I'm back from the fun and festivities of LA, sitting here with Lester who is doing some post-shower preening. I thought I'd write my thoughts on the comments to my post below on Ariana Reines' Coeur de Lion here instead of in the comments box.
Emotional nakedness in writing can be incredibly interesting. I’m also intrigued by Q’s comment about manipulation, sincerity, and vulnerability. The writing I love most takes risks—sometimes these risks veer more towards intimate emotional vulnerability and sometimes they’re more formal. The writing I like most often plays with some kind of a tension between these two things, and (again), Bellamy’s work is a good example of that—I’m thinking right now of The Letters of Mina Harker, Cunt Ups, and also her recent collection of essays, Academonia. Her subject matter is a choice, and I’d argue that she’s very much in control of it—it’s neither purely conceptual nor unregulated emotional nakedness. She chooses what to write about, what is edited out (or in), appropriates and changes texts, connects them to her own experiences, etc. I suppose I’m trying to say that her work is both emotionally and formally complex, and I see a lot of similarities between the concerns in her work and, for example, Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, or even Charles Bernstein’s poem "Sentences my Father Used." There’s a lot of personal detail and information in both, and all three writers have a deep commitment to understanding personal experience, and questioning how that experience can be and is represented. Nick Piombino is a writer often associated Language poetry and also a practicing psychotherapist. He’s spent much of his life exploring emotion. His book from Green Integer, Theoretical Objects, is one of my favorites.
I’ve also heard the story about someone suggesting that Bellamy see a therapist after reading her writing. In fact, I’m drawn back to that anecdote again and again. The suggestion that she see a therapist was certainly meant as an insult, and whenever I hear people talk about it they also seem to feel like it was an insult. However, in my perfect world, everyone would see a good psychotherapist. Thinking about, understanding and questioning the structures and narratives behind feelings and emotions doesn’t make those feelings and emotions less real or intimate—instead it can create other possibilities for expressing them and connecting to others. That’s probably another characteristic of the writing I’m most interested in: I like writing that investigates structures of emotion and experience with attention to social and cultural contexts. The poems I love most question their own assumptions and make me question mine.
The ways a poem might question its own assumptions and require its audience to question theirs really depends on the context of the poem. Avant-garde writing isn’t about a specific set of aesthetic moves. It’s about a risky investigation of assumptions—and that investigation involves taking risks in both the form and content of the poem.
Here’s a section from “Avant-Garde Deodorant,” an essay that always makes me feel cheerful. You can find in Mark’s book Haze: Essays, Poems, Prose.
“When it comes to deodorant, I’ve always preferred Gillette’s Avant Garde to either Academic Speed Stick or Bureaucratic Sure. But this may just be personal preference.
“However, the question of the forum, ‘What Does It Mean To Be Avant Garde?’ confuses me. Avant Garde is the deodorant I use, but I’m not at all sure how a person can be a deodorant.
“In any case, it sees clear that one uses a deodorant in order NOT TO STINK. After you take a shower, rub it back and forth under your arm, and the world’s your oyster, that is at least if you believe the commercials.
“Of course, the problem of whether or not you stink has a lot to do with other people. After all, for the most part it will be them, not you, who will notice what you smell like. So whether you stink or not is a matter of social mores…”
A risk in a poem is only a risk in context (a social context, a cultural context, a political context, a gendered context, a linguistic context, a psychological context, a historical context…usually some combination of all of the above and more). The term “avant-garde” itself is tangled up in a variety of contexts, and I’m not interested in stabilizing it.