Posts Tagged ‘ Joe Weil ’

Joe Weil: Toward a more Combative and Passionate Reading of Poems

Toward a more Combative and Passionate Reading of Poems

I am going to use combative here in the sense of Jacob wrestling with the angel. All night, he stands locked in with the angel until the dawn approaches. The angel must depart. Jacob refuses to let the angel go until he has received the full blessing of heaven. The blessing is given, the angel breaks Jacob’s hip before departing as a sort of “sign” of both blessing and combat, and afterwards, nothing is the same. This is true combat, true grappling. I tell you the point of any deep reading is contained both in the idea of not letting go until you have received the blessing, and also, in being marked with the signs of combat—wounded and scarred in the best sense of those words. This is beyond effort. Jacob was naked. He brought no weapons or defensive armor to the match. If he was oiled up, it was only with his own sweat. What do I mean beyond effort? Effort implies forcing yourself, going through the motions, acting as if this was a drag. No man, in a life and death struggle with an angel would consider his combat drudgery: “Oh my Gawd, I have to read this stupid shit, and its wing night at the Happy Pig! Poor me.!” I hate students like this. Fuck understanding them or thinking I was young once too. The young student who thinks this way is already dead—dead to literature, dead to wonder, and alive only to doing the absolute minimum in order to get the A. He knows only what he already understands, already has mastered, whatever his prejudices have tricked him into believing is knowledge. Fuck him with a spoon. I hope he chokes on a fucking mushroom!
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Joe Weil: “The Thing About Things: Notes on William Carlos Williams”

There are many poets who enjoy disliking William Carlos Williams. He wrote poems that seem distinguished only by their adherence to the “tossed off.” They make no major claims. They seem jotted off.

So why study the man at all? First, it is hard to see Williams because he is everywhere, in all the schools of American poetry. He took the English conversational lyric as invented by Coleridge and developed by Wordsworth, and turned it toward American speech patterns: OK, sure—the sense of a self-consciously casual utterance, language that was wrought from a busy life and ranged between the phatic, the cranky, the ecstatic, the overt, and the obvious.

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Joe Weil: “Looking at Ballad Form, and the Nature of Voice”

One of the things that may irritate a post-structuralist reader about Auden is that he delights in “knowing” things—even those things which are ugly and disastrous to know. For example, his greatest praise of old masters: “About suffering, the old masters were never wrong.” Auden likes being right. He likes being elegant. He likes making a point in as clever a way as possible. He even likes his ambiguity to be gin-clear. This annoys readers, especially those who come out of the postmodernist woodwork to feed on endless non-commitments, non-linearity, and statements that dissolve and are contradicted or made impotent by the sheer process of deconstructing one’s deconstructions. Stevens claimed that a great disorder is an order (well ahead of chaos theory). Post-structuralism with its absolutist hatred of saying anything is, well, to put it in the language of my forbearers: fucking boring. Auden, at his worst, is also a bore. He can be pedantic, overbearing, a spewer of opinions, a snob, a writer of high-falutin doggerel. At his best, he is the greatest poet to come out of the formalists, and for the same reason Ashbery is probably the greatest poet to come out of the post-structuralists: because he is good at saying what he enjoys saying, because he takes great delight in his own utterance for its own sake, because no old bone wearies him if he can find a happy way to chomp on it. This is no small virtue. If a poet is not enjoying his own spew, what damned good is he? Auden’s ability to wrap things up annoys a reader only if that reader is deaf to the sonic joy of Auden cracking wise. The pleasure in Auden is not in what he says, or even in how he says it, but in the sheer pleasure he takes beyond how or why—a pleasure that, in his best poems, becomes a palpable presence throughout. When I want to witness a poet enjoying himself I turn to Ashbery or Auden. With great craft and skill, they sit in their respective sand boxes, and both are infantile in the best sense. At any rate, let’s inspect one of Auden’s more famous poems, the imitation ballad, “As I Walked out One Evening.”

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