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Posts Tagged ‘criticism

Back in action, yo

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No excuses, just an article about a guy who’s reviewing 1000 albums before the end of 2009.

Best to take his words re: how & why.  I will say though – we need things like this, even if it is just an internet stunt.  Weingarten’s project is like performance art; its statement is much larger than the albums its reviews.  Music criticism, like all criticism, is being crowdsourced by the internet, and tastemakers are now expected to deliver lifestyle rather than commentary.  We’re losing true expertise as a cultural value, and the @1000timesyes project is protest against this.

In a world of foxes, maybe we need more hedgehogs.


Written by Peter Kelly

December 5, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Two Essays

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– Via Kausfiles (really?): an essay on Nabokov’s Pale Fire, written in 1962 by the late, estimable Mary McCarthy, is available at The New Republic‘s Website.  It’s a bit more scrupulous, and lengthy, than your average major journal literary review, but then McCarthy was not your average critic and Pale Fire is not your average novel.  Reading McCarthy’s explanation of the book (“explanation” really is a better word than “criticism” in this case), I experienced a thrill almost as great as the one I got first reading Nabokov’s weird puzzle a few years ago.  Pale Fire is the rare novel that doesn’t sound bland in description: at the center is a 999-line poem written by a famous (fictional) follower of Pope, complete with footnotes and bookended with a preface and afterword- all written by the delusional pedophile expatriat who lived next door to the poet.  McCarthy’s task in her review is to exhume and explain the various layers of meaning in Pale Fire, for as one reads the novel it quickly becomes clear the book is not really about the poem at all, but is rather the story of a mentall ill man’s strained relationship with reality, which take’s place on the periphery of the “primary text,” the marginal space typically reserved for the innocuous  editor.  If you don’t get a chance to read the book, McCarthy’s essay is the next best thing.

-The other one is also a bit old -2000- and comes from Sports Illustrated.  It’s by Tom Verducci and it’s called The Power of Pedro (Martinez).  The year it was written is significant, because between ’98 and ’03 (his time with the Red Sox, roughly) Pedro was truly Godlike.  In fact, Pedro’s ’99 season may have cemented him as (now hear me out) the greatest pitcher to ever play major league ball, a point Verducci is not shy to argue:

Until last year Curt Schilling and Sandy Koufax had been the only pitchers in history to whiff 300 batters in a season while striking out more than five times as many batters as they walked. Schilling’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was 5.5:1 in ’97; Koufax’s was 5.38:1 in 1965 and 5.28:1 in ’63. In 1999 Martinez went where no man had ever gone before—8.46:1. His totals of 313 strikeouts and 37 walks seem implausible by any manner of achievement other than by joystick.

For example.  The essay is a hell of a read- Verducci is great, if a little bit corny, and Pedro is and always will be a fascinating, contradictory, flamboyant personality.  A must read for baseball fans and/or Red Sox zombies.

Written by Peter Kelly

April 29, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Silliman’s Blog

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Poetry has never been, and will never be, a real cash cow.  There’s this great line in Tom Stoppard’s shockingly good 2006play, Rock and Roll, “Poetry sold well in Russia because everything else was banned.  If pornography had been available, poetry would have sold like poetry!” (I’m paraphrasing).  With rare notable exceptions, the history of the poet has singularly been about struggle: to find the time to write, to get published, to have money to eat.  It has simply always been an economic reality that poets will not make much (or any) money from their poetry because (and let’s just say this), people don’t want to read poetry.  And for those few people who do want to read poetry (or could potentially realize that they want to read poetry), the forums for the mode have historically been few and far between, and the 20th century saw a steady decline in the already small market for poems.

But, then came the internet.  Poetry’s place in the age of electronic reproduction is, unsurprisingly, not terribly different from its previous place: it is still the realm of a small, devoted core.  Except now any poet in his dimly lit college dormroom can turn on his computer and start up some Bright Eyes and Mozilla Firefox while his roommate is out having fun on a Friday night, and in under ten minutes, find fifty different poems he has never read before by poets he has never heard of.  And he can also instantly publish his own poems on his blog, which, presumably, contains links to other poetry blogs- which poetry blogs themselves contain links to further poetry blogs, et cetera.  And so at this moment there is a proliferation of free poetry and free online poetry publications that all exist in one big, circular community that reads and publishes its members.  In short: the market has not grown, but they have decided to kick up production.  They call this market saturation.

Enter Ron Silliman.  Silliman is an acclaimed poet, author of the retardedly long The Alphabet, and two other collections that I guess he’s been working on and will work on until he dies, at which point his life’s work will be published as a single poem, per his wishes.  Silliman curates easily the most popular English language poetry blog on the internet (it received its 2,000,000th visitor last week), Silliman’s Blog.  And its a very good blog.  Silliman is a deft, straight forward writer with a knack for clever analogy, the perfect combination for a critic- an individual who must constantly work to balance his twin roles of promoter and discussion starter.  But it can be difficult to strike this balance.

A little over half of Silliman’s posts are in depth critiques of poetry, usually framed by a particular motif (recent examples include incidents of poetry in President Obama’s inauguration and poetry that is “San Diego-like”).  His other posts are incredibly long lists of links, mostly to poetry but also to various interesting bits from the world of art and popular culture.  Both aspects of Silliman’s blog are well-intentioned and certainly don’t lack serious effort, but a positive project can become mired by its own mass.  The critical posts are some of the best and most readable poetry criticism I have ever seen, on the internet or anywhere else.  The “list posts” look and feel like the worst formatted aggregate in the world.  I can’t imagine anyone having the time to peek at every single link, let alone spend the proper time required to ingest every poem contained within.  It’s just too heavy to wield.

Indeed, mass seems to be a problem with Silliman’s blog.  Shortly down the lefthand sidebar of his blog begins a list of blog links so massive that it is not only listed alphabetically, but each letter in the alphabet gets its own header, so you don’t get disoriented.  Ultimately, the problem with Silliman’s blog is the problem with poetry on the internet: it is a dense, labyrinthine world that from the outside seems impenetrable to all but the most passionately devoted.  Then again, I guess that’s how poetry has always been.

Written by Peter Kelly

February 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

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