JOHN LATTA'S RESPONSE TO "SOME DARKER BOUQUETS"
Examens Négatifs: A Roster Incompleat
Of course what is duly (and dully) lacking in poetry-reviewing (genus norteamericano) is the sublime (awe-striking) negative: it resides in (and emerges out of) the rhubarb and hubbub of regular, aggressively independent, and bravely committed engagement (and retaliatory exchange) with the contemporary (increasingly international) scene, a poking into all the various corners of current poetic art: and where is that? What one sees in lieu of broader considerations is (mostly) balkanization into bold little republics and self-promoting fiefdoms, a happenstance exacerbated by ex cathedra tribal (elder) railings, divisive pronunciamentos labeling (and dismissing) various “camps,” slights made repeatedly by those unable or unwilling to read beyond their own provincialisms. (And that is not even to indict the majority: the full bore careerist hordes coming out of the “schools”—not all academic—wearing some mantle of entitlement that says, “I just write poems,” as if the work occurred in a bell jar and to think of any larger context or to examine another’s “jar” were to sully oneself.)
One arrives at the improbable situation of being asked to prepare something like (a necessarily incompleat) roster of opportunities (demands) for the negative (cops amongst the readership’ll call it tough love, skeptical’s the euphemism of those who consider poetry a highly refined parlor amusement, bad for the aesthetic cowboy straight-shooter). Bulleted then, some calls for needed dust-ups (negativity permitted, nay, encouraged):
Sclerotic reputations. Inflated reputations. It is astonishing how quickly (and sturdily) one (or another)’s place is sediment’d (cemented) in. Another thin volume of rigged correspondences by R. indistinguishable from the previous several volumes of rigged correspondences by R. may warrant some gentle (or stern) opprobrium. Essential for the young who wow early and settle into the expected professional parade (charade). Inflation, of course, plagues every currency, the state-back’d, the confederate, the counterfeit.
Bandwagon events. Suddenly A. is the most admired poet in the language, members of all schools going into gyro-mimetics in wan hope of A.’s “magic” rubbing off? (A.’s been writing no differently for twenty-five years.) National Poetry Month foolishness. NatPoWriMo antics. All the purely sociological perspicuity of next-big-thing-ism. Recall Samuel Beckett writing of a poem that “it was of little worth because it did not represent a necessity. I mean that in some way it was ‘facultatif’ [optional] and that I would have been no worse off for not having written it.” That purity versus all forms of mongering.
Showboating. Loudmouths. Haranguing presumptuous schoolboys (and girls). No, not because la poésie be a flower indelicate, unravish’d, quiet, &c., nor in need of constant nurture. It’s not. It ought exfoliate with perfect adequacy of its own. The rest is noise. Fidelity to the word means no funny hats, no concerted “actions,” no high “performative” public whooping (unless one suffers under the delusion that one is sole vessel and corporate body for the poem), no advertising gizmos, no patent’d apps and add-ons. The writing twins. The Times typist. The duck-billed platypus (formal mishmash). The indigent narcissist. The flarfs-a-lot.
Careerist dissembling. Kowtowing. Pollyannaish refusals to make distinctions (somewhat related to the refusal to examine one’s dismissals—both provoked by an inability to do any hard justificatory work). See the rise of the non-category of “hybridity.” The flip side of such “good” behavior (being all things to all people) is the approved and ratify’d “bad.” Various forms: “still crazy after all these years” re-enactments à la Civil War “buffs” (B. in the museum reading the manifesto and getting “respectfully rowdy” with a hammer), trust-fund types like S. acting out by means of “raw” content, and abject-Gurlesque insecurity-hysteria herself throwing baby-talk lingual tantrums, the any-old-thing-if-it-transgresses approach. Careerist dissembling is all about a “decided” approach.
Regarding the anonymous, the pseudonymous, heteronymous, the mask’d critical ball: certainly! I love the carnival. There may be those unable to approach close enough to plant a kiss on the cheek of a posterior ass without donning a full gorilla outfit. There may be those, too, unable to abide the critical barbs of L., say, who’d gladly fall under the slings and arrows of a beastly stertorous silverback (or a nimble-finger’d Tinkerbelle).
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