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Rêve Parisien: Brandon Brown & Thom Donovan Talk Shop

By Harriet Staff

Don’t know if you’ve been reading the first or second installments of the great correspondence between Thom Donovan and Brandon Brown over at BOMBLOG, but now there’s a third! Called “Enframing the Brink,” the poets are “div[ing] deep into the realms of literary theory and leftist politics in their epistolary exchange.” A bit from Donovan in Part III, called “FUCK THE POLICE AND FUCK THE AVANT GARDE TOO”:

TD:…Staying on the subject of feeling and anticipating wanting to get to all of your great questions and ambivalences about OWS and your engagement with Occupy Oaklnd specifically, part of my desire to go back into email accounts is to re-enact or re-encounter what is to be found there. Maybe it is a kind of belated response to that comment [Frank] O’Hara makes in Personism “manifesto”—that one day he realized he could just as easily write a poem by picking up the telephone and calling a friend or lover. Returning to that piece via a class on “creative speaking” I am teaching this semester, which traces composition practices using orality, transcription, scoring, and conversation, it strikes me that that remark has been a little misunderstood. Because it is obviously not just about using the telephone—transcribing one’s conversation (though one could certainly do that, and it would probably produce a fairly interesting set of effects)—but recognizing that the point of “technologies of presence” (Michael Davidson’s term), or a poet’s use of those technologies anyhow, is that you can trick yourself into these certain forms of address and exchanges that are as impassioned and linguistically consequential as any poem one might try to write starting from the page or word processing document. And so that’s what a lot of email is for us now, it seems; transcriptions of these feelings that we may have long forgotten about but may now have something to teach us, or if they aren’t didactic or edifying are at least vital, stuff that can sustain future work. But it is also about something else, and this brings us back to your Catullus and the work of contemporaries. How to frame a set of feelings that constitute a social material? How do feelings of friendship or intimacy become art?

Naturally that’s all to the tune of much of Donovan’s concerns in his new book The Hole, which they also talk about (skirting and confronting morbid entry points). Thom also looks at Brandon’s book, The Persians, amidst similar terms and ideas of “affective engagement”:

TD: …In Persians you include a play with Benjamin’s “Angel of history” (though I believe you write “angle”). This cameo seems significant, as if a wink at what the prosody will do, confronted with detritus, or objects of culture that we can only imagine now will soon be detritus, because they are part of a culture of commodity. Brad and Angelina, and so much more. Maybe what I’m saying is too obvious or overstated, but it also folds back on my previous questions about the status of commodity culture in your work, hip-hop and Taylor Swift, fashion and lifestyle magazines being paramount. Against Adorno’s snobbery, it begs the questions, who would want an anti- or non-capitalist world without these products of a culture industry? When these things have made us what we are. They are part of the toxicology, if not the cure. When what we want are a better set of symptoms anyway, right?

We then get a sense of Brown’s feelings on this culture industry he’s known for attending to:

BB:…Conflicts like this, that take shape libidinally and aspire to the dialectical almost, seem to mark the contemporary writing we’ve been discussing, and also the response to some of the aesthetic strategies of Occupy. And so I’ll try to say a few things about pop music. A few weeks ago my dear friend Ted Rees posted on Facebook a critique of the use of Rihanna’s work at protests. He pointed out the undeniable fact that Rihanna’s music is the product of major corporations, corporations which are owned by bigger corporations, which are run by the very select group of finance barons who make up the dreaded “1%.” He might have said too that Rihanna herself belongs to this group. It would be true! I love Ted. He’s so fucking punk. You know? And then Jasper Bernes said something like, Well, yeah, but don’t forget that a lot of people actually like Rihanna. Their debate was fierce and complex, undertaken with respect and love, and was not finally decidable. But I can’t help swing towards Jasper’s sense that “despite” the economic facts of these productions, one’s devotion to them can be more or less total. Oh hell, when I say “one’s” I mean my own, of course!

What’s sad is that I don’t have a complex sophistic defense of pop music to share with you. I trace my own devotion to an originary fealty to melody which was seconded in the semiotic sphere by a very early attraction to rap music. I’ve said before that Ice Cube is the main reason I think I became a poet. And I really believe it. Even from a cognitive behavioral standpoint—I mean, what else is going to happen when you subject yourself to endless, I mean endless, repetition of such compressed poetry? And I still think that rap is producing more or less the greatest linguistic artworks in the United States at least—with poetry flailing about in the distance, tripping over some very real political anxieties about language which rap ignores—not always to its betterment. As for pop figures in general—do you know that Baudelaire poem “Reve Parisien?” Anyway, I think a real encounter with pop is a reckoning with real contemporary divinity. Even if that divinity turns out to be satanic, it’s not very realistic to ignore it.

Read it all here, and check back with BOMBLOG each Thursday for updates.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, March 15th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.