Read a somewhat interesting little piece on “Smarm” at the Gawker, in which the writer, Tom Scocca, identifies “smarm” as a feature of contemporary literary culture:
Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn’t want to be decent? The snarkers don’t, it seems. Or at least they (let’s be honest: we) don’t want to be decent on those terms.
Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself. For a guiding principle of 21st century literary criticism, BuzzFeed’s Fitzgerald turned to the moral and intellectual teachings of Walt Disney, in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
I think this guy makes a good argument. In the past on this very web site I have talked about how anybody with an other point of view is immediately identified with “hate” or even violence (for example, see my discussion of the reaction to Seth Oelbaum as the extreme example of this). And that’s why I keep quoting this little nugget of wisdom from everybody’s favorite troll, Zizek:
Today’s liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this other is not really other… In a strict homology with the paradoxical structure of the previous chapter’s chocolate laxative, tolerance coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed, which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.
This kind of dynamic comes up in discussion for/against what people call “negative reviewing”. It seems nobody wants to write anything critical in poetry reviews; the instance you do, it becomes a “negative review”.
I would much prefer to be negatively reviewed than not to be reviewed at all! In fact reviews that dares to be critical or negative are often very provocative and interesting. I remember when someone at Coldfront wrote a negative review of my book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place: it spawned a lot of good discussion on this blog, including the blog post in which Joyelle coined the phrase “ambience violence”
There’s something far worse going on when reviewers or editors make value judgments but do cloaks them in some positivity schtick. When they choose not to review, or not to mention, writers they don’t like, editors and reviewers are not being critical but also erasing different perspectives. The result is not just the erasure of different views but also a literary discussion that is boring and stranglingly conflict-less and calm.
This is why I am always urging people to write reviews that includes writers they don’t like or perspectives they feel are wrong. I’m really tired but I wanted to point this out today or I think I may never get around to it.
Kazuko Shiraishi Molly Bendall
The Gurlesque has been blowing its pink and black bubbles in Japan in various ways for the last 40 or 50 years. In particular, I am thinking of the visual artist Yayoi Kusawa, who as early as the 60’s made her polka-dot habitats and gold-spray-painted furniture with flowers and phallus shapes sprouting from it. And, of course, I am thinking of Yoko Ono, who performed her Cut Piece first in 1965.
Also active in the scene was the poet Kazuko Shiraishi who was publishing her risqué, outlandish poems in Japan in the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1973 she was invited to spend time at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She was championed by Kenneth Rexroth, who translated some of her work (along with others) into English. Her book Seasons of Sacred Lust was published at Rexroth’s urging by New Directions in 1978. The book consists partly of long erotic, jazz-inspired “descents” that at once lament estrangement, chit chat, and pay tribute to an urban night-time hedonism. Among the titles of the lengthier poems: “The Man Root,” “Seasons of the Sacred Sex Maniac,” and the homage “Dedicated to the Late John Coltrane.” Here’s a section of that one in which you can see her improvisatory abandon where spacey, surreal, and smutty morph fluidly:
With your extremely heavy
And short pilgrimage
Full of fleeting eternity
You were mainly blowing thoughts
Thoughts are eyes, wind
Cascades of spicy sweat
Streaming down your forehead
Thought is an otter’s scream
The sexual legs of chickens
Killed by your old lady
Boiling in a pot
Women’s pubic hair
Alice or Aisha
Thoughts are the faceless songs
Of pink stars
Squirming in the sky
Of every woman’s womb
On the cover of Seasons of Sacred Lust, Kazuko Shiraishi appears in a patchwork of photos. Posing with satin blouses, fans, flowers, cat-eye makeup, and in one holding a microphone, she’s a provocateur. She often performed her poems with jazz accompaniment and would recite, as she said, in her “Samurai movie voice.” She said that Allen Ginsberg, John Coltrane, and Henry Miller were all inspirations.
But there’s certainly something else, something girly and grotesque and blushingly brutal in her work. Reading her is kind of like getting your cards read at a motorcycle/go-go club by Hello Kitty and Chococat. This is not meant to diminish her work; it’s worth considering her stance, which is willingly naïve at times and lets in a wider range of sensitivity. Here’s a little of “The Man Root”:
Sumiko, I’m sorry
But the penis shooting up day by day
Flourishes in the heart of the cosmos
As rigid as a wrecked bus
Other short lyrics in the book appear with animal titles. She creates these mini-
beast masques, a sort of sexualized anime.
That man is a rhinoceros-oyster
He is so big and strong,
But with a heart like a delicate petal.
Don’t be cold to him
Don’t fall in love with him for fun!
If you love him seriously
You will know that
Nothing could be more fearful
Than his love, a love of an oyster-rhino.
If he ever discovers
You are unfaithful, Carmen,
He will take you down the road to death
On his horn,
Instead of kissing you with his gentle eyes.
Don Jose is a rhino-oyster.
Like Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama, Kazuko Shiraishi is still producing in her eighties. Her most recent book My Floating Mother, City came out from New Directions in 2009. The Gurlesque lives on:
I can no longer become six nipples, nor a male with a tail
time is moonlight in front of the graveyard
the Doberman’s syle Debussy music becomes a raging storm
coming into now the joy without even the smell of death
on top of hot raspberry soup becomes a vanilla ice-cream girl
(“April is the Melancholy of a Doberman’s Nipples”)
“Black Luck: The Silence of Marcel Duchamp Has Been Terminated” (Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 666) By Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
By Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews by Calvin Tompkins (Badlands Unlimited, 2013)
The Unknown University by Roberto Bolano (New Directions, 2013)
In 1964 when Calvin Tompkins interviewed Marcel Duchamp verbatim transcripts weren’t the vogue. Incredibly, these three were shelved for 50 years before breaking day, eclipsed by preferred first person narratives, bon vivant vignettes, portraits posed in sympathetic situations. Dreck. Such as “So, I savor a Sauterne on Saint Germaine with mon ami Marcel, who wears downplayed gray Dior. Later, over smokes, he buoyantly confides that he’s ‘a pseudo, all in all.’”
Those of us who make art more than talk about it hold that, while Duchamp’s reticence proved golden, today Duchamp word for word cannot be overprized. (Plus the complete poetry of Roberto Bolano? Nuff said.)
A guest plus a host is a ghost.
In Roberto Bolano’s headstone-thick testament, 2666, goliard critics Jean-Claude Pelletier and Manuel Espinoza, listlessly trawling a disconsolate Mexico for incorporeal author Benno Von Archimboldi, visit one Oscar Amalfitano while mordantly dredging for clues. Archimboldi is their Moby Dick. Whether white whale or eminence grise, wild goose chase or fish story, proof of life’s iffy at best. Nobel prize nominee cum U.F.O. Archimboldi affords only inconstant, inconsequential sightings, ever unconfirmed. Close encounters of the third kind appear to have occurred, like twice. Such that a single dicey, and infra-thin (sic) tale draws these sad Ahabs clear across the Atlantic to the horse latitudes of gruesome, deplorable Sonora.Lunching on beans at Amalfitano’s home, Pelletier spies a geometry textbook suspended by a string from a clothesline in the yard, weathering in the wind “like a shirt left out to dry.”
Just a quick note: I’m reading in the Cine in Athens (Georgia, not Greece) tonight (Monday Nov 18) at 7 pm. I think I’ll read from my repulsive Sugar Book.
I’m reading an anthology called “American Poetry: The Next Generation” and I think it’s very bad because of the pervasive quietist aesthetic and because of how the curating makes everything – even by poets who might otherwise write differently – into the same reflective-personal tone and narrative mode; but most of all (and this is related to the previous two) because the way it makes American poetry into something so incredibly homogenous. I’m horrified to think that this book is being used in classrooms!
Are there any anthologies of contemporary poetry that lets in the conflicts and disagreements of contemporary poetry? Aren’t anthologies for teaching? Then it seems that they’re doing an incredible disservice by suggesting that all poets are the same and believe the same thing. I mean, I’m not looking for “inclusivity”, I’m really looking for a sense that one CAN believe differently, one can be at odds.
Can there be an anthology that doesn’t seek to avoid conflicts or synthesize them (like American hybrid) but actually lets the conflicts be part of what is american poetry?
Or do we not really need anthologies in the age of the Internet?
Silvia Guerra Diaz, Uruguayan poet and scholar, will be visiting ND Monday and Tuesday from the real Montevideo. She will be reading her poetry bilingually on Tuesday November 19 in the Snite Museum.
Here is her poem’La farsa en el umbral, se hamaca’ translated as ‘The Farce in the Doorway, Swaying’ which was published in the anthology Hotel Lautreaumont:
Now it comes back luminous: that part of the sphinx that
recalls nothing and everything seems to her a tall tale. Painted
on the wall upon a silk sheet, the lip to kiss
violet and directed toward disenchantment rectilinearly the
schizophrenia of returning. The sand that glistened and
a woman’s body on it, not mine. Barely twenty
years before, she was silken as a sheet and twenty
and in twenty more no one could endure so much cadence
as live animals sewn into the hem of a blouse that
ends up at the hot edge of the day, teeth
jutting out through black light. And it says schizophrenia
the mark of the sphinx, the smile’s horizontal line
the rope we crossed together when the future was
still in front of the sky egg-laying anguish so it wouldn’t
see the teeth in the violet of the cross,
the broken sticks.
(trans. Alex Verdolinia & Gillian Brassil)
Some Thoughts About: The Gurlesque, Plath, Olga Ravn, Kim Yideum, Matilda Södergran and Sara Tuss Efrik
I’m supposed to write an essay about the gurlesque for the upcoming issue of the Swedish journal 10-tal. One thing I want to talk about is the importance of Sylvia Plath. Of course not the cleaned-up Plath that various scholars have tried to make into a master craftswoman over the past few decades, but the “problematic” Plath who blurs life and art, mythic suicide with art, the sleazy Plath of b-movies and fashion magazines, the Surrealist-influenced Plath, the ekphrastic Plath, the Plath of holocaust kitsch, the Plath beloved by teenage girls, the Plath quoted by Francis Bean Cobain in a recent tweet. In short, a gurlesque Plath.
Maybe I’ll talk about Judy Grahn’s amazing homage to that kitschy Plath, “I Have Come To Claim Marilyn Monroe’s Body”:
… They wept for you
and also they wanted to stuff you while
you still had a little meat left in useful places
but they were too slow.
Now I shall take them my paper sack
and we shall act out a poem together:
“How would you like to see Marilyn Monroe,
in action, smiling, and without her clothes?”
We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces
and then I shall beat them with your skull.
hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba.
Maybe I’ll talk about my meeting with the scholar who didn’t think Plath had any influence on contemporary poetry. I wrote about this some time ago: how he put all of Oppen’s work on the PhD comps list but had taken Plath off. Didn’t know about the gurlesque, didn’t know about any of the myriad of contemporary poets influenced by Plath. When I told him that’s because the field of contemporary poetic has become – post-lang-po – so narrowly defined that Plath is not part of it, he got upset and accused me of conservative populism a la Poetry Foundation. The truth is of course that the gurlesque is a word that points out the larger move toward maximalism and the grotesque, the kitschy and over-done (“too much”) that I at least find the most interesting poetry going on today.
An important features of this maximalism, this gurlesque is how international it is; how it’s not really a movement (which suggests a center, organization) but incredibly widespread, it’s really part of a kind of maximalist movement (that also is not limited to women). And it’s important to me that we don’t see it as an American thing. Even when Arielle Greenberg coined that word there were things that could be called gurlesque happening all over the place – from my point of view, most notably in Sweden and South Korea with people like Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon. The word “gurlesque” does not function for me the way say “language poetry” did – it’s not a set America export (where the US is undeniable central) but a way of calling attention to not just an aesthetic but a connection, a conversation across language boundaries and cultures.
Kofi Awoonor(13 March 1935-21 September 2013) was grounded in the exploration of the Ewe oral epic as a resource for poetic renewal. Through song and chant and story he relived the cultural identity of his people from their ancient days to the present. Both in utilitarian and aesthetic terms, his atmospheric poetry was an ongoing life-long restoration project. Yet there is a massive wattage of modernity in his poems: in subject and technique.
Though form-minded, the elegiac traffic of his verses seems unappeasable. In “Song of Sorrow,” he writes:
” I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house-”
Buoyant eclectic constructions: sharp and brown and dusty and snowy. The sea and all the other bodies of water that permeate his tense stanzas never cease pounding their fists across the page and stage and doorsteps. Ancestral energy connecting with contemporary frenzy. Primes and cracks a reader with fury, vulnerability, heart’s toast. The resources of sagacity convoking history. A certain kind of political tension that need not preclude a wild party. (continue reading…)
Yes, we’re having a discussion/reading tonight at Rönnels in Stockholm. The activities will start at 6:30 pm. We’ll talk about porn, kitsch, the aesthetics of embarrassment, grotesequeries, and we’ll read from our books.
I’m thinking about this today in a cloudy Stockholm attic room: The way that academic discussions of literature (and poetry in particular) often veer into morality, some kind of justification for poetry, for style, or – its opposite – a rejection of it (usually as kitsch, immoral, schlocky).
I’m also thinking about how this relates to Lars Norén. As I wrote in my last post about Norén’s corpse, there’s this violence that permeates his work, from his early lyrics to his – almost up-to-date – diaries. There’s this sense of struggle: the desire to eradicate the poetic, the kitsch, but also the sense that poetic pulls you back in, damages you right back. I suppose this has something to do with Romanticism. In his diaries, I just read him reminiscing about reading Hölderlin, Novalis, Celan.
Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world — sunk in a deep grave — waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes. — The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence?
[It's worth noting that Aase Berg's Dark Matter begins with a Novalis quote.]
Noren’s constantly caught in a battle with his art, and his art is caught in a battle with Auschwitz (“Auschwitz is the capitol of the 20th century,” he notes.), with American imperialism, with the Israeli attacks on Palestine. Is he aestheticizing politics? Is he playing “ruin porn,” “empire porn”? Is he immoral? Is he a vampire? Is Romanticism Norén’s downfall?
Romanticism still seems to play such a large part in how we view poetry: there’s something inherently Romantic about poetry, something we have to discipline because it is also of questionable morality. There was that movie the other year about Keats: how his pale body was covered in butterflies drawn by the smell of rotten fruit (butterflies which I then lured to my room for The Sugar Book).
But obviously also everything from “Berlin”:
I’m thinking back to when I was in college, when I was in a supposedly “quietist” grad workshop: the teacher brought in Language poetry and essays about language poetry and everybody thought that was all good. They were perfectly acceptable. But in discussions of poetry the “Romantic” was always what had to be rejected. This also went by the phrase “too much.” There are too many metaphors in this poem, this speaker is megalomaniacal, seems fake etc.
At the same time I read a lot of postmodern criticism: it was all about the rejection of the “Romantic I.” Supposedly this was what the Quietists practiced: but they too were rejecting the “Romantic.” I smelled a rat. But I couldn’t tell where. I still can’t.
Just that it’s stinking worse than ever.
(Or has the rat already been found? Did my generation of poets devour it without knowing it? Am I puking up something I’ve already eaten a million times? When I come across so many of the 20-something poets they seem unencumbered by all of this, free to write awesome poetry.)
I think of Saul Friedlander’s description of kitsch as “debased Romanticism,” and his whole link of Romanticism, Nazism, stunted-ness and death. It all starts to sound vaguely Frankenstein-ey.
I don’t know all that much about Romanticism even though it was largely the stuff that got me into poetry as a teenager. There’s something teenagery about Romanticism. “I love Shelley” written in a bathroom stall (oh, that Shelley). Or, this morning on the official sign that read “This Area Is Under Surveillance” somebody had slapped a sticker that said “MY HEART IS A BOMB!”