Bill Lavender responds to a review of 'Cyclones in High Northern Latitudes'

We are pleased to publish Bill Lavender’s response to Jacquilyn Weeks’s review, “Taking the concept of meaning-making by storm,” which we published on June 24, 2011:

There is a lot to argue with in this review. It’s weird how it approaches the real weaknesses of the poem and even analyzes individual points quite succinctly and yet, in the end, embraces the very banality it accuses the poem of.  In a review that counts the number of personal pronouns in the text, the final judgement boils down to “I didn’t like Cyclones.”

What pertains here, finally, is a very naive attitude toward poetic discourse and the sources of poetic texts.  Jacquilyn Weeks accurately counts the pronouns in the poem but doesn’t seem to realize why one would do such a thing, that pronouns are born out of the meaning-making, as they are, indeed, in her own review.  Which is to say she holds an ostensible (and quite distant, composite even) ego responsible in the first text while she absolves the very real (and close) ego in the second. But the problem is that the pronouns of the poem are discursive (meaning, they arise from the insistence of language itself, from the text as discourse, as responsivity and responsibility) while the pronouns of the review are forced, egocentric, paranoid — exactly what she is quite mistakenly criticizing about the poem.

I’ll illustrate this with a very simple point, the review’s inaccuracy at its crucial point of judgement:

The value of any texts’ aesthetic to an individual reader is in what the reader chooses (and is able) to connect with in any given moment. Which is to say that I’m glad I read it, but I didn’t like Cyclones. Chris Mansel, Matt Hill, and Bill Lavender loved it. [16]

The endtnote refers us only to Jake Berry’s blog, where, we are assured, there are “quotes available.” Please, (you) reader, go to Berry’s blog and find the quote that says Bill Lavender loved it. 

For I never said I loved this poem.  When I was a teenager, I loved Keats, and I loved the bartender at the corner bar.  I outgrew both as I came to understand that romanticism builds meaning through its largely unconscious pronouns.  I don’t “love” poems any more, but seek in them the negation of that romantic phantasy.  I never loved this poem.  I hated it as one hates the thing that causes discomfort, that dispels the easy romanticism.  I hate it because it proves rather decisively that neither readers nor writers nor their pronouns make meaning; meaning is made in the language, by the anonymous force that puts pronouns in our mouths as the priest lays a wafer on the tongue, by the oracular accumulation of a thousand generations, the discourse that both suffocates and engenders meaning.

I still love Keats in the same way that I love James Wright’s cute little ponies or a lazy afternoon watching TV.  But Cyclones has absolutely nothing to do with that neo-romantic aesthetic which bourgeois feminism seems — at least here — to have been reduced to.  And that is why I published it.

Bill Lavender began Lavender Ink in 1998; since then he has published twenty-four books and chapbooks. He is now the director of University of New Orleans Press as well. His own most recent book of poetry is A Field Guide to Trees (Foothills, 2011).  Memory Wing, his epic memoir in verse, is forthcoming from Black Widow in late 2011.  Books also include Transfixion (Trembling Pillow, 2009),  I of the Storm (Trembling Pillow, 2006), While Sleeping (Chax Press, 2004), look the universe is dreaming (Potes and Poets, 2002), and Guest Chain (Lavender Ink, 1999). He is currently editing a volume of creative responses to Arakawa and Gins, has been a guest editor at Exquisite Corpse and Big Bridge, and has edited an anthology, Another South: Experimental Writing in the South (Alabama, 2003). He has published scholarship in Poetics Today and Contemporary Literature.