baseball, poetry, and kim chi

Monday, July 11, 2005

Super size my clever

This is not a direct response to Kyle’s comments on clever in the younger poet’s poems. Instead it is brief question I’ve been asking myself since I read his post. What is wrong with clever? Why is it ranked lower than irony? My first response to the comment that there is too much clever in the underage poems was to agree, not with the assertion, but that clever is a negative. Why do I have this knee jerk reaction? Sure, there are folks out there that are so clever it makes me sick, but my friends, people I like, when they get a clever streak going, I kind of like it. They are being silly. Silly is good. How different is clever from silly? Is it the trying?

In my mind, clever can be just about anything. Sometimes it falls flat on its face, and in these times, the clever is apparent, just as when Irony is stretched and fails, it becomes even more apparent. The best irony is that which goes unnoticed. Irony which is not called Irony. I think this might be the same with clever. Clever, when working, can hit somewhere between curiosity and humor and plain ass stupid. I am not saying we should aim for clever (or any result), just that if clever occurs, so be it. Rather read poems full of clever than full of Irony. Rather read poems full of the laughing “I” than the self conscious “There is no “I” in my poems”. There is too much tip toeing around. When the comment on Ogg is that Matt has put him down, and the humor (which truly had me laughing) is ignored, I think that is a shame. Why are we so careful? Did anyone else laugh?

But to get to it. The comment was that younger poets are being too clever. Sure, some of the poems out there fail. But this is not limited to the younger set. Failed poems are a dime a dozen, I got a few spare ones if anyone wants em. No published poet is without the bad published poem. And a poet who is well practiced should be able to write a different poem than the inexperienced poet. All of us are just sharpening our tools and putting them into the tool box. let’s get our laugh on. If anything, we need to play more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

jim, thanks for backing me up on the "ogg" comment. I thought the humor was obvious and, in reality, I was actually trying to compliment early man.
as far as clever; Berrigan was clever, Padgett, Larry Fagin, Ashbery is a real clever bastard, Anselm gives clever a good workout. It's like anything else; done well it works, done clumsily it shows.

7:20 AM

Blogger Radish King said...

Yes, we need to play more. Well said. Though sometimes clever becomes a substitute for wit or seems to cover a lack of style. When this happens, all you see is the underpinnings of the poem. Clever, when done well can, and should, sting.

10:35 AM


i like when people are playful. i like when poems are playful. are poems cleverly playful? i'm not sure. sometimes yes. sometimes no. i trust my gut. i like what i like.

2:53 PM

Blogger Sean Mac said...

man, we ARE insular. even reading each other's comment bars. shit - the copy tech repair guy is whistling the Imperial March as he waits for his tamale to heat up.

i think you and i agree pefectly on clever, jim. i think rebecca says it short n sweet (but not sweet n low). and stacy adds the perfect footnote on the not quite identity of clever and playful. but it is one aspect of play.

i stressed the negative on my post, and, frankly, when i am down, cleverness is read far more as deceitful ruse than joyful twist. and i was certainly down and rather desperate on my post that day. a certain amount of blogging is definitely dirty laundry for me. oh, theres the spot/hole/smooched m&m.

how tempting it is to say more about the ogg thing. well, langley, you ate dog. your going to get some flak from that, whether its to your face or no. sleep w/ your mom, moon your boss, etc. good ol ogg: his parents knew a good name when they grunted one.

glad to inspire such a juicy entry, jim. now send me some bad poems, please.

3:12 PM

Blogger Sean Mac said...

its funny though - a moment later, i'm all "THAT's IT" - that sense that play is good and we should play - it censors, or can, the dark, uncomfortable, nasty sid eof things. Its very american - even the modernist maestros chronicle that suppression, and there's the ol carter family "leep on the sunny side". as someone who is usually nr some kind of unhappiness, this work just doesn't fly much better than a hallmark card. its not of interest. sometimes, when it truly shines, its lovely, but i suppose i feel - and reading poets comments on blogger ot eachother i know its more than "just a feeling" that cleverness is some kind of little jewel, and eveyr time we sign our names to things, theres this urge to put a little jewel, a little sparkle in there. i imagine that is fine when you happen to have one handy / or are willing to sit down and wait/work for it and give it as a gift (the joy route)and that it is crummy when it is a branding thing, when you do it as YOUR NAME IS ATTACHED. cuz its you. and you are - better be - special. wonderful. unique. isnt that what it means to be a poet, esp. a published poet (stakeholder w/ stock to defend?).

jim, this is on yr blog, but this isnt towards but thru you. hope that comes thru.

3:18 PM

Blogger Sean Mac said...

"keep" on the sunny side. save leep for geoff hoth.

3:19 PM

Blogger Sean Mac said...

wait a minute - if you are refering to my ogg disparaging, did you really think my recommendation of making ML read Gary Snyder was serious? you think that I'm that kind of nasty little jerk? sure, i got the humor, and i gave back. but i dont think jokes have magic immunity buttons which mean we can't tag your it them.

6:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


That whole string was full of humor. I felt that, you felt that, matt felt that, the Ogg guy was less than the sharpest. ML rocked the dog. JWG rocked the dog. GS should rock the dog.

As for you, my humorous chemist, sometimes i cant tell when you are laughing. never thought you were a little jerk. only saying that i laughed, and hoped that you might have too. I'm glad that you did.

as far as the play. when i am down, I dont particiularly like myslf and dont particularly like my work. feels like i am breathing in a bag and i am so concerned with my current agnst, I dont have perspective (I'm certanly not in the zone. Dont know if I've ever produced anything I like in that place). dont like to write from there. just like to let it pass. I have no interest in it. it goes away. I am bored by it. and that is the biggest thing. I am bored by it. I laugh at it. it goes away.


8:55 PM

Blogger richard lopez said...

I love the ludic in writing and in living. but clever is usually considered a synonom for precious, and insincere in the writing. where the writer of a clever text really is fucking around and not getting to the meat of the matter. not that I think a writer can't not be clever in writing, cuz he/she sure can. but too much leg pulling quickly wears out its welcome. clever is not ironic. in fact, irony can often become a crutch in writing (think of latter David Letterman) and perhaps should not be prized at all. what should be cultivated is a healthy laugh ability. I suspect poets who take themselves too seriously, who can't laugh at themselves and others, we all have met those poets, and have been that ourselves at some stage in our lives, can be accused of attempting the pose of irony. however, everything, including my comment here, should be taken with a grain of salt washed down with lotsa beer, cuz when we take it, writing/reading, seriously we acknowledge our own limits, and that what we love so resists being pinned by labels. poetry always has the last laugh. even so, let us praise the ludic.

2:01 AM

Blogger Teresa Sparks said...

Kyle, in your second of four posts: I think there is a healthy level of identification that goes on when reading, which is part of why Hallmark Cards aren't interesting. How can you identify with something so flat, characterless, neat, fitted with a prozac smile? Who experiences thought and emotions as featureless? So we are drawn to the craggy, the messy.

I'm falling into generalizations, yes, to say that no perspective, mode or style is enough in itself. Clever is not enough to draw me in itself, neither is beautiful. What is interesting on its own? Intersections are where things happen, and the psychogeographically convoluted is interesting, maybe because we're each of us psychogeographically convoluted.

Not to say that simple identification is why we read, or write, or enjoy, entirely.

Close enough to recognize, far enough to be new? Too simple.

The Ogg angle: I remember some cave paintings that are only handprints, hundreds and hundreds of them, but made to look as though all the fingers had been cut off. Or made by hands with no fingers. Why? Psychogeographically convoluted neolithic hooligans? Cool.

Jim is onto it, too: deep in the convolutes you can't see where you are, or how to move, or too far ahead (like the hills in Mingo county). Perspective means distance, functional distance, and less attachment. I hope.

And Kyle, I have some bad poems for you, too.

12:35 PM

Blogger Sean Mac said...

this post rocks. know i have all these new words (or words new in my thinking of them) - clever, ludic, wit, irony to investigate the relations between. intersections, perspectives, what is it we read for/respond to? identification is one level - and then the second is that its active, it is a becoming, and int hat process, i am invited - i think that active identifications important too. we can then work/play together. and play is great, america definitely needs more play, but a whole-heartdely, aware paly, one pretty edgy and rough and close to work at times, and soft and furry others? otherwise, the quietude charge - how did you as a writer int he dominant culture, in its own tongue, respond to the ceaseless atrocities in each of the ten dimensions? any play that leaves out that is pretty close to hiding. which pulls us back towards clever? maybe. is wit fiercer? is the ludic a crazy, sharp, intensity? the dictionary leaves that part out. okay. all i know is that on avolokiteshvaras fractured head sits his wrathful guardian dont fuck with this side, and above that hot tempered flaming (literally) mofo (ie rising up thru him) sits, at the apex, wisdom.

5:02 PM


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