DEAR AMBER, BE NOT “LAZY” OR “DUMB”

We loved your latest Hawaii/Benazir Bhuto dream essay, but we noticed you haven’t been participating in the conversations of other posts on Harriet.

It’s not enough to just send missives.

You need to be present.

That blog needs your help.

And you can help yourself by sharpening your intellectual teeth there.

I know there’s not much to choose from.   Harriet doesn’t have much going on.

Perhaps you feel intimidated.

Allow us to break down for you a recent Harriet post and comments.

A post by Kenneth Goldsmith quotes Christian Bok (it’s the one with the guy who looks like he’s got indigestion, holding a book in front of the mike, blue background).

Christian Bok is a Canadian professor who wrote a best-selling novel consisting of chapters which use only one vowel.   He read the dictionary five times before he wrote it.    That’s all you need to know about him, really.  Not particularly original, he’s one of those contemporary exotics doing wild experiments in the corner of some ancient fingernail.

Let’s look at the key portion of the lengthy Bok quotation in Goldsmith’s Harriet post.

We”ll look at it in two parts.

First part:

“I’m probably technically oriented and it seems to me that among the poets that I know, many are very lazy and very dumb. I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know. They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that disciple actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel.”

Don’t be freaked out by this, Amber. It’s pretty simple.

This is lifted right from the Greek philosopher Plato “If they [the poets] knew something, they’d be in that discipline and actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever…”

Plato’s argument is quite sound and the only decent refutation of Plato’s point of view comes in the form of poems—by poets who happened to be very much tinged with Platonism themselves: Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Shelley, and Keats–which is all that can be expected.

Your typical inferior poet, however, becomes upset when they hear Plato’s argument.  They’re not up to Plato’s challenge.

This is the first part of Bok’s quote you need to understand.

Here’s the second part (as quoted by Kenneth Goldsmith in his Harriet post) :

“I find this very distressing that the challenge of being a poet in effect to showcase something wondrous or uncanny, if not sublime, about the use of language itself, that we tend to think that because we’re conditioned to use language every day as part of a social contract, we should all be incipient poets, when in fact people have actually dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice in order to become adept at it and I think that craft and technique are part of that. If poetry weren’t informed by models of craft then nobody would need take a creative writing course. I joke with my students again that if it was simply a matter of saying, “You know you’ve written a good poem just because; you’ll know it was a good poem when it happens.” To me, that’s tantamount to telling your students that “You should just use the force, Luke” in order to write a poem. I don’t think it’s very helpful. But to be able to say “Here’s a series of rules of thumb that always work under all circumstances and if you adopt them slavishly, blindly, you can always be assured of writing something, producing something of merit.”

Again, this doesn’t require much thought.

Here Bok is making use of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle.   Aristotle didn’t ban the poets from his ideal “Republic” as Plato did.   Aristotle accepted poetry as something humans do, and focused on whether it is done well, or badly.

Aristotle would not have accepted the notion we are all poets, and Bok, when he mentions “people have dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice…” is implicitly agreeing with the philosopher.

Bok didn’t mention this, but I want to mention it to you:  Aristotle did pay heed to Plato’s objection that poetry makes us “soft” with fake emotionalism; Aristotle got around Plato’s objection by saying that poetry’s indulgence in emotionalism purges these emotions from us.  Aristotle managed to turn a drawback into a virtue.

But here is why Platonic poets tend to be the best: They take to heart Plato’s objection, rather than using Aristotle’s glib betrayal of it.

As soon as you start believing in Aristotle’s purging theory (Catharsis) you make a fatal error; you buy into the idea that poetry’s emotion is a separate thing from it, and then you essentially become a pedantic, doctrinaire kind of poet.

Anyway, the important point that Bok is making in the second part of the quote here is the Aristotelian one: there’s a proper way and form and method to making poetry.

As he did with the purging theory, Aristotle resorts to a doctrinaire pedantry in order to ‘get one past’  his master (Plato was Aristotle’s teacher).

This is important to understand, Amber.   You’ve got to go Greek, and you’ve got two choices, Plato’s truly challenging road, or Aristotle’s pedantic road.  Most people don’t go Greek at all and groan under both Plato and Aristotle.  But you can’t escape them, really.

You can see this in the reactions to Bok in the comments to Goldsmith’s post:

Carolyn, the first one to comment seriously, writes this, “I honor people’s attempts to express themselves in whatever manner suits them.”

Here is the typical modern response.   As you can see from her statement, and from what I told you above, she rejects Plato and Aristotle.  She has no Greek.  She is ignorantYou can ignore these people.  Better to be a pedant than to be someone who says ‘express yourself in whatever manner suits you.’ This point of view loses in philosophy what it gains in being nice.  It is a tempting vice, this point of view.  Avoid it at all costs.

Silem’s post #7 basically sums up the Plato and Aristotle positions and then repeats Bok’s mention of “the uncanny,” which is largely the basis of Romanticism: the “Sublime,”  produced when Platonism contradicts itself and produces poetry–a sly but positive phenomenon which I alluded to above.  As Longinus said in his famous treatise “On the Sublime” 3rd century, AD, the sublime is both “moral” and “fearful.”  The sublime is a contradictory idea–which is the secret of its religious power and appeal.

Comment #8 is by Henry Gould. We can sum up all his comments this way: Mumble.

Comment #9 is by Kent Johnson, who is poison.  Here’s a sample.  It should make you shudder:

“I strongly suspect that from the bourgeoning technical-hip formation represented by Bok and Mohammad (and both of them very brilliant, to be sure) a more elevated measure of professional status for the poetic vocation will come, via ever more sharply defined knowledge-sets and rigorously applied instrumental techniques.”

Ugh.

Gary Fitzgerald made a witty remark, but was buried by negative votes.

Conrad and ZZZZ had a brief dispute on what position the “avant garde” should take in relation to the mainstream.  Pedestrian stuff, really.  Not worth your while.

The remaining comments fizzle away into inconsequence.

Maybe Terreson will add something interesting.

(But we’d rather not encourage him.)

And there you have it,  Amber.    Harriet 101.   I hope this helps!

SCARRIET KILLED THE HARRIET STAR

Dear Amber,

We’re sorry.

Your guest appearance on Harriet was kind of a bust.

It wasn’t really your fault.

You could not have known the secret plan of Harriet’s management: (which I’m giving a pretty name, after Emerson) Operation When Half-Gods Go, The Gods Arrive.

The editors of Scarriet were sent packing from Harriet on September 1.

Your reign as guest writer began on September 1.

The fireworks of the summer—tons of comments, thought-provoking responses, nudity (OK, 2 out of 3) proved too dangerous for Harriet (pants and noses were singed).  

 With the Scarriet editors gone, and others embarrassed by Harriet’s house-cleaning (done without any explanation) you entered a Harriet Blog-Site reeling from a bad judgment.

You entered a dead zone.

We’re sorry!

Your Scarriet Buddies

HARRIET at the MARRIOTT


_____________________________________________________

Dear Friends of Scarriet,………………………………………….November 25th, 2009

Just to remind you on the eve of Thanksgiving that we the undersigned were banned from Blog:Harriet three months ago for writing too much and too passionately about poetry. Yes, and on the very same day that we found, not by direct communication but by trial and error,  that we were no longer welcome on Harriet, Travis Nichols welcomed Amber Tamblyn as the new generation Contributing Writer.

As a preliminary to our big THANKSGIVING POST (coming up next!), we offer this as a sample of the commentary Travis had in mind for the new Harriet. Can’t say we wish we weren’t there, but then we’re very glad so many of you have decided to be here with us on Scarriet instead.

(Sort of comes down to Mt.Parnassus or the Marriott. But let’s be clear about that too — it’s not that the Marriott ought to be shut out from the Poetry Foundation’s goal to “foster and cultivate an open community” (see the P.F. Guidelines just above), but neither should Parnassus!)

Thomas Brady
Alan Cordle
Desmond Swords
Christopher Woodman

THE BLAH BLAH BLAH SCHOOL: AMBER TAMBLYN LEARNS FROM THE MASTER

Blogging on Harriet!

Rebecca Wolff and Amber Tamblyn!

YOU CAN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE!

AMBER TAMBLYN HAS ARRIVED!

#1 “I’m finally back in New York Citayy on a mini break from tour.  Good thing too, because some H1N1-style critter has crawled up into my throat and built a throne, barking exhaustive orders at my immune system and leaving me couch ridden.  Prior to the cold, I was able to make it to Rachel Mckibbens’ book release party at the Bowery Poetry Club.  I had my book release party there as well back in September, and the energy can sometimes be stressful and a little crazy.  Rachel was incredible and her book Pink Elephant is filled with the kind of poems some women spend their entire lives trying to write.  It was a magical evening.”

#2 “Back from reading at Cleveland State University on Thursday. It was hard to follow Kate Greenstreet–she has the most ingratiatingly nearsighted stage presence. You really feel as though she is speaking to you–Because she is! In various deft registers of notation and declamation and preoccupation. She’s on this massive, amazing, awe-inspiring reading tour. Please go see her if she’s coming to a venue near you and I bet she is.”

#3 “Went to see a band last night in the nearby town of Hudson, New York, called The Akron Family. They all sing together and have a very collective, trance-y, barn-dance vibe. The kids are so positive these days! (The kids who don’t write poetry, that is.) I’ve always thought a band called Meds would be great, but maybe now this moniker sounds too cynical or snarky.”

Cynical or snarky?

We think not!

A POET, A WOMAN WITHOUT MORALS, A MAN, OR AN ACTOR?

Eavesdropping Not On Harriet but on Scarriet:

THOMAS BRADY:
It’s one thing to practice free love, it’s another thing to adorn one’s free love lifestyle with all sorts of ‘religious’ and ‘artistic’ allowances. A rogue without money remains a mere rogue, but a rogue with money and publishing credentials is a wonder and an inspiration and seduction which very few can resist, the pot of gold at the end of the pyramid scheme. [click here — we tend to do this on Scarriet!]

CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN:
The greatest novel ever written about this “rogue with money” is called Quartet (London, 1928) by most people though it was also published a year later in America as Postures (New York, 1929) — good title, too, but much too obvious. The author was a very great artist and knew how to let us figure that out for ourselves, even if her more naive American editors didn’t quite trust her — I mean, they were queuing up for hand-outs on the Bowery as well as in the Academy!

The name of the author with the perfect white skin, the even more perfect, indeed truly porcelain style, and the devastating self-candor was Jean Rhys. The ‘hero’ of the novel, ‘Hugh Heidler,’ a “picture dealer” (yes!) in the Latin Quarter (yes!) is none other than Ford Maddox Ford (yes, Hueffner!) who was in Paris at the time editing (yes, you heard it!) The Transatlantic Review!

You wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t tell you, would you?

And friend D., and others of your ilk, if you’re following us here, which I suspect you are, I wish you’d come in and discuss some of this, it’s all so a-quiver — and Quartet is such an unashamedly great, great, great piece of writing too. And of course, the whole story also fleshes out those character traits Tom needs to keep his own huge literary-historical ur-novel humming!

I mean, the alternative is Amber Tamblyn gabbing away on Blog:Harriet! [click here]

THOMAS BRADY:
I think we need to make this point again and again, because it’s so important…WHAT HARRIET DID. Because they took VOICES, not abuse, not spam, VOICES, and, on a whim, SILENCED THEM. [click here]


Return of The Poetry Foundation

W Sepia
Alan ‘Foet-eyes’ Cordle

You all know by now about my little incident with the Poetry Foundation.  In addition to deletion of politely written and signed posts by me at Harriet, a staffer banned several other posters, without explanation, and finally trolled my personal site, searching for my name, along with the words “dumbshit” and “asshole.”

One suspect, Travis Nichols, has more reason to hide his tracks than the second.  The second suspect turned our inquiry about Harriet policy into his own little pity party.  Reluctantly, I took his name off of my blog . . . for now.  If he’s truly not involved with what happened, he should have, at the very least,  advocated for us.  As far as I know, he didn’t.  Not all librarians are proponents of free speech.

I’d admired Poetry (the paper version) for its willingness to print negative reviews and dissenting views.  Harriet is the party-line opposite, the super-suck-up-fest.  And it’s dying.  I mean, come on . . . Amber?  Shall they invite poets Leonard Nimoy and Ally Sheedy to guest blog too?

It’s no surprise that Scarriet‘s been getting substantial traffic since its launch.  It’s even less of a surprise that the Poetry Foundation person is monitoring our every move.  As you can see below, on October 8 he visited my personal blog, and bungled his effort to mask his identity with a web-based proxy called “hide my ass.”  Sorry dude, it didn’t.

hide_my_ass