Monday, June 13, 2005

Guess Can't Gallop

The devolution of the example of Gertrude Stein is a sad thing to behold. Where Stein's work manifested a constant meditative attention to language and the nuances of its polysemy, today's Steinophiles present us with mechanical parades of puns. Where Stein's sense of humor was always more sexy and snarky and subtle than anyone around her -- recall her famous description of Ezra Pound as being "a village explainer, excellent if you are a village, but if you are not, not" -- today's Steinians come off as minor court wits, unwilling to offer anything vaguely threatening or pointed for fear that it might offend the ruling powers behind hiring committees and grant applications. And where Stein's poems ranged from the compressed gems of Tender Buttons to sprawling testaments to her endlessly generative imagination like The Geographical History of America and Stanzas in Meditation, today's Frankensteiner's are one-trick ponies riding their little rocking horses o'er the plains. Now along comes Brenda "squeaky" Hillman's pick for the New Issues Poetry Prize, Heidi Lynn Staples, and her book, Guess Can Gallop -- another Language Schoolish wet kiss to Stein's sense of wordplay and linguistic phenomenology -- but this horse don't run; the "guess" here plods instead of gallops. We get poems of substitution not concentration, of jokiness not real wit (that is to say, intelligence accompanying language), and the imagination at work is a tepid wallflower of safety and routine.

Heidi Lynn's staple device in Can't Gallop is a simple one: take a normal, dick-and-jane sentence and substitute homonyms or sound-alike portmanteau words for the original ones, then line up said substitutions in arbitrary sequences. So we get groaner after groaner like: "
Somethings he forgets what is a Fish; / The others joke that he is hard of Herring." We get faux metaphysics: "The zero was where anyone is. None by none, / worlds grew off, and that should have told me / somebody." And we get a monotonous stream of colloquialisms put through the wringer of cookie-cutter sound associations like: "coming up for err," "it was her whirred against mine," and "our father who arts in thieving." I'm not kidding -- her linguistic "play" is that obvious and simple-minded. Yet Joyelle McSweeney at The Constant Ass-kissing calls Staples' technique in these poems "Shakespearean," Deanne Lundin claims she "skirts the unspeakable," and LangPo's least amusing hack, Charles Bernstein, heralds her "relentless pursuit of swerving meaning." This is what poetry criticism has come to in this country: somebody manages to publish her extended poetic knock-knock jokes in a book, and we're told to compare it to Shakespeare... Yeah, right. "Skirts the unspeakable," "Shakespearean." Gotcha.

Heidi's lint staples can't even hold down the dust. Too right in this tile is a Pisa cake. You jest-steak sum words an you no watt two due: change them too wons that sound like the wands you had be fore, butt which mine different things.

So here's to you High-D Ho! As a poet, you are a tedious pun-pusher, but I'll say this much for you: I'll bet you would make a formidable player of corny word games. May I never cross your path in a Mad Lib tournament. You would kick my ass.

13 Comments:

Blogger R.C. Bald said...

"...the relentless pursuit of swerving meaning..." sounds eerily similar to chasing the moving posterior of an inebriated bovine, with all the same spoils, indeed. Forgive me here, but fuck these people who would have their proclamations trump the poems they proclaim. Shakespearean! Perhaps when he was yet in diapers, but even still, I have my reservations.

3:01 PM, June 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God somebody said this. I couldn't believe some of the reviews of this trite piece of garbage that I've been reading lately.

7:39 PM, June 13, 2005  
Blogger Alan Cordle said...

And what's with all those references to "formerly Heidi Peppermint"?

10:25 AM, June 14, 2005  
Blogger Ginger Pennebaker said...

Poetry is turning into utter nonsense and is it or isn't it Stein's fault it is not it is a sadly manageable arrangement.

3:19 PM, June 15, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...

Bravo for Heidi for at least trying to write differently from her peers even if she comes out on the Ed Wood side of things.

9:11 PM, June 15, 2005  
Blogger bill blood said...

thus the language of account zanily breaks down into slippery fun! Wee! Joyelle McSweeney made a pee-pee! He-He-hee! hee hee hee hee hee! the language of account pees in my mouth! owwie! I divide me by I and get I plus eye minus me!

I, Blood, am glad this book has been published in paperback. Now I can roll it up and shove it down my throat, use it as a barf funnel, then swallow it for later use as a poop flume.

Motherfucking retarded motherfucking retarded motherfucking retarded

thus the language of account zanily breaks down!!!!!!!!

8:43 PM, June 16, 2005  
Anonymous f. trunkhatch said...

yes, bravo to Heidi for writing something so innovative & so shockingly new that it looks like a piss poor immitation of something that sucked eighty years ago. What infuruates is that Stein is somehow a model looked up to & emulated by the lazy b/c she was, in fact, lazy -- yes, b/c the acolytes think it might take too much effort to pull one's head bodily out of one's ass to write a fucking poem. I want to stop poems altogether if this is poems. I'll open a restaurant instead.

7:10 AM, June 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But her photo was published in Best American Anorexics 2005!

11:39 AM, June 18, 2005  
Anonymous i.d. spit staples said...

I cunt hear you, I have an ear infucktion!

4:20 PM, June 18, 2005  
Blogger Ginger Pennebaker said...

Ha ha, staples. Bet that kind of line gets you laid A LOT. Jesus Christ. Go back into your moldy hole and keep masturbating. Oh yeah. Just like that. Oh yeah. Just pretend its a pussy...

ginger p.

8:50 PM, June 18, 2005  
Anonymous whiplash gc said...

haha that wasn't really i.d.

twas whiplash

9:18 PM, June 18, 2005  
Blogger Zinnaida said...

As a feminist, I feel I must have may say about her writing.
How many men did you have to fuck to get that piece of shit you call a poetry book published, Ms. Staples? You and your publisher should both be bitch slapped.

11:28 PM, February 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another idiot, who uses the same punnish technique and should be snarkified, is the pseudo-Native writer Diane Glancy.

10:02 AM, July 20, 2006  

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