Wednesday, January 20, 2010

emperor's-new-clothes kind of moment

I was forwarded this article, written by Mike Young for HTML GIANT, by a few different classmates, on the some of the most common moves by contemporary poets. I guess it has been circulating for quite a while and I've managed to inadvertently avoid it until now. Anyways, here are some analogies I've come up with that summarize my response to it:

It's like that being naked in front of your homeroom dream.

It's like someone has found the magician's handbook.

It's like that scene in I Heart Huckabees where Jude Law's character hears the recordings of himself telling the same joke over and over again. [Unfortunately, I could only find the clip in Italian. On second thought, perhaps it's a good thing. Jude Law's American accent is rubbish.]

But, really, I find it funny mostly. It is comforting to know no poet is that original. Also, some of the items on the list are just things that occur when we use language.

Regardless, it's a good thing to be aware of what we instinctively do, repeatedly. I don't think we're meant to take the article as being judgmental, just a little self-ridicule-y. I actually wrote a poem recently that operates almost entirely on items 1b and 30, but I'm sure in a large way fulfills many of the other items. See if you can identify more:


it left my house
i mean it left my mouth
as if it were late
to an appointment and couldn’t
waste any time getting there.

i didn’t mean to say i love you.
i was meaning to say i hate you, instead
i showed you with my actions.

it’s called parapraxis—freudian
slip, colloquially—so
when i said good-bye, i meant please
don’t ever leave me.

i was alone in my mouth
and something was missing my lips.
i was alone in my bed
and i gave myself a paroxysm.

i looked at myself in the mirror
and then at a photo of you and saw
a parallel, i mean a parallax (it lacks
paratactic syntax; i also mean parallel
structure), what i mean,
succinctly, is that you were further
than i wanted you to be.

i wanted to be you
for at least the duration
of us fucking so i could make sure
it felt as you pretended. i mean
as i intended.

you left my house and my mouth
was full of snow. it was cold
and uncomfortable, and when
my tongue was fully numbed
i said i hate you instead of what i really meant,
spitting pretty snow flecks at your face.

I was also impressed and surprised by the variety of sources Mike Young used for his examples in the article. He called out some pretty big names, and curiously some of the lesser known, but emerging, contemporary poets. It points out that we're all in this together.

Since I brought up I Heart Huckabees, here's a scene I think is perfectly germane and we can all enjoy--in English!


  1. thanks very much for your response, robert! quick point of modesty: Elisa Gabbert did a lot—probably 60 percent or more—of the work on the list. tho i did find all the pictures, ha. =)

    related: i love the huckabees videos.

    and we actually did not intend ridicule or (too much) judgment. elisa said in an email that she does wish people would stop writing "dear x" poems, and there are certainly things on the list i find exasperating. but i find it pretty joyful to demystify things, and having spent a lot of time with so-called "procedure" based poetry, i've been led to a lot of thinking about how all poetic generation—and, indeed, artistic generation—is indebted to procedure. nerves are machines, even when we're going on them. hence thinking of the word "moves" at all, and then this list.

    i have heard that some people hate this list because it takes the "magic" out of poetry, which i think is a defensive way of thinking about magic. i can study and practice and exercise the move of how roger federer hits a backhand, and then i can even study his physics or "reduce" that action in the world to its "scientific" qualities in any way i want. none of that makes his performance of that backhand or my witnessing of that backhand any less a site of magic.

    speaking of contemporary and doing it together, there is a jordan stempleman poem in the new alice blue review that i can't unstuck from my head what for its "exaclty, exACTly" quality. here's the first few stanzas:

    No matter who
    takes over the world,

    they will build
    within us one stiff

    twin called astonishment,
    unable to ever unlive.

  2. wow...that was an immediate and eloquent response. i am edified with stiff astonishment. is that right? anyways, yes, thank you for responding. i agree with you. demystification, however bitter, is medicinal.

    related: federer is magical.