So last night I saw Kent Johnson read at the UDub, and man I really was not feeling it. I tried to hold out judgement on the guy's work, knowing all about the internet involvments. But in the end, he read his Bahgdad/Iraq War/Experimental Poetry stuff from the Auschwitz book, and it seemed like shame was a major implement. Now, shame is not nessecarilly all bad. But maybe with a little subtlety. This was shame like double-bass drums, in-your-face, making devil horns with the fingers shame. Like someone who is operating with the idea in mind of 'just what can my audience handle?'. Which I find incredibly presumptuous.
Maybe this makes me sound like a pretentious aesthete or something, but I just don't see what rankling 'The Poetry Establishment' (whatever idea one has of what that is) will do towards ending the Iraq War. And its hard to take someone's anti-war stance seriously in light of the fact that they wrote a book of gossipy epigrams about other poets. Gossip and righteousness are a yucky mix indeed. But then maybe I just didn't get it? Hmm... I don't feel compelled to go back and look for it.
I know Kent Johnson might be considered old news. But UWM is actually his alma mater, and I think this is the first time, in a while anyway, that he's read here. The audience reaction was hard to gauge. Milwaukee's 'scene', tho less 'there' in some ways than a larger city's, is the same as NY or SF, I think. People have their groups and cadres they save their words for. It is irritating to me, because naive as this may sound, we are in a tradition. Poetry is a line of people connected. I do believe that. So I don't want to rip on other poets, but last night did leave a bad taste in my mouth. And maybe it was supposed to. But it would have been much more fun he'd jumped in the audience and grabbed their shirts, hitting himself with the microphone, ala Suicide shows of lore. The whole thing just felt like someone wagging their finger at me.