Poetry News

'Negative is not the same as critical': Boston Review Reviews The Claudius App

By Harriet Staff


The Claudius App 5 put the firefighting sense back in hotspot (we wrote about its helium effect here). David Gorin at the Boston Review looks back at all five issues of the consummate bed for "fast poetry," especially its penchant for the negative review (which Gorin goes negative on), its tendency to focus on the younger Brit poetry scene, and the work of Connie Scozzaro, whose poem "What Is Parents?" got a fair amount of ATTN when they "released it" for their audio section before the launch of the fifth issue itself. More from the ever-perspicax David Gorin:

I hesitate to make blanket statements about what sort of “fast poetry” Claudius publishes; it’s hard to imagine a magazine admitting both Vanessa Place and Mark Levine as having easy-to-locate aesthetic coordinates. To be sure, Claudius avoids what Marjorie Perloff has derided in these pages as the “delicate lyric of self-expression and direct speech,” and the “sepia-toned, nostalgic Alternaworld of tea drinkers, telephone conversations, and diction that opts for belly instead of stomach” that Birdsey finds in Christle. Claudius is no stranger to Althusserian anti-humanism. They’ve published many of my favorite discoveries of the past few years, including Geoffrey G. O’Brien, Ariana Reines, Anthony Madrid, Ben Lerner, Catherine Wagner, Dana Ward, Cecilia Corrigan, and more.

Of course, most of the poets I’ve just named can be found all over the place in the hot young journals of Brooklyn and beyond. But Claudius distinguishes itself as one of the few American publications with any nose for the Marxist lyric efflorescence taking place right now among the younger generation of poets in the U.K. scene affiliated with what has been called the “Cambridge School.” Those of you not familiar with this efflorescence should drop what you’re doing and watch this recording of Keston Sutherland reading Hot White Andy—which, when I first saw it, did to me what I can only guess The Waste Land must have done to readers raised on Tennyson or Longfellow. Sutherland is one of the most influential figures in this burgeoning community, which has thus far received relatively little attention from critics and journals in the United States. (For notable exceptions, see the 2009 New British Poetry issue of the Chicago Review, the summer 2012 issue of Fence, and the recent special issue of Damn the Caesars, Crisis Inquiry.) Claudius has twice brought Sutherland into dialogue with his U.S. west coast counterparts, first in a virtuosic exchange with Geoffrey G. O’Brien on each poet’s long-form prose poetry, and more recently in an amorous debate with Joshua Clover on “Poetry and Revolution.” In the magazine’s archive, you’ll find many poets from Sutherland’s milieu: Joe Luna, Marianne Morris, Josh Stanley, Simon Jarvis, Danny Hayward, Francesca Lisette, Frances Kruk, Justin Katko, Luke Roberts, and others. At the risk of forcing the complex into the simple, I’ll say that this community has committed itself to writing an anti-capitalist and often highly sexualized lyric—a kind of poetry that rarely strays far from thinking the depredations of global capitalism in explicitly politicized and sexually explicit terms, while insisting on attaching to the verse resources and lyric affects that many poets affiliated with recent U.S. avant-gardes (LangPo, Conceptualism) tend to avoid.

Gorin also looks at the negative reviewing of Heather Christle, Ben Lerner, others: "[C]lick on the menu marked 'DISASTERS' and you’ll find attacks on John Ashbery’s latest volume, Triple Canopy’s recent capital campaign, VanessaPlace Inc’s incorporation, and a much circulated feminist critique of Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl." Gorin then reviews their negative reviewing, writing:

To my mind, the notion that negative reviews are a dialectical antidote to the vague praise and careerist back-patting often found in poetry reviews is founded on a mistake. There is no good reason to think that negative reviews are ipso facto any more honest, more intelligent, freer of strategy, instrumentality, or profit-motive than positive reviews. Negative is not the same as critical. The negative reviewer is shrewd enough to moneyball the marketplace: he understands that in an economy rife with praise-inflation, vitriol can code as honesty, and ridicule may seem refreshing because it is so rare. His operation risks devolving into spectacle. The idea that negative reviews should be more “honest” or “refreshing” than positive reviews is symptomatic of the fantasy that there might be a place where the dynamics of economy and careerism are suspended, and the voice of truth can pour forth undiluted by ulterior motives. The main problem with negative reviews is that they’re too similar to positive reviews. The poetry criticism I admire most spends less time praising or blaming—which often amounts to leveraging the reviewer’s cultural capital and verbal virtuosity to muscle readers into assimilating that reviewer’s taste—and more time describing and contextualizing with intelligence and gusto. Of course, no reviewer could ever remove his taste or politics from his descriptions; the very choice of an object for attention is a function of such things. But I think we’d all learn a lot more about what’s happening in poetry if reviewers leaned less heavily on overt statements of aesthetic judgment, positive or negative, and more on close analysis.

Having said that, I should add that Claudius’s reviews tend to be more thoughtful and playful than the ideal type I’ve posited above.

There have been other thorough responses to TCA, notably/recently as written up here and here. To see for yourself: Keston Sutherland, Ariana Reines, and Geoffrey G. O'Brien will be reading for Claudius this Saturday at 9:00 PM. Gogo.

Originally Published: September 17th, 2013