Friday, August 05, 2005

Paige Morgan Destroys Maxine Hong Kingston

As I've repeatedly said, the original idea for this blog was to create a community site to snark turgid verse and puffed reps. In case you missed it, Paige Morgan recently offered some masterful snark in the comments section for my most recent post. Despite this person's tame attack on our website (is that the best you can do?) and redundant, misguided grousing that we post under psuedonyms, I thought this snark was damn funny, especially the middle part, so I'm posting the short version here on the front page (If you want the whole thing, read the comments here). So thanks "Paige Morgan." But a warning to you: now that I've included you on the front page, people will begin assuming that you are really me pretending to be someone else, just as they complain that I am really Trochee and the others. Well, what can I say about that claim? It's flattering. But the truth is that I am not only Trochee, Ginger, and Bill Blood, but also Bookslut, Old Hag, Natalie Chicha, Steve Barron, R.C. Bald, Alan Cordle, and yes, even Adam Hardin. But I digress... On to the snark:

Crikey. You people run out of steam that easily? Given that you seemed more interested in people's bad 70's-era photos and fashion than actual poetry crit, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. If you keep going, try publishing under your own names, and find actual things to snark about.

But here, you can have one of my old snarks about Maxine Hong Kingston, as, despite the fact that she isn't trying to be a poet anymore, she's still nuts, and I won't ever take this back.

Maxine Hong Kingston pulled a reverse Laura Riding Jackson, back in 2002, and renounced prose for poetry. She's very open and honest about why she's decided to become (or rather, realized that she *is*) a poet :
1. Poets are always happy.
2. She won't have to plot anymore plots.
3. She'll be free to live and not write any more "longbooks."
4. Poets don't care about money.
5. She wants to be socially irresponsible.
6. Writing poetry is all gift and no labor. The muse flies overhead and drops jewels into poets' hands. All she will have to do is hold up a basket to the sky. Later, she elaborates on this last reason (and I quote): All the important words rhyme. They blow out of the sky and all I have to do is write them down. (endquote)

One of the questions that Kingston asks in her poetic genesis is "Why does the muse of lyrical love poetry have a name that sounds so much like error?" (Because it's Greek, you dumbass!) However, it's an even stranger question, because "lyrical love poetry" definitely indicates Erato, and it sounds like she's thinking of Eros, who isn't even a muse. Of course, she pronounces the Latin infinitive "inspirare" as in-SPEAR-ury," so I shouldn't be surprised. But I'm being petty. Why should someone actually have to *know* about western mythology and language in order to question it?

Several poets get name-dropped or quoted throughout the book (Tess Gallagher, Alice Fulton, Gary Snyder), and their view of Kingston's new identity is carefully skirted.

I failed at the reading she gave in Seattle. Any question would have been illuminating, but I fled when it was over. It was surreal -- everyone around seemed to have bought the book, and they'd spent the reading nodding and sighing, and asking, at the end, for advice to young writers of color ("Write every day.") I wish I'd had someone else along to pitch a fit with. Listening to her was certainly interesting -- crystallized some interesting problems and questions about the way people see poetry and prose.

What she doesn't mention in the book is that she was so excited about her realization that she was a poet that she had to tell *everybody* -- so she had dinner with Gary Snyder, Robert Hass, and Brenda Hillman. In the book, quotes from poets are pretty vague in terms of expressing approval or disapproval – she's very careful about skirting that issue. When she told Hass, Snyder, and Hillman her reasons, they apparently threw up their hands and had minor apoplectic fits, and said that what she was proposing wasn't possible. She told us that she isn't going to her poet friends anymore for advice, since they've forgotten that poem, "Never was heard a discouraging word..."

Kingston wants to return to the way she was when she was a baby in order to find poetry again. Not child. Baby. She read us a little four-line poem, and confided that she feels very lucky to be publishing things that she composed at 2 years old. (I personally think that Mattie J. T. Stepanek was writing better stuff in the womb, but I'll leave him out of this--). Since she can't get no satisfaction from her poet friends, our "Poet" decided to go out to Nature, more specifically, to watch some elephant seals. "Taking the day off, I was already acting like the Poet. The prose writer of the longbook never goes on spontaneous outings."
At this point, things got a bit mysterious – halfway through what I thought was an anecdote, I realized she was reading us a poem that she'd written about female elephant seals getting "plopped on" by males, and how relieved the other female seals were because they weren't getting fucked. Oh yes, and the poignancy of the fact that the estrus scent causes massive seal rape, and that the females can't run, because they haven't got any legs (should I have asked, do you suppose, about the males not having legs either?). The subject matter was consistent with themes from women's lit courses: (sexual) oppression, female consciousness and community – I'm mystified as to why she felt this needed to be a poem, as opposed to a prose work.

After that, she read us a poem about a broccoli tree that she'd grown. It went something like this (it's very abbreviated in the book): "I saw the edges of the broccoli leaves like little flames, and I communed with the broccoli, and felt the warmth of its gaze. The broccoli and I were one." I'm not going to try to break up her lines for her.

I'm not kidding about the above phrases -- she really said that she was one with the broccoli. At the end of the broccoli poem, she reminisced about George H. W. Bush proclaiming his dislike for broccoli, and admonished us all, not to trust anyone who doesn't recognize broccoli for what it is. She gets my award for weirdest political insertion of the century, I think.

I'm not familiar with the four-word poetry style that Kingston enjoys writing in; it's apparently an ancient Chinese tradition that appeals to her because "it's easier and faster than haiku." She mentioned Lew Welch's "Raid kills bugs dead," and also suggested "Poets are always happy."

Various people pop up throughout the book to suggest that poets aren't always happy. In one instance, Alice Fulton and a friend try to explain the misery that Fulton occasionally suffers while crafting her work. Here's Kingston: "What can there be that is miserable in the world of Poetry?...Such a small art!...What Poet would call another Poet shit?"


Well snarkers, indeed, "What Poet would call another Poet shit?" Maybe we should make that the new Poetry Snark logo.

Please, bring on more good snark, and I'll post it to the front page. Hopefully, this will help tide you all over while I'm taking my little break.


Blogger David E. Patton said...

Let me no what you think of my poetry

1:44 PM, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

Snark, I'm glad you liked it. And yes, no doubt people will accuse me of using a nom de plume, especially considering that googling "paige morgan" will lead to hundreds of hits involving a lame-ass Julia Stiles film, ha ha.

This isn't a bad site: see my last comment on the prior entry for the reasons behind my rampage.

2:25 PM, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous Paige Morgan said...

To clarify, however about whether that's "the best I can do," I think that outdoing you on the snark is enough. You're not egregious; just mediocre. Get awesome.

4:15 PM, August 05, 2005  
Blogger Dr. Vivian Bell said...

The name is "Morgan," not "Moran," correct? Is there some deeper intent to Snark's misspelling?

Harrumph . . . I bore myself.

4:23 PM, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

It is, but both Snark and Mr. Patton of the first comment seem to lack the observation skills to notice small spelling errors.

I'll settle for noting that carelessness like that has often led to an auto-rejection on editorial boards that I've served on.

4:27 PM, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

None of you folks who post here have managed to produce any decent sort of snark lately, and I suspect that if I ask again, all you'll do is leap on Mr. Patton's work, and slobber all over it. That, again, is cheap. He's an easy target:

Mr. Patton, your work is better than Maxine Hong Kingston's. But the fact that you brought it to this site asking for feedback is silly. On the off chance that you're serious, then start by trying to compact each poem into about 1/3 of its original size. Otherwise, I have one word for you: flarf.

And that's enough snark for me, for several days, if not longer. If the only tool you have in your kit is a hammer, then eventually everything starts to look like a nail.

This is getting old.

6:17 PM, August 05, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...

I fixed the misspelling.

And as far as your taste in snark. You're perfectly welcome to declare that you have trumped all of the snark on this site. Congratulations on making that decision about yourself. And your perfectly welcome to make near daily visits to a "mediocre" site, though I don't know why you would waste your time.

As far as the Poets of the 70s thing, they're by far the most praised posts here. You'll have to forgive me if I listen to other opinions than yours. Or consider how many hits we get -- and to which posts -- when I consider what people are interested in.

And as far as your desire for more balanced commentary, see the title of this site...

8:11 PM, August 05, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...

Here are some other novelists who should not write poetry:

John Updike

Joyce Carol Oates

Alice Walker

The difficulty is that their name precedes their poetry and so publication is easy as well as the number of syncophants willing to write good reviews/blurbs for it.

But all in all I have never seen a novelist display such a grandiose sense of their own importance, the written word revolves around me sort of complex as Kingston where pure poetry falls from the sky.

She is smarter than that, and in the former cases it is just an ego problem, but in Kingston's case it looks like a writer's nervous breakdown.

8:05 AM, August 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is everything in this post actually true? Or is this all a big joke? A spoof of some sort?

6:08 PM, August 07, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

Anonymous, I wish it were a joke, and that possibility was much debated in my circle of friends. Was Hong Kingston just a master of the Andy Kaufman?

In the end, we didn't think so. Here is the book, "To Be the Poet," and I promise you that if you read it, you'll get the firsthand experience of much of the post.

11:18 PM, August 07, 2005  
Blogger none said...

Wow, what a perfect phony. If Kingston is that happy at having discovered infant poetry writing, I wonder how excited she'll be when she hears about easy tax evasion techniques or the Nigerian 419 scam. She personifies the "I can't believe it's this easy to swindle folks" nature of much of poetry.

8:35 AM, August 08, 2005  
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Blogger Dr. Vivian Bell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:10 PM, August 27, 2005  
Blogger Dr. Vivian Bell said...

Hmmm, based on the blog's inactivity, I am forced to assume that Ms. Morgan's sublime annihilation of M.H.K has similarly destroyed the once mouthy Poetry Snarkettes. All together now:

A toast to that invincible bunch, the dinosaur surviving the crunch, let's hear it for the ladies who lunch; everybody rise; everybody rise, rise, rise . . . etc.

2:24 PM, August 27, 2005  
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