Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Last night at Edison Field the Royals blanked the Angels and I had many questions. Why is the bullpen so distant from the dugout? Shouldn’t the pitchers sit with their teammates? What’s the record for the shortest nine-inning game? Why do they call them nosebleed seats? Fortunately on the way to the ballpark I found a chapbook by Juliana Spahr hidden in the backseat of my housemate’s car entitled Uneveness & The Blood Sonnets (you can read an early excerpt here, via How2. The chapbook version is much revised). Spahr is a poet and professor at the University of Hawaii, Manoa and, along with Jena Osman, edits the journal Chain. Uneveness charts Spahr's relocation to Hawaii with two friends and their consequent colonial jitters. They wonder whether they can in good faith live in a place with a history of colonialism. "Then they began to realize that it was hard to find a place that had not been colonized by someone at some time." Spahr eloquently recounts in her narrative how she managed to come to terms with her place in the island's history. Most importantly she continues to learn from other writers, including Hawaiian writers and post-colonial writers whom she had previously found irrelevant to her work. In time, living in Hawaii and reading all the available poetry (including poetry of the sovereignty movement) leads Spahr and her friends to re-evaluate the "radical" poetic practices they had been taught in graduate school: "It wasn't that they had to give up their love of the radical as defined as modernist techniques," she writes. "It was that they had to resee the radical, to see it as the continent not the mainland or as one space in a sea of islands. They began to see poetry as a series of contiguous systems, systems that didn't merge but that were beside one another."

Reading this, I couldn't help but think of the current contretemps between Ron Silliman and Brian Kim Stefans. And hear a proto-echo of the "Seventeenth Way" Kent Johnson mentions in his letter to Limetree. I don't wish to speak for Spahr, so I won't, but it seems to me that we should situate our writing practices historically. I don't see the current value in an us against them poetics, a School of Quietude with Lowell, et al versus a Post Avant with a who knows who. So maybe Ron is still operating under an historically bygone perspective . . . maybe it was a necessary position in the 1960s and 70s but is now no longer relevant. Like the radical who won't shake hands with the democrat. Maybe even Ron could learn something from Lowell, if only negatively. Once I watched D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back with my dad. When it came to the scene where Dylan mean-spiritedly disses Donovan in a guitar duel by singing a biting It's All Over Now Baby Blue, my dad became enraged. He couldn't understand why they weren't playing together. You know, jamming. I asked my dad, "Do you really think Donovan had anything to teach Bob Dylan?" My dad, a huge Dylan fan, who wouldn't be caught dead with a Donovan record, considered this for a minute, then said, "Yeah. He couldn't teach him very much, but he could teach him something."

No comments: