From Eva Brauns’ body snow in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass.
- Lars Noren (from Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death)
Yesterday I wrote a piece about ruin porn inspired by my visit to Detroit. It was really more about the critique/condemnation about “ruin porn,” how this critique stages a condemnation of art and art’s deformation zone, how it also stabilizes something volatile about art, and especially the image.
I see the same condemnation/stabilization in a lot of the rhetoric around kitsch. So that Saul Friedlander condemning kitsch for its connection to Nazism is a little like condemning art as “ruin porn.” Friedlander could be talking about these Detroit pictures here:
“Here is the essence of the frisson: an overload of symbols; a baroque setting; an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing – nothing but frightfulness and the night. Unless… Unless the revelation is that of a mysterious force leading man toward irresistible destruction.”
But if it’s “porn”, how come there are no bodies in it?
Of if these pictures have bodies in them, they must certainly be corpses, right? Corpse porn?
And Blanchot pointed out a long time ago the intimate connection between images and corpses:
“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects—absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible—something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”
Maybe we need a “parapornographic” reading of Detroit?
This past weekend I went to Detroit to give a reading at the Salt and Cedar press, and it got me to thinking about “ruin porn” again, a pet topic of mine. As probably all of you know, “ruin porn” is the phrase used to condemn beautiful photographs of the ruins of Detroit (though I’ve also seen it on a local level, photographs of the ruins of South Bend at the local museum interestingly):
For example, I found this quote in a Huffington Post article summarizing this discussion: “Some have expressed frustration at the way decline is glamorized or exploited — it’s called ruin porn for a reason — rather than seen as part of the city’s larger ills.”
Glamor is a kind of exploitation because it is so purely aesthetic; it does not pay enough attention to context. And this comes up over and over in these discussions: these photos aestheticize or fetishize or glamorize the ruins. The key point is of course: they make art out of ruins.
In the new issue of American Poetry Review, Arielle Greenberg has an essay on the state of translation in contemporary poetry:
“Nonetheless, as new poetry books have been arriving on my doorstep over the past couple of years, I’ve been deeply heartened to see so many weird, wild, exciting works – both modern and contemporary – in translation…”
Greenberg goes through some of the anxieties about translation – how she doesn’t have access to the cultural context, the original etc – but concludes that she nevertheless thinks it’s important to read foreign works in translation:
“… since many of the literature that have avant-garde American poetry originated on other soil, it behooves us to have a more complex sense of the ways in which idea and art intersect and develop across cultures and tongues…”
She then goes on to discuss Graham Foust and Samuel Fredrick’s translation of Ernst Meister, Tomaz Salamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game (translated by Sonja Kravanja), Lidija Dimkovska’s pH Neutral History (translated by Ljubica Arsovka and Peggy Reid), my translation of Aase Berg’s Mörk Materia and Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!.
This is how Greenberg describes Dark Matter:
“Dark Matter is, as its title suggests, a relentlessly macabre collection of prose poems in sections (though certain landscapes and characters seem to melt from one into another), informed by imagery from sci-fi and horror movies and video games: black shells, glowing castles, radioactive lemurs, crystal germs. The whole book feels LCD-screen-blue in a blacklighted cavern, and in true Gothic mode, the body is itself the site of horror: “I haul myself,” the speaker with a gashed-up mouth laments in “Life Form”…
Greenberg’s method throughout is to draw connections between American and the translated poets:
Tales from the Crypt: Year of the Horse—Codex Prime
Frederick Farryl Goodwin, author of Virgil’s Cow (2009) and Galactic Milk (2013) Miami University Press, interviewed by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
Is Frederick Farryl Goodwin the evental poet of this century?
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: I conducted this exchange with Frederick during the first three months of 2014. We still have never met, or spoken on the phone, we employed email. At jump I knew 0 about him personally. But his extra-orbital poems loosed a wanton force majeure sufficient to haul me to him pronto. Banished, vanished, well-hid F. shows lo to no web profile, a magisterial cloaking maneuver itself in our exposé ion eon. How truly create, if not ex nihilo? Our quandary isn’t how Something rose from Nothing, but where did Nothing come from? I give you his debut interview.
As standard Q and A soon quailed confronting such a world-reversing coup, I plied him instead with provocations, sub rosa “constellations,” subliminal suggestiones. Fred mailed back fifteen thousand (15, ooo) words . . . almost overnight. So, to immure and lure you in, please allow me to introduce twin flanking notes Frederick sent before, then immediately after decomposing the bodies of his corpus.
The first is his response to my curt and common question: “Does your email address [which here I must withhold] refer to Eve Futur, by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam?”
And the following, he (Croniomantal, poet beyond the tomb) wirelessed just one “morning after” inking his extended testament below.
Frederick Farryl Goodwin (JAN 17/14)
No, not consciously at least + I’ve not read Villers de L’isle Adam. But who knows the causality of things + the source of words in our lives? Having said that, there’s an anecdotal parallel between Master Janus who, while preparing to initiate Axël into the occult mysteries, asks his pupil whether he is ready to accept “light, hope and life.” Axël replies “no” which I can relate to—& recalls an experience I had w/ Salvador Roquet who once asked me the same question…..whether I was ready to accept “light, hope and life”….. asking me to step outside the room we were in and pass through a door where the light from a dazzling day was streaming in— I couldn’t. I told him so and somaticized my response immediately consumed w/the most excruciating pain, my feet feeling as if someone had basted them with napalm and set them ablaze. It followed two very punishing days with him in Western Mass. where, on the third day, he pulled a woman and myself from a group of thirty or so to do what he termed psychosynthesis in front of everyone for 10 hours — 30 participants + 10 or so therapist/healers of assorted stripes who assisted him— watching and collectively wailing and weeping as a nightmare unfolded. That day, despite myself, but perhaps through me, I was, as Roquet’s principal assistant said to me afterwards, “the spirital center for three days.” Perhaps, as Merwin says, all poetry begins as grief expressed through the wailing wall of the unbroken vowel— the Lament Configuration— until interrupted by the onslaught and tourniquet of the consonants to break the spell— the wife of a gracile/robust australopithecine man is killed by a saber-toothed cat or something like that. The demon was already out of the puzzle box of the collective unconscious for me before Roquet— he helped design and concoct the confection that would contain the demon I saw for the first time with my own eyes when I was 26—while watching a film the screen burned away in front of me from the center out and the red-face and horns came to greet me being of an age when it’s time to use harness the rope and traction of that energy to vatically climb the verticulum towards the other way while accessing the one realm which knowledge of the other allows. I like to think I played tiddlywinks with Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz in a dream as a boy while listening to my dear friend Grace Lake— Jewish visionary seraphim and feminist socialist revolutionary— tell me over and over again in that heartbreakingly, almost unbearably beautiful voice that was hers alone how she stared at the sun as a child until her vision was permanently impaired, transformed. Derek Dowson, illegitimate great-grandson of an Earl + nephew of the Decadent poet Ernst Dowson— later picked up where Roquet left off, taught me everything I know, saved my life and gave me both future + eon while my seasonal human nature…..drifter[ed] bye.
Thank you for writing, posing the question as provocateur, and for the great kindness of your interest: the short answer is nope.
One of the great cliche conventions of 90s experimentalism was that narratives were inherently conservative. In part this came from the (justified) criticisms of the “narrative poetry” (or “Quietism”) that used to be imposed on students in most poetry writing classes. But the problem with the Quietist poems is not necessarily that they are narrative but rather that they use narrative in a boring way: I look out the window (literally or metaphorically) and see something that makes me remember and based on that memory I have some sensation of transcendence or epiphany.
These Quietist poems depend on a self-righteous sense of interiority and authenticity that allows no interesting language. You have to find your “voice” (interiority) but it’s a voice that sounds like every other quietist voice and anything interesting you might do with language will be a threat to that voice. And the narratives tend to be from behind the “window,” remembering, so it rarely feels that anything is at risk.
(I often quote that essay by Robert MnRuhr where he uses disability theory to critique the epiphany as an ableist model of coming back together, becoming whole.)
But narrative is not the problem. Narratives are often fascinating. I remember when I was a child, my grandmother telling me stories about Swedish kings poisoning each other. Years later, I found a photograph of my grandmother dated to “Berlin, 1933″ and my uncle told me that she had had dubious political sympathies back in the day. Narrative can be mysterious. “She’s full of secrets,” the little man says of Laura Palmer’s ghost in that famous Twin Peaks dream sequence (Of course in Quietism there are not supposed to be any secrets, that would be too thrilling.).
Some of the most interesting poetry books of the past few years have been explicitly narrative: Think of Chelsey Minnis’s poems with fashionable killers in Zirconia (“… uh… I want to wear hot pants… and rest my boot on the back of a man’s neck…”) or Bad Bad; or Ronaldo Wilson’s Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man and how those two get muddled up in Poems of the Black Object (“So tonight, when you saw this white man, in glasses, mid-30s with an early grey mullet, lift up his Alpaca sweater to reveal the slit in his abs beneath the bloody curtain of his shirt, you said “Welcome to Brooklyn.”").
I love detective/crime novels, but I only like the first half. (continue reading…)
The past few months I’ve been reading and re-reading the little chapbook His Days Go By the Way Her Years by the young Taiwanese poet and filmmaker Ye Mimi – and translated beautifully by Steve Bradbury and published beautifully by Anomalous Press.
A few months ago, after she came back from the Hong Kong poetry festival, Aase Berg wrote to me that she had come across an amazing poet: Ye Mimi. (Apparently YM appeared with a very impressive guitar player as well.)
That is funny because when I first read Ye Mimi what came to my mind was a somewhat controversial article Aase wrote in Expressen after Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize the other year:
I have already begun to view Tranströmer’s poetry – purely internally, in my brain – as kitsch. That makes it easier for me to communicate with it because I see kitsch as something generative: banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union. The idea of Tranströmer’s images as kitschy allows me to associate to other images, instead of getting stuck in an image mysticism which may seem chokingly water-tight.
Ye Mimi’s poems are wonderful in that way: as “banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union.” In fact they read a little like Tranströmer poems in which the metaphors flip out, go off in tangents. And a Tranströmer poem in which the tenor of the metaphor is not privileged – not over the vehicle, not over the “banal” everyday stuff (pink hoodies, telephone booths etc).
My favorite Tranströmer poem is “To Friends Behind a Border”
To Friends Behind A Border
I wrote so sparsely to you. But what I couldn’t write
swelled and swelled like an old-fashioned zeppelin
and drifted at last through the night sky.
Now the letter is with the censor. He turns on his lamp.
In the glow my words fly up like monkeys on grille
rattle it, become still, and bare their teeth!
Read between the lines. We are going to meet in 200 years
when the microphones in the hotel walls are forgotten
and finally get to sleep, become orthoceras.
Part of what I love about this poem is how lovely and ridiculous his famous metaphors are here: the letters become monkeys (like in a Disney fantasia), the spy-microphones becomes fossils.
This element of goofy-brilliant metaphors are all over Ye Mimi’s work:
but he is bored to pieces and has to have a smoke
a ghost nods off beneath the blackboard tree in a punitive gesture the kittens are made to crouch in tummies
we are mortified at vomiting a layer of sea
the skin of which could not be whiter
(from “And All the Sweat is Left There”)
One big difference is that Ye Mimi’s work is more flippant, following the odd metaphor off in different directions, creating an effect like Exploded Tranströmer.
I’ve meant to write down a few thoughts about Kristen Stewart’s poem published in (or recited for) Marie Clarie Magazine a couple of weeks back and the ensuing controversy. I think this discussion says a lot about taste, mass culture and poetry.
* I don’t know Kristen Stewart’s acting career very well but I saw her in a movie in which she was wonderfully paralyzed in the face. I also know that she was in the vampire movies, Twilight (which later turned into that S&M novel fan fiction).
* It’s interesting to see what kinds of people said what about KS’s poem. Marie Claire and the celebrity, mass culture magazine all seemed to repeat the line that KS herself used to introduce the poem: she said it was “embarrassing.” A celebrity sites seemed to merely repeat that word “embarrassing”. We can take that as a sign of their laziness, sure, but I think it says something else: Poetry – even though it’s supposedly “high culture” is – seen from the point of view of “mass culture” – embarrassing. Always embarrassing.
I think Ravel Galvin’s response to Cal Bedient’s essay “Against Conceptualism” is very thought-provoking. In particular, I am interested in her depiction of “lyric shame” in modern and contemporary poetics:
I’d like to add to Yankelvich’s observation by arguing that casting authorial intent as an “embarrassing indulgence” is symptomatic of the very dynamic that Gillian White identifies inLyric Shame: Producing the “Lyric” Subject of Contemporary American Poetry. This embarrassment congregates around poems seen as offering abstracted, “personal” expression—particularly Romantic, Confessional, and “mainstream” poetry—belonging to what is assumed to be the transhistorical genre of lyric poetry. From the twentieth century onward, such poems have been criticized by scholars, critics, publishers, and writers for their “expressivity,” which is understood as narcissistic and often politically conservative. White tracks how being associated with lyric poetry has become a source of shame in many literary circles. It is disparaged for being monological and oppressive, for relying on a lyric first-person speaker (a coherent “I”) to guide the reader and articulate the perspective of her single subjectivity, or for offering closure. The lyric poem is accused of being so directive as to put the “author” back into “authoritarian.” White argues, however, that such lyric poetry doesn’t actually exist as a form or a genre, but rather is called into being through reading practices. She persuasively explains that the dynamics of shame, and lyric-expressive reading (nineteenth-century constructions of lyric codified as reading methods by twentieth-century critics), have combined to denigrate some poetry as “retrograde, politically conservative, self-indulgent.”
While affect studies have become fashionable across several disciplines (anthropology, psychology, literary theory), “lyric shame” has continued to thrive, and Goldsmith has brought Conceptual poetry to the White House and to The Colbert Report. At the same time, in academia, the question of whether the lyric may be considered a transhistorical genre is producing influential reflections (such as in the work of Virginia Jackson, Yopie Prins, Jonathan Culler, Meredith Martin, White). The entry for “lyric” in the new Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, written by Jackson, specifies thatsince the eighteenth century, “brevity, subjectivity, passion, and sensuality” have been associated with lyric poetry, but that “lyric” has not always named the same thing throughout history. She writes, “The story of the lyric charts the history of poetics.” The current conversation about conceptualism is part of this larger-scale history of poetics. It has struck a nerve with poets and critics alike, because we are at a moment of category fracture, when it is clear that the old terms won’t do, but we don’t have any new terms yet. Where are we to go after Hegel’s assertion that lyric poetry expresses personal feeling, and John Stuart Mill’s idea that poetry is an utterance overheard? And should poets also be activists? Commentators? Outsiders? Visionaries? Media mavens or PR wizards?
Today’s conceptualism debate is not really about constraint or procedure and their relative merits for writing poems, although that is the way Bedient’s piece leans. It is about the fraught notion of the lyric, the “lyric I,” and the possibility of emotional sincerity in art. It is predicated on polemical distinctions between sources of poetry (rational and planned, or “method” poetries versusirrational and “inspired” poetries), which all derive from a metaphysics of origin. Today’s debate once more asks the fundamental, mystifying questions, Where does poetry come from? How is it made?
We have four new books from Action Books for sale now at www.actionbooks.org: Wet Land by Lucas de Lima, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer and Only Jesus Could Icefish in Summer by Abe Smith:
“Lucas de Lima’s stunning book affected me so profoundly at all the stages of reading it, encountering it—before it was a book and afterwards, when it was. In the work of this extraordinary writer, the fragment is not an activity of form. It’s an activity of evisceration.”
- Bhanu Kapil
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon (trans. Don Mee Choi):
“Her poems are not ironic. They are direct, deliberately grotesque, theatrical, unsettling, excessive, visceral and somatic. This is feminist surrealism loaded with shifting, playful linguistics that both defile and defy traditional roles for women.”
- Pam Brown
Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer (various translators):
“Valerie Mejer keeps writing poems that, in their disconsolate perplexity, disclose a sweeping prospect in which biography, landscape, memory and dream erase their respective margins, making clear to us that what we come to call existence is simply a modality in which we claim our right to weakness, defeat, hemorrhage, because only through radical vulnerably can the urgency of love arise.”
- Raúl Zurita
“Abraham Smith carries greatness like a splinter in the lining of the heart. He carries it like a poison drunk up in infancy, a bone shard that traveled from a smashed rib or a flint of exploitation that was planted there by a bad friend or a wasted economic system. Yet music pours from Smith like blood, cheap wine, car-radio and bird song. Abe is an ecstatic, standing outside himself and singing to himself, the whole pulling-apart yet encapsulated pageant of Keats’ Nightingale played out in the person of one poet.”
- Joyelle McSweeney