HARRIET GOES DIRECT: DON’T JUST HIDE, DELETE!

Harriet has just lost its last shred of dignity. The recent Comment posted by W.F.Kammann on December 21st has been deleted.

All the Comment  said was that for a more balanced and in depth look you might want to check something else out, a piece of information Travis Nichols obviously felt was too disturbing for the Harriet readership.

We wonder how Gary B. Fitzgerald and Margo Berdeshevsky feel about this new move, both having expressed such relief at the decision to lift the Like/Dislike regime which had so spoiled Harriet for them  since September.

Do you feel this is better,  Gary and Margo? Do you feel relieved that the velvet glove has come off at last, and that there’s no more pretense at openness or respect for opposing views?

Can The Poetry Foundation not accept the fact that the real world is full of contrary opinions, not to speak of poetry? Will there be no more awkward discussions in the lab of  Travis Nichols’ new “experiment?” Is that the idea, to surrender all our differences as well as our hopes for a better world?

Dah Daa. Enter The New Thing!

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!

Another Interlude at the Bama Conference: Charlie Brown Teaches Poet Lessons.

A second Open Letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract Dislike votes on Harriet,

or even when an admirer gives him too much attention!

Charlie Brown_0001

~

Dear Gary,
If you want to know how your poems make the Harriet posters feel, or at least that portion of the Harriet posters who feel compelled to vote ‘Dislike’ for every poem you post, look at Charlie Brown. For Charlie Brown, of course, is a poet, and you can tell that by how strongly he feels about that little red-haired girl. Indeed, that’s the first requirement, to have strong feelings, and the second is to have the courage of your convictions and, of course, get those convictions into words. You have to say what you mean, in other words, and say it loud and clear — even if it means your commitment knocks the little red-haired girl right out of her desk and onto the floor!

Because, of course, that’s the curse of being a poet as well, that if you say it too loud and clear the whole world will laugh and point — which is why most true poets never quite manage to become adults.

And would this set-back discourage Charlie Brown?  You bet it would, and he’d go home and sit down in that big chair and hurt.

And would Charlie Brown not write another poem the next time, and even post it on Harriet again despite all those horrible sophisticates he knows are going to dump Red all over it?

You bet he would — and will.

And would Yvor Winters find himself in the same predicament, or Kenneth Goldsmith, Stephen Burt or Travis Nichols? Never — they’re too smart and know too much, and deal with all poetry affairs circumspectly. They also know the little red haired girl couldn’t care less, and they’re certainly not going to risk their reputations by foolishly writing a poem for her. Because like her they’re cynics, which makes them always safe — and, of course, superficial poets.

Christopher

THE STRANGE CASE OF GARY B. FITZGERALD, POET PREPOSTEROUS on HARRIET

An Interlude at the Bama Conference — performed outside the curtain.

A letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract so many Dislike votes on Harriet:

“Your poems are very pure, Gary — indeed they’re unique in that. Because you bring no artifice to them, no stunts, no tricks, no riddles, no performances, no arcana, no complexities of any sort, no contradictions, no obscure references, no quotes, no citations, no buried hints, no deep alchemical or esoteric or psychological knots, no sleights of hand, no fits of madness, no fluff or flarf or fiddling, no lists, no inner flights of foolery, indeed almost no imagery at all, no sacred symbols, confessions or paradoxes, no minimalist self-abnegations, and, most unusual of all, no pretense. Finally, although your poems are almost always philosophical you don’t need to know one thing about Wittgenstein or Rorty, A.J.Ayer, Lyotard or Lao Tzu to understand them.

“All you need is a.) to be a human being,  b.) to know how to read slowly and deeply, with a pure and open heart, and c.) be able to trust something in words without any irritable searching after something even more fashionable to compare it with, or something even wittier, negative or positive, to stump the poem completely.

” You simply don’t give the Harriet readers anything to get their perfect teeth into, Gary — in fact, you make them choke. You make them feel that all that expensive orthodontistry they got done at Iowa or Stanford wasn’t even worth the smile! Because you don’t give them any chat-fat to chew on, and if they actually did read one of your poems, which they don’t, they’d just feel angry, as if you’d tricked them. Because your poems are THE REAL THING in an unwrapped nutshell, and an on-line love-you/hate-you show like the new regime at Harriet can’t deal with poetry that’s humble and, most unnerving of all, doesn’t even try to make it new!

And if you read this as an insult, Gary, or any other poet, you don’t deserve the name or the blessings it could bring you.

Christopher

EILEEN MYLES: Harriet Blogger Par Excellence!

We’re hard on Harriet — I mean, we got treated pretty shabbily! But there are a whole lot of people there we’d stand up for wherever, and I mean stand up for and fight!

And one of them is Eileen Myles, who is actually past her expiry date on Harriet and still blogging, hurrah! And the interesting thing about Eileen, of course, is that she always gets everything that matters right were it belongs, down on the bottom line. Like? Yeah, you guessed it. Apartments!

So this is a little thanks to Eileen from the denizens of Scarriet, who got such a lot from her, and want to sit down and talk with her about it a little bit more.

Eileen Site Grab
http://www.eileenmyles.com

Like this, hot in the old e-mail tray from you know whom:

“The only other thing i wanted to say, but thought i wouldn’t as it is one of those things like ‘racism’ sexcism, this ism that ism – basically, not focus soley on the actress. Mainly because chicks make us with dicks, often idiots drooling, so the best would be to cut her, she’s had the welcome, now bat on as usual, according all bores at the previous dump, equal showtime. ~ Des.”

And by contrast, look what Gary Fitzgerald replies to Eileen on Harriet: “Way past time to get over yourself, isn’t it, Myles?”

What I mean by this is why do you have to wear your homosexuality on your sleeve like it’s…I don’t know…the Medal of Honor or a big red ‘A’ or something? What do these personal details contribute to poetry, after all? I think most people are sick and tired of this ‘us and them’ bullshit: gay and straight, black and white, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, cool and uncool. Why would any poet want to compartmentalize and limit themselves like that? ‘Gay’ poet, ‘Feminist poet’, ‘Latino’ poet, ‘Political’ poet. Can’t we just be poets? Jeez, get over it.
POSTED BY: GARY B. FITZGERALD ON OCTOBER 4, 2009 AT 4:43 PM

So what do you think? Did we go over the top with Amber Tamblyn? And what do you think about the Barbie School of poetry? Does Jorie Graham’s hair matter, like in contrast, say, to Eileen’s? And do you think this will get discussed on Harriet?

IF YOU’RE JOHN KEATS YOU’RE NOT SAFE HERE

Keats by Tom Title

Keats Comment

Tom, Harriets, Everybody,

We’re also dying from the inability of poetry people in America today to believe in anything, to take a position like Keats did and then to cry out in disbelief and sorrow when nobody is moved or, much, much worse, there’s silence. Like the comments on the “Keats Lives” thread on Blog:Harriet — such wonderful material, crying out for commitment, and nobody in the whole community dares! Except our champion, Eileen Myles, of course, who despite all her toughness always wears her heart right on her sleeve. And I love that about her, and although I don’t always get excited by what excites her, I always get excited by what she stands for and the way she shows it!

Eileen BW

So what am I referring to specifically?  Eileen Myles most recent comment on Abigail Deutsch’s  “Keats Lives (for a while).” Wow!

Eileen on Keats

What I hear in this post is a huge cri du coeur, because Eileen is so fierce and articulate she can say anything, yet she’s not been posting real comments for weeks, and she used to be so involved. I think she just got fed up with all the adolescent posturing, the effete throwing up just a little in your mouth, the bon mots and the martinis. Because of all the Contributing Writers on Blog:Harriet, Eileen is, of course, the one who has attracted the most DISLIKE votes, can you imagine — indeed, there were a number of her comments that were actually shut down during the discussion on  “Post on the Post” (164 comments) and “Political Economy” (227 comments)!  On occasion you actually had to click on “click to show comment” to read Eileen Myles!

That was the worst of it, but I also think it was extremely inconsiderate to Eileen that some of the posters most engaged with her got shut down too, including Eliot Weinberger, Bill Knott, John, Kent Johnson, Dermot, Thomas Brady and myself, so that she had to “click to show comment” to read her own correspondence, so to speak. (The threads have been cleaned up radically since then, but many of you will remember the mess.)

Now that’s a huge embarassment for Harriet, to have an honored writer so mucked about with. It’s also a stain on The Poetry Foundation of America to let it happen, and I do hope the management is reading this (I’m happy to say we have a huge number of visitors on the site).

In fact, I count Eileen as an ally in our struggle against what’s happening on Harriet, and she’s a big hitter like Ireland’s Desmond Swords and the Red Sox’s Thomas Brady, and although I have no personal contact with her I feel sure she is following. And her little post, just 18 words, after all, cries out for a reply like the kind I would have written. Yes, had I still been on Harriet I would have written up such a storm in response, you have no idea. And that’s what would have annoyed Travis, Nick, Noah Freed and the other male regulars so much they would have howled for my banishment just like they did on Joel Brouwer’s  “Keep the Spot Sore” (then I was writing about ROBINSON JEFFERS!)

But of course, I wouldn’t have written up a storm against Harriet or Travis or the Like/Dislike thing, or anything like that. I mean, if I were still with you I would never have been banished, so I wouldn’t have needed to defend myself at all. I would be normal, in other words, I would be part of your community, one of your voices, Yes, I would still be older, and yes, still further away from any coffee shop or blackboard. What else? I would be unique in that I haven’t got a single invitation to a Poetry Reading or an Opening in my pocket diary, and don’t even own a pocket diary for that matter!

Out of respect for my friend Eileen I’ll put my face where my mouth is too:

Christopher2_2

And you still want to know what this guy would have said in response to Eileen’s little cri du coeur against tight-assed death in poetry? Read Abigail Deutsch’s original good article, read all those blurbs and the golden copy, look at the wonderful young actor in the photo and think of Jane Campion (!!!) — then read what Eileen says in just 18 words. And if you still feel blocked, go take a hot shower, stamp on your hat, eat something inorganic, do anything that makes you less tight-assed yourself!

After that, like Gary just go for it!

Christopher Woodman

Another Great Keats and Even Then No Replies!

ABIGAIL DEUTSCH

Keats lives! (for a while)

John Keats Bright Star poetry

Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate:—
‘Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.

—Lord Byron

Keats didn’t actually die because of a bad review. But if he had, how would he feel now that Bright Star, Jane Campion’s film about him, is garnering so much positive press? 09.18.09

______________________

Now this is a very fine article just posted on Blog:Harriet. If you would like to read the rest of it click here. If you’d also like to read the unlikely comments click here. If you’d like to comment on a comment with impunity (no Red Thumbs, no Poetry Board intolerance)  you can post it just below.

And don’t worry either, if you say something especially beautiful Gary B. Fitzgerald can still post a poem here, and you might even get to share a few pints with Desmond Swords or a billet doux with Thomas Brady. On the other hand, if you say something that annoys Travis, Nick, Noah, or John Oliver Simon,  you won’t be Voted Down or be put on “awaiting moderation.” I mean,  even if you say something really nasty about Chicago you won’t get Deleted, even if it’s “curate!”