLUX--which cuts all the Gordian knots of control in one sweet, two-handed swoosh. I wanted to be sure you noticed this beautiful exchange, and that you realized what a powerful example it is of "Poem Criticism without PoBiz Critcism"--which is, in case you've forgotten it, the title of Matt's essay that opens this thread. Indeed, this is precisely the sort of criticism I would like to see modeled on Poets.net as an alternative to the School-room Capitalist Criticism at Poets.org--"School-room Capitalist Criticism" because it functions like a modern Law School (Medieval Guild?) which owns the subject and then sells it to the highest bidder, so to speak--and then inducts that highest-bidder in turn into the Cartel that controls the Racket!

    There have been a number of truly brilliant moments in the exchange on this thread, culminating in Athena's extraordinary evocation of a cracked recording of Edna St Vincent Millay reading her poetry as an example of..... well, I'm not quite sure of what, not wanting to hurt anybody's feelings, but certainly of something pretty "universal!" DLUX hotly proclaims it's "Performance Poetry" but Athena equally passionately proclaims "Performance Poetry doesn't exist." And what is so refreshing about this irreconcilable amour is that it gives us an insight into the very heart of the process of activating a poem in such a way that it's not just a commodity, that it actually IS something and MEANS something of great value--which in poetry today is extremely rare. Yes, these two very fine Royal Roustabouts, one semi-human (Athena) and the other semi-divine (DLUX), have played out for us what I would regard as the finest performance of "Poem Criticism" yet on this site!

    So stay tuned!

    Christopher

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  41. But, Matt… you are, indeed, a hypocrite. You complained about personal attacks on you by Robocop and myself yet responded with significantly more personal and vindictive remarks. I thought we were all companions in this cause, friends and fellow soldiers.

    You also said that you didn’t have time to review all the replies to your comment. This is obviously true. Apparently you missed this:

    “What I'm attempting to do, Christopher, is add the one missing ingredient to this delicious stew: a sense of humour."

    Oh, yes...you mentioned it but you didn't get it.

    And this:

    “And apparently you didn't catch my little Jungian quip back there. I read Matt's comments to Robocop in their entirety. I think my reply was appropriate.”

    I, at least, had the respect to not only read everything you wrote but also reply to your Jungian diatribe with a Jungian response.

    Don’t be offended (as it appears you so easily are), but your decision to forsake poetry was probably a good one. Apparently you have a greater skill for writing textbooks. After all: "Brevity is the soul of wit" (W.S.)

    You're running with the big dogs now, son. Keep up.

    “Physician, heal thyself.”

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  42. There are two major themes on this thread, and a whole lot of minor ones. The Performance Poetry theme has thrown up some wonderful writing, and I quite agree with Christopher in his last Comment that this is some of the most exciting "new stuff" we've seen, and indeed does set Poets.net aside from other poetry sites. I move around a lot and can testify that there's not much more fun around than right here, and I agree Poets.net does model a fresh and vital new approach to criticism.

    The other major theme is very introspective, painful almost, and I have to take some of the responsibility for that myself, I know. I did "put some feet to the fire," as Monday Love said, and a lot of soul searching has been the result. On the other hand, I would say that at this point in the development of a movement like this one there has to be re-evaluation, and that's never easy. Matt Koeske is obviously about as fierce a self-examiner as you can find, and he's stripped himself way beyond the call of duty in answering my queries. And I would say that whether or not this has been helpful to him it certainly has been helpful to me, because he's examined so many of my own sensitivities, and indeed has made me think even harder about what I myself might be able to contribute not only to this site but to the movement.

    The one area in which I disagree with Matt is when he states so confidently that he has done the work, that he has freed himself from his past, including his poetry, of course, and is now ready to move on. I would say from my own experience that it is never as simple as this--in my own experience every advance in understanding has been accompanied by it's own, intrinsic blindness and even willful distortions--that every type of vision, however elevated, has distortions that are peculiar to its own dynamics. Indeed, the one thing for certain is that the examined life is not only worth examining as well but has to be examined all over again--and if you don't you end up a Gandhi who serves his nation so well while losing touch with his friends and family, or a Robert Frost, or saddest of all, a Solzhenyitsin (neighbors, I believe!). The more you know the more you suffer, for sure--at least if you're anything like me. The wiser the more ignorant.

    So what I would like to do now is thank Matt from us all for the extraordinary diligence, integrity and courage he has shown in the essays he has written for us on this thread, and to assure him that he is our conscience and standard bearer, that he has shown the way that we must take too.

    But I would also like to encourage him to get back to his original purpose. He speaks about his "aptitude to make sense out of the system," which is manifest in every word he writes, and that this talent "obliges" him above all "to try to raise the consciousness of the cause." He has done this so well, but what interests me as well is the first paragraph of his initial essay entitled, "Can there be Poem Criticism Without PoBiz Criticism?" in relation to how the thread ended up--in a Comment that says that "Poem Criticism" has reached its apotheosis right here! So I'd like to know if Matt still feels so certain that "the discussion of poetry cannot stand in the place of a discussion about the current social and psychological behaviors and attitudes of poets or the PoBiz?"

    Couldn't one refresh the other, and aren't we likely to achieve a lot more if we can have fun doing it by setting the world on fire with our writing?

    I do hope this helps. I've still got a lot of things on my mind arising from this whole discussion, including "self-consciousness," "negative capability," and some thoughts about how a new kind of thinking altogether might rise like a pheonix from the ashes of contemporary American poetry.

    Thank you, Matt--thank you for giving us so much.

    Rob

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  43. DLUX,

    "And while you may consider the performance of my work to be artificial..."

    I don't consider the performance of your work 'artificial.' I don't know your work, nor have I experienced a 'performance' of your work. My remarks are not aimed specifically at you, though I am enjoying this discussion with you on the division between the written and the spoken word--a division which I think is overplayed.

    I hope we are friends.

    Athena

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  44. Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
    But, Matt… you are, indeed, a hypocrite. You complained about personal attacks on you by Robocop and myself yet responded with significantly more personal and vindictive remarks. I thought we were all companions in this cause, friends and fellow soldiers.

    Gary, I'm not sure my response was anything other than heartfelt and honest. I also thing that it's entirely fair to say that my response judged you both by the words you had written to or about me. In my opinion, those words, that rhetoric, was unwarranted and disrespectful. The problem is that this rhetoric made an attempt to set you each (albeit in somewhat different ways) in a position of power over me, where you could look down and make personal judgments based on whim without having to consider what I really said. This is the kind of rhetoric that tries to rob another person of their voice. It doesn't belong in conversations like this or on websites that want to do what this one does.

    I see such rhetoric as infinitely more offensive than my replies exposing and complaining about it.

    So, when you write above that you "thought we were all companions in this cause, friends and fellow soldiers", I have to respond that it was you who broke this "contract" . . . and yet you clarify your declaration that I am a hypocrite. I don't think you are seeing me at all. I can only assume you are holding up a mirror to yourself.

    I would like us to be friends and fellow soldiers, but in my perhaps simple set of personal codes, friends and fellows don't dismiss each other for being human. I would never say the things to you that you have said to me.


    Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
    You also said that you didn’t have time to review all the replies to your comment.

    I said I hadn't yet had the time to read the whole thread. That you took this as a pompous statement that I felt I didn't need to read the whole thread because I am so special is ludicrous, and once again doesn't at all reflect my actual attitude. I have simply been very busy at work and with family matters lately. Also, writing at Poets.Net is for me a second priority project. I devote most of my writing time these days to my Jungian site. I apologize for being behind, and I can only assure you that I will do my best to catch up and have every intention of reading the posts in this thread that I haven't gotten to yet.


    Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
    This is obviously true. Apparently you missed this:

    “What I'm attempting to do, Christopher, is add the one missing ingredient to this delicious stew: a sense of humour."

    Oh, yes...you mentioned it but you didn't get it.


    You assume in saying this that I saw what you said as an actual attempt at humor and that it was actually humorous. What you said only seemed disrespectful to me, and not truly funny. Perhaps we just have different tastes in humor.


    Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
    And this:

    “And apparently you didn't catch my little Jungian quip back there. I read Matt's comments to Robocop in their entirety. I think my reply was appropriate.”

    I, at least, had the respect to not only read everything you wrote but also reply to your Jungian diatribe with a Jungian response.


    Yes, I saw it the first time and heard you reference it a second time, too. This is now the third time by my count. Again, I just am less stunned by your cleverness than you think I should be.


    Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
    Don’t be offended (as it appears you so easily are), but your decision to forsake poetry was probably a good one. Apparently you have a greater skill for writing textbooks. After all: "Brevity is the soul of wit" (W.S.)

    You're running with the big dogs now, son. Keep up.

    “Physician, heal thyself.”


    Gary, this is so profoundly arrogant and ugly. And it makes you look bad. When I mentioned previously how much subtext there was in your initial dismissal of what I had written, this is what I meant.

    I hope we can get back to a more interesting conversation (about poetry, for instance) and manage to put this sort of thing behind us.

    Best,
    Matt

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  45. Matt hates po-biz on a personal and visceral level. Plus, because he's a student of Jung, he seeks ways to understand tribal and universal and personal behavior, so he's not motivated to 'let go' of his hatred of po-biz on a personal, or a psychological, or a symbolic, or a philosophical level. This is going to make for some interesting insights--and for some rants.

    Poetry should always be at the center of our discourse; if po-biz or Jung take over, we're likely to get lost in the woods.

    What is Poetry? Poetry, when significant, engages with universal human pains and pleasures in a unique manner. The chief problem with po-biz is that is has nothing to do with universal human pains and pleasures, but with day-to-day administrative and commercial aspects of what poetry has become in our day--and what has it become?

    Does poetry today serve the audience of a Homer or a Dante or a Shakespare or a Milton or a Pope or a Byron or a Tennyson or a Frost? No, it does not.

    "Star Wars" serves the Homer audience. The Bible serves the Dante and Milton audience. Chick-lit serves the Byron and Tennyson audience. Self-help and naturalist non-fiction serves the Frost audience. Pope's audience has simply withered away, or is scattered here and there among the other audiences.

    Why should a "Jung person" or a Christian or a "Star Wars" fan read poetry?

    In most people's homes today, there is refriderator poetry and there are discussions around the table in which 'poetry' of the kind that is published today can be said to exist.

    Poetry emerged after the dark ages as a substitute for religion, but that role has pretty much run its course. Poets are no longer sages or revolutionaries anymore. They have a very local existence, and they don't provide what can not be easily found elsewhere.

    Po-biz adherents will simply shrug when they are accused by those like Matt who say they are not 'up to task.' They will say, "Look at what poetry has become. That's not our fault."

    Monday Love

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  46. Matt:

    I am flattered and honoured to get the ‘Koeske’ treatment. You are a very profound thinker and a good writer. I enjoy your posts immensely.

    You are also basically full of shit. :-)

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  48. Matt:

    You not only made me smile by what you said but also by what you did not say. You have made a friend for life.

    Somewhat long-winded, I suppose, but brilliant!

    Your humble servant,
    Gary

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  49. Athena,
    My comment was more for an example and not literally my performance.

    "the division between the written and the spoken word--a division which I think is overplayed."

    I can definitely agree with this statement. I don't think one is superior to the other. I feel a "distinction" is valid but not a division to be used further divide poetry.

    Don't worry my feelings aren't hurt in the least. Everything is cool.

    One,

    DLUX: THE LIGHT
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet
    www.dluxthelight.com

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  50. I find your last response to Gary and Robocop very troubling, Matt, and wonder if you have been reading the same comments I have. For example, I thought that Robocop used Gandhi, Robert Frost, and Solzhenitsyn to show how even the most gifted, conscientious and elevated of souls have to re-examine themselves at the end, and if they don’t they become self-absorbed just like everybody else-- an extraordinary thought. Because all three of these men, a great spiritual leader, a great poet and a great political dissident, were among the wisest human beings who have ever lived, and ones who transformed the whole world with their extraordinary perceptions, talents and vitality. But I think Robocop’s point was that they never understood just how the ego worked either, that the ego is also inflated by great thoughts, great images, and great statements, and that as a result all three of those great souls quite simply lost touch. Sure, if one is satisfied with accomplishment alone in judging the ‘success’ of a life, perhaps this is no great matter. I myself would judge each of these great lives on the personal level as also a very sad failure.

    I also don’t think Robocop was suggesting that you found some sort of enlightenment when you abandoned poetry—that on the contrary, you experienced, not unlike me, take note, an enormous, life threatening disappointment, and that that disappointment came about partly because you tried too hard to be true to your principals and ended up grinding your own talents into the ground of your flight. You say, “so the transition was in no way a sacrifice or a loss for me. It was no Gandhi-esque asceticism, no heroic martyrdom.’ But that’s not what he meant, is it, sacrifice or asceticism or heroic martyrdom? He meant self-satisfaction, self-delusion, self-absorption—and he didn't mean more so than in you, Matt, any more than in me, he meant in Mahatma Gandhi!

    What I find most difficult to understand of all is your insistence that if someone disagrees with you they have an obligation to come up with an opposing statement so fierce and principled and complete that it has to convince you, and that you feel that this would be impossible. But even worse than that, where I really get floored, is when you suggest other people also know it’s impossible to defeat you, and that that’s why they turn on you and attack you in person. Because isn’t that what you imply Gary is also doing, attacking you personally like everybody else who doesn’t grasp what you’re saying?

    Dear Matt, I simply don’t see how any human being can justify such assumptions about other people when it comes to one’s own personal theories—I mean, that’s completely solipsistic, isn’t it? I know you don’t mean that, but that’s certainly the way it comes over. I’ve gotten to know Gary a bit, and I can see why he felt he had to address you as he did at the end—he just couldn’t hold it back any longer, and of course, as these things tend to, it came out in a genius vein. “I am flattered and honoured to get the ‘Koeske’ treatment,” Gary wrote. “You are a very profound thinker and a good writer. I enjoy your posts immensely. Then, after a brief pause-- “You are also basically full of shit.” And of course in a sense you are even at the moment you share your genius word-hoard so generously with us all on this site, and make the whole thing fly!

    So this is how it works then after that, Matt—take it from me, an old wrecker of a man if there ever was one. Having received such a bear hug with a kiss on the other cheek you simply start laughing, and I mean rolling on the floor in hysterical, drowning, unmitigated weeping and back thumping, gnashing of teeth-like insane laughter!

    Forgive me if that’s too rough. I’m always writing for myself--but then you know that.

    Christopher

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  51. Dear Matt,
    As an after thought I want to take back that word "disappointment." That isn't what happened to you at all, I know it isn't. It's that you wanted success that included the ultimate clarification of your principals, that you wanted success to be universal, archetypal--pure gold like a god. But poetry is not about principals, it's about images. Principals always lead to confrontation and then so often on to bloodshed--like you and Gary. Indeed, I'd say unassailable positions are inhuman, and as such entirely unpoetic.

    Speaking as a poet, dear Matt, I think you tend to put the cart before the horse in your demand that the ideas must be worked out first and then you start writing. Because true poetry goes way beyond beyond principals and statements. A great poem doesn't take up a position at all, I'd say, and doesn't exclude anything or make anybody feel excluded

    Like laughter, all that exhalation, good poetry cleanses.

    Christopher

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  52. In a similar situation I posted this poem on Pw.org, but by then I was such a pariah it was read as a show off. I think on Poets.net it's possible:


    TO THOSE FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW

    What we offer to the world
    is also what
    we think the world has got
    and what we really mean belongs to us,
    our sense of what we have to give
    so distorted by our sense
    of what we're owed
    it masks, or dresses up as lost,
    the gentle gift!—
    two sides of the mighty self
    so jealously defined and
    finely pampered they become
    our cause célèbre and raison d'étre
    the only thing a man would die for
    in a public war, after all,
    yet stoops to hide in private,
    locks-up, launders—then, phew, just in time
    trots out as life's sweet truth
    painfully discovered
    in some dry dead-sea cave
    or lent us, rent from an old saint's
    threadbare life or wholly-
    other gazer!

    Listen,
    that delicate young monk
    sitting cross-legged on the funeral mat
    with coke and fan under
    the cartoon clock
    is just announcing on his microphone
    what the Once-Born taught
    to save you time!
    Refrain from lies and too much sex,
    he says, for evangelical success, even in death,
    that's how we sell ourselves,
    rushing to establish
    what we're not
    and will not stand for
    but, of course, expect to stand
    us in good stead!

    ReplyDelete
  53. Christopher Woodman wrote:
    I find your last response to Gary and Robocop very troubling, Matt, and wonder if you have been reading the same comments I have. For example, I thought that Robocop used Gandhi, Robert Frost, and Solzhenitsyn to show how even the most gifted, conscientious and elevated of souls have to re-examine themselves at the end, and if they don’t they become self-absorbed just like everybody else-- an extraordinary thought. Because all three of these men, a great spiritual leader, a great poet and a great political dissident, were among the wisest human beings who have ever lived, and ones who transformed the whole world with their extraordinary perceptions, talents and vitality. But I think Robocop’s point was that they never understood just how the ego worked either, that the ego is also inflated by great thoughts, great images, and great statements, and that as a result all three of those great souls quite simply lost touch. Sure, if one is satisfied with accomplishment alone in judging the ‘success’ of a life, perhaps this is no great matter. I myself would judge each of these great lives on the personal level as also a very sad failure.

    If I have misunderstood anything, then I sincerely apologize (to Rob and any one else who feels its owed them). My interpretation of Rob's statement (which I think was a fine one and filled with valuable insight) was that he felt I had been stating that I no longer needed to learn anything, that I had become enlightened, and now I was just going to crawl into my cavern of nirvana and thumb my nose at the "plebs". He expressed this very kindly, I thought (showing a great deal of sensitivity to my previous complaints about being unjustly disrespected . . . and I appreciated his sensitivity in this). And he is, I think, correct in stating that we should never stop self-examining. I also adhere to this philosophy, and I can only try to assure you that there is absolutely no chance at all that I will ever stop self-examining. I am extremely compulsive in this department, and prone to guilt and shame (one of the reasons I was attracted to poetry, I think, and that I try to speak out critically about this trend in poet psychology so forcefully). But such compulsion is no guarantee of "righteousness", as I can certainly attest. I can only promise that everything that is said to me here, even the most disrespectful dismissals, is something I consider intensely and take very seriously.

    But I also feel that there is an implication (or simply a direct accusation) that my attitude toward my poeting is self-absorbed and, as you say, solipsistic. Perhaps, and that is my cross to bear to the degree that it is true (and certainly it is true to some degree, another quality that allowed me to pursue poeting, no doubt). But I can't help but wonder if there is a "motes and beams" issue going on here. On what basis is my self-absorption so great as to put me on trial in this thread? To take this stance is to assume that everything I wrote about my experience and feelings regarding poetry is disingenuous. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but let's say for the sake of argument that what I wrote was entirely genuine and absolutely honest. What then is the basis for interpreting it as dishonest and hypocritical?

    I see two most likely options. 1.) I am completely delusional and entirely unaware that I am a raving hypocrite . . . and so I think I am being honest when I am actually the world's biggest fool. 2.) My accusers see in my transparent stance and self-reflection something of themselves that they are frightened of . . . and so take the opportunity to attack me in order to protect themselves. Whichever of these two options is generally correct, I can only see it as the latter . . . either by genuine insight or by delusion.

    Let me note something that has not been addressed. I am not anonymous. I hide nothing here. I have no aliases that I also write under. I impersonate no one. I have written in detail about my own experience, confessing my feelings and confusion and desires baldly. No one else has done this here (nor do I want or expect them to). And now, is it any surprise that I am on trial? This is a scapegoating, and you Christopher, of all people, have been around too long and should be too wise to jump on this bandwagon. And let's be honest, Christopher, you have legitimate reasons to be afraid of me as a "model", because you have great aspirations as a poet. You continue to desire the approval and attention of PoBiz publishers and powers that be.

    From my perspective, it seems like this is something that has control of you and not the other way around. So, of course you don't "believe" me when I talk of renunciations of the PoBiz and retiring from poeting. My guess is that such a stance is unfathomable to you. And I suspect that you are reacting as you have, because you assume I have claimed to do what is actually impossible. But such an assumption is based on a complete failure to understand me, my personality, and how I feel and think about my experience. If I am wrong, then I apologize . . . but this is my intuition.

    Christopher, you know a great deal about Buddhism . . . more than I do. Why is a renunciation of a desire so troubling and unbelievable to you? Doesn't this make sense to you? I am not claiming some kind of nirvana, merely that I have found myself better suited to prose writing than poetry writing. Is this such a shocker? Is this some kind of sin or reason to assume I am the most heinous of hypocrites? Maybe I'm fooling myself into "bliss" (bliss, ha!), but it seems to me that the reaction you and, to some degree, a couple others are taking toward me and my interpretation of my experience is very extreme. And is it any wonder that people who are and identify as poets (and depend desperately on that identification) would be disturbed by a once-poet swearing off the stuff? This is how I interpret the extremity of the reaction I'm perceiving.


    Christopher Woodman wrote:
    I also don’t think Robocop was suggesting that you found some sort of enlightenment when you abandoned poetry—that on the contrary, you experienced, not unlike me, take note, an enormous, life threatening disappointment, and that that disappointment came about partly because you tried too hard to be true to your principals and ended up grinding your own talents into the ground of your flight. You say, “so the transition was in no way a sacrifice or a loss for me. It was no Gandhi-esque asceticism, no heroic martyrdom.’ But that’s not what he meant, is it, sacrifice or asceticism or heroic martyrdom? He meant self-satisfaction, self-delusion, self-absorption—and he didn't mean more so than in you, Matt, any more than in me, he meant in Mahatma Gandhi!

    But the implication is that "enlightenment" does not eradicated the danger of self-delusion and self-absorption. And Rob is totally correct. You know, I run a psychology website called Useless Science (a reference to Remedios Varo's painting Useless Science, or the Alchemist). I named it this to be a constant reminder that, although one devotes himself to the self-examined life, the spiritual life, the path of individuation, he never, ever reaches "enlightenment" or nirvana or an escape from self-delusion or the responsibilities of being human and living in the world. The fruits of inner labor are small and subtle and do not translate into status, power, wisdom. But they are their own reward. That is the point of doing this kind of inner work. To do it so that others will think one is wise or brilliant or transcendent is itself a failure to observe the web of Maya, the spiritual disease. And this same approach I take to spirituality is one I take to my poeting experience. I felt I had to renounce my desire to be seen and credentialed as a poet . . . because that was not the real reason I was driven to write poetry. I realized that the reason I was writing poetry was essentially spiritual, it was an inner discipline. And yes, I wanted something to be born from this work, some new identity, some kind of bridge built that extends from my inner world into the outer world of others. But this bridge of selfhood was not something that anyone could bestow upon me. It was entirely up to me to determine . . . and if I let anyone else determines this for me (whether oppressively or grandiosely), I would have remained in Bad Faith, living and being a lie.

    What my poetry gave me was a reason to be that was unaffiliated. And that is something I am satisfied with. For me, it just doesn't have to be more than that. Now as for my Jungian writing, I have more ambition. I want to have an impact on the field and on the Jungian community. And maybe, years down the road, I will also feel some degree of renunciation here is not necessary. Who knows?

    But please don't tell me that I have to be a poet just because you and other people here are poets. There is no reason I have to be a poet. And please try to recognize that your ambitions and mine are not the same, nor do they have to be . . . nor do my differences need to be a reflection of your sense of self and purpose. What I think and feel doesn't have to directly fit in with what you think and feel and want. We are allowed to be on parallel paths that don't intersect. You don't have to interpret my poeting experience through yours . . . although doing so is perfectly understandable, maybe even unavoidable. I just mean, in an absolute sense, there are other ways to see this.

    Another point: self-satisfaction is not inherently "wrong", nor does it have to connote delusion. Again, this should be comprehendable to anyone so knowledgeable about Buddhism, in my opinion. It's hardly an extravagant arrogance to be satisfied with simple things. It is not smug or grandiose to say, "You know what, I really don't need all that stuff I had convinced myself I needed. This little bit here is enough." This doesn't have to be a lie . . . and it doesn't need to indicate any enlightenment or great wisdom. We make these realizations numerous times throughout our lives and remain perfectly normal and fallible human beings. I am quite surprised to hear you implying (and assuming) my realizations and renunciations cannot be genuine. To me that suggests that it is you (and not me) that has a great deal of unrest regarding these issues. Which is perfectly fine. If I felt I still wanted and needed poetry and the PoBiz to approve of me in order to have my identity as a poet confirmed, I would also feel that unrest. I feel that unrest as a Jungian writer and thinker. I don't mean to scold you about it.

    But I feel similarly about poetry as I do about baseball. I was a very good baseball player when I was younger, but I had some bad experiences with coaches and convinced myself I didn't need baseball (I had started writing by this time and felt this could be my new identity). I probably could have gone on to be a successful baseball player in college and maybe even in the minors (if I continued to develop). I really don't know. I realized after it was too late how much the game meant to me, and sometimes I regretted quiting prematurely (i.e., when I went to college, I chose not to try out). But I look back now and accept that I didn't need to be a baseball player. I even appreciate the Fall I experienced through baseball as a kind of initiation wound that helped me move into adulthood. I don't lie awake at nights yearning for the game and kicking myself for not sticking to it. I recognize that I am better at other things, that baseball is not my calling. But I still love the game, still appreciate my experiences of baseball and consider the lessons I learned from it to be eternally valuable to my sense of self. I don't resent it.

    And so I see any accusations that I am being disingenuous about making my peace with poetry much as I would see any accusations that I am embittered and stunted (and delusional) because I didn't become a professional ball player. I realize I made my own choices with baseball, and I accept that. I don't regret that my life took another direction. I don't blame baseball or my coaches for not credentialing or boostering for me enough. Baseball did not fail me, I simply moved on . . . at first with a good bit of pain, but eventually with full acceptance and satisfaction. If an aspiring baseball player heard what I just said about baseball, he might find it impossible to believe, because he desires baseball to bestow his identity on him. He might assume that either I was really talentless but couldn't accept this or that I was only pretending to not be in great pain about losing baseball. But these are projections. This fellow is only seeing my life and my feelings from his own perspective, as if they were his.

    And this is precisely what I see in some of the responses I've received here from poets. I have been reconstructed here by some of you based on your understanding of yourselves and your own desires. But that reconstruction isn't really me. Nor do I have to conform to these projections.


    Christopher Woodman wrote:
    What I find most difficult to understand of all is your insistence that if someone disagrees with you they have an obligation to come up with an opposing statement so fierce and principled and complete that it has to convince you, and that you feel that this would be impossible. But even worse than that, where I really get floored, is when you suggest other people also know it’s impossible to defeat you, and that that’s why they turn on you and attack you in person. Because isn’t that what you imply Gary is also doing, attacking you personally like everybody else who doesn’t grasp what you’re saying?

    Christopher, this is patently absurd and in no way reflects what I think or have written. I think that argument about theories is and should be argument about theories. I see the dragging in of my personal life as inappropriate to the conversation. I expect that my ideas can be addressed as ideas without attributing them to psychoanalytic assumptions. I also feel that any psychoanalytic assumptions about my personality and motivations in this venue are unwarranted and that no one here is even remotely qualified to make these assumption based on what I have written on this site . . . let alone ignore my theoretical arguments based on these premature and inadequate psychoanalyses.

    I ask no one to convince me (as if I actually want to be the center of this argument! All I have done is express my annoyance at being placed at this center), and I certainly have never said that it would be impossible to do so. The fact that you would dare to put those words in my mouth is, well, suspect to say the least. I completely expect to have to revise my theories based on legitimate counter-arguments. I see this as the very point of arguing about such things. What I am expecting and asking for is simply the nature of argument itself, that nature that strives toward a mutual goal of increased understanding of opposing viewpoints. Dialectic. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Since my goal is to argue toward a synthesis (an improved understanding for every party involved), I see anything that is not an antithesis to my arguments (on poetry and the PoBiz) as irrelevant and probably a misdirection (whether intentional or not, I don't know).

    Now, am I a good arguer? I think I can hold my own, and I will happily do so. But the important thing is that, engaging in argument over theories helps us all think about the subject we wish to understand. If we just declare truth and then scurry away (and that is delusional self-satisfaction, by the way), then what have we achieved or can we possible achieve? That merely results in the narcissistic spew that we poets are so prone to and here on Poets.Net are perhaps trying to hold up to the light and move beyond. If we do not consider what we say to one another and what is said to us, then we have become legitimate solipsists. This kind of debate is what I expect from intelligent people who claim to have something to contribute on this subject. I have never asked anyone to agree with me or celebrate my "genius" . . . and to the degree that such things have been implied, I again, can only think that this is more projection than actual observation.

    I have no expectation that I cannot be "defeated" in argument, as you say. I don't argue to win. I argue to learn. For you to accuse me of this kind of arrogance is unwarranted and rude. As far as anyone grasping what I have said (initially, in the first post of this thread), I had every expectation that what I said was comprehended until the topic of conversation was redirected to my personal motivations. This redirection (or misdirection) struck me as suspicious. My hypothesis as to why this not only occurred but has been harped upon even after I complained about it is simply that some people involved in this conversation, people who are poets and identify as poets, must have found my stance on my own poeting alien and terrifying to consider. At least, the reaction I have received is fully supportive of this hypothesis. This is exactly how poets would react if they were stung by the implication that poeting was not worthy of totemic admiration and was therefor divinely unquestionable. I see this hypothesis as, by logic alone, the most likely reason that this conversation would be steered away from poetry and the PoBiz and redirected into personal accusations against me.

    And I may very well be wrong. I am ready to admit that . . . but I see no overt and viable explanation for why this personal redirection has occurred, so I am inclined to see subtextual or unconscious psychological explanations as the most viable. Moreover, if you or any other poet is in any way insecure about your relationship to poeting (and I think all poets are and should be), then a reaction like I have received, and as I have interpreted it, is entirely logical and predictable. Still, I am a bit surprised, because I expected people to be able to see beyond this and stick to a discussion of the actual topic at hand.


    Christopher Woodman wrote:
    Dear Matt, I simply don’t see how any human being can justify such assumptions about other people when it comes to one’s own personal theories—I mean, that’s completely solipsistic, isn’t it? I know you don’t mean that, but that’s certainly the way it comes over. I’ve gotten to know Gary a bit, and I can see why he felt he had to address you as he did at the end—he just couldn’t hold it back any longer, and of course, as these things tend to, it came out in a genius vein. “I am flattered and honoured to get the ‘Koeske’ treatment,” Gary wrote. “You are a very profound thinker and a good writer. I enjoy your posts immensely. Then, after a brief pause-- “You are also basically full of shit.” And of course in a sense you are even at the moment you share your genius word-hoard so generously with us all on this site, and make the whole thing fly!

    Christopher, you are talking with your heart and not your head. And I admire your heart and all it has to say. But this is something you need to turn back onto yourself. This is not about me. Gary's comment doesn't seem genius to me, because it fails to understand that he has not received the "Koeske treatment", but rather an honest and human reaction. In his words and in your admiration for them, there is a great deal of arrogance that assumes I have been "treating" you both and not simply trying relate to you genuinely. I never "treat" people this way, and I see such treatments as extremely dishonorable. But I ask you, a man of much theater and many aliases: who is it that really offers a "treatment" in lieu of straight talk and honesty. Let's not throw these kinds of accusations around, Christopher. I don't know Gary, and he can think of me whatever he wants. But you, Christopher, are playing with fire . . . and frankly, you think that because you have gotten away with this dance 1000 miles above the heads of some others both here and on those poetry forums, that you are the prince of ballet. But you only dance above my head because I tolerate you doing so. I accept it as an affectation. And I have wanted you to keep dancing up there because your fall would hurt you personally as well as this site . . . and I, believe it or not, do genuinely care and worry about you. Do not get smug about your own slippery skills. You are a very bright man, and I respect your experience as my elder. But part of genius is stability. It isn't all flourish and curtain calls. Don't overestimate yourself based on what people do not say to you.

    And I'm sorry to be even this mildly blunt with you, but I have considered you my friend . . . and that means that I don't appreciate the "Christopher Woodman treatment" bestowed upon me or the implication that the river flows the other way. Your opinion of me is what it is, and I accept that. But your decision to take up this theatrical attitude toward me in public in all your regalia and from your trapeze in the sky is a betrayal of our friendship and an insult to my intelligence. That you felt you could do this in the way you did is sad and petty.

    I'm not asking for any apologies from you and I'm not even saying I'm terribly surprised (I am disappointed). You are a butterfly (a puer aeternus, in Jungian lingo), and I like that about you. It's enthusing. You are fun to watch and communicate with. But I know all your moves. I love to watch you and I like you personally because I know all your moves. I laugh along with the act when others ooh and ahh with each swoop and bow. But don't try to sell me your costume on eBay like I'm some kind of gullible fan in your audience. You seriously underestimate me.

    I'm sorry, Christopher. And I really won't hold this against you. Your nature is that of a boundary tester extraordinaire. It's a wonderful thing to be. I really do admire and respect you for it. But you were wrong to try this latest trick with me. I know full well that I am the person in this group who is most dangerous to you . . . and I have not abused that privilege in any way. But I expect mutual respect. Thinking that you can play me is not respectful. Don't get cocky. Let's just move on.

    -Matt

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  54. All,

    I'm done responding to any personal comments or criticisms publicly. If anyone wants to address any more replies regarding my motives and personal psychology to me, whether attack or question or anything in between, please do so via e-mail.

    -Matt

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  55. I'm a much simpler person than you think, Matt, and I live in a much narrower and more constrained world than living where I do would suggest. You may be right about the puer aeternus aspect of my psyche too, and I know I do jump about and take far more risks than is appropriate for a man of my age. But I can assure you that I don't regard you or anyone else anywhere as a rival anymore, and I certainly haven't engaged in this dialogue with you to gain advantage or lead the pack or for any other competitive motive. I'm just too far away, slow and confused to get back to any sort of ascendancy in life, and just like to talk about poetry.

    I like to talk about poetry and feel sure that talk about poetry can be poetry. Indeed, I think that's probably my main disconnect with you, dear Matt--I just haven't got the intellectual stamina to hang in there with such massive arguments. It may well be true that I turn some of the frustration against you I feel when you push me so hard with your rhetoric, and for that I must apologize. I just believe that what we are doing here is so important and that it should be able to include everybody. If I have the sense that if I can't follow you, then who can?

    So there's my arrogance, obviously. I should accept better the limitations of my age and my comprehension. I will do so too, I promise.

    Please be well, dear Matt--as I said before, you are our inspiration and our standard.

    Christopher

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  56. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  57. I do feel partly responsible for what happened here, and would like to say something a little in the same vein as Christopher. My advantage is that I'm anonymous, and that means my comments are probably easier to accept if you find them sympathetic and easier to dismiss if you feel they're unfair. Indeed, in the end the affair seems to have been something about rivalry, and of course nobody from the outside can judge what lies behind such feelings, or how they might be resolved.

    As I said in a recent comment on another thread, I do think Christopher's attempt to cast light on the argument with a poem was appropriate, and despite it's slightly preachy, R.D.Laing "Knots" type rhetoric, it is a very probing exploration of how the good things we do are tied up with self interest as well--a painful subject if there ever was one. That's a little what I meant when I introduced the example of Gandhi, someone I admire enormously, needless to say. On the other hand, Gandhi was clearly someone whose "evangelical success,/ even in death" (!) was precisely what he didn't believe in but which at the same time troubled him the most. I mean, he was intolerant, he was also a moral bully!

    In the same comment I just referred to I said that I felt there was often (if not always!) something"patronizing" about a poem that tries to "preach," i.e. to speak in public with a public voice about an important public issue. My own feeling is that both Christopher and Matt tend to try too hard to change the world with the thrust of their words, and like two jousting knights who have accidentally found themselves on the same side of the tournament fence have crashed into each other and the weight of their rhetorical armor has sent them crashing to the ground.

    So, keeping with that epic (forgive me!) simile, we all have to pick the two up, brush them off, and get them back into the saddle again. We can't spare such worthy warriors, nor can we allow whatever that rivalry was to destroy the whole camp.

    Because I'm in your camp too, Christopher and Matt--and indeed I'm even aware of the big change coming up in your site and will certainly be joining you all if I can.

    And I say that because I so much hope I'll be joining you all. And if I don't I'll go blaming myself.

    Robocop

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  58. I wrote this response to Monday Love's first comment in this thread, but forgot about it in the ensuing melee. As it is actually on topic, I'll post it now with apologies for the delay.


    You bring up the key questions, I think, Monday. From what I've seen, you are entirely correct to anticipate the "socialist paradise" response. I've heard that coming from some PoBiz pulpits already. The answer to the commodity/paradise argument is that there is no easy answer. There is no simple truth to plop down on the table and prove utterly and instantly convincing.

    One of the difficulties (before we even begin to address the "reality" of the situation) is that those poets who believe they are basking in a socialist paradise and "Golden Age of Poetry Publication" are true believers in the tribe that accepts them and grants them status. We can't, let's say, turn to Jorie Graham in the hope of receiving a fair appraisal of the system that so wonderfully empowers her. But even in some of my previous posts on this website, I mentioned some of the loopholes in the "true belief" of PoBiz acolytes. One we most commonly see is the excuse of a more universal ethics and regard for others in favor of a tribal ethics that sees the behavior and beliefs of those in one's tribe as sound and "good" and the behavior and beliefs of those in another tribe as unsound and not good (even when these behaviors and beliefs are exactly the same).

    At Foetry.com, we would always hear the mantra, "But this is just how things are" as justification of impropriety that essentially preys upon others ( others who conveniently are not considered part of the same tribe as the apologists). Cronyism, favor trading, awarding prizes to friends, students, colleagues, lovers, and those who are likely to be able and willing to reciprocate the favor . . . "This is just the way things are in the poetry world." What Foetry.com was trying to do was show that this is not the way things have to be at all, and that there are real consequences, "externalities" for this common PoBiz attitude. The least abstract (and therefore easiest to articulate) argument Foetry.com raised was that, when it comes to contests with submission fees, this "acceptable" attitude or belief in the validity of the system actually results in the defrauding of those people paying to submit their manuscripts to these contests with the reasonable expectation of a fair and merit-based chance at winning. Many contests (even ones whose improprieties were exposed), wave the flag or their proclaimed "fairness" as eagerly and bogusly as Fox News.

    This is, technically, a crime . . . but the regulation of contests was (and remains) negligible. That lack of regulation necessitated grassroots action . . . and as soon as someone was pissed off enough about it to do something organized, "outsider" regulation (which must consist of shaming and consciousness-raising) was born. That someone was, of course, Alan Cordle.

    The reply from many poets was, "Yeah, well, poetry is small potatoes." Well, that is not an argument that will hold up in court. Fraud is fraud . . . and doesn't have a monetary qualifier. Another common argument against Foetry.com was, "Well, everybody knows that the contest and poetry publication system works like this, so if you get screwed, you're just a dope." Again, this doesn't make the practice either right or legal. And of course, most people submitting to contests have every expectation that their work will be critiqued and considered fairly. Take Christopher Woodman, for instance. He still, after all that he has been through and raged about, expects to be treated fairly by judges, editors, and poetry forum moderators alike. And he is absolutely entitled to feel this way.

    So, the kick-off in my answer is that the PoBiz system can't be truly socialist when it is clear that it is taking in money capitalistically. Not only is this unarguably being done through contests (the number of which has exploded in the PoBiz in the last decades . . . and obviously because they are the only means of making a profit in poetry publication or even publishing the amount of poetry that is currently published at all) . . . but it is more subtly (but much more profitably) done through the taking of college and graduate school tuition from thousands of students. What are these students purchasing? Clearly it is not a very sure career path. It is well worth questioning the ethics of a university system that offers an educational track in something that has no job market value. Even many of the most prestigious universities offering writing programs cannot bestow BA degrees on poets that will help them become gainfully employed. A few universities notably refuse to offer creative writing majors for this very reason.

    So if students aren't purchasing professional training and advantage with their poetry writing degrees, what are they purchasing? I think it's evident and would not be much contested that they are purchasing a specific kind of experience and academic knowledge. The experience of practicing and aspiring to be a poet in a group of like-minded aspirants . . . essentially a tribe. A significant number of students want this kind of "education" . . . and many universities realize this and therefore provide the product the market demands. Part of the providence of this product involves the hiring of poets to teach poetry writing (as opposed to literature or the history of poetry). These poetry writing professors are thus granted professorial and professional status in order to satisfy a market demand.

    There is no socialism here. I believe that the semblance of socialism within the PoBiz is an (often self-deceptive) illusion paid for by capitalistic means. What this means is that the illusion can be deconstructed if one chooses to "follow the money". Why is so much poetry published today? Because of the pervasiveness and increase of the contest system that facilitates easy publication, the ease and affordability with which a journal or press/imprint can be created (especially with the internet and POD), and because the availability of a university education in poetry writing channels consumers into the first two practices (where "consumers" here are both the purchasers of poetry journals and books . . . and educations . . . and also the paying contest manuscript submitters). Vigorously pursuing the academic track in poetry is likely to increase one's chance of publication (because it grants one access to empowering connections and insider information and "etiquette"). This is precisely what the university education in poetry writing is meant to purchase. Just as a university education in another professional field is meant to purchase access to that field.

    The main difference is that, in poetry, "access" doesn't usually mean career and financial sustainability . . . and this has been increasingly accepted (and deemed acceptable) by students, professors, and university administrators. Why? Because it helps money flow. It's profitable (for universities). The socialist paradise is subsidized and sustained by this profitability for universities, and if the universities pulled the rug out, not even the contest system could sustain the kind of poetry publication the PoBiz is currently engaged in. After all, winning contests is what has become the essential credential for poets that would teach. Two book minimum for many universities. If you couldn't get a professorship by winning contests, contest submissions would go down. Equally, without the indoctrination and access granting of the academic education system, fewer and fewer aspiring poets would bother submitting to contests.

    This wouldn't rob poetry contests of all their revenue (people still want to be able to call themselves "poets" no matter how little that means status- and career-wise), but it would very likely have a major effect. For instance, fewer submissions would mean smaller purses . . . and smaller purses would lead to still fewer submissions. Fewer submissions would mean that fewer (or only "lower caliber") "celebrity judges" could be purchased. Again, that influences submissions. Fewer submissions and less revenue would mean fewer books published by these presses each year . . . and less advertising for them.

    This is just a tiny example of what I meant before about the nature of complex systems (like economic markets). The socialist poetry paradise hinges on the coherence of this complexity . . . which is a purely capitalist complexity.

    More subtly, I think the illusion of a socialist paradise in the PoBiz also hinges on the manipulation of the capitalist foundation on which the PoBiz rests its laurels. That is, how would the PoBiz fare if the contest system was effectively regulated, allowing more and more unaffiliated and unindoctrinated poets (poets who hadn't purchased "access" at all or by white market means) to disseminate their poetry? How might this change the character of poetry today? I don't know, but I would expect at least a small but noticeable effect. And it could begin to challenge the conformation that the PoBiz system relies on. If you can't award all the poems to "academic" poetry and poets and "keep the money in house", then you can't guarantee that poetry, poets, and poetic styles that are overtly or indirectly challenging to the system won't gain exposure and start people thinking "outside the box".

    This is abstract, but, for example, I like the weirdo poet, Russell Edson. Can people be taught how to write like Russell Edson . . . and to still write well? Is Edson's aesthetic conducive to either academicization or to conforming others to a poetic standard? I think Edson's individuality and Freudian wackiness is harder to commodify than the wellmadepoems championed in workshops everywhere. There is a reason that a certain kind of poem thrives in the PoBiz system and another kind doesn't . . . and the reason is not a matter of its literary quality. There is a specific definition of poetry (and of "literary quality") that the PoBiz insists upon . . . but for reasons that are not verifiably "true". But is it possible to question these definitions within the PoBiz or to publish poems that effectively question the PoBiz definition of poetry? Perhaps, but such questioning is going to severely limit any poem's chance of every seeing print in a PoBiz rag.

    I think it is reasonable to assume that (as in any complex social system) there are levels and aspects of indoctrination that serve to support the entire system that we are not and cannot be entirely aware of. The way a complex system coheres is intricate beyond our comprehension. That's why we don't usually understand how complex things are put together until we can understand how they break (i.e., by breaking them). Foetry.com essentially made an effort to break or throw a wrench into the PoBiz system. It didn't jam the gears for very long, but for the brief time the machinery ground to a halt, a lot of ugliness and fear spewed out of the PoBiz establishment. In my opinion, the true colors of the PoBiz were revealed in its reactions to Foetry.com. And I was also surprised to see how insecure many of the PoBiz pundits were despite the relatively large amount of power they had (compared to the people who made Foetry.com what it was).

    I know I didn't have any understanding of the PoBiz and how it worked until I saw how Foetry.com rattled it and exposed its seams and connections. In my opinion, Foetry.com showed us all that something could be done about the PoBiz. It was not merely "the way things have to be". But the hardest work is yet to be done.

    -Matt

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  59. To Athena and DELUX, with all due respect to Matt and company--I’m closely following your fascinating and charged discussion as well:

    I’d like to add to your debate by briefly discussing Shakespeare’s Henry V and both Olivier and Branagh’s dichotomous (thus flawed) cinematic performances of it, both of which are well worth the viewing, by the way. After reading the play I think most people would agree that the original text makes it impossible to say that Henry is EITHER a charismatic Machiavellian ruler OR god’s minister on earth, a meaningful and irresolvable ambiguity in keeping with the best of Shakespeare’s other efforts. Through the acting, the directing, the casting, the costuming, the set, the camera work, the musical score, and so on, Olivier seems to exclusively portray the king as god’s minister, as glorious England embodied, whereas Branagh presents his audiences with a Machiavellian killer, a blood-soaked colonialist. Branagh’s is a post colonialist, a post peace-movement version of the play, while Olivier’s 1944 performance may have been made, in part, to boost the moral of British troops during WWII.

    Separately, each film amounts to less, much less, than the original text. It’s only after both films (performances) have been experienced and then when both films are carefully considered together that viewers begin to experience that beautiful, irresolvable ambiguity of the original text. Perhaps a newer rendition that tells the story more holistically (thus faithfully) using a Pulp Fiction rewind-and-replay-differently esthetic to capture that irresolvable ambiguity would successfully avoid the making of the play into a propaganda piece (exactly what both Olivier and Branagh either consciously or unconsciously did to it).

    So, I say read, and reread differently; perform, and perform again differently. Dueling performances anyone? I go further and invite those who would publically perform poems and other texts to take creative license and boldly rework the original text if you want to. Make it into something yours (of course while crediting the original author). The more lenses we read texts through, the more varying performances we have of the same work, the better. I recently enjoyed a very liberal theatrical reworking of Michael Ondaatje’s genre-defying masterpiece The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by our very gifted and quirky local Pittsburgh theatrical group, Quantum Theater. To give you an idea of how Quantum made the piece their own, at one point during the performance, the actors violate the proscenium barrier to pass out shots of whiskey (yes, real whiskey) to everyone in the audience. Did they leave the world of the play or bring us into it with them? I still don’t know. How interesting and entertaining not to be able to say for sure on way or the other!

    By the way, Matt, Ondaatje’s masterpiece might be an example of, as you put it, “outsider poetry of literary quality,” or a work “that really progressively transcend[s] the inheritance and indoctrination of our PoBiz era.” What is this book of Ondaatje’s? Is it a long poem, a fictionalized biography, a novel, all of these things at once? Who says I have to write “poetry,” whatever that is? I think the real revolution will be in the putting aside of the concern over what poetry is and is not when that concern limits our creativity, although I will always believe in the value of asking ourselves what poetry is and is not. It’s one of those beautiful over-weaning questions like “what’s the meaning of life.” I especially love meta-poetry, like Elizabeth Bishop’s “Poem,” by the way, just so long as the next Eliot never comes along and makes Bishop’s answer to what a poem is the law of the land.

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  60. Mr. Owens:

    Poets.net has now evolved into a full-fledged Forum. You will probably find most of the action (including, I believe, this very thread) over there.
    When you first come into this (Poets.net) site, click on 'Poets.net Forum' in the big blue text just over the green words 'New posts:'. This will take you to the Forum.

    See you there.

    Gary

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