Thursday, June 09, 2005
It brings up something though that's been bugging me for some time, which is the way some poets attempt to relate to Rothko. Actually, not just Rothko but other modern painters, artists, here, let me just say this:
There are poets in the School O' Quietude (as Silliman calls them) who RAIL against experimentation in poetry, but embrace modern art. And of course brand it all LANGUAGE, not knowing a fucking thing about LANGUAGE as it turns out. One poet with MANY degrees, and who is a well known teacher of poetry all over the USA actually once told me she doesn't care for Alice Notley's poems because she "just can't stand all that LANGUAGE poetry!" Huh? Alice Notley a LANGUAGE poet? What on earth is going on here?
Anyway, besides the fact they don't seem to know ANYTHING about what's really going on in poetry despite their vastly funded institutions, they have the sense of what visual art has been doing for the last century, and champion it, and argue about it, and for it, yet act like ANYone doing ANYthing other than straight narrative or revisiting forms of yore is just an idiot. The word idiot gets used, I've heard it, in amazement.
For instance, here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about:
Brand new poetry book by Alicia Suskin Ostriker titled NO HEAVEN. Now I must admit there's a poem in there about Ginsberg that is lovely. But for the most part it's really a book of the same old tricks in every single issue of Poetry magazine, yet it has a (yes it's true) MARK ROTHKO painting on the cover!
I was excited to see the ROTHKO on the cover until I opened the book! I was reading from the first line of the first poem, "She slips like a cat through traffic" and.... I'm not being mean, but I am being honest when I say that similes make me gag. Most of them. 99% of them. It's so rare to find a simile that excites me, and when I do find one that excites me I'm filled with amazement that I'm excited, then just try to enjoy it for all its worth. But seriously, similes, especially like this one above from this new book, ah man, no, I don't like it. "She slips like a cat through traffic...." Oh brother! It just feels so lazy to me, a line like this. Anyway, this is not a review of the book, and mostly I don't say anything if I don't like a book, BUT, this book dares, DARES put ROTHKO on the cover.
This is Mark Rothko, harsh beauty Mark Rothko. Let's revisit that quote Frank Sherlock shared with us, "To those who find my paintings serene, I'd like to say that I have trapped the most absolute violence in every square centimeter of their surface."
This is Rothko on the cover, the face of the book is given to HIM, and the man's painting us gateways, so it's a door, sinister door, and it's on the COVER of this book, and opening the book is wanting to see what's on the OTHER SIDE of the gate, and you know what, I'm not seeing it, I'm NOT seeing it when reading here! It's Rothko, and I'm opening onto poems dedicated to Elizabeth Bishop, etc., etc., etc., simile after simile....
How can you like Rothko and then NOT want anything at all to do with the experiment of poetry, see and feel all the ways poetry really pumps the blood and breath? How is it that poetry must not be challenged, and I mean NOT challenged at all! I've had friends, very talented friends go into school for poetry and come out writing something with all the edges shaved off. Ah, man, I wanted to glue the edges back on, and we'd get into these ridiculous arguments about poetry that made me think there was brainwashing involved. Anyway....
I'm not talking about Temple of course. In fact I'm very grateful we have the people teaching at Temple that we do, or this city would be hard to be with. And now that Bernstein is at Penn it's a relief all the bases are covered. Philadelphia is a sharp knife, and deserves Rothko's delicious cutting open.