Blogging the MLA convention, held last week in Chicago-- for the third of what might be three or maybe four entries: if I was disappointed by some of the panels, and let down by the weather (brrrrrrr), and happy to see people whose gossip I won't bore you with (nor violate by making public), I was delighted all weekend by two things, or rather categories of things.
One was the category "songs on the new Youth Group album." Start with "Forever Young" or, if you're feeling quiet, "Start Today Tomorrow." And yes, the former is an Alphaville cover.
The other was the category "books and periodicals I picked up," many of which I have now taken home and read. I'm pretty sure I found more books and periodicals I liked-- most of them, as you'd expect, lit-crit and cultural-criticism, rather than books of poetry or fiction-- at this MLA than at any other recent lit-crit gathering. Below the fold, if you're still with me, I describe a few.


First, a cool booth whose wares I could not sample in full: something called New Writing Scotland was giving away important books of Scottish poetry and prose, to be claimed right away but picked up on the final day. I snagged a big newish Hugh MacDiarmid selected and a new anthology, but missed out on Jen Hadfield, whose promising book somebody else had claimed.
At the Univ. of Alabama Press, one of the few university publishers that seems to be expanding its poetry-and-poetics list, I picked up Andrew DuBois' readable and convincing study of John Ashbery, probably the best (and the shortest) of the good books about Ashbery's poetry for people who don't already feel they understand what he does. (One chapter has to do with works of visual art; another with senility, or "dotage," which turn out not to be such bad things, as his late poems conceive them.)
Also from Alabama-- and read on the plane, where it was, in the best sense, disorienting-- Madeline Gins and the one-named Arawaka's collaborative essay Architectural Body, whose angular and bizarre prose explains that you are not really your flesh-and-blood body: rather, you are all the ways in which that body interacts with the stuff arranged around it-- you are the sum of those interactions. As such (and I don't understand this leap, though I understand the rest of it) you need not die.
From my own academic publisher I picked up Michael Golson's brand-new book about modernism and rhythm. It turns out that there were many early 20th-century people who connected rhythm to almost everything, from poetry to labor to racial difference. Some of these people were scientists. Another was Ezra Pound. And another (though I'm not sure Golson shows he listened directly to any of the scientists) was W. B. Yeats. I also picked up, there, Seth Lerer's deservedly popular history of the English language, which I won't say much about because I'm not finished with it-- except that I've been recommending it in person, and discovering just how many people I know have already read it.
From New York Univ. Press I took home a book about fans and blogging from the academic expert on fans, and blogger, Henry Jenkins, probably the first academic to take-- not science fiction, not even televised science fiction, but-- the microcultures of science fiction fans seriously. Science fiction fans hold their own conventions. Long ago I attended them enthusiastically. They tend to have more brocade, more lace, and more ugly glasses, fewer people dressed expensively in black, and far fewer people whose future employment depends principally on what happens that weekend-- but other than that they're a lot like the MLA.
I'm going to need one more MLA-related post to recommend the rest of the work I picked up--after which I'll lay off the academia (on the blog, that is) for a bit. Next time: we follow the riddle of the Sphinx through the ages, and my friend David Wilson-Okamura explains how Spenser's later rhymes got phat.

Originally Published: January 4th, 2008

Stephanie (also Steph; formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice...