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Author Topic: Judging Poetry and Integrity  (Read 70640 times)
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N. Joy Vey
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« Reply #60 on: January 02, 2007, 02:21:56 PM »

Christopher,

Once in a training  (for alleged child welfare workers) I heard that it is risky to send certain jokes by email as one's facial expression is not evident, and the internet does not convey tone in the way that voices do.

Possibly the trainer was more specifically referring to sarcasm.

Your recent post suggested that many (most? all?) of us have disappointed you.  But I am considering that I've misunderstood you...

There is not much CONSENSUS on this site.  We have eclectic views on which poets' work is inspiring vs. nauseating ( and all in between).  We have different heroes and some of us have no heroes.  We live in different states, figuratively and literally.  Some of us have greater comfort with computers than others. Some like long posts; some like post card short ones!   What constitutes civil dialogue is not always clear.  Some language I find offputting on occasions, seems quite appropriate other times.  I have a wide circle of friends in my life, and want to be open in foetrydotcom to many fonts :lol: of life too.

I miss the words of some who have "left" this site, and still I have faith (whateverthehell that is) that they are creating and contributing where they need to be.

It is easier to call for Integrity than it is to exhibit it!  And I think one can be Honest and Confused at the same time.  If that's not possible, then i lean more to the Confused than to the former.

Christopher and Jennifer, I have greatly enjoyed your dialogue and I suspect many others  (who post less often than I  have as well).

Thank Youz (as many in Rhode Island say) and Monday, Poetastin',et al...

Warmly,  Nomi Hurwitz
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Kimon Nicolaides
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« Reply #61 on: January 02, 2007, 06:21:07 PM »

Well said, Nomi,

Perhaps part of the reason that this site doesn't always get things together is that we don't always agree with each other. I think that's a good thing because we don't seem to herd together in lock-step. I'm not sure I'd want to be part of such an "organization'" anyway.

Of course, the flip side: we don't always move forward or do so at a snail's pace.

It's a bit of a paradox.

Bugz
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
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« Reply #62 on: January 02, 2007, 07:35:57 PM »

Quote from: "N. Joy Vey"


Your recent post suggested that many (most? all?) of us have disappointed you.  But I am considering that I've misunderstood you...

I miss the words of some who have "left" this site, and still I have faith (whateverthehell that is) that they are creating and contributing where they need to be...

It is easier to call for Integrity than it is to exhibit it!  And I think one can be Honest and Confused at the same time.  If that's not possible, then i lean more to the Confused than to the former.

Christopher and Jennifer, I have greatly enjoyed your dialogue and I suspect many others  (who post less often than I  have as well).


No, dear friends, you haven't disappointed me--just made me feel that even in an open-minded, open-hearted, OPEN-HANDED forum like this one good stuff can get lost--slip off the shelf, drop behind the books.

No, I'm just disappointed I wasn't able to communicate with you what I was experiencing, because there were some moments so powerful for me that I threw caution, and three poems, to the wind. I'm disappointed they all just seemed to blow away.

Incidentally, the three poems are not ones I usually share with others because they can so easily be gored by cynics. I admire you all for your tolerance to red flags--there was a momentary charge building up over the biblical reference in DO NOT ASSUME, but after just a little pawing in the dust Monday curled up like a kitten! (I don't know how to do those little faces you all do !) And THE POET ORDERS AN ICON is the real test, which even though no one yet seems to have been grabbed by it has not yet offended anyone either.

I drove up into the mountains on the Burmese border in an old pickup truck on January 1st & 2nd and recited the poem to myself like a mantra for hours. It stood up well, and I'm happy with it. Yes, I too prefer "confused," Nomi--"like a woman lovely bound/no straining for height."  That is what I was trying to tell Monday who had me up there on the mountaintop with my tablets inscribed with references, and my knowledge!

Now what I'm thinking about is how a poet can develop a genuine following when the poetry business has taken over so many of the distribution functions. Could we add a 'Front' that tries to identify not only the publishers, editors, reviewers and arbitrators of taste that have NOT cuddled up with their friends or lived off the profits, but the poets who have NOT had their fingers in the pie? Would that be possible?

One difficulty will be that quite a number of our finest contemporary poets do have academic sinecures, and goodness knows I myself wouldn't refuse even a one-night stand at a junior high school if one were offered me. Also, even a poet with a voice as real as Franz Wright's has his connections (!), and there are some innocent prize winners in the lists of even the most corrupt competitions and institutions.

I personally like the work of Beckian Fritz Goldberg, for example, even if she did diddle the list at CSU--would that she would come clean on that, or at least plead ignorance--and promise never to do it again, ever. I think I would believe her.

Obviously what we want to do is expose the imperial voice that speaks with no clothes, wherever and whenever it pontificates. And the sycophants, the tailors, the institutional thought-police. To the tumbrils with all of them, I say! (I just looked up the word in my Webster's to be sure and was delighted to find that a tumbril is also a shit wagon!)

Thank you Nomi, Monday and Jennifer. I won't just disappear!
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Christopher Woodman
Monday Love
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« Reply #63 on: January 03, 2007, 10:32:26 AM »

Here's why I think the issue is a much bigger one that 'integrity.'  

The system is rotten, not the people, necessarily.  Most of them simply don't get it, and here's an example.  

This is a 'letter to the editor' from the November "Poetry" magazine by Sidney Wade, President, Association of Writers & Writing Programs, responding to a Dana Gioia-type article by John Barr of the Poetry Foundation decrying the general dominance of MFA programs and modernism:

"John Barr's argument that writing programs have converted all MFA students into zombies of a housebroken and homogenenous Modernism is entirely laughable.  Writers who teach have long worried that Modernism has estranged audiences from literature, and many have championed retro-eclecticism, morality, spirituality, and accesssibility in the making of poetry.  In fact, poetry and the teaching of poetry had become largely anti-Modernist by the seventies.  Students in those days, as they still do, studied the examples of Richard Hugo, William Stafford, Elizabeth Bishop, James Wright, Sharon Olds, and Mary Oliver alongside of Eliot, Pound, and Stein.  Postmodernist disciples of Jorie Graham, Cole Swenson, Lynn Hejinian, and Michael Palmer have only recently become numerous.  Our programs contain multitudes, pluralities, strife, and insurgencies."

Sidney blathers on about 'multitudes,' but somebody should have stopped her at "Writers who teach."  Sidney is unable to see the forest for the trees.  She is unable to see that the marijuana of TS Eliot became the heroin of Jorie Graham.  Defending the charge of too much 'modernism' by citing 'postmodern examples' like Jorie Graham, Cole Swenson, and Lynn Hejinian is ludicrous.   The problem is that students used to study Homer, and now students study their writing teachers!  Students are fodder used to create mounds for their writing teachers to stand on, writing teachers who 'teach' themselves, basically, with a little Eliot, or their friend Cold Swenson, thrown in.  This is what Sidney Wade cannot see.  Wade ignores the careerism of Jorie Graham and her disciples by examining the 'strife' and the 'pluralism' of Jorie and her disciples in the MFA environment.  This is pure twaddle, but I really think Sidney believes it, for she is a fish born into the MFA environment and has no sense of reality outside of the fish bowl.

Now the reply might come: so you think Homer is the 'reality' outside the fish bowl?   The 'reality' isn't just Homer; the 'reality' is an education based on impartial study of established literature, rather than a money-making vanity scheme which rewards certain 'writers who teach' at the expense of impartial education and impartial poetry judges and impartial  poets who are actually acquainted with the history of letters--and not just last week's postmodernist poetry fashion taught by their writer/instructor/contest judge.
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Wilson
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« Reply #64 on: January 03, 2007, 12:15:18 PM »

There are entire presses that publish teachers\' poetry books putting pressure on the teacher to require their students to purchase the book.  And this is one of the place where the whole damn thing has been corrupted for the student.  

One press I can think of that does this puts a minimum first and second year sales clause into their contract in which the author is committed to paying the difference if the minimum is not met.
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« Reply #65 on: January 03, 2007, 02:50:17 PM »

I agree that discipleship has moved from the old geniuses to the trendy contemporaries. I have heard so many times naive young novelists and poets in interviews say something to the effect that when they started out they read alot of contempory stuff in an effort to see ahead of the curve. When a young novelists praises Aimee Bender, one wonders if they ever read the dead geniuses. I know they have.  

      They cite lightweights like Bender(and too many others to name) as influences as a way of broaching the contemporary literati circle of friends and because some of their influence were of course their teachers. But here is the sad thing. They are actually influenced by novelists like Aimee Bender.

          The bar is set by the dead geniuses. I would have no problem with them being influenced by their contemporaries if we were in a renaissance period. But we are decidely not.

             This returns to the notion many have held that literature is a progression and evolution. To me, it is much more punctuated equilibria.
One of the reasons I will never attend an MFA program is because I realize that Jorie Graham and other MFA Profs are not looking for genius, but only talent that will propagate and preserve their own punctuated equilibrium. They need students as a stasis.

         But the thing is do we know whether or not Jorie Graham is an actual example of punctuated equilibrium, or if she herself is just apart of the stasis of a larger figure or more probably, a large school of poetry.

         To abuse this analogy more, workshops themselves are a way of taking what could be punctuated equilibria, and through strife and imitation and the criticism of the circle, any striking dangerous mutations that would lead to punctuated equilibria are avoided by in-breeding. They need students to populate a school of poetry, they do not want individual poets.

          But in the end, it is interesting that we have this real problem of so many academic poets, so few geniuses(if any), that naturally, we have schools of poetry. After rambling a little, I think I want to emphasize that point for discussion. Do you see schools of poets rather than poets now?
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poetastin
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« Reply #66 on: January 03, 2007, 03:38:28 PM »

Don't mean to steer too far off course here, but I just can't pass this one by...


 
Quote from: "adamhardin"
 When a young novelist praises Aimee Bender, one wonders if they ever read the dead geniuses. I know they have. [haven't?] ...They cite lightweights like Bender...as a way of broaching the contemporary literati circle...and because some of their influence were of course their teachers. But here is the sad thing. They are actually influenced by novelists like Aimee Bender.


I admire your passion, Adam, I really do, but I just don't see that you put too much thought into these things. I can only conclude that you/ the ULA hates everyone who is:

a) alive, and
b) published

I get that you might not like Bender's writing. I would hope that judgment is based on aesthetics. But is it? Her pared-down style is probably the closest thing to your beloved Bukowski. She's certainly miles away from others you rail against--strangely, those who actually write like the 'dead geniuses'--Rick Moody, Wallace, Vollmann. I'm just searching for a little consistency, here, other than a base jealousy.

You throw around Bender's name as if she's some sort of establishment icon. She was actually pretty much rejected by her Irvine peers, after she snuck in off the waitlist. And with three books under her belt, she still mostly publishes in obscure journals. Why? Because her stuff doesn't fit the contemporary mold. It's not based in--gasp!--a modern sensibility, or even in tow with the more traditional dead geniuses; it's based in a kind of folk tradition. That's the populist kind, to you and me, Rusty. You know, the culture of the non-elite to which you so conspicuously like to belong?

Bender isn't taught in MFA programs. I swear, it's like you're pulling names from hat, just to step on them. There is some contemporary literature that will be published. You'll just have to deal with it?
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« Reply #67 on: January 03, 2007, 11:46:33 PM »

Quote from: "Monday Love"
Christopher,

 We are trying to get away from the 'championing' of poetry by a select few.  We need to get back to a situation where good poetry is recognized by the many, and becomes popular as a result.

Monday


I'm listening carefully as I promised to and learning a great deal in the process. But it seems to me you are all on very slippery ground because your way of talking about a self-serving, self-promoting, SELF-CLOTHING poet like Jorie Graham will lead you eventually to make absurd statements like the one above. Such drivel doesn't even bear commenting on, modern history has exposed so ruthlessly what happens when the popular is championed as the pure!

I heard Jorie Graham read in NYC way back in the early nineties, I think. I went to the reading because I wanted to hear Czeslow Milosz, and she was the back-up group--and I mean group too, as in groupie! Indeed, if you'd told me at the time she would become famous I would have laughed at you, her work was so obviously naked and the meanings so gratuitously stitched on to it by other people in the audience asking questions which were as dense and esoteric and conflated as her poetry. It was absurd even back then, the masturbatory participation mystique that surrounded her.

The only good part was that her gig was so mercifully short.

And then Czeslaw Milosz--oh my, oh my, oh my. But that kind of simple presence and authority is never going to be 'popular' in Monday Love's sense. It's not going to be Jim Morrison or John Lennon or Bob Dylan, and I'm speaking about those three giants as very minor poets, not as genius musicians working in an entirely different medium. For there will always be a need for painfully reserved closet voices too, for those who speak quietly to people like me who have far too much education, and far too much free time to agonize over what they don't know. Haiku and Ikebana masters, we need them so badly, but it takes a life time of loneliness and self-discipline and training both to become them and to hear them.

And that was the Czeslaw Milosz I heard.

The problem with a Jorie Graham is that she TALKS ABOUT the esoteric, and everybody knows that the definition of the esoteric is that it can't be talked about. That's just a metaphor, what I'm saying,  but you might want to ponder it. There are things not only that should not be talked about but that can't be talked about, and those things will never be popular, by definition. On the other hand, they will always be present in great poetry.

The whole MFA mindset is based on the assumption that anything can be taught if you have the budget to buy the voice that can teach it, yet the voice that can teach it simply cannot be bought. It's as simple as that--and as much a bind!

No, $295 won't buy it, $900 won't buy it--and be warned, not even $90,000 is going to buy it, assuming there are PhDs in creative writing offered at Iowa. On the other hand, Poetastin, getting thrown out of three schools in Texas might do the trick--and the MFA you're thinking about doing might help too. But the magic, that can only come with time and persistence, not with the club membership you'll be investing in!

Christopher
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Christopher Woodman
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« Reply #68 on: January 04, 2007, 04:10:01 AM »

I just wrote, "The whole MFA mindset is based on the assumption that anything can be taught if you have the budget to buy the voice that can teach it, yet the voice that can teach it simply cannot be bought."

But there's something else that can't be "bought," isn't there?

Yes, from time to time a truly great poet will take a position in an English Department and lecture on poetry, and we would all love to be there for that. But poets that are truly rooted in their art will never tell you what one of their poems means simply because they won't know any better way to say those things than what has already been said in the poem. The cult of 'construction' as well as 'deconstruction,' needless to say,  is for novices in prose, not for artists in poetry!

And then too, the ears that can hear the essential depths of a great poem cannot be bought either--maturity, sensibility and the insight won through rough experience, that's what are needed. And no Graduate Admissions Department is ever going to be able to evaluate those qualities in their candidates either, and especially not if those candidates submit in their portfolio the warmed-over remnants of what they've already been taught to think they know!

Isn't that really the gist of it? And isn't the tragedy that people like Jorie Graham trap themselves in the delusion that they know something, and end up by teaching in such a way that their students get trapped in it too?

Christopher
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Christopher Woodman
Monday Love
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« Reply #69 on: January 04, 2007, 08:56:15 AM »

Christopher,

Popularity or democratic appeal in poetry is a good thing.  When is it not?

Jorie Graham is not popular.  She is subsidized by the university system, but she has no true popularity.   Perhaps Foetry.com will make her popular one day.  :wink:

Obscurity is never a virtue.  Newton's laws are not 'popular' per se, but they have a reach, don't they?  Newton's laws are not obscure the way Jorie Graham's poetry is obscure.  It is safe to say that Graham's poetry is not popular and Newton's laws are--precisely because the former is obscure and the latter is not.

Please do not champion obscurity as a virtue, as so many literary intellectuals and 'experts' do today.   Please, for the love of...god.

Do you really love Milosz because of things of his you understand which the majority cannot?

Tell me some unpopular, undemocratic aspect of Milosz that you admire--and it will not be worth a whit.

Monday
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Monday Love
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« Reply #70 on: January 04, 2007, 09:11:52 AM »

To return to Homer.  It is not that we should only study Homer and praise Homer and not study any contemporary poets.   But we should study Homer and understand Homer before we study contemporary poets.  

It is not only that we should study Homer but we should study and understand the quarrel between Homer and Plato, for this produced the most significant aesthetic formula we have, at least to start with.

We can reject the past, but we need to know what it is first.

TS Eliot accused Shelley of having "shabby ideas."

What is a "shabby idea?"

I don't think the post-modernists are capable of recognizing a "shabby idea."   Do "ideas" in poetry even matter anymore?

Even if we think Eliot is full of crap we still need to know these sorts of things: why did Eliot hate Shelley, for instance.  What did Eliot mean when he said Shelley borrowed "shabby ideas?"

Jorie Graham admires TS Eliot and was influenced by TS Eliot, she says.  But can we really believe her?  I don't think we can.  I don't believe her.

What is the point of 'poetry-writing' with no underlying philosophy?  What is education with no philosophy?   Doesn't it quickly become a personality-based con?   Why give out degrees and prizes?   If there is no philosophical agreement, why don't we just set the poets free and let them write?  And if no one buys their poetry books, let them go teach history or mathematics or cooking or engineering or begin a commune in the hills.
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« Reply #71 on: January 05, 2007, 12:14:51 AM »

Quote from: "Monday Love"
Christopher,

Popularity or democratic appeal in poetry is a good thing.  When is it not?


It's not only when it's the only thing on offer--whether because of neglect, ignorance, prejudice or censorship.

Like in the Soviet Union, or Iran, or some homes and even schools in middle America that collate "democratic appeal" with what they are convinced human beings are here for.

Let me try something on you, using examples that have been coming up on this site.

T.S.Eliot's poetry is great to teach precisely because it's famous for its difficulty and the student really does need professional help to get started on it, the literary references being out of the reach of ordinary people. Otherwise it's not too hard. e.e.cummings is great to teach because it's a puzzle that looks impenetrable but is in fact quite easy to master in a lesson or two, and is so much fun in the end, like Soduku but sexier! Dylan Thomas is fun to teach because it's such a relief for your students to find out that some poetry that appears "difficult" really isn't at all, and was never intended to be--that it's just off-the-wall blitzed out of its mind like its great-hearted author! And above all, what a relief it is to find out that poetry can be deep partly because it's also so much fun, as it is in all these three authors.

Eliot, Cummings and Thomas come as close to being "popular" today as you can find among poets, don't they? And isn't that because they have become so familiar, that they've become friends in need to so many, that they've become trustworthy? Haven't they won our faith in them to such an extent that even their blunders seem blessings?

Like Picasso?

But look at the dark side of all of them, even of cummings. Take them with you as you grow older, and don't they speak to you beyond what you learned in the classroom? Don't you eventually get to the point where you have The Four Quartets by your bedside, or find yourself weeping over the dead body of your father with Dylan Thomas in your head, or realize something about sex you had never been able to face before in Cummings or Picasso, among the most sexually charged yet ambiguous artists that have ever lived?

There's nothing elitist about going deeper than the popular, Monday Love. It's just about the unpopularity of dying.

Christopher
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Christopher Woodman
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« Reply #72 on: January 05, 2007, 01:25:45 AM »

Quote from: "Monday Love"


Please do not champion obscurity as a virtue, as so many literary intellectuals and 'experts' do today.   Please, for the love of...god.

Monday


I hear you loud and clear, Monday Love--but I can't imagine what it is that I said that would arouse you to say that to me of all people. After all, I'm the one who wrote the poem called DO NOT ASSUME YOU CANNOT SEE that led to the formation of this thread!

Let's see what I can do with the cult of obscurity, then--and you all know who we're talking about!.

One of the surest signs of immaturity in a poet is deliberate obfuscation--I can remember so well doing that dirt all the time when I was seventeen, and attribute my abandonment of poetry altogether a few years later to the fear and shame my capacity for lying generated in me. Indeed, it was about that time that T.E.Lawrence became one of my heroes, abandoning as he did what might have been one of the most illustrious careers in English history because he realized that "all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud" (and he was on the road to Damascus at the time, no less!).

This site is about fraudulence, and your very real sense of outrage is compounded by the fact that fraudulence is corrupting the art you all hold so precious. I myself did not start writing poetry again until I was 50, but I still found it extremely difficult to say what I meant without fear or favor.  Because of course I wanted to be famous too, or even just liked ("exhibitionistic," you call it, Jennifer), and I'm with you all the way here because I came so close even at 67 to sending a check for $295 to one Jeffrey Levine. Indeed, Foetry.com saved me from that blunder by posting copies of the same letter I received from the scoundrel on this very site, and I will be forever grateful to you for helping me avoid what I hope will be the last pitfall on my path to becoming not necessarily an easy but a transparent poet.

Which great poets are also, always, and groupie poets never. And I'm sure you get my drift!

Christopher



P.S. The only difference between my Jeffrey Levine letter and all those you posted is the fact that he said in mine that he had posted the following poem from my m.s. on his notice board. I found that very moving--and still do (don't forget how hard I defended him in the beginning on this site--"naive," I said, "P.T.Barnum," etc.)

What do you think he liked about it?


APOLOGIA PRO VITA AUTISTICA

Is it to wash or pray we find
ourselves upon our knees
mute before this stain?

These empty hands speak hours
of doing other things and then
something not so nice besides.

Palm to palm they claim
each other's ears even when
there's nothing left to say.

Sway back and forth, clap,
tap a blade of grass and turn
cartwheels down the stairs

and drill that time and time
can spin, shake, tilt & wring
a certain starry whiteness in.
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Christopher Woodman
Monday Love
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« Reply #73 on: January 05, 2007, 11:52:51 AM »

Christopher,

"Apologia Pro Vita Autistica" is wow.  Jeff  Levine should be sending you money to learn how to write.

Yes, "popular" is a tricky term, as you have made me aware, especially if the best books are banned; but here's an irony; banned books often lead to popularity.  "Ulysses" getting banned for being dirty was the best thing that ever happened to Joyce.

I was stimulated by this:

"There's nothing elitist about going deeper than the popular, Monday Love. It's just about the unpopularity of dying."

It forced me to make the following chart based on the fact that the popular and the ubiquitous are not the same:

Ubiquitous = Death, gravity, poetry, social disgrace, agreement, music

Popular =  Poet X

Obscure = Poet Y

The "popular" draws from the ubiquitous.  The ubiquitous is the food of the popular.  But they are not the same thing.   The 'popular' actually occupies a very narrow band on the dial of the universe.

When you say 'deep,' I think a distinction must be made: a poet who is popular or accessible went deep, but the product which is produced is not deep, i.e., too difficult.

The obscure poet, on the other hand, is not deep, but is not accessible, and therefore the ignorant and the fashionable believe he is deep.

Monday
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adamhardin
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« Reply #74 on: January 05, 2007, 02:19:08 PM »

Am I wrong about this or is there something of an intellectual attitude among many poets in Academia that places Philosophy before poetry in terms that Philosophy grounds/should be the grounding for poetry(though most poets would never explicity admit this). Another way of saying it is that Philosophy is primary while Poetry works by transfiguring the truths of philosophy into symbolism for aesthetic/cultural/political value. Rorty says that philosophy is just a kind of writing on par with poetry and fiction, not the analytic truth project that it started out as. I agree.

       But lets say something about the mysticism and cult of difficult writing via the French Continentals like Derrida and the psychologist/philosopher Lacan. This is a smackdown by Chomsky that is both enlightening and hilarious:

      http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/chomsky-on-postmodernism.html
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