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.