Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More Morin

Wow, that's some hot stuff! Everyone should really check it out - thanks for keying me in on this guy, Aaaon. It's like a fabulous walk down nightmare memory lane.

Save each other, not the world!

Allow me to beat a dead horse. Actually, I like the space that Aaron is opening up in his last entry and I think it might gives us a space to describe in positive terms what our poetry is and can do. What Eric and I have been railing against in Collins’ work has nothing to do with the high culture / low culture divide – mainly b/c one such divide no longer exists. That debate is utterly useless b/c the distinction btw the two has been collapsed – for example, the ballet is now more democratic than professional football, what with luxury seats and all. With poetry, I don’t think that is even the issue – a high and a low. What is more interesting to consider, in my mind, is how a poet like Billy Collins can occupy a place in the national consciousness and not, to use Aaron’s example, Jackson Mac Low.

Aaron asks: “if you got your way and our countrymen started spending their aesthetic free time and dollars on art and poetry that mattered, if high schoolers could appreciate a poem by Jackson Mac Low, if we were NPR's darling poet white boys, would the world be any different?” I would say a resounding “yes”! If that were the case, if highschoolers read Rbt. Creeley and Fanny Howe and Jackson MacLow and a whole host of other poets, then I think this world would be a very much a different place and one for the better. This is not a utopian argument. If this sort of poetry occupied a place in America, it might serve as an example of the myriad ways that one can be a human being – rather than the singular and insipid way the Billy Collins’s of the world argue and present to a readership that takes it at face value. By seeing there are “ways” of being human and present in the world might key people into the ways we construct our world and ourselves and that these things are subject to change, etc. I don’t mean to call this a revolution, but all of us poets live in ways that are very much different b/c of the poetry we read, and I’d say for the better. Poetry can’t save the world, but at least it can make individuals more aware of where they are and who they are with.


Gustave Morin

I found a pretty incredible artist whose work I was introduced to a few months ago but I then had the disadvantage of being his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend. My reaction at the time was that I recognized it was a formidable work but I had hard time seeing much substance in it. I believe he thinks of himself a poet, or at least an artist informed by poetry. He publishes his work in book form and everything I've seen is black and white. Yet I warn: Those insistent on lyric form may not approve! You can download a so-called .pdf trailer of one of his books at the following link:

I'd be curious to see how you felt. I like anything I find arresting, enigmatic, disturbing, and firghtening in the initial exposure. It lets me know there's more to see and discover.



Tuesday, November 29, 2005

End Malaria

I agree that Collins' project is useless and vapid, that he will be quickly and utterly forgotten. I don't agree that mass media coverage in any way corresponds directly to good art. There is not a single national media outlet, especially not the ones being mentioned here: New York Times, NPR, . . .etc. that we can trust as a journalism of the "news that stays news." It is not Billy Collins' fault that Morning Editions gives him this attention, it is media outlet itself. The major outlets are entirely unequipped to deal with the reality of experience, let alone art. I don't think what has been called "alternative poetries" has any value whatsoever, especially not under such an umbrella. What does have value in art is much more complicated than that, in fact it may be defined best as something that resists definition. I still think it's silly to feel underrepresented in mass culture- everyone is underrepresented. Poetry is an antiquated form. Even Hollywood, even football commericials incorporate and borrow from the postmodern project, I have no idea why there's such a conservative bent in poetry. Cognitively speaking, I think it's much harder for one to encounter something difficult and complex in language than it is in film or music for example.

Just don't kill the messenger. Billy Collins was sent to us by the demons and dust of our own experience. Everytime I'm in the mall and I get the shakes and I just want to go home; everytime I hear another fucking bomb explode somewhere- I know there are bigger fish to fry than Billy boy.

What I want to know is this: if you got your way and our countrymen started spending their aesthetic free time and dollars on art and poetry that mattered, if high schoolers could appreciate a poem by Jackson Mac Low, if we were NPR's darling poet white boys, would the world be any different? I don't believe poetry or art exists in a vacuum, that's why you're there reading this. But art is a personalized unquantifiable practice and experience. Our societal code wrongly teaches us to measure and quanitfy everything, and people like Billy Collins are dumb enough to let them. -AL


Billy Collins is more than just the sum of his one person. He stands for something greater, namely the face of American poetry, and the host of poets like him who are propagating the notion that the enterprise of writting a poem should be akin to a group of people sitting around on a couch and sharing feelings a la Oprah. The issue at hand is, are we supposed to sit on the sidelines and be quiet while a chorus of sycophants chants his merits, or do we need to add to the discussion and raise some tough questions. I think that is not only perfectly reasonable to speak out about poets like Collins in public forums like, but that it is vital. Let's be honest, a group of poets writing in small presses contributing a few negative reviews online is not going to put the slightest dink in Mr Collins' steely armor. But the reviews written by patrons of this community (House Press) have been thoughtful, insightful, inquisitive, and funny. I don't sense that we have made any cheap shots, and I certainly don't feel that the reviews or the sentiment behind them come from a standpoint of pretension. It has been many years now that Billy Collins and similar writers have dominated the publishing world and the public perception of poetry and literature. Not everyone will have access to the finest the world of arts and letters has to offer without some real digging. Maybe one person who enjoys Billy Collins will search out some other poets and make up her own mind after reading one of our reviews. And maybe not. I can accept that poets like Collins will be the highest sellers. I can accept that poets like him will be named poet laureate of our country. I can accept that the NPR's and New York Times Book Review's of the world will continue to put him on a pedestal. However, it is important not only that writers like ourselves are writing work that matters, but that we let our voices be heard in the multitude of public forums now available to us. -EU

Response to Poverty

In response to Aaron: Sure, sure – “We don't have to rock the boat when we can sink it directly.” But that ignores a whole set of problems I think it’s easy to ignore. The fact is that Billy Collins and that sort of poetry (and it is a very definable sort) occupies poetry’s place in America. There isn’t a lot of ground to occupy, so we’re left with a very small corner of the map. That’s not to say that I think that the poetry I advocate and write should take a central place in literary America or the popular consciousness, because ALL poetry is marginal. It belongs in the margin, even Billy. It’s not a question of mainstream vs. alternative poetries – it’s a question of legitimation. What I am so much against is that the Collins’s of the world participate in institutions that legitimize their work: the writing workshop, the academy, a whole host of prizes and contests, and publications that give poetry a stamp of approval. What I would argue against is not that Collins necessarily writes like that – although I do take issue with his simulacra of bourgeois experience (as Eric Gelsinger points out in his Amazon review) – it’s that Collins is the most popular example of an institution of poetry that refuses to acknowledge that alternative poetries have any value whatsoever. Russ mentions a great point when he talks about how Collins is the poster child for poetry in the media – even NPR. What that means is that instead of Morning Editions doing a story on what’s new at the Poetry Project this week, or what’s happening in the Chicago world of poetry, that we get a 10 minute interview with Billy Collins. And we do b/c this is America’s poetry.

As for the ownership of language – Aaron’s right on. No one owns the language, but he’s exactly wrong to say “Language is not a privilege, it is universal”. Language is ALL privilege and NOT universal. And this is, at least my point, with attacking Billy Collins – is that he represents and performs a privileged poetry that denies its own privilege. I have to cut this shorter than I’d like to b/c I need to go meet with students – students who I struggle to make understand that poetry CAN be something different from a Billy Collins poem. After all, that’s what they learn in high school and it takes years and a lot of work to correct.

Monday, November 28, 2005

End Poverty

I have to say I really don't understand all this animosity directed at Billy Collins. There's really no end to people who don't deserve their fame and their status, there's no end to people who set negative forces into the lives of many. It strikes me as juvenile to single out Billy Collins. I feel no more ownership of language as a poet than anyone else and I don't think it matters if Billy Collins happens to write cheap or even exploitative poetry and I don't think it matters that people read it. His success has more to do with the huge disparity of arts culture and pop culture in America, and that's the real problem. We are not going to win anybody over by calling them stupid, by telling them they don't know language or that they don't care about language. Language is not a privilege, it is universal. You're simply not allowed to tell someone that what they like is not worth liking. Not only is it pretentious, it's pointless. Wrestling will continue to be wildly popular in this country no matter how many times you tell the kids that its awful. What we need to do is usurp the likes of Collins but indirectly: with the sheer force and magnitude of our own talents and voices. We don't have to rock the boat when we can sink it directly. -AL

Sunday, November 27, 2005

End Billy Collins

House Press is starting a compaign to stop Billy Collins. You too can help by adding a review at

Saturday, November 26, 2005

We've arrived on the web

Long since allergic to the world wide web, House Press is now here with its official blog. Still coming off the high from the Electic City Spectacular this past weekend in Buffalo. House Press will be posting from a number of remote locations - Buffalo, Chicago, New York, South Bend, San Francisco. Never overraated, never underrated, never rated at all. End of the Christian Era!