Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A couple months ago, there was uproar over Flarfist Michael Magee’s ill-conceived Orientalist poem "Their Asian Glittering Guys. I haven’t the energy to summarize the debacle but you can read Tim Yu’s eloquent reaming of Magee’s piece here.

Since then, minority poets and theorists in the Bay area have galvanized to begin a discussion group on the buried yet tense intersections between the primarily white practitioners of the avant-garde and race. Now, much criticism has been devoted to the exclusionary tactics of official verse culture but little ink has been spilled on how the historical Avant-Garde and its present torch carriers are not exactly progressive minded themselves. Case in point is how Flarf defenders of Magee’s poem have used Postmodern rhetoric (roving subjectivity, pastiche, lack of authorship and the old-fashioned “some of my best friends are Asian poets!”) to deflect responsibility in owning up to the poem’s Orientalist content. Again much of this is deeply explored in Yu’s blog and responses by Chris Chen, Pamelu Lu, Arif Khan and others.

I also hate to point out the cheatingly obvious, but poets of color are as much in the fringes of post avant-garde culture as much as they are in official verse culture,* perhaps more so. Harryette Mullen, whose work I actually adore, is one of few minority poets who receives the most Langpo PR and I wonder how it’s any different from Academy of American Poetry embracing Yusef Komunyakaa to legitimize their institution as multicultural. I’m also tired of conversations where experimental minority poets are often demoted to being ethnic derivations of their white peers (the true formal innovators)—for instance, Myung Mi Kim being the Korean Susan Howe. Although white experimental poets exile themselves to the margins, they reproduce a hierarchicalizing infrastructure that’s not so different from the machine they are rebelling from.

Of course, it’s all up to poets themselves to begin communities, much like the Bay area listserv. And to contradict myself, I do think these are exciting times. Groups are popping up who do not identify themselves by strict identity politicky markers, nor who are straight white males who use theory to bulwark their experimental poetics, but who fuse formal invention, theory, with global politics, history and ethnicity--poets of diverse backgrounds who hammer out their own explosive aesthetics. The excellent Black Took Collective, an experimental offshoot of Cave Canem poets, is one. Action, Yes, integrates formal innovation with internationalism and translations. There are the Russians at Ugly Duckling. There are individual poets like Cecilia Vicuna, Ed Roberson, Tyrone Williams, Barbara Jane Reyes, etc and etc. They are scattered but out there, and I only expect there will be more.

*A caveat: I realize that official verse culture and the experimental camps are often bed partners and that poetry as a whole is one cramped, labyrinthine, incestuous muddle of quibbling groups.


At 7:49 AM , Blogger Lee Herrick said...

Cathy, you've captured much of what frustrated and/or angered me about the poem, and I agree with you about Tim's fantastic post. I liked yours here as well.

I found your blog through Barbara Jane Reyes' and look forward to reading more. And I definitely look forward to Dance Dance Revolution. Congratulations on it.

At 12:15 PM , Blogger hyperpoesia said...

Xcp: Cross-cultural Poetics is a good journal where experimental writers of color are foregrounded. Any others? Tripwire? A Gathering of the Tribes (are they still publishing)? Ratapallax?

At 3:07 PM , Blogger thom donovan said...

i'm not sure Cathy. haven't read Mike's piece but something tells me it is more complex re "identity politics" than you may be making out knowing a little his scholarly work abt intersections between avant-garde, race, and Am. Pragmatism. i think Flarf (and i suspect Mike's piece) may need rethinking in the wake of its recent gallery at Jacket and reading tour... is not Flarf taking up the rhetorical strategies (however pseudo-aleatorically) deeply embedded in the American Avant-Garde, where LANGUAGE (post NAP)is less an effect of the importation of post-Structuralism than of an ongoing Pragmatist tradition invested in speech effects and rhetorical negotiation? i see Flarfists working after recent poets of intersubjective *quilting points*--not least of which we may consider to be LANGUAGE editors Bernstein and Andrews. (see *Shut Up I Don't Have Any Papers* or most any of Charles' 80's/90's books.) not simply "pastiche," or ecstatic deauthorizations (however there seems nothing wrong with these per se), but a presentation of cultural, economic, and political antagonisms through the deployment of clashing, antinomous language bits. LANGUAGE (and likely Flarf) may act allegorically in this regard: letters ventriloquy locating the blindspots of interpollated subjects, and sounding the subaltern as tho by sonar (that is, inversely) in this respect...


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