American mythologies, up to and (sometimes) including the present moment, about the higher arts, have tended to emphasize, as a narrative hinge, how frosty, cold, antiquated and (for the majority) soulless they are compared to other standardized American pursuits: sports, Hollywood, popular music. I would like to invert back into place, via a strong emotional and intellectual conviction, that it is high art in which inheres a soul, soulfulness, and true human warmth and gravitas. What, in a person or thing, is a soul? To me, a soul is something unique and individual inhering in a person or entity, which makes it distinct from everything else: an irreplaceable essence. By this standard, the vast majority of popular culture products (let alone enfranchised athletics) are profoundly soulless— they have nothing unique or distinct about them to distinguish them from everything else, and are easily replaced with more products of the same ilk. One suspects, very heavily, owing to any kind of historical research, that humanity has not changed its stripes too much from century to century— that, for example, in other centuries there were popular songs around not that different from Bruce Springsteen and Beatles songs. As is the case with these tunes, there was nothing in them particularly distinct or original (soulful) enough to make them last— just as (you can bet) there will be future equivalents for the likes of the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen— popular culture will create the same kinds of characters with the same kinds of in-built mythologies because the goal will always be to sell cheaply and easily. And, it is important to add, bastardized forms of high art (MOMA, Pop, etc) will continue to be developed in degenerative societies to promote the same destructive games and illicit interests. Popular art and bastardized high art will always, in fact, be stunted by corrupt imperatives and intentions, and sold in the same completely bad faith.
The Star, as it were, for advanced high art, is that it is truly unique (irreplaceable), created by gifted individuals who are expressing developed souls and soulfulness in oeuvres which in turn develop their own souls, created in the good faith of complete integrity and cohesiveness. The good faith quotient being upped, high art created under the right star carries with it permanent political and social relevance: a positive pivot-point for an entire society, and a permanent hinge for that society to develop emotionally and intellectually towards the greatest possible soulfulness. Rank-and-file responses to major high art consonance must necessarily be variable— some can accept this definition of “soul” and “soulfulness,” some cannot. The key distinction (or soul) made from traditional versions of soul (“every one has a soul”) to my own is that, where high art is concerned, not only profound emotions but profound thoughts (and profound thoughts especially about emotions) are necessarily to define the “souled” individual (work or person) among the many. I would also like to argue that the United States in 2015, which has allowed PFS and our oeuvre (created from Philadelphia) to proliferate among a wide populace quickly and efficiently, is not completely degenerative at all. I hold some hope that there are population sectors bored to death with the mediocrity of Hollywood, sports, and media culture in general, and that our large numbers from within America online are a testament to more than passing curiosity with high art and the vistas it has to open for thought, feeling, and the pursuit of soul. I also have some faith that what we have incised into the Teens is the sense that for Hollywood and the rest, conquest of a naïve public from within the States can never be accomplished easily again; and that the Star of our success will pave the way for others of our ilk here, who will turn the United States into a first-rate nation at last.
Here is another profound, simple human truth which the twentieth century sought to evade: high art is supposed to be beautiful. Art in general, drained of the imperative to create beautiful forms and formality, ceases to be art. When the imperatives behind the creation of high art are all corrupt, and this primeval sense is lost, high art falls into place, very much against its will, as another cipher, subsumed beneath the crass imperatives of a gamer society, where destruction perpetually defeats and inhibits creation and where ephemeral popular art is allowed to hold and maintain rank over what should supersede it. Why was art in the twentieth century compelled to desiccate and uglify itself? The twentieth century abounded in Satanic inversions, set in place in an apocalyptic fashion, but never (it seems) with much of an ethos behind them. The Satanic inversions which inhere in Modern and post-modern art include the triumph of nonsense over sense (for no real reason, and to no good end), and the triumph of anti-art and artists over those expressive of profound, subtle thought and emotion. The fallacy was engendered that a sense of beauty is regressive and/or outdated— and that nonsense is worthy of exegesis— and high art served as a front or cover for destructive games and illicit interests. These illicit interests clearly dictated (scripted) that what was produced in high art genres had to be, more or less, a joke— Pop, MOMA, Language Poetry, Concept Art, Neo-Expressionism, Flarf, Abstract Expressionism— all had as their theoretical basis the fixed idea that the only way to make high art modern was to trivialize it from the inside out, and this is what they proceeded to do.
The travesty element of this— that all these movements fixated on absurdist anti-art enough to make it feasible for the likes of the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen to be elevated above them artistically— making it also that high art characters tended to favor pop culture products over their own endeavors— Satanically inverts the order of a well-run, harmonious society— and Satanic inversion games involving the higher disciplines (including science and philosophy) are some of the most ferocious games perpetuated in the US. The mainstream American media are “in the pocket,” so to speak, supporting these inverted structures— not only absurdist anti-art and popular culture over the higher disciplines, but professional athletes and athletics, which serve no useful purpose in society other than to fixate the populace on frivolous goals and addictions to ephemeral pleasures against the usage of either their brains or their hearts. Indeed, the American media in 2015 are as complete a joke-fest as possible— casting up Tinker Toy idols no longer palatable to the public after the Recession, ignoring the advances made to public consciousness by the Internet. Now, I do not wish to turn this into a complete and totalized jeremiad— but I must bring us round again to, however painful it may be for some audiences to hear, the sense of high art and higher artistic levels of beauty in a society, and the value of this sense as a political force. Americans, after PFS, have to decide whether they want to be an educated populace or not— whether a wide audience might subsist for myself and Abby, who are willing to shed the skin of the twentieth century and break down boundaries towards the definition of a new America. When a country gets serious culturally, its political dynamics change: it stands newly part of a global elite, with a reason to continue longer as a unified nation and an enhanced sense of pride in substantial accomplishment— America in 2015 stands at this crossroads, with the sense of the possibility of inversions righting themselves.
Attempting to assimilate the all-in-all of what PFS has accomplished, artistically and socially, on the surface and in the depths of the American psyche (and, without support from mainstream media outlets, our accomplishments must function largely in the depths at the current time), I will attempt to explain, to those who might be receptive, what I feel is most salient in its individuality about us, against what has passed, in previous eras, for American haute culture and street life. In this way, we may move towards a realization of what PFS has the capacity to change in America, over long and short periods of time. The way in which the most high-maintenance art produced by PFS functions is against a backdrop of many centuries, rather than in the eternal, ephemeral present largely prized by American art before us. We, in our work and in our lives, accepted history, and historical thinking came naturally to us. We worked as artists to establish continuity with past eras, rather than to obliterate them, as was the tendency of Modern and post-modern art— Abby had French Neo-Classicism, I had English Romanticism, but we both copped to the instinct that, for high art, the twentieth century had largely been a shuck and jive routine. Yet we were working from America, in which the normative pressure put on individual artists is enormous to op against any dominating influences from overseas, especially from past centuries. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts are relatively liberal on this level, as I found U of Penn to be— and so having at least a moderate wind in our sails was not entirely unexpected.
Yet there are deeper issues facing both Abby and I, our work, and the forces which are bound to oppose us in this country. The United States, as a whole, has a horrible time admitting this simple, profound human truth: some human beings are just more gifted than others. Some human beings have gifts which most other human beings do not; have, in fact, extraordinary gifts. What we want to introduce to America (the “Death” in our dossier, so to speak) is the idea that those with extraordinary gifts should be given extraordinary opportunities, which (again) not all people will receive or deserve. America, in its naivete, has attempted to forge a society, both surface-level and subterranean, around a denial of extraordinary gifts, or giftedness— that everyone must receive roughly the same treatment, and become involved in the same games, often destructive, and pointlessly destructive ones. The harbinger PFS holds for America is that this now has to change. We may see, in this century and through our influence, the extraordinarily gifted— scientists, philosophers, higher artists, and others involved in the humanities— given pride of place over the American rank-and-file. The argument of PFS (take it or leave it) is that this is the way it should be, and that those sufficiently gifted should be granted time to develop their gifts in peace. It is in this way that Abby and I are initiating an American tradition of excellence, of making permanent marks in the world against the inhibiting agents of the ephemeral and of destructive games. For those American factions hell-bent on the homogenization of American society, we will always appear to be blackguards, but this cannot be helped.
With the canon of PFS work in tow, America may now move towards absolute parity with the countries of Western Europe. We also now have claims to a substantial national heritage, akin to their own. The fake idols, shallow goals, and adolescent mentalities of our past must also be a part of our present too— no one incision into any relevant sector can change humanity that much— but a start has been made towards redeeming the terrible blarneying excesses of the twentieth century. We also have the capacity to establish, if allowed enough influence in relevant sectors, a wholesome attitude towards gender equality, gay rights, and all kinds of sexual freedom, both in practice and in thought, for individuals. My essay from 2014, “Enlightened Elitism/Enlightened Classicism,” makes a point that all the peccadilloes associated in America with history-conscious artists— stodginess, unwillingness to participate in larger society, rigidity, blind hypocrisy against innovation— are not ones Abby or I suffered from. If we were enlightened, in Aughts Philadelphia, it is because we were active agents in the world we inhabited, rather than passive ones. We always chose participation over non-participation. And, as space had clearly been made for us in Philly by a father-figure wise-enough to understand what our gifts were worth (and who could’ve sponsored someone else), we made constructive use of our time to make our gifts active agents also. What others of our ilk deserve in the coming American century is what we received— a time and a place to take raw giftedness and hone it into something extraordinary. If this makes the ethos of PFS, and our canon, a bête noir for those who would like to extend the reign of thoughtless destructiveness, lies, and stultifying homogeneity, then so be it.
Paris-based English language print journal Upstairs at Duroc (ed. Barbara Beck) released its issue 15 in 2014, featuring work by Susana Gardner, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Adam Fieled, Simon Perchik, and more. Cover by Susan Cantrick.
Is it still called sunrise when
cloudy? Majesty of stacks,
purple-grey, all in flux, like
Milton’s pageantry, angels
swirled in churning vortexes,
not quite lit, not quite ready to
start a day unconsecrated to
God’s great plans, His iron
rods, fates seeded at last midnight.
One thing I’ve missed in the last run of poetry years is the thoughtful streak which was omnipresent in the Aughts. Critical commentary in poetry from about ’12 forward has been almost uniformly inane and frivolous. It is as if a script dictated that the Teens create a sense of entropy around what many of us accomplished intellectually in the Aughts. However, and conversely, I’ve been heartened by the success of some of my Aughts print ventures— not just my own books, but print journals I’ve been published in which have now become both sought after and collected. It has put me in mind to reevaluate what the print versus online debate of the late Aughts means over half a decade later— what conclusions seem to have been come to generally, what conclusions I’ve come to personally, where the parallels and the perpendiculars are, so to speak. I, for one, have by no means lost my appetite for print. To give up the tactility of print books, how social they are, perhaps even how sexy, would be a terrible deprivation. However, one can see on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, Biblio, and the like, that print poetry books in the marketplace are often manhandled in what looks to me like corrupt ways. Why it should be that, on Amazon, for example, print poetry books are primed to look like they sell in bushels when in fact, even a cursory knowledge of contemporary poetry will inform the wise that these are books which cannot sell at all, is that print books now have a vagabond air about them, of doing things in the world they shouldn’t do, and of upholding subterranean interests which make the books themselves evanescent but the games around them essential. In short, and again— print is corrupt (however tactile, social, and sexy) where online is more pure. Those who dare to have pure hearts around literature may be repulsed by the sleaze factor in print in 2015. On the other hand, authors like myself, who have a ravenous appetite still for print books, and to see our own print books succeed, just have to live with the turgid ambiguities around print now.
Online repositories like Internet Archive, YouBlisher, and Blogger do offer solid, purified reading experiences. Even more pertinently, for print in 2015 to succeed completely, it must, as an absolute imperative, be backed up online for it not to appear evanescent and insubstantial. Those poets of my generation who have opted for the hard-man (or woman) approach to sticking to print against online interests are now suffering terribly from a sense of awkwardness and neglect around their oeuvres. Ultimately, this is because it looks to me like, at the end of the day, print and online textuality, their respective positions, have balanced out to an uneasy, hotly contested 50/50 ratio of importance. Different cases create different ratios— novels, for example, will always (despite tablets and Nooks) tend to fare better in print, even as poetry more easily adapts to the Net. That delicate balance between print and online, riding the edge of it, is where I’m at in 2015. The late Aughts critical scenario often amounted to someone (sometimes me) pontificating on the new freedoms and privileges engendered by the Net and Net publishing. Seven or eight years down the line, the Net has become entrenched enough (despite Hollywood’s cornball insistence on partying like it’s 1959 when publishing comes up in scripts) that no one needs to pontificate about it anymore, especially when some of the biggest distribution circuits for print books (Amazon, B & N, E-Bay, Alibris, Biblio, etc) are online. No one can deal in books seriously in 2015 and be Net-illiterate. If anything, print stalwarts are now more defensive about the monstrous impact the Net has had on publishing in general, and in how they hope to back up what they offer online. For those with no way, or interest, in getting out of the jaggedness of the 50/50 ’15 ratio, all we can do, whether we choose to be pure or sexy, ethereal or tactile, accessible-but-distant or exclusive-but-intimate, is watch for the way the books from the Aughts forward form themselves as gestalt constructions over a long period, which they are starting to do in 2015. Books tend to have a will of their own, and will get their way in the end.
Anything Anymore Anywhere 2 was released from Scotland in Spring '10. My contribution is from a manuscript never published. Nevertheless, the piece is strong enough for me to be excited by another diaspora: Amazon, Amazon UK, Alibris, E-Bay, B & N.com, and Open Library.
The & Now Awards: The Best Innovative Writing, which was released from Lake Forest College Press in 2009, features some poems from Beams, and a huge chunk of other experimental lit. I'm heartened at this diaspora, too: Amazon, Amazon UK, Biblio, E-Bay, Alibris, B & N.Com, WorldCat, Open Library. Thanks again to Steve, Bob, and Davis.
Stress Fractures: Essays on Poetry, which includes my essay on post-avant, was released by Tom Chivers' Penned in the Margins in 2010. This book, like Tygerburning, has some intense momentum around its distribution over five years, and it is staunch on Amazon, Alibris, UK Amazon, E-Bay, and has done well on WorldCat and Open Library.
When New England College, my MFA alma mater, put out the Inaugural issue of Tygerburning Literary Journal in print in 2010, which features three Apparition Poems, I assumed the publisher, Marick Press, was in New England also. Marick Press are, it turns out, located in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. I've noticed that there is a good amount momentum online behind Tygerburning 1 online after five years, and that the issue is well represented in all these locales: Amazon, B & N.Com, Marick Press's own site, Alibris, Biblio, E-Bay, and even Amazon.co.uk. The book pdf is also nicely housed on Internet Archive, and there is a TBLJ 1 page on Open Library. Many thanks, from me and (I'm sure) from all the other contributors, to Jacqueline and to Marick Press for all their hard work.