Friday, June 22, 2007

Get what I got!

"They only got me, they never got what I got"

- is a sentence I remember from some Bob Dylan interview, hopefully somewhat correctly.

"I remember this coming up right at the time I began writing, in 69-71 - in conversation and correspondance with Ron Silliman, sitting here in the front row- around things like David Antin's famous piece about modernism and post-modernism, where he made that distinction that beginning at some point in the seventies, even for the most radical modernist tendencies in work, that it come face to face with the problematic of the sign and try to granularize language down to the microscopic level that you then could work with. But that, after a while, didn't seem sufficient. I remember as a baby-boomer, coming on the scene, in a sense, coming, you know, debuting, you know, in the poetry world, around 1970, or early seventies - that was the issue alot of us were confronted with. There had been a huge backlog becoming available of avant-garde and experimental writing, contemporary and previous, that had focused on the sign, and had pretty much stayed with it. That was as far as it got. Then this move towards thinking about adress, thinking about interaction, thinking about the discursive implications of larger units than a single word or a syllable or a letter, began to be uppermost in our minds and that became very central to the discussion that led to what people much later ended up calling, you know, so-called "language writing". And later my own work got, I think, maybe, singled out or distinguished within this body of peers, because like some people and unlike others, I became very much interested in pushing that discursive frame out into the social material. Both the social material which was the basis for people creating their subjectivities, and for people creating their social context, their ethnic or national identifications, sexual or gender identifi... you know, all that stuff became very central to me. What I've been struck by of late, among younger writers, for instance, is the attempt to bypass a lot of that, to just go directly to discurse, directly to social questions, without having gone through the gauntlet of confronting the atomized level of raw material we are confronted with using language. And what that often ends up being is just this parade of stereotypes, this parade of cliches, this parade of identification, this parade of big lumpy units which are already taken for grant... which are given. You just operate with these big phrasal or sentence or paragraphs or genre. Hideous! I mean can you imagine? The idea of thinking you are exploring language and you are trapped within the social conventions of genre. I mean, that is a joke. And yet somehow that is now being perceived as "truly radical", you know, experimental activity, by younger writers and that's just, you know, help me here, they're not confronting what the ground level is."

Bruce Andrews in Philly Talks #8

This interview is actually all brilliant, both Andrews and Rod Smith. I'm not really familiar with Rod's work, but I'm definitely very excited by it.

But yes, about the quotes. That idea, Bruce's idea of people not beginning on the same floor as he, reminded me of Dylan's quote there above. Dylan's point was that Donovan and the like weren't listening to Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and were therefore shite. They didn't know the beginning. - Without a doubt this point of view has been the same since the beginning.

Now I know this isn't a completely fair comparison, one quote to the other, Andrews' opinion is rather more stated: What he is interested in isn't being done anymore. What he thinks matters.

I'm not sure tomorrow's poetry can be understood fully if you never watched South Park, if you weren't raised on internet porn, myspace, youtube and constant free access to public media. I'm pretty sure that textual understanding, people's reading, changes constantly based on what we are used to reading - both as individuals and generations. What Bruce reads as lumps of genre, or whatever, may quite seriously be radical, experimental and highly readable to someone else.

What I'm trying to say: Those ideas may be dangerous precisely because they are, despite being radical, also conservative. What I'm trying to say is: Now matter how much of a crush you may have on the teacher, you better not take anything he or she says for given. He or she may be a profound poet, but that motherfucker must be broken, so to speak.

Which doesn't change this: Donovan sucked. You can't just imitate Dylan and hope you're brilliant. And you can't just imitate Language Poetry and hope you'll excel. There has to be something more, a greater devotion to the art than to the vanity - though anyone in arts who claims not to be vain is a liar suffering from the greatest vanity of them all.

I have a reading in august, at Poetry Moon, Runokuu - click here for information - along with Martin Glaz Serup and Cia Rinne, of both of whom I am a fan, and Outi-Illuusia Parviainen, whom I don't know yet, but someone called Iluusia must be a great poet.

I've put up a blog where you can find all articles and reviews I've written about poetry in the last 7 years. I would like to take the oportunity to retract anything and everything I said for the first 5 of those. A few are in English - and all are available here.

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