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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ineffective (ii)

Here's a press release I got twice yesterday in my email:
A recession has hit America at such an angle that everything has been called into question. The thoughtlessness of fin de siecle America has been replaced by mistrust, envy, and defensiveness. In this atmosphere, new imperatives emerge: to sort out wheat from chaff, gold from dross, truth from fiction. These imperatives are enacted in solitude, as the poet takes a scalpel to the body of his experiences. Blank's Title of Book is a vivid manifestation of a new, scrupulous American consciousness. It is the effort of a poet to elevate the carnal with intellect, and to create a memorable chiasmus between them. The frigidity of post-modern verse is replaced by a new romanticism, that is not romantic. That is the central endeavor here, and it is performed with panache.

I got quite angry about how bad this was. It makes the argument that a particular piece of writing, in the case a book of poetry, is a necessary gesture at the present historical moment, but it makes this argument so incompetently that we aren't convinced it's going to be a very effective book of poetry. I know, I should calm down, but let's look at what this paragraph is trying to say.

The attempt at historical contextualization at the beginning falls flat. Is it really true that thoughtlessness has been replaced with defensiveness? What does this really mean? isn't there pretty much the same amount of envy and mistrust as there always was? So the desperate imperative is to sort the wheat from the chaff. A resonant biblical metaphor, to be sure, but what does it really mean in this context? Here is comes off as a mere cliché, especially alongside of "gold from dross." The poet performs surgery on himself, presumably a metaphor for self-analysis, but how is that different from what any other poet might do? The romantic genius working in solitude is hardly a new conception of poetry. If there is an imperative, it would be nice to know what it actually is so we can do it.

I'm not sure what "elevate the carnal with intellect" and "create a memorable chiasmus between them" mean. I could parse these phrases in several ways, I know what the rhetorical figure of chiasmus is, but how could I be sure if I'm guessing right? The overgeneralization (the frigidity of post-modern verse) is objectionable to me. What poets are meant here? Isn't postmodernism of Ginsberg and O'Hara hyper-romantic? Lest we think that this new romanticism is romantic, the author sets us straight. But then what is it? "... the central endeavor, carried off with panache" is empty verbiage.

I count five passive verbs here in seven sentences: "has been called into question," "has been replaced," "are enacted," "is replaced," "is performed." I've defended the passive voice many times before, but in this case I won't because I don't think it is effective. (Not that the active verbs are any better here.)

The tone of this passage is filled with passionate intensity, as Yeats would say, but it is lacking in any concrete detail. What are this guy's poems even about? What kind of language do they use? Are they funny? Melodramatic? Self-deprecating? We don't actually know anything about them after reading this summary of their "central endeavor."


Clarissa said...

If this press release was written with the goal of promoting a book, I don't think it will achieve that goal. The piece is pompous and very difficult to understand. "The poet takes a scalpel to the body of his experiences" simply sounds horrible.

I think posts such as this one are very important. There is a lot of grandiloquent, cliche-ridden, empty writing whose authors seem not to realize what a bad impression they make on the readers.

Jonathan said...

They are also very fun to write!

Vance Maverick said...

While indeed terrible, I'm afraid it's really no worse than the usual poetry blurb. Do you think the poet (name easy to discover by Googling any of the text you haven't masked) wrote it himself? Or was it his publisher?