The Véhicule blog doesn’t belong to me. It’s an extension of the press I work for. Everyone at the press makes use of it, but not as heavily as I do, and to date, it’s become a useful way to hype Signal poets along with other Canadian poets I like, and place links to cool essays and interviews and discussions. I do some self-promotion, but I try to keep that to minimium, and I’ve tried, as best I can, to keep it separate from my full-on criticial ventures (but sometimes, alas, I slip up).
I took down the “Just So We’re Clear” blog post today because as I watched, to my horror, very smart people continue to find ever more dubious (to me) evidence of my misogyny (case in point) I began to be seriously concerned that the growing narrative of my "gender myopia" would ensnare my authors and, ultimately, the press. It sounds paranoid, I know, but it’s clear a lot of people are very pissed at me—or the version of me comprised of body parts messily sown together from various resentments and grievances—and guilt by association is a big worry of mine when it comes to Signal (I’m acutely aware some poets I publish want no truck with my poetics). Also, as the hyperbolic bickering about my CV2 interview has gone on unabated over the last week, it's become hard, for some, to notice how unhinged the language, and arguments, have started to sound (soon someone will say I eat babies).
For the record, I did sincerely mean to praise Sina’s ability to attract smart female contributors (and believe me, I will never use the word “pack” in polite conversation again). I also concede that I was mistaken in some of my facts about CWILA. I think people could have found more interesting ways to draw attention to those errors that didn’t involve promptly demonizing me. But then, that’s the fire I play with. And I’m totally fine with that. I was just concerned that, by using the company blog, I may have risked fanning those flames to the press, and my poetry series. Already one of my poets has been singed: privately attacked for being, of all things, a “Starnino Booster.”
Anyway, that was my worry. The post is back up mostly because I realize it was stupid and a bit cowardly to take it down, but also there needs to be some pushback, somewhere, to what seems to me an increasingly acceptable form of literary criticism: suggesting white literary critics are latent rapists. I’m writing this extended note because I’d like to try to change the conversation regarding Guri’s piece, and that means making a full disclosure (one that may surprise my good friend Jason!). I’m an admirer of Alice Oswald. And I mean, a big admirer. I think she’s exhilarating. Dart is one of my all-time favourite books of poetry; for a while after it came out, I pressed it on everyone I came across. I pre-ordered Memorial, and relished it as well (maybe not as much as Woods etc. or the more recent Weeds and Flowers, but then these are all very different projects) So, I don’t like to see her get panned as much as the next fan.
But I’m a professional, and that means—or what it means for me—is when I read a skeptical review of a poet I really like I strive to decouple my own feelings from the work in order to assess the strength of the argument. The possibility that Memorial may be a flawed effort can’t be wished away because it’s unpleasant for admirers to think about or because the person raising that possibility is white and male. So, is Jason right? I mean, is it at all possible that Memorial is weak in the ways he insists it is? He finds fault with the “willed breathlessness” of Oswald writing, he cites examples of her “easy, go-to solutions” for creating what he calls her “Brutal Hyperreal Lyricism.” In short, while he admires parts of the book, he finds it “boring.” Helen never really addresses any of that. I mean, yes, she quotes those complaints, but they inspire her to instead pore over every clause and syllable of Jason’s review, looking for evidence of “prejudices, privileges” while leaving the substance of his argument untouched.
Is that good criticism? Not for me. Helen suggests Jason is wrong. Fine. Is he wrong because he gravely misunderstands the way Oswald constructs an image? Is he wrong because he utterly fails to appreciate the subtle ways she builds music into a line? Is he wrong because he completely misunderstands the sophisticated philosophical framework the poem’s anti-war message hangs on. No. Jason is wrong because his neural circuits are simply too “loaded” with white maleness to properly appreciate Oswald’s beyond-all-argument genius. I admire Oswald greatly—and if pressed, I might even use the word genius when it comes to her magical line-making—but I have a fundamental problem with Helen’s line of attack. I would love to read a piece where she takes on the specific terms of Jason’s aesthetic complaints, rather than appear to take down the entire review because of his gender. Am I digging in? Damn right. I don’t like this sort of critical approach AT ALL. Helen’s “spidey sense" is useless to me. And so warning white male reviewers—or any reviewer—to “tread carefully” when it comes to female poets (and here I think the taste-as-rape argument clearly motivates her word choices) demeans Oswald’s poetry because it suggests that the poetry is too eggshell-fragile to survive a robust defense of its very real literary merits.
Like I said, the blog post is back up. I’m sorry if I inconvenienced anyone, and want to underscore it was done out of concern for my charges—the men and women who have entrusted me with their excellent books, and who I don’t want to see hurt at all by this increasingly bizarre imbroglio.