Saturday, April 01, 2006

Poetry Snark Exposed!

(Thanks to Dood Abides from DailyKos.)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Revell Redux: For Poetry Snark's Biggest Fan

Hey folks, I know this is an old post, but I've had a special request from a fan, so here it is again:

First of all, let's all welcome Ginger Pennebaker to the main page. After much coaxing and cajoling, Ginger has finally skipped her way out of the comments section and joined Trochee and myself on the front line. (Speaking of Trochee, where the fuck have you been these last weeks? You there Trochee?) Now if we can only get Bill Blood out here, we could have a real cirque du snarke on our hands. On second thought, I'm not sure if the front page is ready for Blood. T'would certainly confuse first-time visitors...

Also, sometime around 1:00AM Thursday morning we had our 10,000th hit--not bad for a little over two months of blogging on a site that doesn't feature porn. Also, I added a new link to this utterly bizarre site I stumbled upon: I really don't know how to describe this beast. You have to see for yourself.

Onward to today's snark!

Any of our fair readers who have had the experience of listening to Donald Revell speak about poetry have surely heard his erudition on the subject of metaphor and simile: to whit, he thinks they should be avoided at all cost. Taking the hard-line from Adorno and Levinas (I suppose) he insinuates that to see the world through metaphor leads to barbarism. You've probably heard this before from some sanctimonious self-proclaimed expert on humanity, even if you haven't heard it from Mistah Revell--the idea is that when we don't see the world--and especially people--directly, we risk not seeing them at all, reducing them to the status of "other" and thus engendering the kind of situation that allowed the Holocaust. To which I say: what a load of shit. And then furthermore, quit exploiting the Holocaust to inflate your language--or to scare people into agreeing with you. Mr. Revell, you know that this is total bullshit. Or you should...

Exhibit a) you say that we shouldn't see the world obliquely through simile and metaphor, but your favorite 20th-Century American poet is ... John Ashbery? WTF! Oh yeah, Ashbery never uses metaphor... That "convex mirror," that "wave" that "flow chart"--those were things as they are (not played upon the blue guitar). When it comes to avoidance of metaphor, your boy should be Dr. Williams, but then again, even he succumbed to the urge, as in "The Yachts."

Exhibit b) your own poems--from Erasures: "my friends / become other animals / or fanatic labyrinths." We can let the "animals" part slide, but "labyrinths?" Smells like a metaphor to me. Does that mean you're now going to see your friends as objects and, consequently, soon kill them? From The Gaza of Winter: "I think that death / is a half lake and the view from there / opens under sky like a sparrow's mouth..." Here we get a metaphor that evolves into a simile... I'm starting to get confused ... when is it OK to use metaphor? When we're not talking about something important like human mortality? Oh wait, that was death you were making metaphor of ... er, uh... From Beautiful Shirt: "The sons that I might have instead of money. / Their hands are the entire sky / over the toy town, dark as only innocence, / that perfect destroyer, is dark." Well, now that the son's hands are a "sky over the toy town" instead of real hands, I can crush them with this big rock!

You get the idea. I suppose, it's really all just another example of glib misuse of half-understood theory. Here's the short version of the story: feeling impotent in a culture that ignores what they say, intellectuals use the inflated language of theory to presume profound meaning when there is none, to place enormous political consequence on things that have little-to-none (like American poetry). It makes us feel important, which I suppose we all need from time to time. But Auden got it right: poetry is that which makes nothing happen. The bad news is that the latest anthology of poems against the latest war isn't going to do a fucking thing to stop that war. The good news is that you can use metaphor and simile without worrying about it turning you into a Nazi.