Thursday, August 09, 2007


I've had an interesting exchange on the "Cruelest Month" Harper-Collins lit-blog ( about poet John Ashbery. Interesting is how the moderator of the blog, Michael Signorelli, worries that I might make a fool of myself with what I say about literature today.

His concern shows his lack of knowledge about the roots of language, ideas, and culture.

"The Fool" of course is the first card in the Tarot deck. It represents the seeker, the artist: the individual open to the world and experience, yet uncorrupted by human machinations. (Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," Prince Myshkin, is a variant of this type.) Throughout history there has been the "Holy Fool." In medieval times intelligent poets played fools for barbarian kings. "Fool" is an honorable name, from the perspective of the artist.

The larger point about John Ashbery is that he's a symbol of the established literary world's inability to change over the course of half-a-century. No art form survives by remaining static-- yet this is exactly what the Michael Signorellis of the world advocate. They're closed-- hostile even-- to criticism of their dusty plaster gods.

To further announce Ashbery's mediocre body of work, especially in the face of a dawning underground revival, would be as if newspapers were proclaiming the greatness of Al Jolson in the face of the rock revolution beginning in 1955. Hopelessly, pathetically out-of-date.

(It's like McCartney on sale at Starbucks-- a sign of stagnation in more than literary culture today.)

Our media mandarins are trapped in a time warp, and seem unable to move away. Our world of culture today is like a bad science fiction movie. It's actually the moment of calm before the deluge-- before a Katrina cultural hurricane.

Signorelli attacks me for being an egotist, because I try to find available avenues to get word out about my writing. Unlike Ashbery, I don't have access to a profusion of mouthpieces proclaiming to the world what I'm doing. I'm well aware of my limitations as a poet (my colleague Frank Walsh for instance is way better, as are a few other undergrounders I could name)-- yet I also think, if a quack like Ashbery is being proclaimed far and wide, for five decades, there should be room for me also.

The repetition I use in my poem, cited on the Cruelest Month blog, seems to have thrown posters Michael and "John"-- yet is easily defended.

Repetition has been a mainstay of art over the centuries-- the key is to find the right mix, which I'm imperfectly groping toward.

Done right, you get the perfection of a Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which repeats a simple musical motif again and again, with amazing results.

In another art, take a look at the way the lighting of a cigarette is done in the movie "Double Indemnity." The final time, because of the context, the simple action takes on power and meaning.

Song, a strong relative to poetry, uses the refrain to hammer home an artistic point.

But, for the brainwashed, like those who manage the media monopolies, anything done outside their narrow parameters is dangerous.


Anonymous said...

AGREED about repetition. I use it often in my writing, including in my fiction. It seems like the don't-write-this-way-and-follow-the-traditional-accepted-writing-rules crowd want all writers to sound the same--or at least in repeatedly trying to limit the ways writers supposedly "should be writing," many writers coming out sounding similarly is a natural side-effect: the number of possible voices writers can have probably goes down with a limiting of the number of language and rhetoric tools they're "supposed" to use. I'll pull a relevant quote from a sarcastic post at my place (hope my doing that's okay with you):

"Make sure you never--and I mean NEVER--"plot" in your fiction. Or use any punctuation other than commas and periods and maybe a few quotation marks. Most especially, never--and I mean NEVER--use an exclamation point. And while you're at it, never use adverbs or alliteration or passive voice. Do not use anything other than "said" in your dialogue tags. Do not vary your sentence structures. Do not mix metaphors. DO NOT CAPITALIZE LETTERS. Do not use 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the tools and usages available in the English language because if you did, you might sound--gasp--truly original because the more tools and usages writers use, the more language combinations of those usages they probably create, the more different types of writing and writers there will probably be. And the world can't have truly original writers producing truly original writing--no way!"

I'll check out that HC place again and the latest argument there, though why am I afraid I'll be walking into Count Dracula's den? (lol)

Karl Wenclas said...

(The server wouldn't allow me to post another comment on their blog, in response to MS's latest post, so I've put it here.):

"Would I like to be a target? Like many underground writers, I've been a target for most of my life-- have been kicked in the head by this society from Day One. I'm one of the millions who were brought here (or our fathers and grandfathers brought here) to slave in the coal mines and steel mills and auto plants-- then shown the door as unions were busted and good-paying jobs sent elsewhere the past twenty years. Leaving-- what? People like myself who have nothing to lose and no resources other than our own voices-- which we're using and will continue to use.
If literature doesn't tell the true story of a society-- if it's lost in vague meaningless feelings of Ashbery-style poetry-- then that literature must be changed.
The literary machine must be made more democratic, for starters. But you seem to accept the presence of giant media monopolies as a given. Sure, they crank out thousands of books-- most of which are total garbage. (Note the endless series of "It Girl" etc prep school-style books.) The produce is more and more centered around an enclave of the rich elite. Even "Harry Potter" fits into this category-- the book-buying hysteria didn't extend beyond the genteel classes of this society.
And yes, you're a genteel conformist. What isn't true about that statement? Aren't you working for the Murdoch empire? Haven't you fully played the proper game?
If you were a literary radical you'd quit your job and join the rebellion, and accept the poverty, the slings and arrows (and yes, I've endured endless attacks since the ULA's beginnings) which come with the territory.
Thousands and thousands of books cranked out by you guys-- and somehow you missed writers like Bill Blackolive and Frank Walsh and Wred Fright and Joe Pachinko and James Nowlan and Jack Saunders Jessica Wilber and many many more-- but you have published Dishwasher Pete, a sign of progress.
The ULA is being blackballed by literary media the last couple years-- the original reason I was drawn to your site. The NBCC blog-- home of this nation's book reviewers-- posted a puff piece interview with your boss from Harper-Perennial, about the Dishwasher book, yet will not give similar treatment to the ULA and its books, its authors, who are actually better writers than Pete.
Blackballed? certainly. We can't get our books reviewed even in our base city's main newspaper, even though we've been staging ultra-exciting shows all over the place. Our fledgling enterprise is blackballed throughout even the blogosphere, because we speak our minds and don't play the game.
Are the ULA's opinions-- and the documented facts which go with them (such as about corrupt grants processes) being elsewhere given again and again as you claim? Where?
NOBODY is criticizing the present structure of the creation and promotion of literature across the board as do we. (Check out the Monday Reports on our site for a good beginning.)
We're completely independent, with our organization as well as our ideas. We offer a non-hierarchical alternative for writers.
You offer money, sure (if the writer is well-connected), and promotional backing, in certain cases, and intellectual conformity and slavery-- the writer at the bottom of your organization; in position of supplicant. That's the fact-- writers are asked to conform every step of the way, from MFA programs to dealing with layers of agents and editors. Is this an ideal situation? Of course not. It may, in part, be responsible for the art's stagnation.
Change is coming-- and you're on the wrong side, within the castle of conformity."

Karl Wenclas said...

Of course your novel, Fran, works on creating a rhythmn, building in force, weaving in a couple ideas throughout-- the mystery of the situation; the building love story. It's unorthodox-- it doesn't conform to the accepted way of doing things. For the reader, that's its appeal.
Re Signorelli: Like so many in the lit-realm today, he's a walking contradiction. Filled with internal contradictions he can't see. On the blog he embraces counter-culture icons of the past. The distance to them makes them safe. But it's more than that-- it's the System adopting boho cred for itself, which enables them to shut out-- to wipe from the culture's memory-- the underground writers of his own day.
It's co-optation. His boss carrie Kania has even raved about original punk rockers who worked for independent companies and died at early ages. (Ian Stewart?) It's right out of Frank Walsh's poem "Nazi Art Vault." it's like American museums grabbing, buying, and stealing art and artifacts from around the world to put on display. They're Collectors. They wear dead rebel icons as if they were wearing leopard skins. The real purpose? To show their dominance. Their triumph. It's a display of ownership. They OWN Gertrude Stein and Charles Bukowski now don't ya know, though during these writers lifetimes the Mochael Signorellis of the day wanted nothing to do with them.
Trophies on display.
Signorelli is a rebel and a bohemian within the safe confines of the Harper-Collins empire. He has his cake and is also able to eat it.
Who needs authentic underground writers? Who needs real artistic and business rebellion? He and his kind can always manufacture or buy a safe simulation of same which will endanger no one's complacent assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying they blocked you out??? Ugh, how disappointing. And for what? Nothing you said seemed so bad to me. Those kinds of people are the seeming powers-that-be, they supposedly hold most of the overt publishing power, and if they can't handle those few posts, they're pathetic in my opinion, and I think all this shit really is hopeless. Also, is it my imagination or do these people rarely see the humor in your writing? Even when you're attacking someone, you often do it with so much humor--it's satirical-sounding. If the people being attacked had a sense of humor, they would laugh along sometimes.

In these situations, can these people EVER behave differently, Can they EVER do the opposite of the usual slam-the-door response? Can they never OPEN THE DOOR WIDER? Can't they try it at least ONE TIME? Will they turn into pumpkins if they do?

Eh, I just posted there, for what that's worth, which probably won't be very much.

Thanks a bunch for your astute comment about Remember and Forget. Rhythm is an intentional focus in my writing, most especially in that book. I'm glad you picked up on that about my work. You're the first person who has and has said so.

FDW said...

Hey boyz and girlz over there at the literary lint trap Cm and BCCACIAKGB its Dr. Pill, just wantchaz t'know I'll be reading the poem alluded to here by KING K, "Nazi Art Vault" in the heart of Bagdadadelphia's own Green Zone,
outside on the Southeast side of the corner of 40th and Walnut along to the improv ambient music of Matt Broomfield of the HJukebox. In fact. Among other things. Karls previously posted the rest of the awesome tho disturbing lineup and they'll be a touch and go with one of Europes most impressive literary/ poetry ezites, Andrew Lovatt's 'cos there's a major but from the looks of it still repressed connection betwixt him and IT, and West Philly! Especially where Real Estate Interest mouthpiece University City Review is not concerned.
Also will be reading with the HJ band a new piece (I think in their second set around 9:30, 10:00 PM at the Tiberino Museum 3815 Hamilton Street) for Carivolution tomorrow night.
I'll try to get the piece up on the ULA's Prose And Poetry Blog tonight.
In other Bohunk Newdz-- I think repition is known to all as it appears in poetry and then also of course prose (clear cut periodic rhythm, see) to be one of them thar "parts of speech" and can clearly be placed under the heading of "paralellism". Truth is that these morons over on the upper side are regressively attached to pro and sub SCRIBED writing and doan understand that poetry more so than writen actually composed on the page is spoken and as such no repetition of phonemes are ever the same-- one of the powers of the oracular wd. and or "line"-- and so tho it may appear to be repetition it is not but some sort of uniquely accelerating energy if spoken. And in fact repeated as in the "magic" invo- evo- cations hunnndreds and thousands of years old. Ashbery is simply a mannerist that is a decadent establishment dinosaur who will lie to and if he can feed upon the less cynical open eyed end users of the language to nourish his lust for status and s&m.

FDW said...

also cf. GStein's semiotic pyrotechnicks technique, regarding... especially since she's been in the mix here.

Karl Wenclas said...

Most revealing is Signorelli's dismissive snobbery. No Maxwell Perkins he. His attitude: Who needs new writers when he has John Ashbery? The ultimate appatatchik.
This is what the contemporary underground has had to deal with the last couple decades-- completely closed minds. They're actually worse than the closed minds of past eras, because they've adopted the facade of hipness and underground cred themselves, which enables them to exterminate from the culture the genuine article.
The bizarre part of it all is that because he references underground writers of the past, he's somehow a critic of the System himself. The System, in other words, has become its own opposition.
Or, everything remains in-house.
This is an aspect of total domination. Keep everything within the skyscraper, the bureaucracy. The only dissent allowed is that which comes from them.
The rest of us are beyond understanding; irritating lowly creatures outside their barricaded walls.
But I wonder how they manage their schizophrenic trick.
Does Signorelli make a proposal to Kania in the garb of a Beat, sitting across the boardroom table from her-- then he quickly changes into a three-piece suit and jumps to the other side of the table to consider the matter with her.
The only person he's ultimately fooling is himself.
He and his kind will be left behind when the underground-- the genuine article-- takes off. He'll then be lumped with record producers who passed on the Beatles and others of that ailk.