Sunday, December 31, 2006


Philadelphia was nice, if a bit cold. A shame, given that this was one MLA – with Marjorie Perloff as president, much of the big show was geared specifically to poetry – where I would’ve actually liked to have attended things, that I spent most of my time in a hotel room in endless interviews.

USAirways seems to have lost my suitcase, which contained (along with a lot of sentimentally-valuable clothes) copies of Josh Corey’s Compos(t)ition Marble, Michael Heller’s A Look at the Door with the Hinges Off, Lawrence Upton’s Wire Sculptures, and Peter Riley’s Passing Measures. That’s what I get for trying to save weight in the shoulder bag by packing the already-read books in the checked luggage.
Somebody seems to have been giving Bob Archambeau trouble about his Adorno posts, to which Bob responds feistily. My experience is that hardcore Adornauts can indeed be a bit on the Spanish Inquisitorial side (which is why I read a lot of Adorno but don’t write a lot about him, until I’m double-dog sure I’m right) – probably a side effect of having invested so much psychic energy into making out what the Bald & Oracular One’s saying.

But I think Bob’s a trifle off-key in his responses. First, while I see the value of paraphrase, I think I’d be happier comparing it to translation (as Bob does) than to performance, eg of a musical score. Paraphrase is to text not as Michael Tilson Thomas’s conducting of (say) Mahler is to Mahler’s score of the 8th Symphony, but as a piano redaction of the 8th Symphony is to the original score; or as a Muzak adaptation of an Iggy Pop tune is to the original recording. Yes, you can learn something from the redaction & the Muzak, but it’s not the original, no not at all. Richard Thompson’s cover of Britney Spears’s “Oops I Did It Again” teaches us that it’s a pretty damned good pop song – but we could have learned that as readily by reading the sheet music & thereby bypassing the aural and visual distraction of the blonde one.

So it’s a bit unfair to slam Adorno for preferring the sheet music, considering he’s in pretty good company – Beethoven (perforce), George Antheil, Paul Zukofsky – a list of fellows not at all averse to performance, but finding that they grasp the immanent structure of the music much better without the distraction of actual musicians flubbing notes and concert-goers coughing etc.

I don’t remember a passage where Adorno asserts the primacy of German as “a special language, with unique affinities for philosophy” (tho Bob might remind me of one). He did claim the necessity of thinking and moving in a German linguistic environment as one of his reasons for returning to the BRD after the war. And I suspect that he did believe in some ways German was the language in which to do the sort of philosophy he did. An argument can be made that just as English is the language of pragmatism, & French the language of deconstruction, German is the language of Kantian and post-Kantian idealism – that the concepts and key ideas of idealist philosophy (the Kant – Hegel – Marx tradition in which Adorno moves) are absolutely embedded in the German language, & that when we try to translate them to another tongue – with whatever good intentions – they undergo an inevitable transformation, even violence. German is, in that sense, the only language in which to do (the particular) philosophy (that follows from Kant & Hegel). In one sense, it’s no more debateable than arguing that it’s easier to write a canzone in Italian than English, because the former language has lots & lots more rhyming words.

Heidegger, on the other hand, asserts something rather different & rather creepier: that German (along with classical Greek, which he saw as conceptually cognate with German) has some obscure and fundamental connection to the roots of Being (Seyn, as he archaically spelled it). That’s a far more foundationalist argument about language & philosophy.

Just for fun, Adorno on Heidegger, from “The Essay as Form”:
Whenever philosophy imagines that by borrowing from literature it can abolish objectified thought and its history – what is commonly termed the antithesis of subject and object – and even hopes that Being itself will speak, in a poésie concocted of Parmenides and Jungnickel, it starts to turn into a washed-out cultural babble.

I have no New Year's resolutions (tho I'll be trying to live up to my blue china); a happy one to you all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

out to lunch

I'm off the Philadelphia later today, where I'll be spending most of my time in an overcrowded hotel room talking to people who're doing work more interesting than mine, & trying to decide which one to hire. But it would be nice to run into any of you there – I'm in the Sheraton. Let's have a drink.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Xmas Cheer (?)

One of the welcome gifts to cross my threshold this holiday was this, the 4-volume Grove Press Centenary edition of Samuel Beckett. I've been thinking some about Beckett lately, & over the past couple of years reading some of the works I hadn't yet ventured on. It's been hard to avoid SB this year, of course, given that it's the centenary of his birth year & so forth – a new story in the Times every few weeks, the TLS running an ongoing "translate Beckett's untranslatable French poems" contest. Not to mention Marjorie Perloff, whom every time I've seen her (in print or in person) the last few years has been grousing about some group of young people or other: "They haven't even read Beckett!"

Well, dammit, I've read Beckett – or a decent chunk of him: 4 of the 7 novels, maybe 2/3 of the plays, all the poems, & a substantial portion of the short fiction. It's awfully satisfying to have pretty much all of it together in the 4 solid volumes of the Centenary edition, tho at the same time it's kind of shocking to realize how compact the corpus actually is, given SB's larger-than-life reputation. I suspect that's the effect of having read so much of it over the years in 12 or 15 slim separate collections.

Textual Note: This really is the place to start with Beckett, & for most of us the place to end as well. Watt, most importantly, is presented in a significantly cleaned-up text. There's very little missing: the suppressed early novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women & B's first French play Eleutheria (both in print from other publishers than Grove, or I imagine they'd be here as well), a few short prose pieces, & the French poems. The box retails for $100, but you can save about a third of that at; it'll probably be hitting for less than its current $75 soon.

I'm most struck re-reading the poems, which made a huge impact on me when I was a grimly self-pitying undergraduate aesthete. I haven't picked them up in 15 years or so, but looking over them today I found them strikingly familiar, even companionate.


on all that strand
at end of day
steps sole sound
long sole sound
until unbidden stay
then no sound
on all that strand
long no sound
until unbidden go
steps sole sound
long sole sound
on all that strand
at end of day

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Richard Thompson Starring as Henry the Human Fly

One of the great watersheds of late 20th-century pop music, so far as I’m concerned, came in 1970 or so, when Richard Thompson sold his goldtop Gibson Les Paul (1955? 1956?) to John Martyn and switched to playing a Fender Stratocaster more or less exclusively.

Thompson’s first band, Fairport Convention, had begun as a quasi-folkish outfit playing covers of Dylan and Joni Mitchell and doing nice Hollies-esque harmonies. Under the influence of their trad-obsessed bassist Ashley (Tyger) Hutchings, Fairport had taken a decisive turn towards indigenous British folk – Child Ballads, morris dances, etc. Thompson had set himself down and learned his way thru books & books of jigs, reels, strathspeys, etc. – all on that goldtop Les Paul.

The Les Paul, however, even the single-coil pickup version RT was playing, is a rather blunt instrument for traditional dance tunes, as you can hear on Fairport’s otherwise sublime Liege & Lief (1969). I’d compare RT’s switching to the Strat to the moment when the medieval/renaissance revivalist Phil Pickett laid down his modern oboe and picked up his first crumhorn. Finally: the right tool for the job.

RT had been two years out of Fairport, living on session work, before he released his 1st solo record, Henry the Human Fly (1972), and a strange and wonderful record it is. Oft-repeated legend has it that Henry is the worst-selling album Warner-Reprise ever released in the United States. The dire cover design – RT, in all his gangly mid-20s-ness, a halo of flyaway curls projecting from behind a half-face fly mask, posed with his guitar in quintessentially English, über-panelled Jacobean interior – certainly seems designed to drive away casual browsers.

But Henry, 34 years after its release, and maybe 2 decades since I bought my first vinyl copy, remains one of my favorite records: in part perhaps because of its sheer awkwardness. There’s only one song in here that “rocks” in anything like a conventional manner: “The Angels Took My Racehorse Away,” which begins with utterly sublime sounds of an English country dance on accordian & fiddle, over which RT proceeds to play a note-perfect Chuck Berry solo. (The album’s opening track is another Berry allusion: “Roll Over Vaughn Williams.”)

The other songs are for the most part experiments in what RT was calling “British rock music,” electro-acoustic music that would marry the energy of American rock ‘n’ roll with the melodic and lyrical traditions of the British Isles. Thompson’s BRM isn’t just a matter of electrifying traditional songs & tunes, as Fairport had done & as Hutchings was doing with his new bands Steeleye Span and the Albion Country Band, but a matter of writing original songs that melded the contemporary & the traditional, that would reinvigorate the emotion & forms of centuries-old “folk” music with new instrumentation and the savvy songwriting that Dylan had set as a benchmark in popular music.

What “British rock music” amounts to on Henry the Human Fly is a series of mordant, witty, highly literate, and generally quite depressing songs which seem to hover somewhere between the 17th & 19th centuries. “Roll Over Vaughn Williams” and “The New St. George” feel like marching songs for a new Levellers movement, tho without the millennial optimism of those early proto-communists. “Twisted,” “Nobody’s Wedding,” & “Cold Feet” are drinking songs whose Python-like humor conceals a pathos as dark as that of any George Jones tune.

Most memorable of all, perhaps, are a quartet of ballads: “The Poor Ditching Boy” is echt 19th-century self-pity, while “Shaky Nancy” – as TS Eliot said of Guido the younger in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood – haunts one’s imagination. “Painted Ladies” is one of the great sex songs of RT’s considerable sex song repertoire: “Those film stars and beauties may please you tonight / If you go to bed with a book / But they can’t hold a candle to something that trembles / When you need to do more than look.” Best of all is “The Old Changing Way,” its stair-stepping trad chord progression dusted with an incongruously lovely harp; it’s the first (& for my money the best) of Thompson’s string of narrative ballads (cf. “Beeswing” & the crowdpleasing “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”). It’s the story of the itinerant Darby the tinker & his brother Tam, whose fraternal partnership – described in terms that would place them anywhere between the 17th and 19th century (“We’ll fix up your kettles / Please dear Missus / We’ll sharpen your knives”) – is broken by the forces of economic change, precipitating them into the “spikes and brothels” of the 20th century.

RT’s Strat is at times scarcely audible on Henry the Human Fly – the only points where he really stretches out are the traditional tunes in “Roll Over Vaughn Williams” & the stinging solo of “The Angels Took My Racehorse Away.” The big workouts like the modal intro to “Calvary Cross” and the long ending of “Night Comes In” would come later. But in Henry, one sees all the elements in place that would distinguish Thompson as the single greatest figure on the folk-rock scene for at least the next 3 decades.
The doctor gave me a cleanish bill of health yesterday, so I suppose I’m recovered just in time for the maelstrom of activity that surrounds the holidays. We’re Florida-bound this time around – bound to stay in Florida, not bound for Florida – except for a flying visit on my part to Philadelphia for the MLA. Not a prospect I’m looking forward to.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Light Reading

I’m by no means on my deathbed, but I’ve been operating at a lot less than 100%, that’s for sure. Reading, as I noted, has become somewhat spotty, less directed: while I had in mind a goodly chunk of Milton & Joyce criticism to down over the past week, instead I lazed my way thru pages of Ron Johnson, Alan Halsey, WS Graham, Dhalgren, Claire Tomalin’s Pepys, & a big sheaf of children’s (“young person’s”) books. J, mind you, is something of a connoisseur of the stuff, & even if we didn’t have kids she’d still own every single book she ever acquired during her childhood, & be adding to her collection continually. (Having kids just gives her the excuse to get it all out of boxes & up on shelves.)

[I have to put in a plug here: we all know that Maurice Sendak is a major American artist & that Richard Scarry is a genius – tho I’m inclined to view Dr. Seuss as somewhat overrated, the Max Ernst of children’s draughtsmen – wonderful ideas, but never executed with quite enough care to make them convincing. But what about PD Eastman? I’m not sure I’ve ever met an Eastman book that I didn’t love – Go, Dog, Go!, Are You My Mother?, Sam and the Firefly, Fish Out of Water. Anyway – enough of the stuff that one reads to please the under-5 crowd…]

PL Travers’s Mary Poppins, I can report, is so much better than the Disney film (& this coming from someone who’s only in the last decade gotten over a certifiable Julie Andrews crush) that it’s not funny. Ms P herself is sterner, stranger – less a nanny that a force of nature, an elemental. Much overlap in some of the episodes here with the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” chapter in Wind in the Willows.

The 3 Natalie Babbitt books I read – The Search for Delicious, Kneeknock Rise, & Tuck Everlasting – are all beautifully written, fitting subjects for some non-Derridean project on “hauntology” – that is, I find them very hard to get out of my head now that they’ve worked their way in. Not so much the characters, which seem little more than sturdy stock figures, but the situations: the family confronted with the equivocal gift of immortality in Tuck; the village with the secret in Kneeknock; the kingdom disintegrating over semantics in Delicious.

Travers & Babbitt are able, within the compass of books that are at least ostensibly pitched at young readers, to get at some of the deepest things that trouble the reflections of middle-aged readers: aging, death, the ultimate evanescence of human life; the foundations of human community and love; faith and its grounds or lack thereof. They’re doing the sorts of things Phillip Pullman does in His Dark Materials, & which JK Rowling fails so miserably at in Harry Potter.

Absolutely immersive books, tho, that gave me that classic old experience of reading straight thru, losing all track of time, being irritated when I got to the end. Which casts my mind back to that 3- or 4-way discussion bouncing among blogs last week – what seems the dim, pre-penicillin past – over the strenuous pleasures of anti-absorptive poetry. What’s so misguided about setting the energetic pleasure of reading Lyn Hejinian against the rather “easier” pleasure of reading classic fiction – Travers, Babbitt, Pullman, Dickens, Austen, whoever – is that is really is comparing two very different experiences. And without trying to rewrite Wayne Booth & a zillion other fiction critics on how some of the most interesting fiction puts us thru moral & ethical paces in the very process of immersing us in a “vivid, continuous dream,” I’d submit that poetry, by its very formality, by the fact that it’s written in lines (or ostentatiously written not in lines) or in even more complex forms, has already renounced the “suck you in” immersivity that prose fiction can command. So the discussion on pleasure & difficulty we might want to have – & which I might want to contribute to, if I ever reclaim enough lung capacity to think straight – ought to take place on the ground of poetry alone. Fiction (thanks heavens for it!) only muddies the water.
Next time: Deathbed Reading: What to Read in Denver When You’re Almost Dead.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

& the diagnosis is

(drumroll...) the Illness Formerly Known As Walking [or in this case pretty much lying down all the time & shuffling around a little bit] Pneumonia.

Getting lots of unfocussed reading done betweeen bouts of coughing and bouts of napping: Claire Tomalin's splendid Pepys biography; Delany's Dhalgren; everything by Ron Johnson.

Monday, December 11, 2006

And here's

[Man Ray, Marcel Proust on his Deathbed]

how I'm feeling right now, in the grips of some flu-like something or other.

Friday, December 08, 2006

but wait...

Okay, I really should be finishing grading a stack of finals on the synoptic gospels & John – but I can't resist drawing the interested thousands' (or the interested five's) attention to two contributions to this pleasure/difficultly discussion. First, a beautifully-turned paragraph from Eric in re/ the notion of an "ethical" element to anti-absorptive writing:
Do we really mean, perhaps, that certain kinds of literature invite the exercise of certain moral qualities or habits of character, as though we were acting towards something or in a context that really mattered, morally speaking? They allow or invite us to cultivate patience, curiosity, a taste for ambiguity, all the values of what used to be called a "liberal" education? They beseech us, in the bowels of Christ, to think it possible we may be mistaken? (To quote the butcher Cromwell, whose cannon, Joyce reminds me, were embellished with the slogan "God Is Love.") Mark, Josh, is that what you're getting at, finally?
Then from Robert at a groovy collaborative blog called "Of Looking at a Blackbird":
I can’t help feeling that criticism of immersion conceals a fear of immersing oneself in life itself, a fear of commitment. Not to mention fear of sexuality, fear of eros, fear of romance, Harlequin or not. Sure, when you take your kids to the park to play on the swings, it’s good to be meta-aware of all the sociological and class implications of what you’re doing. On the other hand, at a certain point doesn’t all that awareness become an excuse to maintain a safe and ironic distance from your own children?
Mark et al. talk about Roland Barthes’ distinction between the “readerly” and the “writerly,” and that seems exactly to the point: immersive literature is readerly and anti-absorptive is writerly. I wish I could remember what poet I was reading recently who talked about the crucial turning point in his writing that came when he realized he was not even writing the sort of poems he wanted to read. Isn't there something very curious about this fear of the terrible bourgeois corruption that will result if the writer ever dares to get into bed with the reader and share some pleasure? It seems to hide a writer’s contempt for the reader within himself, or within herself, as well as for the readers in the world.
If Eric doesn't make something of this I'll eat my rive-gauche-issue avant-garde beret.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Finally, some pleasure

So as I kinda expected, Bob Archambeau has weighed in on pleasure & difficulty, with a rather detailed (& illustrated) “story thus far” post. Only niggling corrections I’d add would be that the business about anti-absorptive work enabling us better to see the “Other” is Josh, not me – me, I stuck with the “feeling in the bones” business without putting any chips down – yet – on a particular politico-ethical mechanism. And I’m not exactly full-throttledly endorsing the “Difficult = Anti-Absorptive [Chas Bernstein / Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s term, by the way, not Silliman’s] = Ethical.” And while I entirely agree with Bob’s call for “data” – something like the “thick description” I hankered for last post – I think one of the crucial disagreements we might have is over this the business of “difficult for whom.” Bob sez, in response to Eric’s point about his students’ struggles with what seem to us like “immersive” texts, that
something like Language Poetry isn't necessarily "difficult" to its primary readership: other language poets and the profs who swarm around them.
And again, in response to something of Eric’s:
there's the point (implicit, I think, in Eric's piece) that difficulty is something experienced by the reading subject, rather than inherent in the textual object. What's difficult for me may be easy for you, and vice-versa. This goes for all schools of "difficult" poetry. I mean, the formidably difficult works of Modernism have become pretty straightforward to thousands and thousands of readers over time, as we (I fear that is the professorial "we") have internalized the linguistic conventions with which they were written.
I think we're dealing with another slippage in terms here. In re the 1st quotation: Sure, Langpo isn't "difficult" to its primary readership in one sense – that is, we (speaking as someone who's taught Barrett Watten, Lyn Hejinian, John Wilkinson, & Tony Lopez to just deliriously enthusiastic students over the past couple years [irony alert]) may have a few more readerly tricks up our sleeves than readers more accustomed to straightforwardly "immersive" texts, but really the big difference is that LangPo's primary readership just isn't as concerned with issues of coherence & meaning – that it has a certain "negative capability" about the kinds of thematic, narrative, argumentative closure that one encounters in the average New Yorker lyric. We've learned to stop worrying and love the bomb of disjunctive polysemic indeterminacy – but that doesn't make the work itself less disjunctively polysemically indeterminate.

2ndly, in re the longer passage: I think this's true of much modernist writing as well – yes, two generations later. It's just that we've gotten used to the demands of modernist writing, not that it's gotten any simpler or any less "difficult." Try this on your own pulses: Do you honestly feel that "Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose" or The Anathemata have become easy poems? We know a lot more about how to read them, thanks to people like Keith Tuma, Maeera Shreiber, & Thomas Dilworth, but they still require an expenditure of effort that marks them as – well – difficult.
Eric is also back at bat, throwing out ideas like Stephen Hawking with an injection of monkey glands. And I'd respond, but I've got a big stack o' tests a-gradin' like everybody else; what I really wanted to do today was to draw your attention to something that gave me a big burst of pleasure last night – my first dip (ashes on my head!) into W.S. Graham. I have no idea, given my own semi-sentimental-semi-scholarly interest in Scottish lit, and given Tony Lopez (from whom I'd buy a used car any day)'s enthusiastic endorsement, why I haven't gotten around to reading Graham before. This, for instance:

What Is The Language Using Us For? (first poem)

What is the language using us for?
Said Malcom Mooney moving away
Slowly over the white language.
Where am I going said Malcolm Mooney.

Certain experiences seem to not
Want to go in to language maybe
Because of shame or the reader's shame.
Let us observe Malcolm Mooney.

Let us get through the suburbs and drive
Out further just for fun to see
What he will do. Reader, it does
Not matter. He is only going to be

Myself and for you slightly you
Wanting to be another. He fell
He falls (tenses are everywhere.)
Deep down into a glass jail.

I am in a telephoneless, blue
Green crevasse and I can't get out.
I pay well for my messages
Being hoisted up when you are about.

I suppose you open them under the light
Of midnight of The Dancing Men.
The point is would you ever want
To be down here on the freezing line

Reading the words that steam out
Against the ice? Anyhow draw
This folded message up between
The leaning prisms from me below.

Slowly over the white language
Comes Malcolm Mooney the saviour.
My left leg has no feeling.
What is the language using us for?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Adam’s McRib

I can help feeling there’s been a certain slippage in the recent discussion of pleasure among Josh Corey, Eric Selinger, & YVT, attributable perhaps to a too rigid dichotomy (damn those Manicheans!) between the “immersive” experience of popular/genre/middlebrow fiction and the “anti-absorptive” rigors of contemporary alt-poetry. A couple of thoughts, mostly in response to Eric’s recent posts:

1) Josh is right when he reads Eric as saying, in essence, that “all pleasure is equally valid and anyone who says otherwise is deluded or a snob” – in arguing for the equal validity of all readerly pleasure. But I suspect he’s just as irritated as I am when Eric starts playing the old anti-elitist class card – “culinary” or “cultural-positioning” responses “don't let you feel smug or self-approving in your scorn for NASCAR and McRib sandwiches” – accusing us of being somehow insensitive to the pleasures of watching powerful cars go in circles or savoring boneless gestures towards American vernacular cuisine. Yes indeed, M. Bourdieu is right when he shows that a preference for Beckett plays & pad thai over NASCAR & the McRib is pretty inevitably aligned with a particular class distinction – but so what? If one values cultural productions – & I’d like to think that as poets & university teachers of poetry we do – that we’ve got to make some choices about what we pay attention to, what we take pleasure from. I know how much pleasure you take in deflating the pretensions of your friends & colleagues, Eric (& G-d knows that I don’t wanna deprive anyone of pleasure), but until you send me the poetry syllabus that focuses entirely on amateur slams, hip-hop records, prison workshops, and Hallmark greeting cards, I wish you’d stop pretending to be Mike Gold. More heat than light. (“That shirt cost more than my mother makes in a year.”)

2) When Eric talks about the “moral” pleasure of tackling difficult poetry as being a kind of ex post facto figleaf we lay over the naughty bits of our more basic pleasures – & this bears more discussion – I think he’s rightly pointing to what Bob Archambeau has written about on a number of occasions as the “aesthetic anxiety” of late Victorian to contemporary poets. But – & this is the crucial point – it still begs the question of whether those ethical effects actually exist. EG: I love arugula for its bitter taste and wonderful texture; I rationalize to myself that I eat arugula because it’s good for me, tho I don’t have any hard evidence one way or another; but it’s good for me anyway, objectively. (This is a counterfactual supposition – me, I hate arugula.)

Josh & I say the ethical element of “hard” poetry is there: we feel it in our bones, tho we can’t argue it in a universally convincing fashion. (We need to try harder…) Eric says “show me the money, & until then I’ll just consider the pleasures of ‘hard’ poetry as one choice on the menu, not necessarily to be preferred to the McTaco.” (Yummy poem, by the way.)
But those were preliminaries: What I really meant to write about was the “slippages” in discourse that seems to be happening here. This will sound like a laundry list:

•I think we need a more nuanced, more “thick” description of the experience & the pleasures of anti-absorptive texts than just a foregrounding of language or “speed bumps” in the way of immersion. Those things indeed happen, but a great deal else – varying widely from text to text – happens as well. Josh gestures towards this – & I image he’s doing a lot more than gesturing in his dissertation – but before we can talk intelligently about anti-absorptional writings as being somehow more valuable than something else, we need some sort of encyclopedic tracing of the pleasures of bafflement, allusion both external and internal, dictional shifts, fragmentation, indeterminacy, polysemy, and so forth. (This has probably been written, but hey, I’ve been in a cave writing a biography for last 7 years.)

•No, it’s not just a contrast between ways of reading: there are fundamental differences between mass market immersive fiction and “difficult” poetry. Yes, we can bring to bear on the former some of the tools useful for the latter, and to interesting effect. But that’s a matter I think of more general literary-critical methodology, rather than things specifically crafted for the sort of poetry Josh is talking about. There are skill sets and there are skill sets, & some of them overlap, & some of them don’t. I may read a romance novel thru the lens of Northrop Frye & Patricia Parker on the classic romance, thru Mulveyan notions of the gaze, & thru various post-Freudian theorizations of the “other” – all ways of resisting “immersion” – but how do those skill sets help me with Susan Howe’s “Bibliography of the King’s Book”?

•I don’t think the pleasure Josh & I (& you too, EMS) take in an anti-absorptive poem really bears much resemblance, aside from the fact that it’s work rewarded – which applies just as well to a crossword puzzle, building a sukkah, or washing the car – to what undergrads in an intro to poetry class feel in working thru the “‘immersive’ first person lyric.” Some of the same elements are there (pleasure in the sound of language, pleasure in “decoding” what seems initially unclear, etc.), but there are other faculties being drawn upon, other muscles exercised. (Maybe we should shift governing metaphors from cuisine to exercise: immersive work as a morning jog; anti-absorptive work as yoga?) And here one needs to go two bullets back up, which takes us back to the big unwritten – the Geertzean description of alt-poetry reading that will in turn perhaps (?) facilitate the convincing ethical description that will convert the reprobate Selinger to the True Church of Painful Difficulty.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Make Mine Spicy, Please

Two of my favorite blogspherians, Josh Corey & Eric Selinger, have started a discussion on an old subject – pleasure & difficulty in one’s reading material. (So open a new browser window here and here.) Josh contrasts the “absorptive” or “immersive” pleasure of your average well-written novel (the “vivid continuous dream” evoked by John Gardner) with the more thorny pleasures offered by “anti-absorptive” poetry – writing in which the language does not “disappear” from the page, to be replaced by an evoked or described world – writing, in short, that foregrounds its own materiality as language, that won’t let us forget that we’re after all reading. Josh:
All this is antithetical to the pleasures I seek from poetry, or from fiction that foregrounds the language through the beauty or ugliness of its sentences. Most readers (on airplanes or elsewhere) are after the infantilizing dream-state, and yet I can't blame others or myself for wanting to be nurtured by certain reading experiences rather than pricked into greater consciousness. A healthy diet, so to speak, probably requires both. But isn't the moral content that creeps into my language here interesting? Immersive fiction as trans-fats, innovative writing as leafy greens. I am loath to become a scold, urging children to read Language poetry because it's good for you. Is the pleasure of anti-absorptive writing simply the masochistic pleasure of self-denial, of anorexia? Is it a "higher" pleasure because further from the pleasures of the flesh? And yet the anti-absorptive is closer to the body of language than immersive fiction is: we savor the materiality of phonemes and syntax and sentences, provoked into the kind of apperception that requires us to look up from the book now and then and figure. One type of reading is active and closer to writing; the other is passive and demands our submission—there's a masochism for you.
Now Eric has much to say in response to this, only some of it scoldy, but all of it sharp. For one thing, he’s anxious to argue (rightly I think) that an “immersive” reading experience by no means precludes being aware of, & paying careful attention to, the texture of the language one’s reading. Maybe one’s toggling back & forth between thinking of Stephen Dedalus as an incorrigible ass & marv’ling at the balance of the periods in which his asininity is presented, but both of those moments are present for me in the same reading experience. And Eric’s also concerned about the notion – which I hear all too often as well – that “immersive” reading is somehow “passive”: “it only feels that way because the skills it takes come so easily to you, have been so naturalized, that you no longer notice you're deploying them!”

This all seems like an old argument to me, if only because I feel like I’ve been batting around some version of it with Eric for 15 years or so now, ever since we were in junior high together (er, well, maybe we were a bit older than that…). It all comes back around to pleasure, it seems, & pleasure gets figured in no more than a couple of ways: as sex (vide Josh’s active/passive & “masochism” business) or as eating (“Immersive fiction as trans-fats, innovative writing as leafy greens”). Of course, according to Freud, the latter resolves into the former as one sort of arrested sexual development. But I very much want, following Eric, to call at least a temporary halt to the Freudianizing of readerly pleasure “in order to draw the sort of precise, useful distinctions Josh (and I) are looking for. Any other vocabularies out there for us to draw on?”

Josh, it seems to me, is preaching from the same set of sacred texts that have been batted around in the alt-poetry world for three decades now: the Russian Formalists on poetic language as “defamiliarizing”; Roland Barthes on the distinction between the “readerly” and the “writerly”; Veronica Forrest-Thomson on poetic artifice; and the various LangPo redactions of these scriptures, most notably Ron Silliman’s “Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World” and various essays by Chas: Bernstein. Interestingly enough, all of these texts are written by figures who have a state in the success of particular avant-garde literary formations (which is also true of Alban Berg’s student Adorno; why, as a dissenting voice, don’t we hear from Georg Lukacs on realism?).

But what I love about Josh’s post is his sensitivity to the “moral content” of his distinction between the immersive and the anti-absorptive, what I like to think of as the “scold factor” in alt-poetics (cf. “School of Quietude,” passim). It’s understandable why Silliman mercilessly flogs the reader of Peter Benchley in “Disappearance of the Word” – after all, he’s got his own anti-absorptive poetic movement to promote. Now, 30 years after the lean years of LangPo, it’s hard to hear the same rhetoric being deployed – in a poetic landscape where Michael Palmer’s just won a 100K prize and Nate Mackey’s gotten the National Book Award – without sensing some puritanical defensiveness – of which Josh is keenly aware.

The question, that is, is why ought I to prefer "anti-absorptive" texts to "immersive" ones? It's in the "ought" that the rub resides, no? for the question of why do I prefer such texts to other sorts of texts ends up boiling down to either a question of biographical taste (Adorno's dreaded "culinary" approach to art) (eg I like late modernist poetry because I have a disposition, nurtured on bales of densely detailed Richard Scarry books and crossword puzzles and so forth, towards the complex and open-ended), or to a Bourdieuesquely-mapped position within the field of production, consumption, & distinction (which, if you're deeply committed to poetry, is a pretty depressing perspective from which to view matters).

The deus ex machina here is to invoke a political or (which often boils down to the same thing) moral argument: that anti-absorptive work is somehow better for you, or that it somehow works to change the world (not immediately, not directly, not vulgar-Marxistly) by altering the way you or your readers conceive the world.

In my bones I believe that these arguments are more or less right, tho I have yet to see them stated in a way that I find more than temporarily convincing. I want to believe wholeheartedly, but I'm still skeptical. And it does ultimately come around to the issue of pleasure: what I want is a convincing account of the pleasure of what's difficult – perhaps analogous to the pleasure I take in a 100-proof habañero sauce on top of a plate of black beans & rice, a pleasure that involves two minutes of searing pain & buckets of sweat – an account that won't (disregard that last analogy) fall back upon the culinary, try to convince me that reading My Life is like a good bout of S/M, or preach to me about the virtues of asceticism like the aged Scottish Covenanter penguin in Happy Feet.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


It's been a pretty frantic week – the holiday, family in town, grading essays, watching as the wee little cough I'd had for a week morphed into a real live hacking pre-bronchitis... Sleep deprivation, which has plagued me all semester – dozing off as J. reads the girls their bedtime story, or falling asleep in their room after replying to their catechismal "Tell me about my day" and "Tell us who loves us"... No breathing space for the (if I only had time & energy to be) wicked: department meeting tomorrow, & one final meeting of the poetry workshop in the evening.
If you were wondering whether Wikipedia was ever reliable – I'm not a numbers queen, but I noticed an unaccountable jump lately in my Sitemeter numbers, accounted for (once I figured out how) by a link to my half-cock'd musings on Botero's Abu Ghraib pictures some kind soul inserted into the Wikipedia entry for "Fernando Botero."

On the other hand, while I've given uncounted school-marmish scoldy lectures on the unreliability of Wikipedia for serious research (all of which have passed in one set of undergraduate ear-'oles and out the other), I couldn't resist the allure of the ultimate "users' encyclopaedia," & have been trolling thru the entries and fixing little wee bits of verbal & ideational flash (you remember it from the model airplane kits, the excess plastic forced between the facing surfaces of the mold, & having to trim it off with the exacto knife). After I cleaned up the account of Zukofsky's political career, his Wikipedia entry is actually a pretty damned decent overview.
And writing (ie something other than letters of recommendation): a longish poem en train, projected 150 lines in 3-line stanzas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bad Joyce

Ray Davis comments of Ulysses’s 18 stylistic menu-choices, “I wonder if fear of stylistic tinnitus is why goofy "Eumaeus" and "Ithaca" have been my favorite episodes for so many years…” Having just ploughed thru ‘em both, I can only sympathize. There’s something beautiful about watching a writer who seems to be able to do anything turning his hand to actively bad writing: the first half of “Nausicaa” is pretty breathtaking in that way, with its spot-on pastiche of 1904 Redbook, Cosmo, & Reader’s Digest, but “Eumaeus” is just plain sublime, a cliché in every line:
Prepatory to anything else [cliché] Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk [cliché] of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally [cliché + limp adverb] in orthodox Samaritan fashion [cliché, but oh how deliciously wrong-headed – if there’s anything the Gospel Good Samaritan isn’t it’s “orthodox” – remember the priest & the Levite] which he very badly needed [limp, limp ending].
This first sentence of Section III of the novel ought to bring to mind the first sentence of Section I: ”Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” There’s the “Buck” of “bucked him up generally,” and of course Mulligan is about to shave (“the greater bulk of the shavings”). Not to mention the more distant echoes between “plump” and “bulk.” One great joy of obsessively re-reading Ulysses lies in hearing those echoes propagate themselves in one’s echo-chamber mind, but another – in “Eumaeus” – is simply marvelling at how the bad prose unfurls itself. Or watching Joyce’s more familiar lyricism break thru the wall of tone-deafness, as in the antepenultimate paragraph:
The horse having reached the end of his tether, so to speak [indeed], halted and, rearing high a proud feathering tail, added his quota [ouch! yes, it’s a street-sweeping cart] by letting fall on the floor which the brush would soon brush up and polish [cliché], three smoking globes of turds. [and here’s the real thing:] Slowly three times, one after another, from a full crupper he mired. And humanely his driver waited till he (or she) had ended, patient in his scythed car.
Except for that tell-tale "he (or she)," those last two sentences are as beautiful as anything JJ ever wrote.
Thanks be Thanksgiving is over. Not that I mind national holidays, especially ones which call for large-scale cooking – but I just don’t like anything on the menu, turkey most of all. This year’s substitution was a big-ass Smithfield salt-cured ham, the sort of thing you have to soak for two days ahead of time to get enough of the salt out to make it edible. It came out beautifully, in case you’re wondering, but I’m afraid I’m the only one in the household enthusiastic about this particular comestible, so I have a great deal of salty swineflesh in my future.
For those of you still on tenterhooks as to my selection of course texts for this Spring’s Milton, I’ve decided to go with the half-century old Merritt Hughes over the Flannagan Riverside. Okay, so Hughes doesn’t annotate “Hermes” or “Virgin mother” or much of the basic stuff Flannagan does – but isn’t that what Wikipedia and the online Brittanica are for? And Hughes doesn’t, as Flannagan does, manage to confuse “Philistine” and “Pharisee,” or claim that in “Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints” Milton is somehow “perverting” the Roman Catholic notion of sainthood. (Is there a Protestant in the house, please?)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Crucified Smurfs

It's hard to avoid Fernando Botero's paintings down here in South Florida. The Colombian artist's pudgy figures are enormously popular – every poster shop has reproductions, and most galleries either have real Boteros or second-rate imitations. For my part, I've never been able to tell the difference between an imitation Botero and the real thing, just as I find little to separate Stephen King parodies from echt Stephen King – I've always found Botero's puffy figures, rendered in a kind of (faux?) naive realism, the height of contemporary kitsch: not merely the sort of art that people who don't like art like – Norman Rockwell, whatever you might say about the implicit politics of his images, was an incredible draughtsman, as was Grant Wood – but the sort of art that people who don't really like art but think they like art, or want you to think they like art, like.

This isn't a kind of apotropaic response on my part to figurative art in general - I'm a great fan of Wood, of RB Kitaj, Eva Hesse, and Balthus. Perhaps it's just that Botero's figures, vast, puffy, cherubic, and even when butt-naked absolutely sexless, seem to have been sieved of all human interest, leaving nothing but a kind of piggish contentment. These aren't George Grosz's fatties, who seem to be the human equivalents of rather savage wild boars, but a endless stream of humanized gelded cats.

So I was rather surprised when a family member alerted me that her old philosophy prof Arthur Danto was reviewing Botero in a recent issue of The Nation – and that the works he was reviewing were a series of paintings about the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib – frankly the last thing I would imagine Botero painting. It's like imagining Thomas Kinkade painting Guernica, or Norman Rockwell illustrating the Bataan Death March.

But it's true: Botero has done a very long series of canvases & drawings based on the reports of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, tho not based, he insists, on the widely circulated photographs of that abuse. Danto makes a nice point about that distinction:
We knew that Abu Ghraib's prisoners were suffering, but we did not feel that suffering as ours. When the photographs were released, the moral indignation of the West was focused on the grinning soldiers, for whom this appalling spectacle was a form of entertainment. But the photographs did not bring us closer to the agonies of the victims.
In contrast – according to Danto – Botero's paintings
are masterpieces of what I have called disturbatory art--art whose point and purpose is to make vivid and objective our most frightening subjective thoughts.... Botero's images, by contrast, establish a visceral sense of identification with the victims, whose suffering we are compelled to internalize and make vicariously our own. As Botero once remarked: "A painter can do things a photographer can't do, because a painter can make the invisible visible." What is invisible is the felt anguish of humiliation, and of pain. Photographs can only show what is visible; what Susan Sontag memorably called the "pain of others" lies outside their reach. But it can be conveyed in painting, as Botero's Abu Ghraib series reminds us, for the limits of photography are not the limits of art. The mystery of painting, almost forgotten since the Counter-Reformation, lies in its power to generate a kind of illusion that has less to do with pictorial perception than it does with feeling.
Leaving aside for a moment whether or not Botero's paintings "establish a visceral sense of identification with the victims, whose suffering we are compelled to internalize and make vicariously our own," I am appalled by Danto's initial assumption that when the Abu Ghraib photos were first disseminated "the moral indignation of the West was focused on the grinning soldiers, for whom this appalling spectacle was a form of entertainment" to the exclusion of any sympathy with "the agonies of the victims." What West does he refer to? Donald Rumsfeld's? Time magazine's?

My own outraged reaction to the photographs stemmed from a combination of disgust at the touristic, sadistic poses & expressions of the American soldiers posing for the photographs and precisely an immediate sympathy for the men being abused – a sympathy that I can't imagine any viewer outside of the present American administration wouldn't feel: yes, Professor Danto, we shrank from that snarling dog, we felt the degradation of being piled into a naked pyramid, of being forced to grovel at the end of a leash.

It's the very verisimilitude of the photographs, in my own experience, that elicited immediate sympathy, the fact that the naked and degraded men in them had individual bodies and faces – they looked like my friends, my students, the guys I used to see in the communal showers in my dorm. And that's why the Botero paintings, while they have a certain weird postmodern fascination, ultimately fail to move me. It's strange indeed, and somewhat disturbing, to see Botero-figures put through Abu Ghraib tortures – but it's a weirdness that's akin to seeing Smurfs crucified, or seeing Mickey Mouse shooting up & having sex. These are not human beings being tortured: they're Boteros being put thru unfamiliar paces. Botero's very success at making his friendly chubbies into a world-recognized brand-emblem, it would seem, has deprived him of the ability to do anything more than continue to sell the brand.

Perhaps it's the very middle-brow allure of the standard Botero that makes these horror-Boteros so strangely unmoving to me. In contrast, I find the iPod/iRaq graphic – which was surreptitiously inserted into a number of Apple street advertisements in New York two years ago – to be far more emotionally compelling, & to pack a far more intellectually incisive punch.

Friday, November 17, 2006


There are only two blogs I read that address academic affairs in anything more than a tangential way – Michael Bérubé's and University Diaries, by the Joyce scholar Margaret Soltan. I have a love-hate thing with UD: Soltan drives me nuts with her right-leaning politics, her retrograde aesthetic judgments, & her tendency towards William Bennett-like laments over "what's happened to the humanities" (y'know, theory, jargon, political correctness, all that); on the other hand, she writes beautifully and she's continually raking the muck around what's wrong with the US university system (her big bêtes noires are overpaid administrators, metastasizing atheletic programs, & diploma mills).

Both Bérubé & Soltan teach at respectable – if not unquestionably first-rank – departments of English (Penn State & George Washington respectively). They can afford to kvetch about David Horowitz's crusade against academic freedom, or someone's pricey new football stadium, from within a kind of happy insulated bubble. Things are a little grimmer from the trenches – the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th tier institutions where most of the graduates of the top-rated programs actually end up teaching (take note, grad student bloggers).

Take, for instance, the juxtaposition of texts I came upon yesterday. On the home page of my university webmail account, Our President gleefully announced Our University's latest bid for the big time:
Now, in accordance with our Strategic Plan, we are working to make [Our University] a "first-choice" institution for even more students who seek the traditional American college experience. Achieving this goal hinges on our ability to enhance the quality of campus life in ways that are especially attractive to this age group. This is the primary motivating force behind the proposal to add Innovation Village to our [Main Campus] facilities.

Every traditional university has a campus hub, where friendships are forged and memories are made. The Innovation Village complex, which would include student housing and retail space as well as athletic facilities, would provide just such a hub for [OU], quickly becoming a gathering place for students, alumni, faculty and staff as well as visitors from the greater community.

Major, long-term benefits to the University are expected to include substantial improvement of our freshman retention and overall graduation rates, more successful recruitment of top-flight students, faculty and staff, and enhancement of the University's economic development capability and visibility throughout South Florida. All of this adds up to a stronger, better university for [OU] students of all ages.
(Note the insinuation that somehow "Innovation Village" will somehow help to recruit "top-flight faculty.")

And then in my department mailbox was the newsletter from the faculty union, which among other things – like the shabby fact that OU's students, according to which measure of academic excellence you look at, are either 11th among 15 Florida institutions or 15th among 19 – devoted much space to bemoaning the fact that the administration was balking at various plans it had proposed to make up for the fact that faculty salaries at OU seem to be lagging behind those of almost every other school in the state system. The budget, it seems, won't cover the raises that had been tentatively proposed; nor can it even be stretched to cover free tuition for faculty spouses & children.

The administration keeps talking about wanting to become a top-flight research institution, but the reality is that the entire operation is driven by the most short-sighted budget considerations. They want higher quality students, & they want faculty that produce more research; the solution?: they propose higher production quotas in the classroom (ie larger class sizes or higher teaching loads), a proposal which has absolutely NOTHING to do either with better instruction or more research (which indeed is inimical to those goals), but which serves to better balance the budget.

A wakeup call I hope someone will deliver our President: I don't know a single faculty member who gives a fast flier about "Innovation Village," nor can I imagine any young scholar/academic on the job market who could give a f.f. as to whether their potential employer has a "campus hub" that combines student housing with athletic facilities & retail space (we've already got a Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, & Einstein Bros, thank you very much – how about a real bookstore, or a real library?). "Top-flight" faculty want competitive salaries; they want to be treated as real partners in labor negotiations, rather than as troublesome serfs; they want research budgets; they want to work in an environment where every damned thing isn't keyed to a constant demeaning number-crunching.

I spent a couple hours at the pub last night listening to some junior colleagues in the social sciences (which are bunged into the same college with the humanities here). Another wakeup call to OP: the vast majority of junior faculty here view this job as a stepping-stone to something better, or as a holding pattern until a more promising position opens up somewhere else. If you want to hold on to the "top-flight" people for more than a couple years – or if you want to keep them from becoming minimal-output, disaffected, & cynical tenured faculty – you'd better give some thought to something a little more substantive than "Innovation Village."

I'm doing my best not to be one of those "minimal-output, disaffected, & cynical tenured faculty" – or at least I'm not any more cynical than I've ever been. I like my colleagues: they're a far more lively and talented bunch than a school on this tier could have dreamed of acquiring before the bottom dropped out of the academic job market. And I'm very fond of my students. But golly, as Simon Dedalus says, this administration – "Agonizing Christ, wouldn't it give you a heartburn on your arse?"

Phew – got that off my chest! Back to poetry, or music, or something a bit more fun next time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton in Print, Inertially

Michael Bérubé, in this suspiciously like that other regular-guy-with-a-French-surname Bob Archambeau, has taken to posting his conference papers on his blog; or at least yesterday's entry on Le Blogue Bérubé consists of the good bits from a Midwest MLA keynote address. [I don't in theory object to this practice, by the way – indeed, it seems a dandy way to fill up internet space that might otherwise be occupied by... uh... anyway, I just don't do it myself because a) I haven't been in high conference circulation mode, & b) it was embarassing enough to deliver that thing live, why put it up where everyone can read it?]

Michael's talk was on – you guessed it – blogging in academia. It sounds like a pretty shirt-sleevey performance, but I kinda liked the ending: "Some of us don’t take time away from our real work to do meaningless blogging, and some of us don’t take time away from important blogging to do other meaningless drivel. Because we think that in the end, academic blogs just might serve the useful function of representing to any interested Internet passerby just what it is we do with our time and our skills. For in all their high and low manifestations, our blogs depict professors at work." I'd guess that Culture Industry is me blogging as academic maybe 35-45% of the time; another 20-25% is me blogging as poet; and then the rest is me blogging as guy who reads books, listens to records & likes to talk about them.

In the spirit of Bérubé's "academic blogs as academic self-representation," then, & as a contribution to that first 35-45% of CI's contents – and really as a plea for advice – here's a post on textual editing & course book orders, elements of the academic teaching life that qualify as the "dismal science" part of literary studies.

In other words, even tho it's something like 7 weeks from the start of the spring semester, no I haven't gotten in my book orders. I've ignored two hectoring e-mails from the department secretary: after all, she's just acting under the influence of the "official" campus bookstore, which is one tiny incompetent limb of the vast & evil corporate octopus Barnes & Noble – the folks in the campus bookstore, after all, are very good with sweatshirts & baseball caps, but they're a bit fuzzy on how to go about getting those "book" things, & like about 10 weeks lead time for orders. Me, I send my book orders to the independant textbook place across the street, which is able to get pretty much anything in 10 days or less.

But I'm not just procrastinating. (Me, procrastinating?) The plain truth is I haven't decided what books to use. The Joyce seminar is pretty easy (tho I could use advice on a splendid up-to-date collection of essays by various hands on Ulysses). The real sticking point is Milton.

In the past, I've used Roy Flannagan's Riverside Milton, one of those big doorstopping volumes that includes every bit of the poetry and more of the prose than anybody except a sadist would want to inflict on undergraduates. I'm a fan of omnibus volumes – everybody brings the same book every day, you all flip back 'n' forth to the same pages, nobody comes in with that "damn, I thought we were doing 'Lycidas' so I brought my poetry volume & left the prose under a pizza box back at the dorm & therefore have nothing to say about Areopagitica..."

But this Fall all my slowly mounting irritations with the Riverside came to a head, & I started shopping around for other editions. I like the pretty comprehensive range of texts included in the Riverside; I like the large-page format; and I like the fact that it's an original-spelling text, mainly because
a) Milton was pretty emphatic about most of his orthographical irregularities, & indeed seems to have used some spelling variations for intentional emphasis
b) I believe students ought to confront early modern texts in all of their alterity, including that of early modern spelling, and
c) I'm a sadist (no, just kidding)
But Flannagan's annotations, which sometimes take up a third of the page in teeny-tiny print, drive me up the friggin' wall. They come in at least three flavors: simple glosses and explanatory notes; longer interpretive notes, which often take issue with other critics & try to cram whole traditions of critical debate into a paragraph; and outright textual notes: "in the 1654 manuscript, Milton writes 'every,' while in this 1673 edition the word reads 'ev'ry'..." (The Riverside Chaucer & Shakespeare hive off their textual material to a separate section, where grad students can contemplate it with glee or glumness.)

In short, Flannagan offers an over-annotated edition, where my po' undergrads are confronted not merely with this crazy 17th-century heretic-Puritan poet who's as happy writing in Latin as in English (& who half the time seems to be writing something in between the two), but with a huge, undigested bolus of annotation which ranges from telling them who "Hermes" is to footering around with whether the choice between a colon & a semicolon was made by the blind Milton, his emanuensis, or the typesetter. So I hied me to the bookstore & picked up a copy of the book the Riverside replaced, Merritt Hughes's John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose.

This doorstopper was published just about half a century ago, & I gather was the Milton of choice for college courses about 40 years. (Flannagan is pretty explicit in his preface that he's producing something to replace Hughes.) It was out of print when the Riverside came out back in 1998; since then, I suspect in response to instructor dissatisfaction with Flannagan, it's been reprinted by the plucky little Hackett House, of whose editions of Spinoza & Leibniz I've very fond. I was disappointed: I can live with Hughes's decision to print the poetry in modern spelling (retaining the emphatic "mee"s and the indiosyncratic "thir"s), & I can live with his somewhat thinner general introductions to the poems (he's much less concerned with political & historical context than Flannagan is, which I think reflects a subsequent shift in emphasis in early modern studies).

But if Flannagan overannotates, Hughes underannotates. Maybe readers in 1957 didn't need to be told what "th' Aonian Mount" is; maybe they were more willing to look it up. But that's precisely the sort of annotation needed in 2007. I don't think my students are any more ignorant than Hughes's were 50 years ago, but their treasuries of knowledge are definitely different. Hughes expects a reader with a working knowledge of classical history & mythology, Christian doctrine, & English literary history; my students often don't have that, tho they have a pretty sophisticated set of ideas about gender construction & politics: it's a different skill set, but one that has to be taken into account.

So I phoned up a colleague of mine, the best Miltonist I know, & asked him what do you assign? He uses it turns out an Anchor edition of the complete poetry (ed. John Shawcross) & an old paperback of the selected prose edited by CA Patrides. We chatted a bit, & he made a pretty good case for those volumes. But the puncher came at the close of the conversation: "Of course, they're the editions in which I read Milton in grad school."

Course text selection thru inertia. I can feel it pulling me right now, as I look over the bright white pages of Hughes, contemplate a new copy of Shawcross, & then turn to my Flannagan, whose pages are blackened (& blued, & purpled) with the marks of multiple readings & teachings. I hear it calling for the Joyce seminar, as I reread my 1986 copy of the Gabler Ulysses whose every page is scored with talking points & cross-references.

Back in the day I read Ulysses in graduate seminar with a professor whose claim on history was that he'd published the first (the very first) study of Ulysses keyed to the then-brand-new Gabler text. What did he teach out of? Well, while there was always a Gabler open on the table to his right, when it came time to look up a passage, he would pull the rubber band off of his disintegrating copy of the old Random House text.
Jane Dark has learned to count to 3; therefore, he righteously castigates Josh Corey (& practically everyone else) for remaining within Machichean Duality. The "slippery slope" – a logical bogeyman much beloved of neo-cons and other sophists – as one learns early on in philosophy courses, is usually as much a fallacy as its derivative the "domino theory."
Finally, a National Book Award that excites one!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ulysses & me

For some reason or another, it’s been a long week, & a long (but nice) weekend following. A couple nights ago, deathly tired of grading papers & keeping up with the reading for my Bible as Lit course, I hauled down my copy of Ulysses and started re-reading, thinking this would set me in good stead for this spring’s Joyce seminar. I think I misjudged – or perhaps I’ve had too steady a diet of “big canonicals” these past weeks (I’ve been reading the Good Book, not merely for the course, but straight thru as well – in the middle of the Psalms now – been re-reading Paradise Lost for an upcoming Milton course, & re-scanning The Cantos at a leisurely 3-Cantos-every-few-days pace). Anyway, I re-read both Moby-Dick and Ulysses about this time last year, much of them over the week & a half of enforced, electricity-less leisure following Hurricane Wilma. I remember having great fun.

I think I could read Moby-Dick in almost any circumstances, & I used to think that about Ulysses. But the other night’s reading was hard, well-nigh painful: I found it difficult to force myself all the way thru the first chapter. It made me think about the book in relation to Moby-Dick, not least because they’re two works that I often tell my students (facetiously, mind you) they ought to read at least once a year. Part of what made me want to throw down Ulysses the other night was my standard revulsion at Stephen Dedalus’s sickly Paterianism; but I also found myself just bone-weary of reading books (mind you, I was just coming off of Book V of Milton) in which every line, every phrase is so absolutely weighted. It’s not like that with Melville, is it? I thought.

Much of what makes Moby-Dick so readable for me is that the writing is so wonderfully unbuttoned, happily & wildly rhetorical, sloppy and enthusiastic. In so much of the novel, you can simply let yourself be carried away by Melville’s rhetoric, swept away in the excitement of his story, & not worry about how each image or utterance fits into a grand pattern, as it does in Ulysses.

Or maybe working with poetry all these years has just ruined me for unbuttoned novel-reading. At any rate, Ulysses & I are best friends again – Leopold Bloom has just fixed his wife breakfast, eaten a kidney, & had a poop, & I can’t wait for him to check his mail, have his bath, & show up for that funeral.
I've only leafed thru Andrew Duncan’s The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (Salt, 2003), but I can tell it’s going to be a wild ride. Whatever you say about Duncan, he hasn’t a mealy-mouthed bone in his body: “[JH Prynne] associated with Charles Olson, an American who, although he never managed to write any good poetry, had ideas which stimulated the torpid and politically intimidated American literary scene of the time” (123). Gosh, Andrew, what do you really think of Olson? Please, you needn’t be afraid of speaking your mind – after all, you’re not facing a tenure committee or applying for an academic post, two hurdles which seem to have neutered most American academic critics of their ability to say out-&-out whether they think something is shite.*

*Mind you, I'm not endorsing AD's dismissal of the Big O – just expressing admiration at his unbuttoned expression of critical opinion.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


So the whole exhausting business of the mid-term elections is over, & a substantial portion of the electorate sems to have decided that they have spent long enough dining on Republican shit – tho we mustn't forget, as we are told by sage voices on the Left, that we've just swapped menu choices for a slightly less odiferous ordure – ah well, some folks are so busy being unacknowledged legislators of Utopia that they have no time for the actual business of sublunary politics. "If we just make clever fun of Capital long enough," one friend drawls, "it'll eventually just up and die of shame and embarassment."

I'm almost too immured in work to be happy, but I'm managing. A whole slew of new books in the last few days, which I'm dying to read but have to steal time from more pressing obligations simply to look at: Under Virga by Joe Amato (BlazeVOX), with one of the most visually striking covers to come under my eyes in ages; Kate Greenstreet's first, case sensitive (Ahsahta), whose precision of language squares with Greenstreet's artist's eye (also on view at Every Other Day).

From Salt, that hive of UK-based poetry publishing, along with usual cartload of new poetry books, 2 volumes of criticism: Andrew Duncan's The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry and Peter Barry's Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court, a blow-by-blow account of the brief period (1971-7) when the National Poetry Society's journal, Poetry Review, came under the editorship of the indefatigable and polymathic Eric Mottram & became an avant-garde publishing outlet. (Not a precise parallel, but imagine Lisa Jarnot being named editor of Poetry magazine, instead of Christian Wiman.)

Probably part of what makes Barry's book so appealing to me is that it's an unabashed work of literary history, an extremely rare animal these days. David Perkins asked the question Is Literary History Possible? in one book, & his monumental 2-volume History of Modern poetry seemed to answer "no," since it amounts to potted career summaries and critical pronouncements about a couple hundred poets. But I'm not sure the genre's anywhere near dead. For all its shortcomings, I confess to a sneaking fondness for Julian Symons's Makers of the New: The Revolution in Literature 1912-1939 (Random House, 1987). There's still a place for well-written, lively narrative explanations of literary events, & I think the deft author can fit in whatever theoretical machinery she happens to find compelling, from the rise of Late Capitalism (as in Peter Nicholls's Modernisms) to Bourdieuvian mappings of fields of power & cultural production.

It's time, I suspect, for someone to get to work writing a global history of alt-poetry in the American 20th century: sure, we have books on the Beats and on the New York School (tho I haven't yet been able to pick up David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde), but where's the histories – not the critical studies, but the narrative histories – of Olson and Black Mountain, of the Objectivists, of Spicer, Duncan, Blaser, & the San Francisco Renaissance? Where's our next Georg Brandes?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Various ('stay the course' edition)

In the lovely 22 October quotation from Our Leader, "Listen, it's never been 'stay the course,'" belied as any number of commentators immediately pointed out by hundreds, nay thousands of recorded instances of the Dauphin urging us to "stay the course" in Iraq, a Miami Herald columnist sees evidence of creeping Orwellian Newspeak – "war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength" and so forth. I guess I see that, when I squint. More often, when I run upon the daily evidence of the administration's pervasive & poisonous inability to tell the truth in any instance where it goes against their immediate tactical advantage, I see the behavior of a poorly-socialized, base-minded elementary school child. (Cf. descriptions of W's behavior as a Deke mover & shaker back at Yale.)
Long weekend: The reading to which I invited you a couple days back went well, I thought. An exercise, on my part, in seeing whether I could compete with Tom Raworth in the "speed performance" category. I can't, but it was great fun to try, & it's surprising how much adrenaline one works up over 15 or 20 minutes of intense page-turning. One kind friend says the poems were "fabulous," & asks who'll publish them. Good question – any takers out there?

Saturday night a belated Halloween party, at which yr v. h'mble s'rv'nt took second place in the costume contest: kilt & tartan splendour (sorry, no photos available, tho the legs aren't bad), & not a patch on the winner, the bearded chap in pregnant drag.
I've been spending an inordinate amount of time following the elections, even buying into the Daily Kos-watching, psychic-energy-consuming activity of poll-following. J. has been spending many, many hours of late on phone banks, for which I have become child-care backup (they also serve who only go to the playground & read Frog & Toad & participate in rather painful bouts of Hop on Pop). Like today, when what Daphne had been nursing over the past week (a trifle of sniffles, a soupçon of phlegm, & a very minor ear infection) broke out into a full-blown unstoppable cough.

Poor thing. She's been in bed for 3 hours now, toddler sleep broken every 8 1/2 minutes on average by a coughing bout which segues into a screaming/crying tirade, demanding in turn "binkie," "wah-yer" (water), and "Mommie." (What am I, chopt liver?) Promises to be a long night.

Friday, November 03, 2006

It's not sending me to the bookshelf just yet, but...

Don't miss this – the best meditation on reading (Sir) Walter Scott's poetry I've very encountered. The money line: "There are many reasons to read first-rate literature, but let’s look at some reasons not to."

Bill & Bruce

Get it while it's hot – Language poet & Fordham poly sci professor Bruce Andrews appeared last night on the odious Bill O'Reilly's "O'Reilly Factor." The video can be viewed here (go to the blue buttons on the left & click "Outrage of the Week"). I'll hand it to Bruce for remaining unflappable in the face of O'Reilly's imbecilities; on the other hand, sfarz I can tell Bruce scores precisely none of the points one hoped against the Loofah Man. "Normative"? "Justificatory discourse"? One hears millions of O'Reilly viewers across America – "He ain't just a commie, he cain't even talk so's I can understand."

There're a lot of academics out there who nurse dreams of going on O'Reilly or another of the skanky right-wing talk shows & wiping the floor with the host. What they usually fail to recognize is that the level of discourse on those shows isn't just simple – it's so absurdly dumbed-down that all of the tools of critical analysis & subtle reading one has developed over the years are simply useless, a set of jeweller's instruments against a caveman with a big club. Irony – Bruce's stock-in-trade – simply does not register.

Locals only

might be interested in attending an event tomorrow (Friday) evening at 8.00pm, at Our University's Ritter Gallery (2nd floor of the breezeway, positioned just where you turn off for the library), where faculty writers A. Papatya Bucak, William Bradley, and yr. v'ry humble serv't will be performing.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Go Thou & Read

3 sparkling new opera by John Latta on Intercapillary Space. Do it now, okay?

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Josh Corey, in the throes of academic job-applying (you have my sympathy, Josh, especially since I'm on the other side of the table this year, chairing a recruitment committee), has been doing some personal postion/soul-searching, wondering about the way one functions as a poet-critic. After saying some entirely unwarranted nice things about me, he calls me by name:
there's another rift between poetry/poetics and criticism: as a poet, I am primarily interested in what enables my own work and the work of other poets I care about. When I read a poet like Zukofsky, I am looking for news I can use: techniques and themes and turns of phrase that Zukofsky made more possible. For me, one of poetry's primary functions is the generation of more poetry—reading is writing, or wreading in Jed Rasula's phrase. That's a fundamentally different attitude than that assumed by the critic, who reads in a more specifically interrogatory mode, and with a more or less specific ideological axe to grind. It's the old battle of Beauty vs. Truth, really. And the question for a poet-critic like myself has to be not, Whose side are you on?, but: How are these different modes of reading implicated in each other for me? Why am I hyphenated? How can this tension be productive for both kinds of work, both modes of questioning? Mark, you're a poet-critic. Care to address this question from your perspective?
Something I've thought about a few times over the years. First, in regards to some of the talk going on in your comments box, I agree that one doesn't have to be a poet in order to be a good critic of poetry – I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's comment to Boswell somewhere, the gist of which was you needn't be a carpenter to assess whether a table was well-made or not – but it helps.

It helps in a couple of ways. First, the committed poet almost always has the most basic piece of equipment needed for useful criticism – a deep investment in ("love of") the art itself, & that investment usually manifests itself in an immersion in poetry that one doesn't get in many critics. (I'm thinking at the moment of Terry Eagleton, a critic & thinker whose work I much admire, but who seems to write on poetry from the window of a speeding car – yes, I know, I haven't read his new How to Read a Poem or whatever its title is.)

More importantly, the poet-critic, who's reading as you say in this "predatory" manner, looking for tricks & tropes & techniques she can make her own, has a grasp of the poem from the inside, as it were, a perspective that one only rarely encounters in non-poet critics of poetry. That can be very enabling, tho it can also tend to blind one to certain approaches to literature – notably the sociological & the ideological – that themselves have great value.

[And such "inside knowledge," let's face it, is often vitiated if the poet doesn't have some sort of developed critical vocabulary in which to describe whatever insights she or he has into the work at hand. Otherwise, it all too often becomes a kind of shaggy emoting, an appeal to the lowest common affective denominator, & ends up telling one more about the poet reading than the poem read. Which is interesting at times, I guess.]
The line between invested criticism & advocacy is a fuzzy one, but my own experience in writing about poets has been this: First of all, I don't write about anyone whose work doesn't interest me, give me pleasure, provoke me to composition, and make me want to steal something. Life is too short to waste on writers I find irremediably alien or uninteresting as poetry. But like you I have fairly catholic tastes, so I'm happy to think about Zukofsky, Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein and Geoffrey Hill or Ann Carson. I'm not really interested in debating sides of any Post-Avant/School of Quietude continuum, & am really quite uninterested in all such divisions except insofar as they bear on issues of literary & institutional history (a big "except," indeed).

And I have yet to read any poet who wholly satisfies me. (Perhaps Bunting, Blake, and Dickinson come closest.) Which means that every time I address a poem or poet, I feel somehow duty-bound to take both my enthusiasm and my dissatisfaction into account – which perhaps accounts for the "dialectical" impulse you so kindly attribute to my scribbles. In turn, one of my impulses in writing poetry is precisely to achieve (in MacDiarmid's words) "the kind of poetry I want" – tho of all of my dissatisfactions, that which my own work affords me is perhaps the strongest.
I've never found the hyphen in poet-critic personally problematic or anything less than natural; but it can be problematic in certain institutional contexts. Like in grad school, for instance, where I did the concurrent MFA/PhD track, & often felt that critical insights I'd arrived at by thinking about the poem as a poet were more or less offhandedly dismissed as non-rigorous (Cornell had a big Paul de Man woodie back then) or even "bellettristic." Since then I've often found myself hesitating over job application letters, wondering whether laying stress on my activities as poet would be a plus or a minus when I applied for a job in (say) American modernism. From the other side of the table, it's rather easier, at least where I work now: when we see a candidate with creative publications, we often think "hey, maybe we can get this person to pick up a section or two of undergrad CW!" In larger departments, where lines between Creative Writing and Literary Studies are more boldly drawn, I suspect it's problematic.
I'm least interested in poet-critics when they're most obviously "spinning" their own practice (Eliot on the metaphysicals, for instance). I'm most interested & moved when they're applying their own deep investment in the art to searching readings of things that aren't necessarily the most congenial or the most obvious reads for them, or when they're teasing out the self-contradictions in the works that have proven most influential for their own practice: Bob Perelman's Trouble with Genius is a fine example of the latter; much of Geoffrey Hill's is exemplary of the former.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gore & Adorno

Try as I might, I can't make "Al Gore" work as an anagram for "Adorno"; but according to David Postman of the Seattle Times, he-who-used-to-show-all-the-charisma-of-the-cigar-store-Indian has been quoting TWA on the parallels between the current US administration & the Nazis:
Adorno conducted a kind of autopsy on the Third Reich and he said the first sign of this descent to hell was when this happened, and these are his words: All questions of fact became questions of power.
And I'm not drawing an analogy to what happened there. I'm not. [why not?] But it's dangerous when we allow questions of fact to become questions of power.


Ray Davis, on the excellent Pseudopodium – a site which has more good reading than most municipal libraries – put up a lovely post last month on Ruskin's Fors Clavigera that's one of the most thoughtful assessment of the grim one's proto-blog that I've ever read. Which isn't to say that I agree with it entirely – perhaps I have a higher tolerance for ranting & bad-tempered quarrelling. Or maybe because I'm reading the thing on a five-year plan, its frequent shortcomings aren't as apparent to me. I think I'd want it on the proverbial desert island, but I sure as hell wouldn't want Fors & nothing else – at least not after the first month.

The only person I know who ever consistently linked Pound & Fors was another lively stylist, Guy Davenport, & like so many of Guy's insights that linkage is striking & apt but doesn't bear pressing too hard.
Re-reading Geraldine Monk's Interregnum (Creation Books, 1993), & well embarked on Peter Riley's Passing Measures: A Collection of Poems (Carcanet, 2000). Sound files of both of these poets can be found on Andrea Brady's very exciting Archive of the Now; go check out all the cool stuff.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Back [and in progress]

We're back from a long weekend in Connecticut, nursing stuff that ranges from mild sniffles to hacking coughs, but delighted to have enjoyed the fall foliage someplace that has fall foliage. The most WASP place in the world, I'm convinced.
Mystic Seaport

Over some silent footage from the turn
of the last century, Ishmael
narrates the industrial techniques
of drawing forth Leviathan: cinematically
sterilized, the buckets of blood
rendered a gray-black celluloid
shimmer, the work of the precise,
wooden, floating abattoir before me
(for the first time) in living motion
echoes in dull but vivid déjà vu
of the video screen. Too neat:
fifteen, twenty chapters of viscous
dissection tried-out to six
minutes of jerky movement: the Book
of Job in Reader's Digest condensation.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ron & the Brits ii

I’m dying to get back into that Adorno thang, now that Dave and Bob have both weighed in – but I’m off up north tonight for a long weekend among the autumn leaves. We don’t really have deciduous trees down here – there’s the season when the palm trees drop their nuts everwhere, then there’s the season where they shed their fronds and grow cute new baby fronds, there’s the unbearably hot season and then the warm season when the roads and restaurants are clogged with northerners, etc. So I miss autumn – and winter, and spring, for that matter.

But instead of Adorno, I’ll put up what I hope is the blogosphere’s very last post (yeah right) on Ron Silliman’s “Post-avant vs. School of Quietude” business. Here goes. It comes as intercalary comments to the excellent Michael Peverett, commenting transatlantically on my last post:
I consider the post-avant / SoQ distinction a perfectly valid one for alluding to the fact that there are two and only two audiences for US (and British) poetry that are interested in discussing the history and current state of poetry. (In other words, a child enjoying a nursery rhyme is an audience for poetry that I don't convict of being in either camp.)
[I think you overstate; a good counter-example: the critic Thomas Gardner (see the review earlier this week on John Latta’s Dumpster Island), whose latest book examines the Dickinsonian strain in Charles Wright (slighly post-Poundian SoQ, Susan Howe (definitely P-A), and Jorie Graham (???).]
The two disputatious audiences might indeed be better seen as one graded audience, related by a host of intermediaries somewhat like the interbreeding clines that connect species of mouse that are distinct at their extremes.
[Oh indeed, but why then are the “disputacious” extremes necessarily more defining or interesting than the hybridized middles? Yeah, I know what the Lord has to say about Laodiceans…]
KSM [Kasey Mohammad]'s essay didn't attack the binary distinction, only the validity of the suggestion that post-avant somehow maps on to other descriptions, such as politically activist or aggressively loud. An attack on the distinction itself needs to show that there are other coherent, independent, articulate, critical bodies of poetry-lovers who don't fit well into the existing paradigm. And in my opinion those bodies just don't exist right now.
[“coherent, independent, articulate, critical bodies” is a pretty high standard – & frankly, I’m not sure either the loudest advocates of P-A poetries or the blithe reviewers of SoQ works fit that description much of the time – but you’re probably largely right. I think it’s in the nature of those who think about & write about poets from across the spectrum – & I’d cite, in addition to Gardner, Eric Selinger, Norman Finkelstein, Lynn Keller, & others – to be more interested in insightful readings of particular poets, tropes, techniques than in polemics on behalf of large tendencies. It remains to be seen what will be more useful in the long run.]

I can't help thinking that among poetry commentators diversity is to be celebrated. [Hear hear!] Silliman could never have gained his infectious enthusiasm, his immense range of knowledge of the US experimental scene without his strict diet of never on any account reading Spenser, Keats, foreign-language poetry, novels or science (slightly unfair, I know). But don't you need someone who'll tell you - and will make you feel interested in - exactly how a poet fits into the Spicer circle or Bay Area poetics? I know I do.
[Ron is unsurpassed in his own balliwick – but he has such an indefatigable appetite for poetry, & sometimes a wonderfully unsclerotic ability to accept the “new,” that I’m disappointed whenever I run up against one of his blind spots – & Spenser, Keats, Wordsworth, all of British poetry on the 20th c. save his 4 horsemen is a really big blind spot, no?]

What else can I disagree with? Oh Mark - "ceremonial" - cultures do perceptibly differ, even such similar ones as British and US, but I think it's impossible to narrow down those differences to a phrase; people have written whole books about it, and even so the books are full of contentious generalizations about "tendencies" and "for the most part".
[I think I quoted Sean saying “ceremonious” – a minor distinction, but “ceremonious” also invokes simple “politeness,” “formality” in ways that “ceremonial” doesn’t quite.]
I suppose I am a British poetry person and it's true that I can find things in, say, Geraldine Monk that I couldn't expect from any transatlantic poet - bits of mainly demotic, insular culture that only we would know about. But I doubt if these aspects of writing are of outstanding significance and if I listed the English-speaking poets (and poetry-readers) I feel closest to I think there'd be more Americans than Brits. And really, the framework of nationality just doesn't seem helpful here. "Ceremonial" continues to suggest to me things in poetry that I usually don't like (except in Irish Byzantium) and they can be found on both sides of the atlantic but I believe you are tacitly dropping from view such US ceremonialists as Whittier, Longfellow, Allan Tate, and Berryman - and I don't blame you - but in that case it's not fair that British poetry should be characterized by Tomlinson! I don't feel an identification with the kind of poem he writes.
CT is an interesting case: if he were an American publishing with Athenaeum or Ecco, Ron would almost certainly consign him to the SoQ forthwith; but he's a Briton, & one who spent a good deal of early energy promoting WCW, LZ, Oppen & others, so that he gets at least a respectful name-check in Ron's blog. Which simply underlines the fact that the SoQ/PA distinction has every bit as much to do with social factors as it does with aesthetic or political ones. At base (one of its bases) it's all about "us & them," an us & them which tends to map the struggles of various tendencies in US poetry in the mid-1980s, & is of less & less use the further we leave that decade behind. For all the usefulness of naming what gets published in the New Yorker, designating it as a "school" rather than a default definition of what poetry itself is, the entire SoQ/PA thing is just too big & vague in the end to be of much use, especially in an era when the automatic equation of aesthetic innovation & insitutional marginalization simply no longer holds.

With respect to the transatlantic divide, I would speculate that Ron's scunner against a certain traditional voice (call it "ceremonious," call it "formal," call it broccoli) which can be heard in Whittier, Longfellow, & Tate, & which he associates primarily with the English poetic canon & thereby consigns to the dustbin of SoQ, is at least part of what keeps him from "hearing" much of contemporary British poetry*; I still hear that voice, that tone, in much of the most disjunctive work coming out of the British Isles, as part of a rather rich mix that doesn't exclude all of the vernacularisms contemporary American poets are so set on.

*Ron's enthusiasm for the American Jennifer Moxley, whose work openly embraces much of the diction & tropes of the English romantics, is one of those frequent and unapologetic inconsistencies in his program (programme?) that I always value.