Tuesday, June 21, 2005

If there is any doubt that Jon Paul Fiorentino and I are really the same person, this should dispel it. We got the first bad reviews of our current books on (roughly) the same day, and they're close to home: his in his hometown newspaper and mine on a website bearing the name of the closest major street to where I live.

I don't feel too bad about this review. The reviewer, John Baglow, clearly has a blind spot, and it's a common one: he seems to think that the point of a poem should necessarily be outside it, that the language itself isn't part of the world in which poems participate. The first sign of this problem is in his sloppiness in transcribing my poetry (and I'm assuming he's the one who did it; apologies if this isn't true): The poem "Fuck" has a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end; that is, it is marked as a sentence, and it alludes to, among other things, sentences and their grammar. In fact, the poem engages a special kind of sentence. In the construction it employs, the "is" isn't a verb but is in fact a "copula" (from the Latin for "fasten," which, yes, is the root of our "copulate"). I don't expect the reader to know this, but I think the term is somewhat descriptive, and a reader who pays attention to the language and how it's functioning, to this strange sentence as a sentence, will be able to sense this: two somewhat self-problematizing terms are being joined by what looks like a verb but in fact isn't (there's a little joke in there somewhere). Moreover, and I suspect Baglow realizes this (and I suspect that this is the reason for his dismissing the poem), the sentence is fucked: the two terms as they stand can't comfortably be equated (but of course they can be equated, as this poem shows, thanks to the copula and because language is a strange thing).

And I don't mean this poem to be some hermetic word puzzle. I think there are further implications, but, ultimately (for me at least), the poem points through its disfuntion to the strangeness and violence of a common grammatical construction, one that is likely at the root of much of our experience of our world.

Part of why I'm describing the thinking behind this poem is that, for reasons that will be clear to any warm-blooded being, it's the one I'm asked about most often. It's not my favourite in the book, largely because it's not quite as obvious as others. I do think though that with sufficient attention and sensitivity, anyone can get something from it. (I like to think that, in succession, the short poems in the book teach or encourage a mode of reading that pays close attention to language's material and grammatical aspects.) The two "so so so" poems ("Untitled" and "Feels") are obvious: they're about number, repetition and difference (and we're not talking Deleuze). Take a look at what's on the page and go from there. Or take a look at my favourite ("Wave": "Yeah each way was still lit.") and contrast the patterns of the letters with how you say the poem out loud. Then think and, yes, feel.

I don't have hard feelings toward Baglow. I have blind spots too. Mythology, for instance: most allusions are completely lost on me. I am a little annoyed by his referring to my short poems as "doodles" (all but a few of them involved a lot of thought and time, and I at least consider them finished works), and I think hanging so much on the jacket blurbs is a little cheap. But, to be honest, I think he's tried pretty hard to be fair to a book he didn't like all that much. Hey, not every book is going to please everyone.

I've heard it's bad form to respond to a review, but this is a blog and so in some sense a journal, and I've made a decision recently to make this thing more personal. These are the thoughts that are occupying me at the moment. Apologies for any discomfort.

Oh yeah, and please humour my vanity: click the "about the book" links on my info page for accounts that are a little more in harmony with what I think the book is up to. Keep my Google profile positive!

Hang in there, JPF.

Back to regular, good-natured programming tomorrow.


Blogger rob mclennan said...

be brave. at least he spelled your name right. it makes me feel better abt him not liking my last book, eh.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks, rob. Now I'm mostly pretty excited about the chance to revisit my thinking this review has given me. And of course it's not an absolute repetition.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Nadia said...

Thanks for this post, Mark. I confess I am often baffled about how to approach language poetry, but I loathe the "I don't understand this, therefore it doesn't make sense" attitude typefied by your reviewer. I really appreciate the window into your process and the clues about how to engage with your work. None of it is obvious to me, but that makes it more interesting!

9:48 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hey Nadia,

Thanks. Now that you point it out, "obvious" probably wasn't the best word for me to use. I guess I mean something like "simple" (i.e., uncomplicated). Maybe that's not it either. Let me think.


10:55 PM  
Anonymous lynn said...

bad form could be considered a new form.
your response added to my understanding of your book-- which i loved from first reading. but whether i liked or didn't like a particular book, i think it would be exciting to expect explanatory responses to reviews. it may not have been a dialogue with the reviewer, which it could be in another forum, but it's one with us.
thanks, mark.

8:19 AM  

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