Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

#Poppoetry: The Unsurprising Culture of Poetry in the U.S. -- Part II

This is Part II of IV of the "#Poppoetry" essay. (Though probably of five posts, as Part III is long, and I will probably split it in two.)

This essay ended up having a much more academic tone than is normal for this blog -- as might have been expected. Though there has been a couple such long excursions prior here, this is a thing I would normally not post to this blog (and would instead to my other blog, if not directly to the Hatters Cabinet site). Obviously, it is here because it is directly tied to the blog. And, by midway through Part III it will have returned greatly to the main project here: talking about writing poetry.

However, I admit it is a more difficult read than you will normally find here, especially in that there was no intent for the Intro to do any of the heavy lifting: the explaining, the explicating. That starts here, in Part II. But even then, by choice I will not go specifically into defining the nomic (the social modality of our being) and the aesthetic (the individual modality of our being) beyond letting the ideas develop through the essay. In part, the essay is long enough as it is without that added labor. But also because in the end those ideas can not be defined in short form: in fact, the very nature of the ideas are they they are most readily explained by simply presenting them and letting the ideas build upon themselves. Especially in a format like this -- the written word -- where there can be no step by step "ok, did you get that? can we move on or are there questions?" (Not to say I'm not open to responding to such questions.)

In truth, the more you understand the ideas abou the nomic and the aesthetic, the more you recognize that they are very "big" ideas, and are not at all easily condensible into simple description. They have to be developed simply by talking about them and letting the ideas build on their own. I would argue they require turning away from the discussion to watch and experience the ideas as they play out in society and the world. (Thus my hoped for rhetoric and style for this blog.)

Indeed, across the blog thus far I have only slowly offered bit and piece explanations of the nomic and the aesthetic. However, on my site there is a short text titled "A Basic Statement on the Aesthetic" (here) that might give some small aid. Also, there is in another longer essay of mine, "Noble Blasphemy," also on my site, a more direct discussion of the nomic. It can be found on this page, if you scroll down to the paragraph that begins "That it offends the grammatical aspect of being." (Here is a direct link to the paragraph.)

This part of the essay links to other files which I have set up to aid in the reading. In that the essay itself will find final, official home on my site, Hatter's Cabinet of Curiosities, I have put those files up there. (In fact, Part I has already been put up on the site.)

Finally, I want to take a moment to remind readers of the premise of this essay: the culture of poetry in the U.S. is a convention driven, nomic culture, not at all unlike pop music -- thus my title, #poppoetry. Only, this essay is not argument to that end, but demonstration of what is the expected case with any established culture. I wrote this essay because the events having to do with my post on the poem "Spook House" give demonstration to that greatly nomic culture. Part II, here, begins the direct examination of that performance.

For reference, here are the links to the other parts of the essay as posted on this blog.
  • Part I. Introduction: That which Should be Assumed
  • Part III. The Poem and the Replies: Structure and Ideation
  • Part IV. Summation, Conclusion, and the Inevitable J'accuse

The full essay is also on my Hatters Cabinet site, here.


#Poppoetry: The Unsurprising Culture
of Poetry in the U.S.

II. Emotionality, Authority, and Morality


The post that began all this was posted on May 18, 2013, on my Poetry Daily Critique blog. The post was an exploratory look at structure and ideation using the poem "Spook House" by Benjamin Myers as subject matter. "Spook House" had appeared on the Verse Daily site three days prior. Myers is a professor of literature at Oklahoma Baptist University. Outside his academic work, he has published two volumes of poetry, one of which won the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry. I assume he also teaches creative writing. (To my knowledge I had never before heard of Benjamin Myers or read any of his poetry.[FN])

[FN] Which I say only because I believe in maintaining transparency. Outside of that, it means nothing that I had never heard of Myers previously.

Myers's first reply to my post came a month later, on June 25, and the exchange between us lasted but a couple of days. There was an audience to the exchange (which I know both by the blog's statistics and Myers's own comments); I think it is safe to assume that that audience consisted primarily of students. Which is important, as it establishes that Myers was performing for an audience not in the sense of an entertainer but in the sense of a person publically defending their work and station. It also gives no small energy to the idea that Myers was performing a nomos.

For pragmatic reasons, from this point on I will adapt the convention that Myers's replies will always be called "Replies," while my entries into the discussion (outside the original post) will always be called "Responses." If I re-connect long entries broken up into parts and ignore entries that are merely corrections of previous entries, the exchange can be condensed to the following Replies and Responses:

  • Post (5/15)
  • Reply 1 (6/25 11:14am)
  •       Response 1 (6/25 2:21pm)
  • Reply 2 (6/26 8:00am)
  •       Response 2 (6/26 11:05am)
  • Reply 3 (6/26 11:56am)
  • Reply 4 (6/26 1:07 pm)
  •       Response 3 (6/27 11:29pm)
  • Reply 5 (6/28 4:09 am)

(Times given are that of my time zone, on the east coast.) It is by these labels that I will identify the comments made.

I have made new files of the original post and the exchange (as condensed above) so as to make them easier to read and to refer to. I have also made a page that is solely Myers's replies, which I have color coded to show the of different purposes of the language within the replies. I also include a link to the original Verse Daily page, and a link to a page that restructures the poem in paragraph form. Here are the links:

As said prior, I do admit the original post is not the strongest writing: there are a couple straight out errors in wording and syntax, and some moments where it is not the clearest what I am saying. In partial defense, my want for the tone of the blog is for it to be conversational, rather than academic (or otherwise formal), so I don't always strive for precision in language. Also, there is the pragmatic factor of time: this is a side project of mine, and I spend enough time on the posts as it is without adding meticulous editing.

The function and purpose of my blog is to use the poems on the Poetry Daily and Verse Daily sites as source material for discussion about writing poetry and about poetics and the aesthetic. Its text is aimed wholly at looking at poetry from the writer's standpoint: it is not meant to be a critique of poems or poets in the quotidian meaning of that word. I try to maintain a rhetorical stance of simply talking about the poems -- though one injected with information out of poetics and literary theory. The rhetoric is intended to prompt discussion and examination of ideas generated out of the poems examined: not to "provide" knowledge, as it were, but to get readers to think about ideas concerning poetry as an aesthetic object.[FN] Unlike a text book, it does not operate through definition and example; unlike a critique, it does not mean to operate through formal analysis and explication (though at times it does approach that). It is an attempt to present concepts and ideas in a way that offers readers a chance to probe, test, develop, and refine those concepts from a the standpoint of their own poetic creation. As such, the blog rarely runs to argument and proof (something which becomes important in the replies). Rather, as I say in my Response 1:

My purpose here is to look at poems and talk about them in a way that will prompt people to think about poetry and poetics in more than a surface-limited manner. As such, I exaggerate, over-state, give twists, ask questions that point one way even though I think the answer lies in another direction, and [. . .] write things even while thinking to myself "I really want to like these lines . . . someone show me I am wrong."

So my rhetoric is quite frequently guided by my discursive ends rather than by strictures of logic. I make it no secret that my project does have an "agenda": a philosophical background that extends far beyond a mere appreciation of poetry: that is, the idea of literature as a pursuit of beauty, and the exploration of the aesthetic as the modality of beauty. This is rather blatantly stated on the top of the blog's site. Also, I do not at all make it a secret that I find most contemporary poetry (as published both in books and in journals) to be often remarkably shallow, not infrequently inept, and for the most part repetitive, undifferentiated, and banal.

[FN] I speak of a poem or text being "aesthetic" or "nomic" as does all theorists concerned with such: in their own terms. But must always be recognized that every text (and reading) is nomic to some degree, or there would be an absence of any sense or coherence; and every text (and reading) is aesthetic to some degree, or our language would have the rigorous formality of a programming language. With the labels "aesthetic" and "nomic" I speak of a text, utterance, or reading or writing where one modality greatly predominates.

But, then, that is rather the premise of this essay: that most poetry written today is going to be shallow, generally inept, repetitive, and banal, and that the nomos of pop poetry will nonetheless uphold it as quite the opposite. As such, I am inevitably -- and intentionally -- going to be poking at sacred cows. As I say in my 3d response:

I know exactly what I am doing here: I am standing in the street, calling out the Emperor on his new clothes.

Though, I try to keep those energies as background energies. (They do occasionally erupt forward.) The primary efforts and energies are toward that exploration, examination, questioning, and thought-prompting. As for "Spook House," I rather thought myself standing mostly in the foreground (if occasionally inartfully). Though, some level of critique is inevitable, and it is plain by the post that I don't find the poem terribly successful.

Except, is it not? After all, it performs exactly as it was meant to perform.


The header for this particular post was "ideation, depth, and bombs." My intent was to use the presence in the poem of what I call an "emotion bomb" to open the door to an expeditionary look at depth and ideation.

What is an "emotion bomb"? On the blog, I have used the phrase a small number of times to label an event often seen in mediocre (and rarely seen in more sophisticated) poetry. The phrase describes an insertion into the poem of a sudden and strong emotional effect. I call them "bombs" because, usually, they carry little ideational depth within the rest of the poem and tend to appear out of nowhere. They mostly exist as cheap effect, as a way to introduce into the poem profoundity or emotional poignancy or whatnot without the poem (or the poet) having to expend energy building up such ideas. In comparison, it is choosing the fright of the monster jumping out of the closet rather than the development of the more resonant -- and more difficult to accomplish -- ideations of horror. In contemporary poetry, it is usually worked through an interruptive phrase like "but she is dead now," or, in poetry that strives for political poignancy, a similar moment that establishes that the person died needlessly in some Arabic conflict. Same event, only a different flavor of bomb.

So, I wanted to look at "Spook House" as a poem with a emotion bomb in it, though a poem that in a slanted way does engage the idea contained within the bomb. I question in the post whether that engagement saves the bomb or, rather, exposes the whole of the poem as being ideationally shallow and disorganized. In his Replies, Myers objects to both my reading of the poem and those ideas of structure and unity that underlie that reading. His Reply 1 is a rather brief -- if harsh -- statement to that end.

My Response 1 was intended as a polite acknowledgment of the first Reply, offered without inviting continuing the discussion. This might be more apparent to people who are familiar with blogs and such internet texts open to replies, as reading Reply 1 in isolation it reads like little more than an emotion-laced, insult-filled ego response.[FN] So, in my Response I accepted the accusation that one moment in the post could be read as an ad hominem (as Myers so did read it), clarifying that my intent was not to say that the poem demonstrated that its author had no familiarity with Dante, but that the poem spoke no such familiarity. I acknowledged the reference to Randall Jarrell, declined the opportunity to discuss postmodern poetics, and left it at that.

[FN] People familiar with blogs and might also recognize that replies of that nature (i.e., ego-responses) are occasionally expected, especially with a blog like my own. So it is not unsurprising that I read it that way.

Myers opens Reply 2 with:

I think my response may have been too subtle for you [. . . ].

In Myers's eyes my Response was wholly insufficient: it did not perform as Myers intended or wanted for it to perform. Which is to say I did not perform as Myers intended or wanted it me perform. There was an expectation on Myers's part: an expectation that I would see his Reply 1 in a certain light, as a certain statement, and respond accordingly. Reply 2 speaks that Reply 1 was not merely a brief tirade of insult: there was a point, a statement being made, and I failed wholly to see it.

After the second Reply, it is not difficult to re-read Reply 1 as intending such a statement. After all, the opening paragraph is about poetics, including not only an appeal to the authority of postmodern poetics[FN] but also a slant against those poetics represented by The Well Wrought Urn, poetics which Myers qualifies as "quaint" -- no small word in that it nigh trivializes Brooks and that entire era of literary theory and criticism, thus giving strength to my first reading that Reply 1 was primarily ego-response, and the use of such as "post-modern criticism" and Randall Jarell served only to ground that barrage in an academic/knowledged frame: after all, you cannot insult a person’s heritage without actually speaking of that person’s heritage.

[FN] I should make note that the phrase "postmodern poetics" can here only refer to those ideas that Myers himself holds to be postmodern poetics. But, in that Myers is speaking out of a normalizing nomos, those ideas will not vary very far from what is culturally held to be postmodern poetics, and will fit well enough within the norm so as to validate both Myers's appeal to postmodern poetics and my use of the term to categorize those ideas.

Reply 2 recasts the whole of Reply 1: there was purpose, there was argument, there was organized intent. It was not mere emotional outburst -- so also, despite the continuing tone of insult, are the rest of the Replies. But then, the insults are themselves part of the argument, not the other way around. Indeed, the insults speak two concerted efforts of characterization: one of "a fool masquerading as an expert" and one of a "bitter and vindictive" person suffering from a "case of sour grapes." (That is, a person who cannot get published on their own, so instead takes out their bitterness on others via the open mic of a website).[FN] Both are important, and both go to the same end: to define the writer of the original post as someone who "clearly do[es] not know anything about" poetry: tantamount to saying someone who is not of the culture of poetry. Thus, the Replies are not at all an attack upon my heritage, or hairstyle, or habits -- in the manner of a normal, emotion-driven assault -- but a direct attack upon my self as an authority as regards poetry: specifically, within the established nomos of the culture of poetry.

[FN] To note, the barrage of insults can be somewhat easily (if not perfectly) divided into three types: general insults, insults attacking my knowledge and acumen with literature, and insults concerning the motivations behind this blog. I color code the phrasing (see file) to show what effort was put into each. The far majority lies within the specific rather than the general.

Arguably, authority is the primary point of contest throughout the Replies. Though, it is not a contest of which authority but a contesting of whether I possess authority at all. For, from the nomic view, I am -- in the Post but also in the Responses -- not engaged in an acceptable act of debate over poetic points of fact, a debate over something that established authority can readily characterize and qualify. And, in that my rhetoric strives for an aesthetic discourse, I am indeed not: something which strikes Myers truly and right off:

But, I see you have determined to focus on "discussion, not argument and proof." I congratulate you on sticking so closely to your critical principles of groundless assertion and the avoidance of reason.

If I were merely calling into question points of fact, the contest would be a test of authorities. However, in word and rhetoric, the post is calling into question the very system of belief that establishes those points of fact as fact. That is, I am not merely calling into question the quality of "Spook House," I am also calling into the question the very system that attributes quality to "Spook House." I am reading -- and inviting readers -- to read poetry not as they are culturally expected to read poetry (just as I did not respond to Myers's original reply in form with cultural expectations). I am moving the entire field of discourse from "if you do X then you are writing good poetry" (a wholly nomic methodology) to asking the more fundamental questions:

  • What is sophistication as comes to writing poetry?


  • To what degree (and where) does the poem here examined demonstrate sophistication (or the absence thereof)?

In that sophistication is individual, they are questions that do not sit well in a "there is a correct answer" modality: if "what is sophistication?" (and "how is this sophsiticated or unsophisticated?") can only be answered by an individual in accordance to that own individual's sophistication, I am not merely questioning an authority, I am questioning of the very authoritativeness of authority. It is the crime of daring to question the emperor's new clothes: something which will usually piss the emperor off; and, not only the emperor but all their faithful subjects. Why? Because it is not simply asking a question: it is calling into question the very idea of truth. Thus, the common response to such a question:

            "You are not wearing any clothes!"
            "What do you mean? Of course I am!"

"What do you mean?" -- that is, "how do those words that you have spoken at all make sense?" The response marks the question as an absurdity, because everybody knows[FN] the emperor has clothes. It is an established truth. Those authorities that delineate the true have put their stamp of approval upon it. The question is not one of character: e.g., "what kind of clothes are those?" It is a question of reality. As such, there response can only refuse engagement of the question and dismiss the very questioning. To engage the question as legitimate is impossible: if the question had authoritative legitimacy then accepted reality is not real; truth is wholly overturned.

[FN] In no small way, "everybody knows that" is synonymous for "it is true that" within the nomic.

"What do you mean?" if asked honestly, is an aesthetic question: a question that recognizes a disjunction in that moment of communication, a recognition that there is a confusion within truth itself, and that offers the willing flexibility needed to mediate that disjunction to the satisfaction of both sides -- which is to say wherein both sides remain equal participants in the discourse. Within the modality of the nomos, however, the question "what do you mean?" can only be used accusingly: that is, "you are talking nonsense."

This opens the door for what is the very nomic continuation: "since what you are saying is nonsense, then you must be nonsensical; and in that you are nonsensical, your participation in this discourse – within this culture – can be wholly ignored. If you wish to continue this discussion, you must first see that what I say is accepted meaning, is truth, and follow it. You must accept your position within the nomos, and act accordingly." This explains Myers's statements such as in Reply 3:

But someone really has to call you out on this b.s. Who knows, I might be saving you from stepping into an even worse mess in the future.

The Replies are not only an appeal to authority (a reaffirmation of authority and of the standing of both Myers and "Spook House" in relation to that authority), but the attempt to remove authority from my post, words, and person: not through proof, but through performance. It is, in a not at all metaphorical fashion, an attempt to "put someone in their place": an attempt to identify a person as stepping out of bounds (an act normally coupled with the assertion of the authority to declare the person as being out of bounds).[FN] Thus the amount of presupposition within the Replies: this is not a matter of proof; it is not even within the realm where proof is required or argument applied; this is the domain of performance and re-assertion. Thus also the amount of emotionality in the replies. On the one side, truth, authority, validity within the culture of poetry -- the culture that gives "Spook House" and its poet certain qualities and merit -- is being wholly challenged; on the other side, the refutation of that challenge lies in performance: the "putting" in the idea of "putting into one’s place" is the key term, for those "places" -- social positioning, authority, stature, merit -- only exist when the various "ones" of culture -- the poets, the poems, the poetics and theory -- are put therein. A relationship of authority is being established and affirmed (just as with and in parallel to that established between postmodern poetics and the poetics of The Well Wrought Urn), and such a relationship – a social relationship – demands performance.

[FN] A point of clarification: there are, in fact, two types of stepping out of bounds. There is that of stepping out of one's established position and into another established position within which one doesn't belong, and there is that of stepping wholly out of the establishment itself. Both are affronts to the ordering (and truths) of society and the nomos. The difference is the former is calling into question which identity the offender is supposed to carry. The offender still accepts and functions within the general nomos. The latter is calling into question the very system by which identity is created and assigned. The intentions and rhetoric of my blog are of the latter nature: it is the offense of the aesthetic against the nomic.

As I said above, the underlying issue in the Replies is that I did not speak about "Spook House" -- speak about poetry -- within the established proprieties of the nomos of pop poetry. Rather, I questioned the not only the truths of the nomos, and the authorities that legitimate those truths, I questioned Truth and its ability to be Truth: I stood outside established authority. It should be stated here that it is part of the rhetoric and very much conscious decision on my part to try to keep appeals to authority in the blog itself -- especially any that might establish myself as such -- to a minimum. I do not want readers reading the posts as though spoken from a position of authority, posts whose veracity and strength would then lie in that they are argued out of some recognizable, academic source or well-known name. The idea, after all, is to prompt independent thought on the part of readers/writers, to get them to think about questions rather than facts.

Indeed, much of the source of the vitriol of the Replies lies not in what I wrote at any point, but in that there was no "argument and proof," that there was no appeal to authority. Which is one way that makes the Replies so demonstrative of a nomic defense. If I had instead written a short thesis, laced through and through with logical progressions, rationally ordered demonstrations of proof, and a sufficient display of accepted symbols of authority, I believe the Replies would have been far more wholly about and stemming from a bruised ego, as the nomic need for authority would have been satisfied, if not necessarily to Myers's favor. The appeal to authority as a nomic performance gives statements the appearance of and, more importantly, the modality of truth. If I had written so, Myers's argument with myself would then have simply been one about the veracity of whatever claims were made. But without such, in a rhetoric of discussion rather than proof, in an atmosphere where authority is avoided, no such nomic debate can be established[FN]: ergo Myers's description of the "critical principles of groundless assertion and the avoidance of reason." Thus the necessity and performative effectiveness (within the nomos) of the act of "putting into one's place": the offending speaker is given a social identity within the nomos, one that removes any authority from their words. Even though I never engaged the Replies within the modality of the nomic, Myers is yet establishing, for those members of the culture of contemporary poetry who are watching (in this case primarily up-and-coming members of that culture), the "places" -- the identities -- of my own and Myers's voices.

[FN] Unless, of course, I were to drop down into that modality in my Responses and argue Myers's Replies on his (i.e., the nomos's) terms. With any such, though, there is immediately and only affirmation of the nomos, and complete abandonment of the aesthetic. As demonstrated by the charges of "it's not philosophy" leveled against both Nietzsche and Derrida, the aesthetic can not be argued and proved; it can only be talked about.

Thus, the Replies have a two-fold nature: they must both establish the identity and constitution of the offending speaker as perceived from within the culture's nomos,

[from Reply 1:] Jarrell knew how to make stinging criticism grounded in something more that arbitrary, nonsensical vagaries about "structure." He also knew the difference between a sharp critic and just being a jerk. Of course, he also knew how to write poetry himself, something you clearly do not know anything about.[FN]

and they must re-affirm the authorities through which the "natural order of things" as defined within the nomos is maintained. Again,

You might not find postmodern poetics compelling, but some familiarity with it would perhaps at least save you from looking like an ass.
[FN] It is to note that I make no claims as to writing poetry in the original post. Indeed, outside of moments that speak about the general idea of the writing of poetry, I had always avoided any specificity as regards "my writing." The direct reference to my writing in Response 3 is the first ever within the context of the blog. (At least, of which I have any memory. Though, I know it is the first time I spoke of any actual text.) I am sure readers of the blog assume I am speaking as a fellow explorer in the writing of poetry; however, I never use I my own work as example or exemplar.


Authority gives grounding of verity to the truths asserted within the nomos; but, in that a nomos is itself but a complex of conventionality, those authorities exist as sources of truth only insomuch as the members of the culture accept their status as authorities. The flow is circular: the authorities establish the truth value of the beliefs of the nomos, and the nomos legitimizes -- through its continual performance -- the righteousness of those authorities. In the end, within a nomic culture, authority is a position within the social, a position whose function is to maintain the status quo, the belief structure, the world-view of the nomos, and a position which is maintained only insofar as those people within that nomos can accept the authority of those persons (or texts, or whatever) holding those positions, and thus the modality of truth, and the nature of the nomos.

Which is to say, the culture of poetry, ultimately, will chose authorities which can most successfully maintain the culture of poetry. The culture of pop music cycles through its icons, establishing them as cultural identities, as speakers of the "art of music," giving them the legitimacy of "well, they made it to the top, therefor they must be good," which in turn creates the cultural response of "they are at the top; they are good; therefore I will listen to them, buy their albums, and participate in the fan base that will maintain their status at the top" -- and then back around the circle again. All of which, in the end, maintains the status quo and on-going stability of the culture of pop music. Which leads us in turn back to our basic question: by what possible logic, argument, character, or trait should we expect the culture of poetry to be any different?

But also back to the moment of this one example, where that nomic cycle of acceptance and affirmation through performance is being challenged by a voice that is (1) without expressed, recognized authority; (2) not playing within the rules of authority, assertion, and proof; and (3) asking their readers to follow likewise: such a voice could not be accepted as having authority, for such recognition would immediately legitimate the acts of that person, and ascribe the modality of verity to their words. Rather, the blasphemer -- and I choose that word descriptively -- must be cast out. Or, in the case of the condemning priest in their moment of benefice –

Perhaps you should consider how to put those assets to some positive use instead. Maybe, if you read and study, you could someday be a decent critic.

Repent, sinner, and come back into the fold: which is to say, to take one's acceptable, accepted -- natural -- position within the structures of society, within the rightful ordering of the world, within the nomos. Within the culture of contemporary poetry, that means criticism that follows the right way of doing things, and thus that does not challenge the status quo. (At least, not in an unacceptable way.)

But, remember, this is also performance. There is an audience here, and, to continue the metaphor, that audience includes acolytes. The performance is thus trebly key. There is a world-view being asserted, a world-view being performed. It is not for naught, then, the second prong of the assault upon the heretic: the demonizing.

It first appears in substance in Reply 2 (forgive the lengthy extraction):

Honestly, it is this bit of snide comment that gives you away more than anything else in your post as merely sour. I can't help but conjecture that you are one of the all too common species of failed poet who, after suffering a few rejections, found it easier to blame the supposedly lapsed standards of contemporary literature -- which will obviously never understand your great genius -- than to buckle down, pay your dues, and work on your art. In short, your tone makes it clear that you are just another case of sour grapes: knowing you will never appear on either Poetry Daily or Verse Daily, you take it upon yourself to sit in your dark cave and mutter about those who do.

What is being referred to by "this bit of snide comment" is a parenthetical sentence in the original post, situated under the first two lines of the poem, which I normally put at the top of each post for identification purposes. Visually, it is quite clear the top of every post is wholly informational. I'll give you here all three lines as it appears on the post. To distinguish the poem, I will put it in a different font:

The first. I heard of Dante
was at the county fair when I was ten,

(Obviously, Verse Daily has shown us again their love for laxity.)

(You can look also back at the page itself.) As stated in my Response 2, the sentence refers to the period in the first line of the poem. Verse Daily has a terrible habit of botching the transcription of the poems they put on their site. Typos frequently appear. (I have a number of times pointed this out on the blog.[FN]) This error is beyond blatant. So obvious, indeed, I question how Myers himself missed it on the blog page.

[FN] In fact, the error in "Spook House" has still not been corrected.

Yet, Myers tees off on it. As for myself (indeed, it is rather what I would expect with most people), if I were a reader of the blog, I am sure I would have noticed the glaringly incorrect period -- especially in that it would be appearing in the first line of my own poem -- and would have been able to guess at the context of the "laxity" line. And even if I missed the period, the positional and visual context (under the first two lines of the poem, in the informational part of the post) would have still given strong hint that the sentence was about something having to do specifically with those first two lines, which would again have pointed me toward that interruptive period. Indeed, even if I missed the period, and even if the sentence was, for me, "meaningless and vague," I still honestly believe my response to it would be, simply, "I don't understand that comment." I honestly can not fathom how that sentence, positioned where it is, would ever lead me to type:

You really should be ashamed of yourself for this snide and meaninglessly vague comment. Do you mean to say that the lines are lax in meter? In diction? In image? There is no such thing as "laxity" without some field in which to be lax, some measure of strenuousness. (Reply 2, emphasis mine)

(This is reply is a day later, not in the heat of the moment.)

In the Reply it is used as a launching point for a wholly nomic assault: an opportunity is taken not to attack the writing, but to attack the writer. It is one that is framed not only within the competence/authority argument but also within a moral framework. Again: "You really should be ashamed of yourself."

Even sitting here, typing and editing this essay, my thoughts are continually, what a strange thing to say. And what is the explanation that follows? That the statement is "meaninglessly vague," intellectually "lax" on its own part, which sets it within the number of assertions of incompetence that function in conjunction with the act of social positioning described above. But there is still that opening line, a line that is for me terrifically unexpected, and would be whether it were to occur within an emotional rant or a rational reprove. The critique has been moved from a critique of ability to a moral judgment. (This is not the only such moment in the Replies.)

But should this be so unexpected? Yes, the emotionality. But emotionality does not explain expressing a moral affront. Yet, the influence of the nomic modality of the psyche does. For the nomos is the locus of truth, it is the world-view. It is that which is reality. It is also the ultimate truths out of which that reality is defined. As such, to challenge a nomic world-view is to assault a society or believing individual on teleological -- which is essentially to say religious -- grounds. A challenge to the nomos itself – which is to say any aesthetic challenge – will then of course have the potential to strike also as a moral affront and thus be naturally rebuked as an immoral act. (Just as an individual in a social framework such as described in Downton Abbey, should they step out of their social bounds, will be committing a social error, yes; but also an error with moral resonances. It is not just a faux pas, it is a sin. It is an affront to the natural order of things.)

But when you stop and look, morality is not infrequently the root and nature of argument in discourse about poetry. In no small part, this finds hold in that appeal inherent to poetry as a medium that expresses the higher nature of humankind. In no small part, mediocre poetry is often given value through tapping into that morally-oriented appeal. You will often see, in response to essays and editorials like the Edmundson essay, replies that are so anchored in ideas that really have nothing to do with poetry per se but simply reaffirm the positive moral and emotional aspects of participation within the culture of poetry. Blurbs on the covers of books of poetry very frequently praise the contents not on issues of aesthetics or poetics or poetic daring-do, but on their moral-spiritual sheen. And it need not be positively oriented. Take, for instance, the annual Vida pie fair: it would be difficult to find a greater effort to create utterly groundless conclusions out of a single statistic so devoid of context as to be essentially meaningless. Which has nothing to with the ultimate validity of the conclusions; but has everything to do with statistical verity and veracity being thrown out the window for what is, essentially, a moral appeal.[FN] The same moral sentiment underlies the use of poetry as a social critique, and the justification of social criticism: criticism that is often as argumentatively as groundless as are the conclusions drawn from pies -- and yet, on moral principles, praised.

[FN] An interesting element of this is the question: how many of these conclusions are coming from Vida? and how many originate rather in the voices of people whose social position dictates the continual performance of such conclusions? A question wholly in unison with this essay.

But this is not particular to the culture of poetry. This is how every nomos functions. Truth and religiosity are bound together. So it should not be a surprise that there is a moral streak in the Replies. After all, they are emotionally bound. And while the emotionality obviously did not take control and turn the Replies into a raving, irrational rant, I would argue it opened the doors for things to be said that might otherwise have been edited by eraser or delete key, if not, before that, by the psyche. Emotion opens paths not only for irrational jibberish, but for what is wanted to be said, what is desired to be performed and thus affirmed. It grants permissiveness to acting on what I will talk about in the next section: the need to read shallowly, to need to misread, to read the passage in the desired direction toward the desired meaning rather than the direction the words actually speak: a thing we witness every day with politicos and, more often, their homilists -- and very frequently see within the culture of poetry, where reading depth into shallow poems is a way of life. Such would explain the strength and length of the conclusion drawn from the "laxity" sentence above. It can also be seen in the "failed writer" prong of the Replies.

This particularly in Reply 5, where Myers responds to my (for the first time on my blog) speaking about my own writing. I start with my Response 3, which refers to the moments in Reply 2 that casts me in the role of frustrated writer wringing out their sour grapes:

I am not at all sure how you came to that conclusion -- except, perhaps, in that you might must. In truth, I'm not now nor really have ever been that interested in publication. Though, I do have my meager list of credits: one poem, one story, one academic essay, and one conference paper. But I kind of like the symmetry of that, and it satisfies me for now. Indeed, most of my friends and writing acquaintances would say (and have chided me) that if I am not published it is wholly because I do not try nearly hard enough. And we laugh.

I don't think I could be more clear (and the paragraph does continue) in stating that publishing really carries very little importance for me. I've enjoyed it when it happened; but it is not something I actively seek. Which is, actually, important, because once again I am not conforming to the expected role of writer/critic within the culture of poetry, whose world requires the want for publication. If you don't want publication, then you don't have to learn to write toward publication. And if you don't have to learn to write toward publication, the MFA industry rather loses its primary source of students.

In not putting the expected values and emphases on publication, in not seeking publication in the expected (and appropriate) ways, I am failing yet again to perform and reaffirm the culture of poetry. In yet another way I am heretical to the culture; in yet another way I must be put in my place, the act of which is performed in Reply 5, where there is not only the reappearance of the original diagnosis of frustrated bitterness but also the simultaneous use of publications as a statement of status within the nomos and as affirmation of publications as a source of authority within the nomos.

You also might be interested to know that I am an actual critic, published by reputable journals not just my own blog, and I have written negative reviews. The difference is that my reviews were based on sound and reasonable standards, not just bitterness.

Note how that affirmation is coupled with the authority of (but not demonstration of) argument and proof. Then again, in the more directed moment:

Okay, so you admit that you have never published much of anything. You admit that you are merely a crank with a beef with contemporary poetry. Your only qualification is access to a computer.

The phrasing and tone of that first sentence makes it clear that the conveyed meaning is "you haven't published, therefore" you are "merely a crank"; and, a crank without "qualification." The text is toned down a bit from the accusations of failure-induced bitterness in Reply 3, but there is still the presence of "bitterness" in the first quotation, and the characterization of "crank" in the second, both of which fall in line with the initial, long characterization of "sour grapes." Different in description, perhaps, but the same in intent: characterization, demonization, positioning outside the ordering of the nomos, and removal of authority and status. They are actions which are quite normal elements within the defense of a nomos, and expected ones. For, a heretic -- to return to our previous metaphor -- attacks the reality of the nomic world view: they attack the order of it, the righteousness of it, the definitions and structuring provided by it. As such, they remove themselves from that ordering, from that sense of "this is the way it is supposed to be." As such, it is quite a natural thing for the demonization of the opponent to be literally that: a teratological re-characterization of the heretic, as not of the natural order, as something outside the way things are supposed to be, and thus one becomes a cave-dwelling worm and bitter crank.


Next: "III. The Poem and the Replies: Structure and Ideation" -- here

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