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PHILIP SALOM

Poet and Novelist

 

The So Long story on Deconstructing Michael

Well, as I said online, I wasn’t there. I can only comment on the blog and its 26 responses and my growing feeling of its inappropriateness. The observations behind the blog itself were EC’s and from what I’ve heard, were shared by some, disputed by others. But the form they took in the blog itself, the tone of put-down and the focus therefore on one poet, was disappointing. Not for public indulgence. But within the responses I also detect a weird sense of politic being constructed, on flimsy evidence, unacknowledged back-story and deeply felt reactions. Another question is: was all of this prompted by the blog?

For EC to have an argument with MF’s work as represented by the night’s presentation – well, under-represented by Michael himself, from what I’ve heard - is perhaps understandable: while it isn’t really easy to speak of one’s poetics, it does seem realistic to assume those who paid to attend the MPU event were expecting to hear such articulation from him.  Being disappointed is one thing, but making her argument public in a piece mocking the poet is quite another, and I do feel MF was being mocked. The critique is mixed with off-hand put-downs, sardonic (not flamboyant and not so easily defended as ‘ironic’) associations and a persistent sense of making that poet look a dill.

I have charged EC with exaggerating in the past, part of her personality I’d say (I do it too), but negative exaggeration can slip into something more gratuitous. My opinion: she shouldn’t have written the blog.

It makes sense then, to defend MF and people did. Good. That said, some of the responses are also pretty exaggerated. Sharper and angrier than the provocation. Then comes an element of concerted and aggressive labeling, implying a fascist and/or totalitarian mind-set in EC and the Blog generally. Some specific egs:

snivelling (sic) shock jockey

low-iq fascist thugs

silly bourgeois guinea pigs

(Though these sound much funnier when isolated... The main tone was not.)

EC’s reading and poetry are far too wide-ranging and inclusive to draw the anger of the attacks with any straightforward justification – attacking EC through labels of right-wing/totalitarian and worse, is simply not accurate. It looks like a construction and a division. Some of the responses were excessive and that excess might (even in psychological terms) suggest an unacknowledged agenda (see below*).

Maybe blog practice is also the problem (Corey’s gracious follow-up posting was an insight, his own, into this). I have been thinking about the relationship between letter writing and courtesy, how the slowness and the personal-speaking of the letter encourage circumspection, and (especially) how the form (dear such-and-such, yours sincerely, etc) not only aids but actually fashions courtesy (generally, obviously not always), whereas email and especially texting, maybe do not. They bring out the short and sudden in people - a quick dash in to say, to tell, to announce ... to kiss, or bite at the flesh. No need for niceties, no time, no reply even often. And now blogging can also get feral and sudden. Blogging and responding to blogs. And in blog ‘ethics’ the blog should stay up in place, it can be re-read, and enough re-reading can inflame the reader if they want to be inflamed. And compared to speech... spoken comments are freer to evaporate.

I was talking with a mate recently who said that in the music world, though he means jazz, there is much less attack of and between individuals. More co-operation and respect, even between ‘rivals’. Is poetry too isolated as a practice? This mate used to be a poet, so he knows us well! A genre of loners and over-hungry, ambitious but fiercely edgy rivals, but who gang up only/mostly (?) most defending poetic territories? A practice that is initially much less done in groups, less likely to have the muso’s feeling of ‘being subsumed’ by an ongoing, shared and larger force, like music.

*And, talking of elephants and painting – an ill-advised allusion – how about people owning up to that other clichéd pachyderm in the blog-room – the anthology. I hear the anthology is perceived as ‘guilty’ of many omissions, especially from Sydney, and it has generated a lot of bad feeling. I know this kind of omission first-hand, and the anger/frustration it prompts. The territory it elides. Anthologies... another topic.