Sunday, August 27, 2006

Announcing: The Scroggins Consumer Guide

The weekend nears its end, & I’m a trifle less worried about hurricane/tropical storm Ernesto (whom I fondly think of as “Che”) than I was a few days ago. Those of you who don’t live in hurricane-prone states don’t really know what a nail-biting experience the Fall months can be here is South Florida, a Place Where God Didn’t Mean Human Beings To Live But Capital Came In Paved Everything & Put Up Ugly Buildings. The National Hurricane Center’s website is probably the most visited bookmark on my browser these days.

However, for those who may be getting a slightly inaccurate picture of my surroundings from the somewhat romanticized imaginings of Bob Archambeau, a brief primer:

1) The “swamps” have mostly been paved over & filled in; the climate, of course, remains eminently swampy. Over 90 this weekend.

2) While I grew up amid kudzu and Southern Baptists, there is very little kudzu in South Florida. That’s part of the real South, & SoFla, as everybody knows, is actually two little cultural principalities all their own which have nothing to do with the historical South. The lower part could be called “Havana away from Havana”; the upper part (in which I live), could be called “New Jersey/Long Island: Southern Annex.” (Contrary to popular belief, real New Yorker Cityites rarely retire to Florida, but prefer to die where they can still feel the asphalt between their toes and the grit under their eyelids.)

3) Yurt? What yurt?? I suspect this has something to do with Bob’s sneakily malignant characterization of me as a hulking, hirsute Bigfoot or Sasquatch, perhaps with a touch of Yeti thrown in for good measure. For the record: I stand about 6’ & wear shoe size 11 – big, but nothing special; I do wear a beard (to keep from looking like Karl Rove), but I trimmed down the Osama bin Laden job some years ago, as I kept getting asked directions to the nearest Lubuvicher Temple.
Bob does a nice job of exfoliating what I was thinking about the blandness of poetry reviews, to which I can only add a few thoughts. First, the lovely “baboon feces” analogy: we hurl feces at the other baboon tribes all the time, but usually on what we think of as principled grounds: ie, the other tribes’ aesthetic is somehow fundamentally flawed, they don’t recognize us as real players, etc. For my money, it’s a silly game & a waste of energy (not that I haven’t done it): write about the poets you care about, or write about poets whose ambitions you respect or share, even (or especially) if they don’t manage to realize those ambitions.

Then there’s the “consumer advice” that Bob notes & dismisses in his first post. I’m not sure that consumer advice shouldn’t be reinstated as a reviewerly ideal. Those of you who read Creem back in the day, remember Christgau’s “Consumer Guide”? (Yes, yes, all you hipsters out there read it in the Voice, but where I grew up the only "Voice" periodicals available were run by evagelical sects...) Now that’s a column that I really miss: single paragraph reviews of new albums – brief, pithy descriptions and an A thru E- letter grade. The “Guide” worked for a number of reasons:
•It was by a single person, so that whether you thought Christgau was brilliant or entirely misguided, you could calibrate your own tastes in relation to his & figure out what was worth buying & what was worth a miss.

•Christgau didn’t mind stepping on toes, because he didn’t have his own record all ready on ProTools & was worried about some guy at A&M Records blacklisting him; this was what he did, & it was all he did (& even the biggest slacker of a poet with a day job or an academic gig is pretty hard pressed to turn out 2 or 3 brief reviews a month, much less cover a dozen books every few weeks).

•Both of which were made possible by the fact that Christgau wasn’t just doing it for the free LPs – he was getting paid real money.
So let me make a formal announcement: I can’t really get around the fact that I’ve got an investment as a poet myself, but I’m willing to take on a pseudonym & become a full-time poetry reviewer – no holds barred, any school or tendency welcome, up to 30 books a month covered in “consumer guide” format – for any venue that wants to replace my day job’s salary dollar for dollar. (Tenure and benefits would be nice, as well.)
Noting that I'm surfing thru the Scriptures, & perhaps fearing I might fall into theism, Jessica passes on the URL for Dwindling in Unbelief. Hmmm. Kind of fun – debating the scriptural literalists on their own ground – but in the end it strikes me as rather pointless, rather like arguing with one of those "Shakespeare authorship" cranks. There's so much wonderful biblical scholarship out there – textual, historical, theological – that life is too short to spend it arguing with those who'd take the book their version of "literally." My own experience of reading scripture has been that for all its barbarity, incoherency, self-contradiction, repetition, long stretches of tedium, etc., the Bible becomes a stranger & more wonderful book every time thru.

Of course, we can't forget that those who read the thing literally (who're counting the days till the rapture, & who can't wait for WWIII to start up so the 2nd Coming'll be on time) are the ones with access to the White House these days...
And dig that Katherine Harris, bleating to the believers as her poll numbers spiral perdition-ward. (Thanks, Incertus.)


Archambeau said...

Oh dear. I never wished to imply that you hulked bigfoot like in the humid air of Florida, Mark -- I merely wished to further the (partially untrue) notion that you spend your time jamming out like a crazed sasquatch on ancient tribal stringed instruments. If you like, I'll run a "Mark Scroggins: Not Bigfoot" post, but since you get plenty of hits over here I think it is redundant.

Point taken about "Consumer Advice," by the way. Maybe we should set up a web site devoted to the single-paragraph review...

Brian said...

Katherine Harris is the gift that keeps on giving.