Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Some Thoughts on Richard Blanco

Photo by Jennifer Trivedi

Last night, the President of Roger Williams University, where I am an adjunct, hosted Richard Blanco, the poet now famous for having read at President Obama's Second Inauguration. To Blanco's credit, he seems just as surprised as anyone that he was invited to read at such an event and he seems to have taken this as a mandate to speak for poetry to the American people. He is nearly a rockstar, invited to events everywhere and writing poems for various events and causes. He even showed his own face on a billboard promoting a cause he believes in. Strange to see a poet on a billboard.

Frankly, we, the American poetry community, need it, to an extent. No, I am not with Dana Gioia in that we should get back to poets being super important parts of American life but I do think we need someone who is willing to be the person who travels around showing that poetry in America is very much alive. For the most part, this is where we, in our creative writing programs, etc., run into issues. I think that poetry for most people is not just inaccessible, but something that have no desire to access even if time permitted. That is very unlikely to change, of course. It seems very likely to me that poetry will remain for poets in our society and that it will be hard to grow into the general reading public on our own.

And I am certainly not suggesting that poetry should be accessible for the sake of sales, etc. Poetry should be chaotic thought but I do feel there should be a way into that chaotic thought. I do not think that the poetry community does anything for language/writing or any community by being more available simply to be popular to the general population, which is unlikely to happen regardless. However, that does not mean that poetry should not have a way in and I believe Blanco is a perfectly interesting way into the world of poetry.

He did something last night which surprised me a bit: he did not just read poems, he gave a talk about himself, his experiences and, to an extent, the role that poetry has played in his life and the role he hopes poetry can play in the lives of others. I think this is really important as it seems much of the poetry community has deemed this beneath them- and maybe it is to a certain extent- but simply pointing out the role of poetry in modern society does not seem like something to be shunned and it certainly does not seem like we, as poets, should dismiss the non-poetry-reading-community for not immediately being inclined towards reading poetry without a way in.

I think fiction has a nice balance here. We read narratives from a very young age. Children's literature is all about creating, however simple, a narrative. Poetry is always going to be a step beyond that and we should not feel guilty for that but we should accept that there must be some way into the world of deeper reading that perhaps does not exist outside of the university setting, for better or for worse. And, again, perhaps it is perfectly fine the modern poetry has its space within academia but that does not mean there should be not attempt at all to take the various goals of contemporary writing beyond that public.

The crowd at RWU last night was interesting. It was advertised across the school and through the town of Bristol, RI and the surrounding community. Basically, beyond our own creative writing department, there was still a good crowd of folks who, more than likely, would never have seen a poetry event come along, much less attend such a thing. This is Blanco's power now, to bring people into the world of poets and poetry. From there, people are free to do what they like. As RWU's President said to me after Blanco's talk, now people have to choose what they want to do but having Blanco there gives people that choice. Maybe folks will read more poetry, maybe they'll never read a poem again- who knows, but now that option is there.

Blanco even said as much in his talk. For whatever reason, poetry (and a few other art forms) seem to turn people off very quickly. If you do not get one poem or one thing, it becomes immediately inaccessible and, I would argue, because there is no desire in American society to go further into anything that is not immediately accessible, people avoid it, often by dismissing it with that favorite word, "difficult."

When I spoke with Blanco after, I noted how tired he looked. All this is weighing down on him, I said to him. Not only does all of this keep him busy but he also feels he has a task in an attempting to get poetry back out of the classroom and into the hands of ordinary citizens. I mentioned to him that Jackie Robinson took it upon himself, after his years in baseball, to become an ambassador of sorts for Civil Rights in this country. He felt he was in a unique position to help the movement by speaking his opinion. This is not to say Blanco is in any way like Robinson (which he laughed at when I mentioned the idea) but like Robinson, attempting to be on the forefront of something could be very difficult, long-term, on him personally.

But perhaps the sacrifice is important. Maybe it is something that, because so few are willing to do it, must fall on him. He has been given a unique position among American poets to do something which we cannot, even if it is not something anyone would ask for. I think that while the folks who I consider my own cohort are doing interesting work, there should be someone saying that there is a role for poetry in American society. Maybe that will never happen- maybe it never SHOULD happen, but that does not mean there should not be someone saying it. Richard Blanco, for the moment, seems to be that person.

Maybe he is not the ideal candidate- I have not even discussed his work- but at the present time, he seems to have some kind of hold on the population at large and if poetry is what he is promoting, perhaps we should not be too quick to judge him for how he handles it all. (Honestly, how would any of us handle such a thing?) He has something most poets in this country never will, the ear of the public. Perhaps his opinions and thoughts will not land him on the cover of Time Magazine, but there are people who will give some thought to his comments. Is that not something we as a poetry community can at least be somewhat appreciative for, even if we do not agree 100% with all of it? Surely some will be unable to reconcile these things, but I think having someone who is quite concerned with the role of poetry in society having a place in the public sphere is not a bad thing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Obsessed with a Sound

A very quick post:

Listen to these songs- listen specifically to the guitars:


Some of it for sure is the way the bass is played, not just the exact tone knob setting. Mills of R.E.M. plays with a pick for sure- unsure about the Shadowy Men from a Shadowy Planet bass player. Regardless, the guitars all sound incredibly similar to me- I'm unsure what the sound is. A style, surely, but also reminicent of Peter Buck's favorite guitarist (at least in the early days), Roger McGuinn. 

In "Stumble," Buck's guitar playing relies more on tiny arpeggios- it's the hallmark of his early sound for sure. 

I thought perhaps this "sound" I'm hearing had more to do with studio technology but listening to other music from the era, this is unlikely the case- it's what's being fed INTO the recording equipment that's making the difference. It's light- tinny, almost. In "Trail of Tears," there are definitely more full chords than in Buck's playing or the Kids in the Hall theme.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Tragipoetics III

"Prose" v "Poetry"

Berlin, 1945

Tragipoetics I and II

First, I should say that the divide between prose and poetry is not one to be worried over, at least not for this post. In fact, it seems that the hybrid nature of genre pulls out amazing work. I do not want anyone who might be reading this to think that I am attempting to draw some line in the sand between prose and poetry. Indeed, I believe any attempts at drawing a line are superfluous. The lines between genre are blurring further every day, as they ought, and I think we need to think beyond genre in general.

That said, for the sake of this post, I am thinking of prose (fiction/non-fiction/etc.) as a thing versus poetry as a separate thing. Where the line is will likely vary in this post. I assume you have your own line by which you divide things and I assume we can use either definition as we move forward. Again, this is not a series of posts concerned with the divide of genre but rather with how we process trauma and tragedy through art in general.

So, where does prose differ from poetry? We generally think of prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, as some kind of narrative-driven form. There are characters and dialogue and a definite beginning and end which to work from and towards. A poem, of course, does not need to have ANY of these things- a poem can go beyond these stricter definitions and work without them just as easily. Now, some would argue a poem ought to have these things as well but I quite obviously do not feel that way.

No, a poem need not resolve anything. A poem is a space in which a question can be raised, an issue can be brought in, some trauma revealed, without ever having to deal with it directly. As written in earlier posts on this subject, a poem has the option of being the saturated form of experience, focusing more purely on sense than on any of the structured artifacts that prose writing provides. Of course, some of my favorite prose works also ignore all of these rules and regulations, so something to consider.

Poetry, to me, however, is pure language, a distilled version of our developed and evolving construction. It is concerned with how words and meaning work, rather than attempting to create some kind of progression out of them. And because poetry has the option to be concerned with language alone and not with these other factors, I believe poetry has a unique ability to deal with processing experience. This is, again and again, not to say that other forms of art cannot do the same, just that I believe the poetic work is situated in such a way as to allow for it to thrive in this kind of processing.

What do I mean by "pure?" I am not suggesting that poetry is by any means "clean" or "unadulterated" -- far from it. Poetry can delve  into things that I believe may not be able to delve into otherwise. Nothing can stop a poetic work from getting gritty or muddy -- what would be the point? All I mean by pure is that language is generally what it is, the base of other thoughts and images. It is in placing words together that we create. Maybe we can even boil down and say that it is letters which are atomic and words which are molecules, etc. They are the building blocks and bring meaning along with them inherently.

All that said, I believe it is prose which allows for the set up of tragedy. It is in prose where the description of an event can create a therapeutic result. In Robert Coover's "The Babysitter," there are traumatic events wrapped up in the mundane: the girdle, what seems to be the rape of a young woman-- these abnormal things begin with a perfectly normal evening. Coover's language is Charles Bernstein's "chaotic thought" that exists in poetry and there is nothing but chaos in "The Babysitter." Coover here, perhaps better than a lot of poets, captures trauma through language versus n
arrative, its hybrid nature only adding to the trauma for the reader because there is very little to latch onto here.

Obviously, there is no "therapy" to be had in Coover's work: "The Babysitter" is void of any true resolution, which brings it closer to the realm of experience than narrative for me. However, whereas it is designed as a work of fiction (there is a narrative and characters and dialogue, etc.) we have to look at it as though it is the retelling of a tragedy in the lives of an American family and their employee. This retelling is what prose can do that poetry would find difficult to achieve: it can give us the moments in vivid detail without giving us the experience of these events. We get no sense of how these characters are processing, either during or after, these events. That, I believe, is where a poem can come in.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Man Without a Movie Camera

A painting by David Lynch
When I was 20, I wanted to make movies. I remember talking with my brother about going to film school and we had more or less talked about it like it was going to happen. Filmmaking is actually how I ended up in Johannes Göransson's class at UGA. My film professor, Charles Eidsvik, suggested I go take a class, get some writing in, and come back over when I finished. Well, I haven't stopped writing yet but I also never made it back over to the (literal) other side of the street.

What drew me to making movies wasn't just narrative or storytelling: it was the process of editing and making things fit together even though they very likely did not fit together in the first place. I remember shooting a whole five minute film in a theater at UGA, the camera facing the seats and two characters sitting and chatting. I remember being pissed off when going back and viewing the footage that they a) had mostly been reading the script and hadn't prepared and b) the male had crossed and uncrossed his legs between takes, mucking up my continuity (which was crucial). Being that people are impossible to get a hold of multiple times, I never reshot. Still, Eidsvik liked the movie alright, at least in the sense that everything worked as it was supposed to work. I had my bases covered in terms of shots and audio and that mostly seemed to be the way I did things as a young filmmaker.

The thing is...I never became an older filmmaker. I quit doing it. Beyond not going back to filmmaking after getting into poem writing, I also realized that 1) filmmaking is expensive and I likely would not be able to afford to make the things I wanted and 2) I really did not like relying on other people to make my project work. Like the actors in the one film, in the second, I had an audio person who kept hitting the wall with the boom mic and I never caught it until I went to edit. It was really annoying. I was also bad about thinking of the whole picture. The walls of my friend's apartment seemed perfectly normal to me but to my professor, they were "vanilla." And that was just one of many problems with the second little movie.

It's strange now, thinking back, how boring my movies were. Where everyone else was trying to experiment, I was trying to tell sort of...stories...that necessarily could be told simply. Where I did get "experimental" was when editing, trying to find clever ways of cutting things together to make them seem more interesting. In a test shooting before I began my two projects, I wrote a short bit of dialogue that involved two people trying to figure out how to get information from someone. When an epiphany strikes them both, the shots jump around as both actors in the scene blurt out the answer together. Eidsvik seemed pretty impressed with it, but it turned out to be the highlight of my filmmaking.

I still love film and movies and discussing them endlessly like texts you can press your face into and still not distort everything. I've thought about getting a Ph.D. in film studies but I feel like I would only be a hack or someone who just showed up out of a love for something. At the same time, it seems like every idiot with a YouTube handle discusses movies and TV shows now with some intellectual bent. Tom & Lorenzo are brilliant when discussing Mad Men and they run a website that talks about fashion primarily. There are lots of voices and a crowded market and I'm not sure I could be any better than anyone else at it.

Sure, I would like to make more movies, but I'm not sure what about. It's weird: I think when you start working in a creative medium, you begin to process everything through that medium. When I still thought I'd go back to filmmaking, I had dozens of ideas floating around about what I would do with a few hours, a few  actors and a place to do it. In the same way, every strange thought is possible fodder for a poem now, which I guess is not entirely different from making films to me, but at least it's a generally solitary act.

I still have ideas come to me occasionally and I jot them down with the idea that if I ever purchase a camera, I could probably do something on a weekend. Then again, surely there are plenty of folks doing the same thing, though I guess plenty of folks write poems and teach creative writing, but I haven't stopped that yet either.

I've never been able to find this quote again, but perhaps someone reading knows:. It's about how filmmaking is a refuge for the mediocre. I always liked that- I always liked that it turned filmmaking into an everyday act, something that can be done by anyone, a sort of Marxist art. Of course, that's not really true, but I always appreciated the sentiment.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Why Do We Expect Meaning From Poems?



Contemporary poems and poets that purposely work-around the styles and tones (though not necessarily the influences) of prior generations are not unlike Lynch’s description of films and music. However, in poetry classes, students are either asked to find the meaning of a poem or, in the case of teaching a course with a focus on postmodern poets, seek meaning themselves. Meaning, of course, is endemic to everyone. We are constantly searching through the world, through space and culture for the meaning to life and, less abstractly, to the events which surround us, especially the traumatic events of shootings and other acts of violence.

However, the search for an objective meaning to these existential questions is fruitless. As Camus tells us, there are three methods for dealing with this fruitlessness: physical death (suicide), philosophical death (religion), or acceptance of the absurdity which surrounds the quest for meaning. The fourth option, I wrote previously, is denial, a very popular choice.

We are trained by the education system, at least in the United States, to seek meaning, to codify our response to anything: birthdays, death, politics and music or art. We are expected not only to place a subjective value judgment on these items by also to explain via language why these subjective judgments are correct.

I believe this kind of judgment and search is based on religion. Religion tells us not only what is right and wrong but also that any subjective “truth” is sinful and that only the objectivity of the very subjective faith can lead to an answer to these greater existential questions Further, it is in determining these judgments that meaning can be discerned. Religion is not philosophical death for nothing.

Students are especially conditioned, then, to find a correct meaning in the poems they read, a process hammered together in grade school in order to teach a consensus literature with a set meaning before being catapulted into the subjective world. Does religion not do the same thing? Does it not attempt to indoctrinate one with a set of ideas for governing oneself and others before unleashing these individuals on the world? This is not to say that education is killing philosophical thought – far from it. Education should be the expansion not only of knowledge but also the blueprint for how one should acquire more knowledge. However, for the sake of testing and making sure those entering the world beyond school have the same base of knowledge, it became necessary at some point to teach that objective meaning is possible.

Life, friends, is not boring – at least not anymore. Life is chaotic and yet simultaneously structured. There seems to be a narrowing definition of success in American society and it seems that any discipline which challenges that definition is deemed “difficult” and undermined through that difficulty via its subjectivity.

Poetry, then, stands in opposition on these fronts. Poetry, like Lynch’s example of music and his own films, is a witness to chaos through the subjective lens of experience. However, because poetry uses language, it is expected to make sense, to provide meaning within its framework. Because language seems to exist within set parameters of definition and grammar usage, it is assumed that words themselves are not subjective. Words, because they have a set definition in dictionaries, are seemingly not open to interpretation. Words are made up of their prescribed meaning based on society consensus. Because language is our most developed construct, when elements of it are used, they are decidedly set in their meaning – otherwise, what would there be to hold on to?

Poetry is the tool of abandonment, the way of letting go of these pre-determined parameters of language. A poem is the place to let go of expectation, to cease our attempts at aligning meaning, language and experience. The elements can exist as themselves: experience can remain just that with no need of affirmation and language can be reset with the space of a work as it needs to be.

For some, surely the search for meaning is itself meaning, a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. Without the search for meaning, life would veer dangerously into the absurd which, under no circumstances, and the accepted. In a poetic work, however, this absurdity should not only be allowed to flourish but it should be expected and encouraged.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Permutational Aesthetics and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

Previous posts on permutational aesthetics: Dreams of an Ideal Life; Dwelling, Regret and Permutational Art

Surrealists have been living and dying on Gerard de Nerval's opening to Aurelia: "Our dreams are a second life." It is a concept so central to surrealism that one can hardly contemplate escaping it. What happens when one falls asleep is the essential makeup of any surrealist work and nowhere more than in the films of David Lynch. If Ashbery can be considered the offspring of poetic surrealism (a highly debatable claim) then Lynch is at the epicenter of contemporary surrealism, perhaps even globally.

Basically all of Lynch's screen work has dealt in dreams, even the outlier The Straight Story, which is about a man's journey to see a dying relative. Even in that work, Lynch's strange Americana is depicted and the very plot of the story seems like a dream experiment, riding a tractor for great distances in an attempt to see someone before they pass. However, the work most exemplary of surrealism and permutational aesthetics must be 2001's Mulholland Drive, a strange nightmare that covers over unpleasant activities in the waking life.

In the first part of the film, we meet the doe-eyed Betty, a young actress who is passed over for her shot at stardom due to the underground activities of a mysterious man (played by Michael Anderson, Lynch's Man from Another Place in Twin Peaks) and his representatives (one of whom is Lynch's dreamy composer, Angelo Badalamenti). In the cryptic repetition of the line "This is the girl," the director (played by Justin Theroux) is forced to take on an actress for the role that he does not want. In fact, he looks longingly at Betty when she is in the studio but cannot pick her due to the direct threats he is up against. Everything is falling apart for this fellow.

The other part, of course, is the finding of the amnesiac Rita who accidentally makes her way into the home that Betty has kindly been lent by her aunt. Rita is the survivor of a car accident but cannot remember said accident or much of anything, in fact. Betty takes the ailing Rita in and the two eventually become lovers and things are going magically well for Betty, despite her not getting the role she was destined for and whatever horrible things happen to those around her (the poor director finds his wife in bed with Billy Ray Cyrus, which is horrible for everyone; two men in a diner discuss a nightmare scenario actually going on in the film and one ends up dying!).

Of course, the whole thing is a sham: this is desperate actress Diane's reconstructed dream world wherein she is the innocent and well-meaning young hopeful (which she probably was at some point before being corrupted by the horrid ways of Hollywood) and where Rita is nursed back to health rather than killed off for jilting the madly in love Diane.

After Betty and Rita open the blue box, the film shifts and we see what has really been going on: Diane has her lover killed, not only for leaving her for the director (who for whatever reason is forgiven by the dreaming Diane- remember that he is being threatened by cowboys and Billy Ray Cyrus punches him), but also for being "the girl" that gets the role she not only covets but feels is rightly hers. The man she hires, who is hilariously incompetent in her dreamworld (having to kill a second person because he accidentally fires a gun while attempting to make another hit appear to be a suicide), hands her a blue key which makes its way into her dream reconstruction.

In fact, many elements make their way into her dream: the cowboy, the random woman who is the aunt (which is similar to a scene in Twin Peaks where Donna goes to a home, only to find a different interior with someone different living there with the same name), as well as various objects which are too numerous to mention. Of course, in the dream, everything is idealized but reality has a way of sneaking through. Her real name is given to a waitress from whom the waking Diane stole her dream name. They see a dead bloated body in  what we come to realize is waking Diane's apartment and clearly her body at the end when Diane can no longer live with her actions.

In hiring someone to kill her lover, Diane creates an escape in her dreamworld from the horrors of her waking life. Lynch, of course, wants the viewer to believe that the dream life is real (even though the beginning is so clearly a dream) until he washes it away by sucking Betty out of it but one can never quite escape reality, in dreams or in art, and Lynch plays on this duality throughout the film by breaking down the barriers of Diane's dream for Betty to discover. Dreams may be the second life but the first life has its place among the ephemera of the constructed existence and ultimately this causes Diane to not only awaken but leads her to take her own life.

This is naturally at the heart of permutational art. Arts allows us, in an external form, to recreate idealized versions of past events. In Diane's case, she creates a permutation in her dream to deal with the issues she is naturally dwelling on in her waking life (her lover, her career, etc.). It makes sense that by the time one hires an assassin, one has spent an inordinate amount of time dwelling on the slights and wrong-doings one feels has been done to them like Montresor in "The Cask of Amontillado." Diane, of course, must re-enter reality with the evidence of what she has done when she finds the blue key left by her hired killer on the coffee table. It seems he is much more capable in real life, much to dreaming Diane's consternation. Any hope that Camilla might be alive vanishes and ultimately, Diane cannot live with her actions. The idealized dream life seems to make the situation worse as Diane contemplates the alternate stream of existence that she created.

It seems more and more as if the event of Camilla's death occurs the same night Diane sleeps and dreams this dream. Her dream life attempts to worm its way out of the act of murder that she has set in motion. She hopes that Camilla survives but wakes to find she has not, but not because she does not want her dead but rather because she does not want to be the cause of her death. The guilt ultimately is overwhelming for Diane and while an escape back into the dream construction could have made a perfectly reasonable ending, for Lynch, there is only one way out.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Second issue of N/A

Really excited about today's release of the second issue of N/A! The best part, I am discovering, about running a journal is that you get to publish not only the work of those that inspired you, but of people you think will inspire others down the road. It's an amazing feeling knowing that some of the work is in manuscripts and things happening right now in other places in the poetry world.

N/A's second issue has work from Rae Armantrout, Pierre Joris, Matt Henriksen, Michelle Detorie, Adam Veal, Karen Hannah, Gina Abelkop, Megan Kaminski and, of course, rob mclennan.

We're already looking down the road to Issue Three, which will be out January 1st, just in time for your post-NYE celebration coma to have passed.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Hindsight

I must admit, despite the damage to my liberal street cred, I am torn on Syria.

The reasons are too complex for me to post on in any meaningful way, but ,unusually for me, this process of thinking through has lead me into a poem. I don't normally post poems here because, well, it's a blog about poetics and things but not necessarily about showcasing my own work. However, because this will likely go nowhere beyond me, I thought this "thinking through" poem could be posted, just this one time:




Hindsight
a fourth, typed draft

The boy has cried
and we heard him
but we're so tired now. It's
a new wolf and an old 
boy is dead, swallowed
in parts, I think. In our
uncertainty, cries are heard 
again but we know that
wolf already and have
seen it's eyes and  teeth that
pervade.

The boy cries, a leg is
gone and blood has
our wolf lusting over there. We've
heard it before, though:
we've known the stench of
death, eyes rolled back
and white, entrails spread down on
clay and read enough. We
can deceive, unknow,
unbecome when it's only
the ears which have been
sprayed across.

The boy is dead, anyways, but
it's not our boy, our blood or 
even a neighbors': we can keep
the door shut, yeah, but we 
linger in the outer hall, wondering
when one leg became a hand or
liver. The boy was left an
eye and gristle.



Thursday, September 05, 2013

On Henriksen's Post

On his Tumblr, Matt Henriksen writes "The best thing about being a poet these days is we are widely ignored and not taken seriously." This has its upsides and downs, of course, an upside being that, yes, we can generally get away with things that might be seen as controversial if someone the public was aware of did them. Fortunately, there is no way for American poetry to be controversial, except to other poets, but it seems we are fully capable of creating our own drama for drama's sake.

Here in lies the conflict that seems to embody much of what has been happening lately: there is a struggle between what Henriksen calls the "anomalies, outcasts, losers," who "don’t need consultants, the establishment hierarchies, or pyramid schemes" and those who wish to see poetry in America as a bourgeoisie engagement, made up of public intellectuals, professionals and politicians who are asked about their opinions on television, who make policy and who are mobbed like Alfred, Lord Tennyson when they are seen on the street.

It seems, to me at least, that poetry isn't (or at least it shouldn't be) about that. Poetry is an act of subversion: it is against the normalcy of language, the complacency of society. It's not about being a pop cultural icon or about being categorized and stuffed into some simple ideological space. Poets, and artists in general, ought to be on the outside of society because that is the way in which one can look into it. Those that want to make poetry a water cooler conversation piece seem to have little understanding of its history.

Robert Archambeau's wonderful essay "The Discursive Situation of Poetry," which is included in his equally wonderful book The Poet Resigns, talks about this history. I admit freely that I didn't know most of it myself. In it, Archambeau takes on those (Dana Goia comes to mind immediately) who wish to make poetry some great endeavor and poets the grandes dames of some kind of intellectual society built on a shining hill of egos.

This, again, doesn't seem to me to be what art is about. Art is an afterthought, the remnants of the ideas and culture that have gone before it. Art is about what's left over when things have passed, the memory and the experience. The thing is, the reason artists are famous after they are dead, to use a very tired cliché, is because artists always make up the awareness of a time period, which isn't something that happens overnight, although we seem to be trying to in the poetry world-- we cannot create our legacy by will alone.

Henriksen points out a systemic problem with art, especially in this country and to a similar extent, in academia, which is the commodification of art, the branding of it in order to make it a non-difficult, accessible item available for purchase for the purpose of profit. Especially in colleges and universities, where students are now taking on a lifetime of debt in order to get very little by way of future prospects, the arts are falling into a worm hole in which the outcomes are not definable or identifiable in any simple or timely way but must be in order to justify their existence.

This, to me, is a constant issue within the Capitalistic society: things must have a monetary value and not an abstract value before they are allowed to exist in the same world as the norm. And the beauty of it is that there are those within poetry, who in order to justify their existence as poets, are attempting to pull poetry into the branded, hyper-capital. On occasion it feels like our own establishment within the poetry world is busier trying to get into regular establishment, like the pigs of Animal Farm, than exist in the system which is already in place for them.

It's hard to blame folks, really. We all want to be comfortable and be taken seriously, especially the people that consider themselves adults. When you have your own slice of the "American dream," paying a mortgage and driving a large car, the answer to "What do you do?" rarely ends with "I write poems." Some might say that it would be nice if poets were paid like athletes but that hypothetical society would be the one in which poetry, as a mainstream established art form would be usurped by some other form which takes as its motivation the subversion of societal hierarchies.

This, however, in Henriksen's words, does not mean those people should expect the "embrace" of the "loser poets." No, it's a battle that will constantly go on because "American Poetry," as an institution. is growing, and in seemingly close numbers on both sides of the commercial/ars gratia artis divide. The embrace of either side would mean poetry has lost whatever vigor it had and that seems worse than the in-fighting and commoditization of it in the first place.

The only place I take issue with Henriksen is on whether his Tumblr/Facebook post is a "manifesto." Regardless of his saying it isn't, it is, mainly because it (the piece) gives us the intentions of a group, their motives and their views. It tells us what loser poets are not: bankers and politicians, who seem people and their productions as fetishized objects rather than the art and artists they are. Henriksen's manifesto creates a public of poets as defined separately from other poets. Henriksen points to an already existing line and shows us what side we were already on, whether we believe necessarily in the tenants of either side.