Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lit-Blogger in Performance

In the interest of determining the worth of a Yale education, we hereby examine a poem by noted demi-puppet lit-blogger Elizabeth Skurnick. The poem is titled "Persephone in Hades."
(We're off to a good start. One could be only an Ivy Leaguer and come up with a title like that!)

"First we spread out like two twin sheets.
These were white sheets, unberibboned,

and I smoothed them with my bare
hands, ticking off the vines, the pachysandra,"
(Pachysandra! Good! Here we see evidence that Ms. Skurnick received her $120,000 worth. $120 worth anyway. $20 for a good thesaurus?)

"each winter solstice beyond the flowered
bedroom curtains. An acre of soil spread

into a thumbnail of garden: piled and wet,
heaped thriftily. Two moths drifted in the distance

and a dandelion bloomed like a whisker
on the summer side. For years we had grown flat

and placid as the Atlantic, marred only
by an India wind, occasional natterings."
(--"an India wind, occasional natterings"-- it sounds impressive, but haven't we lost the audience?)

"On August evenings we set sail,
I the lookout and you at the helm

traveling faster and further
until we tumbled to the bottom, swallowed

by Neptune in the wake of one enormous burp.
Just above our heads, the sun drifted hazily"
(Man, that was one enormous exciting metaphor.)

"Like an inverted, ninety-watt bulb.
We burned off our eyelashes.

That was us in the days
before a paper bag covered the candle"
(One can see this shit being read before an audience, who are falling out of their seats in boredom.)

"and the wax burned down to a black stump stick.
(Also: two sieves side-by-side

in the moonlight, while the stars
wept busily at the pluck of a mandolin.)"
(Maybe it's "good" poetry-- but what does it say to anyone? Where's the emotion and relevance? It reads like the rarefied impressions of an Ivy Leaguer, who's paid huge sums of money to become so rarefied.)

"Have I used up all my shots?
Four fillings, I broke, cracking the ice

in my drinks. You favored gin.
Some nights you'd take a sip and look

up, startled, as if I had entered--
or was suddenly leaving-- the room."
(I'd put the enormous burp right here, at the end.
Well, they liked it at Yale.)

--Stolen with apologies from the Fall 2003 Melic Review.


Noah Cicero said...

My qustion is why the hell would someone pay 120 thousand dollars to learn to write a poem. Poetry isn't engineering or physics or heart surgery where there are a million little things to learn that a human never encounters in their day to day life. Poetry is just language, talking in short fragmented sentences. There is nothing in that poem couldn't have been learned and learned better by just going to the public library and just reading books from the poetry section, a book on greek mythology, and a book on poetry that explains different peotry styles.
If I was some rich parent and could afford to send my kid to Yale, NYU, or Columbia and they told me they wanted to major in poetry I would tell them to go fuck themselves I ain't paying 120k so they can learn how to write a poem.
To me a poem is something simple, short, funny, and entertaining. When I get the urge to read a poem I walk over to the shelf, pick up a Pound or Rimbaud book, read one or two poems while standing there and put the book back on the shelf. If someone else is there I sit and read them like three poems, and we talk about them. Not their weak or strong points, but what was entertaining about them. And then just put the book back on the shelf. I've met several creative writing majors that read poetry books from start to finish like a novel and it just pisses me off and disrespectful to the poet. One poem is like a novel, a song, it is something that must be read by itself or at most three in a span of a half an hour.
To me one of the biggest problems in literature today created by years of academic stupidity is that no one thinks about literature as entertainment and that is what it is, entertainment. When people write they think if the person reading is going to say things like, "This is a strong point, this is very post-modern, I like you alliteration here." There is no, "Dude, I'm totally feeling you. Last thursday I went through the same exact thing."
A lot of Gingsberg's poerty was entertaining that's why a lot of non-poets have read it. Like this is the comment I usually hear among machanics and factory workers when Gingsberg is mentioned, "That dude with all the cock poems, he's great."
Conclusion: Gingsberg knew that poems with Hard Cock in them were more entertaining than poems than poetry with Greek Mythology in them.

- Leopold said...

Actually, I'm not sure if that poem has anything to do with mythology other than the title and a mention of Hades or Neptune.

Is all her stuff like this? This piece strikes me as very representative of current elite-lit where the whole point of the poem is to drop as many names while being so vague that the point is ungraspable (which makes it difficult to critique - other than saying it's outright bad, which nobody in the lit world would do if you've got an MFA). It seems to me the whole point of this type of poem is alienate the reader. If you can't sort of grasp enough of the poem's point or message in the first reading to go back and read it one more time then you are wasting your time. About five lines into this poem I gave up - although I read the whole thing.

I absolutely hated poetry until about 3 years ago because I thought it was all like this. It was only when I began reading stuff from friends and others who had no interest in publishing that I realized how entertaining, rich and fulfilling poems could be - something this definately isn't.

In Canada the universities are much less expensive than in the US (in my understanding) and cost a student probably 16-20 thousand (canadian) for their entire degree, and even that is too much to spend on an MFA in creative writing. It's the same reason I didn't take drama in university (although I was big into it). If I was serious about drama, I should go out and ACT. But even in that case, there is more to say for an Acting degree than Creative Writing and an MFA in acting seems about as rediculous.

Noah Cicero said...

I got a questoin any body can answer: What people are most pretentious, snobby, and generally useless of the MFAs?
1. The creative writing grad who thinks Dave Eggers is the voice our generation.
2. Classically trained violinist who everytime music comes up names every single composor they know and then gives their brillant opinion on them even if we don't know who they are talking about.
3. An actor who acts in plays in they have never bothered to understand or read the scenes they aren't in.
4. The Conteptual artist who welds pieces of blue metal together to make a giant blue metal thing and says it shows the beauty of God and the pain of the suffering of those living in some random third world country. And they love that person who sticks cloth on everything.

Adam Hardin said...

How about that Christo? The Gates in New York Central Park aptly described by one person as being the color Vomit Orange.

If you go to the Paris Reviews web-site, they are selling Prints by Christo of the Paris Review Magazine wrapped in cloth, and what is apt about that is that it is wrappped as if to look mummified.

Noah Cicero said...

Thank for the info Adam I had no idea who was Christo was or the Paris Review thing. i looked it up, it is all true and fucking sick. That orange cloth shit is fucking retarded! Does any recall Marie Antoinette's expensive headdresses? Doesn't New York city have the lowest employment they've had in years as does every other city in America. And this is what the academia gives us Orange Cloth and Dave Eggers.

- Leopold said...

I think I'm going to have to dissent a little on this one. My first impression was 'hey, those gates aren't so bad,' since the photo I looked up had only one gate and was nicely photographed. When I realized it spanned the entirity of central park I was horrified. It's kind of a neat idea - even if it is ugly - if it's only up for a few days. At least it should knock people out of their day to day, monotonous thinking - something that seems very endemic in New York. But as a permanent art piece, it's environmental damage rather than environmental art.

My opinion softened when I realized that the gates will only be up for 16 days and, apparently, was paid for entirely by the artists themselves. Honestly, I think you can do better things with 20 million and I think Noah's point that the art world operates much like (if not more so) than the current literary establishment is 100% correct. It's all about reputation (deserved or undeserved) over quality. I do think that the Paris review having Christo wrap their product, though, is a gimmicky piece of pompous bullshit - winking, saying 'we get it.' All in all, I have more sympathy for a temporary, artist-funded, self-driven project than Harper's giving out golden 'I get it' reviews to a guy who plasters his own anus shut.

Is the project worth 20$ million and 30 years of one's life? I doubt it. Is there better art out there, definately. Better ways to spend money? Assuredly. I think the PR wrapping their book in Christo cloth, however, is a far bigger crime than the art project because it's so goddamned phoney.

Overall, though, I think that when any art becomes something appreciated, supported and dictated only by a small, powerful section of society it has been corrupted.

My biggest art beef is anyone who supports, promotes or says they like something that they don't understand and use it as a tool to fit into a club. I think every art in Noah's list suffers to a large degree from this and that's pretty fucking sad. If you aren't mature enough to have or respect your own, honest opinion, then we're going to have to take it away from you.

King said...

Leopold makes a good point about the orange sheets. I'm of mixed mind about them. At least it's an attempt to engage the public in art. I'm reminded of the Parthenon in ancient Athens, which was designed for the public-- its sculptures on the walls telling stories, presenting history and myth. (Alas, Christo is not able to do that!) And of course, Gothic cathedrals are examples of public art which told stories. (When I read Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" I was engaged by his long descriptions of the role of architecture in the life of the city and the people.)