Linh Dinh Erasure

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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I own four poetry books by the always provocative Linh Dinh; but not willing to pay an inflated price for the out-of-print American Tatts (“Vault Media,” a seller on Amazon, is, for example, asking $782.60 + $3.99 shipping for a new copy), I checked out the copy at the Mid-Manhattan Library. I was amused to find this little note by a previous user above.

Dinh, indeed, can elicit a strong reaction and that, I think, is one of his virtues. In a way, it seems that this example of vernacular lit crit by way of graffitied marginalia is fitting since “What’s At Franks?” – a poem from American Tatts – ends by quoting a bathroom graffito: “‘Full pelvic undulation will help to dissolve / All neurotic personal armor,’ someone has written / With a Magic Marker over the broken sink.”

Having to return the book now, I’ve decided to make my own little intervention.

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Magnetic Poetry and Midnight’s Marsupium

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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There’s a somewhat mixed review, written by C.L. Bledsoe, of my chapbook Midnight’s Marsupium (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010) in the current issue of Prick of the Spindle:

The book…never quite manages to delve deep enough below the surface of its playfulness to really connect with the reader in a meaningful way, I felt. Leong is a clever wordsmith, though, and I’d be interested in reading more of his work.

The issue regarding readerly connection is fair enough.  And, interestingly, Prick of the Spindle ran a review (it was an interesting and well-thought one) of my first book, e.s.p., that made a similar point:

With any experimental poetics, though, the risk is that to proceed by such unproven methods is to court failure: after all, for every light bulb that goes off in the head, any Edison has hundreds of botched trials and burnt-out filaments. Hence, for every polished Oulipo-like loop-de-loop, Leong has another poem that seems too clever by half, by failing to meet its reader halfway.

But whenever I read critiques in this vein I always think of John Ashbery’s famous comment that his poems are “accessible, for those who care to access them.”  I think making the reader work is as important as meeting him or her “halfway.”  I also think it’s interesting that the most prevalent metaphors regarding readerly connection are so thoroughly conditioned by a Whitmanian poetics: “Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, / Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

My favorite sentence of Bledsoe’s review is the first one:

This brief collection is interspersed with pictures of collage poems that look like those refrigerator magnets arranged into poems, except they contain words I’ve never seen in any set of magnets.

Actually–I composed all of the visual poems using magneticpoetry.com, which allows you to play with virtual magnets online.  There are a variety of sets (“Original Kit,” “Love Kit,” “Poet”); I think I used the kit called “Geek” (or perhaps some kit involving office diction) to make the piece above.  In any case, I’m thankful that Bledsoe took the time to review an older title.

Metamodernism and Andy Mister’s Liner Notes (Station Hill, 2013)

•February 3, 2014 • 1 Comment

My review of Andy Mister’s Liner Notes (Station Hill, 2013) appeared in last weekend’s issue of Hyperallergic.

This is a brief excerpt:

In a sequence of approximately 150 brief, carefully plotted paragraphs which alternate between poetic memoir and non-fictional re-reportage, Mister chronicles what he calls “a catalogue of […] mistakes”: the terse retellings of tragic deaths (often by overdose or intentional or accidental suicide) of figures in the music world, such as Nick Drake, Ian Curtis, and Elliott Smith, as well as personal anecdotes that describe unfavorable situations of varying degrees of severity (“Riding my bike home drunk from a party, I wake up in the emergency room.”)

Liner Notes critiques celebrity idolatry and scrutinizes the mythologized and alluring mystique of — to cite [the gallerist Louis K.] Meisel’s terms — the “troubled and dissolute” lifestyle of the artist/musician. It records what happens once the singing stops, once the collective energy of the audience dissipates into loneliness. “Loneliness isn’t something you feel,” Mister writes, “It’s what you are.”

Liner Notes has been well received by poet/critics of my generation–and rightfully so.  Noah Eli Gordon said, “reading this book that’s so informed by loneliness made me feel so much less alone. Hell, it made me feel. That means something.”  And according to Jordan Davis, “Andy Mister’s book is an order of magnitude more enjoyable than most recent books filed under poetry.”  I–by and large–agree with these reactions and assessments.

Seth Abramson’s review-essay in the Huffington Post, “On Literary Metamodernism” (July 2013), however, had me raising my eyebrow.  According to Abramson, Liner Notes is “one manifestation of metamodernism.”  While I appreciate Abramson’s sweeping ambition and willingness to account for our complex contemporary moment as well as his enthusiasm for Mister’s text, I found his review-essay to be extremely under-historicized.  There is no indication of how Liner Notes is in dialogue with modernism, and indeed, no substantial discussion of modernism in Abramson’s piece.

By contrast, David James and Urmila Seshagiri’s article “Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution” from last month’s issue of PMLA uses the term in a much clearer and useful way in terms of literary history: “Metamodernism regards modernism as an era, an aesthetic, and an archive that originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”  In discussing writers such as Tom McCarthy, James and Seshagiri argue that “metamodernist writing incorporates and adapts, reactivates and complicates the aesthetic prerogatives of an earlier cultural moment.”  They focus on twenty-first century fiction but I do think there is good work to be done on twenty-first century metamodernist poetry (I’m thinking of a book such as Kristin Prevallet’s Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (A Four Quartets) (2012), which rewrites T.S. Eliot).  

To return to Abramson, I can’t agree that Liner Notes is metamodernist.  If anything–because of its proximity to nonfiction, because its insistent use of reportage–it’s metarealist.       

Poetry, 2013

•December 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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The poetry team at Hyperallergic Weekend (Albert Mobilio, Barry Schwabsky, John Yau, and myself) put together a list of some of our favorite books from 2013. I chose LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK (Belladonna), Andy Mister’s Liner Notes (Station Hill), and Stephanie Strickland’s Dragon Logic (Ahsahta). See the full list here.

Evening Will Come: Issue 35 (November 2013)

•November 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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The brand-new issue of Evening Will Come, the poetics journal of The Volta, is devoted to reviewing.  It includes q&as by Marjorie Perloff, Michael Robbins, Karla Kelsey, Kathleen Rooney, James Pollock, Vanessa Place, Elisa Gabbert, Virginia Konchan, Dan Beachy-Quick, Craig Morgan Tiecher, Dorothy Wang, Charles Bernstein, Ada Limon, K. Silem Mohammad, Jai Un Rai, Raymond McDaniel, Jordan Davis, Sina Queryas, John Deming, Juliana Spahr, and myself, with an intro by Joshua Marie Wilkinson.

This is an excerpt from one of my answers:

Critics are necessarily fated to overlook almost everything…there’s just too much out there to know for sure that you’re not overlooking something. According to Gregory Sholette, “The oversupply of artistic labor is an inherent and commonplace feature of artistic production.” In Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (2011), Sholette compellingly writes of a “dark mass of redundant cultural production,” a “dark surplus creativity” that sustains the global art world which, of course, privileges and highlights a select few. In borrowing language from astrophysics, Sholette identifies a “creative dark matter” which “makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society” and which “is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture—the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators, and arts administrators.” Although it isn’t an exact parallel by any means, Sholette’s observations can be usefully applied to the poetry world as well: we tend to see and acknowledge the bright stars but not the “missing mass” of contemporary poetry. For critics of poetry, how to account for this “missing mass” in a meaningful and intelligent way is a pressing issue; whether one ignores it, denigrates it, or tries to bring it to light, it’s simply not going to go away. To give a brief answer: many critics, especially in the big publications, overlook poetry’s dark matter.

To shift disciplinary boundaries a bit—the issue of a “missing mass” (Margaret Cohen uses the term “the great unread”) seems to be connected to the critique advanced by the Big Data proponents in literary study—that is, our literary histories are skewed since we pay close attention to only a handful of canonized luminaries, such as Austen and Dickens, and not, say, to the other tens of thousands of books published in nineteenth century England. An astronomical and optical metaphorics interestingly crops up in this kind of discussion as well. Interviewed for a Chronicle of Higher Education article called “The Humanities Go Google,” Franco Moretti, one of the major proponents of large-scale digital literary analysis, likened Google’s massive digital library to the invention of the telescope: “All of a sudden, an enormous amount of matter becomes visible.”

I, myself, am a close reader; I like reading by microscope or magnifying glass, as it were, just as I like approaching books through different contexts (reading by periscope?). I’m not about to digitize the Poets House library and compare the amount of times poets used the words “we” or “our” two decades ago versus the amount of times they used them in 2011 or 2012—but that would be, I have to admit, interesting data to look at especially in light of Mark Edmundson’s controversial claim that “few are the consequential poets now who are willing to venture…‘our’ or, more daring still, to pronounce the word ‘we.’” What would it mean if the “missing mass” were venturing these pronouns while the “consequential poets,” whoever they are, were not?

[SIC] by Davis Schneiderman / a very familiar book release

•October 31, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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I’m very excited about a book that I recently blurbed, which was just published today: [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman.

[SIC] is a completely appropriated work, readymade for a world populated and reduplicated by copies. [SIC], taking its title from the Latin abbreviation for “as written,” includes public domain works, like “Cademon’s Hymn,” Sherlock Holmes, and the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, and features Wikipedia pages, intellectual property law, genetic codes, and other untoward appropriations. The text also pivots on Jorge Luis Borges’s story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” taking its publication history through a replicated series of Google auto-translations.

Andi Olsen’s photos of Schneiderman—a pathogen in Paris, France—in a Lycra suit, illustrate the text, which contains an introduction from Oulipian Daniel Levin Becker, and sampling-based tracks, already created for other projects, from Illegal Art label acts Yea Big, Oh Astro, Steinski, and Girl Talk.

The fine-art edition ($24,998.98) will be packaged with a biological pathogen, which the reader may choose to deploy over the text. In this way, [SIC] will make the reader sick—sick about copyright. The book is timed to the release of 25 free, full-text e-books—including The Red-Headed League and Young Goodman Brown, now bearing Schneiderman’s “signature.” So far, though, Amazon is proving uncooperative.

Cover by Tim Guthrie.

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Three Poets: Mon. 11/4 at 2:30pm in Plangere Writing Center, Rutgers University

•October 29, 2013 • 1 Comment

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