I had the nerve to post a mild criticism of "flarf", and to posit a distinction between flarf and poetry, on a poetry blog. Jim Behrle, a would-be defender of flarf, took it upon himself to do so by insulting me personally, several times over.

I know I'm not supposed to take Jim Behrle's mannerisms seriously - "all in fun", etc. But I'm taking his attacks seriously, anyway. I think Jim needs to find some new routines.

When someone intentionally blurs the distinction between criticism and personal insult, it means there's some kind of agenda at work. When someone intentionally blurs the distinction between a person, on the one hand, and their creative work offered to the public, on the other, then there's an agenda in play there, too - maybe the same one.

In my view there's a necessary, a substantial distance between the person and the work of art, which has its origin in the process of making poems or art works : a process which involves some kinds of self-surrender, and work, and openness to learning and chance and many other things.

We all share this, whether we're readers or students or makers - and it should be a free activity. And I don't think the freedom of poetry is understood or advanced by people who consider poetry as some means an end.

I'm not bragging or being "holier than thou", as Jim Behrle says, when I emphasize this. My outlook is just a consequence of my own experience of the creative process. I feel a conflict between literary and extra-literary phenomena.

So, when I criticize flarf, for example, and Jim Behrle responds with personal insults - in order, in his view, I suppose, to defend his friends and fellow flarfers - then the feeling I get is that he's not so much defending flarf as defending the social self-interests of his group. Because if he disagreed with my criticisms, he could address my criticisms; however, his first impulse is to jump to the defense of his friends.

Jim Behrle himself loves to satirize the social phenomena of po-biz, in its many spheres : but he also tries to have it both ways. He's got his own social sphere to defend, while attacking others. In this he participates in the same in-group phenomena, the same utilitarian literary politicking, the same self-serving po-biz, that he likes to mock.

This is the po-biz world which, on all its levels, seems like a sideline or a distraction from the basic contract between 1) the poet and the poem, and 2) the poet and the reading public. It's the world of the middle-men and -women, of talk and gossip and jabber and amateur theatrics.

I had a nice vacation in the Shenandoah National Forest. Crossed paths with a bear. It's kind of depressing to come back to this po-biz world of ours.

No comments: