Category Archives: Politics

Gertrude Stein’s Biographical Body: More Than Remains

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Gertrude Stein’s Biographical Body:  More Than Remains

by

Amy King

The test of a “politics of poetry” is in the entry of poetry in the world in a political way.

                        –Barret Watten, “The Conduit of Communication in Everyday Life”

 

As I say all novels are soothing because they make anything happen as they can happen that is by remembering anything.  But and I kept wondering as I talked and listened all at once, I wondered is there any way of making what I know come out as I know it, come out as not remembering.  I found this very exciting.  And I began to make portraits. 

                        –Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition”

 

            “She has always made her chief study people” (TAAT, 45), and ultimately, transgressed the genre formalization that depicts people within standard biographical terms.  Gertrude Stein divined her own methods for presenting her impressions of others.  Within an increasingly industrialized culture, she considered the attempted representation of people to be a production of personas that risked a formulaic confinement.  Stein’s acute awareness of assembly line manufacturing spurred her to work against the commodification of language – and make language her own, more than ever.  That commodification continues to limit the activity of how we identify and label individuals, so that our pre-packaged culture dispenses rigid versions of people or “types,” thus belying the possibilities language can inspire.  Beyond the obvious cardboard cut-outs of “right” versus “left”, another result of such characterization practices can be seen through the popular trend in memoirs and biographical works.  These books perpetuate the mythos of America:  pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps, overcoming odds, etc. as if there were no other noteworthy ways of living to admire. 

           These “rememberances” at base evidence a historicizing condition.  Someone is remembered within the context of certain circumstances, achieving particular goals, etc.  Additionally, such recollection assumes the rubric of proper grammar and syntax as a prerequisite for comprehension.  The static popular use of words served as “soothing rememberances” for eased consumption.  For Stein and others now, it is the equivalent of being spoon-fed prescriptive paths for life.  Her own biographical notes illustrate her resistance toward the “easy road.”  Stein’s various portraits and biographical pieces ignored grammatical laws and brought language into focus, while bearing no regard for soothing or instructing audiences by example, and thus, her work confounds the commodifying impulse and elevates the “text-as-object” condition.  Industrialized production would lay down for writers the dictates that disguise the materialism of language and obliterate the need for people to actively handle words via their imaginations, and thus, their own emotional predilections.  Readers seek to know the meaning of the story, rather than working with the text-at-hand, infusing, constructing, and enacting meaning  as a collaborative effort, as an action.  Consider the old metaphor of selling a house:  the realtor finds it easier to sell a house under the mythology of “how many good, familial times will be had” through the obtainment of the product, rather than on the actual design or by speculating on the unglossed potentialities of what may happen once you’ve moved in.  Likewise, words were just vehicles, a product meant to deliver an end result, until Stein’s concern with their presence caused unrest among the critics. 

            Comprehension, as based on common grammar and artifice, Stein felt, makes “all novels soothing” because it simply familiarizes the way language is used.  This familiarization produces the desired, prescriptive result.  For the conditioned reader, the stories delivered may resemble the meat of life; they can be the tales that reveal life’s lessons, titillate or make us cry.  However, that conventional writing style does not identify some essential truth ready for us to learn and live by.  Rather, it anticipates a common readerly response and attempts, through rule abeyance and manipulation, to deliver the anticipated story-lesson.  Stein undertook the development of a different science, one that did not divide the intellect from the emotion of the individual.  Wisdom was not to be limited to the reader’s “correct” understanding of the lesson therein.  The molecular structure of the sentence did not belong to a literary science of naturalization but came under the determinations of the individual scientist, philosopher, and person to test their own hypotheses, according to instinct, whim, and whatever other personal calculations might come into play.  In Stein’s work, words were not stand-ins for other realities.  The lines and phonemes became tangible realities themselves.

[To be continued]

 

Daisy Fried’s Poetry Exercises

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Daisy Fried on Poetry:

* I’ve never found an explanation for why poetry, apparently alone among the art forms, is asked to do more than be itself.

* But poetry’s the High Art which is also democratic: inexpensive, portable, reproducible, quickly consumed (except for epic and very difficult poetry), requiring only literacy to participate. So maybe it’s good that poetry carries this extra burden, even if it means that the idea of poetry is more necessary to people than individual poems, and that people tend not to pay attention to what’s happening on the page. But this doesn’t explain why the superfluous demands are often made by educated poetry experts. I doubt most poets, good and bad, political or not, put these demands on their own work. Why should we make them of poetry in general?

* Words matter. Use is not function. War and Peace makes an excellent paperweight; I’ve used it that way myself, after reading it. The function of War and Peace is greater than its many uses. So too poetry. Bad poems are often more useful for healing, persuasion, and celebration than good ones. They lack that rich ambiguity which Keats called negative capability, and so fail as poems. Take, for example, bad 9/11 poems, at which I do “sniff the air.” There are good 9/11 poems. The degraded Romanticism of the mass of bad ones often amounts to decorative displays of the poet’s own sensibility. Such displays may be emotionally or politically useful, but who needs them? They seem to claim authenticity for individual experiences derived from watching TV—and fail to ask the question, why do these people want to kill us? Good 9/11 poems sustain the possibility that America was both victim and guilty. I believe 9/11 solace poetry has given support, however indirectly and unintentionally, to the Bush administration. Solace poetry is to serious poetry as pornography is to serious art. Sex pornography has its uses, even positive ones, but nobody confuses it with serious art about love. The difference between solace porn and sex porn is that solace pornographers seldom seem aware that they’re making pornography. Shame on them.* Poetry matters. Great poems don’t always fit categories of usage: Martial’s hilariously filthy invectives, Dickinson’s apolitical lyrics, and, despite their stupid fascism, Pound’s Cantos, all function as great poetry. Meanwhile, the four of us write poems. We might begin by intending to be merely useful (I never have). But at some point the poem takes over, makes requirements of us instead of vice versa. That’s the moment of poetry; poems exist to let readers share in that moment. So our focus on mere use strikes me as odd: is this really all we know about our poems? Why exclude ourselves from our own readership?

* Enjoyment matters. Poetry is fun! I mean this seriously. In “Lapis Lazuli,” Yeats insists on the gaiety of human existence alongside its tragedy. Yes, there is terrible suffering; we are all going to die. And when, on the carved lapis lazuli, a man “asks for mournful melodies;/Accomplished fingers begin to play;/…their eyes,/Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.” The gaiety of great poetry reinforces and deepens our humanity. That’s personal—and therefore social. Forget that, and we forget poetry’s true function.

–from “Does Poetry Have a Social Function” @ The Poetry Foundation

Listen in on a conversation I had with Daisy Fried HERE: powered by ODEO

A POEM A DAY BY DAISY FRIED

1. Write a ten-line poem in which each line is a lie.

2. Write a poem that tells a story in 18 lines or less, and includes at least four proper nouns.

3. Write a poem that uses any of the senses EXCEPT SIGHT as its predominant imagery.

4. Write a poem inspired by a newspaper article you read this week.

5. Write a poem without adjectives.

6. Ask your roommate/neighbor/lover/friend/mother/anyone for a subject (as wild as they want to make it) for a ten-minute poem. Now write a poem about that subject in ten minutes; make it have a beginning, a middle and an end.

7. Write the worst poem you possibly can. Now edit it and make it even worse.

8. Poem subject: A wind blows something down. Or else it doesn’t. Write it in ten minutes.

9. Write a poem with each line, or at least many of the lines, filling in the blanks of “I used to________, but now I_________.”

11. Write a poem consisting entirely of things you’d like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best

friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.

12. Write a poem that uses as a starting point a conversation you overheard.

13. First line of today’s poem: “This is not a poem, but…”

14. Write a poem in the form of either a letter or a speech which uses at least six of the following words: horses, “no, duh,” adolescent, autumn

leaves, necklace, lamb chop, Tikrit, country rock, mother, scamper, zap, bankrupt. Take no more than 13 minutes to write it.

15. Write a poem which includes a list or lists-shopping list, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists,

lists of events, lists of names…

16. Poem subject: A person runs where no running is allowed. Write it in ten minutes.

17. Write a poem in the form of a personal ad.

18. Write a poem made up entirely of questions. Or write a poem made up entirely of directions.

19. Write a poem about the first time you did something.

20. Write a poem about falling out of love.

21. Make up a secret. Then write a poem about it. Or ask someone to give you a made-up or real secret, and write a poem about it.

22. Write a poem about a bird you don’t know the name of.

23. Write a hate poem.

24. Free-write for, say, 15 minutes, but start with the phrase “In the kitchen” and every time you get stuck, repeat the phrase “In the

kitchen.” Alternatively, use any part of a house you have lots of associations with-“In the garage,” “In the basement,” “In the bathroom,” “In the yard.”

25. Write down 5-10 words that sound ugly to you. Use them in a poem.

26. Write a poem in which a motorcycle and a ballerina appear.

27. Write a poem out of the worst part of your character.

28. Write a poem that involves modern technology-voice mail, or instant messaging, or video games, or… 29. Write a seduction poem in which somebody seduces you.

30. Radically revise a poem you wrote earlier this month.

The Continuing Collapse

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 Global Warming:  These Are Things That Are Not Re-forming

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan has collapsed, scientists said Tuesday, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk.

Such occurrences are “more indicative of a tipping point or trigger in the climate system,” said Sarah B. Das, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

The rest of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, which is about the size of Connecticut, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse.

Vaughan had predicted that the Wilkins shelf would collapse about 15 years from now. The part that recently gave way made up about 4% of the overall shelf, but it was an important part that can trigger further collapse.

“The most dramatic early consequences of the climate crisis are in the least accessible areas: near the North Pole and the South Pole,” said former vice president Al Gore. “Since it’s not on live TV, it doesn’t command as much attention as it should.” –from several sources, including CNN

The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld

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“His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’. Some readers may find that Rumsfeld’s gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O’Hara’s.”

–from Slate

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

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Nominations To Begin For 2008 Poet Laureate of The Blogosphere

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Nominations To Begin For 2008 Poet Laureate of The Blogosphere

 

Billy is pleased to announce that BloggingPoet.com will again host the Poet Laureate Of The Blogosphere Election for the 4th year in a row with nominations beginning April 1, 2008. The Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere is the only laureateship chosen by readers.Previous winners are 2007 Amy King, 2006 Ron Silliman and 2005 Jilly Dybka.

Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley

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 DELIRIOUS HEM

The following excerpts are taken from “Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley — Braiding: ConVERSations: To, Against, For”

It would be one thing if poetry were made of words alone,
but it is not–no more than words themselves are.

 –Paolo Friere via James Scully (Linebreak 133)
 
…If essentialism means being able to name the rubrics within which we (women of color, African Americans, women, etc., etc.) may simultaneously be constrained, limited, subjugated by more powerful others and be nurtured, engaged, empowered by ourselves and our allies, then essentialism still has useful work to do in the struggle for social justice. I recognize the dangers it poses. I’ll stop identifying as an African American woman when most people in this society have stopped understanding me in terms of my proximity to those categories (and all the others that may be relevant to my subjectivity)–you first. Meanwhile, “networks of communities and…relationships” seems to be a productive model for describing my own activities in the world (of poetry). The focus on multiplicity potentially opens our eyes to connections that are predictable and unpredictable.
 …This move turns on the significance to BAM “black aesthetics” of asserting a (“black”) “self” in the face of the oppressive and dismissive aesthetic standards that have been imposed upon the writing of African Americans since the era of Phillis Wheatley. An important point related to the foregoing is how critical it is for us to recognize that sexism is racism, at times, without losing the specificity of either category in our analyses.
 

…Whether one believes that poetry can affect or change what readers believe, can articulate ways of seeing the world that could circulate in and shape popular culture, can mobilize people for political action, etc., or not, poetry represents an economy of ideas (political, social, aesthetic, cultural) in which the currency is more valuable than it is often given credit for being.
 

“I have become a lot more aware over the past year or two
how often gender dynamics operate in really screwed-up ways
within a community I had complacently assumed was a lot more
progressive and enlightened than it sometimes reveals itself to be.
Just at the level, for example, of how much men outnumber women
on tables of contents, or how women’s comments are ignored in blog
conversations, or how men get threatened and aggressive when women
speak up about these things.”

  –K. Silem Mohammad
 

…I’ll just add that the variety of forms that sexism takes is part of what gives it such reverberating impact: outright dismissals of women and women’s poetry; silence regarding the influence of women poets upon poetic traditions; lip service to the importance of poetry by women that doesn’t lead to structural change in the systems that construct and reflect what we value in poetry (the canon)–these are just a few of the forms in which sexism operates in the context of poetry. And, Tonya, of course, I deeply appreciate your extension of Spahr and Young’s observation about sexism to encompass racism and other structures of exclusion.
 

…If Audre Lorde is correct in saying that “poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (in her indispensable essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”), then it can be argued that envisioning and articulating what is desired but does not yet exist is one of the primary tasks–or, less prescriptively, primary opportunities–of the poet’s work.

…The very instance of thinking through the systemic reasons that result in or contribute to the inequitable representation of poets who are not white and/or not male will necessitate the consideration of factors that cannot be reduced to aesthetics, but have everything to do with aesthetics.

…I am arguing that avant-garde poetics need not be defined in opposition to either a discernable engagement with politics in the work or an interest in audience(s). Where did this avant-garde poetry/political poetry divide come from anyway? What motivated the surrealists? What motivated Dada? The high modernists? The Beats? The Language poets? Or should I be asking what distinguishes these politically motivated aesthetic movements from the New Negro Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, the Nuyorican arts movement? And how does the most obvious answer to this last question relate to the notion of “a more radical feminism” and the intervention it could make in the world (of poetry)?
 

….I love Retallack’s concept of “pragmatically hybrid poetry communities” both because it seems grounded in immediate action and because it suggests the importance of seeking and forming alliances that don’t rely upon a mandated (false) unity around every possible issue of politics and aesthetics that might be raised.
 
…Can we accept and act on the idea that “transform[ing] the circumstances or conditions of others” may deeply involve transforming who we are and how we occupy the world (of poetry)?
 
–CONTINUED in “Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley — Braiding: ConVERSations: To, Against, For”

~~

3 Responses to “Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    March 2nd, 2008 at 5:12 pm eEver notice how Evie takes the foreground of
    pictures and the sound of readings? There is
    a direct presence. No other.
  2. Jim K. Says:
    March 2nd, 2008 at 7:43 pm eLooking over wrongs, I’ve noticed
    over the years that oafishness and
    subconscious deflection are often
    the cause than intention and aggression.
    Which is to say, maybe things are less
    deliberate, more subtle, but paradoxically
    harder to dig up. Just a thought from mulling
    the comments I’ve seen by editors of both
    genders for years. True Anthropology might
    find more natural things than the old wounding
    paradigms presupposed. If it could ever escape
    the hothouse of likely well over 100,000 trawlers
    trapped in an inland sea, and all the political
    3rd rails, that is.
  3. Jim K Says:
    March 2nd, 2008 at 10:05 pm eOops…I am out of sync with the
    aggressiveness thing that happened..
    sorry bout the babbling.

How To Frame Politics?

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 A New Frame: Strong Communities

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs for the American people when we have to boil our presidential election down to questions of race and gender. And yet, we’ve arrived: Are Americans more racist or sexist? We have to wonder aloud, so that we send the most able opponent up against the Great White Hope, suckled straight from the Bush camp’s teat, John McCain.Why do we wonder? So that we don’t make even more war, kill more of our own soldiers and people from Iraq and possibly Iran, and so that we start looking to the problems on our own turf, like that seriously-disabling fact that we have a nasty FOR-PROFIT healthcare system that is literally to die for if you’re not rich and just happen to get sick (not so incidentally, McCain will take us backward on that issue).

I’d bet my next check that this election is only going to get a whole lot dirtier than we can even imagine yet. The Bushs aren’t going to give up the Strict-Father family model of government without some hardcore down-and-dirty tactics, and I’m not so sure the Dems have the properly “dirty” arsenal to fight back. “The Left must get much better, not just at placing its issues in a compelling moral frame, but at exposing and holding the radical Right accountable for its lies and deception – without, and here is the tricky part, making those who have been manipulated feel ridiculed and put down” [Frances Moore Lappé].

George Lakoff has some keen ideas on leveling the playing field though, here and here.

~~~~

–Excerpts below from Black Man vs. White Woman” by Drake Bennett in The Boston Globe

“Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test,” says Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University…

As Clinton has discovered, gender stereotypes are stickier. Women can be seen as ambitious and capable, or they can be seen as likable, a host of studies have shown, but it’s very hard for them to be seen as both –

…When psychologists talk about bias, they use three technical categories: stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Stereotyping is cognitive bias, the tendency to ascribe people a set of traits based on the group they belong to (e.g., “black people are good at sports,” “Jews are cheap”). Prejudice is an emotional bias, disliking someone because of their group identity. And discrimination is how we act on the first two.

…”We’re finding that racial stereotyping and prejudice are extremely contextual,” says Correll. “You can see real reductions in prejudice, and sometimes it actually reverses,” crossing over into a sort of stereotypic affinity.

And this, Correll argues, works to the advantage of someone like Obama. “You look at Obama, and he represents himself incredibly well,” Correll says. “There are a whole lot of contextual cues that tell us this is someone you don’t need to worry about.”

…The researchers didn’t see a similar effect for gender. According to Tooby, “People can cease to notice ethnicity as a factor in how they conceptualize somebody in a way that they don’t seem to be able to with gender.”

…Women in these studies are typically judged to be less capable than men with identical qualifications, but it’s not impossible for them to be seen as competent. The problem is that if they’re understood to be capable, the majority of respondents also see them as less likable.

“The deal is that women generally fall into two alternatives: they are either seen as nice but stupid or smart but mean,” says Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton who specializes in stereotyping.

And unlike racial bias, there’s little evidence that these attitudes are softening.

According to Eagly of Northwestern, the problem isn’t that women aren’t traditionally understood as smart, but that they traditionally aren’t understood to be “assertive, competitive, take-charge” types. More than intelligence, she argues, this “agentic” quality is what we look for in leaders, and, as both surveys and experimental studies have shown, we find it deeply discomfiting in women.

“That’s what Hillary Clinton is up against,” argues Eagly. “She’s had to show her toughness, then people turn around and say she’s too cold.”

–From Black Man vs. White Woman” by Drake Bennett in The Boston Globe

~~

  1. andrew lundwall Says:
    February 21st, 2008 at 6:14 pm eindeed! a very sad sad state of affairs!i remember having a conversation with my girlfriend about a month ago about this…i wondered whether america was indeed really ready for a hillary clinton or barack obama…
  2. Amy King Says:
    February 22nd, 2008 at 5:59 pm eI guess we’ll be finding out soon enough … though I’m not an optimist in this regard. Thanks, A~