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?