I am glad to be included in the new Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry. I guess I have earned it, having plugged away at this racket for a few decades now? Of course, there are so many others who have as well, and who should be included, but then the book would be even more unmanageably massive than it is now. Poetry has reached a state of uncontainability, and that is an excellent thing.
What is not so excellent, at least from my point of view, is my bio entry in the book. I suppose they have a good reason for not running these by contributors, and I do recognize the enormity of the task of putting together all the materials. Still, there is at least one bit in mine that is so egregious that I want to go to all my friends’ houses who have the book and black it out with a Sharpie.
Hoover included material from an interview I did with Tom Beckett as a setup for the poems he chose from Swoon, but he rearranged it in a misleading way. He begins by quoting this paragraph:
Gary and I had a crisis, and one of the ways we dealt with it was to write a blog to each other. The material of the blog was therefore ‘natural’ ‘expressive’ language. I used a random poem generator program to generate thirty pages of stuff from the language on that blog.
Now, this blog had NOTHING to do with Swoon, except that it was a (hopeless, it turns out) attempt to recover something like trust in our relationship after his extended clandestine affair with the “poet” Wanda Phipps. We thought that since we had initially built trust in writing, we might be able to rebuild it. But the experience of writing that blog was not Swoon. In a way, it was Swoon’s unraveling, an anti-Swoon. Hoover, however, collages the passage in such a way that it seems that Swoon was the blog the passage refers to! I find this vexing, as if someone had misspelled my name on my tombstone.
Beyond this erratum is the problem of the poems he chose to include. The poem of Gary’s that is in the anthology was not written to me, and although it is published in Swoon, it is there as a kind of quotation, not as part of our collaboration. In fact, Gary wrote it for his first wife. More disturbing to me is that it hardly represents Gary’s most important contributions to poetry. His bio note mentions the Flarf Klassic “Mm-Hmm,” the poem that launched a thousand Google searches, but does not include it. This is, to my mind, a grave mistake. The one that was chosen, “Among the Living,” is a kind of blancmange of a piece that better represents the sort of work coming out of the Bay Area in the early 90s with its shifting pronouns and high, still diction – almost a kind of homage to Michael Palmer – and has nothing to do at all with the mark that Gary made on poetry. If anything, his later poems to me and his Flarf work come out of a reaction against that sort of poetry.
My poem, “Moonscape with Earthlings,” in some ways foreshadows my riper poetry: it is playful, Oulipean at moments, sort of macaronic (although in a dumb way; if you understand Japanese you can understand just how dumb, in retrospect), multiform. I am not entirely embarrassed by it, but it is definitely not my best or my most representative work.
Finally, and I know it is futile to rail against something like this, because it does make some kind of editorial sense, but I can’t STAND that it is a dual entry. I might feel less that way if the poem of Gary’s that had been included was the one to which my poem responded. But the poems don’t read as a collaboration, because strictly speaking, they are not. And beyond that, we each have made contributions to poetry separately that surpass anything we did in Swoon, IM(maybe-not-so)HO. I do think the dual entry is a problem not just because of our vicious divorce, but on historical and feminist grounds as well. I’m emphatically my own thing, not a Gary thing, even if he was instrumental in helping me get to where I am.
3 thoughts on “The Norton Got it Wrong”
Hi Nada Gordon, Steve Fama here —
Didn't the people at Norton have to get your permission first, to use the specific poetry / words of yours published in their anthology?
Sorry for this very late reply. Yes, I had to get permission to publish //my poem//. I don't remember whether I was informed which of Gary's poems was going to be included. I think I was so weirded out by the decision to include Swoon poems that I didn't in any case pay very close attention.
None of the biodata was run past me at all, but perhaps that is normal?