Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Claire Becker: Untoward

As many of you know, I have a distaste and distrust of industry poets I don't think they all are bad or that they are all bad, but I am wary of them.

Being industry poets, they publish more than anyone else because they all know each other. That means that they really easily publish garbage. Anyone permitted to publish everything they write will look bad very quickly. Noah Eli Gordon suffers from such an affliction.

When I saw that Lame House Press published Claire Becker, I thought it would be more of the industry and less of the poet I would find within her chapbook. The cover, though, was weird and interesting, and I met Claire once, and we even emailed a couple times about a mutual enemy, so I bought it and found out that my prejudice, regarding her book at least, was for the most part unfounded. If she published less, I would probably have intrepidly jumped into her chapbook, though.

Some of the poems in Untoward are infused with the magic that one hopes for from poetry but has come to not look for in books by poets of her ilk. There are poems in this little book that give a reader that sad little laugh at the end that surprises because you forgot that laugh still existed. There are other poems that are charmingly sweet or self-conscious. Still there are others that are carefully pensive and moody. The chapbook seems to have everything.

Unfortunately, "everything" means some stinkers, too. The poem "Three Easy Sentences," a poem about God and Punctuation is mildly annoying due to the stench of workshop that lingers on it. Similarly, "Claire Becker, 25" is fairly immature and overly "poor me" but probably went over well in a workshop at St. Mary's, where Claire earned her MFA. There are some poems whose titles nearly ruin them, but nothing is as bad as the last poem in the collection, "Apparent Scruples, Obvious Fuss," which comes close to spoiling all the ground won by its preceding pages. It's a poem I hate at the end of a book I kind of loved. If it weren't for that poem, I would have written in the title of this review, "MUST BUY!"

So overall, it's a pretty good chapbook that deserves attention and certainly shows that my statements regarding MFA people and the creative writing industry should be less absolute. It also shows how Claire Becker is turning into a poet people need to watch. If she surrounds herself with critical and honest people, her full-length book, which I am sure we'll see within a couple years, will be really great.


CLAY BANES said...

Dude, you gotta chill on your hot angst. It's poetry.

Sky Jack Morgan said...

It isn't hot angst. Give me a break. There's nothing wrong with being critical. Also, I said I liked it, and I did. When I saw the book, I bought it right away. Come on. I thought my review was pretty nice.

Unknown said...

I went to Saint Mary's for my MFA, and I only feel sorry for myself on occasion.

Claire Becker said...

Workshop's a dirty word.

Claire Becker, 25

Rating, updating.
A bodily look: name.
Even the unseen have
according to morpheme shapes.
Every name connects,

artists, prisoners, their ages too.
Politicians, celebrities,
each time one changes.
To know exact ages, updated.
Every one I know I want.

Every one I know I want
to know exact ages, updated
each time one changes.
Politicians, celebrities,
artists, prisoners, their ages too.

Every name connects,
according to morpheme shapes.
Even the unseen have
a bodily look: name,
rating, updating.

Sky Jack Morgan said...

the word gives me chills when I hear it.

Joseph Massey said...

Please define "industry poet." As you have it here, you're an industry poet if you know other poets who publish you and themselves and etc. If anything, your attitude seems very much a part of the MFA world where "legitimization" comes in the form of blind readings via contests and incessant stamp-licking. Check out A SECRET LOCATION ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE for a taste of the "industry" as it existed in the 60's and 70's. There really is such a thing as community, Virgnia, and it's not out out to get you and deprive your "ilk" of their ink!

Claire's book stands on its own.

Take it easy --

Joseph Massey

Sky Jack Morgan said...

The creative writing industry is the MFA and things like the MFA. The MFA in poetry claims to teach people how to write. What happens is that the students start sounding more and more like one another and like their teachers. Your audience is always the other students and the teachers, so your work ends up pleasing only them and people like them, other students in other programs.

Everyone networks and helps their friends but the industry people generally stick to themselves, only showing up to readings that are put on and attended by their fellow students and teachers. They don't support the community of artists and poets and they aren't interested in it because there is no tangible reward to going to a reading by a "nobody." Not all MFA-ers are like this, but it is definitely common.

"Blind" is a joke. If you study poetry all your life, you know when one of your students' manuscripts comes across your desk.

"Legitimization" is a scary word that I don't want to touch, but if only my friends read my chapbooks and journals and only other poets liked what they read in them, I am illegitimate. I too have won awards. It felt good, and the money was nice, but I don't think I felt legitimate, not for long at least. I like being known and liked and hated by other poets, but I really hope that I will be liked and hated by non-poets for my work.

Being a poet is not my career. It is my lifestyle. It is my eccentricity. I am obsessed with language and language arts. I read poetry every day. I write all the time that I am awake, and 90 per cent. of it is horrible. I still write, and I never feel like I am getting better. It makes me happy when people disagree. I have no hope of ever making real money from poetry, writing it or teaching how to write it.

I am not against MFA's, but I don't want one, and I don't like them, and I realize that there is a certain aesthetic that accompanies poetry that comes from them.

I despise the process and result of workshops.

I bought Joseph Massey's book and the one he recommended today. I can't wait to read them.

Thank you for the comments.

Joseph Massey said...

The MFA world makes me uncomfortable, too. But as with any construct like that -- where a mass of people are doing the same thing (i.e., writing poems) -- some cream rises to the top. Claire is a gem. Shannon Tharp, another fine young poet who just happened to get an MFA, is a gem also. Andrew Mister, whose chapbook HOTELS (Fewer & Further Press), which you would probably like, I think, also has an MFA. I could go on.

A lot of my friends who have MFA's are pretty ambivalent about it all. It's not an illuminati kind of thing. By the way, I don't have an MFA and I've railed against that machine quite a bit over the years. What's left is the poetry. I try to stick to that these days.

Thanks for being so honest, man! Even if I don't totally agree, I appreciate the bristles in the all too polite poesy blog world.


Sky Jack Morgan said...

My honesty is free and is my most damning trait. I agree about the cream. There is always cream.

LCB said...

Claire is a gem, no question.