Saturday, January 13, 2007


They sent a maid
to clean Jocasta's

chamber, a stout
ex-maenad, still

full of wine. She
happened upon

the two eyeballs
of Oedipus, doused

with blood, beneath
Jocasta's dangling

feet. They were
smooth, tender

as grapes. She
pocketed them.

They became play-
things for her cats.

Perhaps there is
use for everything,

she thought, raising
a glass to her lips;

and if I am a thief,
who will accuse me?

This poem is featured in the Dusie chapbook Posit, as included in the 2007 Kollektiv

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Theodor Adorno: Lyric Poetry and Society

Theodor Adorno asserted that lyric poetry, which tends to focus on individuals and subjective impressions, can in fact be used as a kind of societal barometer. It isn't what is in the lyric poems, necessarily; it's what is left out. Lyric poetry implicitly implicates an uncaring, mechanized, homogeneous society. Because lyric poetry is traditionally the province of the "epiphanic/Romantic I", and because Language Poetry has the dual aim of robbing this "I" of its perceived hegemony and also enacting an (often Marxist) critique of conspicuously consumptive (American) society, it made me wonder what, in fact, is a more effective method of effecting change: lyric poetry that implicates indirectly, or post-avant poetry that takes, not exactly a direct approach, but a more direct (even when "deconstructive") approach then the conventional lyric takes, in its assault on materiality and societal conventions.

Adorno uses the example of Baudelaire, and the note of despair which runs through his poems. The formal aspects of Baudelaire's poetry were, for Adorno, a way of classicizing his work, separating it from the heavy vulgarian influence of the bourgeoisie. Formality in high art is punkish enough to do that trick. By Adorno's standards, Baudelaire gets tangled, though, because by the time he wrote Paris Spleen he was criticizing bourgeois France rather directly. His allegories all demonstrated the cold, hard reality beneath the veneer of charm and lightness which dominated nineteenth-century upper-class France. How about the lyricists of today? This is hard for me to address- if there are any genuine ones, I don't really read them. I do write lyrically, and read poets that do lyrical stuff, like Corso, Larkin, and others, sometimes, but these poets don't seem to be pure lyricists. Many lyric personas do, in fact, implicate an uncaring "consumerist" society, and seem to move in a dark, miasmic wilderness. I think these manifest the sort of syndrome Adorno is talking about.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Poem: Gun and Knife (after J. Tranter)

"Please, I'm begging you-
don't do it at 3 a.m., when
I'm sleeping, but rather at
high noon, in a public square,
so that everyone can see a
thousand rosy rivulets run
like waterfalls away from
my innards. A sawed-off
shotgun, please, fed to me
like cornbread, what I know
is really best, no need for
a spoon, just shove it in.
Then, when my brain dots
& streaks several unready
awnings, the knife, have it
be long, terrible as angels
dancing & as merciless,
plunge it, deeper, deeper,
so that I feel my aorta
being severed, really feel
it, how shockingly irrevocable,
just like that, so that literal
nothingness becomes my
only reality, which it already
is, which is why I'm begging
you, please, please."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Narrativity and Stasis

A good number of the texts I've been dealing with on this blog over the last few weeks are non-narrative or anti-narrative texts. They do not tell stories or delineate premises in a linear or logical fashion, but move in ellipses. Something I said about Meteoric Flowers (Elizabeth Willis) holds true (more or less) for all these texts- they give an impression of stasis, of nothing moving. It is difficult not to feel psychically congested when you read them, because lines pile up, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and you feel no sense of velocity, of progress. This would seem to be a liability. On the other hand, many post-avantists claim this to be a conscious choice- that subverting, inverting, perverting, or (usually) simply doing away with conventional narrative structure is part and parcel of their stated or unstated mission. To my mind, though, in simplistic, reductive terms: the work winds up making no sense. Many post-avantists have very baroque explanations for not making sense, elaborate conceptual schemas. I would still rather read work which hinges on the incomprehensible than deal with Billy Collins, of course, but I don't feel that incomprehensibility necessarily equals profundity.

How much post-avant poetry is aware of the reader? If what you create is a kind of literary stasis or textual morass in which, for 20 pages or 200, nothing happens (or "dances," on either a logopoeaic or melopoeaic or phanopoeaic level), how much do you care about the kind of time your reader is having? Are you aware of an audience, or are you completely self-absorbed? I think it's a good question, an important question. My own feeling is that narrative cannot be thrown away as long as literature consists of word following word. If you use narrative in the simplistic way that many Centrist poets use it, then yes, narrative itself becomes (like stasis) a liability. However, why not play with narrative, skewer it, rather than discard it?

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