Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The State of the Art

     We begin by apologizing to Divya Victor for singling out "Locution/Location" from all the other vacuous dreck being put out today.  We choose this sample because even its preface is pretensious nonsense:

This is what writing is: I one language, I another language, and between the two, the line that makes them vibrate; writing? forms a passageway between two shores.

—Hélène Cixous, “Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing”
     This one seems to be about the weighty issue surrounding the pronunciation of the letter "H".  We won't need more than the first strophe to make our point:

She sings the letters
to my daughter, strings them
marigolds into garlands
in the order of the alphabet
E, F, G, she
tugs the haitch, taut and long
far from the breast, a letter
the length of a coast, the width
of a gull’s caw, she now carries
the haitch like I will carry the gurney
later, weightless
of feather
the letters swim with the orange petals
around & around
her, child & crone
milkflesh holme, mouthly
smelling of talc and gooseberry

      No one, least of all the author, would bother to memorize this word salad, let alone perform it.  Were anyone to do so the audience would look at them like pigs in "The Commissar's Report", as if to ask "Why are you inflicting this on us?"  One would look like a jackass.  Hence the "poetry reading", which doesn't involve the presenter looking listeners in the eye.  It is, in every sense, the antipodal opposite of poetry.

     Contrast the typical poetry reading  to Christopher Plummer's performance of "Brown Penny"  by William Butler Yeats.

     What is the upshot of this lack of exposure to good performance, let alone good contemporary writing?

     Recently, we posted this challenge here, in a [novice] showcase group, and in a gathering of most of the world's top poets and editors:

Describe a poem that Facebookers would Share.    

      No one could visualize such a thing.  Not only could they not recall a time they Shared or Retweeted any verse themselves, they could not envision what such a piece would look like. 

Thus, not only is poetry dead, but none of us can imagine it being alive.

     Think about that for a while.


  1. When I commented on your last post I thought your facebook remark was retorical. I can describe a poem shared on facebook, and many shared on instagram. The latter is obviously Kaur and a few others, the former is Moniker, and Keats is dead so fuck me (or something like that) by Hera Lindsay Bird, I am not saying they are any good, the second is passable but really, when you get past the shock value, pretty ordinary and not likely to stand a chance. So poetry is being shared on social media I think, the quality just isn't there yet, but then again, I reckon that if Mazz or Kristalo were posting on instagram instead of eratosphere, they would get shares. Maybe it's not that people aren't ready, and more that poets aren't very media savvy at the moment. I agree with you about the poem in the poetry magazine, but giving them their due they do publish some poems that crowds would like. Have you heard of Jericho Brown, or the slightly inferior Danez Smith?

  2. The less said about Hera Lindsay Bird and Rupi Kaur the better. Jericho Brown is an excellent linebreaker but that won't earn him many enthusiastic fans. Danez Smith is unremarkable even as a prose storyteller. Neither would have much stage appeal and it's hard to imagine a sudden interest in text-only lineated prose.

    Here's the thing. Whenever we see a flavor-of-the-month corazoner or poser it has to be presented as "poetry" to overcome its inherent dullness, cliché, and vacuity. That designation is, itself, fatal. Maz's sonnets, as good as many of them are, won't inspire many Shares if presented as verse. However, were someone to perform "Studying Savonarola" and present it as a dramatization--one that captures its inherent existential sensuality/sexuality--it MIGHT go viral.

    Because it's actually [gasp!] about something, "Beans" needs context. It could be a scene in a movie about the "No" campaign but it would have to overcome the public's lack of interest in history--especially that of a nation other than America or one's own.

    Beyond that and humor, it is difficult for us to imagine a viral poem. Yes, this is a serious question, not a rhetorical one. Perhaps the most critical one facing poetry.

  3. I wonder then, if you could disguise a poem as something else (inspirational quote of the day, or history lesson) then place it on social media. I personally find the public is less averse to poetry if they are surprised by it per sé, unaware that it is that terrible art form they had to study in school.

    If poetry was beaten by television and video games, then place poems in television programs and video games. And make it illegal for adverts to use those terrible rhyming poems they're so fond of.

    Yeah, Smith isn't that good a writer. I raise him only because his subject matter may appeal more. Also, he is quite a performer of his work.

    It's a bit like poetry stuck between low-quality "prose with line breaks" being performed, and abstract, meaningless rubbish being published. What poetry needs is a genius who can unite the art form. Then again, there's probably an Emily Dickinson hiding somewhere in the world.

    Here's a question for you:
    Why is poetry popular in spain but not in England or America? Or why is it still popular in the arab world? Is there anything superior in the quality of Spanish, or Arabic poetry to English language poetry? And, even in nations where poetry is popular, do poems go viral online? Serious question. Great talking! Great blog!

    1. You bring up some excellent questions:

      "...if you could disguise a poem"

      While that is a perfectly legit view, here's another: Novelists and playwrights don't advertise their work as "prose", so why should poets present their work as "poetry", devoid of genre or context? To associate our work with that of Shakespeare (a comparison that can never help us)? To suggest that our work is worth memorizing and quoting verbatim--the very definition of poetry? What happened to Leonard Cohen's dictum that "poetry is a verdict, not a claim"? Why NOT just put it out there without pretension or presumption? And let the listener decide?

      Shakespeare billed his plays are tragedies, drama, romance, and comedies. Never as blank verse. He did okay.

      "What poetry needs is a genius who can unite the art form."

      Maybe more than one! A writer, a performer, and maybe a videography producer? Maybe a music arranger and a band? Networking!

      As you suggest, those who perform can't write, those who can write can't perform, and those who teach can't seem to do either! LOL!

      "And, even in nations where poetry is popular, do poems go viral online?"

      I can't say for CERTAIN that contemporary poems do but Neruda and Garcia Lorca are everywhere. At the very least, the awareness of poetry is common everywhere outside the anglophone world.

  4. It would be interesting to hear your opinions on Patricia Lockwood, possibly the most famous online poet for offliners. Is "Rape Joke" and her later body of work inferior to the poems posted to pffa in the early 2000s?

  5. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you on this earlier. This is a busy time of year.

    Unless we view communication arts as circular, such that at some point opposites intersect, I would never describe Patricia Lockwood's forgettable prose as poetry.

    Just to be clear, when we use the expression "online poet" we refer to someone who not only has an aesthetic, which Patricia lacks, but one that has been influenced by critical examination from strangers online. Even if one's work is the best of all time, merely posting it on the Internet will not make William Shakespeare an "online poet".

    I would not compare Lockwood's work to what we see on PFFA any more than a building contractor would compare the utility of bricks to peaches. Incidentally and for what it's worth, comparing the best of both, the quality of verse on Usenet was superior to PFFA's, if only because of the greater membership. Indeed, if push came to show I'd say that Gazebo had better work than PFFA, though the critique might not have been quite as good.

    Good hearing from, as always, W.T.


Your comments and questions are welcome.