Thursday, February 12, 2004

what is he really saying?

Before my critique, I will admit that book reviews are not easy to write. That said, we do have responsibilities as reviewers to handle the material well and address our readers in an appropriate manner. I was referred to the review from The Brutal Kittens.

Jeff Menne in Double Room #3 begins his review of Richard Greenfield's complicated and engaging A Carnage in the Lovetrees with a set-up for a Menne-sian take on poetics that is in serious need of an editor for definition and coherence.

Three examples follow:

M: To consider first his press, Greenfield is a clever fit for New California's mission statement, which persists in being the flypaper for whatever useful aesthetic debris can be sifted in the wake of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.

--Menne tries to say something about poetics in the wake of Bernstein, but what his point of view has to do with Greenfield's poems I don't know. The problem is that he immediately dumps the review format--put the book in a tradition--for a more politicized and, unfortunately, stylized rant--use the guise of putting the author's work in a tradition to make personal statements about the tradition and its contemporaries.

--Does anything "persist in being the flypaper"?

--Menne begins his review with the word "you'll" and then implies the second person throughout. Bad move. Just because you're talking to me or even with me doesn't mean I agree with your assumptions about our community. I don't care what Menne thinks about me, but I do care what he assumes about my being and thinking. We don't all think like the reviewer.

M: Greenfield certainly shares in the average Language poet's phenomenological bent, positioning himself as the observer whose disinterest is each moment being keened, glad if perplexed to watch "the familiar machinery of language moving by"; but at the same time, he seems invested in mimesis and Romanticism.

--Menne's is an extremely poor rendering of phenomenology. I get the feeling he knows something about what the word means in context to Bernsteing and Hejinian; however, I don't think he knows it like they do. Reading from Holderlin to Heidegger, some Husserl and Hegel, and definitely Merleau-Ponty might help. Menne doesn't address Greenfield's phenomenological turning of language, but he does show us he has read about Language Poetry and Phenomenology.

--And, I do believe, that many reader's will find that Greenfield is anything but disinterested; moreover, his lines do not taste of the cool observer watching "the familiar machinery of language move by." Greenfield's verse is filled with stunts that toy with Romantic and Language tradition. It is seriously invested and interested verse. Of course, it is his purposive and interested approach that makes it phenomenological...VERSE does mean "a turning"...

M: It's not that smart to group him as a New Brutalist, which is pure marketing, but it's always wise to place a poet in a tradition, which is intertextuality ("Because each prophet is aggregate of the other prophets, the forthcoming song came from the ruinous literary kin").

--the hanging quote aside, Menne's claim makes little sense because he refuses to explain himself. What is wise about placing Greenfield in a tradition? Shouldn't we explore whether or not we need to PLACE/PUT poets and poems INTO traditions before we understand them? I would argue that in many ways TRADITION is a market-bound term--that we should consider poetic form outside of tradition from time to time. Refusing to allow our mouths to consistently descend to ass level might allow us to come to terms with certain vital phenomenological aspects of writing poetry.

--We might think about tying wisdom to tradition--Menne implicitly does so--and consider that much useful and popular poetry (prose poetry, for example, Double Room is invested in that form) has always transgressed and radicalized beyond tradition. In other words, I think Menne conflates form and tradition.

--And I suppose he suggests that the tradition is "intertextuality" rather than "new brutalism"? But intertextuality is not a tradition; it is a tool.

--The quote above is confusing, at best. I think the word for the tone is GLIB.

Other comments ring falsely, sound fishy, and smack of snobbery. One example,

M: New Brutalism presents itself as movement by fiat alone, and, at best, a cyber-age lobby for visibility by the lumpenliterati whose addiction to blogging can cloy--if you let it.

--Whereas many bloggers are aren't great writers...wait. I won't play this game. I really have had it with poets who aspire to create, recognize and cultivate a hierarchy of value for the poetic tradition--who cop to a telos of what is good merely to justify often precocious and always elitist ideological structures for the marketing of poetry. In my experience, these are the same authors who complain that there is no market, no place to publish.

--Menne tags writers involved with "new brutalism" as self-marketing, self-publicizing, spectacle makers. It is a scene we shouldn't really equate with a movement. Explicitly, he sets a movement as a more valuable community than a reading series. In other words, there is a proper way to market and publicize your work as a poet and Menne thinks this ain't it. Obvious problems with this argument. At this time, so many MFA programs, so many writers, that it is hard to get noticed unless you make the move to become noticed. Getting online and putting yourself out there, like I and many of us have done, is one manner of achieving recognition. It isn't vainglorious; it is a way to begin conversation with other writers. It is a way to write everyday--all forms of writing--it is a way to keep reading. It is a way to practice a truly social form of discourse. It is also a practice more genuine than the public spectacle of alignment.

--Referring to students at/from Mills College, their teachers and colleagues as lumpenliterati is truly backhanded and rude. Serves no purpose, actually, which is why I even bother to mention it. The implication is not that they found a way to publish and found a way into the public eye but that they weasled their way into popularity and are undeserving of any rewards reaped. A lot of untutored writing on the majority of blogs; SO WHAT? What about the problem with market and poetry? Menne definitely overlooks the meaning of his concerns: is his evasion purposeful or not?

In order for a market to exist, the public must be allowed to participate freely. Poetry isn't for poets only. And if we are to figure out a way in a capitalist culture to separate poetic tradition from the confines of the marketplace, and we probably should be working on it, then we need to give up the notion of hierarchy that a market creates...poems don't have equivalent monetary values that can be taken to represent quality of craft. Not that poetry and its relationship to publishing isn't an engaging study.

The system of patronage that existed in the renaissance, say with the Medici, or that existed in Harlem or with Stein, is purely myth and lottery-style chance. Folks read because of something other than getting their money's worth. Any exchange (simple economic theory here) implies that the parties are getting something more valuable in place of what they gave up. Anybody who wants to participate in such an exchange should have access to the appropriate means not only to take but to give.

Need I add: Menne published his review in an upstart online journal that depends on the recognition of certain respected voices in the field to gain a modicum of respect in the public eye so that, now and in the future, folks read it and send in submissions. Menne is a member of the lumpenliterati like his readers. We all are...going under to get over.

"We are all undesirables."--D Cohn-Bendit

I do think Menne has appropriate and useful points to make about Greenfield's poetry. But his review is front-loaded with such garbage political meandering about implied notions of the market and the scene, the hierarchy of publishing, that I cannot really get into his discussion of the poetry by the time he begins quoting from the text.

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