I know that it's mentioned in my "About Me" section, but in the interest both of shameless self-promotion and of my own excitement about this recent news, I wanted to expand a bit.
My book of literary essays, currently called Inventing the Muses (the title will probably change to something that more accurately conveys the book's particularity and distinctive perspective) has just been accepted for future publication in the University of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry series. This book argues against ideological evaluations of art as either bourgeois mystification or social critique, focusing on the one hand on the liberatory possibilities of the autonomy of art and on the other hand on art’s relationship to social context and particularly to questions of social identity. For some time it’s been the fashion to see literature as a social symptom, or at best an epiphenomenon to think that social conditions and social identity completely determine the nature and value of a piece of writing. But art’s utopian potential lies exactly in the degree to which it exceeds social determinations and definitions, bringing together the strange and the familiar, combining otherness and brotherhood.
The book includes, among others, a piece on the imbrication of homosociality and homosexuality in the libidinal economy of Jean Genet’s novel Querelle; an essay on Jorie Graham’s book Erosion which interweaves an admiring discussion of her poetry’s traversal of intellectual boundaries with a critique of the problematic relations between art and politics that her poetry often enacts; an essay arguing against the imposition of ideological or political agendas, particularly those of identity politics, on poetry; a somewhat polemical survey of the contemporary American poetry scene’s still all-too-operant binary between “mainstream” and “experimental” poetry which proposes the possibility of a third mode that I call, after Wittgenstein, lyrical investigations; an essay exploring the relationships of perception and conception, presence and representation, force and form in the work of Wallace Stevens; and a longish, more personal piece on my development as a writer and a thinker, starting with my childhood in the tenements and housing projects of the Bronx.
I'm very excited about this book, and I hope that some of you will take the opportunity to read it when it comes out. I will keep you apprised of its progress into the world.
Sunday, January 7, 2007
Good News from My World
Posted by Reginald Shepherd at 12:00 PM
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The book sounds to me like a must-read; I was particularly intrigued by your willingness to note (as so few seem to do!) that there is a place for the "familiar" and "brotherhood" in poetry also--that, in fact, these two concepts are actually one-half of the bipolar construction which has made verse so resistant, as an art-form, to historical upheavals. The world does indeed require poetry, I think, has required it and has allowed it to thrive for scores of generations, and while the more esoteric aims of poetry are often advanced in times of tranquility and communal stability by investigating the "strange" and concepts of "otherness," during periods of conflict I have always suspected it was its essential humanity which pulled it (and, in some instances, us) through. I know this is a horrifying hypothesis in the eyes of many post-avants, but in response I'd echo your comment, from below, about Ron Silliman:
...[he] is after all trying to undermine the capitalist economy of reference as a commodity delivered to the reader as consumer...
...Silliman frequently engages in such pseudo-politicization of poetry. In an earlier post on Mayakovsky (I don't recall the exact date), he wrote that Joseph Brodsky, who "abstained from collaborating with the aesthetic bureaucrats of his time, easily fell into the hands of the same sort of apparatchiks once he was able to come west," which shows no sense of proportion whatsoever and is just offensive to those who actually suffered under Soviet repression....[t]o claim that any American cultural powers--editors, curators, publishers, etc.--have that kind of power is to lose all sense of proportion, engaging in the worst kind of melodrama to inflate one's own sense of victimhood...
In other words--if I read you correctly--one might wonder just what sort of political activism is being offered up by the leaders of the post-avant movement, when their political sensibilities are only so finely honed as to allow them to see Communists and the major-press editors who won't publish them quite as frequently as they'd like as one and the same. Again, as I noted myself below, these altogether tepid powers of distinction, applied in another context, might cause one to equate apples and fire engines on the grounds that both are, on occasion at least, red.
Your book should be uniquely relevant in my/Ginger's household, as Ginger is an enormous fan of Jorie Graham, and I'm in fact viscerally skeptical of how politics interacts with poetry--I'm fascinated by questions of medium; why, I wonder, is poetry the best forum for political revolution in the view of poets--is it because they have a limited faith in their aptitude for non-literary pursuits, or because their civic-minded beliefs are not so weighty as their habitual self-absorption, or because they truly think if Utopia is to be had, it will be had by/through/because of poetry? Finally, I think you'll find--if you haven't already--that the blogosphere is currently rife with absurd feudalist squabbles between the fiefdom of post-avant verse and the [supposed] fiefdom of "School of Quietude" verse, which, roughly defined, is "everything else" (in much the same way that the clinically-paranoid Richard Nixon had a small cadre of loyal political allies, and the rest were, in his view, "bastards all"). Never before have those with an axe to grind had such a whetstone as the internet upon which to grind it.
Your book will be a welcome addition to the conversation, I'm thinking.
P.S. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm enjoying the blog! One of my recent resolutions was to read more online blogs of the sort that you, Corey, Silliman, and certain others seem to be offering. Up to now, my thinking had been that post-avants had cornered the market on this sort of online expository writing; perhaps no longer? I don't know, we'll see!
Welcome to the blogosphere, Reginald. I'm looking forward to your book of essays, particularly the one proposing the mode of "lyrical investigations."
FYI--noticed today that you linked to my blog, which I really appreciate!; also noticed, however, that you spelled my name wrong in the link. :-) The website is:
You're not the first to add an extra "m", actually! Though most add an extra "h", instead.
I'm particularly looking forward to the Stevens essay. Does the book have a pub date yet?
And since one of my pet peeves in writing about contemporary poetry and poetics has to do with the (often) simplistic construction of binaries as a form of explication/location, I'm thrilled you tackle this too.
Thank you for starting your blog and for your brilliant and very welcome comments on contemporary poetry. Congratulations on the new book.
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