Monday, April 20, 2009


"Poets who cling to a 'dark-horse' romantic investment in their own maladjusted anti-sociality ... and complain bitterly about nepotist publishing practices, cliquishness, etc. often seem to be longing for a poetic universe in which each poet is one omnipotent god complete unto him-/herself, and somehow the whole cosmos of solipsists is supposed to integrate magically into a heaven of objective purity, uncontaminated by things like friendship, desire, ambition, flattery, and other human diseases."
- K. Silem Mohammad, in an interview with Tom Beckett for e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s


  1. What a fantastic quote. I had a similar discussion at Lime Tree with K Saleem Muhammed. "in which each poet is one omnipotent god complete unto him-/herself" This is absolutely true, it is written into the history of art which is on of creating worlds out of words. There is no reason for him to drape this truth into his cliched description of something he doesn't like. Nor present his alternative of what poetry whould be.
    I don't like these guys, Stu, Silliman all of them, Flarfff, post avante, I mean think about it, 'post-avant' what comes after what comes before. They have presented the most nihilistic and cynical point of view of what poetry could be and have pontificated on it for years and they are both second rate academics whose own poetry is unreadable. Now you can call that a rant or an emotional bashed out comment. But I tell you this, it makes a lot more sense than most of their posts and poetics.

  2. I dont mind if you don't let the comments out, Stu. I'm only talking to you. "complain bitterly about nepotist publishing practices, cliquishness," explain to me how this bit is logically connected to the rest of it? It's not, he is just trying to answer all his critics at once by lumping them in all in together. And believe me he and Silliman have had thousands of critics which they just ignore. They are arrogant tossers who are only famous because they were the first poetics bloggers and got a head start in the google juice but whose poetry is as ugly and empty and unreadable as is possible. They brook no dissent and anyone who argues that it is possible for language to do more than talk about language, anyone who argues for beauty, meaning is insulted in the same snide way this quote does.
    And everywhere I see them I oppose them passionately, because I love poetry and they have made it ugly.
    Look carefully at that quote, Stu, deconstruct it and figure out what it is saying. It is just a way of insulting people who disgree with him. That's all it is.

  3. Maybe the in-fighting amongst poets can be entertaining on some kind of voyeuristic level, but I don't have any overwhelming desire to wave any banners or get involved in any battles, except perhaps as a peacemaker. I might be happy to go in to bat for experimental poetry, but I'd be just as happy to go in to bat for the fact that other poetries have their place. The middle way all the way.

    As for Silliman being unreadable... I read 'The Age of Huts (compleat)' and found one section ('2197') opaque, but overall I found the book fascinating on many levels. As for describing Silliman or the post-avants as 'ugly'... well, I'm all for ugliness in art, whether we're talking about Francis Bacon, The Stooges, Peter Reading, or whatever. Then again, I suspect you're not referring to the representation of ugliness, but rather 'ugliness of representation' (for want of a better terminology)? So maybe Andy Warhol would be a better example? I can see the link between Warhol-esque camp and Flarf.

    If I'm going to use my energy to rail against something, it won't be this or that poetic which 'passes itself off as poetry'. I find all the hysteria surrounding language poetry, flarf, the post-avants, Silliman, the so-called School of Quietude, etc a bit of a joke, at times akin to religious fanaticism: “our form of poetry is the only true poetry; this poetry is the work of the devil” ... “Avert your eyes children, he may take on other forms!" (to quote from The Simpsons). I don't know, it all just seems to pale into insignificance when I switch on SBS news.

  4. How are they going to "integrate magically into a heaven of objective purity"? without existing, friendship, desire, ambition, flattery.
    Is it not about sex, as usuall, cause there is no desire.
    It should be about about hatred, revenge and envy (lovely reason to relate with a person)

  5. Thanks for the link to the K. Silem Mohammad interview. I like him a lot. He has two great poems in issue 22 of Salt Hill that you should check out.

  6. Thanks Mariana and Dana. I'll be sure to check out Salt Hill.

    Mohammad's ironies aside, I think there are still questions to be asked about what he calls 'maladjusted anti-sociality' with respect to poets/artists - namely how is this ‘maladjustment’ perpetuated? To what extent does it still figure in the mythologies surrounding contemporary poetry and art, and to what extent is it the result of intentional (self-)mythologising activities? Has it become unfashionable (perhaps due to being co-opted by the emo phenomenon?!) Is it simply a difficult phase to be worked through by young artists? On the other hand, what about artists who are mentally ill and may have limited capacity for adjustment?

  7. It seems that Mohammad is arguing for the proliferation of "schools" of poetry and poetic "movements". He believes that the independent, original, self-defined poet is "maladjusted" and "anti-social". His "desire" and "ambition" and need for "flattery" seem to have gotten the best of him as an artist.

  8. Thanks for dropping by, DC.

    I'm intrigued by the way everyone is interpreting this quote.

    So you think Mohammad, in calling for others to make a reality check, exposes his own need for a reality check?

    Seems he's hitting a nerve, anyway.

    'His "desire" and "ambition" and need for "flattery" seem to have gotten the best of him as an artist.'

    But isn't he trying to subvert the psychology of the poet? Is any artist actually 'above' these needs/drives? Don't artists, through their 'public persona', try to downplay, divert and deflect attention from such needs and drives? Is this game of holier-than-thou just another form of attention-seeking?

    (I'm taking the devil's advocate spirit of the Mohammad quote and running with it...)

  9. Justify nepotism? I can imagine a world without nepotism and cliqueishness and in which no-one is "longing for a poetic universe in which each poet is one omnipotent god complete unto him-/herself". It would be a world in which editors made the distinction between the writer and the work. Where work got published because of its quality instead of being published cos the editor recognises the poet's name. Justify 'nepotism'? Why would anyone want to do that? No-one discusses these issues, like who wins Aus poetry competitions, why Adamson's obviously ineligible book got shortlisted etc etc because everyone is so scared of being on the wrong end of the 'n' word. Is there nepotism in the Australian Poetry industry? Is there anything else?

  10. I disagree - these issues are discussed.

    If they weren't, why would the editors of Cordite, Going Down Swinging and Five Bells have opted to read submissions 'blind' (i.e. with no knowledge of the author's name)?

    I would like to see more journals and magazines take up this practice.

  11. I would love to see a public discussion of these issues, Stu. If you see one anywhere, throw me a link. Why was Adamson's obviously ineligible but beautiful book shortlisted?
    Is there nepotism at work in Australian poetry?
    Is it justifiable?
    I don't see them anywhere. The fact is if write a poem and submit in your name, and you write one and submit in my name... wanna try it?

  12. I presume you're talking about the Age Book of the Year and the Dinny O'Hearn Poetry Prize which forms part of it. If you actually read the entry conditions you'll see that Adamson's book was eligible. Chris Wallace-Crabbe won the prize in 1995 for his 'Selected Poems 1956-1994'. Whether the conditions should be changed so that selected or collected volumes are ineligible - well that's another matter.

    Not sure what submitting to journals with our names swapped would prove either. Do you think I'm some kind of 'name' poet?

  13. Or you meant the C J Dennis Award?

    Looking at the judges' comments on the shortlist, it seems they were judging only the new work in Adamson's collection?

    Presumably they were doing the same with Tranter's Urban Myths back in 2006, although I didn't think the new work in that collection was particularly strong.

  14. Not yet, but you should be. I think it would be a fun experiment to swap names. I'm thinking of submitting a whole heap of parody poems in various names. Viva Dada! I mean short listed for the C J Dennis prize.