Since January, I've taught at the University of Montana, Naropa and Bard College. Interacting with roughly 70 students, about half of whom were MFA creative writing candidates, I discussed or recommended these writers, artists and works:
Poetry
-Michael Palmer.
-Myung Mi Kim.
-Harryette Mullen.
-César Vallejo's The Complete Posthumous Poetry, as translated by Clayton Eshleman.
-Pablo Neruda's "Walking Around," as translated by W.S. Merwin, and his half great, half awful "Ode to the Sea."
-Attila József's "The Seventh."
-Nazim Hikmet's "On Living."
-Miroslav Holub's "Man Cursing the Sea."
-Jerome Rothenberg's anthology, Technicians of the Sacred.
-Clayton Eshleman's "The Assault."
-Amiri Baraka's 2005, Naples recording of "Somebody Blew Up America."
-Antonin Artaud.
-Henri Michaux.
-Arthur Rimbaud, in particular "Phrases" from Illuminations.
-Charles Baudelaire's Paris Spleen.
-André Breton's "Free Union," as translated by David Antin.
-John Ashbery.
-Joseph Ceravolo.
-Paul Violi's index poem.
-Ron Silliman.
-Kenneth Goldsmith.
-Bern Porter.
-K. Silem Mohammad's Breathalyzer and Deer Head Nation.
-Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War."
-Kent Johnson's Homage to the Last Avant Garde.
-Jeff Clark's The Little Door Slides Back.
-Tracie Morris' MP3s, "Black but Beautiful" and "Chain Gang."
-Christian Bök.
-Angela Rawling's reading in Iceland.
-Vietnamese proverbs.


Fiction
-Jorge Luis Borges.
-W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn.
-Ingo Schulze's 33 Moments of Happiness.
-Thomas Bernhard's The Voice Imitator.
-Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron.
-Louis Ferdinand Céline's Death on the Installment Plan.
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground.
-Knut Hamsun's Hunger.
-Ernest Hemingway's "A Sea Change."
-Paul Bowles' short stories.
-Harold Brodkey's Stories in an Almost Classical Mode.
-David Foster Wallace's Girl with Curious Hair and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
-Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son.
-Annie Proulx' Close Range.
-Sherwood Anderson.
-Kate Chopin's The Awakening.
-Nguyen Huy Thiep's Crossing the River.
-Franz Kafka, in particular his stories of hybrid beings.
-Herman Melville's "Bartleby."
-Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles.
-Yasunari Kawabata's Palm of the Hand Stories.
Non-Fiction
-Susan Sontag's "Regarding the Torture of Others."
-Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power.
-Barbara G. Walker's Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.
-Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse.
-Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Message.
-James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind, The Long Emergency and his blog, Clusterfuck Nation.
-Mike Davis' City of Quartz and Planet of Slums.
-Milan Kundera's essays.
-Joe Bageant's essays.
-V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness.
-Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and his World.
Visual Artists
-Pierre Bonnard.
-Max Beckman.
-Philip Guston.
-Cindy Sherman.
-Raymond Pettibon.
-Mike Kelley.
-Jim Shaw.
-Martin Kippenberger.
-David Salle.
-Jessica Stockholder.
-Fiona Rae.
-Matthew Barney.
-Jeff Koons.
-Paul McCarthy.
-Lucian Freud.
-Robert Mapplethorpe.
-David Hammond.
-Charles Ray.
-Vanessa Beecroft.
-Ben Katchor (comics).
-Daniel Clowes (comics).

Originally Published: August 4th, 2008

Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...

  1. August 4, 2008
     Travis Nichols

    Naturally, now I can't get this out of my head.

  2. August 4, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Linh -- I like many of the artists listed here; but I wonder (as I often do about literary interests) why the list is so one-sided.
    To take just the poetry list: why not recommend Larkin or Lowell, Geoffrey Hill or Christopher Logue -- or, to put it bluntly, anyone not associated with or approved by some soi-disant avant-garde or "alternative" poetic tendency (including the stupidly designated post-avant)? Why only the narrowest slice of one tradition (with an exception or two)? This is precisely my problem with most MFA programs: the tradition of poetry as a whole is not emphasized. Instead everyone lines up along party lines: to read Lowell, even just to obtain an understanding of what American poetry has been up to for forty years, is to be a reactionary crypto-bourgeois; or to read the Language poets, even just to obtain an understanding of what American poetry has been up to for thirty years, is to be a dogmatic lover of nonsensical postmodernism (or whatever they accuse people of who read Language poetry).
    I don't understand the impulse to read & urge the reading of Ron Silliman & Ashbery & Jeff Clark -- who might be very distinct but all of whom stand in a certain identifiable relation to twenty-dollar questions of referentiality & stability of self & language -- but not, oh, I don't know, Alexander Pope, John Berryman, Frank Bidart.
    The answer cannot be "because they're already exposed to canonical & more 'mainstream' writers [granting that collapsing these two categories, both of which are already shorthand, is very problematic]," because often enough they're not. I've met hundreds of MFA students over the past decade, & the number of them who can discuss Michael Palmer intelligently but haven't read more than a couple of pieces by Donne or Herbert (or even Blake, unless as an avant-gardiste avant la lettre a la Rothenberg's really really terrible anthology) is too high to contemplate if, like me, you don't drink.

  3. August 5, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    It's nice to be on Linh's list. Just to say, for anyone interested, that Homage to the Last Avant-Garde is due out in September. Lenin, apparently, has been put on the cover.
    Just a couple other things: the Vallejo Posthumous is now superseded by the amazing new Collected, so that is what students should be turned to.
    And the other thing is to say how great to see Bern Porter's name... I have a little personal tie, of sorts, to Porter and just have to share this old letter I sent to Miekal And years ago, which he posted on the Poetics list a long time ago:
    Dear Miekal:
    My parents were born and raised in Belfast, Maine and I spent much
    time there visiting the gradparents. On one of my visits to
    Belfast,
    maybe 15 years ago, I attended a reading by Porter, at,
    of all places, the Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street. There was a good
    and variously-aged crowd there--perhaps 50-60 people--and since this
    was winter, most had to be native residents (Belfast has developed
    an arts scene fed by lots of immigration in the
    past few years, but this was shortly after the chicken processing
    plant had closed down, and before the town started creeping towards
    the fate of neighbors Camden and Rockport). People listened very
    attentively and applauded
    politely after each poem. Porter had an "assistant" during this
    reading, and during every poem this young man crawled around on the
    floor commando-style or on all fours, weaving himself between
    Porter's legs. My memory is that there was some nervous laughter
    at the beginning of the reading, but no sense at all of reproach from
    the audience.
    New England communities have a long traditionof being tolerant--even
    protective--of their eccentrics, and this certainly seems to be the
    case with
    Belfast's attitude toward Porter. My grandmother told me once that
    after his wife died, Porter was in the habit for some time of walking
    around town in his wife's clothes. I remember asking my grandmother if
    this didn't
    cause people to laugh at him, and with thick Maine accent she replied
    something to the effect that no, Bern has always been very different
    but he is a genius and a decent man... I asked her why she thought
    he was a genius and whether she had read his work. She said she had
    read just a little of it and couldn't make heads or tails of it, but
    that this, of course, was the way of genius. (I am doing my best to be
    faithful to her words here!)
    I remember reading in _Down East_ magazine (is that where I saw it?)
    a wonderful article about the town gala party for Porter's 90th,
    attended by hundreds. There was a parade to kick the festivities off;
    Porter led the parade in regal dress and with staff, followed by
    town firetrucks and ambulance. A lobster and clam bake followed inthe
    park, I think, with games, civic orchestra, and so on.
    Ah, that all avant-garde poets would be so dearly loved!
    Kent

  4. August 5, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    also: McLuhan's book is called The Medium Is the Massage (although apparently that was because of a printer's error, McLuhan embraced the pun); Davis's book on slums is very good & very scary; you might also like the comic-book artists Kevin Huizenga, Jim Woodring, & James Sturm, if you don't know their work already.
    & god knows Harriet doesn't need to get involved in this debate, but: Dworkin? really?

  5. August 5, 2008
     Linh Dinh

    Hi Michael,
    I was not the only professor these students were exposed to. At Montana, there were also Joanna Klink, Karen Volkman, Greg Pape and Prageeta Sharma. At Bard: Ann Lauterbach, Leslie Scalapino, Anselm Berrigan, Robert Fitterman, Fiona Templeton, David Levi Strauss, Jennifer Moxley, Tracie Morris, Paul La Farge and Carla Harryman. At Naropa: Alice Notley, Eleni Sikelianos, Charles Alexander, Harryette Mullen, Elizabeth Robinson, Will Alexander, Amiri Baraka and many more. You get the idea. My list reflects not just my taste but also the students I was dealing with. Another year and I'd have an at-least-slightly-different list, and just because I mentioned a writer does not mean that I necessarily endorse everything or even anything he does.

  6. August 5, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Point taken, Linh -- & thanks for this thought-provoking post. I had never heard of Bern Porter before, so now I have a new assignment, which makes me happy.

  7. August 5, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Mr. Dinh,
    Love this list. Will set down to read some of them.
    Don't change a thing, even if the pundit(s) on Harriet raise hell about a narrow, unrepresentative slice of 30 writers. Let someone else teach...eh, whatever!

  8. August 5, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Michael,
    You'd never heard of Bern Porter??
    He was the first guy to publish Henry Miller, among lots of others.
    What do they teach you guys at Chicago, anyway?
    (I'd put in a winking face icon here, but I don't know how to make those)
    Kent

  9. August 5, 2008
     Don Share

    I'm so pleased that Bern Porter's name has come up! His books are marvelous - kudos to UbuWeb for creating a terrific resource to see some of his work. Click here.

  10. August 6, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Wow, I just downloaded The Wastemaker. OK. Wow. Thanks for that link, Don.
    I hold Miller personally responsible (along with Burroughs) for Bukowski, so no surprise I'd not heard of Porter in that context, but I see he also published many of the SF Wrens, so I don't know how I missed him.
    But Kent, really, you're not fooling anyone with that interweb rube shtick -- we all know you're behind the lonelygirl15 hoax, er, "fiction."
    Smiley emoticons all around!

  11. August 7, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    I don't have a blog, and I'm not on any listservs (except this one!), so I hope it doesn't seem obnoxious to post this link here--but since Linh mentions the book in his post above, and since it's now available to be ordered, here is the Shearsman Books page for Homage to the Last Avant-Garde. It will be available through SPD quite soon, as well, if you want to wait for that.
    http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2008/johnson.html
    Kent

  12. August 7, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Not to discourage you from posting links, Kent, but I would wager that yours would be a pretty popular blog, should you choose to start one. Just a thought.

  13. August 7, 2008
     Jordan

    What's this belief that you're noxious.

  14. August 7, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Rich,
    Thanks for the encouragement, and I appreciate it, but I honestly don't think I have the technical expertise to handle a blog. HTML is ancient Greek, to me...
    Jordan,
    I've been contributing to discussions at Harriet for a number of months now (with very few exceptions, the only place for a long time where I've posted comments on the web). The quality and sustained intensity of the exchanges here often surpass anything I've encountered in any other poetry forum, frankly. Sometimes there is sharp, good-humored ribbing; sometimes things do get heated. But there is always a discernible context for it, of some kind. Your comment above is the first truly gratuitous flame I think I've seen at the blog.
    You're a smart guy, and I for one hope you'll keep contributing. But there's no need to bring old and outside resentments into play.
    Kent

  15. August 7, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    oh, Kent. you haven't had to know HTML to start a website for about eight years now.