Thursday, October 03, 2002

rome if you want to, rome around the world
It's good to see that someone has noticed the full implications of the Iraq gambit and the agenda underlying it.
young, hip canadian writers are bashing other young, hip canadian writers, which is entertaining.
I don't nurture any particular hostility to Russell Smith, but I can't help chuckling at how apt this is. Particularly if you've ever read one of his enjoyable fictional portraits of Toronto's hip and happening, or his musings on the evils of, say, self-referentiality.
brother down
Amiri Baraka has once again managed to put himself at the centre of controversy with his poetry.

In a perverse way, part of me has to respect this. Baraka has managed to do something provocative with a poet-laureate post that's usually expected to tame its holders. He's managed to put poetry into the public debate in a way few poets can, and to make poetry dangerous, something to be censored rather than ignored. Many of those who believe poetry should also be propaganda for a cause would be, frankly, thrilled by the kind of attention Baraka is getting.

It's too bad the thinking, and the poetry, at the heart of all this just isn't that impressive. I've always been in awe of Baraka's capacity for pyrotechnics, but I've never been able to relate to his earlier Black nationalism or his latter-day Marxism -- other poets and writers have been down those roads with much more intellectual substance and much more interesting results.

The offending poem feels uncomfortably like a weary retread of Baraka's glory days. This is controversial work (albeit almost a year late), but it really doesn't deserve to be. Baraka's target is vague, his posture easily admits the accusation of lunacy -- or of simply being stuck in the Sixties, which some would say is the same thing -- and his approach is overblown, likely to alienate all but the converted.

I'm not one of those who thinks poetry should necessarily be propaganda or easily reducible to "social commentary," but those things can be done with poetry, and much better than this. Give me Erica Hunt, Harryette Mullen or Dionne Brand any day.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

He was just here, too. Like, not three months ago. I remember smirking at all the "cantakerous bastard" stories that seemed to follow in his train, and now I'm sorry. Even if they were true, it appears he had good reason.
BKS has posted his treatment of a Kenny G text on Alienated. It's an interesting text, and it's generated some interesting responses. I'm a fan of what's commonly called "procedural" poetry, and I'm nursing a growing obsession with the uses of primitive digital tools -- uses which are far from fully explored -- so I'm always intrigued by texts like this.

I can't say that I'm overly interested in the question of whether this sort of thing qualifies as "langpo" or "digital poetics." Nor am I interested in whether "digital poetics" is inferior to (though it has to be said that the community seems to have a somewhat higher proportion of programmers at work, and there's certainly something to be said for having control of your tools). But it does make me think about my own knee-jerk responses. For all my interest in procedure, there are traditional notions of the poem as crafted and authored that I'm still wedded to; unlike BKS, I would have been tempted to tinker far more with the linguistic output of all that digital processing; the basic theory being that if the purely "non-intentional" poetics at one time championed by, for example, Jackson Mac Low is basically an illusory or unattainable goal, then it makes sense to play as much of the wide field between intentionality and non-intentionality as possible.
cause for mourning
I learned yesterday that Bob Cobbing has died.

When I was first exposed to that bizarre and beautiful phenomenon called sound poetry, I was in the basement of the Grain Exchange building with twelve other people. That night was a revelation for me; I remember sitting dumbfounded as I heard Paul Dutton gradually transform the word "warship" into the sound of an ironclad chugging through the waters of the Great Lakes. I remember being astonished by the verve, wit and magnetism of the poet who followed him. He was a diminutive, kindly, grandfatherly sort of man whose poetry transfigured him into a whirling dervish. He brought more energy and proficieny to that tiny art-gallery stage than most performers -- in any discipline -- ever dream of doing.

That man was Bob Cobbing, and it's only in the years since that I've come to understand just how much of an honour it was to be in that tiny room, with that tiny crowd.

He will be missed.