QOTD: American Poetry

Courtesy of American Poetry dot Biz

“American Poetry, as I shall demonstrate this year and in all years ever after celebrates what’s great about America (baseball) and what’s great about poetry (it’s short). It celebrates the creation of a text, an art form that is basically worthless to everyone concerned but somehow still worth having around, like really excellent graffiti. The Politics of Self-Promotion in Poetry must come to an end. I don’t know why some are so eager to engage in it: I have experienced the bountiful love and the unmitigated hatred of many poets, many of the same poets. And there’s barely any decipherable difference, I find both impossibly hostile. There is a different way through poems: not everyone has to start a blog, become buddies with other people who have blogs, start movements of poetry, publish book after book after book, become a professor, put students into debt, ruin your own life and live in a vast sea of your own bitterness: that doesn’t seem like a way to go. It’s hard out here for pimps, visionaries, people who don’t want to play the game. But I’d rather die as an enemy to what most poets in this country represent than live the life of the professional poet, the friendly poet, the one who wanted to join the system rather than fuck it up.

The only thing you need to be a poet in this country is to read poems, hear poems and write poems. Nothing else matters and nothing else ever will. There could be a revolution in every line or a complicit agreement in each to be a part of the problem: you decide, it’s your mediocrity we’re talking about here. After every workshop has been taught, after every student loan bill has been paid, it’ll still be you in a room with a blank page headed towards dawn.

You may think of me as just another creepy charlatan, and of course I am. I’ve created this character over the years, the angry outsider, the crazy poetry terrorist, the sexy koala of love, the wrathful hammer of anger, whatever, this personae has served me well. I am angry and I am somewhat sexy. In the end, I simply wish to evaporate up off the pavement, leaving nothing at all behind. In the moments when you choose for yourself a life of middle management v. a life pleasing only yourself with the poems you tinker at, I hope you will chose. You can support a system that puts students and poets into massive debt for no apparent reason, or you can resist that system. You might as well spend that money, in my opinion, on books of poetry you enjoy, on door $ for poetry readings, on cases of bad beer and on a couch in the middle of the woods to make out on. The revolution is not a facebook group and you will not receive an evite to it. American Poetry happens, for me, the moment everything else is happening: especially not this essay.” -Jim Behrle

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  1. If I were to put a label on this post, I’d call it post-post-post-pre-avant-flarfguard, with definite leanings toward the absurdist school of meka-leka-hi meka-hiny-ho.

    Fintmlj: What the rest of the world does while we write.

  2. Rich, well I think you’re doing a bit of uncool namecalling. I think there’s a lot of valid things being said in this post about coteries and scene rather than the work and writing of poetry.

    My two cents.

  3. Hmm. Perhaps I misread the intent of the post. Didn’t mean to do that. I agreed wholeheartedly with the statement.

    What I meant to question was this: what do you do when some of the natural leanings of poets toward the self-critical, the very valid discussion of craft, end up leaning toward some of that coterie and scene, as you call it? If you’re me, you make fun of it…perhaps ineffectively, but there you go.

    I refer specifically to some of the discussions (?) happening on the Poetry Foundation blog, which often degenerate into something entirely NOT having to do with matters of criticism. Seems that the tendency among some lit-critics is to lump folks into their own theoretical circles and frameworks, buddy up with their allies, and hiss toward the naysayers. That’s not discussion. That’s Knots Landing, and I said as much over there.

    Bottom line, self-promotion comes in many guises, and I think we need to be just as vigilant when the critics come a-circling the wagons as we are when we delete flyers from our inboxes. If you don’t believe me, read the thread in question where a certain award finalist helpfully posts her CV for all to read and hail toward.

    Apologies if I offended you.


  4. Appreciate the apology, Rich, though I’m not offended as much as I simply fail to see the point of such dismissive name calling. I don’t follow the Poetry Foundation blog regularly, so I can’t comment on the discussion happening there. On my end, I can just say that I am open to hearing literary practitioners’ criticisms of the American poetry industry. I am more open to hearing concretes on how to counter what we see as going awry in the industry, or what is inherently wrong with it.

  5. Ah yes, it is nice to have some discourse in the comments section. How about I contribute a little bit.

    I dig what Berhle is saying about American Poetry because I feel that he’s been very consistent in his mission as a commentator on American Poetry; specifically his heavily opinionated satires on “canonical text.”

    The other thing I will add is that *labeling* Berhle anything other than what is found in his public manifestos is a disservice on the same level as when someone labels a well delivered visceral sonic poem as slam or spoken word. Or how about when the audiences detects a bit of code-switching in a poem and labels it as exotic?

    All of which to say, I find myself less interested in poetry “labels” and more interested in poetic “titles.” Let’s let the work speak for itself.

  6. I think I’m missing something here. Did I insult Behrle or anyone else?

    To be clear, I’m not actually calling anybody anything. I am reading this post fresh off the current litcrit posturing and listmaking over at PF, and I read this post as a refreshing break from all that nonsense. (This is what I get for assuming everyone reads that blog.) I wasn’t making any comment at all about Behrle himself. My post was a satirical attempt, in the voice of a fake litcrit poster (poseur?), to “label” what Behrle does in this article using a satirical poetic term.

    In other words, I think perhaps Behrle would agree that self-important pseudo-criticism (of the sort that devolves into cliquishness much like he describes) is dangerous and a little silly, and should be combatted by poets doing what they do best: writing poems.

    Again, I agree 100% with Behrle, and I was just making some satire. Not namecalling here.

  7. No worries, homie. As a writer who visits (and occasionally comments) on many blogs, I like having everything spelled out clearly and would rather comment on the comment than just guess the commentor’s intent.

    Thanks for clearing up the confusion and for reminding me that while this is all fine and good, I should get to writing more poems while I am at it.


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