On a Poetics of Choice

I have never seen a theory of poetry that adequately included a sub-theory of choice.

–Ron Silliman, from The Chinese Notebook

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It’s not about inventing anything new; it’s about finding things that exist and reframing them and representing them as original texts. The choice of what you’re presenting is more interesting than the thing that you’re presenting.

–Kenneth Goldsmith, from “‘Against Expression’: Kenneth Goldsmith in Conversation”

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I used a rhyming dictionary, but it only gives you options. The job of the poet is to say ‘This one, I guess.’

–Milhouse Van Houten, on his love lyric to Lisa Simpson, “Homer Scissorhands” (#22.20)

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Walt Whitman :: The Simpsons :: Necropastoral / Necrocoastal / Necrogeorgic

In a recent comment, John Domini remarked how Kafka is “a major marketing tool” in Prague (Kafka beer steins, Kafka underwear, etc.), which reminded me, in a U.S. context, of how Levi’s exploitatively enlisted Walt Whitman’s poem “O Pioneers” for their 2009 “Go Forth” ad campaign. The commercial is a laughably bad example of corporate propaganda that turns Whitmanian address into capitalist interpellation (I remember the commercial was loudly booed when it was shown before a screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces).

In an apparently non-ironic comment, YouTube user sapporo1992 says, “i seriously get so inspired when i see this. haha and i do kinda live a life like that full of adventure maybe thats why i relate to it so much…and i love walt whitman’s poetry.”

In contrast to the “inspiring” and “adventurous” Whitman (this is the Whitman of “Song of the Open Road”), the recent The Simpson’s episode “The Squirt and the Whale” (episode 460) presents us with the “comforting” and “compassionate” Whitman (this is the Whitman of “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night”).  In the episode, Lisa comforts a beached blue whale (she names her “Bluella”) by reading her a passage from Leaves of Grass.  She says to the whale, “When I’m sad I read something beautiful and true: poetry” and then reads aloud the first three lines of “The World below the Brine” (“The world below the brine; / Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves, / Sea-lettuce, vast lichens…”) before falling asleep beside the beast. When she awakes, she finds that Bluella is dead.

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American Poetry & The Contemporary Cartoon: From Robert Pinsky to Patrick the Starfish

Most of my time these days is seemingly spent reading, writing, grading papers, and commuting, so I tend not to have much time for TV but when I do watch TV, I tend to watch cartoons as I find they provide a certain freshness and criticality that is absent from most other TV shows, whether they be reality shows, crime dramas, or sit-coms.  And it seems to me that no other TV genre engages more directly with contemporary poetry— in particular, I have three episodes in mind: “Little Girl in the Big Ten” a classic Simpsons episode from 2002 as well as two more recent episodes from The Family Guy and SpongeBob SquarePants, “Back to the Woods” (2008) and “Sing a Song of Patrick” (2007).  While many of my friends consider The Simpsons to be the smartest cartoon out there, I’d like to briefly analyze how these episodes treat poetry and show that the particular outrageousness of both The Family Guy and SpongeBob allows a much more radical critique of current literary practice.

In “Little Girl in the Big Ten,” Lisa Simpson tries to pass as a college student and is eventually invited by two friends (one is a Pynchon fan) to a Robert Pinsky reading at Cafe Kafka.
Pinsky Cartoon Pinsky, who is introduced as “the Tony Danza of the AB stanza,” goes on to read the beginning of “Impossible to Tell,” a poem by actual Pinsky:

Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bashõ and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter,

The secret courtesy that courses like ichor
Through the old form of the rude, full-scale joke,
Impossible to tell in writing. “Bashō”

He named himself, “Banana Tree”…

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