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By Rebecca Wolff

Did you all catch the Colbert Rapport last night? Or the rerun tonight. I do rely on Colbert to voice my inner rantings, and he did beautifully slicing and dicing and ripping-the-mask-off of and otherwise sending up the concept of “neutrality” as it relates to “heritage” in the case of Judge Sotomayor vs whitey, i.e., confirmation hearings.

Interesting to me as an editor/publisher with a commitment to publishing writing from lots of different generative areas, shall we say (no more “camps, cliques, etc.”), and as a poet-not-super-engaged-with-poetics, even as a poet who clings self-conciously to lingering humanist notions of “mystery” and “inspiration” and other products of solipsism–props I need to keep me writing, essentially–to compare and relate this to notions of transparency in language, transparency of ideology, schools of quietude and of materialism.

Comments (11)

  • On July 18, 2009 at 2:16 am Jersey Rain wrote:

    step it up, yo

  • On July 18, 2009 at 7:39 am Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    can’t decipher, yo

  • On July 18, 2009 at 10:46 am Iain wrote:

    I’ve always found the whole anti-prefix poetry arguments to be a little insulting. Colbert does a nice job of attacking the offensive notion that there is such a thing as neutral “culture” (I’ve heard various Americans talking about “culture” like America doesn’t have it, as if “culture” were something only “ethnic” people have).

    Obviously I’m not arguing that the Anti-school School of Poetry is racist (and I’m certainly not associated with any cliques, schools, or camps either), but the whole idea that there can be a “neutral” poetry is irresponsible. Anyone who says that their poetry is “just poetry” either hasn’t read enough, or is hiding something.

    Poetry doesn’t so much need to be transparent as it needs to teach readers how to cope with the coercive nature of language.

    Thanks for the Colbert link Rebecca.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 11:29 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I gave Iain a thumbs-up for provocative contribution to opening a dialogue, and I agree that “just poetry” tends to be a default for vanilla, but I wasm’t there when “the coercive nature of language” was accepted as a given. Language is used to coerce, to cajole, to seduce, to praise, to lie, to blather, and to say thirteen things about a blackbird, and the Sapir linguists, somewhat discredited, argue that it strongly frames world-view, but coercive per se? I’m unconvinced.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 12:37 pm Iain wrote:

    I would agree that I’m using a strong word when I say “coercive”. I think I say it this way because I really want to combat the idea that language can be “neutral”, “transparent”, or “plain” (and etc.).

    I don’t want to say that language is always coercive in intent, but in it’s “nature”. In a sense, language is used to put ideas, images, etc. into people’s heads that weren’t there before (and I stress the “in a sense” part). You ask someone to hand you something nicely, not always because you want to, but because it’s usually the most efficient way to get what you want. Language is always making an argument, ex”pressing”. It’s always “doing” something, never “passive”.

    And perhaps can’t agree that it’s always coercive. We probably can agree that language is used powerfully and widely to coerce. My initial statement was more meant in that sense.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 7:20 pm edward mycue wrote:

    i know you are supposed to say you thought it would be easier than this (given all strived and labored for), and where is the sweet leisured payoff. (it is still ‘in the mail’ and ‘the sun will come out tomorrow/ tomorrow./bet your bottom dollar…come what may’?) that’s life: when you come up for air you find you are underwater. there’s no retreating back up the birth canal. amid all the plod ‘n grovel there has to be a secret santa. you think.well enough soon enough then enough. enough?the where’s and the when’s keep turning.we are like that teenager in the gulf of aden clinging to the airbuss wreckage.hang in there, help is on the way. as well as or maybe sometimes help is in the way. keep the hope light on. love is what the clouds send your way. you hope. living today yesterday. slap my eyes.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 9:39 pm Michael James wrote:

    “Just poetry” results in the poet either hiding something or not being well read? (Or… have read widely enough?).

    I think the idea of “just poetry” is actually a signifier to the poet having well quite widely. It is just that this poet has not consciously chosen any particular ‘thing’.

    Equate it to a musician liking various types of music. Many influences, but not prefering to be called “rock and roll” or “neo-jazz” or “jazz-hop”.

    Transferring back to poetry — maybe this hypothetical poet doesn’t start a usual poem by following particular pre-systems, or begin poems by thinking, “This poem will be a pantoum following Olsonnian principles with Ashberry’s linguistic techniques [ and maybe a hint of Louise Gluck’s ethereality ] ” — I exagerate, but still…

    Maybe this hypothetical poet reads quite widely and likes some things and likes others and really puts more weight in the subconscious mind, less in “top down” thinking and more “ground up”. Inspiration. A poem popping into ones mind and then writing that poem, and allowing the poem to dictate itself. For the poem to “just be”.

    Sometimes, the conscious ‘I’ gets in the way of the more powerful subconscious self. Much like how dreams are more raw and potent delivery systems to the energy of the universe, and the conscious-mind usually gets in the way of ‘the truth’ (whatever that may be). Initially. The conscious-mind helps decode the sub-conscious, so the process is not “top down” first.

    I could be misreading your point.

    And we are all hiding quite a bit. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a need to write a poem. Poems are where I hide things. Thoughts, feeling, nibblets of beautiful. Poems are just variously designed safes. Some are shoddy-made things. Others aren’t. None are ever unbreakable.

  • On July 18, 2009 at 11:30 pm Iain wrote:

    You very well might be misreading my point, because I’m not sure I disagree with what you’re saying.

    I’m not talking about poets who decline to be defined with a prefix (I’m one of these). I’m talking about poets who are very against other poets defining themselves, and speak self-righteously about writing “just poetry”. As if anyone defining themselves is being “political”, and as if by not defining yourself, you could possibly remain “neutral”.

    One might argue that there are too many kinds of poetry to try to define with “schools” and “camps”. I would then probably argue that language itself already undertakes the impossible in this sense, in that it tries to attach words to things (there’s really far too much in life for any vocabulary to ever encompass).

  • On July 19, 2009 at 2:47 am Michael James wrote:


    I get you now.

  • On July 19, 2009 at 6:58 am Lilac wrote:

    I missed Stephen this week. So glad that you however snatched my reference to his identity problem and made it your own. 🙂

    Stephen Colbert, eagle screeching and non chalantly egotistical nay sayer that he is…is my hero.

    Poets would be doing themselves a favor if they took themselves a lot less serious and took the Colberts of the world a lot more so.

  • On July 22, 2009 at 10:04 am Donna "Nonnie" Campbell wrote:

    I like “cajole” and “blather”

    Take an ordinary sentence:
    “My cat hunts mice in the yard.”
    Now cajole and blather the sentence:

    “Pouncer on the prowl, in bushes near the drive-
    Slinks, crouching low, ’till not a mouse is left alive.”

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, July 17th, 2009 by Rebecca Wolff.