Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Happy disarray

Because every few months or so it's time to demolish, in a controlled way, the tower of papers and paid bills and letters and newspaper clippings that I keep on the floor of whatever room I'm staying in. These towers of paper pass for my file cabinets, and sooner or later it comes time to empty them out so to speak. Stacks for personal correspondence / letters, Good Ground-related documents (such as Long Island train timetables, there on the bed, pamphlets and brochures of memorable places I've blundered into (the stack by the coffee cup there; if you're ever in Southampton NY, go to the Publick House, and if you're ever in Steamboat Springs, CO, stay at the Iron Horse Inn). And does anyone else have a hard time throwing out old Times Magazines? I have three issues in the lower left corner there.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Post-postmodernism Sighting #33

I liked what Tony Hoagland wrote in his article "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment," published in the March 2006 Poetry. Hard to argue with the primacy, or at least the ascension, of a looser nature to the contemporary lyric. Narrative has fallen out of favor. Not to say it it's no longer being written. Hoagland himself is after all a narrative worker through and through. His work might be more jammy and fun than most narrative poets allow themselves to be: see this stanza, taken at random from those pieces of his available online:

Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she's a conjugated verb.
She's been doing the direct object
with a second person pronoun named Phil,
and when she walks into the room,
everybody turns:

and you have to wonder if narrative is a harder tool to use effectively. It turns out that Hoagland does have a surprise or two in the next stanza and line - "some kind of light is coming from her head" he says - but I think that Hoagland believes that this is a belief that's common among practitioners of what he calls the Poem of Our Moment. Which is "a more lyric and dissociative thing" that doesn't hem us into a poetic story. Hoagland theorizes the decline of narrative and the rise of the loose weird just-kidding lyric this way:

"The speedy conceptuality which characterizes much contemporary poetry prefers the dance of multiple perspectives to sustained participation. It hesitates to enter a point of view that cannot easily be altered or quickly escaped from."

Hoagland's dead on when he points out this and some other reasons that conventional narrative can feel restrictive to practitioners of what Hoagland calls the Poem of the Moment. It makes sense that contemporary poets would want to chop up their narratives and stitch them together and chop them up and stitch together again: narrative can be stifling to write. I could take issue with that but suffice it to say for now that he's sketching a case for why the skittery hey-no-hands! lyric has become more popular. Fine.

He's pretty close to the mark when he points out the drawbacks of that jumpy magpie-on-E poetry that's replaced conventional narrative as the Poem of the Moment. It's a little naive to assert that there's one Poem or Poetics of the Moment, obviously. But his description of the Poem of the Moment does strike gold:

"Poems like 'Improvisation' showcase personality in the persona of their chatty, free-associating, nutty-smart narrators. It is a self that does not stand still, that implies a kind of spectral, anxious insubstantiality. The voice is plenty sharp in tone and sometimes observant in its detail, but it is skittery. Elusiveness is the spearker's central characteristic. Speed, wit, and absurdity are its attractive qualities. The last thing these poems are going to do is risk their detachment, their distance, their freedom from accountability" (Poetry, March 06, 513).

And then what's greatest of all is that in the end, his discussion of Aragon's "Pop Song" hits chords that are not only akin to post-postmodernism, but, like, define it dude.

"Aragon's bold, clownish poem, typical of this strain of French Surrealism, is an exhortation to wonder. Its leaping, erratic movements... the mention of death, the progressive intimacy of the voice, the arrival at self-examination and tonal sincerity, all mark this poem which combines rhetorical performance with interiority" (Poetry, March 06, 516-17).

Key words as follows: sincerity. Again with the New Sincerity. But the meaning of that word is this context and how to get it is a matter that's for another post. Also: combines rhetorical performance with interiority. So Hoagland's argument against the conventional narrative - even though that's not the bone he wants to pick - is that while there may be interiority, there's not enough rhetorical performance, and the poem seems rote, familiar, even insipid. And his argument against the loose free-associating lyrics that does seem popular if not dominant - and this bone is being picked, big time - is that while there's a great deal of rhetorical performance in the PotM, there's not enough interiority.

That said, it's not going to help the Post-postmodernists' and New Sincerists' case if we're to disregard the possibility of reading "interiority" and "tonal sincerity" into work that would seem initially to lack it. Hoagland indicts the PotM for demanding a "freedom from accountability." I understand why he says this: in the poem "Improvisation," which he bases much of his critique upon, there is a sense of skittishness and "don't pay attention to me, I'm mad" when we read lines like "In the future there will be less to remember. / In the past I have only my body and shoes. / The gut and the throat are two entirely different animals." But Hoagland doesn't give the poem, or the poet, enough credit. He's right to say that this leaping around confesses a certain disregard for the narrator's and the reader's emotional experiences, but at the same time he doesn't dig very deeply into the possibilities of what such lines might be hiding.

Hey, you know what? This is is nitpicking. Hoagland shoots three times - One) at the narrative and why many poets have left it behind, Two) at what he calls the Poem of the Moment and how the PotM seems obsessed with this funny combination of erudition and confusion (very postmodern, that), and Three) at this new approach which makes use of postmodern methods of composition and rhetorical performance and arrives at an articulate emotional experience. It's not a How-To, thank God. And it's not quite a manifesto. But as an essay of the times it scores, three times, and describes what post-postmodernism is. Not what it should be, but what it actually is as represented by work that's happening out there. Yes. I've got to say it. This is really happening, kiddos.


Less $ in my account than I realized. And now to pay roughly $400 in bills. See title of post.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Today's Russian Master Says...

"Oh, no; there are people of deep feeling who have been somehow crushed. Buffoonery in them is a form of resentful irony against those to whom they haven't yet dared speak the truth..."

~ Alyosha

F. Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.


was great. To wit:

This isn't a good shot of either of us, but I post it for the sneery look of the guy in the background. Far be it from me to say he represents Milwaukeans in general. Nevertheless, as with clowns, there is something frightening yet funny about the look he's giving us.

Usher and longtime member of Kristin's crew Matt Parsons there on the left. Groomsman and brother to the bride John Fagan there on the right. There's a funny story about John which I don't feel at liberty to share, really, but I will say that if you're in an unfamiliar city and overindulge at a bachelor's party and take a walk, take your shoes with you. And make sure someone knows where you are. Or at least be sure about whose couch it is you've collapsed onto, and in whose apartment the couch is. Or don't, and freak everybody out!

Good souls Anne Chang (Bender?) and Nathan Bender.

Groom Aaron Stockum. His betrothed gave him some real Spidey webslingers there. Which I think is a very loving gift. It really is all about the thought, I've decided. I've never been much into the idea of goods that are traditionally "valuable." Jewelry, designer clothes, they don't even make me shrug I care so little for them. But gifts that consider the pleasures another person can take in something you or I might consider unlikely display what is in the end a real understanding of that other person. Because Aaron loves him some Silver Age comics. Great thinking, Shira.

One of our better photos ever.


Milwaukee is actually a fairly hip place, in certain districts. I wouldn't call it thriving, but I would call parts of it charming. Places to check out on returning: the Museum of Art; Broad Vocabulary (a bookstore that may or may not have, um, specialty material ["Broad" being meant in its non-P.C. 40s / 50s sense, i.e. "dame"] ); the Miller Factory. On your visit, try the Lakefront River Walk Stein. And the wedding was lovely. 25 minutes. Kudos Aaron and Shira. Thanks for having us.