Well, as this blog isn’t exactly dead, I thought it might be a good idea to check in. After all, I’ve been in New York since August, and you, dear reader(s?) might be vaguely wondering what’s going on with yours truly. On the poetry front…
In one sense, quite a bit is going on. The Raintown lacks only a couple of reviews coming in to get to the printer, and the submissions come in every day. Or at least most days. It’s never quite even. But it does generate a fair bit of work.
My book, Across the Grid of Streets, continues to sell at a trickle. There’s a review in the latest Iota over in Britain that I haven’t read yet. But at least it’s notice, eh?
The thing I anticipated happening more when I came back that hasn’t so much in actual fact would be, well, the readings. I went to a ton of the things in August of 2008. I got to know the underwhelming beer list at the KGB Bar reasonably well, darkened the door of the Bowery Poetry Club a couple of times, spoke briefly to David Lehman once, and generally…
Got bored shitless. The more established poets were, in the main, the generally competent purveyors of McPoetry that you would expect. Okay. Whoopedydoo. Par for the course. And some, to be fair, were actually good. But many of the “younger” poets (which seems to generally mean thirtysomethings like me) running around New York are wankers.
Harsh? Yes. Undeserved? Christ, no!
Let’s assume that a certain degree of callowness and self-centeredness are acceptable vices in the thirtysomething poet. Indeed, from a certain point of view, they aren’t vices at all. One could even argue that these are fairly general characteristics of artsy-fartsy types, but that such words get bandied at the relative young’uns for reasons of lack of gray hair or whatever. Fine. But that’s not really what I’m talking about.
The more “experimental” poets I heard on those late summer evenings fell into two camps. In the first camp were those whose pieces read like class notes from a graduate seminar on Baudrillard or some such. Which might be interesting if you’ve read a bit of linguistic-turn theory but not that much of it. And while I found this a bit dull and flat and bloodless and prosy, it was the other lot who really bugged me.
We’ll call this bunch the overaged stoner bunch (whether they indulge or not). When one is a teenager and into books and writing and so on, one will almost inevitably have that one friend (or maybe several) who will ring one up at some point in a lather of excitement, barking, “Man, you gotta check this out dude! Can you believe I wrote this while tripping balls ON ACID?” And as one looks around in horror to make sure that the parents didn’t hear that last bit (which was yelled), one’s friend launches into it. And it is generally a bunch of pseudo-surrealist vaguely word-associational bullcrap that probably made perfect sense at the time of writing but that sounds, well, like the ravings of a sixteen-year-old ON ACID twenty-four to forty-eight hours later. One does one’s best to say something nice before making an excuse to get off the phone.
Of course, for the sixteen-year-old kid on acid, this is done rather ingenuously. He or she (though usually he) has no grand theories about semiotics or rupturing the linearity of Western thought or what have you. And when you get someone twice that teenager’s age reading something that sounds remarkably similar, you hope to Christ that there is such a theory operating and that you’re not just listening to the psychotropic effusions of a thirty-two-year-old acid-head. Because it would just be too pathetic without a bit of dodgy theory behind it.
As for the mainstreamers (though most younger poets at New York readings tend to like a bit of a patina of “experimentalism” in their work), well, it’s the same old McPoem stuff that’s been boring the hell out of us for thirty years. Just in a bit more of a freewrite form.
And I should note that I’m not talking about the open mic scene here, where things can get far worse… but, in patches, much better, too. I’m talking about the periodic readings by “emerging” writers, frequently under the auspices, directly or indirectly, of the New School or NYU (the Gog and Magog of the New York City literary scene). And yes, perhaps, in a dozen or so readings, I just got unlucky, but the crapola was sufficiently general that aside from an occasional feature of my own and periodic forays to various open mics, I’ve kept a relatively low profile.