Revolutionary Wannabe #2

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(Chris Lehmann getting serious.)

Chris “I’m Not an Aristocrat” Lehmann is by all accounts a very serious person. He wants the world to know he’s serious, serious. SERIOUS.

Lehmann blew up at me on twitter earlier this week when I referred to him as an aristocrat. It was a throwaway line– after all, he IS a New York media Insider. I didn’t realize I was messing with his self-image. Lehmann quickly jumped into the discussion to set me straight:

(This is called Too Much Information.)

Chris Lehmann wants to be radical. NO more swanky parties with Ana Marie Cox!

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One half of him might be attracted to Manhattan glitz and flash– where The Baffler office sits– the other half is as aghast as a New England Puritan minister at the devilish debauched allure of the capitalist world. No! Temptation! Save me! Save yourself! Save everybody! We must march in the Revolution because that upper-crust world I have one foot out of and one foot in is EVIL!!

“I wanna, wanna wanna, wanna wanna wanna, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe a Revolutionary! Yes, indeed.”

Lehmann wants to go marching down the street holding signs like Sunsara Taylor, but instead he’s in his office typing away– keys clicking, clicking– conflicted as always.

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(Madcap Sunsara Taylor.)
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Chris Lehmann is a collection of contradictions. In a recent Baffler essay Lehmann, who has worked at or written for New York Observer, Newsday, New York, Congressional QuarterlyWashington Post, Bookforum, NPR, Washington Monthly, Yahoo News, In These Times, Mother Jones, Tikkun, Reason, The Nation— criticizes the new class of “knowledge professionals”; as if he’s not among such class himself. (Remember, not an aristocrat.) He criticizes the existence of a “permanent political class.” But given the media’s power, isn’t it as bad to have a permanent media class? A clubby world where everyone knows everyone else and once you’re through the door, you’re in— as long as your ideas remain properly p.c. and predictable, that is.

That Chris Lehmann, of all people, is editor of The Baffler shows how far the publication has fallen from its days of Do-It-Yourself zinehood, when the upstart journal was part of a scene which believed that, in a democratic society, everyone should be a writer and publisher– the field not restricted to resume’d professional media elites (“aristocrats”) working for magazines whose reason for existence is to serve as glorified tax shelters for billionaires, or for scions of billionaires as a matter of “class inheritance.”

-K.W.

To Be Continued. . . .

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(Painting by Thomas Gainsborough.)

 

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National Book Award Poetry Finalists

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LAST WEEK the National Book Foundation in New York, at the center of establishment arts culture, announced their nominees for this year’s Poetry award. Each one of the five finalists has been highly awarded by the current literary system– by foundations, universities and/or governments. One would expect this to be the best of the best.

We did a quick perusal of bios, then examined one poem from each poet. Our grades follow.

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Daniel Borzutzky. P.C. factor: Of Chilean heritage. The poem: “Sentence”

We found Borzutzky to be a cross between an Allen Ginsberg wannabe and a flarf poet who jams random words and sentence fragments together. The result is pretentious nonsense. We give him a point or two for being tongue-in-cheek, and to be fair, he’s called what he does “Non-Writing.” We won’t disagree. (And, he’s making quite a living from minimal artistic investment, so kudos for that.)

Grade: D.

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Rita Dove. P.C. factor: African-American woman. The poem: “Heart to Heart”

A short, simple poem which expresses clarity and emotion.

Grade: B.

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Peter Gizzi. P.C. factor: Token white guy. The poem: “In Defense of Nothing”

Before Gizzi became part of the official literary game, he was a Do-It-Yourselfer. We’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt– but in this case his poem is aptly titled.

Grade: D+.

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Jay Hopler. P.C. factor: Born in Puerto Rico. The poem: “So Many Birds to Kill and So Few Stones”

We like Hopler’s use of alliteration. Here’s a poet who’s given at least some thought to craft. Still, the title and content are a tad too sober-serious for our taste– as is Hopler’s bio photo. Hopler’s clearly going for the “Poetry is serious business!” crowd.

Grade: C.

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Solmaz Sharif. P.C. factor: Turkish-born woman. The poem: “Vulnerability Study”

A very simple poem– but we like the juxtapositions. Easy seriousness.

Grade: C.

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Conclusion: The poems are a tad better then we expected– we’ve seen far worse come out of the academy. But we’re still left saying, “Is that all there is?” Is this all we’re competing against, in our fledgling campaign to remake and renew the art form? At their best, the poems are unexceptional. Not one is going to be remembered and quoted by readers– in the way people quote Poe, or Dylan Thomas, or Shakespeare. Not one will cause a person to sit up in shock or surprise– or outrage– or roar with laughter.

We want better poems!