Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Juliana Spahr

A thimbleful of cultural heat

The Modern Languages Association is large enough that it is districted into divisions, like “American Literature to 1800” or “Women's Studies in Language and Literature.” This year, the “Literary Criticism” division's special panel at the big annual gathering (a brutal job fair veiled by an ever more threadbare academic conference) was on “Marx and Poetry.” This may be for the simple reason that the division’s head gets to choose the topic: Kristin Ross has written one of the great works of Marxist poetry criticism, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune.

But it may be a measure (one might admit to optimism) of some cultural heat, perhaps a thimbleful, gathering around poetry and around historical materialist approaches thereto. After all, Ross got elected. And the Rimbaud book, her debut three deacdes ago, is recently back in print.

Self-abolition of the poet (Part 2)

The Humours of Hob at the Country Wake in the Opera of Flora / Friendly as a Ballad Singer at the Country Wake. Engraving After John Laguerre, by Claude Dubosc, 1725-1750

Some of our respondents have objected that the preceding post on the self-abolition of the poet assumes, wrongly, an essential link between the poetry and literacy. This is a good point, and one we had intended to address eventually. Oral poetry has, it’s true, existed alongside and inside literate poetry for thousands of years, and there is every indication that poetry — defined broadly as the patterning of speech — is a primordial set of mnemonic techniques that cultures have used to transmit and conserve important information since long before the advent of writing.But the point of the earlier post was to demonstrate that the emergence of poets and poems — particular authors attached to particular written creations — was a product of literate class societies, societies with a complex division of labor, with something like a state and with a division between commoners and elites. We’re going to stand firm on this point, with the added complication that, in many cases, the poetry that played the role of glorifying, consecrating and mythologizing such class societies was also oral (see, for instance, the Bardic tradition). In this regard, the presence or absence of writing is not really determinative it’s merely an index.

Starting from lull

Jill Richards' 'Distribution Series'

Marilyn Buck

Ronald Paulson's The Art of Riot in England and America is a small, thin book. Its concerns are mainly with art, with nineteenth century pictorial representations of riot. In it Paulson attempts a taxonomy of riot so as to understand its festivities, its seditions.

I have read Paulson’s book several times in the last few years. At moments frustrated with how it seems too ecumenical. At other moments frustrated because when it gets to the literature his examples feel a little tired (and so male): Norman Mailer, Nathanael West, George Romero, etc.

Baraka / the divide

Baraka w/ microphone
Baraka w/ microphone

At the first poetry conference I ever attended, war broke out. It was the National Poetry Foundation’s  North American Poetry in the 1960s, in 2000. Barrett Watten, fortuitously also providing Commentaries for Jacket2 just now, gave a plenary on “The Turn to Language after the 1960s,” which in my memory charted a two-way street between campus radicalism at UC Berkeley (both the Free Speech and anti-war movements) and a politics of form foundational to what would be “language writing.” In Watten's own words, “In my multimedia presentation, I tried to reconstruct a context for the poetry’s “turn to language” in the conditions of public discourse of the period, focusing on Berkeley as a site and Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journals as a text, using Ernesto Laclau as theorist.”

From the back of the hall, Amiri Baraka wasn't having it.

The self-abolition of the poet

At the excellent Poetry and/or Revolution conference a few months back, one salient but perhaps muddy point of discussion concerned the relationship between poetry and capitalism (or class society more broadly). A couple of us here at Commune Editions wrote on this point in our statements for the conference, with Joshua Clover averring that a successful revolution would spell the end of the poet as a distinct social role, while Tim Kreiner and Jasper Bernes seemed to take an even more maximalist position, suggesting that the revolutionary formation of a free and equal society would mean not only the end of poets but also poems, allowing for some new and for us inconceivable form of aesthetic expression that might still deserve the name poetry.