That many of the New American Poets were gay (Ashbery, Robin Blaser, James Broughton, Duncan, Edward Field, Ginsberg, O’Hara, Peter Orlovsky, James Schuyler, Spicer, Wieners, Jonathan Williams) is not incidental to their quest to find new ways of saying and, by implication (stronger in some than in others) new ways of moving through the world. But those projects were not necessarily or even often conceived of in political terms.
Whatever the New Americans’ interest in social transformation, and whatever forms that interest took, it doesn’t seem to have extended to gender. Only four of the forty-four poets in The New American Poetry are women, and only two of those, Barbara Guest and Denise Levertov, are even heard of now, though Robert Duncan was quite fond of Helen Adam’s romantic ballads. I’m told that it was only at his insistence that she was included at all. That can be seen as commentary on the book's gender politics. But I also wonder what other women were writing and publishing in that mode at the time. The only one I can think of is Diane di Prima, whose first book was published in 1958. Joanne Kyger's first book wasn't published until 1965, and Anne Waldman's (who was only fifteen in 1960, when the anthology was published) not until 1968. I don't think that Allen deliberately excluded women poets. But the paucity of potential female contributors says much about the sexism of the “progressive”? or bohemian countercultures of the Nineteen-Fifties and Nineteen-Sixties, especially the Beats, though Gary Snyder does address gender and sexual equality. (The “conservative”? anthology against which The New American Poetry is often counterposed, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, and Louis Simpson’s New Poets of England and America, published in 1957, does a bit better, with seven female contributors out of fifty-one total.)


LeRoi Jones, the one black poet in the Allen anthology (the omission of Bob Kaufman, a founding editor, along with Ginsberg and others, of the journal Beatitude, and credited with coining “Beat,” is curious, though it may be related to Kaufman’s aversion to writing his poems down, let alone publishing them), concerns himself in his artistic statement with “How You Sound??,” “our particular grasp on, say a. Melican speech, b. Poetries of the world, c. Our selves (which is attitudes, logics, theories, jumbles of our lives, & all that), d. And the final… The Totality Of Mind: Spiritual…God?? (or you name it): Social (zeitgeist): or Heideggerian umwelt” (424). Similarly, in his copious writings on jazz, Jones insisted on the importance of the musical experience itself, on the need to just listen.
Jones later broke with his Beat/New York School milieu and became Amiri Baraka because he felt that there was no room for the political work he came to decide that he needed to do on behalf of black people, especially poor black people. While his poetry suffered, as did his thinking (more anti-Semitism), Baraka did help establish and build black community institutions in Harlem and especially in his native Newark. But neither his poems nor his statement in The New American Poetry are politically oriented.
With all of its variety, most of the work included in The New American Poetry does not strike me as particularly radical, experimental, or avant-garde aesthetically, though it was definitely unconventional for the 1950s. There's little or nothing there that can't be found in the Modernists. But let us assume that it was indeed “avant-garde.”
Joshua Corey, echoing Ange Mlinko, insists “that to be avant-garde is a political position before it is an aesthetic one: that it assumes a negative, outsider's stance toward aesthetic establishments and institutions.” This is only true in such a general sense as to be meaningless: all new artistic movements begin outside established practices. The history of art is that of the incorporation of such schools and movements into established artistic practices and institutions. But there’s no reason to designate this aesthetic outsiderhood, which is usually both situational and chosen, as “political.” Such usage drains the word of content.
It’s a mistake to believe that “progressive” artistic practices equal progressive politics, or that Bohemian or avant-garde opposition to mainstream society need have any positive or even political content. To be anti-bourgeois, for example, is not to be anti-capitalist or pro-democracy. As Peter Gay points out in Modernism, “there is no automatic link between political views and artistic talent.” Certainly an artist’s aesthetics don’t derive in any direct way from his political opinions or social position. Marx recognized this when he acknowledged that Balzac’s reactionary, monarchist views did not impede his novels’ clear presentation and analysis of social relations in late nineteenth century France.
The notion that “progressive” art and progressive politics go hand in hand is belied by the examples of F. T. Marinetti and the Italian Futurists, whose appetite for destruction led them to call war “the world’s only hygiene,” redefined in a 1915 manifesto as “Futurism intensified”—most of those who survived World War I became Fascists; the Nobel Prize winning Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, author of Hunger, who published a eulogy for Hitler days after his death; the German expressionist writer Gottfried Benn and the German expressionist painter Emil Nolde, whose embrace of the Nazis was not reciprocated—they destroyed his paintings as degenerate art, and in 1941 forbade him to paint at all; the anti-Semitic novelist and Vichy collaborator Louis-Ferdinand Céline, author of Journey to the End of the Night; T.S. Eliot, who in After Strange Gods pronounced that “reasons of race and religion combine to make large numbers of free-thinking Jews undesirable” in the ideal society; and Ezra Pound, sacred cow and sacred monster, who broadcast on Radio Rome during World War II—during one of his broadcasts he said that it was a shame that the Axis bombers couldn’t see the black American soldiers at night.
Negation for its own sake leads to nothing (as Billy Preston sang, nothing from nothing leaves nothing), except, historically, to Fascism and Nazism (not the bogeywords people love to bandy about, but the real historical phenomena), or just to sheer nihilism. Beat poet Michael McClure, in his essay “Revolt” from which I have quoted earlier, writes on rebellion and negation for their own sake that “In society there is a revolt-of-revolt, a hysteria, often more visible (though perhaps not more present) than true revolt. It is nihilistic and dissipative. The man caught up by revolt-by-revolt is either weak in genetic spirit or dominated by circumstance. He makes a hysterical or passionate attempt to take ANY other path than the one laid for him by society” (432). This is as true today as it was then.

Originally Published: February 28th, 2008

Poet and editor Reginald Shepherd was born in New York City in 1963 and grew up in the Bronx. He earned a BA from Bennington College and studied at Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), won the Associated Writing Program’s Award in...

  1. February 28, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Dear Reginald,
    In the course of your argument here, you assert three points which are pretty close to truisms, but which I also agree with : 1) the NAP anthology has been credited with a political "progressivism" which was not really so advanced; 2) politics and aesthetics are not equatable, even in one & the same artist; 3) negativity for its own sake is pointless, & worse.
    Nevertheless, these points don't seem to really address the crux of the position laid out by A. Mlinko and others in previous posts etc. In order to grasp what this position is, one has to be willing to acknowledge a gray area, between art and politics. Let's provisionally designate this as "cultural politics". Keeping in mind the tradiitonal notions of the role of poetry as not only an art form but also a didactic act, a form of education (cf. Milton, Dante, Sidney, etc. etc. - let's compare this role loosely to the idea of "applied science". Whenever scientific theory & discovery are applied in the real world, there are consequences in the realm of "cultural politics" (the forms of action and interaction in which a cultural engages). This same function applies, perhaps to a lesser extent, in the realm of the arts. Artistic creation has social consequences.
    Here is Wallace Stevens ("Of Modern Poetry"):
    It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
    It has to face the men of the time and to meet
    The women of the time. It has to think about war
    And it has to find what will suffice. It has
    To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage. . .
    If we take Stevens seriously, we have to think of poetry as in some respect an embodied, performative, and rhetorical art form. The aesthetic form of the poem does not, contra the New Critics, reside in a self-contained textual receptacle. The form of the poem achieves its realization, its actuality, in some form of social (& perhaps actual) "stage".
    I would call this gray area, generally, the sphere of cultural politics. The space of social dialogue and shared language, where, in Stevens' words, "the imagination's latin" is compounded with "the lingua franca et jocundissima".
    Using this concept of the "gray area" as context, let's look again at A. Mlinko's argument, which was, at least in part, to point up a historical contrast between the social-professional matrix of poetry today and that of 50 years ago, with the NAP anthology as emblematic of that difference.
    I would, again, support that general perspective - since I think the aesthetic choices of the NAP poets did indeed put them "outside" the sphere of what was considered the normative discourse of traditional poetry at that time; and that one of the signal motives for this direction lay in the poets' desire to "learn the speech of the place", to "face the men" and "meet the women" of the time, to "construct a new stage".
    And I think this does have to be contrasted with the contemporary situation, of which perhaps your own position is a pretty good exemple : the assumption is that poetry is self-sufficient and somewhat detached from politics, simply because the high level of professionalism supposedly structuring the field allows its practitioners to absorb and comprehend both social theory and all forms of technical innovation - so that such notions as "outside" or "avant-garde" become irrelevant. Stevens' position, in contrast, emphasizes a very high level of contingency in the poetic process, since the poem does not actually achieve its form, its aesthetic actuality, until it has been in some sense "enacted" in the public sphere. And we are not talking about the public sphere of the university or the profession, here, but of the sphere of "the people" of "the time". Outside, in the big outside.

  2. February 28, 2008
     Ian Keenan

    A major question is being treated to reductive distortion with all the selective presentation of facts, arguments with straw men, sloppiness, and distortion we’ve come to expect here. To present just one historical nugget, here’s how writers came down on the Spanish Civil War at the time:
    For the Nationalists (Franco): Ezra Pound, Evelyn Waugh.
    For the Republicans: George Orwell, Cecil Day Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Louis MacNeice, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Pablo Picasso, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, Archibald MacLeish, Antonio Machado, Miguel Hernandez, Gustav Regler, Ludwig Renn, Mata Zalka, Louis Aragon, Andre Malraux, Claude Simon, Simone Weil, Ralph Bates, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Edwart Milne, Charles Donelly, David Gascoyne, Christopher Caudwell, Octavio Paz, Andre Chamson, Sylvia Townsend, Alexei Tolstoi, Samuel Beckett, Francois Mauriac, George Bernanos, Benjamin Peret, Andre Breton, Dashiel Hammett, John Steinbeck, etc etc
    ..or as you noted Celine was Vichy as was Paul Claudel, a diplomat heavily critical of the avant garde, while Academie Francaise members Abel Bonnard, Abel Hermant, Philippe Petain, and Charles Maurras were active collaborators.
    Involved in the French Resistance were avant-gardists Louis Aragon, Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Rene Char, Marguerite Duras, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara etc etc

  3. February 29, 2008
     Brian Salchert

    I define "politics" much more broadly than my dictionary does.
    Politics is the expression of a point of view.
    Thus, every human action is political, however inconspicuously.
    This does not mean I believe everyone should agree with me--
    indeed, I don't expect anyone to agree with me,
    but it does mean I need to try to see another human's
    expression of a point of view contextually. If I/
    don't get where another human is coming from,
    I can't appreciate the details pertaining to that place.
    Given what I sense is the definition Reginald is using,
    I can't argue with his conclusions,
    nor can I argue with Henry's or Ian's conclusions,
    given the definition I sense each of them is using.
    Further, I do not expect consistency from another human.
    By way of example: I tend to vote for Democrats, but
    this country's presence in Vietnam so disturbed me that--
    being confident he was going to lose--
    I voted for Goldwater.

  4. February 29, 2008
     Yerra Sugarman

    In relationship to the sides that writers took regarding the Spanish Civil War, I would like to add that in "Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War," which was published in the LEFT REVIEW, and based on questions that Nancy Cunard, among others, asked in June 1937 ("Are you for, or against, the legal Government and the People of Republican Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism?"), those who declared themselves "neutral" or "against" were as follows:
    Neutral:
    Ruby M. Ayres
    Vera Brittain
    Robert Byron
    Rhys J. Davies
    Norman Douglas
    T. S. Eliot
    Vyvyan Holland
    Charles Morgan
    Sean O' Faolain
    Ezra Pound
    W. J. Turner
    Derek Verschoyle
    Alec Waugh
    H. G. Wells
    Vita Sackville West
    Malachi Whitaker
    Against:
    Edmund Blunden
    Arthur Machen
    Geoffery Moss
    Eleanor Smith
    Evelyn Waugh
    Sincerely,
    Yerra Sugarman

  5. February 29, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Ian Keenan wrote:
    >A major question is being treated to reductive distortion with all the selective presentation of facts, arguments with straw men, sloppiness, and distortion we’ve come to expect here. To present just one historical nugget, here’s how writers came down on the Spanish Civil War at the time: [a long list of writers who "came down" on the side of the Republican government follows]
    In fact, there is a good measure of reductionism in such a list of "left" writers, as well. A number of the people on it were actually deadly enemies during the Spanish Civil War. Hard-core Stalinists like Neruda (who was part of a failed plot in Mexico to assassinate Trotsky) and Aragon would have gladly put someone like Orwell (a member of the Trotskyist POUM) up against the firing squad. A communist like Vallejo, ally of the great anti-Stalinist Mariategui, wouldn't have lasted long if he'd settled in Moscow instead of Paris.
    The right-wing modernists were not the only writer-cheerleaders for totalitarianism. Might be good to keep that in mind in making these lists of "good guys" and "bad guys."
    Kent

  6. February 29, 2008
     john

    I'm not sure what "negation for negation's sake" means. Nihilists may believe that existence has no purpose, plan, or objective truth or morality, but they still eat their breakfast every morning, which indicates a functional belief in the value of their own lives. I suppose suicides may be considered negation-ists. Suicide bombers believe, presumably, in killing their enemies too -- and that is believing in something. Fascists and Nazis believe in the superiority of their own people (American exceptionalism shares this trait), which is a belief in something as well. I have never understood what Melville meant when he said, "There is a grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He says NO! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say *yes*." Melville meant it admiringly. Was it "No" to what Rexroth called the Social Lie? "No" to the terms of existence, the inevitability of mortality, the contradiction between aspiration and possibility? I don't know. I have seen no evidence that Hawthorne was a monarchist.
    Ian's marshalling of the avant-garde Left doesn't negate the truth that Marinetti was both hugely influential and a Fascist. The very notion of an avant-garde presupposes an elite, and historically it has never existed without a mass culture to set itself "ahead" of. For a time in the '60s and '70s, it was fashionable to speak of "advanced" art. The New Yorker magazine, among others, used this locution.
    I'm not enough of a scholar to tell for sure, but from the little I've read it looks like the poetry of Rosalie Moore, Ruth Whitman, Daisy Aldan, Besmilr Brigham, and even Carolyn Kizer does not seem too far removed from that of many N.A.P.'ers. Joanne Kyger was partnerred (or married?) to Gary Snyder and writing by 1960, but I don't know how much she had published. Auden had chosen Moore as a Yale Younger Poet a few years before Ashbery, but Duncan disliked her stuff. Some of N.A.P.'s biggest defenders argue that poetry is not about what you write, but who you know; maybe Donald Allen shared that belief.

  7. February 29, 2008
     Ian Keenan

    Yerra, In that poll you refer to, five writers responded saying they supported the Nationalists, 16 said they were neutral, and 106 were for the Republic; thanks.
    Kent, I suppose whomever responds to Reginald’s slur is going to be accused of reductionism, even if I did not, in fact, make any generalizations of my own. I didn’t make any reference to “good guys” and “bad guys” while singly rebutting the Poetry Foundation’s suggestion that avant-garde poets were Nazis.
    I have no quarrel with the gist of your historical overview politically, although it exaggerates the stated positions of writers and enters into unfortunate speculation: Aragon, for instance, drafted a document in March 1929 defending Trotsky. After using Vallejo’s political poems to rebut Charles Bernstein’s critical support of experimental poetry against propaganda, you are now using him to illustrate a symptom of experimental poetry. Best, Ian

  8. February 29, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Ian Keenan wrote:
    >I have no quarrel with the gist of your historical overview politically, although it exaggerates the stated positions of writers and enters into unfortunate speculation: Aragon, for instance, drafted a document in March 1929 defending Trotsky. After using Vallejo’s political poems to rebut Charles Bernstein’s critical support of experimental poetry against propaganda, you are now using him to illustrate a symptom of experimental poetry.
    Ian, I'm honestly not sure what you mean about "unfortunate speculation." It's quite a matter of record that Aragon was a staunch supporter of the Comintern line in Spain, and openly defended the crushing of left tendencies critical of it. There were actually quite a few intellectuals who made some noises in 1929 and then went on to become Stalinist hacks, once they saw how the winds were blowing.
    As for Vallejo, I am again confused by what you say. I'm in no way referring here to Vallejo "to illustrate a symptom of experimental poetry." And as for my having referenced him back in 2003, in that critique I made of Bernstein's "Enough" essay, you seem to have missed the point: Vallejo's poems in Espana, aparta de mi este caliz --poems that were printed and distributed to working class soldiers at the front--are examples of how an avant-garde poet (the earlier Trilce is one of the most hermetic books in Spanish since Gongora!) rose to the occasion of a specific crisis and applied his poetic gifts to more transparent ethical address.
    Kent

  9. February 29, 2008
     Ian Keenan

    Kent, There is simply no documentation of Aragon supporting the corporal punishment of any other writer and his novels depict people of other opinions without caricature in a manner which may be instructive to several people on this thread. He expressed regret later for his naive support for Moscow in the late Thirties, support which formed the basis for his function in the Resistance.
    “In fact, there is a good measure of reductionism in such a list of "left" writers, as well... The right-wing modernists were not the only writer-cheerleaders for totalitarianism. Might be good to keep that in mind in making these lists of "good guys" and "bad guys." - Kent Johnson
    “If we are to talk of "poets" against the war, then what is it in our poems -- as opposed to our positions as citizens -- that does the opposing? Perhaps it might be an approach to politics, as much as to poetry, that doesn't feel compelled to repress ambiguity or complexity nor to substitute the righteous monologue for a skeptic's dialogue.” -Charles Bernstein, 'Enough’

  10. February 29, 2008
     Henry Gould

    The historical particulars, the political choices & allegiances of individual writers, a sample of which both Reginald & the commenters have provided here, are fascinating in their own right, and offer a context & a reality check. But from my perspective, they are sort of peripheral to the main interest here.
    There's a distinction to be made between the political aspects of literary style, on the one hand, and the political associations of the writers in person. What interests me about the NAP anthology has more to do with the politics of style. As I noted in previous comment - since poetry has a didactic aspect, style has social and political ramifications. And it seems to me that, for both better & worse, whether wittingly or unwittingly, the NAP poets and the NAP anthologist presented a face or a side of American literature, which is not always visible, but which has been there for a long time, maybe from the beginning.
    Back in the day, they labeled it "raw", as opposed to "cooked". Its roots go back at least to Poe, Whitman & Dickinson, each of whom, inimitably, produced something in poetry which seemed basic, original, wild, iconoclastic, self-taught, antinomian, sui generis, independent, perhaps cracy & dangerous - in a (not-so-great) word, "raw".
    Whenever poetry becomes too tame, aulic & sophisticated, too distant from the chaos & violence of "vernacular" experience, this rawness percolates to the surface. Montale had a name for the subtle Italian version (mostly his own invention) : "superior dilettantism".
    This, to me, is the seismic disturbance which the NAP anthology in part represented. It was already present in Wallace Stevens, with his labile shifting between free verse & pentameter, his weird self-made imagery. John Berryman's poetry is wilder than anything in the NAP group. But generally it's this undercurrent of untamed, near-anarchic speech & imagination, which emanates, to a some degree anyway, from the NAP anthology.
    Then, when later generations latch onto all this, codify it as a group phenomenon, reduce it to straight sociology or politics, imitate its exemplars, turn it into an us-vs-them ball game (SoQ vs. Post-Avant), study it in grad school, etc. etc..... well, guess what happens. Hey, suddenly it doesn't seem so wild anymore. And I suppose the origin of this dialectical development is to be found, ironically, in the act of anthologizing itself.

  11. March 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Ian, for the record, since you've brought it up and since the broader issues are certainly still current, thought I'd post my reply to Charles Bernstein, which appeared in various venues shortly before the Iraq invasion and was reprinted in my book Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz: Eleven Submissions to the War. (The book is discussed here at the Poetry Foundation by Nathaniel Fick, a poet and--interestingly enough--Marine Corps officer in Afghanistan: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/feature.html?id=180043)
    *
    Bernstein's "Enough"
    In his statement for the "Enough!" reading* held on March 9 at The Bowery Club, in celebration of O Books's anthology of the same title, Charles Bernstein proclaims the following:
    "As poets, we need to pursue our own forms of ethical and aesthetic response rather than engage in the sort of pronouncement by fiat and moral presumption of President Bush and his partisans."
    At first blush, any poet alarmed by the imperial policies of the new national security state could hardly disagree: Of course poets should honestly follow the paths of their own forms of ethical and aesthetic response… Poets of all different stripes are doing so, in response to the coming war, in inspiringly multifarious ways… And truly, yes, it is harmful to dismiss discourses other than your own through presumptuous decree…
    But it soon becomes clear that the real, unnamed target of Bernstein's cry of "Enough!" is not the moral arrogance of the Bush administration, but the "righteous monologue" and "digestible messages," as he puts it, of the thousands of poems appearing at Sam Hamill's amazingly popular Poets Against the War site. And when one realizes this and pauses to reflect on Bernstein’s brief manifesto, one wants to ask: Has there ever been, in the young history of 21st century American poetry, a moral decree more astonishingly blind to the ironies of its own arrogance? The moral righteousness is so obvious, in fact, that one wonders if Bernstein is not perhaps pulling a trademark funny one on his audience.
    Alas, he’s quite serious. Quoting Bush that America's purpose is to achieve "results," Bernstein retorts that such authoritative decree "alone provides sufficient evidence to oppose his policies. What our America stands on, its foundation, is a commitment to process over results, to finding by doing, to thinking by responding. Solutions made outside of an open-ended process compound whatever problems we face."
    Yes, indeed. But there's no room for "an open-ended process," it appears, when it comes to discovering the different kinds of poetry that might be fit and effective for the times–fit and effective for those different reading communities of citizens that make up our nation, not all of whom share Bernstein’s aesthetic tastes: For Bernstein, in fact, any poetic discourse against the impending war, if it is to be of value–or, even, if it is not to be complicit with powers that be–must eschew the "language of social and linguistic norms" and demonstrate, instead, measures of "ambiguity," "complexity," and "skepticism" capable of exploring the ways such norms "are used to discipline and contain dissent"–as if these last three qualities were the exclusive domain of a particular literary current.
    Those who have been following the discussion in "innovative" poetic circles about poetry's role in the current period should be able to see that Bernstein intends his statement, in part, as a response to Eliot Weinberger's talk of a few weeks back at the Poetry Project. In characteristically clear and pointed address, Weinberger reminded his listeners, not all of whom were happy to hear it, that nearly all great and lasting anti-war poetry (that of the Vietnam war, for recent and stirring example) is overtly political and written in language that approximates the "norm" (again, Bernstein's accusatory term)–a poetry, that is, that lends itself to ways of reading that are closer to the "norm" than those demanded by a poetics of abstract surface and self-reflexive speculation.
    That this is so is quite simply a matter of history, and it's clear that this touches a nerve for Bernstein, since it runs directly counter to the claims of radical relevance that Language poetry has made for itself since Robert Grenier proclaimed "I HATE SPEECH." Indeed, the relative silence from old-guard Language poets in the present crisis (the younger "post-avants" they have often scolded for not being "political" enough are the ones now engaged in forging a poetics of activism) begins to suggest that their "ambiguous," "complex," "skeptical" and, increasingly, academically situated poetics really has little to currently offer beyond prescriptive pronouncements like Bernstein's–pronouncements that fundamentally conflate ethics and aesthetics, and which, in so doing, preempt any idea of democratic dialogue and political unity within the multifarious poetic community. Thus does Bernstein, in his statement, show himself to be exclusivist and fundamentalist in his poetics, and–in his superior ideological dispensations–an ironic after-echo of the intolerant rulers he would oppose.
    Times of quickening crisis famously clarify things previously obscured by cultural inertia. In this particular time, an "avant-garde" circle, long insistent of the vanguard nature of its theory and practice, is being shown to be more or less pulling up the cultural rear. And its members’ patronizing snipes against poets speaking out with courage and force are starting to sound like sour-grape complaints about being left behind.
    To them, a simple suggestion: Enough.
    * Bernstein’s March 10 post, titled "Enough!" can be found in the Poetics List archives, at http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/archives/poetics.html

  12. March 1, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Robert Archambeau, at his samizdat blog ( http://samizdatblog.blogspot.com ) , recently posted an excerpt from an essay of his which contains a pretty sharp insight : that for the both the early 20th-cent. Surrealists & the late-cent. Language Poets, "art for art's sake" is a POLITICAL act.
    As I see it, Hamill, Weinberger & Bernstein, & you too, Kent, by trying to shepherd large groups of politically-motivated poets in one enthusiastic direction or another, get sort of hoist on their own demagogical petardy... this is a version of the confusion of art and political activism. A lot of sound and fury signifying not a whole heck of a lot.
    Actually, I have absolutely nothing against activist protest groups forming, like Poets against the War, or Lawyers against the War, or Veterinarians against the War.... just don't ask me to read the poems, please....

  13. March 1, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Hi Henry,
    You know I've been a champion of your idiosyncratic and ambitious work, despite our disagreements on some big things.
    But I've got to say that your above is hardly surprising, coming from someone who publicly supported the invasion of Iraq as an "unfortunate necessity" (I believe that was your phrase), and who three or four years later publicly stated that he still believed the WMD would be found to prove Bush and Cheney right in the end.
    And I'm *not* trying to pick an argument on the war by bringing that up, I'm just saying...
    However, at least you don't shy from back-and-forth written exchange (unlike Bernstein y Compania, who pronounce and then run to play "Silence Is Power" whenever their positions get challenged). So hats off to you on that.
    In any case, not sure what there is to discuss here. There's no "enthusiastic direction" I can see to "shepherd" anyone toward. It's all pretty depressing.
    And in the end, poets are losers, and we do what we can do. For some of us, that includes writing quixotic poems about imperial catastrophes, or whatever, here and there, hoping they might have some ethical quiver in the polis, in some teeny way.
    Kent

  14. March 2, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Be of good cheer, Kent. Poets are poets.
    I don't know about that WMD reference, or the "unfortunate necessity" phrase. You'd have to point them out to me. In the meantime, it's an unverified weapon of rhetorical presumption. But I did support the war in Iraq, yes. Partly because I was offended by the rhetoric of the anti-war poets. That's a far cry from a morally-legitimate reason, I know. But I'm applying my poetic license in this case.
    I think you led us astray here, Mr. Kentorine Man, far away from some very interesting threads of discussion, about NAP & American poetry & the "outside" & etc. In your view, I suppose, you just caught us NAPping. I guess this is little hold-up of yours is a good example of the gap, the aporia, the unavoidable nap, so to speak, between literature & politics. & now you're not sure what there is to discuss. & meanwhile, Official Poetry Theater has moved on, Ignoring Both of Us, As Usual. Oh well. C'est la guerre.
    Adios, compadre, for now! & be of good cheer!

  15. March 4, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    There is this wonderful post today by the indomitable John Latta, at his blog Isola di Rifuti, which I thought I'd note here, in part since Reginald Shepherd is mentioned there (that is, I mention Reginald, in a comment Ron Silliman deleted Monday at his blog, which Latta reprints, alongside some funny back and forth between me and Ron). And also because the humorous incident, however minor in scope, is emblematic of a bigger topic (selective deletion, unspoken censorship, discursive control) that helps make, very much, the "post-avant" what it is...
    As these things help make any literary formation in process of institutionalization what it is...
    http://isola-di-rifiuti.blogspot.com/
    Kent

  16. March 4, 2008
     john

    Dear Reginald,
    If there were an award for inspiring the most digressive comments, you would win by a mile. It's funny to see Kent using this space to engage in mutual back-scratching with John Latta, around the topic of distancing themselves from the LangPos, who frequently stand accused of too much mutual back-scratching (an inheritance that some of them claim proudly from the N.A.P.'ers [aha! we finally, in a parenthetical tag to an ironic reflection on the character of one of the digressions, get back to the matter of your post!]).
    Don't get me wrong, I like John Latta's blog too, and yours, and Kent's comments, and Henry's, and others'. I like the digressions; I like the on-topic discussion. Thanks for inspiring such wide-ranging gabbiness! What's your secret?

  17. March 5, 2008
     john

    My apologies to Messrs. Latta and Kent, and to various LangPos as well. I've just learned that "back scratching" implies financial quid-pro-quo, which is obviously not the case here.
    Mutual appreciation, mutual flattery -- that's what I meant.
    And if money is available for mutual compliments, please sign me up!

  18. March 6, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    No apologies required, John: I won't get into details, but I have no problems acknowledging that John Latta and I trade certain material gifts and favors for our mutual compliments.
    Who's pure, here, in this cesspool we bathe in? What Poet will deny she loves the stink of it?
    No, Latta isn't the only one with whom I've been in self-serving dalliance over the years. I could tell you some old stories about a pact Ron Silliman and I made in the Soviet Union, ca. 1989.
    Oh, yessiree.
    Kent