An E-Mail to William Logan
Cc: David Yezzi
Bcc: August Kleinzahler; Garrison Keillor
Subject: A Cube with a View
I am truly sorry for sending that rude Messenger note on the night of the Charlottesville nastiness. (My true hope is that you never received it.) I was furious over the fact that one of your publishers has a hard-on for Steve Bannon. … Not that I’m a Liberal, but I’ll touch on that in a sec. …What split across my mind that evening – other than the vodka – was A) my deep admiration for your criticism (as I flippantly stated in the Messenger note, I feel your poetry is flaccid, which is true – I do … simply put, and as I’ve stated to you in an earlier e-mail intrusion, “side by side, the emotions of our work would show we hang amidst pointedly different crowds – mine is the slightly burned out but still smoking; your crowd simply sparkles”); B) my disgust over the emotion Bannon emotes (at base, to my mind, doing all he can to inform a political atmosphere meant to capitalize upon the failing American ability to practice critical thinking); and finally C) the things I’ve read from a publisher of yours, Roger Kimball, that express a high regard for Bannon and his notions. I came to the angry conclusion that by allowing your work to be published within The New Criterion (TNC) you are complicit.
I still kind of feel that way. It is a feeling I must overcome. I do recognize that this feeling is unfair to you, and entirely assumptive.
As I have informed you in the past, I was once a subscriber to TNC. What you don’t know is that I was a subscriber in two different eras of my life. The first was a three to five year stretch back in the middle Nineties, when I was on the Gentleman’s Jack full-time, wearing a tie daily to my employment at the Art Institute of Chicago (rest assured, I did not hold a glamorous academic-leaning position – I was one of the ones that accepted the public’s donations … I worked the register back when donations were accepted by the non-profit), listening compulsively to G n’ R, and I began, at the age of 26, to smoke a pipe (what a douche, eh?). It was a period of time in my life when I was ripe for being in a conscious revolt against my generation – against the apathetic ways of Grunge.
No doubt, I was a sad-sack of contradictions back then. On one side of the coin I was an enthusiastic burnout, while on the other side I was burgeoning formalist. In the midst of that period I read a profile of TNC in, if I recall correctly, The New York Times Magazine, wherein it was mentioned how TNC’s staff and crowd are whiskey-drinking intellectuals. I longed to be just that. I was a few years beyond an academic career in which I excelled at nothing in the classroom, and I was yearning to prove that I could indeed think and reason. I learned much from the erudite criticism published within TNC. I learned that serious, meaningful criticism is necessarily impolite. I had been becoming more and more appalled by Poetry Slams, by the academic temper of contemporary poetry, by the emergence of Performance Art, by how artists spoke amongst themselves against the common Conservative foe – by what I perceived as being an art scene more concerned with therapy-sessioning, with utopia-ing life, and less concerned with being of the Lone Wolf mentality. With each issue of TNC that arrived in my mailbox, I grew more and more repulsed with the polite back-scratching I saw going down in the contemporary art scene. TNC’s editorial stance was at that time stoking my anti-PC position.
Then I went away for a while, for really no other reason than I just did. Nothing prompted my stepping away. I simply did not renew my subscription one year, and that stretched into several years. I came back, yearning for TNC’s hard-bitten criticism, but upon reading my first issue in years, I was disappointed. I had remembered it as being different, livelier. What I came back to was a pile of intellectual stoicism – a pile of righteous Academic stuffiness. For some reason, I had remembered it as being more ebullient—more expansive. I recognize the importance of editorial stances/missions, and I now realize TNC had been doing what it had always been doing: sticking to its smarts. So, simply put, it was I who had changed during my break with the journal. By the time I came to TNC for a second go, I had acquired different expectations, I had become a different sieve.
In the years between subscriptions my wife and I bought a home with a basement in Bridgeport, Chicago, on the city’s South Side (bang bang). I matured into this middle-aged punk before you who still shops for bongs, and never, never tucks in his shirt. … Never! … I grew back into who I was when growing up: my friends are all proud Union members or work in the Service Industry or the like, they get their life philosophies from The Simpsons, they don’t tuck in their shirts, either, and they could care less about poetry or coffeehouses, but yet they crush coffees day-long, just one of the many elemental habits they unconsciously embrace during their debauched drafts—read: days—in the pursuit of cultivating out of life itself a heroically unapologetic poem; I stopped trying to pronounce words correctly, allowing my natural Chicago accent to bastardize any tact I might possess. I stopped posing – I am not an intellectual. Far from it. I realigned with who I really am: a Chicagoland boy who happened to come upon an artistic inkling; but who pays less heed to that fruity inkling than he does to his craving for a stool at the corner tavern where he can participate with his peeps in bitching about all of their laborious attempts to unfuss their days, and share in crude laughs over how splendidly well they all fail. And in such a re-cultivation, I had projected a hope that TNC might have evolved into a more … uhm? … pluralistic anti-PC. But when I came back to it I immediately understood just how really privileged TNC’s take on being anti-PC is. With each arrived issue of my renewed subscription, I was becoming more and more bored with TNC.
I had grown into a Free Thinker. I have come to believe that both the Left and the Right give Populism a horrible name – a horrible reputation. (Understood: I’m writing with broad strokes here, but this ain’t no essay – it’s an e-mail. And though I might begin to sound apathetic here, I do vote.) Each tries to appropriate Populism to its own agenda. Both parties, both agendas, have played the populace into tribes. They got us exactly where they want us: they got us battling against the other’s respective perception, rather than aspiring to a collective respect for critical thought. Both Modern Liberalism and Contemporary Conservatism, each being utterly compartmentalized by its own PC and by its own increasingly Gizmobation-based definement of who and what is “elite,” stand as embarrassments to the fearlessness of the other, to the art of listening—to the American imagination.
Apologies, William. I know your writings were in TNC during my second spell with it. I always look forward to your work, but unfortunately, to me, your writing was getting bogged down in its surroundings. It began to seem to me that all of the writing in the issues was neglecting the “Culture” in favor of the “War.” (Again, writing in broad strokes here.) To my mind, your criticism does not deserve to be lodged in the spine of the Culture War. When I read your criticism outside of TNC it is nothing short of irreverently brilliant, it entertains and enlightens; inside TNC your writing becomes snobbish, steeped in agenda. Seriously.
More recently, I read on the great and ever-widening internet machine the series of essays TNC – Roger Kimball’s TNC – published on the theme of Populism. I was confused. As I read each essay, I couldn’t help but to imagine each author as being like a Napoleon, a Napoleon atop his stallion on a gentle hillside far, far, back, peering through a telescope at his forces as they engage and die in battle. Populism is utterly simple. It means one thing only, and that meaning is not up for dissection by intellectuals, nor is its meaning there for the commoner to assume as a justification, a comforter, for single-mindedness, prejudice. Populism is the awareness that honesty and dignity – humility’s forces – are propelled not by the cosmetic questions of our vitality, but rather by the gutsy questions of our temporality. It is an awareness that is void of ego—of class, ethnicity, sex, color, religion. It is in the embracement of the gutsy questions of our temporality where We the People can become unshackled from the earless entrapments of being of the Left’s reality or being of the Right’s, where We the People can fearlessly come to accept the fact that separation of Church and State is the most imperative notion of democracy. And with that, We the People will center the American imagination, and finally find the common reality that our perceptions of who and what is “elite” have always been one in the same. … Yet, obviously, We the People will never fully be one tribe – unfortunately there will always remain a douchey sector of American society – inclusive of both Left and Right leaners – wherein the amplification of the differences in our sets of belief, and how to react to, enact on, those takes on belief, shall always be self-righteously (Godlessly, actually) heralded. … In practicing humility and refraining from being pigeonholed, we could better gain the courage needed to pursue an unsafe – irreverent – as opposed to tiptoey – PC-laden – dialogue that would go a long way in creating a civil approach to understanding the underlying grievances between, say—to bring matters closer to home here—between the Lone Wolf character and the MFA mentality .
I urge you to step away from TNC. Get out of that context. … But again, when I take a step back, I fully understand I’m being unfair and assumptive here. This might be exactly where you want to be published. It is not for me to judge, though I do.
… Anyhoo, I have written something with the Culture War in mind. In fact, I’ve titled it that (its working title for some time was, “Colin Jost and Michael Che vs. Roger Kimball and Steve Bannon”). The germination of this piece was my feeling bad, terribly irresponsible (and hungover), really, the morning after I sent you that Messenger note. But it’s come a long, long way from the sense of culpability that was its launch. Below is the culmination of my trying to work through my political angst, which has much to do with my cultural ignorance. Enjoy.
“Ecoutez la colère du peuple”
~Sign held high amidst tear gas during the 2010 strikes in France
I. Freedom Fries
When in the dying sun’s rise its still
Allegiant rays burn off the frayed
Gauze fog that dressed the battle-
Field as a shelled vestige to the prude
Shock surround of a post-common
Sense gushed into a night that was to be
Paced by the leathering into bone
Of a licked persecution’s lyrics toothed
Cerebrally as an anthem accompanied
By the acoustic resolve that’s fuzzed
With “Chillin’” amid gateways of a 4th
Wall while beside the blazes of too natural
Pyrotechnics our gazes would forage
Beyond this enlisted presence towards
The pulse of our guiltily negotiable
Neighbors who required conflict once
The vagaries of the possible ear
Surrendered to spike the illusorily
Lived lesson of a suburban-raised Punk
Ethos with wannabe MILF diatribes
Loaded in the pill-born strains of a life-
Style whose nosey choices dimension
The parenting of an agenda whose back-
Attack slants at perfection of White self
The foolery masked by the crusade of an ambition
barefacedly polarized by the fear of being cultured –
It is in this preparatory phobia at the muffin
-Top-bookended crack of Facebook’s dawn,
When we will need the Rastafarians armed
On our legalized flank with smooth hoorays;
As our drums “Immigrant Song” below our
Curling flags of Joker, the complacent eye-
Witness world suffers two-faced Bukkake.
II. Brief Trajectory of a Voice’s Paradigm
The arrow parted from Poetry on a straight choice, a quickened aim stretched across the bow purchased in lieu of Poetry’s remove from the consequential cowboyhood of firearms, and yet being fanatical over the right to the safety of oneself and one’s – response to a world gone now to the whims of media consultants financed by the financial struggles of street gangs to strain the gripes of kingpins’ turfs into a greater, more single staging against the infusion of White self-pity’s holed up position on the potential banning of a fictitious Soul on Ice; to perfect podium gestures that better perpetrate the possession of a conviction harbored only in an intellectual capacity cultivated behind bars raised to expectations of emotions irked by blames juice-lipped in nature, and numb-assed with time – and being ultimately not gifted with no sense of right and wrong, Poetry aimed to only wound the trunk of this night stalker whose presence was suggested at when through a breeze avowing window came the familiar unfamiliar early AM jiggle of a poem’s door handle in an alleyway (the sound of revision is like a smile: its purpose should be as decipherable to you as it is to the next principle-minded Beef Head or Knuckle Fuck). The arrow’s bulleted passing from backyard to alley biffed the home plate of a diamond in Poetry’s chain link fence, redirected to enter the underside of a cleft chin, pierce a criminal tongue, and poke the roof of a Poet’s skin-rot mouth: The calamity might be best exemplified by an actual readership.
III. POV: Revolt the Revolution
Re-inquest the sense of pigged depravity, in-
Where the cinemascopy recovery of order
Might go legit beyond the bludgeoning gage
Of ever since, whereout the Gentle Mental,
His jiggly nips in the throes of a heave as His
Decree overspends in the fervor of this bottle-
Flu world’s talked over narration, utilizes defiant
Syntaxes of a billy club – wherein, for keeps,
Gentle Mental Himself resurrects not lightly to
The fish-net-driven hard-ons of White self-pity’s
Unambiguously hermetic fantasies of intellectual
Freedom: “As a rule I fright the ‘You’ out of me:
But billy clubs do vignette; and the polarizer
Hostility, whose star-shy nativity is evidenced
In fingerprints discoverable upon unexecuted
Molotovs, cuts an atoning swath across steadily
Beasted sanctuaries of an encrusted resistance
As Gentle Mental outs brutality in the midst
Of without – as if “True dat” will polite into
“Precisely accurate” within the Haymarket
Of a civilization whose protest song twangs
A Woman governance over the over-mannered
Ideal Gentle Mental quashes under His fear
To hear Truth is not a brain shart of His alone.