Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bob Perelman's "JOKE!" 

The recent Jerome Rothenberg event in Philadelphia is where he told his "joke" about younger poets, and you can listen or watch (MP3 or video) at this link:


You will want to use the link to the second day for the Rothenberg conversation and Q&A with Al Filries. Perelman appears about three quarters through, or more. BUT PLEASE LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION AND Q&A, it's TERRIFIC! (In particular I liked Lee Ann Brown’s question for Rothenberg, you’ll want to hear this entire event!)

But when Bob Perelman tells his "joke" Rothenberg is talking about the fact that having been involved with poetry for a very long time that it's hard for him to keep in touch with everything that’s going on now. He then says to Perelman sitting close by that after his own generation, and Bob's generation, that the newer poets… And then Bob finishes Rothenberg’s sentence for him with, "--you mean that they all write alike!"

I was sitting in that room with the rest of the audience. There was a gasp, and I know that it wasn't my gasp alone!

Rothenberg then shakes his head and laughs nervously and says NO NO NO NO, they don’t all write alike, that's not what I'm saying!

And then Al Filreis says, "You heard it here first, Bob Perelman says you all write alike, that's P-E-R-E-L-M-A-N."

Bob takes the microphone at that point, and the first thing he says is that he was just JOKING when he said younger poets all write alike. Then it's forgotten.

But not forgotten.

I remember very clearly the tone he used, which is why it was an arrow strike. But maybe that WAS part of the "joke." ? I listened to it again online just the other night, and it was pretty much fashioned like a quick, pointed statement.

Could it be that the reaction he was feeling from the rest of the audience, and Rothenberg's reaction, and Filreis's reaction, made him turn it into a joke?

Am I accusing Bob Perelman of lying? Well, maybe a white lie. A save-face lie.

BUT MAYBE HE'S NOT LYING. OK, maybe it WAS a joke.

Let's suppose it WAS a joke. HOW is such a joke funny, and who was it funny for I ask? Why would it be funny? Is it funny because it's something he has heard before and he DOES NOT AGREE with it but is MOCKINGLY saying younger poets all write alike IN DEFENSE of younger poets?

Is Bob Perelman the GREAT champion of younger poets? Is he coming to the rescue by making a joke of the joke of others who are ACTUALLY NOT joking?

And who are these others, if there are others?

Hmmm. Who is saying such things in Perelman's presence that would upset him so much he feels compelled to joke TO DEFEND YOUNGER POETS!? Is Bob Perelman thinking, "Well, they’re simply NOT reading younger poets if they think THAT!"

Because clearly, in my mind, SOMEONE is NOT reading younger poets if they think that, because I read a lot of poets my age and younger, and there's NO WAY I would ever say we're all writing alike! But WHO is thinking this, and saying this out loud in front of Bob Perelman? We need to THANK Bob of course for making that "joke" on our behalf. AND SO PUBLICLY I want add, into a microphone while the video camera and sound equipment was mowing down his sound particles to SEND HIS BRAVE message to those who would DARE attack the younger poets!

What is ACTUALLY funny about the joke for me is how over the years I've defended Bob and his friends when people have said that the LANGUAGE Poets all write alike. This is something I've heard consistently. I heard it when I was a teenager before I knew who they were and what they were thinking and writing. Lucky for me I've always been someone who wants to check out what everyone is being such a Hater about.

Eventually I had read enough and was prepared enough to confront this statement, "What are you talking about!? Who have you read!? What have you read!?" Not once did one of these parrots have an answer which led me to believe that they had ACTUALLY read a single LANGUAGE Poet! They were merely repeating some bullshit statement their bullshit poetry workshop leaders (who ALSO I'M SURE did not read ANYTHING by a single LANGUAGE Poet!) had said.

BECAUSE, REALLY, if you think they all write alike have you actually READ THEM? If you sat down with poems by Armantrout, Silliman, Pearson, and Hejinian, and there were no names on the poems, you would know who wrote what, or at least would notice these to be four very distinct voices. Poetry is a tea party to some, it seems! A fancy luxury instead of indispensable investigation! I say it seems to be this to those who would make such ridiculous statements about LANGUAGE Poets for being LAZY readers and half-assed, half-interested poets! And now I also say it to those ill-read gossips behind Bob Perelman's "joke."

In the end younger poets must learn to persevere, like the LANGUAGE Poets have, because I FOR ONE feel poets of my generation and younger are writing some pretty damned HOT poems! I wouldn't trade this time with any other!



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