Commentaries

two radicalisms redux

“Muriel Rukeyser came from a specific line of privileged New York German Jews. Her own mission was to criticize, according to leftist and feminist politics deeply rooted in the Eastern European Socialist tradition, economic and social exploitation. Her poems, as I see it, are the beginning of a startling, deeply important movement, or series of movements, that involve fields as diverse as poetry, art, dancing, economics, and politics.”--Gerald Stern in Nextbook. MORE>>>

Yes, okay, but not "the beginning." She came of age poetically and politically at the end of the 1930s, and she took advantage of movements of the 1920s and of the '30s (distinctly and also converged) that set collage (in the Juan Gris but also the John Dos Passos sense) side by side with the documentary urge. Not to press the point too hard, for Stern here seems to be an ally of this important modern combination: yet this assumption--"her poems...are the beginning"--is one of remnants of the campaign in the postwar period to deny or forget that the two radicalisms--aesthetic and political--ever consorted. But they did, and Muriel Rukeyser appeared on the scene when that merge had already been made possible.

best of '07

At Third Factory, Steve Evans is hosting a year-end round-up of the best poetry books of 2007. The lists he's collected are those of Jerrold Shiroma, Bill Berkson, Pam Brown, Simon DeDeo, John Palattella, James Wagner, Jordan Stempleman, Tom Orange, Allyssa Wolf, Laura Carter, Patrick F. Durgin, Michael Scharf, Meredith Quartermain, Simone dos Anjos, Craig Dworkin, Annie Finch, David Dowker, Joshua Clover, Kevin Killian, Graham Foust, Christopher Nealon, John Hyland, Nancy Kuhl, Matvei Yankelevich, Jennifer Scappettone, Chris Pusateri, K. Silem Mohammad, Dana Ward, Anne Boyer, Robert Kelly, Rick Snyder, Jessica Smith, Pierre Joris, John Latta, Amy King, Joshua Edwards, Franklin Bruno, Catherine Taylor, Benjamin Friedlander, Michael Cross, Stephanie Young, Erin Mouré, Susana Gardner, John Sakkis, Michael Gizzi, Anselm Berrigan, and Sina Queyras.

On James Wagner's list is Dodie Bellamy's Academonia, published by Krupskaya in 2006. "Yes, disturbing," Wagner writes. "Yes, funny. Yes, experimenting. But it’s really the fearless drive for opening herself up/into various areas that keeps one reading these great essays."

In this lively, entertaining collection of essays, Dodie Bellamy has written not only a helpful pedagogical tool, but an epic narrative of survival against institutional deadening and the proscriptiveness that shoots the young writer like poison darts from all sides. By the 90s funding for the arts had dwindled and graduate writing programs—“cash cows”—had risen to fill the slack. Simultaneously, literary production moved from an unstable, at times frightening street culture where experiment was privileged beyond all else, to an institutionalized realm—Academonia!—that enforces, or tends to enforce, conservative aesthetic values.

Among the questions Bellamy raises: how does the writer figure out how to write? How will she claim her content among censorious voices? Can the avant-garde create forms that speak to political and spiritual crisis? Can desire exist in a world of networking structures? [link]

One of Pam Brown's choices is the new issue of Tinfish, a magazine edited by Susan Schultz in Hawaii. The cover image for number 17 is here, above left.

What are some things you will find in this issue?

--definitions to words like “skin,” “rock,” “bangungot,” “mynah litatur,” “Guam”;
--American epics (undone)
--13 ways and 14 lines
--poems of exile and estrangement, a prayer
--politics and love, together and apart

beat journalism, just (barely) enough bop

I love reading early beat journalism about the beat phenomenon. It seeks to make sentences Time can publish with yet just enough rhythmic lingo, idiomatic verve, and phrasal nihilism to certify itself as beat. Beat-written mainstream journalism is a real art, a subgenre that had to be mastered.

Here are phrases pulled from an article by Clellon Holmes, then 26 years old, that appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1952.

the wild boys of today are not lost

it is precisely at this point that the copywriter and the hot-rod driver meet

a disturbing illustration of Voltaire's reliable old joke

there is no desire to shatter the "square" society, only to elude it

the valueless abyss of modern life is unbearable

their flushed, often scoffing, always intent faces

A fuller excerpt is here in my 1950s site.

modernism? no thanks

This 1926 Leger was owned by a collector in Pittsburgh from 1953 until 1966. The collector wanted to give this and hundreds of other modern objects to the city of Pittsburgh, no strings attached.

Pittsburgh said no thanks.

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can't be for or against narrative

In "Toy Boats" Carla Harryman argues that narrative is not something to believe in but something that is there. So we do things with it. In a way this was a rejoinder to all the anti-narrative posturing of her colleagues and contemporaries, but it is at the same time a piece written in the revolutionary-manifesto spirit of those who thus postured.

Here's the opening of "Toy Boats":

The enemies of narrative are those who believe in it and those who deny it. Both belief and denial throw existence into question. Narrative exists, and arguments either for or against it are false. Narrative is a ping-pong ball among blind spots when considered in the light of its advantages and defects.

Narrative holds within its boundaries both its advantages and defects. It can demonstrate its own development as it mutates throughout history. This is its great advantage. I.e., in accomplishing its mutability, it achieves an ongoing existence.

Narrative might be thought to be a character and its defects lie in his "potential to observe his own practice of making falsehoods." If this narrative is imitating anything, its intention is to convince the audience to enjoy the imitation, whatever its lack of truth or reasonableness.

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