Friday, December 09, 2005

The 12, 362nd greatest living poet

Came across this ad in the NYRB for a book called Greatest Living Poet by Mark Kobo. What amused me about the ad was the celebrities they chose to endorse Kobo - as evidence of his being 'the Greatest Living Poet' we were told that Madonna had recited his poems in public and that Bill Clinton was a fan. I mean Bill Clinton! Madonna! Understand, I'm not saying that these people don't have their own expertise - I would gladly take Clinton's advice on picking cigars, and if I ever felt the need to find a good plastic surgeon, Madonna is practically the first person I would turn to. I just have no reason to trust their judgement in poetry more than I trust the judgement of say, my neighbour's cat, or (even worse) Hallmark card editors. I'm reminded of a young lady who once, in an attempt to convince me that she was indeed a talented writer, informed me that her writing had been lauded by A B Vajpayee. Aside from being a political gaffe (anyone who knows me at all knows that I'm way too left-wing to have respect for the BJP leadership), this struck me as a total non sequitur. What, I wanted to know, had being a successful politician got to do with having literary judgement, and why therefore, was I expected to ascribe any significance to the opinion of someone who, as a politician, will agree on general principle with anything that doesn't lose him votes.

Let's get one thing straight. The greatest living poet today is Derek Walcott. If you want to dispute that, I'm willing to hear arguments in favour of Heaney, Ashbery and Szymborska, but not for Kobo. Not that Kobo (based on the samples of his poetry posted on his website) is a particularly bad poet. He's just unremarkable. There are some nice phrases in some of his poems, but there is also much that is trite and contrived, and they certainly aren't alive or spectacular enough to deserve more than a passing read. I got through about four of them before I lost interest.

More interesting, however, was Kobo's website - which struck me as being a case study of what I like to call imagined victimisation. These are the people who are convinced that those who don't agree with them are biased or prejudiced in some way, and will not make room for the possibility that those who criticise them may simply be voicing their honest, impartial judgements. Of the response to his book, Kobo writes: "Those who took the time to read the book - and also had no prior agenda - responded with a positive sense of excitement." In other words, if you didn't respond with a sense of excitement you must have had a prior agenda. This is a clever enough argument - even if, as with Kobo's website, it comes to sound suspiciously like a persecution complex. Leaving aside for a moment the question of what constitutes objectivity in the appreciation of an art form, and how we seperate the 'prior agenda' of the nay-sayers from the 'true selves' of those impressed by Kobo's work, I see no reason to assume that the critics of Kobo's work aren't voicing their 'objective' opinions. Sometimes it isn't about biases and stereotypes and assumptions, sometimes you just disagree. [1]

The trouble is, of course, that this kind of pretend martyrdom makes for good marketing. If Kobo had just put his book out, without pretending to be a victim of some academic conspiracy, no one would have read / bought it. By artificially manufacturing a controversy around himself, Kobo may have dramatically increased book sales and gained a legitimacy he could never have gained as a poet. By claiming to reinvent poetry as a genre, Kobo not only insulates himself from all considered criticism, he also creates a bond of empathy between himself and those who don't get poetry, thus targeting the very readers who won't know enough to recognise the quality (or lack thereof) of his poems, and making it possible for them to share in the fantasy that his work represents some sort of seminal advance over our existing poetics. It's a superb marketing gimmick.

Kobo claims to show that the problem with modern poetry is that it is poorly written. Even if the claims he makes for the widespread popularity of his work are true (which I'm dubious about), the only thing he's proving is that modern poetry is not properly marketed - you can get people to buy poetry, even average poetry, if you just spin it right. [2]

Notes

[1] Notice that Kobo effectively invites criticism by setting himself up to be a poetic revolutionary. If he were to write a book called, say, Marginally above average living poet, far fewer critics, I suspect, would have an issue with it.


[2]In a sense, of course, this is the basis of all pop culture - the idea that sales are the most appropriate measure of artistic quality, and that people who disapprove of what is popular don't have a real opinion - they're just prejudiced snobs.

42 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

First impression is that he is quite competent prosodically. But then the lack of inflection betrays mediocrity.

He endorses "incantatory" poetry. I wonder if he has read, or even heard of Allen Grossman. I was also reminded of Enzensberger's "Poems for People who don't read poems". Aptly enough, I found those poems unreadable...

Derek Walcott is the greatest living poet? That argument deserves a post of its own.

Falstaff said...

Cat: Know what you mean. I think I would probably have given up after two poems, but I was pushing myself to 'try' to be unbiased.

I'm not sure I want to go into the Walcott argument - he's just the most compelling candidate I could think of off-hand. Anyway, I think the 'greatest living poet' tag is fairly arbitrary - I mean how do you compare two poets anyway. Would be happy to hear who you would pick for the title though.

Mrudula said...

This guy is ridiculous!! The web site is a riot. I laughed so much. Is he really laughing all the way to the bank? Mediocrity...

Cheshire Cat said...

My complaint with Walcott is not his poetry but his temperament. Bursting with energy and optimism, relentlessly positive. Such blind faith in the power of lyric; when he is skeptical, it is a borrowed mood.

Two negatives make a positive, but not conversely. Thus even though the range seems immense (so determinedly immense), there are so many registers closed to him (what avails his richness?)... So much of the world he must find alien. His world is a happy pattern. Happy planet.

The others on your list are more compelling candidates. It's hard to judge Szymborska because translation implies distance. What survives is not invaluable. Now if only you'd written this post a few months back, we could have discussed Czeslaw Milosz...

Heaney is justly honored. But the bardic tradition - a tad anachronistic?

And then there is John Ashbery. His poetry essentially, entertainingly, virtuostically and bemusingly addresses and continually fails to resolve the problem of temporality. Meaning, it is compulsive. Dreamer and romantic - lovely to read. Mindful of tradition. Literally - the entire history of English poetry is contained within that brain, whence it emerges changed, changed, utterly strange.

But "great" is an inappropriate adjective for Ashbery. He is merely one in a long and illustrious line of failures; Walser, Kafka and Beckett being some of the others. Maybe Walcott does deserve the title - the great are those who thrust greatness upon themselves...

ozymandiaz said...

C'mon. Everyone knows that I am the greatest living poet, quite possibly the greatest poet of all time. It is just that you "learned" people (the ones who actually read books) can't get your mind around the fact that an uneducated, unpublished (except for the occasional poem in one of the heralded National Poetry Society volumes) poet as myself is the greatest of all that you can't come to admit it.

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

If Kobo is the greatest living poet, then John Grisham should win the literature Nobel.

meaculpaaa@yahoo.com said...

When looking up Mark Staber Kobo's/Mark Rendina (as he now appears on his homepage) book on Amazon.co.uk. I came across a review that referred to him as a plagiarist. Upon comparing Kobo's poem with the poets mentioned in the review, I could easily see the accusation being justified. Having also read the poems on Kobo's homepage, I was left with an impression of the the author wallowing in self-pity - and megalomania. "Ziggy Stardust, step aside for Mark Rendina"?!? As mentioned in another blog - the guy is indeed nothing but ludicrous, and the site is a riot - especially the "Readers Comments"-section. I also know for a fact that Kobo/Rendina will censor any bad reviews on his book on Amazon/Barnes and Noble/etc - fairly spineless and dictator-like in my opinion.

stan mieke said...

Read Mark Rendina's 2006 Poetry Manefesto. Wow does he have a set of balls! Rendina (vice KOBO) takes on 100 years of great writers and tells them all basically that they have written it all wrong. And thats why poeple dont by poetry books. True there is no markedt for modern poetry but how can so many other famous names get it al wrong like he says. Some of his selections from his new book, MANTRA RAIN, have some ass kicking lines I but cant figure out what all the poems mean. Also what is incantaion poetry? "words without the baggage of words" Whatever.

Also what is wrong with academic poetry? I trust my professors of poetry to know more about poetry than Mark Rendina. He should go back to school. But you gotta love his web site, greatstlivingpoets.com. He is a walking head trip.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you shouldn't take a former girl-friend serious who only shows with this kind of revenge how infantile and immature she is. Dear Maria Rismo, or should I call you Elle McGregor or "a reader from Helsinki, Finland", you should rather read "He's just not that into you" because this seems to be the level of education and knowledge you will ever reach. And not poetry.

Anonymous said...

Time has proven you otherwise "Petra". And his psychopathology is defined within the category "Anti-Social Behaviour resp. Sociopathy"

Anonymous said...

Dear Maria,

if you have something to tell me, why don't you choose clear words?

Falling down the Stairs said...

As your mental and intellectual faculties are obviously not capable to comprehend an infinitesimal fraction of the word "Decency". But please, lull yourself in this veil of intellectual ineptitude - I presume it offers just as much comfort as your pseudo-suicide.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you know who you are talking to? What is this nonsense about pseudo-suicide? And falling down the stairs?
I guess I would know if I planned to or did commit suicide, even if it was a pseudo-one.
Maybe you are psycho.
My mental faculties are pretty fine, but you should check yours.

Stop Stalkers!!! said...

Oh - you must be one of the other concubines...or harlots - simply a question of definition. It is such a tedious and boring task keeping track of you all. But go on now, veil yourself in sheer ignorance - any attempt on your part to comprehend this is merely a velleity. Ta ta.

Anonymous said...

You know what? I have better things to do than this. Have fun on your revenge trip. I'm out.

Veritas said...

Bye bye now, little moll. Your perseverance is - like your associate - mediocre.

Anonymous said...

Well, you are pretty sick. Guess you don't have any pleasure in your life. Is there anything else that satisfies you other than insulting, hatred and revenge?

The One That Got Away said...

Is this the height of what you can conjure up? Tsk, tsk, tsk. You are merely epitomizing that one should never under-estimate the predictability of stupidity displayed. Dullards like yourself never satisfy me, you are nothing but simple and boring; trailer-trash at your best; prime candidates for the Darwin Awards. As for revenge, I did not instigate this, but that thought must be too revolting for the ignorant, superficial charlatan you obviously are.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we all know: you are the greatest. Brava. And bye.

Seier said...

Applying irony in a written context demands a certain skill, of which you do not possess. It is simply not your forte. However, I would not be surprised if you lacked the required introspection to see this as well, little moll. Ta ta.

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Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. video editing schools

Anonymous said...

Dear Maria,

can't you just give up? It is so boring to get your revenge reviews deleted all the time. And you know what - the person your revenging is aiming at doesn't even see them. Because I get them deleted before. Too bad, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Mark Rendina is on the meetic !!!
Poor guy. My french girl friend met him on meetic, she said he have the smalest dick in the world and live in a roten house in Italy ! Ho ho ho !!!

Anonymous said...

meetic? Makes me wonder... as far as I am concerned, the good poet is married to an incredibly profound, physically stimulating East German physiotherapist who may well be considered the greatest living wife. His poems are mediocre, though.

Anonymous said...

All you ex-girlfriends are so boring... can't you just disappear and look for somebody better if you hate him so much? Or is it simply jealousy that makes you write all these mean things... remember, you all loved him once and wanted to be with him so badly...

Anonymous said...

Dear Maria Rismo,

it is very sad that you are so full of hate. I really feel pity for you. Mark is the best lover I ever had and his dick is anything but small. Well, but maybe something is deeply wrong with you, who knows. And then all your useless words about his poetry. Maybe you simply don't understand his poems. You should use you energy for something productive. And not for your revenge. Life is full of men. Go find yourself a better one if you didn't like Mark. I wouldn't be with somebody like you who is so full of hate and feelings of revenge. But go ahead - maybe it gives you satisfaction - if nothing else can give you satisfaction Or try women...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way - the house in Italy is anything else but rotten. But maybe again you simply can't stand it that he has achieved something in his life and you haven't...just like with the fox and the grapes...

Anonymous said...

Dear Maria Rismo,

it is interesting that somebody whose body is all SCABS AND PUS talks about other people's NON EXISTING deficits...

Ted Burke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Ted
You did you best and I like that. But keep your mind open if you can as the prize is poetry and the improvement of American letters - not who you like and who your friends like - its not a popularity contest.

American poetry is broken and some of us are out to fix it. Or do you seriously think American poetry is in good health (hint there is no market). People do not feel joy in crap. Even if you dont like the tone..it is required to shake up a lot of dead rot. There will be a lot more shaking before its all over. Be brave Ted. People were against the Leaves of Grass when it was self published...you want to have the rep of the guy that was against Leaves of Grass?
Do not attempt to make a final judgment after what you admit is a "cursory view". Are you a serious poet? Then what if, just what if, there was a birth of a great new American poetry in a neighborhood your friends didnt like to visit?...does that mean you would not look into the phenomenon. But you love poetry right? Your reputation is at stake here Ted. What you talk to only people that praise you?
Then lets get beyond the personalities of the writers and the tones of the civilities. We will all be dead soon, all is left is the work. So look at it Ted, look real close because its everything you have been working for in your life...so check it out. Just to show I want to help you in your search for serious poetry, poetry that will live forever, I will send you a free book so you can give it more than a "cursory view". You have not even considered for a moment if you could be wrong have you? That why some people remain minor movements and stay within the shadow of minor minds. Also spelling in blogs is not important ..anything that makes the reader feel spontaneous communication is better than cold blodded spell checking. Be honest and brave enough to mispell a world. Confidence is everything in literature....Literature always follows empire, violence, and aggression. American poets are too tame. Read Fight Club again and get a flavor of who you are dealing with. and also, never engage with anyone unless you have closely read his works...you never know when you may dismiss an angel in your life. Dont you know your Rilke? Angels are terrible things.

Surprise both me and your fiends - I know them, and we talk about you- I have many names so be careful:) They are afraid to tell you how milk toast you are. Get some iron your message. M an at least get mad and make a stand ok? You are almost dead and noone will ever read milktoast after you are not here to blog it:)

Have you never been punked? Dont get to serious ...it might all be a joke Ted.

Read "Mantra Rain" and see what is coming down the road ok?

Oh and this will go on as long as you respond hysterically and shrilly:) Life is short, pick the battles that will help you, not hurt you. Live forever:)

Anonymous said...

People, so our mr. rendina had some girlfriends AND is married?
Another man who's betraying his
"beloved" wife? THAT'S mediocre
indeed- wow.

His nice to look at, but that's all. No amazing soul, just drugs and depression. Good fun!
All you betrayed women, live on,
forget it and let him be.
Rather get to know a real interesting guy who did not yet finished with the world before he actually died. Much more interesting, believe me. Take care-

Anonymous said...

He is not married, Maria Rismo. Why can't you finally stop this slander? It is so boring. Do you still love him so much?

Ted Burke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What I personally think is most important: criticising the subject matter and not the person. Otherwise criticism is not criticism but defamation or any other offence motivated by various reasons you can think of: unrequited love, envy, hate or insanity.
And you revealed your true character with your comment, MY FRIEND!
Only weak people write things like this.

Ted Burke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Midnight train said...

God bless you all...lots of passion, love and hate, perfectly human. Standby for something completely different...PHILOSOPHY AT THE END OF THE WORLD my Mark Chandos. Containing America's first post modern epic poem.

the dude from bavaria said...

He certainly is married. And he certainly does not give a damn for any legasthenic ex "girlfriend" pouring junk over him in blog posts. As for the huse in italy, it's beautiful. The Rendinas rent it out to Tourists every now and then. And as for Mrs. Rendina, I put great trust in her judgment, and I believe that if she has chosen him to be Mr. Right, he can't be too bad a person.

His poetry sucks bongwater though.

Anonymous said...

Who are you?

quickdraw mcgraw said...

Have you read his new book Ringworlds? This is the first modern epic poem. How do we get a copy? Will he be using his real name or a new name. Mark Kobo, Mark Rendina, or Mark Chandos????
This is becoming one of the greatest mysteries in modern literature?

the dude from bavaria said...

I'm the dude from bavaria. So who are you?

Now honestly, what kind of answer to your question do you think you'll get from somebody who chooses to call himself "the dude from bavaria"? I'm tempted to let you in on the fact that I'm Mark's gay personal trainer, but I guess I'd better keep this little secret to myself.

But to fire up your fantasy, I'll give you two hints:
1. I have already been around when Maria was.
2. I'll still be around when I.M. isn't any longer.

Bye, honey. And let me know when you have solved the riddle.

Vintersøvn said...

Oh dear...Why am I being slandered by people who cannot even spell "house" properly? And such cowards - hiding behind the "Anonymous"-tag. Tsk tsk tsk. Nonetheless, Christmas is around the corner, and if anyone is interested I will be more than happy to forward a nice little selection of e-mails that I have received from Mr. Rendina since he used me as a human punching bag in February of 2005. Sort of "From all of us to all of you". Besides, when I was in the unfortunate position of dating this thing (hindsight is always 20-20 dearest ones) I did stumble upon an interesting piece of information - he was seeing four other women apart from me and engaged to a fifth one. Thus, there are more than just one woman scorned here.