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.
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!!!!]

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