Yesterday, Gary Sullivan
made a convincing argument that Bruce Andrews' poetry is sadistic.
As an open admirer of Bruce's early writing, works such
as his classic "Wobbling" (Roof), and being well aware of his knowledgeable
and enlightened political viewpoints (we've walked together on peace marches,
read together at many readings, he was one of the editors of L=A==N=G=U=A=G=E,
a visible supporter of my own work, etc, etc), while not particularly relishing his work
in recent years, I've been reluctant to openly criticize it. I'm not particularly fond of
publicly criticizing anyone's poetry, because my hunch is that it is so hard to get
an audience for innovative poetry on the whole, and that it is better for contemporary
poets to avoid so much open conflict. Divide and conquer, as they say. As it is,
innovative poetry as yet does not find it easy to get much of a serious hearing,
and it is not that helpful for anyone to scare away scarce readers. And while
controversy does win attention, it often loses it quickly and
permanently after the fight is over.
When Bruce's writing first turned harsh, during the Reagan years,
it came across as extremely apropos. Yet I instantly disliked
the title "Give 'Em Enough Rope." Compare it to: "Stupid White Men."
It is vague and indirect. Who is being addressed? While I knew
what was meant, it also could be misread as just a harsh thing to say.
But at the time it was infuriating and very scary to see the
United States become a fascist state. But that was a long time ago,
and while it is more enraging and discouraging than ever to see cruel
Nazi types rise to power, it is no longer surprising. It is obvious to
everyone that the left (this anachronistic metaphor itself seems to be
coming into question) in this era needs strategy, clear and shrewd
thinking and less invective. To continue shouting and yelling
angry words has long become a banal and
unintelligent exercise serving only to increase despair and
hopelessness, and sometimes divide rather than unite otherwise
allied people in the long run. It just
isn't inspiring anymore to witness a brilliant poet
play the Terminator:-
unless he is planning to run for governor.
And Gary Sullivan's point, as painful
as it may be to accept for the aging
(I can't help but smile and think of a recent
installation at the Whitney that
featured all the comic superheroes
quietly hanging out and dying in a nursing home)
that Bruce Andrews work may no longer
serve to awaken political outrage,
but instead may unconsciously be supplying covert
erotic pleasure, a release from
frustration, seems apt and well timed.
If Gary is correct, the work may then be diverting focus away
from objectives that might more
effectively lead to political conceptualization
and action. Bruce Andrews as dominatrix?
Bruce Andrews as sex spam?
I am quite sure the writer of the
*Sonnets (Memento Mori)* (This, 1980)
has more engaging things to offer.