Monthly Archives: December 2010

“With a beard, St. Joseph; without, the Virgin Mary”

I began writing a comment on this post by Ed Park, where he politely disagreed with Jenny Davidson’s negative response to the style of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time — but after two Stella Artois and some Ryvita crackers, I’ve decided to host my thoughts here, in my own air-conditioned corner of the web.

Tonight I’ll finish book nine, The Military Philosophers. I might not have made it this far into A Dance without the support of the Society I’m reading it with — or without Ed’s promise that once you get to about book three, things, as Levi notes on Jenny’s post, “will be layered with memory and meaning,” and become more enjoyable.

I couldn’t help but think of Jenny’s reaction to Powell tonight, when I read the passage in book nine where our narrator, Nick, hears Blake’s “Jerusalem” sung at a Victory Day Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London at the end of Word War II:

Blake was as impenetrable as Isiah; in his way, more so. It was not quite such wonderful stuff as the Prophet rendered into Elizabethan English, yet wonderful enough. At the same time, so I always felt, never quite for me. Blake was a genius, but not one for the classical taste. He was too cranky. No doubt that was being ungrateful for undoubted marvels offered and accepted. One often felt ungrateful in literary matters, as in so many others.

Powell reminds Jenny D., she says, of no one so much as Pope, with the trouble he takes “to develop an elaborate and fluent idiom that seems… overequipped given the relative banality and commonplace nature of the thoughts therein expressed!” It’s funny that immediately following the passage quoted above — one of the most self-consciously literary-critical in the series so far — the narrator invokes Pope himself, quoting “Imitations of Horace”:

Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit;
Forgot his epic, nay Pindaric art,
But still I love the language of his heart.

“But,” our narrator adds, “surely the pointed wit was just what did survive?” And who now reads Powell? A weirdly vocal and large group, it seems. The pleasure of Powell is in his humor, and his humor is entirely social. “Wit was just the quality he brought to bear with such remarkable effect.”

Before returning to his narrative of periphrastically noncommittal observations of his daily trials and triumphs, Nick ends this section of literary reverie in St. Paul’s Cathedral with a critical reading of the National Anthem:

Repetitive, jerky, subjective in feeling, not much ornamented by imagination nor subtlety of thought and phraseology, the words possessed at the same time a kind of depth, an unpretentious expression of sentiments suited somehow to the moment.

I’m overly inclined to think I’ve found an author’s ars poetica whenever a literary-critical episode appears within a piece of literature. But I wonder if this itchily intrigued section of the Military Philosophers can connect somehow with Professor Davidson’s response to Powell’s style.

UPDATE: I hate this blog post! I’m going to sleep

Keep the Internet Perfect

Elvis Mitchell Trip Pouch


Hibiscus jibsmeat or stoke rocks

rookie &

Layered up or Loans

Out for the out-troweled beast.

Books’ tarps

plus / clone



Chime laughter’s step-smock

paper lops off the top of my peer.

Having pets is immoral. They don’t want to be your pets. Ask

VAL KILMER. Double styled

couch into a glove.

Baron Robbins Reines Myles of Gould, Wallace Hass Knott

Ariana Reines posted a breathless (her paragraph breaks were lost in the posting) 1,400-word comment-response to Emily Gould’s Poetry Foundation review of Eileen Myles’s Inferno:

And your editors, you people, whoever you are, next time you commission a review from someone who is spunky and inexperienced, make sure you don’t publish it until something genuinely thorough has been written. What could praise possibly be worth when it comes with so little attention? The excellent essay that mainly deplores, but also appreciates, the poetry of Robert Hass, on this site, is a perfect example of everything this review fails to be: even to lambast an oeuvre so zestfully, as the author of that Hass essay does, is still a labor of sustained attention and care, ultimately the least that a ’30-plus year career’ deserves.

The Hass review she’s talking about is by Michael Robbins, whom I only discovered yesterday (via Village Voice editor @xZachBaronx). He has a poem in the December issue of Poetry that’s scathing and funny and full of weird smart uncomfortable sound:

You shouldn’t drink diarrhea
unless you bring enough for everybody.
Turn it into a teaching moment.
Asian-American Students for Christ
have the room until 2:30.
Rumi says no donkey is a virgin,
no, nor any beast that bites the grass.
Maybe it sounds better in Persian.
An unseen force propels the carts
across the Whole Foods parking lot.
I’m still surprised by the vituperative anger and spleen poets express in person and off-stage, when they’re not standing on the deceptively mellow and miniature platform of poetry. In a commentary on “Confessional Poem,” Robbins writes, “That poem was written out of anger with someone, a former friend. It’s my poison tree.”
[Ah, right, OK, I’m at least a year behind here:
  • Zach Baron’s VV piece on Robbins,
  • Baron’s excellent bonus Voice interview w/ MR
  • links to other stuff omitted and/or included in above two links, plus the New Yorker poem that touched off all this interest, which Robbins compares to “the feeble glow cast by the reflected disco light in the splintered windshield of a Ford Taurus passing by the second hippest club in town or something.”]

Even though I’m pointlessly quitting my “good job” don’t worry I’m not trying to “become a writer” so it’s not problematic that I’m doing all this thesisless typing about poetry on my blog while I should be helping my “replacement.” Soon I’ll help dogs with diseases find new leas(h)es on life. In the meantime, I find myself anguishing through the composition of paragraphs like these:

“Plucking from [his] bookshelves almost at random,” in search of support for his argument that high art’s use of pop imagery to represent “symbols and myth” has become culturally widespread, David Foster Wallace finds (among others) the poet Bill Knott. If the essay were being written today, it seems that Wallace could just as happily pluck Michael Robbins from his shelf. (Robbins’s forthcoming first book is called Alien v. Predator, e.g.) Wallace’s  reference in E Unibus Pluram to Bill Knott was enough to send me searching for his poems in my college library’s stacks, but I haven’t really heard anything about him since. So I was surprised when another editor of a NY-based alternative newsweekly whose Twitter handle begins with the letter x began linking to the strangely furious blog posts of Bill Knott. This blog post (this one) is 1,000 words too long, unedited and desperate, wayward and wondering one easily put, infinitely less anguished question:
Why are good writers so angry?
Before the Internet, these were the ways you could find out the good poet was angry:
  1. Look at the poems and realize the anger is right there on the page. It’s not buried. This is a big, false problem with my “argument.” Just because it has line breaks and is read by someone wearing a sweater doesn’t mean it’s not white-hot hoppin mad right on the page. Frederick Seidel singes my brows in nearly every poem. (So does Ariana!)
  2. Read a behind-the-scenes memoir-novel such as Myles’s Inferno. (Kathy was always such a bitch.”)
  3. Hang out in the bar after the reading.
  4. Read published volumes of poets’ correspondence.
  5. ETC

Ariana Reines, still furious:

Emily Gould’s ‘review’ sounds like a high schooler’s personal blog, not the product of what I assume must be some kind of editorial process over at the Poetry Foundation.

and in the comment on the Poetry foundation she writes:
writing criticism of an internet comment by Eileen Myles in what purports to be a review of her novel is ridiculous and me, my awesomely hilarious and controversial poetry reading, Jezebel, and Eileen’s comment belong NOWHERE NEAR a review of her novel unless the reviewer has something absolutely subtle, and stunning, to say about the internet’s relationship to literary production. That authorship, the status of authorship, prose, voice, poetry, and the internet are in uncomfortable relation in these times is certain, and a critic with enough care and acuity might be able to speak purposefully to this strange relation, but she would have to make the case for why.
It’s funny that Reines’s criticism of Gould’s review’s use of a blog comment itself appears in a blog comment. This blog post (this one) is “the feeble glow cast by the reflected disco light in the splintered windshield…” etc.
I guess the best I can hope for is:
  1. I drink some coffee tomorrow and rewrite this post to actually make the case for why literary production has been affected by the internet, and maybe it has something to do with the personal outrage that poets feel and that motivates the composition of their best work.
  2. all the folks mentioned above have google alerts set up for their names and the comments section of THIS POST becomes an organic and LIVING SYLLABUS for things I can read that will prevent me from spending the rest of my life thinking and speaking and writing like a high school blog while injustice and institutional racism bloom and proliferate. Not on my watch!

[A fly lands on a guy’s wristwatch. “Not on my watch!” he shouts as he kills the fly. Or: Two guys are waiting for a train. “Did daylight saving’s time start today?” one asks the other. “Not on my watch!” the other hollers, killing a fly. “Are you a fan of this avant-garde numeral typeface I designed?” Sven asked Karl. “Not on my watch!!” Karl replied, his spittle drowning a family of larvae. “Hey, do you mind if I set down my luggage?” asked the weary Jewish prostitute. “Not on my watch!!!” declaimed Philip, who as you’ll remember had earlier placed his timepiece on the floor. “Do you mind if I use the bathroom?” Priscilla mewled. AND SO ON!!!!]