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Journal, Day Two

By Catherine Wagner

Hello from Boise, where I used to live and where it’s supposed to be sunny, and it’s not, crap, I have been looking forward to the sunshine because Ohio is gray like inside the brain.

Yesterday Nick Twemlow, who is the poetblogger’s sensitive interface with the Poetry Foundation, asked whether I was going to talk about another anthology I’ve floated an idea for and don’t have time to do yet. That gave me an idea to post every day about a different anthology I’m working on, laying out a defensive poetics for each—my Etch-a-Sketch poem anthology and the anthology of poems written while on the pot and the online anthology of YouTube poetry reading films run backwards so that all the poets are sucking their words back in. Instead I will get velly serious and write


I recently bought a book on home repair called How to Fix Everything for Dummies. The dummies need help, and everything can be fixed for them, and we will do it, through poetry. LOL (for those of you who don’t know Internet jargon that translates to “leaving on lunch break”). Really though I don’t believe poetry accomplishes nothing. It makes me think; it makes other people think; when I read it and make it, I’m examining and playing around with the coding of the interface. The interface could use recoding, right?

But I am suspicious of any argument for poetry as salvation of world because as poet I have a vested interest in claiming that it can save us. The claim asserts that I am valuable to the world. I don’t trust any of us to make an argument for poetry’s efficacy that isn’t simultaneously part of our own urge to claim power.

At the moment the trend is toward saving the world not through reorganizing the variously organized ink squiggles or phonemes commonly labeled poetry, but through the context in which those ink squiggles or phonemes are presented. Two examples: Kent Johnson’s fetish for heteronymity: stop using your own names when you publish your work, you bunch of egotists! says Kent. Be like Fernando Pessoa, or like Kent Johnson. If you don’t use your own name, you don’t claim ownership of the work; you short-circuit the possibility for you to claim and build up such power as is available to poets. There’s a new Web site up ( http://oncompanytime.biz) on which anyone can post reviews anonymously—this discourages puff reviews, of course, but also seeks to avoid claims of property: when you say “this is mine” by signing something, you are attempting to accrue value to yourself. Anonymity purifies us by forbidding us dirty self-promotion. Private property is the root of all evil, and if we can evade private property in poetry production and distribution, we can presto change-o world. The trend everywhere (in the poetry communities I’m alert to) for collaboration (see the magazine Pom2 ( http://www.pompompress.com/index.html), erasures (http://erasures.wavepoetry.com/index.php), Flarf ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flarf) and publishing collectives (Ugly Duckling, Krupskaya, Subpress) are other ways to avoid being smeared with the stink of ownership and to diffuse power among a group, to avoid traditional hierarchies.

A separate fetish for altering the modes for poetic production and distribution: alternate publishing methods, alternate ways of getting the work into people’s hands/ears. Alternate methods include performance, digital works, handmade books, and chapbooks.

All right, tomorrow I want to talk about the political efficacy of all this and what I value about the trend and what makes me suspicious about it. It is getting late in the morning and I am staying at my friend Tamara’s house in Boise and I need to get out of bed and go be a good houseguest. The last time I was her houseguest I sat down on the edge of her tub on top of the shower curtain draped over the edge, pulling down the shower curtain and rod on my head and in the process bending the shower curtain rod into an attractive C shape so they would remember that Cathy did it. (I still sign my work.)

Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, December 12th, 2006 by Catherine Wagner.