Thursday, February 10, 2011

I thought this was a thoughtful post from Sandra Beasley about the Langston Hughes "Bus-Boy Poet" cardboard cut-out theft during AWP. check it out here When Busboys Become Poets (& When Poets Walk Off with Busboys).

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And here is an interesting report about the Tony Hoagland-Claudia Rankine controversy at AWP. From Sara Jaffe's blog.

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Back in town now, and having fun reading about people's AWP experiences. Is it really coming to Seattle in 2014? I'd better start thinking of a panel proposals now! Hmmm. Here are some off the top of my head (and with no coffee yet).

Decaf or regular-- Starbucks, Coffee & Poetry.
Smells Like Rainy Days--The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix and Curt Cobain.
Seattle's Asian Pacific Legacy-- Mt Rainier-Mt Fuji Poems
Microsoft Works Jumbo Shrimp-- Poetic Oxymorons


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PS: a review of the Hoagland poem "The Change" that appeared in a Poetry Daily Prose Feature by Dorothy Barresi about the Prairie Schooner issue in which it appeared:


In "The Change," also from What Narcissism Means to Me, Tony Hoagland locates a particularly uneasy moment of cultural displacement:

... remember the tennis match we watched that year?
Right before our eyes

some tough little European blonde
pitted against that big black girl from Alabama,
cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms,
some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite

While his friend cheers for "Aphrodite," a stand-in for Venus Williams at the beginning of her career, the speaker sheepishly (or bravely, depending on your view of self-censoring political correctness) admits to rooting for the white girl in this "contest between / the old world and the new,"

because she was one of my kind, my tribe,
with her pale eyes and thin lips

and because the black girl was so big
and so black
         so unintimidated,

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation
down Abraham Lincoln's throat,
like she wasn't asking anyone's permission.

Hoagland knows this is treacherous ground, and he intentionally makes the reader discomforted. Is nostalgia tinged with racism in this case? Is there, at the very least, a kind of complicity with the old narratives of race and class? The black tennis player is not the underdog at Roland Garros Stadium; she's the conquering star who "wore down her opponent / then kicked her ass good / then thumped her once more for good measure / and stood up on the red clay court / holding her racket over her head like a guitar." (In baby boom poetry, rock star status is still the highest conferred.) Like most of Hoagland's slightly benighted speakers, this one is likeable. He's smart. He names the truth. And he's politely honest about his desire to align himself with the past. It's what he knows, what he's comfortable with, though the white girl's "pale eyes" and "thin lips" suggest he also knows theirs is a wan, waning "tribe." Hoagland's speakers, like those constructed by many male baby boom poets (Dean Young, Andrew Hudgins, James Harms, Mark Cox, Charles Harper Webb, to name just a few), hardly swagger. They are sensitive, articulate, self-deprecating antiheroes apologetic for their self-absorption. (Note Hoagland's splendid book title joke). There is a trace of the '50s political comedian in this construction: Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Shelly Berman, and Mort Sahl are all Jewish comedians who waged similar assaults on the middle class status quo from the margins of neurotic but superior intellectualism. Ultimately, the paradigm shift in Tony Hoagland's "The Change" is staged to awaken the speaker's larger understanding, not of race or class, which he suggests he never had a real stake in anyway ("I don't watch all that much Masterpiece Theatre, / but I could feel the end of an era there / in front of those bleachers full of people / in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes"), but of time's ruthless power. In a sense, the speaker nullifies political correctness by announcing his dawning realization that displacement from cultural center to periphery is a sadness universally experienced. It transcends race. Anyone who watched Roger Federrer weep after losing the Australian Open this year to the younger and lately unstoppable Raphael Nadal—both white European males—might be inclined to agree. This mid-life observation forms Hoagland's final, widening gesture:

and in fact, everything had already changed—
Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone,
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged,
it was past us
and we were changed.

How does one say goodbye to the twentieth century without dwelling in twentieth-century nostalgia? —that is the challenge facing baby boom poets today. In Martin Amis's The Second Plane, September 11: Terror and Boredom, the author makes a strong case for a reading of the new American zeitgeist as radically unlike any in its history: "It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment." Until that moment, Amis notes, America thought she was simply seeing "the worst aviation disaster in history." "Now," instead, "she had a sense of the fantastic vehemence ranged against her."

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3 comments:

carol said...

regarding Busboys & Poets-- went to a reading at each location. It is wonderful that they make a place for poetry and I enjoyed both readings (White Pine Press & Spaulding Univ faculty) but I still prefer bookstores where there is no clatter & distraction of food being served & a chaotic din seeping thru the walls.
also
at AWP I got news of my manuscript that I gave you.
good news.

Peter said...

hi Carol:
Good news is always good to share.
Do tell! ( or send me an email).

ijat6969 said...

Great article....!

A lot of good info !

Cheers

winged
scapula