Monday, July 11, 2005

The page wants to stay white

First sentences are always the hardest - where you begin determines where you'll be able to go. But using my first sentence, in my first post on this new blog, to mention the challenges of first sentences - well, it handles that problem nicely doesn't it?

I should start by introducing myself and laying out the purpose of this blog (besides joining the modern chorus and creating a monument to my accomplishments, of course). My name is Brian Howe, I live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I cobble together a living as a freelance writer, a barista, and a projectionist. Interesting but not entirely practical skills - a carpenter can walk into any town and find work. This only applies to me if someone in said town happens to need their album reviewed, their milk steamed, or their intermittent sprocket aligned. Mainly, I identify as a music critic / poet.

Right now, I contribute regularly to Pitchforkmedia.com and Paste Magazine. I also participate in a group mp3 blog at http://www.moistworks.com. I am a member of the Lucifer Poetics Group, an affiliation of modern / post-avant / experimental poets. Our membership spans the country, and on the whole our main activity is an email list for poetic discussion. But our activities are really centered here in North Carolina - we make chapbooks, have meetings, perform publically here and elsewhere in the country, and drink. In late July we'll be striking out on a reading tour through Baltimore, Philly and NYC - more on that later this month.

Right now, music blogs and poetry blogs are mostly segregated. Many poets I know are very interested in modern music, but fewer musicians/music fans seem to be interested in modern poetry. This I attribute, at least in part, to the fact that vital, interesting music has a much higher profile than vital, interesting poetry. Many people who participate in music at the ground level - the ezines, the blogs, the online communities - don't realize that there is a similar sphere in poetry. It's a sphere you wouldn't find unless you're looking for it. I believe that many people, particularly youngish people who are into cutting edge music, would find untold riches in modern poetry if they knew where to look. I'm not out to smite high-profile, academy poets. But I would like for people to know that for every MFA candidate placing lyrical meditations with seemingly arbitrary line breaks in high-end lit journals (even when these are finely wrought they might smell awfully musty to someone looking for excitement), there is a poet dreaming at the periphery of language, casting away the old forms, and creating vital, challenging, visceral work of pure linguistic energy.

Actually, strike that - I don't want to paint this as MFA poet bad, oustider poet good. There are many trained poets using their education to create astonishing, groundbreaking work, just as there are many writing capital-G Good poems that are completely devoid of new ideas and boring as hell. There are many outsider poets writing inane drivel, just as there are many who are creating some of the most novel, geniune, salient poetry around. Your education or lack thereof isn't the issue - how honestly and urgently you deploy your particular sensibility is. There is a lot of baseless self-satisfaction going around in poetry. I would like to see poetry become less sure of itself. Encyclopedias are for facts. Poetry is for poking and prodding at unknowns. But I'm wandering off topic.

The parallels between underground music and underground poetry are so strong that I'm always shocked when music critic friends ask me "Why do you bother with poetry? It's dead," (this happened), and when I venture to mention poetry in music critic circles, it's often as if I've walked into the room and farted loudly - uncomfortable silence ensues. There's nothing wrong with the latest Billy Collins poem in the New Yorker, but I would like for people to know that if it isn't your cup of tea, there are many other options, limitless options in limitless forms. To me modern poetry is similar to hip-hop, a territory that's growing to encompass all around it, and a matter more of intention than form. It seems like there's nothing you can put in a hip-hop song that makes it not hip-hop - hip-hop devours everything it touches. So it is with poetry. Poetry's popular face would have you believe it's about observing boundaries. I believe that it is about destroying them.

It's difficult being a music critic and a poet - to excel at either is a full time job, and as I've said, rarely do they intersect. I don't expect to change that on my own. But I would like for this blog to sit right on the cusp between them, to create a tentative portal via which they might interact. More to the point, both are important parts of my life, and so I'll blog about both. If some crossover happens because of it, all the better. Of course I don't want to be dogmatic, which is death to good poetry and good music, so this formal creed may wind up abandoned. I should like for this blog to be surprising and organic in its evolution. If it starts to venture elsewhere I doubt I'll be able to stop it.

That should suffice for today. I hope to update daily, so I hope you'll come by again. If you'd like to swap links, or if I've linked you and you don't want to be linked, please let me know.

7 Comments:

Blogger Bill said...

I like the idea of your blog and wish you luck with it. I'll definitely check back. I found Slatherpuss on Marcus Slease's blog, Never mind the beasts which I found doing a search on google on Shampoo all within the past 10 minutes right before I go to bed. :)

11:40 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Thanks for stopping by Bill, and for reminding me I need to link to Marcus's blog. The man is inscrutable, I watch him like cloud formations. He's good to have around.

11:47 PM  
Blogger david karsten daniels said...

I too don't understand why good popular music and the less academic poetry don't seem to make as good bedfellows as I think they ought to. In my experience, which is approaching the relationship from the music side of things, a lot of poetry (even the less academic) seems still not plain language enough for my tastes.

For instance, I appreciate Szymborska's accessibility; I don't think she misses out on anything by keeping it easy but she sure does gain much from it in the way of focus and an ability to speak so directly to the reader...

1:11 AM  
Blogger Brennen Wysong said...

Unlike you, I partially came into poetry via music criticism. I was a long-time fiction writer (I have an MFA in it); however, when I started writing record reviews for the now-defunct 'Flyer,' I not only entered into a new language (or at least a discourse), but I found myself understanding compression in an entirely new way. Most of my prose poems, length-wise, are comparable to my reviews. And while their effects and audiences are entirely different, I do see some similarities in method of composition.

That said, David Berman poet/Silver Jews crosses that line between underground music and underground poetry. Jeff Tweedy, no matter how much out of the underground he is, has a book of poetry on Zoo.

So here's to the points where things cross. I'm intrigued with your direction and will surely be coming back.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

It's interesting that Brennan mentions the possible aesthetic crossover between record reviews and prose poetry: I just turned in a review of the new Xiu Xiu record to a publication which read very much like a prose poem. I thought it was quite effective, and the clipped, urgent, first-person voice I used was meant to reflect the aura of the record, but the editors rejected it outright (no slight to them - it's their publication and they have the right to choose the tone of its content). I will do a straight rewrite for them, but I will probably post my original review here or at http://www.moistworks.com within the next couple days. I am curious to hear people's responses - can prose poetry be an effective critical form, given the right record and the right circumstances, or is it too self-aggrandizing? Are people interested in reading music criticism that aspires to be artful, or should music crit be more meat-and-potatoes, leaving artful reviews to literature?

2:46 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

And I owe BRENNEN an apology for mispelling his name in my previous comment.

3:20 PM  
Blogger flabbitydoo said...

Haiku time.

Jesus Christ. All you
fucking warrior poets
should fight to the death.

Good money's on Howe's woolly dragon style.

8:02 PM  

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