more on mawkishness

Drew writes in the comment box for the post on mawkishness two posts down from here:

…mawkishness is the default mode of of American populist poetry and seems to be the primary and maybe even the exclusive effect American poets strive for in their work (with the possible admixture of various modes of middlebrow sententiousness). So it’s a pop effect that’s lost all vitality… not that it couldn’t be reinvented.. so… Go ON…

There’s a reason it’s the default, I believe: its note of truth is the undeniable pathos of being human. We reinvent it by using it, or appropriating it, with full consciousness of its awfulness. Stripped of pathos, we are left with what I have come to think of as QPV: “Quality Post-Modern Verse.” Rid of “the lyrical interference of the ego,” it stands as fine and noble scaffolding, but where can we situate ourselves in it? We will always resonate with mawkishness, even if only because it makes us a little sick, because our lives are absolutely mawkish: cloying, awkward, a little nauseating. Classicists and formalists disdain it as a migrant herd of beasts might disdain a wounded member, leaving it to die whimpering in the snow. To identify with it means to identify with one’s own weakness.

Mawkishness is key to a lover’s abjection, to the code of femininity, and to adolescence, the period of our lives when we are closest to the full rage of life. There is energy in all of these mawkishnesses that we can mine for poetry; without it, we risk merely playing with Legos. I don’t think mawkishness will ever lose vitality.

5 thoughts on “more on mawkishness

  1. Mawkishness, as you suggest, then, is absolutely key to a semiotics of, say, Kelly Clarkson. Someone I adore as you may know. But is it really not key to punk rage, as well, or anything undertaken as a representation of sincere feelings (even the sincere feeling that actives every proper satire?)

    I also want to know, and this is the speculative philologist in me blabbering, what is up with “mawkish”? Maggots. Sweet. Sweet maggots. ??

  2. Right. It's a basic pop thing. But American poetry isn't so good with pop. The mawkishness in U2 or early Beatles is extreme, but it also works, which is more than I can say about Mary Oliver. I agree that mawkishness and sentimentality have powerful forces behind them, and that's why they're commonly deployed, but Oliver's mawkishness really is lacking vitality. Why? Because it's combined with mendacity. Part of doing good pop music is that you release a real but superficial burst of emotion. Something where it's easy to press an emotional button. A sentimental phone company commercial also used this dynamic, but in a mode that is mendacious. The Oliver poems are even more mendacious than a phone company commercial, because they obviate the self-consciousness of advertising. There's no reason poems can't engage these pop dynamics. I don't at all think the QPV gordian knot approach is the only way to handle it.

  3. early beatles, yeah: “then there was MYOOOsic/ and WONDERFUL roses, theyy tell me/ in SWEET fragrant meadows/ of DAWN/ and YOU/ there were BIRDS/ on a HILL/ but I never HEARD them singing/ no I never HEARD them at all/ till there was YOU”

    that's some fucking GORGEOUS mawkishness right there (although I think this might be one of their few cover tunes? anyway.)

    BB, punk rage, yes, absolutely. The mawkishness of what KSM calls “Ramones legs.”

    Maggots I think because mawkishness signifies a little nauseating rottenness.

    DG: Oliver's mawkishness is, yes, completely, horrifyingly inert. You hit it right on the nose with the observation on “mendacity.” She wants to con us into thinking she's the most sincere, because that's her market stance.

  4. Well, I don't think you can equate
    wanting to spruce up or perhaps even put a mirrored toroid within the emoti-tool box with 'leaving a wounded member of the herd'

    there are plenty of stupid, bad, and utterly useless memes that we SHOULD leave to die. Killing, or problematizing certain idea forms is not the same as killing people, though if you'll notice most people think this is so.

    Just tell an average person sometime

    that Nation is just one letter different than Notion
    and you'll discover most
    don't even know the word notion
    any more..

    The only model that works and bears any resemblance to the world any more is the very terse

    Stupidity =
    Intelligence =

    In other words Murphy's law

    If something bad can happen
    it probably will, and one
    person's bad is another's

    There is simply a kind of ridiculous built in “Irrony”
    in the gap between essence
    and being.


    a kind of furtive little
    stain within a cultural
    addressing, naming system,
    or even multiple addressing
    systems, known or unknown.

    And then there is essence

    pure, mute, absolute innocence,

    and I use “mute”

    in the sense

    that pain or poetry
    both exist only

    “in combination”

    In a world of purely grotesque figures of an absolute singularity,
    the only “proper emoticon”

    must be something


    WTF + Whatever + LC (local conditions)

    Anything more than that
    and even the tenderest provisionality becomes
    a monstrously unwieldy
    annoyance whose purpose
    must always refer back
    to the perfected EE (Existential Equation)

    Intelligence = Stupidity = Complexity.

    And unlike the proof for God, this statement is readily proved.

    If life were a “good idea”
    evolutionarily speaking
    there would be more of it in the universe. All Mawkishness follows
    from there.

    How can any good possibly ever come,
    really, from something which was never quite right from the start.

    But that being true, I would think

    mawkishness in poetry would be right out, and something like

    “illuminated weirdness”

    the most 'happy'

    in ontological terms..

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