Dear Emily Post-Avant 4 October 2017 [Column VI]

 Dear Emily-Post-Avant,

My teacher of Beginning Creative Writing here in Detroit is known as a “Language poet.” He has even told us more than once he is one. He wrote a book a few years ago about his and his friends’ experiences called the Canned Piano. He seems like an OK old guy, overall, though he doesn’t smile a whole lot, I’ve noticed. Like many senior citizens, he’s so serious all the time! Last week, this boy I know, Andy, who’s a student like me in this class, and who is ultra-serious, too, and calls himself a “post-Language” poet (I know because I dated him before the BCW class (serendipity!) through University Love Connection), raised his hand and asked “what meaning, if any, the year 1989 has for the history of Language poetry.” My teacher, unsmiling, of course, asked why he was asking it, and my former fling said he’d read something on Dispatches from the Poetry Wars about it. Anyway, it was very clear that this really upset my teacher quite a bit. In fact, it upset him to such a major max that he brought his fist down onto the keyboard of his laptop so hard the Power Point screen up on the wall that had all these Venn diagrams and stuff on it went poof. Then he started yelling at us that the history of Europe was one thing and the history of U.S. experimental poetry was another, and that we little fuckers (he actually said that) had a way to go before we’d get to know anything at all about life. Or something close to that, I might not have it exactly right. Then he told us all to open our notebooks and write an impromptu 500-word essay for a grade on “Victor Shklovsky,” if that’s how you spell it, and I don’t think anyone except my former fling even knew who that was, but Andy was so taken aback that he left the class all shaken and hasn’t returned since. Anyway, I’m going on too long, sorry. My question is, What’s with 1989 and Language poetry? I need at least a B in this class and it might help to know.

–A Bit Rattled in Detroit

Dear A Bit Rattled in Detroit,

Interesting how it’s very much the period circa 1989-1991–when the Soviet bloc is crumbling and U.S. triumphalism/End of History begins–that the institutional absorption of Language Poetry begins to unfold and the broader phenomenon of Academic avant careerism begins in earnest and spreads with unprecedented velocity.  Now it’s sort of like the New Criticism Part II. (Susan Howe’s appointment as Visiting Professor at SUNY/Buffalo in 1989 and her full-time hiring in 1991 marks a symbolic watershed, you might say, what with the crushing of the Olsonian rearguard it represented, though the meaning of the politics of that for both the history of Europe and of U.S. experimental poetry are somewhat arcane, and there is no need for you to worry your young head too much about it at the moment.)

You might want to ask your temperamental teacher, though, why it is precisely in this period that the pomo-tinged “anti-capitalist” theory of LangPo, which was the group’s identity/ business card, more or less goes suddenly AWOL, and is transformed into varieties of quasi-formalist, institutionally polite reflection. Ask him what relation he sees between that and the notion of “Quietude.” I’ll bet if you do, the Power Point will go zap again.

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Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Thank you for that letter. I’ve started dating again with the guy I mentioned (the “Post-Language” poet, Andy) and when I showed him your letter (I didn’t know who Susan Howe was, but he did), his eyes nearly rolled back into his head and he asked me to please write you back ASAP and ask what you mean by the “crushing of the Olsonian rearguard” having some kind of “meaning for both the history of Europe and U.S. experimental poetry.” Therefore, I am writing for him, if you wouldn’t mind answering. He is feeling very hurt and sensitive right now, after what happened in class (in fact, he is very depressed and doing a lot of drugs), so if you would write, it might make him feel better. Please help. Thank you!

–A Bit Rattled in Detroit

Dear A Bit Rattled in Detroit,

Tell your friend Andy he should both stop doing drugs and stop calling himself a “Post-Language Poet.” That phrase went out of fashion even before the term “Post-Avant” did. It’s all just Fine Poetry now, under one single, comfy, and flowing Big Tent (e.g. see the $120,000,000 Poetry Foundation.)

Now, on the matter of Europe: As I said, it’s a bit arcane, but my reference was pointing a bit to the great, late Robert Creeley, who decisively turned on his old mentor and backer, the great Charles Olson, sometime around the mid-1980s and went over to the up-and-coming, safe-bet side–the Language clan and satellites–which was very consciously (and quite viciously) out to trounce and occupy the legacy of Olson and the New American Poetry. Creeley gave the LangPos et. al. his full blessing and promoted a couple of key figures to eminent rank. For the Langpo circle, this was like what Pierre Bourdieu once called (in his famous study on position-taking in the 19th century French literary field) “a third-stage rocket booster flying over Japan.” And the product of this successful launch by Little Rocket Man Bernstein, with the (as yet unexamined) assistance of U.S. governmental and financial agencies, now began to be exported not just to Europe, where it had significant sub-cultural impact, but also all around the world, including state-capitalist Asiatic mode of production empires like China and Russia. There, such “avant-garde” product’s abstraction and political vacuity were welcomed with open arms by one-party mafia regimes who locked up real dissident poets and artists. Creeley himself, late in life, became an active collaborator on Imperial poetry-cultural projects sponsored by the U.S. State Department, doing international tours on government pay and editing anthologies of U.S. poetry for foreign dissemination, which included within, no surprise, the work of his new-found LangPo allies. https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/the-lives-of-the-most-eminent-state-department-poets/

By the way, a big section of the Berlin Wall (speaking of ca. 1989!) has recently sold at Christies for 152,000 bucks.

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Dear Emily Post-Avant,

My greetings from Gymnasium of Architecture to all people who will VOTE in Russia Today. Dear Emily. There was a question to say to my Russians not to be capable to Vote. FUCK YOU> This is ridiculous and insulting, not to mention ignorent of communist tradition in Golden AGe >before twelfth Congress.>>For example, Tatlin, which man you cartoon, his tower to Third International: do you think Eiffel tower could lean like a SS20?? (So boring and predictableyou of the West.))I give Kronstadt as an example where “Great Bakunin” was dismembered his body (and agents of Prussia) because of\ Russian people’s Love to their >country,their families and their Lenin. Also Trotsky, destroyed fortunatelyby David ((muralist and Architect))>>Siqueiros and Pablo Neruda ((poet)), And this tradition continues inspite >of “terrible “conditions some Muskovy people found themselves when “Freedom >Came Upon” in October (*hah* what Ironi, Mme.Architect!!!). It is fucking capitalism you New York and Toronto petit bourgeosie, you keep saying space, Bauhaus, diorama to be success in in for some decadent fucking city, do you know a child who is >hungry for freedom *and also bread*??? You said that you were writing about >Russia. FUCKYOU. Did you mention that it was not the right time to strive to Freedom yet. Shachtmanite!!! Harvard Boy!!!The nation was not wet in it yet. Too much of in it, wetness created nothing but more >of cruelty tie me down petit!! When I will put my first plastics phallic of >”Our Lives In Space And Time” online I will let you know .FUCK YOU. May. be thenyou will understand a little bit more about Russia Today, my wet hair. I.ve already mentioned once that Diane >Sawer’s mistake and Barbra Waters also (bitch)>was that she should had study the History of CCCP before she announced BorisYestsin a hero . Drunk Bastard!!!, And she would >not know about necessary Cruelty which happened under that Lenin who was a true man against Whites and Social Revolutionryes(I am talking about the best people of Russia who wanted a bit of>>Freedom for Russian people similar to what was happening before in Paris,,, >not Mensheviks. FUCK YOU.And that is called the vote of all! What is your life with noCOMPUTER??? Vote for Putin. Don’t waste it.

–Maireya Who Loves Putin

Dear Maireya Who Loves Putin,

I’m sorry, but is there a question somewhere in there you wanted me to answer?

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Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Why is it that nearly all serial murderers and mass shooters in the United States have been white men? It is a brute fact: A great deal more violence against innocent people in your nation has been committed by white men than by terrorists coming from other places. Not just over the course of the whole violent history of your country, but even in the sixteen years since the terrible events of 9/11. Shouldn’t the United States, therefore, following the logic set out by your current administration, prohibit the further immigration of white men into the United States, until such time as the government has figured out “what the hell is going on”?

–Admiring Poet from Lybia

Dear Admiring Poet from Lybia,

That makes sense to me! To such a ban, I would add a prohibition against any LangPo-influenced white poets, male or female, coming from abroad to study poetry here in “advanced” MFA programs. Until such time, at least, that we have figured out what the hell is going on.

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Dear Emily Post-Avant:

I enjoy reading your column. Most recently I especially enjoyed your replies to Poet Concerned About His Man Breasts and Handsome and Six-Packed Poet (Sept. 25). It got me thinking about “male bonding”—not only in my husband’s life, but also in the poetry scene (e.g. the most recent issue of Talisman, or that rag you write for, with the ridiculous macho title, “Poetry Wars,” gimme a break…), or in the jazz world, in football, etc.;  and I’m confused, because as a feminist poet, I ask myself why, despite all, do I find something about the spectacle of “male bonding” that’s quite moving, and that touches me in a mysterious, almost envious way. Am I missing something here? Is this just Trump fucking with my head again? I don’t really see him as the “male bonding” type, though. Know what I mean?

–Sofie M, Poet

Dear Sofie M, Poet,

Hey, don’t blame me for the title of the rag I write for. I just work here. Though in all fairness, sister, it seems to me a strong case could be made for there being a condition of permanent war in the apparently peaceful and benign valleys of poetry, even as most of the violence gets done in “secret,” behind the pretend façade of nice and professional behaviors, you know? And it’s often those who most carefully stage, and benefit from, this symbolic violence who prove to be the most reluctant to admit the dialectical reality of power and resistance that permeates the field. Their normal response is silence. Of course, when the facts boil to the surface in moments of cultural resistance and renewal, as they do by nature, then there is no hiding, and those who have enjoyed their time of subcultural hegemony either quietly slink away into their newfound institutional cover, or they openly brandish their weapons. Now, to be totally honest, those enmeshed in such permanent war (be it hidden or evident) are not just males, but women, too, not least the “feminist poet” types like yourself (or me), whose very existence and self-identification proves the rule of position taking in the field of poetic production. There is no reason to deny it. You know that, and I know that. It’s very complicated, right down to the ways those Trump-like behaviors you mention can fuck with our heads and infect our collective habitus like a zombie virus. That said, I agree that the men can be cute in their bonding rituals. It’s their obliviousness to it that is so touching. So long as it doesn’t get truly misogynist, I’d say it’s harmless, and just best to let the homosocial boys be.