Monday, September 08, 2014

New Books Set Off Brain

After the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) meeting Saturday morning I went to the UAA library.  I didn't intend to but first I was reminded that the bike trail is now blocked so they can build a new parking garage.  After taking the detour, I found the rest of the bike trail full of runners and didn't think I should try to bike through them.  So I gave up and looked through the new books at the UAA library.

As I perused them a phrase from the CCL meeting repeated by the guest speaker, Rear Admiral Len Hering (ret), Adult Conversation, came to mind.  He was referring to people in the United States talking seriously about climate change.

But in the library's new books section, there were so many books on a variety of different topics.  What I suspect they had in common was Adult Conversation.  That is, people had spent a lot of time researching the topics before and as they wrote their books, and they were offering more than just platitudes.

One of the first books I picked up was nobody's business  by Brian M. Reed.  A book on modern poetry.  Stuff that the author says doesn't look like poetry even.

"I confess that during the first George W. Bush administration I poked fun at these assorted un-poems when talking with colleagues in private and when advising students about what they should be reading.  I was startled when the later began to push back.  The first rebels were independent-thinking upper-division undergraduates and charismatic incoming MFA's who had seen poems such as Rodney Goenke's "Pizza Kitty" on YouTube and who reverently passed around  scarce copies of books such as K. Silem Mohammad's Dear Head Nation (2003) as if they were saints' relics.  I was mystified." (p. 130)
He goes through some poems.  One is a series of lines from a computer.  He wonders how this can be poetry.  They've simply lifted part of something from the internet.  One of the poems seems to be a bit better..

  This is "Eaten by Dogs."  He writes more:

"It can be difficult to say for certain, but this passage seems to be a list of captions that originally accompanied photographs by a leftist journalist name Dahr Jamail.  One can still find photos by Jamail with the captions "Man making "Shubada' sign  . . . about to be shot" and "No comment" on the the Fifth-Estate-Online website, as well as another of his photos captioned "Iraqi insurgent partially eaten by dogs -- November 2004" on 16  The statement "viewed X times" replicates a common format for reporting a Web page's hit count."
You might well be wondering what this is all about and why I'm pointing it out.  Well, Dahr Jamail, at one point lived in Anchorage and spoke several times here of his journalism.  I wasn't sure if I was blogging yet at that time, and apparently not.  The only post I can find that mentions him is this one.  

And then back to the question about whether this can be considered poetry:
". . . As so often happens, the question contained within itself the answers.  Certain of my best students were innately suspicious of the self-aware, erudite authors held up by cultue czars and well-meaning professors as models for them to admire and emulate.  The radical gestures of negation that most irritated me about post-9/11 anti-poetry -- its blank indifference to liteary history, its scorn for conditional markers of craft, and its disdain for politsh and perfection -- were in fact the very attributes that appealed to them.  Moreover, they read these gestures as profoundly political in inspiration, that is, as calculated attacks on institutional norms and practices that not only shape literary careers but also preside over the formation of obedient, well-disciplined neoliberal citizens-subjects.  Watching their nation plunge headlong into overseas wars on dubious pretenses, these youthful men and women were angry  They did not understand their fellow Americans who, although they might loudly express their dislike for their government, would never dare break windows, march without a parade permit, or endanger their chances for a glowing letter of recommendation.  Here at last were poets whose outrages against decorum were extreme enough to give voice . . ." 
 On the one hand, this is the kind of extensive examination of minutiae that made me leave English after I got my undergraduate degree.  Yet, it also points out what isn't obvious - to the author himself at first even.  He finds profundity in these seeming non-poems.  At least they speak profoundly to his students.  And as I looked at other books (which I'll try to cover in less detail in other posts), it was clear this was simply another example of similar topics, but in this case expressed in poetry.

Reed teaches at the University of Washington which added one more personal connection for me since one of my kids graduated from there and I've spent more time there in recent years than any other campus besides UAA. 

 [It's late.  I'm falling asleep as I write.  But I want to post and I'll check for typos in the morning.]

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