Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Absent Magazine and the Youth of Today

Issue Two of Absent Magazine is now available online:


featuring poetry by Jasper Bernes, Charles Bernstein, Regis Bonvicino, Jack Boettcher, Tim Botta, Julia Cohen, Shanna Compton, John Cotter, Shafer Hall, Lisa Jarnot, Pierre Joris, Joan Kane, Noelle Kocot, Jason Labbe, Kathleen Ossip, The Pines, Matthew Rohrer, Kate Schapira, Mathias Svalina, Kathryn Tabb, Allison Titus and Betsy Wheeler.

in translation with Sergei Kitov and Octavo Paz.

musical work by Aaron Einbond.

prose by Joe Amato, Peter Ciccariello, Simon DeDeo, Adam Golaski, Kent Johnson, Amy Newman, Davis Schneiderman and Tyler Williams.

edited by Elisa Gabbert and Simon DeDeo; with great gratitude to Irwin Chen and his class at Parsons School of Design in New York City.

work solicited for issue three: please read guidelines at:
http://absentmag.org/issue02/html/guidelines.html * letters to the editor solicited: please read http://absentmag.org/issue02/html/letters.html


Absent seems to me one of a number of intriguing online magazines (Melancholia's Tremulous Deadlocks is another) being edited by young writers. Magazines published by up-and-coming writers provide excellent insights, I think, into the ways a new generation of writers sees both themselves and their relationship to the larger environments of poetry--and often to the environment of their predecessors in particular.

I remember the combination of interest and suspicion that publications I was involved with through the 90s received from writers both of my own generation and of previous generations. Some of you may recall that conversation could be pretty intense and heated. One of the things I remember deciding for myself at that time was that when I was older, I was never going to become one of those "What's All This Then?" people who seemed to come right out of a Monty Python skit. I thought, when it's my turn to be an "older poet" (and we'll leave aside the problematics of that term, or not, as you will), I'm going to do my best to be interested in what comes afterwards, and not to try to force it to be like what me and my own generation were engaged in doing.

So, anybody have a good reading of the area and range of interests being traced in a magazine issue like this issue of Absent? What exactly are the Youth of Today up to?

Answers to this question should begin with phrases like: "When I read this magazine, what I see in the Youth of Today is..."

Or, if you are one of the Youth of Today, things like "Speaking as one of the Youth of Today, I can really relate to this magazine because..." or "As a proud Youth of Today, I have to say that this magazine in no way really represents the interests of today's youth because..."

My apologies to the editors for putting it this way; my own giddiness is no reflection on their work. It's just that the first week of school makes me feel like (as they used to say in my neighborhood when I was still a Youth of Today) "someone has just gone upside my head with a board." I am genuinely interested in people's takes on this issue.


Small Fry said...

I am a Youth of Today (YOT) who has just reread Simon DeDios essay, "Towards an Anarchist Poetics" that was in issue 1 of Absent magazine.

Several of my fellow YOTs have recommended Absent to me as a good magazine for the YOT that attempts articulate and consider poetics. So, I reread that essay by DeDios because he is an editor of Absent and because I though it would be a good way of thinking through what we YOTs are about.

I haven't been wowed with the poetry thus far in Absent. But I am impressed with the magazine's interest in poetry and poetics. It's not another poetry magazine publishing poetry. I think it has a sense of it's editorial goals. I like this.

I can't provide a response to DeDios' essay here, that would take too long. It's a smart essay, I think, that makes a case for the neccessity of an anarchic poetics. In order to explain his argument, I'd have to reword it in terms of Kristeva's notion of the ethical text, and in LanPo's general interest in making form transparent as a way of making a poem a space of shared communicative interaction between author and reader. Anyway, you can read his essay yourself.

However, when reading it I found that I was frequently confused with his terminology--this is something that regularly happens to me when I'm talking with other YOTs. What do they mean when they say "authentic" or "truth" or "discursive?" I had to pick my way through his essay for this reason.

I got to the end of this essay and

DeDios on Tom Raworth:

"Speech-like strangeness is today somewhat of a cliche, born perhaps out of the diction of John Ashbery. Poems of perlocution arrive at a steadily increasing rate, breaking all rules of rhymic trade. What I believe these poems miss, that Raworth's do not, is the fact that the strangeness of reported speech is infinitely distant from the speech itself.
It is, in other words, impossible to recover the spontaneous vocalization on the page. It dies there, instantly, and its corpse can be interesting, intriguing, focusing, but it cannot be alive. Raworth's poetry, in its transparency of affect, ressurects the spoken as a kind of human machine, where each joint in the jaw is revealed to be handmade."

It was the phrase "transparency of affect" that made me think of Kristeva's idea of the "ethical text," which no one seems to care about any more.

Me on Mina Loy's "Songs to Joannes":

"The frequently conflicting and fractured narratives of loving encounters highlight both the constructed nature of language and by extension the ways in which individuals are subjects of language. In “Songs to Joannes”, the speaker constructs, tests and rejects multiple subjectivities for herself and for Joannes as she seeks to negotiate the tension between loving interaction, artistic creation, and feminist political critique. For Kristeva, “process,” this act of “positing and dissolving meaning and the unity of the subject” in order to make visible the process through which the subject is constructed is the essential element of what she calls an “ethical text.”

This has been a very long and loose response. I suppose my main point is that it wasn't until I got to the end of the essay that I realized I probably agreed with much of what he was saying, because his discourse and terminology was completely different from mine.

So, the YOT, we seem eager to agree with each other, but I think the ways we articulate are poetics are profoundly different.

I did not type this out in word first, so there are probably typos and even grammatically incorrect sentences.

Simon said...

[comment posting issues: this may appear twice sorry!]

Hello Mark -- well I certainly can't speak for anyone but my entire generation.

I think a crucial part of the poetics of the YOT definitely comes in prose or pseudoprose form. As for what this prose does — I think a large part of it is us recovering notions that are out of date or out of fashion in the contemporary academy. (You can see this in my essays in absent, as well as for example in Small Fry's remarks:

It was the phrase "transparency of affect" that made me think of Kristeva's idea of the "ethical text," which no one seems to care about any more.

Quantifying over Kristevas, Small Fry is definitely not alone in having this sensation that the most important ways to talk about poetry have been pushed aside or even hushed up.

To put it another way, YOTs are smart and often prosy and theoretical, but I think the biggest contrast is that despite all of this they feel themselves to be in opposition to the academy. (We YOTs have stories we tell of the old days when avant garde poetry was happily a wing of the comp lit department.)

To put it a third way: "recovery projects", and the notion of neglectorinos, are crucial parts of the moment. Take Juliana Spahr's recovery of Inger Christensen, for example.


Hello Small Fry -- thank you very much for your remarks on my work. (I am DeDeo, not DeDio, but you did get the camel case right.)

As for jargon and picking one's way through loaded words like "authentic": it's difficult. A lot of important communication must of necessity go by indirection; it's more or less successful depending on the reader and the skill of the author.

Small Fry said...

Hello Simon DeDeo, I'm actually K. Lorraine Graham. I apologize for getting your name wrong in several different ways--I was tempted to proof my post before posting, but feared that if I did, I would not actually post it. Hence the sloppiness.

I'm not sure I feel in opposition to the academy, as such.

For the most part, I don't think avant-garde poetry has ever really had much of a place in academia. That it kind of has one now speaks to how certain forms of discourse that used to seem threatening in academic contexts are not as threatening.

However, most interesting poets with PhDs and an interest in avant-garde poetry are not being hired for academic jobs. Or if they are, it's often in spite of their interest in avant-garde poetry, not because of it. But I don't have statistics, so I can't actually prove that.

My point about jargon is a bit obvious, I admit. In certain contexts, when someone says "form" or "discursive," I know exactly what they mean, especially if they're a poet coming from a clear post-language perspective.

What I find interesting about my recent interactions with fellow YOTs is that we often do not share the same terminology at all, and yet we are still talking to each other. It's good. But puzzling.

Simon said...

There is definitely a diversification of shop talk. To me this is because of the essentially insurgent nature of what's going on. I attribute this to a decline in the authority of a particular subset of the academy previously charged with "managing" the avant garde. (I totally get that you dispute this, of course!)

The academic market for theorists of the avant garde has always been extremely tight; I think the change now is that we are less impressed and centered around the one or two who do rise to prominence.

Whatever you think about my grumpiness with the quasi-mythical "academy" I quarrel with in my head, though, I think my remarks about recovery stand!

mark wallace said...

Hi Simon and Lorraine:

Thanks for this very helpful exchange. We could certainly talk a long time about the relationship between the academy and the notion of the avant garde, but on the other hand, I'm more interested right now in the specific ideas re literature that the fine, upstanding Youth of Today is bringing to my attention.

I'd love to hear more about this "proseyness" that Simon locates among some younger poets. What causes/reasons if any for this tendency?

Also, re neglectorinos and the idea of recovering ideas neglected by the academy. Are there significant ways in which this differs from what academic scholars/critics themselves do, which is often to create a niche by rejecting a currently common paradigm or adding a new wrinkle to one, or to unearth a writer or text which the academic field has failed to consider? For instance I remember how when I was in graduate school the new rise in interest in popular literature led many students to rush out to find just that right mediocre 18th century novelist who no one had written on yet but whose work did shed insight on the era.

And also, though I think Simon has given an implicit answer here, I'm assuming that this recovery is occurring not just because the given artist has been neglected (the equivalent of paying $200 for one of the remaining copies of, say, a 1967 psychedelic album that's not really all that good by a band out of Tempe, Arizona) but because the neglected artist is exploring concerns that resonate specifically with the YOT. In other words that it's not simply the fact of being neglected, but that the reason for the neglect tells us in the present something we need to know.

Small Fry said...

I am curious about the "proseyness" as well. This makes me think of a lot of the work I've been seeing in magazines like Tarpaulin Sky or Octopus--although I suppose they tend to publish writers who are not quite YOT--it's often interdiciplinary prose that sometimes moves towards fiction or essay. Anyway, I often like the work in both these magazines.

Would the work of someone like Noah Eli Gordon be an example of the kind of prose you're thinking of?

Simon, you also mentioned Lara Glenum in your essay--I know her work a little, and what I've read I find interesting. Maybe she might also be a good example a YOT who does this kind of work as well?

Ok, my teaching break is over. Back to grammar.

Simon said...

[may appear twice, again, sorry!]

Hi Mark --

I elaborate a little bit more on this at rhubarb here. I don't mean to suggest that recovery projects in general are new, but I do think one of the unique features now the internet-driven, democratized nature of the recovery project: the acolyte of the "forgotten genius" plays a much less central role.

Certainly one way to get fame and fortune in the academy is to "recover" something, and there's plenty of that going on within academe. I don't mean to suggest academia in general is a uniformly awful place. Some of my best friends are academics in the humanities!(tm) But They're Not Like The Others.

There are plenty of things you cannot say within academia (at least, not on the record.) You really can't talk, for example, about authenticity, because to do so would require dumping Derrida's critique of presence. But the most interesting poets today put a laser on it (I'm thinking of someone like Eugene Ostashevsky, for example.) People want to say these things.

As for the proseyness of the Now (just to reassert, I think the fraction of critical-exploratory prose being written by poets is a much greater fraction of the total output.) I think part of this is driven by the decline of the "critical class": again, for a number of reasons, academia has really stopped saying anything useful to poets about poetry [1], and we want something to read.

Also, I think that the fraction of post-graduate educated poets is at near maximum; we are used to prose after years of training. [2] We've found ways to torque the form in much the same way that poets from previous centuries, coming out of a musical tradition, torqued the ballad.

Those are the "genetic" reasons, but I think they get you pretty far!

[1]. Exceptions of course, that I think "prove the rule", include Marjorie Perloff and Helen Vendler.

[2]. A fascinating exception to this is Lisa Robertson, a highly "prosy" poet in places, who I am told never finished college.

mark wallace said...

You're making a lot of interesting points, Simon, both here and on your blog. Thanks.

What you say about authenticity reminds me of some of the debates that occurred in the 90s around the issue of the magazine Apex of the M, which highlighted an interest in spirituality and a poetics of presence in contrast to what, at least according to some of its editors at that time, was the way that language poetries and other recent endeavors in poetics seemed too much to mirror the bureaucratic politics that they were supposedly countering.

Speaking personally, I wasn't quite persuaded by that account, but that's maybe an issue for another time. But I do think it's worth noting that while discussions in poetics are not quite circular, in that new trends do indeed develop, there is I think a certain "return of the repressed" that is often a part of the structure. The term that is being supposedly denied or forgotten gets picked up by somebody, until a point in which that term gets critiqued as the dominant term, and so on. One thing about the profoundly contrarian possibilities of poetics (I see this as a positive feature but it wouldn't change if I didn't) is that the moment you assert a specific terminology, some writers are going to head straight for the opposite terminology.

I do believe that real issues are at stake in these changes, and that those issues don't all come from within the world of poetry. The rise in recent interest in documentary, for instance, clearly comes out of response to the war in Iraq. But for the moment that's another issue.

If I were you, I wouldn't be too surprised that if a successful trend towards authenticity and neglectorinos develops sufficient cache, a poetics of inauthenticity, or one that says we've neglected our modernist classics, can't be too far behind.

In fact things have sped up so much--as you point out--that increasingly all these changes happen faster than ever. Can we imagine a point at which the assertion of a terminology and the counter-assertion happen almost simultaneously? I think that's pretty close to where we're living now.

Simon said...

Very interested to learn about "Apex of the M" — perhaps you can post about this?

"Can we imagine a point at which the assertion of a terminology and the counter-assertion happen almost simultaneously?"

Some might call it a conversation! Again, not to be all 1990s Wired Magazine, but I definitely expect the number of Power Answers — assertions about poetry made in the presence of a power disparity — to continue its internet-driven decline.

editor galaxy said...

this is a subject worth exploring, maybe looking at several journals. perhaps it would be easiest to consider online journals. what about wordfor/word--a very different aesthetic than absent, tho with some crossover. and the new critical journal, open letters? (two of the editors are young.) or cutbank poetry blog (reviews), or cocunt, or hngmn, etc.

adam golaski

editor galaxy said...

ahem! that's coconut. very different from the radical feminist journal cocunt. my error.


mark wallace said...

Thanks for these comments, Adam.

One of the reasons I posted my serious, tongue-in-cheek questions was that I'm outside the context that has created these new publications, and was trying to find some way to gain some insights into what that context was, who are the motivating figures, and what key issues seem at stake. My sense was that somebody from inside the situation could tell me more than I could learn even if I already knew about all the main publications, which I don't.

I appreciate that while Simon has put forward what he sees as some of the key terms and aesthetic concerns, what you're pointing out is that there's not just a field of sameness here. What would you take to be some of the key debates, tensions, pressure points, or maybe just plain differences that you think of as moving through the group of journals that you mention? I'd learn more from your take, and that of others, then I would by making my own analysis from a distance.

douglang said...

Opposition is good.

Opposition to institutions is good because of the nature of institutions (calcification). This includes academia.

Opposition to a previous generation is good, because it tends to challenge assumptions, or, to recognize ways in which innovations have become conventions (for example).

Opposition to a following generation is too often based in defensiveness, and therefore not always good.

I expressed my feelings about generational conflict and getting older some time ago: "Kill the father! Kill the father! Wait a minute! I am the father."

The discussion above was extremely interesting. And it was fun. I shall investigate more. Thanks to all, especially Mark.

editor galaxy said...

Mark, I'm not sure I am in a better position to comment. Looking from the outside in--as I guess you would be--you might be able to parse out connections I find hard to see. Also, as a contributor to several of the journals I mentioned, I'd feel a little uncomfortable criticizing the journals or their contents. I will say that I feel, as a writer, more kinship with word for/word than with absent. and this may strike you as funny, especially considering your initial comment re. your age--I feel older than the group I would generally affiliate with absent--even tho I'm either not, or I'm only a year or two older.

I do see, with my contemporaries, a large group writing new new new york poems, tho few seems to claim the new york poets--or the second gen. ny poets, as major influences. There's a tendancy use the term "experimental" in a very vague way, not applying it to a process of actual experiments with language, but to anything that is surreal or vaguely resembles the work of Language, Black Mountain, and other post-modern poets. My poetry--and I do not have a poem in the current absent, but fiction--is experimental, as I defined the term. And so in that way, I feel outside the group that is represented so strongly in absent, coconut, and hngmn.

Elisa Gabbert said...

Although absent indeed proclaims interest in experimental poetry, as an editor, I just solicit slash take what I like. I'm not really thinking about genre or school -- maybe sensibility, which is more fluid I think.

I too associate Coconut (haven't read Cocunt) and H_NGM_N with a youngisher crowd, but neither makes any mission statement toward experimentalism.

Big M blog said...


Really cool work,and useful for me.