Back to School: Confessions of a First-Year Reviewer
Copyright © by Tim Scannell, 3/28/02
I am not at all afraid to fire a shot across the bow: I am, in
fact, determined to do it! The
proverbial ‘straw’ was reading a review, in an alternate zine, which
was a half-page of adjectives – separated by commas – with no
mention whatsoever of the content of the poems or the skills of the poet.
Needless to say, I was hotter and more irate than Mt. St. Helens
– on its best day! How dare
the reviewer (and editor) waste my time!
How dare the plinth of the Western Canon be besmirched by a
‘nothing evaluation’! Do
not be misled by subsequent comments on the alternate zine/small press: I
am a True Believer, thoroughly lauding its excellence over mainstream media’s dross and anomie – film,
zines, books, etc. – much preferring the emotive power and bright
experiment of the az/sp. But
I also have, yes, I am going to say it – standards which will not
It is important to stand for individuality and self-reliance, to be adamantly against the ‘social engineering’ of government, university or even the tiniest – lunatic – New Age commune in the hills of Oregon. We must also be dissatisfied with the present az/sp world, insofar as it shouts ‘revolution’ or praises the decade of the Sixties, as though that word and that era converged as some kind of Joseph Campbellian archetypal bliss. To derive ‘revolution’ from long hair, drugs, music…wandering about the countryside…is to be sucked into the most specious, continuing, ploy of the Liberal Media; into its inane repetitions of TV programs/print-pages on Vietnam, Woodstock-iana and Kennedy Camelot (the first supposedly bane, the other two – assuredly – boons). In fact, Vietnam and the Sixties ‘counterculture-isms’ informed the shallowest, most socially moronic decade in our nation’s entire history!
Short shrift for war: no middle-aged Vietnamese today – still impoverished and enslaved by its totalitarian regime – applauds our abandonment of a winnable war. Stateside, an ersatz counterculture oozed a host of self-inflicted delusions: drugs, sex & rock ‘n’ roll – each and all blatant lies about individual integrity and responsible interpersonal relationships. Do remind yourself of our Chief Administrator today – ‘flower-child Bill – whose zenith of service to country revolves round a personal conundrum of “What ‘is’ is!”
Yes, during the Sixties, I went to class (CUM: 3.96), university library, work, and then home to my family; yet also patiently listened to the ‘racket’ inside the heads of many friends (the ‘racket’ outside on the quad). Tried to debate each nanosecond-listener toward a reality whose horizon was a wee bit longer than a media sound-bite, a wee bit more substantive than the latest ditty from the Beatles or Stones or various Jefferson Airplane[s]; always querying, in the end: “Isn’t life goddamned hard enough to live – plain vanilla – without all the illusion/delusion you are straining to make inferences from? They said, “No”; I said, “Yes.”
For the Sixties was the birth of societal anomie: no definition, no category (no guide, anchor); no verity, no value (all a Jello of relativism, all a frenzied, irrational buzz – like the “feelies” in George Orwell’s 1984). So many – sadly – just blew away with the wind. I just plodded on like Caleb Garth in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, toward short-term aims (poems and articles in local publications); and long-range goals (poems and articles everywhere).
And so, thirty years along – 1,000 credits in 500 publications later – I patiently listen to the decades pass, always asking, in the end, “Why does so much of the az/sp persist in defining its ‘revolutionary’ stance from a defunct trio – all Darlings of the Liberal Media – Kerouac/Ginsberg/Bukowski (yikes: KGB)! Now, I am glad Kerouac hated Hippies, but consider, generally, what this ‘Nairobi Trio’ represented: rootlessness and DUI driving; inane Orientalism and Death obsession; gutter vomitousness and ‘love’ as the-biting-off-of-one’s-partner’s clit. Where does the definition of ‘revolution’ swim in such offal? Where in it is a basis of individual integrity, a stead for interpersonal relationship – even, merely, a contribution to the plinth (bedrock) of the Western Canon? Only a week at your local Carnegie – no, not an actual semester of actual study at a detested university – would put under one’s belt Aristotle’s Poetics, the lives of Mnemosyne and her nine yakking daughters; and the real – continuing – themes in this Bill Gatesian worldwideweb of mankind: man against nature, man against man, man against the gods, and man against himself. And I am in no way against good ol’ Bill: “Go Bill, go…be the first man in the universe with a trillion dollar personal fortune!”
And even if the az/sp insists on being mesmerized by an inauthentic Sixties, and its very, very shallow philosophical puddle – then at least contributor and reviewer can inform discourse, explicate submissions with a meaningful critical jargon: persona, tone, voice (poetry); fulfillment of donneé (fiction). These few terms do not belong to the graduate school seminar; rather they belong to all speakers of English, all documented in dictionaries which all editors and writers have on their desks – at their fingertips – right?
Alas, after decades of being exposed to the az/sp – 40 years, in fact – I am beginning to suspect an insensate, foolish, consistency. ‘Outsiders’ refuse enlightenment (though the lexicon is not the property of MFA-ers and their minions); while ‘insiders’ refuse enlightenment because they protect a commercial, tenured bivouac. Even so, both my loyalty and action go to those who are, by definition, already self-reliant, independent – untax-funded – and FREE! I am only for our huge az/sp world and, today, with computers and copy shops – it is the WORLD! But be warned: it is a world whose practitioners must move on, hone skills – attack! If not, it is like fueling one’s workaday behavior by consulting only the Prophecies of Nostrumdumbass [sic]. No, that is exactly what “is” is!
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