Tuesday, December 12, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC — One of America's most beloved landmarks, the Washington Monument, became all the more stirring and innovative Monday with the addition of New American poet John Ashbery.
Ashbery, 79, winner of countless literary awards and perpetual possible nominee for a Nobel Prize, was bolted to the pinnacle of the 555-foot monument and affixed with display spotlights for night viewing. He will remain there permanently, on 24-hour display.
"Ashbery has shown himself to be a pillar of strength and courage who brings out the critic in us all," said Harold Bloom, distinguised professor emeritus at Yale. "He was an inspired swerve away from the intentions of this already impressively virile monument. Once the idea was presented, nothing could stop us: not logistical problems, not budget constraints, not even the teary objections of Mr. Ashbery."
The Harvard graduate and beloved NY School poet and his trusted servent Jeffrey were hoisted up the side of the towering obelisk by a tractor-powered cable pulley. Ashbery was then welded to the pinnacle, facing east toward the Capitol, and bolted in place with iron slugs made from the same cage used to hold Ezra Pound after World War II.
A bronze plaque at the foot of the monument describes Ashbery's history and dimensions. It reads: "We elevate you to the heavens, so that future generations may know of your courage and your almost total appropriation by all contemporary poetry camps. We thought we could put all of this down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to us that to leave you out in the open would be another, and truer, way."
A crowd of almost 100,000 people, including many of Ashbery's countless imitators, gathered to watch the heartstrings-tugging installation. "It was so beautiful," said Tony Tost, author of the vaguely Ashbery-esque Invisible Bride. "As the final welders were blasting away, the sparks were flying everywhere, and then they set off those fireworks. I honestly cried."
"I brought the kids here to try and teach them about the courage and fortitude Washington showed at Valley Forge," said Chris Vitiello, a father of two from Durham, NC. "Now, with John Ashbery up there, the whole scene just speaks -- very coyly -- for itself."
Vitiello added : "I wish I had the courage to be indeterminate like that."
"You can fly... you belong in the sky...," sang celebrity blogger Ron Silliman, in a musical prelude to the formal dedication and attachment ceremony. "Once upon a time, my dear near-contemporary John flew into my own geneaology with the Tennis Court Oath, soaring above the quietest peaks. Though today he's wearing several hundred pounds of wine-paunchiness instead of his old experimental tights, from the top of this monument he shall forever soar."
Though Ashbery was unable to speak at the commemoration due to an intense fear of heights, no one was more moved by the ceremony than the poet himself. "Please let me down," the visibly touched literary lion said to reporters. "I'm cold, and I miss my apartment."
Upon Asbhery's natural death, he will be removed from the monument long enough to be encased in acrylic plastic, then reattached.
Ashbery's installation, planners say, will give him a new ability to touch and influence poets 24 hours a day as a public fixture, rain, snow or shine. "Ashbery touched us all with his heartfelt rewriting of the Romantic and Modernist traditions," Silliman said. "As it is, the School of Quietude have had to cripple their own poets to gain a comparable amount of emotional impact."
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Charles Wright's spine was shattered by Dana Gioia in August, gaining him many standing ovations at AWPs since.
This is not the first time a poetic notable has been added to a Washington, DC, attraction. Robert Creeley spent the last few months of his life in the Sillimanian Institute's Wax Museum of Artistic Innovation, in a glass case between Marlon Brando's jacket from The Wild One and the original lineup of Pere Ubu. Robin Blaser now occupies the case.
In light of the project's success, The U.S. Department of Parks and Services is considering similar additions to its attractions. Plans are already being drafted to have Bruce Andrews bolted to the Lincoln Memorial.
Anthony Hecht, 2004Even I'm not a big enough of an asshole to refer to Wilbur, Kunitz, even Angelou as "the Five Dwarves." And calling Penn Warren a dwarf in my presence could possibly get you punched.
Maya Angelou, 2000
Gwendolyn Brooks, 1995
Richard Wilbur, 1994
Stanley Kunitz, 1993
Robert Penn Warren, 1987
Need I say just how pathetic that list is? Gwendolyn Brooks and the Five Dwarves represents the whole of poetry over, say, the last half century? It’s high time we rectify this nonsense.
Anyway, dropped Silliman a comment just to let him know that while I in general dig his poems, I don't think he's ever done anything as good as Penn Warren's Audubon: a Vision.
Warren's Audubon always struck me as a pale copy of Crane's The Bridge, an anti-modernist's attempt to reconcile with modernism. Crane does it far better.
Hecht & Wilbur may be tremendous practitioners, but of a tradition that was rendered obsolete by Wordsworth, Blake & Coleridge. It's the equivalent of sidewalk chalk artists who can do perfect copies of the Mona Lisa. Within that framework, yes, they are not bad. But.....
Again, I'm just amazed at how his framing of literary history is exactly the same as the way I've heard a Miller Williams or Dave Smith frame literary history: exact same positing of a genealogy leading up to the inevitable presence of their own aesthetic, a genealogy that shrugs aside any other genealogies as so much detritus.
I was writing up a response, but it got lengthy, so I just thought I'd put it here instead:
Eh. If it takes The Bridge to wash Audubon away for a non-fan, that still says something.
I guess it depends on what degree you want to pursue an evolutionary or developmental type of narrative to poetic history, if the innovations of one period render variations upon other periods extinct or obsolete. (Or that periods or aesthetic approaches are Eliotic, impermeable closed-circles.)
If I were to adopt a narrative like that, I'd say it's less pure than some kind of series of poetic apocalypses wiping out previous values -- something of value and interest remains even as paradigms shift.
There's this great essay by Robert Kaufman, Negatively Capable Dialectics from a few years ago in Critical Inquiry, I think, that presents a different, more dialectical narrative that I'm pretty enamored with at this moment -- he looks at Shelley and Keats as a sort of pre-history of Burger's split between a modernist approach, that maintains a separation between art and life, and an avant-garde approach, that seeks to dissolve such a separation; he reads Adorno as primarily modernist in his leanings, Benjamin as avant-gardist. Similarly, Keats, with his emphasis on loading every line with ore, as modernist, while the more directly political Shelley as avant-gardist. But then he also reads Keats' building up of form, through Adorno and (of all people) Vendler, and his dissolution of an Egotistical Sublime self as a complimentary approach to Shelley's project, as they both attempt to enact critical (and not passive) thought.
The sort of narrative this approach hints at seems richer and truer to my experience of poetry than a series of innovative generations (now the Romantics, now the Modernists, now the New Americans, now the Language Poets [with a wink at a 'transitional generation'], etc) rendering previous aesthetics as obsolete, which seems to hop right into Harold Bloom's oedipal briar patch of 'strong poets' wrestling and gulping each other up and crapping out a new heroic generation to play it all out again; and the continuous replays of this a-historical eternal recurrence comes to stand in as 'poetic history,' you just have to plug in the names that grant for you the most privilege.
The Kaufman approach also seems more useful than the obsoleteness one, as your obsoleteness narrative seems like the same kind of structure that a Dana Gioia or John Barr would perpetuate (one major tradition with heroic figures begetting one another, a tradition that has the only truly authentic roots in the ancient giants) and just switching the names -- the names are now Oppen, Stein, Language instead of Bishop, Jarrell, Kenyon Review, but the basic structure seems very similar and gets just as oppressive and predictable. Gioia or Barr would frame their story of heroes passing amongst themselves the true forms and abilities to refine their materials, the obsoleteness narrative frames a story of heroes passing amongst themselves the ability to innovate/evolve their way out from their contemporary situation and into the aesthetic future.
Instead of the kind of baton-passing of a Frost to a Bishop to a Berryman and so on, it's a baton-passing from a Pound to a Zukofsky, etc. The batons (McGuffins) look different, the names (actors) are different, but it's the same movie.
I should add that the happy ending of such a movie is the mere presence/emergence/close-up of the narrator.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Meanwhile, this is where my head is at at the moment, even if my heart is elsewhere:
If, as Bob Perelman suggests in The Trouble With Genius, the prototypical Poundian cultural hero “changes society without touching it" via his or her manipulation and mastery of aesthetic materials – whether it be Gaudier-Brzeska in sculpture, or George Antheil in music, or himself in poetry – then a Deleuzian-Guattarian conception of experience, where “order-word assemblages” and other intermingling bodies do not directly communicate or convey information but rather reify social orders through indirect discourse, will illuminate even as it disrupts the very ground that a Poundian hero assumes. This paper will read Pound’s essay “Machine Art,” written while in exile in Italy in the late 1920s and only fairly recently collected in conjunction with Deleuze and Guattari’s “November 20, 1923: Postulates of Linguistics” in A Thousand Plateaus. Additionally, a specific episode from Siegfried Kracauer’s The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany, first published in 1930, will be introduced as a counter-Poundian example of indirect cultural discourse from the same period.
One other note: I'll begin work on the next Fascicle (layout, editing, ship-shaping, etc) next week. I'm hoping to get it out in early January.