I am no booster of the modest and unassuming person that I think performed the preeminent role in bringing about the critical shift in US poetry from dead white male Ivy league academics to the "multicultural inclusiveness” being celebrated in the recent Atlantic piece by Portland based Southern Oregon, Rogue Valley journalist and poet, Jesse Lichtenstein: "How Poetry Came to Matter Again" - and many times have satirically mocked them.
Indeed, I have a list of numerous American critics, editors, luvvies and literary poets I want to apologize to when the opportunities arise, who I have satirically mocked in an excessively unpleasant way over the years when one was a very gobby and at times literary loutish student of the ancient bardic arts happily doing here in Dublin the sixteen years it took me to complete in English translation what in the original Gaelic was the twelve year bardic and literary Filí poet curriculum. But reading the Atlantic article it struck me that nowhere in Lichtenstein's opinion-thesis charting and explaining the how, what, when, where, and why of the rise of Millennidentitarian poets from a fringe to a mainstream consciousness; does the name appear of the one person whose editorial advocacy, I would argue, has been central to, and most responsible for changing the critical and cultural focus of contemporary US poetry away from a continual celebration of a handful of monotone middle-class male academic poets, and onto what were previously the marginalized and unrepresented communities and demographics of poets that were until very recently wholly outside the tent of Official Verse Culture in the US.
Don Share, Editor of Poetry, the oldest, richest, and most critically regarded monthly in the world dedicated to the publication of verse, who for six years was the Senior Editor and theoretical second in command to the former Editor of Poetry (2003-13), Christian Wiman.
Share began his tenure as chooser in chief at Poetry in 2013, after taking over from his former boss, whose narrow poetic tastes and publishing decisions during his decade in charge of setting the tone of US poetry, were unadventurously ultra-conservative. Wiman's choices ran to publishing month inmonth out the usual merry-go-round of white Ivy League male insiders of Official Verse Culture, with the odd token female, black and ethnic minority academic poet thrown in.
Share however within a short space of time had totally overhauled and changed the house publication of the Poetry Foundation, ditched the dead white male Ivy League academics, and turned it into a contemporary poetry publication that is the polar opposite of what it was under Wiman; publishing many new voices from the previously silently excluded demographics of the poets mentioned in Lichtenstein's piece.
The Atlantic article is, I would argue, the most recent iteration of a very cyclical 'Poetry is the New Rock 'N' Roll' meme. One that gets written and published in a prominent Establishment journal every few years; and, in this instance, contains the names of young ambitious hip hep and wholly American poety poos doing their thang on the other side of the Atlantic.
The poets advertised in these pieces are usually also friends and/or colleagues of the crafty composer of the prose vehicle pushing a narrative that there is a movement of literary originals and outsiders afoot, and something radically new in the realm of poetic language is occurring. The creation of a collective poetic buzz, current and wave emerging into mainstream consciousness.
Most of these speculative vaticinations, inevitably, rather than prophetically delineating the true tides and contemporary currents that end up washing the name-checked newbs into the critically elite and spiritually balanced ollavic golden circle; posterity, more often than not, proves they were but little more than puff pieces and logrolling by the authorial auspices of their fellow ambitious colleagues, strategically marketing them to a wider mainstream audience.
However with the indiscriminate-opinion masquerading as analytics model of previous decades now redundant, Lichtenstein's claims are situated on firmer critical ground, and are communicated in a more persuasive and plausible form of literary analysis than before. In the fact that he identifies the measurable role YouTube and social-media have played in the emergence of the diverse bunch he is praising.
The one core difference between now and pre-Facebook slammers, Twitter bards, and Instapoets, is the fact that a majority of those mentioned in this piece have bypassed what is increasingly a redundant monolithic literary-gatekeeper model of poetry publishing; because to get their poetry published, heard and read the emergent poets in the age of social media are increasingly creating their own audiences on the strength of their live recorded performances and writings alone.
Cutting out the previously all powerful snobby cerberean taste-makers and pompously imperious middlemen of the legacy media publishing process, by speaking directly to the Reader online, without the need of submission to, acknowledgment from, or validation of the editorial potentates and curatorial pashas of Official Verse Culture.
So the jury is currently out on how accurate the Oregon poet's piece of speculative prose will turn out to have been in the years to come. But it is refreshing to read of what by now after more than a decade of debate is what appears to be the fully emerged new model of poetry and publishing that has changed the very concept and meaning of what constitutes being 'published', and opened up the art form to anyone with a phone camera, keypad and internet connection.
One that has silenced the literary experts predicting from the doom and gloom department of legacy media; that during the mid-Noughties were decrying the pesky internet poets and wailing like Medieval scribes at the arrival of the printing press; claiming the sky was falling in with the opening up of literacy to the masses and arguing only a tiny elite of trained custodians of the real literary Gospel, i.e., themselves, could possibly write anything down and publish it. On velum, bound in leather and brass.
Depending on what language Tradition creates your bardic perception and world-view, and how long you have served at the front line as a souljah in the Poetry Wars, a relatively recent/ancient and far more intellectually dense and pretentiously elitist variation of this periodic 'poetry is the new rock 'n' roll' trope, spluttered onto the digital page in 2009 from the keyboard of a Harvard bardic bluffer that doesn't know their arse from their Auraicept na n-Éces, the academic critic and transitioning literary artist formerly known as Stephen Burt.
Now Stephanie Burt, they have most recently been cited in reports from the front line of the Culture Wars due to their craven and utterly insincere 'apology' for what they claimed was a momentary lapse in editorial 'standards' (presuming they had any to begin with) when publishing several weeks ago in The Nation a wholly harmless persona poem by North Dakota, Fargo poet, Anders Carlson-Wee.
In the imagined voice of a homeless disabled HIV positive street begger; that from the vernacular spelling of the language was assumed to be by those infuriated beyond all reason with the letters in it; a literary high crime and what would be, if the extremists had their way, a felony of cultural appropriation.
The wholly unreal voice of a fantasy American that does not exist outside of the Reader's mind; as the Poetry Police prosecuted it; by the vernacular spelling alone was a profoundly hateful literary thought-crime of the most ableist, disrespectful, illist, insulting, libelous, offensively problematic, and quintessentially racist sort.
That a lot of equally insincere social-media trolls got professionally offended about on behalf of a slew of communities they do not belong to; and cowed by a mob of hate-filled joyless morons Burt cast out Carlson-Wee from the bus, grovelled for forgiveness, and, with their Nation co-editor, solemnly renounced their decision to publish the harmless persona poem by Carlson-Wee, as a temporary aesthetic aberration.
And, without even naming him in his apology to the vigilantes, Stephanie dumped the North Dakota poet's reputation into the crapper.
Revealing, in one of the most culturally craven and editorially ignoble events in US poetry so far this summer; exactly what the ancient speckled art of praise and blame means to them, and what the true critical regard and quality of poetic eyes and literary integrity they were in possession of three weeks ago. None whatsoever.
A decade before the Orwellian un-personing and sacrificial eradication of Anders Carlson-Wee's nascent professional self-identity by an institutionally all powerful mercenary critic-editor and their dishonorable fauxpologizing to appease an imbecilic mob of virtue signalling fascists for the newly invented social-media 'hate' crime of not being pre-cognitively attentive enough to the fake emotional sensitivities of people arrogating themselves membership of numberless communities they do not belong to for the sole purpose of pretending to be mortally outraged on behalf of them; Burt published a pseudo-intellectual piece of blurbastic propaganda in the Boston Globe: "The New Thing (2009)".
In which the foreteller formerly known as Stephen, prophesied that the voices of a few unremarkable dead-white all male academics and Ivy League-like pals of his were at the forefront of an elite wave of spiritually superlative and culturally ultra-relevant incredibly contemporary mono-tenured poety poos practicing beyond the cutting edge and articulating ahead of time what the future of American poetry was likely to become when it established itself as: "The New Thing."
Anyone remember that?
I am very happy to be wrong, but what I would love to know - and as a wager am willing to bet the result will be zero - is how many disabled homeless African-American street-beggars with HIV voiced to the editors how terribly upsetting they found this Carlson-Wee persona poem to be on encountering it?
When I first read about this I wrote a couple of pieces in response, publishing one on Carlson-Wee's Facebook before taking it down several days later, and now I see it looks like he has deactivated his account.
This after the poor poet himself appeared emotionally browbeaten by the malignant zealotry created by the angry and illiterate emojinal social-media bigots and hypocrites that collectively coerced an artist into writing and publishing an apology that read like the odd and fearful literary equivalent of a hostage video in which the kidnapped prisoner is clearly saying whatever they are told to or feel they must in order to stave off further attack from the irrational and demented maniacs.
Apologizing for an entirely non-existent language crime his entirely imaginary voice in persona did not cause in the empty selfish heads and shallow hollow hearts where swing on string the bricks of these anonymous and callously cold-blooded radically anti-intellectual dumbbell executioners of some ultra-nihilistic cultural revolution birthed from human jealousy, depression, misery, misanthropy, and a virulent highly destructive atavistic tribalism.
Hunting in packs for heretics, apostates, and non-believers in their pie in the sky religion founded on the principles of hatred, anti-intellectual bias, censorship, mob intimidation, sweeping injustice, and a fanatically blind intolerance of everything and everyone that doesn't align with and share their insanely dangerous and unhinged, wholly incorrect perceptions of reality as an either or zero sum game and binary choice between 'us' and 'them'.
And part of me wonders, if this is not a Conceptual art stunt, where's the apology to Carlson-Wee?
Surely he deserves one, after being thrown to the wolves of the world wide web by the editors who exposed only that they were concerned about what total strangers on social media think and feel, and not at all concerned about the feelings of the person who wrote a poem they chose to publish, before labeling it problematic, and the imagination of its author all but ableist, and racist.
Blaming the invited passenger for the clown-car crash they the designated drivers caused. They claim, whilst under the influence of some debilitating cultural intoxicant that removed their critical faculties, like Hillary Clinton blaming an underling for not telling her she was breaking the law. For the crime of writing a text in the voice of an entirely non-existent wholly fictional persona.
The aural performance and source of which, as all literary creation, and as all writings are; is birthed, lives, exists, and is heard, performed and read solely at the bio-electrical synaptic level in the colorless, genderless spiritual imagination of the readers' and writers' silent aural minds.
If s/he the genderless aural mind of Carlson-Wee had merely added an extra speech mark and two letters 're', to make the 'you', 'you're', we are supposed to believe that this would be acceptable and no offense would have been occasioned in the phony-fragile minds of the utterly insincere and humorless pseudo-intellectual social-media bardic trolls masquerading as literary Filí poets that speak only from the blame side of the poet's tongue, with nothing from the positive praise side about anything except when praising their own virtuous thoughts?
Who learned to (not) write on the craft of the Tuatha De Danann people of the goddess Art, by studying on the many identical (rip off) American MFA (Toilet Paper) Poetry curricular.
Not by grounding their practice in the Precepts of Poetry from the countless texts on the unimprovable original voluminous twelve-year set-textual literary Filí poet curriculum.
The original Gaelic and English translations of which are easily accessible online, and you can get it all in apple pie order in your first language, after sixteen years joyously arduous cerebral slog.
As we learn, the difference between the ordinary unlearned oral bard ('Facebook troll') and literary Filí poet, from the ancient 8C poetico-legal text, Sequel to Críth Gabhlach, "Sequel to Branched Purchase":
"Bard d(an)o: cin dliged fogluime is indtleacht fadeisin."
When bardic intellects "without the prerogative of learning", are devoid of curiosity for the Filí curriculum, ignorant of Auraicept na n-Éces, the "Precepts of Poetry", they wander directionless without the discipline imposed by this felicitously fixed literary course.
And without knowledge of the basics; amorphous, orderless, the perpetual beginner grade oblaire remains an "apple" at the bottom of Her poetry tree: fuirseoir gan dán, "a buffoon without skill".
That will not transition through three bardic sub-grades: oblaire, taman, drisac, and without even knowledge of the two-leaved fochloc, "their art as slender as a sprig of brooklime" facing upward to diligently climb five more literary grades of poetic wisdom, then reach a "noble stream" of Anruth, "at the heart and in the middle of their disciples who are learning from them."
Said to be named for four reasons: "the splendor of their teaching, for the numerousness of their interpretations, for the eloquence of their speech, for the extent of their knowledge. Indeed they are found in each division of learning, whether poetry or Latin learning, or historical learning, the only thing being that they have not reached the summit."
Lessons of the seventh year a poet ought to know: the "servile/unfree" dóer-bard meters, brosnacha suad ("kindling/faggots of the wise"); the two divisions of it, dechnad mór, sned & trebrad "swift" & "plaiting".
In year eight fiscomarca filed (“wisdom-tokens of the poet"); dúili berla ("living language"); clethchor choem (“fair palisade").
Reicne roscadach ("rhapsodic poems"); with laíde (another metrical form); number six is teinm laída ("chewing of the pith/illumination of your song"); (7) is imbas forosnai ("great wisdom that enlightens"), and (8) díchetal do chennaib na tuaithe ("incantation from your tribal head").
The penultimate requirement is the topographical dinshenchus ("lore of place-names"), one hundred and seventy-six remaining onomastic poems; plus "all the principal tales in Ireland in order to relate them to the kings, lords, and gentlemen. For the filí poet is not yet perfected."
Year nine ... I could go on; but you get the picture, four more years to attain an ollavic ear, mind and tongue to hear think and air in praise and blame the voice in perfect balance that has reached the lofty height of "glorious profit", speaking the poet's spiritual song purely praising all Creation. Anamain.
The Ollamh, Poetry Professor: "A great sage then, s/he does not apologize for their ignorance of anything in the four divisions of learnedness" (Latin, Law, History, Poetry), and one "who is not found to be perplexed in the mass of their craft."
When "a bard, then: without the prerogative of learning, but intellect alone", never steps in through the door of otherworldly learning their aural results are quite plain to read. Blame-filled hate speech from untrained minds of the professionally offended masses masquerading as the warm kind praising prose of professionally trained literary lovers.
As an American poetry friend told me when we communicated about this: "It's all about maintaining a reputation in the face of the p.c. hordes. I don't think it's possible for Burt or Wee to say what they really feel. It's pure fear which is operating."
In the days before the arrival in my life of Mary Harju and Abby Heller-Burnham, I approached high art tasks as a kind of lone gunman in the world. This led to a sense of isolation which was difficult to conquer. The determination was there (and redemptive) enough, however, so that a body of work was in place by the time they showed up. During the four years I spent in State College ('94-'98), I gradually migrated from a disposition rather casual in regards to the more serious side of art to one more itself more serious. What I might be reading at any time in State College was miscellaneous- not yet ready for the Romantics and Milton, the life-rafts I found included the French Symbolists (Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine) and other texts in their tradition. The Symbolist sense of the hallucinogenic or the phantasmagoric- that human life consists of a series of dream-like vignettes, looped together only by visionary consciousness- informs Answered Prayers and Willard Preachers, the collection of the best of what I wrote in Nineties State College. Here, we see the lone gunman sensibility shot through also with a youthful fascination with intoxicants which I had going then. On a life-level, my relationship with Jennifer Strawser, which occupied most on '96, was about two renegade kids being banditos in the world. It was us, and our total destruction of class and sexual boundaries in all directions, against everyone. Written from the perspective of a young poet maudit, who, moreover, had reasons to feel a deep sense of foreboding, Room 510 Atherton Hilton and The dawn broke over our bodies both make the case for a sensibility impressed with both an ambiance of enchantment and of damnation. Jennifer herself wasn't exactly creative, the way Mary and Abby were to be; but she was a punk, a rebel, and also a soul tormented by a lot of depth she didn't know what to do with. She was also a blonde goddess, and one of the bigger sirens in State College history. Maria Gingerich, who adorns the cover of the book, was too, though a brunette.
Lone gunman though I was, my years in State College were informed also by a compelling interest in theater. The reason was a collective on campus known as Outlaw Playwrights. Outlaw Playwrights, every Thursday night at 11:15 pm, in a black box theater in the main theater building near North Halls where I lived, presented a one-act play written by...whoever! Sometimes by theater majors, sometimes by theater graduate students, sometimes by lone gunmen (or girls) such as myself from anywhere in the State College populace. It took me a few years to become integrated enough with the Outlaws crowd to have them begin producing my one-acts. I spent those years experimenting with different approaches to writing for theater. The approach I settled on was an experimental one- to push at the boundaries of what theater writing could do or be, rather than settle for the representation of conventional dramatic situations. Dada Circus, produced in September '98 a few months before I permanently left State College, is not exactly French Symbolism put on the stage. Rather, it's a hodge-podge of different approaches, meant to convey a sense of comic absurdity, and also the shadow of the existential, of what it means to "act" in the world. Mortuary Puppies, produced in February '99, by which time I was living in Manhattan, is a linguistic free-for-all, which I invented out of thin air. What it explores is the dimensions and dimensional weirdness of pure language, and poetic language, fused with a dramatic imperative, but an unspecific one. It was an experiment, to see if poetry and abstraction could work onstage. From what I was told in '99, it was more or less a success.
The lone gunman era of the 90s was marked by ambivalence. I had committed myself to an artist's life-path, but distinctions between the high and the low were still tentative for me. In terms of concrete guidance I might've received on these levels from other human beings, there was none. I had no tutors or mentors. Because that space remained a blank one, my life as a writer and a creative artist was about coping with loneliness, and feeling my way along. When Abby and Mary arrived in the early Aughts, it was easier both to feel warmth and to express warmth to others. Others arrived too, compadre figures who made Aughts Philly such a vital ride. Yet, the weird iciness and demented stoner quality of 90s State College, illuminated by at least a few warm flash-points, was fertile ground for producing some writing of note.
The Last Drop lost its joie de vivre in 2009- Dani
enforced this, acting out a script (tease/taunt/topple)
written for her by South Philly goons. Why I'm now
bemused by the gaucherie of Dani's gestures- cheap,
black, low-cut dresses worn to reveal ample cleavage,
flaming red hair styled always in plummeting cascades-
is that in '18, no one's titillated by anything, let alone Dani-
negligee stores derelict. How I pined for her on those nights
the grim reality of the recession still hadn't sunk in- as though
the revelation of her breasts could deliver me from shadows
which impinged, but (it seemed) possibly only temporarily.
Once, in her Pine Street apartment, she bothered to walk
around before me in a bath towel. Why was I a gentleman?
The twist in the tale was to stick the thing in, & thus win.
What is the essence of a too-brief kiss?
The rigor of reaching the thing-in-itself,
from subject to object, chaos to bliss,
our frail intuition of heavenly health?
Our love is not molecules, dumbly colliding,
nor it it knowledge, formal and static,
nor it it accident, reasoned and plumbed-
it's real, meta-rational, soaring and gliding,
felt like an earthquake, bringing up panic,
taking our parts and achieving a sum.
The greater part of love is sacrifice-
flesh intermingled, tensing and tingled,
this is the secret I learn from your eyes.
Giving my body- knotted, single,
tiny eruptions that come from my tongue-
plunging down surface, slicking the flesh,
thoughtless as leopards or hurricane winds-
watching you shudder, watching you come,
rapt in the throes of an innocent death,
giving my life to an inch of your skin.
Thus, we trade in secure oblivion
for reckless reality, messy and fleeting.
Such is the cosmos: creation, carrion,
motions of molecules merging and meeting.
Nothing is lost but notions of self-ness,
hard ideations that closet and clatter,
rages of ego that strain at their walls-
nothing is gained but a sense of the deathless,
"there-ness" of spirit, "there-ness" of matter,
ultimate "there-ness" that scares as it calls.