Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The New Academicism

The old academicism was about old white guys defending the values of New Criticism and old formalism. We're talking poets like Howard Moss, Stanley Kunitz, Richard Howard, Anthony Hecht, W.D. Snodgrass, etc. These poets were academic more for how they wrote than what they wrote about. Their poems emitted the stench of bourgeois comfort. They didn’t seem to get out of the house much, and when they did, they usually walked around in their backyards and had epiphanies while studying their birdfeeders. Sometimes they wrote poems about how righteous they were for not fucking their undergrads. They were poets proud of their anapests. Many of them were foundational in setting up institutions like journal Poetry and the Academy of American Poets, crony machines that continue to this day to pass around the bucks to the same handful of aesthetic clones. They were opposed by the Beats and, more wittily, the early New York School. The academics, in turn, groused at these poets, who, influenced by poor readings of Whitman, Blake, and Henry Miller (Beats) or avant-garde continental European poetry (N.Y.S.), were--so the old academics thought--kneeling before the incorrect totem pole. This generation of academic poets did at least have one virtue: they knew they were essentially academic. They were often narrow, lame, and dull, but they were not hypocrites.

The new academicism is about tenured, middle-aged, neo-bohemians (or in the parlance of James McPherson—“bo-bo’s—the “bohemian bourgeois”). They don’t do drugs or break laws, but they think of themselves as outside the mainstream: smart rebels whose idea of resistance to middle class values is reading Deleuze and turning over in their minds the idea that they are “nomads.” We’re talking poets like Donald Revell, Cole Swenson, Mary Jo Bang, and Susan Howe. These poets are academic more for what they write about than how they write. Like their predecessors, their poems tend to reflect very comfortable lives, and they too don’t seem to get out of the house much, however when they do, it’s not for a meditative stroll in the garden, but for a meditative stroll at M.O.M.A. They are poets proud of their “experimentalism,” however unlike really experimental artists like Gertrude Stein and Marcel Duchamp, their poems are derivative (often of Gertrude Stein and Marcel Duchamp). They too are associated with various crony machines (Swenson, for example, is permanent faculty at Iowa). They are big on “ecphrasis,” “white space,” and obscurity—marveling in poetry about topics like 14th century clerics, early American captivity narratives, and minimalist painters. Sense of humor is not their strong suit. These academic poets do not regard themselves as academic—anything but! They are rebels! (Theoretically speaking of course.) They do however have one virtue over the previous generation of academic poets: they tend to be somewhat snappier dressers.


Anonymous mwb said...


Fundamentally, it's the insularity of that community (academic literary) and it's focus on itself that really bothers me.

I'm always bemused by some of these folks who whine that the "general public" doesn't read and adore them. Perhaps because reading your running commentary on your small little lives is about as interesting and relevant to those outside your world as the senile rambling of your grandfather about what he had for breakfast years ago.

7:08 AM, May 04, 2005  
Anonymous Fabian Trunkhatch said...

So, if we can't lionize those with priviledged upbringings, fortunate enough to stroll about the garden or museum before sitting down to a rich mahogony desk to carve out their poems-- if those types of poets are out of bounds, how can there be a tradition? Does poetry start then in 1872 or so with Rimbaud bent over Verlaine or does it wait until Owen was in a trench? Strange. & incidentally, the jackass onanists who stroke themselves to Deleuze while putting their pony tails in line with their other hands are no different than the jackass onanists of yore who stroked themselves to Hunt or Coleridge while righting their ascots-- there are always pariahs, always cults of personality, & always bands like living colour to really reify the problematics of social structures (even within the poetry world). I ain't no glamour boy (I'm fierce!), & so on.

8:25 AM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger Ginger Pennebaker said...

The religion of the "white space" is simply an appendage of a wierd pseudo-Christian mysticism, an attempt to maintain a sacred role for poetry in a secular world. When you write on a page you already violate it and negate an infinite number of other options? Give me a fucking break! A page is just wood pulp and glue. If you want to bow down to its virginal purity, go ahead, but you're just reinforcing a bullshit pseudo-Christian purity myth. Nothing's pure, folks. The air's full of dead skin and spider legs. Papermaking kills the forests, you po-mo paper-worshippers! So keep on worshipping the wood pulp if you want. I'd rather write some stupid silly poem about Woody Woodpecker getting his cock stuck in a puddle of bubblegum.

9:18 AM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

The word "bobo" was actually coined by David Brooks, the ponsy-ass wanker who stinks up the NY Times editorial page every week with a new batch of lies.

10:08 AM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...


You sure Brooks got there first? Ewe, that's disgusting. You mean ol' Snark was furthering the word puke of that ass pucker? I feel like Robert Novak just took a big shit on me--diiirty Shower. Rinse. Repeat. Shower. Rinse. Repeat.

10:32 AM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger Robert Robbins said...

I took a meditative stroll at M.O.M.A. this Saturday. It was very crowded.

11:12 AM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger R.C. Bald said...

You speak of bourgeois comfort in the eras bygone, friends, but know nothing beyond your petty impressions & the phrases in ego-bridled histories that buttress & nourish them. Oh friend, you must be a young man, as I recall, once, a similar vigor in my prosaic criticisms. A young man knows little of the pulse of revolution, the almost zinc-like taste of pregnant hope on the tongue, the dazzling array of pyrotechnics (I mean this literally) articulating the dark clouds of the Hong Kong sky. Yours are a poetics of presumption, yes, yes, dear friends, & who can blame you? We tread this earth, bodily, tween its poplars & corpse-strewn shores, for epochs before we see some sense. One day, fondly I hope, you will recall your folly with pleasant, retiring wonder. Until then, live your blended dream, yes, friend, as a bourgeois posing as a bohemian yourself, & sip your cocktail & threaten the air with your violent gesticulations & your flaming, vitriolic rhetoric. One day you will be honest with your page as we were, once, in Hong Kong, & you will weep, an inconsoloable sadness shuddering through your body, a memory poised upon the cusp of oblivion. You will weep as I have wept for a bygone era, friend, & in that weeping we will prove the architects of our own history!

2:41 PM, May 04, 2005  
Anonymous snot said...

what flavor of bubblegum?

4:00 PM, May 04, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...

Fabian Trunkhatch,

There may have always been asswipes prostrate before the gods of privilege and theoretical false consciousness. But that doesn't mean they didn't suck, or that they don't suck now. The difference would seem to be that nobody calls them on it anymore. Outside the worlds of Poetry Snark, it's all nicey nicey, you give me a favor, I won't get in the way of your tenure bullshit. Whereas in "ages yore" everybody snarked--peeps were fucking VICIOUS, actually, and it was good for the art, a necessary corrective, a sign that people really give a fuck and that the art was capable of stirring real emotion instead of the fluff pieces that pass for reviews and criticism today. If you don't believe that readers were more incisive and honest, try reading some really old issues of the Edinburgh Review. Nobody but writers at Poetry Snark will do that kind of shit anymore.

Another difference was that there used to be occasional poets who really were total badasses--re: Marlow, Byron, Rimbaud...

4:39 PM, May 04, 2005  
Anonymous Fabian Trunkhatch said...

If Byron was a badass I am the fucking pope, or better, I am fucking the pope. A club foot & a constantly unfettered cock does not a badass make.

6:27 AM, May 05, 2005  
Blogger jpc said...

Inciteful remarks.

10:03 AM, May 08, 2005  

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