Resistance is Fashionable

borg cubeFor many moons now, I have been making and taking notes for essays about American poetry (please try to contain your excitement). As of now those notes are a jumble of loosely connected observations, snippets of recent poetry offerings, copy-pastes of reviews and criticism. In other words, a mess. But looking over these notes — particularly the reviews and criticism — I’ve noticed a pattern in how a lot of new poetry is described. It’s a thing that, for lack of a better term right now, I can only call negative definition, wherein books of poetry are described (and, usually, praised) not for what they are and do, but for what they aren’t and don’t do. Some examples:

[X’s] second book…resists genre containment…

[In X’s work], our structural expectations are upended…

The struggle in reviewing [X’s book] is the collection rejects traditional modes of defining.

And in a hundred other reviews and commentaries, new poetry is “subverting expectations,” “challenging received norms,” etc.

Which is fine. I’m all for making it new. But what good is new if the it can’t be discerned even by an enthusiastic reviewer? And when they try, it often comes out like this:

Much like the theme of the collection the text is an exploration of codes which as untranslatable and esoteric reject the closure that is traditionally sought via the lyric. It is within this this space the I wants meaning, hopes to find and place contours about the self and the separation between internal and external. The boundaries of selfhood verse what acts to remove said individuality becomes a sight [sic] of fragmentation. Mirroring this, the poems are not linear and with the trajectory and focus splintering towards new subjects and possibilities. The result is a constant evasion of conclusion.

Judging by the sheer number of books and their attendant reviews in this vein (one site I follow posts at least three or four a week), it seems an entire generation of poets just discovered L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E in the past couple years and made “Resist and Reject” its mantra.

There’s no accounting for taste, and poets should write as they please, but I wonder if it really is a pleasure working overtime to make sure your poems thwart any attempt at understanding. There’s certainly not much pleasure in reading them.

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Resistance is Fashionable

6 thoughts on “Resistance is Fashionable

    1. Dan Tessitore says:

      Yes, and be sure to get scanned in order to locate the “sight” where evasion of closure is (re)located. Oh, and ask your doctor about Obfuscat.

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  1. Okay, I was sent this today as the teaser poem from a press I very much admire. The teaser poem was meant to entice me to buy the book, of course. This is from Black Lawrence Press, a forthcoming book by Brittany Cavallaro and Rebecca Hazelton. Here’s the teaser:

    In Us We Trust

    Dirt clods at midnight, Vidalia weeps love
    as the sea sucks in the pugilists
    like a open-mouthed boat. Less, then, less river,
    more canyon, at the apex
    the watch falls to sleeping. Naïve on the rim
    of a glass teacup,

    the one I desire. Nightshuffle and run,
    parch and rise, in the dark we curse
    for some to wick, snuff out
    when we do. Just then on leave without pay
    the skyscrapers regularized and quiet
    as disgust.

    Later, not now, the dirt coughs us up
    like nitrogen, and we sit miles above
    and we laugh. There is peace
    and there are stars, there is
    the solid fact
    that now we are better than the dead.

    So, this makes me feel really dumb. Which I am, granted, but the cover to the book was spectacular. If all the poems in it were this impenetrable, and you were assigned to review it, wouldn’t you be forced to say things that made your dumbness sound, well, smart? The cover was spectacular, if I may so again.

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  2. RjT says:

    Even the Borg–if they were “splintering towards new subjects and possibilities” they’d be f’ed. Big dense ugly cube–aesthetically, meh–but one purpose. Unity. Cohesion. A cosmic steam roller coming to a planet near you.

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  3. Dan Tessitore says:

    Yet another reiteration of this tired descriptor I came upon today…

    “[X] locates difficulty in texts that resist reader understanding, offering an oddly powerful experience of unnatural excitement in lieu: one enters as oneself and leaves subtly othered.”

    For those of you keeping score, this sentence scores 8 out of 10 on America’s Got Jargon with “locates,” “resist,” “texts,” and “othered.” Add a couple bonus points for the un-unpackable qualifiers “oddly powerful” and “unnatural excitement,” which to my understanding (met with little resistance), mean not really that powerful or exciting without proper indoctrination.

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