awesome is the color of my true love's eyes

Had a lovely time this weekend in Charm City (is that a mom-jeans move, like calling San Francisco "Frisco?") with the beautiful and amazing and witty and funny and gentle-with-my-lost-salt-and-vinegar-chip-bitterness Carolyn C.Z., and among the company of many Baltimore wizards (surely a word that everyone needs; we need to campaign this word into the same gender neutrality "actor" has achieved), who are all dear and kind and sometimes tall and will get a shoutout in a later, official Baltimore paragraph, not because shoutouts are some sort of icky social convention to which we must capitulate for sake of nuzzle-rubbing, but because I genuinely feel affection for the strange energy these people inflict on my ability to live, and by extension the people themselves, and by extension the names of these people, and by extension the sweetly dorkish clutter of glyphs that beam their names into your attention. They done gonna get named, yo.

Here is that paragraph: thank you to Adam Robinson, Justin Sirois, Backseat Owl, Michael Kimball, Joseph Young, Tita Chico, David Erlewine, Jen Michalski and non-Baltimore but still awesome Todd Zuniga, Dave Housley, and others I am forgetting because I am not perfect but my affection is.

I won the Baltimore Literary Death Match by performing two love poems between action figures, and then drawing Michael Kimball as a train conductor and Rafael Alvarez as a spectacled bunny, i.e. a spectacle. In other words, I made a perfect fool of myself and was rewarded, as we sometimes are before we die. Thank you to everyone. Thank you especially to Jen M and Dave Adverb.

From the Department of That's-So-Baltimore: giant flamingos (see above), paraplegic ticket takers, five people on a scooter on the sidewalk in the snow, readings in a hostel, huge bars, white car with red hood, cafes in old houses, tiny wives in high chairs at a bar, the G-Spot being a club in an old mill that's (wait for it) hard to find, and of course the lovely collaborative energy of Balitmore's witty inhabitants, who are as easy to get along with as Baltimore's snow is to melt.

What's funny is that this mini-love letter to Baltimore also rehearses—in some strange way I'm not going to insult you by explaining—my reaction to the negative reactions toward the list Elisa Gabbert and I made of contemporary poetry "moves" over at HTMLGIANT. Many people have mentioned the list in a fun way, which reminds me why I sometimes like hanging out with poets who post things on the internet, and many people have mentioned the list in a baffling way—or, more accurately, have talked about things that have nothing to do with the list as though these things are somehow the list's fault—which reminds me why I often don't enjoy hanging out with poets on the internet.

A few salient points, which are probably going to sound "reverse snobby," i.e. glib, which I don't care about sounding, because it's better than sounding "non-reverse boring:"

1) Any taxonomy taken in good faith is taken as merely an invitation to discussion, the "good faith" part of that meaning that in order to save yourself anger and headaches, you quietly ignore whether it was intended to be something more grandiose than an invitation to discussion. Hint: not I, said the fly.

2) I got most of my examples from a txt file called "good poetry.txt" And from books I had on hand. Why would I have books on hand? Because I've read them and remember them. Elisa has said she got her examples from books she had on hand. You can take all that as you will. Moves can get tired, but you can also get tired from dancing and that can feel good, that getting tired, because you had a good time. Sometimes you go dancing with your friends because you like them. I don't know what world you think you're saving if you hate dancing and/or friends, but it's not this one.

3) Poets: you're not magicians, you're not gods, you're not any more mystical than a foggy day. Not even magicians are magicians. Duh. It is not scary to talk about dancing unless, as Frank said, "you flatter yourself into thinking that what you’re experiencing is 'yearning.'" Duh. Of course it's yearning. Here's a dance called the can opener. Do you want to try it on Saturday? Cool, me too! Oh man, it's Saturday! Wow. That was fun. I'm sure glad I didn't pretend the can opener was mystical and stress myself out about doing the can opener, because then I'm not sure it would've been so fun.

4) Who are all those people on the list?! Oh my God. I know what would be fun! Let's talk about where they teach/who they know/what they've won! That is so much more fun than dancing! Oh. Wait. Oh yeah, it's not.

4a) Let's use the words "experimental," "innovation," "adventurous," etc, as though what we we're doing isn't making language experiences, but instead is making race cars and safari plans. Yeah, that sounds awesome. Inflating by way of abstract analogy what we do, without respect to what is actually enjoyable about what we do, is why everybody likes poetry and talking about poetry so, so, so much. Oh wait.


6) Of course these moves are figures of rhetoric. Of course we didn't invent them. Of course they are not new. Sometimes people say things when they are mad and it's like they are pointing at me and telling me "WHAT ABOUT THE FACT I AM WEARING A COAT." Okay, coat-wearer, what about the fact you are mad?

7) A more gentle way of approaching #5 would be to say that honestly I was surprised that so many people read "moves" as "cliches," and upon reflection, I can understand that, because the act of poets reading about poetry on the internet and talking about poetry on the internet so often comes during an anxious space where the poet is not writing poetry, is not reading poetry, and is probably thinking "poetry sucks and burns my toast. Why the fuck am I doing this. I hate myself." Were I to read this list in that mood, I would view those moves as cliches too, probably, and I would not be generous and not have good faith in my reading and would not think about why we chose to use the word "move," which is a complicated word that invites discussion. I/we maybe didn't think enough about this mood while we were making the list—though, now that I say that, I think it's actually more fair to say I didn't think about this mood enough while I was posting the list, because Elisa seems to have been smarter than me in pre-viewing these moves with nuance and critical thinking. She was less surprised that so many people were like "man, what a great list of stupid things to do; I hope I don't do these things! Hey, look at this list, and don't do these things!" I was very surprised that people approached the list like that. She was less surprised. To my credit, I did post some awesome pictures.

8) The workshop? Huh? I worked on this list while thinking about reading and writing poems, i.e. having language experiences. I never thought about "workshops" once. All the workshops I've ever had are before/after/about the language experiences. I would like to have one of these mysterious workshops that drills me into fad, just because I don't have enough t-shirts. Of course, I'm being glib. I know workshops suck. It's not like all of us talking about how much workshops suck all the time instead of talking about poetry or why we like poetry is the reason people don't like to listen to us talk about poetry or anything. Oh no. Can't be.

9) Did I forget anything? Feel like I'm forgetting something. This is the official I FORGOT SOMETHING IMPORTANT SPACE.

10) Sandra Beasley said that Elisa means the list as a "a catalyst for self awareness." I have not asked Elisa if that's what she means the list as, but I like that phrase. Sandra Beasley's whole post re: the list, actually, is awesome.

11) Mary Biddinger wants these moves on a t-shirt. Me too! I like Mary Biddinger's poems. And when capitalism ends, we're gonna need so many fucking t-shirts, yo. When capitalism ends we're going to need black t-shirts for warmth and white t-shirts for cool.

12) For some reason, I just realized that #12 should be a link to Johannes Göransson's brilliant blog as a space for an ongoing deconstruction of the "hipsterism-as-complaint" discussion dynamic so often wedged into poetry's self-pitying anxiety about why no one wants to listen to us talk about ourselves. Again, I'm being glib, and Johannes might be mildly chagrined to find himself rhetorically shoved onto "my side" by that sentence, but he talks honestly about the ways poet-talking gets too comfortable and in love with its own garden, its own cottage, its own authenticity, etc, and he is a stunning poet to boot, so I hope he is not too mad at me.

13) I have always liked the number 13, which might be related to why sometimes I am annoying or exasperating. Part of my project in life is to take my sunglasses off and give you a hug, so I will stop here. In other words, I am probably going to delete this list (not the original list but this "response-to-criticism" list) in, like, twenty minutes, because I hate conflict and I love sunglasses.

Please be awesome. You already are, so it shouldn't be that hard, okay?


John said...

Congrats on winning in Baltimore. I think you may be smarter than a sixth grader after all..

The blog was good and the list I found quite insightful. I used to try saying some of that 45 years ago on Charles Street but I lacked your eloquence. Better than good, great job there (ok, I done good, so I get the two bucks, right?)

13 is cool.


Elisa Gabbert said...

Don't delete it!

I think Sandra's interpretation of the list is great. A catalyst for self-awareness. I could have used my own poems as examples for many of the moves, but chose not to.

Despite the haters, I'm still glad we made the list and I posit that it's created more happiness than un-.


Olivia Magdelene said...

When you said, "you're not magicians, you're not gods, you're not any more mystical than a foggy day." I started laughing for a solid minute. I find your commentary insightful. After reading the list I knew more about poetry than I have in my entire life. I write it, I read it, but I rarely analyze it enough to make out trends. So thanks for that as well.

Mike Young said...


I'm glad you like the list. I am all for play and mutualized obscurity, like playing hide and seek. 13 is cool!


You're right, more happiness than un. That's the important thing. And yeah, it was good you were there to do so much awesome culling, otherwise I probably would've been tempted to just use all my own poems, haha. It would be funny if we replaced all the examples with our own poems on April Fools day.


Thanks, I'm glad you like the list. I think there is so much lint when it comes to contemporary poetry analysis, and I think we were self-conscious about not contributing to that lint. I'm glad the list made you feel excited. =)

Elisa Gabbert said...

Ooooh, I might just hold you to that idea. If we're not guilty of said move, we'll have to make something up.

Joseph Young said...

aw, thanks ya sweet guy, nice having you and corolyn here. and i missed your post on hgiant, which was amazingly perceptive. the way i read it, you'd have had to read, and probably written, and certainly enjoyed a lot of contemp poetry to have made a list like that.

CLAY BANES said...

As I was too busy, missed all the re-action and so on. "Move" was good, I thought. Here is flower. Somebody smarter than me and in a different economic position (i.e. sabbatical) could do well to limn some of our modernity's moves/schemes/glitter, for convention's sake likely finding names from antiquity. There must be a Greek word for Flarf.