Thursday, November 12, 2009

16. "Seconds ago, I was among the chillin'."

Linh Dinh's new book, Some Kind of Cheese Orgy, is some kind of cheese orgy.  That is, cheese is not just the  fluid that comes from the tits of cows, sheep, and goats which is then recombined with substances from these animals intestines in order to coagulate, but it is also that stuff that comes from the crevices in our human flesh.  Asses are widely known to smell cheesy, as are feet.  Belly buttons can appear to create cheese.  Fat people are cheesier than thin people.  Poor people, with all their trucking in the baser sentiments and brutally obvious struggles, are cheesier than the rich.  Cheesy is an aesthetic: smelling like ass, gooey or spongey, a signifier of profound effort, like when someone tells you to say "cheese" to simulate a smile (see Abu Ghraib).  To be cheesy is to be artless and sentimental, a brute and ineffective emotional force.  To have a cheese orgy -- that's all the smelly obscenity without any of the sexy. 


When the poets again and again can think of nothing better than to strive for poetry's failure*, who doesn't want to wipe out American poetry altogether?  To spit upon the pale&tepid corpses called poets with their industro-academic-complex animated hands as these same hands take that allowed sliver of human-like experience and break it into nano-factures laid out in the most artfully innocuous parataxis? 

Linh Dinh writes:

Adam's poem was a post-avant masterpiece,
Crammed with neologisms and non-sequiturs,
But also a few end rhymes, a retro touch.  Cute.

Collage, montage, parody, beaucoup irony and
Outright thievery quickly became old hat.

then "You couldn't even say "something" because it was / Already something else."

Readers, this book hates you.  I sort of hate you, too, and myself for having gotten to know you, and Linh Dinh sort of hates himself in this book also: "If every poem were as bad / As this one, I don't wanna/ Be a moonshining wordsmith."  

But here is the other thing: our direct, urgent, expression can get eaten up (eaten away) by the poetry complex.  Linh Dinh can write anything he wants: he can tell you to eat your own shit, to fall into a stink hole plastered in cum and money, and not one of you will react, except perhaps in polite self-congratulatory approval, as long as poetry is not content just an emptied ritual act.


I was telling Linh Dinh last weekend about a friend I had who was a house cleaner who wanted to be a millionaire.  Some days my kid and I would go to her house to hang out with her and her kid.  She would always keep a bowl of key limes on the table:

"Anne, one thing I learned from the rich is that we should always keep a bowl of fruit on the table."

There was something, also, she learned about candles. She would read books about millionaires and model herself after them as she cleaned up the drips of their urine from around the base of their toilets.   It's good to read books about what the wealthy expect of you, though it's not something you forget:

"Belonging to the lower class, you're expected
To cater to the upper class' lower bodily functions
Not to engage their minds but to wipe their asses,
Kiss their cunts on demand, suck cocks for tips,
Unless, of course, you're an artist, in which case,
You're an aristocrat of the servant class. . . "

My friend stopped cleaning houses and trained as a home care nurse.  Around this time I decided I wanted to be a poet again, so there I was a few days ago telling the story to Linh Dinh, also a poet.  But I watched you poets, learned how to do some poetry equivalent of keeping a bowl of fruit on the table.

From the poem "Amputated thoughts":

"I bulge into another beast, dude, soon as I put on
My asskicking uniform.  Killing is the most abstract
Of notions, the most concrete act.  We're like chimps,
Lions, and hippos, not so much swans and other birds."

There are some problems, right, with all this anger, and how the institutions around art make it only just "performed."  We love to see the artist smearing her shit on the wall, pissing into his own mouth -- it makes us feel a little edgy.  We've paid her or paid him to do our feeling for us, if we've paid at all, or we've seen her nice enough to volunteer.  So Linh Dinh puts a hole in his head and let's the cheese ooze out -- the rest of us applaud and show our gratitude with some cupcakes or a beer. I tell Linh Dinh at something like 3 a.m. about Zizek's directive to "dream better," not that he needs to, but we all do. 

It is a sign of the imagination's power that it has been sentimentalized and reduced into a t-shirt slogan. But this is what poetry can do that can't be reduced to the polite performance of abject oozing -- what we have is not only our fury, but also our invention. 

*Who can claim among you to love poetry if poetry is where you go to fail? Fail at tennis, fail at violence, fail at work, fail at love, fail at statehood, fail in business, fail in your retirement investments, but do not, please, fail at this.


  1. Why is failure such a bad thing?
    Can you not have a kind of revolutionary failure?
    Beckett systematically fails, over and over, and as such his novels are some of the greatest of the 20th century.
    Kenny Goldsmith's failure in Fidget makes the book what it is...

  2. Wonderful review and post, Anne!

  3. Hi Ross -- I'm aware of the modernist claims for failure, and the way these are echoed again and again in contemporary poetics. I think the world needs us to shift from modernism (and it's "post" state). Failure is a luxury of the luxurious -- it's not "true" failure, but the kind of privilege of abundance.

    If hungry, and we fail to eat, we starve and die. The well-fed can claim the delight of their failure to eat -- the rest have higher stakes. I want us to have greater stakes, more impossibility, more belief that what we do is vital, more awareness that the world is often dire, and poetry a legitimate response to it.

    I see over and over again the celebration of low stakes, but one thing that is certain is this is not the universal historical experience of poetry. It's time to catch our poetry up to the its historical necessity, and stop with the whole slightly-moronic molting parrot act, reciting decontextualized quips 80 years old. If we can't move past modernism and face where we are historically, we're in deep shit.

  4. hmm. good review. but, I don't think "direct, urgent expression" is "eaten away by the poetry complex". I think there's something intrinsically unserious to poetry, that we all recognize, that is part of its status as genre, and so we will never react to poetry like we would react to serious language (i.e. the language of regular conversation of the language of political discourse or the news). It's not academia or poet's attitudes that causes this--it's intrinsic to assumptions that have been held about poetry for a very long time. And it's part of the ambiguity of poetry, that it can seem to be saying serious things but we all know ahead of time to recognize those things as unserious. There's a generally accepted fictive quality to poetry as discourse.

  5. You have a point there, Stan, but I think there is an increasingly devaluation and ritualization of poetry as it is institutionalized. The poet performs the ritual of culture/ emotion/ protest, we nod politely but don't listen to what she or he is saying, even often make academic justifications for why we believe poetry says/ does/ means nothing. The poet herself might go around saying in interviews, classes, etc., that poetry does nothing, is impotent, is only about "poetry" itself, nothing else.

    Linh's poem about Adam is probably a better argument about this than what I am writing -- also insofar as it shows this particular problem in poetry really rooted in a time and place (now, here).

    I was thinking about Linh Dinh's stories of the writers in Vietnam who write with no hope of publication because of government repression, but continue onward as if this thing -- this art -- is so important that one should risk their life for it, and work on it despite both this risk (and lack of worldly gain). I think of our mutually agreed upon delusion of our own impotence, unimportance, etc., as really a kind of shared psychotic state.

    It is conceivable to think of poetry as more serious than any other form of discourse, and that it is its very seriousness which is a threat to the status quo which seeks to devalue/ flatten/ empty out every human act but spending.

  6. This is a great review! Utterly gross and revolting, but really great! Your critical writing is truly something new ---I mean 'new' in a really good way. It's exciting to see it come about.

    That pear story is going to stick with me a long time.

    And of course-- the Dinh excerpts were excellent as well.

  7. Anne -
    Those are good points, but I'm not sure about some of it - I think failure in language is (at least as far as I'm concerned, and probably Joyelle McSweeney in the piece Johannes posted recently) more of an analogy than a literalism, such as you're point with food - it's more a failure of agency, ans as such a courting of potentiality.

    If there is no opening for such, then the stakes aren't really that high - there is no risk, and if agency is not risked then we simply opperate in the mytic sphere of capitalism realism where the human is assumed to be autonomous and in complete control, and such as socioeconomic determinism is the ultimate taboo.

    I agree on "postmodernism" - it is a restatement of the modernist fetishishisation of the suposedly new, but more comforatable (though Lyotard is different there, but noone seems to have picked up on that - Jameson just defangs him, for instance).
    I simply say what I say becuase, as a result of the strictures that we operate under, and the privelidged luxury which is the very ability to write, I'm not sure what the alternative is. I suppose I should read the book.
    I am very interested in this though - I'm happy that people are talking about important things, rather than wallowing in comfort.


  8. Trader Joes has a pretty good Manchego,
    and they have a German Champignon brie
    that isn't bad either for the price.
    you can get chilean salmon affordably
    and quality baking has become mainstream
    and so you can get a decent batard for under
    3 bucks a loaf if you know where to look.

    i had smoked salmon and mushroom brie
    on seeded baguette last night
    with a baby greens salad mexican hothouse cherry tomatoes (probbly the dodgiest thing)
    and a cilantro dressing trader joes has which i think is great. a few baby carrots, a yellow bell pepper, some bread and butter pickles
    on the side and some hot pickled peppers i made.

    not bad.
    everything has to be made of something.
    and earth is really the only place

    where anything


    its really the only place where anything


    as far as we know.

    I have nothing to say really except that.
    But it is my feeling that that one single sentiment

    is great than all other sentiments
    and that i am the greatest of all for saying it.


    be well all.

  9. Poet’s Choice is a poetry publishing brand. We are creating an open platform & a community for poets. Poets from all across the world can get their work self published.We have published three books till now & are on the verge of launching our next book in the first week of June. All our books are available on Flipkart & Amazon websites.Our book launch videos are all viewable on Youtube –“Book launch of Poet’s Choice” & we also have a facebook page called “Poet’s Choice”.

    We write to you today because we are interested in connecting with poets,poetry lovers,readers & reviewers .

    You may connect with us on


Hello! Thank you for reading about Books of Poetry. :)