Monday, February 15, 2010
Four Experiments in Criticism
Sent by the publisher as a review copy. I actually wrote a review of this book, which I love, a few years ago. For whatever reason the edition of Artvoice in which it was printed has not yet made it to the web, so I can't point you to the review.
A few more scattered memories of Ben:
Eating a lovely dinner with Ben and Carla at their apartment on Anderson Place, at which Carla served a favorite Sicilian dish, salted cod, which I had never eaten before, and how we ate it just outside the kitchen in a little wooden booth in an alcove, which I thought a very cosy and comfortable way to eat, especially when only three or four people were dining, and which is a feature I've always wanted to replicate in my own home, but have not (yet).
The bookcases in Ben and Carla's living room, which were bursting with books, had books piled on top, seemingly all the way to the ceiling, and my amazement when Ben told me he had another room filled with boxes containing only sci-fi books he had read as a kid.
A whirlwind poetry week in 1999, which began with a visit by Peter Gizzi and Bernadette Mayer and ended with a party at Ben and Carla's for Joanne Kyger. (I'll save the Joanne Kyger part of the memory for a later post. I remember there was some kind of disagreement between Ben and Bernadette over dinner one night, something to do with Matthew Shepard, but I don't recall the details.)
Ben's Buffalo car, a beat-up, rust-colored Toyota Celica.
In the months after a bad breakup, driving either to or from a movie with Ben, who sat in the passenger seat of my beat up, dark rust-colored Nissan, and who could see that I was visibly suffering the effects of said break-up, and him telling me how after his last breakup he had learned to drive and how learning to drive had made him feel good about himself and helped him get past some of the pain.
At his going away party, Ben smiling and telling me I was going to hell for having my Nissan cheaply patched up, just enough to stay running for a week or two, in order to sell it to a foreign exchange student.
Standing in front of Rust Belt Books at nine in the morning with Ben and Graham Foust and David Landrey and Kazim Ali and Brian Lampkin and Aaron Skomra and Michelle Citrin and Mike Basinski and Celia White and several other poetry types to pose for a photo of Buffalo poets, which now hangs on the wall of my study.
Playing scrabble at my apartment on College St. with Ben and Yunte Huang and trying to decide whether or not to challenge Ben's placement of the word "jew" on the board and Ben looking calmly into my eyes and saying, "It's a verb. Look it up."
How I did not challenge him, but looked it up anyway, just to see if he was right -- he was.
Ben, the same night as the aforementioned Scrabble game, sharing the news that he'd been hired at the University of Maine.
Ben's old PC, which he used long past it's usefulness, and his refusal to buy a printer, instead preferring to print for free at the University print center, where you waited for hours for a printout that came on traction paper from a dot-matrix printer.
Ben coming to Buffalo a few years ago, first for the Creeley Conference, then for OlsonNow, his point-and-shoot camera in hand, documenting just about every movement anyone within ten feet of him made.
Looking with great pleasure at all those photos on flickr after he left.
How he stopped documenting everything everyone was doing at some point and how I missed looking at his photos everyday.
Ben talking about Kit Robinson introducing him to jazz.
Sitting in a hotel suite after the OlsonNow conference with Ben, Anne Waldman, Ammiel Alcalay, Myung Mi Kim and a few others listening to artist Steve Kurtz tell us about his at-the-time-still-ongoing ordeal with the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the FBI.
Ben, in conversation at Cybele's Cafe, making a comparison between Charles Olson and Frank O'Hara, saying he admired the ability of both poets to insert things -- documents, snatches of conversation, etc. -- into poems and to leave those things alone, without editorializing, and how he compared them to others, like Oppen, who he said couldn't resist the urge to editorialize.
How in conversations like the previous one there were often long silences, wherein whatever we were discussing went from the outside to the inside to be processed and how Ben, instead of looking away in thought would look me straight in the eye during these silences, as if he were trying to read whatever thoughts or feelings I might be having, and how those silences were never awkward, and instead felt like the natural response to the information being shared, which one needed to digest a bit before responding.
But satire is one thing, serious criticism another. What risked scandal in my method–what marked my project as a kind of poetry and not merely an antic form of poetics–was its privileging of style over substance, artifice over rigor, mere plausibility over truth, an inversion of the hierarchy of values that ordinarily (and sensibly) obtains in criticism, an inversion that in effect ceded control of my writing to the writing itself. Although I was predisposed in each of these pieces to certain arguments and conclusions, I willingly abandoned these when they became incompatible with the critical approach demanded by my source. The results were emphatically not what I would have written if left to my own devices, one reason I opted for pseudonymous attribution. Sincerity in Pound's sense ("a man standing by his word") was simply not an issue. The issue, instead, was a compositional practice in which criticism derives less from a given set of facts, opinions, and interpretive strategies than from a collision between two such sets: one fixed in the form of a source text, the other still inchoate in my chosen topic.