King Is Right And In The Crowd

PhD student and poet Henry King has written an intelligent comment on his blog about the Swift-Bonney fracas of late.  He makes an extremely important point about my trying to keep a space open for poetries, poetics, and styles, that resist the full demands of one kind of late modernist avant-gardism, practiced by a small group of mainly British Marxist poets.  Almost any other sort of broad-minded person would recognise my work as falling, on the broad spectrum, closer to Donald Allen than Allen Tate - my recent book launch was supported by a third gen New York School Poet, David Lehman, and arguably the UK's leading British avant-garde poet, Denise Riley, my friend and mentor.

My own work combines an interest in the disrupted lyric and abstract lyricism.  In America, I have edited a section for New American Writing, and also been published several times in Jacket.  In short, I am hardly a "mainstream" poet in the sense that, say, Sean O'Brien is. Indeed, my anthologies are also radical - one was anti-war; one was pro-performance poetry; one was about future poetics; and, as a final example, one was a marxist-feminist record of Northern Irish poets, in the late 80s.

So, as King notes, it is rather chilling to have my broad, imaginative, informed, engaged, and, rather questing, approach to poetry, summed up all-too-neatly as "anodyne".  It begs a question, really - who is Bonney, and more widely, who are these Super-Innovators, to throw all the babies out with the bathwater.  Bonney, according to his blog (which by the way advertises links to purchasing his own books) is a big fan of Fanon.  Fanon was arguably a fanatic, whose approach to colonialism was to say that violence was the only way to turn the native into a "free man".  His thesis-antithesis position meant he brooked no dialogue, no consensus, and no "liberal intellectual" peace treaties.

I gather Bonney has adopted this approach to the us-them world of poetics he imagines exists.  But this is far too aggressive and radical a model for the history of contemporary poetry.  Firstly, who are the natives in this story of poetics?  Who the colonisers?  And where is the ontological violence that must be undone with antithetical violence?  Putting someone's name into a prose poem does not save them from libel laws in the UK - just as I cannot write a fictional story about "Sean Bonney" wherein he does and says terrible things.  What is striking is how fearful these fearless types are - when does Bonney ever name or shame real actors of power in British literary culture?  It is rather easy to take potshots at an expat like myself, who is actually relatively marginalised.


Sean Bonney said…
Dear Todd,

You're right, Henry King's blogpost is intelligent, certainly more thoughtful than your kneejerk response.

If you actually read my poem, you'd see that I do indeed "name" a real "actor of power" in international, if not British, literary culture. There are two 'poets' who I, nastily, compare to the rhythm of police clubs: one is you, and one is Kenneth Goldsmith. Your name, I'm sorry to say, is really only there to add to the intended insult to Mr Goldsmith, and his very capitalistic understanding of the meaning of the "new" and of "avant-garderie" in general (having said that, I do think his Ubu site is fantastic). That is, any attack on "poetry" in the sequence of poems is actually an attack on the "avant" world that I supposedly inhabit. And this is no self-righteous blather - in the first of the series - "Letter on Poetics" - I am fairly unforgiving of my own political shortcomings. But in any case, the nasty snipes at Goldsmith and yourself are *only in passing - as Albert Ayler said, "don't think its about you".

You're right, I have read Fanon, though I would hardly describe myself as a "big fan". From your gross simplification of his positions, I'm guessing you had a quick look at a wikipedia article about him. Before you start shouting your mouth off about his "fanaticism", you would do well also to look at some of the history around the Algerian War of Independence.

If you want to try and sue me for libel for the poem - as you imply - then go right ahead. I assume you have money to burn.

Todd Swift said…
Sean, you are obviously an unstable individual. Otherwise you would recognise in your own message, with its admission of "nastiness", precisely why posting the sort of material you do is unpleasant and destructive. I teach Fanon at university level - do you? What I don't feel I need to do is craft every post I make at a blog as an exhibition of my intellect. Don't bother replying. You're barred from this blog. And I'd ask you to remove my name from your vindictive blog posts.
Anonymous said…
Sir, I like you less and less. You really are a pompouss ass. I do hate a boaster. And I welcome the 'destructive' in discourse. I love Rimbaud for his insolence and contempt. You were not only being attacked only as a poet and blogger but for your personality, as a typical representative of a class, and as a dishonest careerist. You're beginning to remind me of Colly Cibber. What is the real purpose of your blog? Valid questions were raised as to its real purpose and whether or not you were inviting comment to further/bolster your career, rather than having a genuine interest in what people thought of your comments. You seem to have a distasteful interest in numbers. Frances Kruk at least properly read my comments about your review of the Rita Dove anthlogy. You seem to me more purblind than racist. I too dislike identitiy politics. John Ashbery's choices for his Library of America anthologies were also attacked for their quirkness, but there are lots of anthologies out there to choose from, and I think it profitless and silly to take much mind of a aprticular anthologist's choices. Like Dove's, they were reflective of his influences and interests - would you really want it any other way? Just because something is an accepted academic category, it doesn't mean you have to unthinkingly accept it - although you sort of use it against itself as it were. Some of a different political hue to you may well object to my objections to dividing the modernist stream in American literature by colour; to me, it is marginalising, divisive and artificial. For a long time, when I was younger, I for some reason thought ee. cummings was black; to find out he wasn't did not affect my reading of or apreciation of him in any way. Personally, I am colour-blind in my reading of literature, but saying that I would not expect a black reader or writer to be so; I have never been oppressed or marginalised for my colour. I can, however, empathise with those who have. You may be shocked to learn that Rita Dove may have her own opinions about who is the lesser poet and it may not have been anything to do with giving more space to the unrepresented, although I think the latter would have been justified. An anthology is necessarily a reflection of the anthologist's taste (see )above; it seems to me as a black poet of her generation there was nothing surprising or to be criticised in her choice to give Stevens little space. Some people - including some major poets and critics - really do not like or rate Stevens as a poet (I am not one of them). I would say that insitilling an appreciation and interest in serious literary culture in young black people in the West is an even more urgent task than it was in the 60s. Your characterisation of yourself as 'marginalised' is beyond absurd, and a trivialisation of the concept and state of marginalisation.
Todd Swift said…
There is much about Colley Cibber to admire. As for Rimbaud, my work, influenced by my French upbringing in Quebec, is far more like his, than yours is. Then again, you have not really ever read any of my books, have you?
Anonymous said…
British Marxists. Uh-huh. Honestly, on an entirely impartial level, can one, with a straight face, seriously equate Kenneth Goldsmith and Todd Swift with 'the rhythm of police clubs'? I mean, after the wretched varieties of hell that Marxism has, in so many cases, visited on its constituent populations? This seems to me a genuinely silly comment.

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