[I met Clemens Altgård at a reading I gave in Malmö with the Iranian-Swedish poet Azita Ghahreman last fall. We got to talking about Malmöligan, the 80s, and a bunch of other stuff. I thought it would be interesting not just to Swedes but perhaps to others as well if I asked him a few questions about these matters. This is the first of a series of questions I'll ask him. Please feel free to join in and ask your own questions of him. Here are three of his poems (in my translation) from the most recent issue of Action, Yes.]
Johannes: I’ll begin with a broad question. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, you were a part of Malmöligan (“The Malmö Gang”), a group of writers in Malmö (a major industrial city in Skåne, southern Sweden, also my dad’s hometown) which also included Kristian Lundberg, Lukas Moodysson and Håkan Sandell. One of my first encounters with the group was Sandell’s collection Flickor (Girls) and another was Kristallskeppet, your translation of the Danish poet Michael Strunge. In many ways these two books color my impression of Malmöligan – as a decadent/Romantic aesthetic that is also deeply engaged with pop culture (Sandell’s book samples Iggy Pop and Strunge’s includes references to Joy Division and David Bowie) [I wrote a post about the 1980s and Strunge and "visionary kitsch" a while ago]. I also get the impression that an important part of the group dynamic was the emphasis on readings. You have also mentioned an interest in Latin American poetry. And another part – as the name suggests – is the location (Malmö, hardly the most poetic place in the world). What do you see as the guiding aesthetics of the group? Did the group have a guiding aesthetic? How important was the fact that you guys were from Malmö (as opposed to Stockholm, the capital and cultural center)? [Och kanske jag oversatter en Sandell dikt och en Strunge dikt och länkar till dina dikter i ActionYes]
Clemens: I must also mention the other two members, Martti Soutkari and Per Linde. Both Martti and Per were also musicians and played in post-punk bands. Martti was the singer in Blago Bung (that took its name from a poem by the dadaist Hugo Ball) and Per was a drummer in Kabinett Död.
When it comes to the question of guiding aesthetics of the group I’m sure that you would get different answers depending on who you’re asking. But we all met in that strange subcultural melting pot that existed in Malmö/Lund at the time. There was an underground scene that consisted of different elements, for example: punk, postpunk, psychedelia and avantgarde aestethics. In the beginning it was me, Håkan and Per. Then we got to know Kristian and Lukas. We all knew who Martti was but he was not in the group to begin with. He joined the group in -87, if I remember correctly.
At first we were much into the early modernists like Rimbaud and Baudelaire. And the surrealists and dadaists of course. I must also mention the beat literature. We all read those American writers when we were still very young. There was a Latin American community i Malmö consisting of political refugees and soon enough we got to know some of the artists, writers and poets.
We did readings together and there was a great cultural exchange. Then we discovered the baroque qualities in the poetry of our friends from Latin America. This also influenced our own writing, I think.
The last couple of days, this is what I’ve been reading:
Nikki Wallschlaeger: “His body rejected the new lung like my body rejected your dick…”
he cannot know and hence he doesn’t answer.
it looks like one of those dangerous games
with animals waiting on both sides
of the barbed wire….
We have had some discussion of Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article here on Montevidayo. Mostly we have been critical of the article, but I wonder if we cannot use it as a starting point for some more discussions of taste, translation and excess.
I certainly still believe that excluding any discussion of translation, especially translation of Latin American poetry, is at best what Joyelle called “a missed opportunity” and what Lucas said indexed “a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”
As I noted, this is an article that is very much trying to come to terms with a notion of taste, of the value of restraint as a model of taste. I wrote about this matter a few days ago. What is the pedagogical value to warn against “going too far”? Or using a “nearly baroque” to set up against an over-the-top baroque? (continue reading…)
“I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process”: Paul Cunningham interviews Sade Murphy
[Sade Murphy has poems in the new Action,Yes. Paul Cunningham, assistant editor of Action Books, interviews here here.]
Paul: Hi Sade. How do you approach writing a new poem? What kind of work do you typically set out to write?
Sade: I feel like when I start something, it’s usually accidentally. Dream Machine began because I wanted to trick myself into a good writing routine during a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I’d start my day by writing about the previous night’s dreams over breakfast. It eventually replaced the project that I thought I would start there and grew eight legs and several other healthy appendages. So I guess I stumble into new poems while I’m doing something else. But once I have a concept I’m obsessed with it and I have to work it to completion. So I don’t feel like I typically set out to write anything. But even if I don’t have an intention in that regard I do intend for the poetry to be visceral. I want to write something that makes me feel powerful and effective when I read it. I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process. I want, at least for the time being, to write poetry that creates questions and discomfort for people, to make them wonder if they’ve underestimated me.
Paul: Could you say something about the structure of Dream Machine? For me, the rapidity and the weight of the poem’s numbers tugged and propelled me through what felt like a filmic dream archive.
Sade: That’s really well put. So Dream Machine is set up in sections of six poems each and each section is titled Dream Machine of the Decade and then subtitled with a certain kind of number. For instance most of the dream machines on Action, Yes are “Sexy Numbers” or “Prime Numbers”. I have this thing about numbers, so the numbering of the poems is fairly intentional. The numbers are the titles for the poems. But it’s disordered too, the numbers aren’t sequential, they aren’t all there, they’re grouped somewhat subjectively. Ultimately the numbers kind of represent this ideal of structure or order within the realm of Dream Machine, in a way that the order is only meaningful to the imposer of said order.
There exists a sole dreamer spawning the Dream Machine. That dreamer is me… which I feel is important to say because I have a particular position and experiences which inform the things that are able to happen in the Dream Machine. There are also a few recurring characters.
Paul: What primarily influences your use of language and wordplay?
Sade: Eleutheromania. I want freedom. I remember growing up and feeling very policed about what I was allowed to write or think or feel. (continue reading…)
In response to my post on Gringpo provincialism, Brian Stefans wrote:
I can’t tell how much you are joking here. I love elaborate name-calling and neologisms as a sort of extravagant gesture like snapping your fingers in someone’s face but do you really be expected to be taken seriously?
Tonal ambiguity; bitchy extravagance; ornamentation and gesticulation; coinages galore. Deep in my plumas, I love Brian’s take on the disorienting effects of my queeny baroque. What does he describe if not the baroque “process of masking, of progressive enveloping, of mockery” that my lettered nena Sarduy identified as
“a necessarily pulverized reflection of a knowledge that knows it is no longer ‘calmly’ closed on itself. An art of dethronement and dispute.”
While “Las meninas” is an example of colonial Spanish baroque painting, I believe it is rebelliously Latina in spirit. As if to decolonize the gaze, the boundaries of art, Velazquez, and his spectators dissolve through a juvenile femme force that destroys mastery. Even in the 21st century, the painting’s assault on all frames and borders restages a crisis of the phallus and its neo-imperialist order.
This is the baroque abyss inseparable from its fullness: the fear of a vaccuum in the face of a missing center, a paradoxically generative horror vacui. (continue reading…)
In response to Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article, Lucas and Joyelle wrote posts questioning the exclusion of the foreign, and in particular the Latin American engagement with the baroque. Lucas suggested that this “nearly baroque” not only omitted the Latin American poets, but that in fact it was a way of dealing with the threat of the foreign (fully baroque).
For me this is a key issue. One of the volatile aspects of translation is that it asks us to question what might be domestic tastes and conventions. I am fond of stating that translations cause problems because they generate too many versions of too many texts by too many authors. And as we know from the “too much” trope that has become increasingly common in contemporary US poetry discussions, this excess is tightly intertwined with the idea of taste. Taste saves us from the too much, the “plague ground.” It’s in fact because of the too much that we need taste. (See for example my Ranciere post from a while back.)
As I wrote in my last post, “baroque” is a kind of tastelessness, a kind of excess. The tasteless art that is seduced by the artistic, causing it to write too much, to put too much into the writing/art.
There has been some discussion here and on facebook about Steve Burt’s article on the “Nearly Baroque.” And not surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on this “nearly,” a word that suggests both an open-ness to this baroque, and a restraint, an an ability to control this (possible dangerous, decadent impulse). It’s “extravagant” but not *that* extravagant.
I agree with Lucas’s (and Joyelle’s) suggestion that it has to do with a defense against the foreign, that the “fully baroque” may not even be a particular foreign poetry, but a more general foreign-ness. Lucas asserts:
“The exacted inexactness of Burt’s ‘nearly baroque,’ his ‘almost rococo,’ thus indexes a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”
I am interested in how Burt’s “nearly” plays into a dynamics of Taste, a sense that I think is enhanced by Burt’s standing as an arbiter of taste. For isn’t the most obvious meaning of baroque in fact “tasteless”? The word was first used as a derogatory term calling attention to an excess of ornamentality (which equals crime, thanks Modernism). And this is largely how Burt uses the terms as well. With this important change: the poets he writes about are “NEARLY” baroque.
Or: NEARLY TASTELESS.
El nuevo nada o la novedad: Making Love With Excessive Nothing vs. the Safety of Lack
by Raquel Salas-Rivera
i would like to add the following points to this debate:
1) i am tired of u.s. poets that quote sarduy and lezama, but haven’t read manuelramos otero or marigloria palma (to name just a few), both poets who came from a STILL-U.S.-COLONY, WHOSE BOOKS HAVE GONE OUT OF PRINT AND CAN’T BE FOUND, AND WHO DID WORK THAT IS WAY BETTER THAT MOST OF THE BULLSHIT I’VE READ SINCE I’VE GOTTEN HERE. yo, you folk need to check your shit, or better yet, check out some other shit…and no, a head nod is not enough. i want more, more baroque, more movement from the center. I WANT TOTAL DISPLACEMENT, NOT INCORPORATION. this is particularly meaningful to me because i have this wild concern with preserving poetry that is disappearing due to the center’s centripetal pull.
2) i am tired of u.s. poets that evoke nothingness and chaos as BAD BEHAVIOR. actually no, i’m not tired. i’m excited by the idea that our nothingness and our chaos can still piss off such logocentric, hegemonic models of good meaning. and here i say you need to read some colombian nadaísta poetry. yeah, you read right NADAÍSMO. an incredible movement that invoked nothingness from what some canons would call the margins. read some jotamario, read some gonzalo arango, and then come talk to me about nothingness. also, let’s talk about lack, signification, and patriarchy. my chaos is not your meaning. MY NEGATIVITY IS NOT YOUR SENSE OF POWER.
In the aftermath of my post on the baroque below, a board member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts accused me of “reducing” my issue to identity.
This person, who works for a key literary venue, said my focus on identity had “thoroughly” persuaded them out of a line of thought that might otherwise have been interesting. They also quoted Marxist theory on me.
Too bad it wasn’t an isolated incident. This is a bias I encounter all the time in writers who claim to have supposedly ‘progressive’ politics.
Experimental U.S. poetry culture, especially, pats itself on the back for privileging some poets—the ones most legible in terms of their political causes—while ignoring others who sound like “strange almost English” (another comment I fielded yesterday).
¿Pero que dices? Are we mongrels just too baroque to bear?
One senses an acute xenophobia in US-American poets’ underestimation of the relationship between identity and form, and the way aesthetics that have flourished outside the US get written out of the mainstream, the experimental, and the political.
Of course, this privileging of legibility and dismissal of the foreign must take turns waving the same tattered flag. As tendencies that work hand in hand, they exhaust gringo poetry at the twilight of a superpower, cornering it into its least visceral, mystical, and transformative space.
“North American experimentalism became a fine jewelry shop.” -Heriberto Yépez (trans. Guillermo Parra)
They’re the two sides of the avant-garde/mainstream exceptionalist comfort zone I’m calling Gringpo Provincialism.
A literary jingoism desperate for its baroque death.
“We are not asking for an apology. An apology is not a decolonizing act. We are asking for decolonization of your whiteness, of your white lists, of your listing practices.”
Leaving aside the poets in Stephen Burt’s article the “Nearly Baroque” in the Boston Review, I think it’s really interesting how his model is founded on deficiency. That is, Burt defines his aesthetic category adverbially by its lack, its mere approximation, when the baroque by definition is primarily about fullness.
Mi gente, there is even such a thing as the Ultrabaroque, the supercharged flipside to Burt’s starved oxymoron.
In response to Burt, Joyelle wrote the following in her Poetry Foundation post “I Want to Go All the Way”:
….there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?
After mulling over Joyelle’s questions, I went all the way, adding to them. Why does Burt bother with the baroque in the first place? Instead of meeting the baroque halfway, why not come up with a more tailored concept (a la the Montevidayans) like the Gurlesque, the Necropastoral, or Atrocity Kitsch? Or even Burt’s own “elliptical poetry” or “the New Thing”? Then it occurred to me just how important lack in the “Nearly Baroque” may be. I think the ‘nearly’ of his taxonomy troubles it in ways that Burt doesn’t actually intend. In its admission to not quite living up to Severo Sarduy or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the “Nearly Baroque” reads like the ultimate symptom of American literary provincialism.
A provincialism the term itself takes to its limit, nervously marking it. As if the boundaries that prop up jingoist navel-gazing had to finally dissolve. (continue reading…)