I’m so happy to be guest blogger here on Poetry Project Dot Org. My wildest fantasy is that each week I can try and facilitate a little discussion about a few broad topics: contemporaneity, various social scenes and theories of coterie, anecdotes from my planned October travels around the Midwest, and, perhaps most crucially, the jams that most deserve your attention this Autumn. Let’s try these as Talking Points.
1. As the first Poetry Project Dot Org Blog correspondent on the West Coast, I’m sure you’re all dying for me to distill the major aesthetic and political trends of poetries in the Bay Area into basic integers and plot them on a graph. Or something. Well forget it! That would be SO un-Bay Area of me! Moreover, the Bay Area poetry community is so intricately bound by social participation and connections, to a much greater extent than it is by aesthetic sympathies. So if I started talking about it and got anything wrong, I wouldn’t just have to deal with haters in the comment box lamenting my intellectual paucity, I’d also stop getting invited to parties. And then where would I be?
But just as a conversation starter, here’s a little anecdote that might say something about the temperament of many poets in the Bay–if only and certainly apophatically. A poet came to visit from New York City to read in Oakland, a poet whose person and work I like very much. It was just after the infamous Whitney show that staged “Flarf vs. Conceptualism.” Before the reading I had dinner with the poet and two Bay Area poets. The New York poet asks the three of us, and this is sort of a paraphrase, where we fell on the Flarf vs. Conceptualism contest. The three of us had a similar response, which I think wouldn’t be uncommon for many of us here–that the question itself is not a question that any of us would ask.
Speaking for myself, I think that the differentiations one might draw between those two emerging groups (drawn in broad strokes like any groups) could provoke proliferating and flourishing ways in which all works involved would become more legible. And that’s awesome. After all, many of the people in both groups are people I really admire as artists and love as homies, and I’ve often struggled with the question of what theoretical, tonal, and conceptual frays mark the gestures in question.
Perhaps the discomfort actually stems from the way in which many people, on the Internet and the “non-internet” exploit the “vs.” to make it either actually a totalizing mark of exclusion or perform a paranoia about that exclusion. It seems obvious to me that contemporaneity in poetics is truly multiple. And such a fluid, expansive, improvisatory milieu should ward off Superpowers logic—only perhaps this reveals how pervasive agonistic thought is in the end.
And this is meant to be very far away from something like positing a “third way”. My point really is to express my doubts about the brand of reductive distillation that apprehends contemporaneity in three broad strokes (or less)—but also to wonder what then are the terms with which we can approach it. And I guess to point out that my experience is that the delight in movements, explicit agonisms (however ironized or playful), and valorized exclusivity are largely absent in the critical and poetic works of many of the poets who live in the Bay Area. Does this reflect a legacy of the social scenes which went to war in print in the late 70’s and early 80’s? Does it conceal a different paradigm of aggression frothing beneath the surface of the art and the criticism? Is it even strange?
Oh, and I should also say that I’m not speaking for anybody, so launch the haterade this way, thanks!
2. But let’s also have a little chuckle over the crass and slavish faithfulness to cartographical determinism that’s running rampant in the previous talking point! Not that geography is obsolete, exactly. It’s just that the place one physically dwells is now only one mode by which artists elaborate their works, their aesthetics, their ripostes and roasts, etc. What the internet makes possible is a collapse of what used to be fundamental to any stable notion of coterie: radical condensation of presence. I’m not trying to be stupid. There isn’t even one but many internets.
And moreover I think that the Internets don’t just destabilize coterie, but suggest a new reading of what “presence” is. I went to Cincinnati last week and there’s a jovial residue still activating in my experiential life. A sweet one.
Oh, ya’ll, Cincinnati was SO terrific. Have you been? I mean, Dana Ward living there is enough–but we had a great time. Stephanie Young and I traveled there, hung out with Dana and Sarah, then read together at their place last Saturday night.
The scene there is really interesting and in some ways quite diverse. There are established poets whose work I’ve read, then a slew of graduate students in various disciplines, other young poets, visual artists, sound artists, and then adventurous, lovely hipsters. Last year we opened up for Wynton Marsalis. This year we ate goetta, hanky panky, Cincinnati chili, Cincinnati pizza, and shook ass at Booty Collins’ restaurant. We drank jello shots in a thunderstorm, saw the Anri Sala show, Stephanie and I switched sides in the car. I met Cathy Wagner, re-met Pat Clifford, Michael Hennessey, and a bunch of others.
And I can’t stop singing the praises of 101.1 the Wiz, the local jams station that’d give you a run for your money Hot 97. I kept trying to get on the air to request “LOL;)” but couldn’t get through. Last year the jam was “Whatever You Like.” The jam du jour this time was Mario’s epic “Break Up.”
3. Jam of the Week is no surprise, therefore. It’s “Break Up.”
There are a lot of interesting things about “Break Up,” but structurally it expresses its uncanniness by its use of a sort of Modernist, referential disjunction. There are several distinct sections of the song, and their seams are thickly drawn or even emphasized–something rare for a pure take-me-back jawn. Although that’s another level of the fun: the question is rhetorical. It poses the reasons for why the beloved couldn’t possibly want to break up. But those reasons s have variable efficacy: “Don’t I / lace you in the Gucci” finally seems more typically persuasive than “I’m driving through your hood / why would you want to break up?” which just sounds sort of…I dunno…creepy. Gucci Mane’s verses are on the level of sublime stupidity (“More fish in the sea / girls are like buses / miss one next fifteen one comin’”) that 2009 has been missing, given Young Jeezy’s relative quiet. The sort of populist grittiness of Gucci is then put in counterpoint with the a capella “Baaaby / I looooove you”, all crowned with the posse “OH!”.