Archive for the ‘Reviewing’ category

The Vox List: Jake’s Five Favourite Canadian Poetry Titles of 2010

December 6, 2010

Hi kids.

I know there’s three weeks left in the year, but there’s only a dozen or so shopping days til Christmas, and Chanukah is already upon us. So, I’d like to use what little commercial oomph this blog has to state a case for five books that I think of as the best of the year from Vox’s in-house pool of literature (to wit, books of poems written by Canadians). I read beyond that, of course, but I feel like that’s the centre of my reading now. So that’s where I worked from in making this list.

Also, it should be stated that I took a couple books out of consideration on account of sharing an address with their authors. If left to my own devices, I probably would have bumped two of these five collections in favour of Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, by Jeff Latosik, and The Reinvention of the Human Hand, by Paul Vermeersch

It’s kind of a silly list, in the end. Even more so than most lists. For one, it’s entirely made up of first and second collections. This paints the list-maker as something of an ageist fad-hopper. There are veteran authors who put out strong stuff this year (I’m thinking Margaret Christakos and Dionne Brand, among others), but they didn’t quite make it. Maybe I was comparing their new work to their best work, and not comparing it to the other work that came out this year. Unfair, perhaps. Also, I know 2 or 3 of these people personally, which paints me as something of a cliquemaster. Also, it’s only a list of five books, and if I wanted to extend it to ten, I’d cover a lot more aesthetic bases. I had a list of ten, but cut it in half at the last minute. As Popeye said, I yam what I yam. Okay, enough excuses. Here we go, in alphabetical order by title:

***

Alien, Correspondent, Antony di Nardo, Brick Books
VOX describes it as: Egoless and almost passive in its delivery, seems destined for a beautiful, unfair obscurity. This is the kind of book that makes me glad I have a blog and can publicly suggest things to people. I suggest you read this.
Ideal first-time poetry reader: Your retired uncle who just got back from Borneo and is leaving for Madagascar in the Spring to found a school there.

At the Gates of the Theme Park, Peter Norman, The Mansfield Press
VOX describes it as: Reads like the kind of long-gestated debut collection some bloggers I know (Spoiler alert: It’s a photo of me) wish they had written. Maintains diversity of content, with no real misses to be found.
Ideal first-time poetry reader: The loneliest CBC Radio 2 listener you know.

Bloom, Michael Lista, House of Anansi Press
VOX describes it as: Simultaneously avant garde and old-fashioned. Check that, simultaneously THE MOST avant garde and THE MOST old-fashioned book of the year. So much for the paper tiger of contemporary poetry designations. This kind of book that demands seven more come after it as complimentary or dissenting arguments.
Ideal first-time poetry reader: The engineer in your family who, when you bring up how much you like poetry, makes some half-mumbled wistful reference to enjoying Ted Hughes in high school

Clockfire, Jonathon Ball, Coach House Books
VOX describes it as: High-wire conceptual theatrics that inexplicably don’t get old after ten or twenty pages.
Ideal first-time poetry reader: Your younger sibling who is back from college with the news that s/he is considering transferring into, or out of, the drama program next semester.

[sic], Nikki Reimer, Frontenac Press
VOX describes it as: A rare young poet who can channel the energy given off by her personality into things greater than just MORE personality. Reimer lets it bleed into form, into cadence, into pace. The book wants you to read it cover-to-cover in, like, 30 minutes. A tough trick to pull off.
Ideal first-time poetry reader: That ancillary figure in your life (maybe a video store clerk, or a bartender) who you feel simpatico enough with to want to strike up a more formal friendship.

A pretty groovy year, this 2010. I’d like to know what books I missed. I’m sure there’s a lot of them.

-Jake

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Coles Review in Print

November 24, 2010

Hi kids.

I have it on good authority that the December issue of Quill & Quire is making its way to the nation’s better magazine stands this week. It contains my featured review of the new Don Coles collection, Where We Might Have Been. Kudos to Beattie and company at The Quill for making their monthly Feature Review column available to the oft-backpaged republic of poetry. They only do this once every few years, and we appreciate the nod whenever they do.

I liked the book okay. But really, you should read it, and figure things out for yourself. If a version of the review ever gets published online, I’ll be sure to link to it. Also in this issue: Michael Lista’s starred review of George Murray’s very star-able collected aphorisms, an Emma Donoghue profile, and the magazine’s usual “Best of the Year” lists.

My Review of “Howl”

October 16, 2010

I caught the 6:15 screening tonight of the new James Franco docudrama about Allen Ginsberg, the writing of Howl, and the obscenity trial that followed. It’s showing at the Bell Lightbox, which is the palatial cinema complex that’s the new home to the Toronto International Film Festival. I originally discussed this film here, well before it came to Toronto, so needless to say I was excited to finally see it.

I recommend the film. It’s basically a documentary with actors, taking all its dialogue direct from a number of recorded sources, including Ginsberg’s original reading of the poem at San Francisco’s Gallery Six, the transcript of the obscenity trial of California v. Ferlinghetti, and an audio interview between Ginsberg and an unnamed New York journalist. It’s made by a couple documentarians (the team behind “The Times of Harvey Milk”) and the film maintains some of the looping non-narrative energy of actual reality. It also has an eerily successful characterization of Ginsberg by James Franco. The voice is note-perfect and the mannerisms are both accurate and tied to the mental world of the character. They don’t seem like things the actor is doing because he saw the subject do them first. Franco is a writer too, apparently, and one of my favourite young actors. I’m looking forward to him getting over the small matter of his youthful good looks to establish himself in his proper role as America’s answer to Stephen Fry.

Enjambed somewhat awkwardly with all this successful realism is the film’s more controversial element, an animated interpretation of the poem that hits a lot of very literal notes in the text (the “Moloch” of Ginsberg’s imagination, for example, is an actual fire-breathing moloch). This part is to Howl what Ralph Bakshi’s 90-minute cartoon version of The Lord of the Rings is to Tolkein: loving but flat, elementary, and lacking in nuance. It does, however, inject some colour and energy to what is otherwise a very low-gear film.

The film’s most interesting sub-narrative, however, endures the filmmakers’ disinterest (or ignorance) in its possibilities as a subject. Franco’s characterization oscillates wildly between what I will call the “Two Allens”. One is Ginsberg as hippie figurehead, spouting his desire to speak “honestly” and “from this soul” with all the usual platitudes that the confessional tradition has placed on contemporary poetry, like a 4,000 pound barbell made of puppy kisses. The other Ginsberg is more recognizably a poet, and less a prophet. I say this knowing that Ginsberg is part of that Blake & Whitman family of mystical seers, but it’s perhaps best to look at those poems, and not the poets, as the visionaries. To this end, there’s a short scene in the middle of the picture where Franco talks of a prelinguistic groan, which arrives at his lips wrapped in the package of a specific rhythm (this rhythm quite brilliantly becomes the prime motif Carter Burwell’s minimalist score). In the ensuing monologue, Franco/Ginsberg repeats the pattern of the rhythm against the roof of his mouth a couple times, and begins to fill in the blanks with syllables. This was a surprising take on Ginsberg’s process, coming as it does after a scene extolling the bluntness and honesty of his first post-Columbia attempts, with things like cadence and rhythm far from the film’s mind. The product of all this is the line from Howl, section 2, that begins “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows”. It’s such an earnest, obsessive speech that it made a couple of audience members giggle, but it struck me as the most accurate moment in the film. Ginsberg as hard-working craftsman, not Ginsberg as mystic cultural superman.

This is where my personal narrative of the Two Ginsbergs bumped up against the images appearing on-screen. The courtroom section was occasionally dull, populated by cameos from actors clearly arriving on set during their lunch breaks from their other projects (John Hamm, who didn’t even have to change his suit, Mary-Louise Parker, David Straitharn, Treat Williams, Bob Balaban, and Jeff Daniels). It’s good history though, clean and accurate and relatively free of pandering. The court case focused on the words Ginsberg chose to use, specifically these words: fuck, cock, balls, snatch, cunt, and few others. These words gone over with a fine tooth comb, and juxtaposed with some Gallery Six scenes that show young bespeckled types hooting and hollering over their every utterance from the shy young man blending them seamlessly into his new poem.

The thing about censorship, maybe, is that it doesn’t have to win to win. To wit, the obscenity trial took my craftsman Ginsberg, possessor of one of the keenest rhythmic ears in all of 20th century poetry, and reduced him to a man who could or could not say cunt, who could or could not speak frankly of homosexual attraction in his poems. This reduced Ginsberg sounded a lot like the man who spoke of poetry as simply an “outlet” for self-expression, the Ginsberg that allowed himself to be a visual punchline of the 60s counterculture, that tripped over every didactic opportunity offered by the next 40 years of American literature. It’s also the Ginsberg that the young people were encouraging obscenities from at Gallery Six. Hipsterism, it turns out, is a form of censorship. Both reduce their targets to simple verb-noun marriages, and ship that simplification off to Life magazine to be judged by the public: Allen Ginsberg, swearing poet. Are you with this or aren’t you?

I don’t think a poem like Please Master, with its abandon of Howl’s opulent jazz orchestration for flat and jokey unpoetry that plagued Ginsberg’s later career, ever occurs to the poet if he wasn’t simultaneously heralded and castigated for the vocabulary of Howl in 1957. Please Master is Howl stripped for parts. It has the vocabulary of his earlier poem, the very thing that his censors stole from the heart of his work and made stand trial, but none of its whimsical music. In other words, it is the poem that the State of California heard when it first misread Howl. That misreading, spoken on a national scale, consumed and eventually assimilated the poet.

Howl, the movie, doesn’t dwell on this, of course. It ends on a high note and fades out to a credit sequence featuring an old (real-life) Ginsberg singing one of his songs. Such are films, I suppose. Maybe this is why there aren’t many movies about poems.

In Defense of Blogging

August 25, 2010

On the topic of things I’ve been quietly considering, I want to talk a bit about blogging. I understand that this is lame and destined to a certain self-servitude (this is a blog, after all), but I feel compelled to do it anyway. There’s been a handful of conversations (on other blogs, no less) about the sustainability of blogging, about its apparent slump out of the ecosystem of literary rhetoric. I’m not sure if this is true. Yes, Harriet has gone from some sort of anything-goes orgy of whininess to a curt diagram of poetry links. However, in the months since this happened I’m sure untold dozens of poetry blogs have sprung up, unbacked by a major institution as they may be, to fill its place. It’s hard to tell if said slumping can be measured, if it it’s just the gut hunch of the masses. Not that being the gut hunch of the masses renders it untrue, per se. I’m unsure.

One of the better and more variegated discussions about this fear recently happened over at Lemon Hound. I didn’t chime in because I wasn’t quite certain what I wanted to say. There appears to be a lot of people concerned that something in the mechanics of blogs (specifically, the comment streams) preclude them from hosting legitimate rhetoric. There seems to be another group of people who see this as self-obvious, but don’t really care anyway (what these people were doing reading a poetry blog I’m not quite sure).

Recently, two major intra-literati squabbles took place predominantly online, and the blame for some of the pricklier elements of said squabbles was laid at the feet of the medium. Near the end of the CNQ response to the Andre Alexis thing in the Walrus, a poster by the name of Gradey23 said the following, much to the agreement of a handful of co-commenters, and at least two of my own dinner companions over these past couple weeks.

You know what’s a bummer? If this debate (this specific debate, I mean) was raging, say, twenty years ago, it would all be taking place on the printed page, giving our eager participants the necessary time to craft more thoughtful, tempered, incisive responses. Instead we’re getting (what clearly appears to be) a bunch of reckless, middle-of-the-night (possibly drunken) publish-button punching.
I mean, you gotta believe that Double-A must now be regretting his bullied-kid’s backtalk (desperate name-calling as he’s being pushed into a locker by the otherwise passive nerds who, en masse, have discovered their confidence), and A-Good is a better writer than to wield as a weapon my grandmother’s lame sarcasm (“Oh my!” *hooks finger in collar Paul Lynde-style*).
How great — how much more relevant — would this little feud be if Z had an editor to pare down his bloated, back-patting counterattack, or if someone close to Double-A had leaned over his shoulder while he was madly typing and wiping away the tears and said to him, dude, come on, you’re better than this…

This is a common argument. I’ve seen versions of it deep into various heated debates on my own blog, and it appears to bat a regular 47th or so in the line-up of the standard internet argument. Like anything so consistently argued, it likely has a lot of truth to it. I take issue with a few things (well, more than a few things, this is a Defense of Blogging, after all). First off, if the poster thinks that never in the history of print journalism has a cultured man of letters got liquored up on booze (or mere anger) and crafted a hastily conceived response to a literary article, much to the delight of some editor in need of a few good grenades to help headline the op-ed section, he’s quite mistaken. The thing blogs and quarterlies have in common is that both are run by people, and both powered by their readership. Their rules are more similar than you think.

Secondly, there’s a smarmy self-regard attached to the idea that if people just took more time between replies, the quality of the argument would increase. This is the application of high school essay-writing logic to what is most appropriately defined as an argument between knowledgeable adults. Take your time to say it right is admittedly a rule of thumb that serves most markets and arguments. I’ll say this, though: We run the risk of sacrificing, with our studious reproach of the immediate, the loss of argument in the service of rhetoric. Rhetoric and argument are cousins, surely, but they’re not the same thing, and while this is something of a simplification, for the purpose of this post I’d like us to consider argument as an ingredient of good rhetoric. There is a certain inescapable facade-factor to the apparent conversation being had at any given time by the country’s three or four consistently relevant houses of printed poetry criticism (off the top of my head, and not wanting to offend anybody, yet: CNQ, Open Letter, Arc, and maybe the less industry-driven third of Q&Q. West Coast Line is in there somewhere too, I know, but I haven’t read enough of it to comment). Viewed historically, the output of issues from these magazines feels sometimes like a box of old photographs, the catching and codifying of a set group of thinkers’ collection of opinions over the course of a given month. Calling this interplay a conversation seems notably generous. For one, I’m not sure how big the club of my fellow “regular CNQ AND Open Letter readers” is, but I’m guessing it’s less than 12. Secondly, because of the time-lapse between issues, and the time requirements for preparing each issue, there arrives a naturally occurring stiltedness to whatever dialogue one would want to narrate.

I’m reminded of the recorded conversations between world leaders during the infamous G-20 summit earlier this summer. These conversations were the product of editorship stretching back for months, scripted by representatives from a combined 100+ foreign governmental departments, and arranged into a series of interacting monologues like a Socratic dialogue in eleven languages. Surely all the things we can say in support of CNQ and Open Letter (and Gradey23’s paradisiacal pre-digital salon) we can also say about the showhorse rhetoric of the G-20. And all three even come with their own portable barricades of concrete, chain-link, aesthetic confederacy, access to independent bookstores, etc….

Of course, what makes the G-20 (arguably) valid is the same thing that makes these quarterlies valid. They are the product of actual dialogue, whether between reviewer and text (an idealized relationship, I know) or between editors, or between the very confederates who also serve a barricading function. While an issue of Arc (the review section, specifically) is a rhetorical product, it occasionally presents as one produced by a recognizable argumentative procedure. I’m talking of the real, elevated-but-not-enshrined prose of an Anita Lahey or an early Carmine Starnino (a name I know will end a lot of people’s reading of this post. If so, sorry. I mean it, though, and if you go you’ll miss out on some decent jokes). If criticism comes across as too polished and manicured, it’s usually the result of unargumentative rhetoric, which can be caused by either a sense that all of your readers already agree with you (a problem for at least two of the four mentioned magazines), or that you haven’t spent enough time in the unwashed sandbox of pre-rhetoric, bumping shoulders with curmudgeonly neighbours, tuning your worldview to the often-callous realities of their reactions. This, of course, is where blogs come in. Blogs are to poetry criticism as the frantic back-and-forth of staffers is to political speeches. Both are the necessary ugly.

For literature,there have been lots of other necessary uglies over the centuries, many of which still exist today. My favorite among these is bars, but pretty much any public place will do. The editors of our major review journals seems to get this. Zach Wells, who has various roles to play at Arc, CNQ, and Quill, is also the proprietor of one of the country’s best-read poetry blogs. Likewise, Jonathon Ball, who guest edited the awesome Open Letter issue dedicated to Play, is one of the most entertaining bloggers in the country. Most people who like steak also like hamburger. There’s something about the blog, perhaps its sketchy semi-permanency, that lends itself to print reviewers, as an alternative venue.

If the post-eruditeness of nostalgia is attacking the new-money world of poetry blogging from the top, then there’s an equal threat looming in the commoner realms below. The media is found of saying that blogs are in the process of being replaced by the quicker alternatives of social networking and microblogs. While I’m not sure if there are numbers to support this, I’m willing to believe them. Harriet has basically done this, thrown in the towel on depth in exchange for breadth and breathlessness. Most former bloggers are now active on Twitter.

I’ve been trying Twitter out lately, if only to give me another thing to do on my at-work microbreaks, after I check my email and my Facebook. I’m not going to give up on it just yet (I’ll likely tweet this post), but I have to register my unenthusiasm. I first liked the idea of the 140-character limit, before realizing that there were people out there who were actually trying to use this super-Oulipean freakshow to say things of argumentative merit. Having a disagreement with someone over Twitter is akin to trying to shout instructions to someone stranded in the middle of a freeway between the deafening incursions of passing 18-wheelers. This was most evident to me during the Twitter fall-out over Steven Beattie and Alex Good’s 10 Most Over/Underrated story in the National Post. I posted the following tweet on the subject: “Im enjoying the Over/Under game, from a certain distance. Tho, with today’s state of readership, are there really any “overrated” writers?”. I was met on the battlefield of argument by something called NarwhalMagazine, which, in the strenuously abbreviated world of Twitter, I’ll assume is the account of The National Right Whale Association Magazine. Here’s something of a transcript:

@VoxPopulist: I disagree. poor readership and the celebrity of some of these writers enjoy only reinforces their ‘overratedness’
@NarwhalMagazine: What celebrity? Would anyone know who even Ondaatje was if there was no English Patient movie? Moure’s sold maybe 50k copies
@VoxPopulist: Martel immediately comes to mind. Also, @DouglasCoupland is a household name who is definitely overrated in my opinion
@NarwhalMagazine: Coupland had cultural commodity fame, but I remember his publisher being ecstatic that Rigby moved 30k. Canlit fame < fame

Now, you can choose to take my side, The Association’s side, or neither (looking it over, I think I’m with Narwhal), but that’s not the point. The point is that this not a discussion, an argument, or an example of rhetoric. It sounds like two media-educated book people forced to communicate via 1920’s telegrams written in the text message jargon of a contemporary 14-year-old. This is why you see so many flame-outs; Twitter literally forces you to be curt, to be dismissive, and to fail to simultaneously hold multiple opinions (expressing even one requires the dexterity of Harry Houdini). And don’t give me the whole “It’s like a formal poem because it makes you work with constraints” speech. I’m not talking about writing poetry, I’m talking about writing ABOUT poetry. There, we need all the characters we can get.

If it sounds like I’m headed to some sort of happy medium argument in defense of blogging, wedged between unpleasant opposites, I’m not. As much as the quarterlies and the twitter are opposites of rhetorical posture, they share the same role for their benefactors and adherents. Call them this: Barricades for legitimizing a fear of conflict. Conflict is the root of this whole conversation, I think, and fear of it is understandable. In such a small community (I know, I don’t like the word “community” either, but let it stand in there for a bit) we fear anything that might lessen already-limited power. Chances are, the poet you bring yourself into conflict with will someday be in a position to take power from you, whether through a jury, a review, or just the casual floating of negative opinions. And there are other reasons to hate conflict too. We’re sensitive people, mostly, we don’t like to be angry. But understand that when I say conflict, I don’t mean the coarse, physical conflict of playgrounds and locker rooms, but rather the conflict that comes up between sensitive, considered, people who are able to review an attack from an intellectual angle while simultaneously suffering its nettles. If there’s a take-away, Twitterable, aphorism inside this great big post, let it be this: Conflict is good. It’s a product of taking other people seriously. And conflict’s natural home in the current state of Planet Poetry is online, on the internet, with all its open plains of untamed verbiage and its false sense of anonymity.

In contrast, both the review journals and Twitter support the suppression of conflict. The journals do it by holding it back, pacing it, giving long stretches of time for it to simmer away into the void of “other concerns”, in the name of academic distance. The journals, and I say this as a loyal reader, are bloodless. And like politicians who prefer the safe distance of warfare by economic sanctions, they are commendably bloodless, graciously bloodless, but they allow for fools (looking at you, Gradey) who believe in the bloodlessness unquestionably. The danger is in letting the set-piece conflicts and crises of an Open Letter stand in for the tactile reality of the ideas being sorted through, considered, reconsidered, and abandoned underneath.

Twitter, on the other hand, suppresses conflict by making it impossible. Now, when I say conflict, remember that I mean conflict as a product of taking other people seriously. I know there’s lots of “drama” on Twitter, but there’s rarely any conflict. By reducing ourselves to headlines bearing our name we remove the pluralist heart that would allow other people to take us seriously. The argumentative pieces you need to enter into conflict, while supporting said argument well enough to be taken seriously, don’t really fit into 140 characters, unless bolstered by the blunt instrument of cliche. In the end, both a quarterly journal and a laser-fast social networking site share the same role: They are devices for the quarantining, and eventual suppression, of conflict. I’m suspicious of them both, but moreover, I’m suspicious of you people who call back to the considered rhetoric of print with one side of your mouth, and yap the baby-babble of the Twitterverse on the other. It’s not that I think you’re stupid. Rather, I’m concerned you might be geniuses. I find myself questioning your motives.

I say all this with plenty of sympathy for the very real problems of blog-based argument. I say it as someone who has twice had to remove comments from this blog that contained threats directed at another commenter. And I say it as the guy who likely made several dozen typos and spelling mistakes in the above paragraphs, because he’s too finicky to proofread and likes his blog to filled with the kind of sentences that can only come from a single 45-minute sprint of typing. I like how sore my fingers are. I know this house isn’t perfect. But it’s home, and I know the neighbors well enough to know my grass is still the greenest. It feels so real, under my feet.

Vox Pop Presents: The One Most Overrated Lit-Blog Cliché

August 24, 2010

Alex Good and Steven Beattie have posted a Canadian follow-up to the recent HufffPo “15 Most Overrated Authors” article. Exhibiting all the major signs of the Cultural Inferiority Complex, the article both A. Arrived a little too late to ride the original wave and B. Is appropriately just a lil’ bit shorter than the American version, at ten to the original’s fifteen authors (But it still works! It still works!) Am I being a bad masculinist if I suggest that these kind of drive-by-wordings are things only us boys can conceive of as important?

Some names here I really agree with, obviously. But, there’s others with hinderances and obfuscations that are rarely as obvious in their work as in the dismissals of their work badgered around in informal criticism (Moure as cryptic and uninteresting, Ondaatje as bloodless and purple).

Anyway, in pure Canadian style, the sharpened pens of this article will be turned around tomorrow, as The Afterword brings us “The 10 Most Underrated Canadian Authors”. Expect the current social media bloodlust swirling over the Beattie/Good article to give way tomorrow to ten authors innocently posting about their surprise kudos.

Dektet Review in Globe and Mail

August 17, 2010

Apparently, if you say enough negative things about your local newspaper’s weekend book section, someone from said book section will eventually hire you to write for them. Evidence for this new law of Newtonian physics lies in my review of the ten titles from Calgary-based Frontenac House’s Spring “Dektet” catalogue, which appeared in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Admittedly, I don’t read the Globe and Mail’s Books Section, so I missed it. But now here it is, in electronic glory. In brief: 1. There’s not a lot of point to publishing 10 books if you can’t successfully market and distribute your usual four, not that this is necessarily your fault. 2. That being said, the point of being a small press is to foster good books, and there are good books here that deserve the chance Frontenac has given them. 3. To my eye, the good books in Frontenac’s Dektet were: Keith Garebian’s Children of Ararat, Douglas Burnet Smith’s Learning to Count, and especially Nikki Reimer’s [sic]. All come Vox recommended. Here’s the whole review.

Ran away with postmodern irony, eccentricized it to the point of meaninglessness.

August 7, 2010

I’m not saying I agree. I’m just putting this on the table, turning around, and leaving the room. Consider this your daily affirmation. Except, by affirmation, I mean this: something that will piss half of you off the the point of slapping your computer monitors off your desks.

On John Ashbery: “More responsible than anyone else for turning late twentieth-century American poetry into a hermetic, self-enclosed, utterly private affair. Displays sophomoric lust to encode postmodern alienation into form that embodies the supposed chaos of the mind. Though he has somehow acquired a reputation for the visionary (especially among the Brits, who think he’s the greatest American poet), John Berryman’s Dream Songs are infinitely more on the mark. Another amateur philosopher, like Jorie Graham, another acolyte of what he thinks is Wittgensteinian logic. Ran away with postmodern irony, eccentricized it to the point of meaninglessness. Now we have no working definition of irony anymore–thanks, John Ashbery! Mixes low and high levels of language, low and high culture, every available postmodern artifact and text, from media jargon to comic books, to recreate a reality ordered only by language itself. When reality=language (as his carping cousins, the language poets, have it, just like him), politics becomes vacuous, and any usurper can and will step in. Has been a Mannerist after his own outdated manner at least since Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Among the writers listed here, I want to like him the most–it’s too bad he’s been a parody of himself for so long.”

-Anis Shivani, in an article over at HuffPo called “The Fifteen Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers“. I checked; I’m not on it. Turns out I’m not American. Or particularly ‘rated’. Let me suggest to the blogosphere a single edit: let’s stop calling people “parodies of themselves”. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just one of those inarguable things a young person can say about an older person. Here’s the matching take downs of Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Jorie Graham, Billy Collins, and Louise Gluck. from the same article. This thing has like 300 responses and counting. Anis is something of an anus. Either way, I’m impressed he thought enough about poetry to reserve almost half his hatchet swings for verse writers.