On Thursday, March 10th 2011, Kat Dixon wrote a piece discussing a group of writers and poets. Usually this would not merit much attention, but these writers and poets happen to be people I’ve actually covered in this blog, people such as Tao Lin, Steve Roggenbuck, and Poncho Peligroso. Having some familiarity with Dadaism, as it is a favorite art form of mine, I figured “Why not give Kat Dixon some attention. And, at the same time, focus more attention on the writers she disagrees with”. Why do this? Simple: I just want to see exactly how they measure up to the original Dadaists. Personally, I’m not convinced the two sets of writers have many things in common.
Dadaists were anti in nature. Anti-establishment, anti-art, they were a true collection of brothers working internationally to change our perception of art forever. Or so they tried. The fact that people still argue whether or not their creations are art, nearly a century later, is a testament to their truly great work.
These poets don’t possess the biting, often visceral, anger of the Dadaists. Dadaists were upset at the vast awfulness of their world, for good reason (World War I). Similarities may exist between the two groups but they possess dramatically different goals. Yes, re-uses of online posts are abundant in their work, it isn’t negative. Most of their poems may be sad or focused on the self, but they aren’t anti. Rather than have these works as a specific arguments or a rebellion, their work is more a celebration. Dada wanted to destroy institutions. What this group wants to do is change the way people approach and interact with poetry. Being against poetry institutions and creating your own isn’t the same as being against everything.
Honestly, I enjoy both Dadaism and the work of these young poets but their work doesn’t really correspond well to each other. I’m not sure why this was offered as a point of comparison. In her opening, she even shows how controversial the Dada movement was by quoting her art teacher’s question “Is it art?” Using Kurt Schwitters’ poetry, she then shows how Dadaism exhausted itself but influenced Surrealism. Personally, I see Surrealism as an evolution from the younger, brasher impulses of the youthfulness of Dada into something more positive and romantic. Surrealism to Kat Dixon appears to be a more proper art form than Dadaism, which she seems to believe is a ‘plague’.
Kat’s definition of the Neo-Dadaists is a bit off as well. Tao Lin appears to be to the Neo-Dadaists what Tristan Tzara (Romanian émigré) was to the Dadaists. She calls their work primitive, irrational, and over-dependent on shallow introspection. Yeah, what the hell? Poetry should be purely rational. I don’t understand that part of her argument to be honest, and she never exactly explains what she means by irrational. Focusing on the self is the exact opposite of what the Dadaists did, the Dadaist reacted against things. They didn’t explain their emotions, even if they had them. Neo-Dadaism already applies to multiple art movements from the 1960s, such as the Fluxus art movement, so I’m not sure how this group fits into that definition anyway.
Anonymity appears to be another sticking point she has with these young group of poets. Regarding this, I might not be the best person to discuss openness regarding the internet, as I write as a sloth, but I disagree on this point as well. Nearly all of the writers infuse a lot of their writing with their personalities, perhaps more so than the average poets. They write under their own names, as opposed to some false identity. Whenever you go to Steve Roggenbuck’s or Poncho Peligroso’s websites, you see countless images of their pictures in various degrees of shock/apathy.
“Neutral facial expression” gets a mention in here, so I’m happy that she’s clearly done her research, either that or she’s absolutely sick with getting confronted by it. Her reference to the poets being emo kids who didn’t grow up at all feels a bit harsh. Considering how later in comments she accuses some of the poets of being personally affronted, it feels a bit hypocritical considering her more personal than objective criticism. This might be the worst part of her article to me and felt oddly petty to simply state “Oh they never grew up, poor emo kids. Guess they’re going to cry about it”.
Besides, emotional detachment isn’t exactly a hallmark of emo kids, usually the opposite. Besides, I thought the emo thing had sort of ended, and the emo kids grew up into hipsters. Or maybe I’m wrong. Please let me know.
Finally, she discusses Poncho’s manifesto, which I’ll republish below:
Language is language.
Words are words.
Poems are poems.
Words are language.
Poems are words.
Poetry is language.
Regarding this, the 2011 Poet Laureate does explain on his tumblr how he meant “All language has the potential to be poetry if we want it to”. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Discovery of new forms of expression is a good thing, as is an embrace of the ‘primitive’ vernacular language we use on the internet. Remember how John Cage stated “Everything we do is music”. Basically, it is the same idea with poetry. Whether or not you find their work to be poetry or not, they simply explore language in a more direct and forceful way than most people do. Her discussion of their work criticizes it for the simple language. Flowery or sophisticated language isn’t the hallmark of a great writer. A lot of great writers used simple language to great effect. Would Hemingway have been the same writer with an ornate approach? I doubt it.
Finally, the ending reveals her true feelings towards the movement. Kat hopes the movement will ‘yawn itself out’, a clever way of saying it will exhaust itself. Though she might not enjoy the poetry it creates, it might be the beginning of something better. All of their poetry is still new, they’ve just found themselves, to hope for a movement to just get a hint and die off is harsh. Even her not particularly beloved Dada evolved into Surrealism, an art form she clearly has warmer feelings for. Perhaps if she doesn’t like what they are doing now, who knows how their work will change. Later on it might morph into something she appreciates or enjoys.
Overall though, I’m glad she wrote this piece. I hope she continues exploring and analyzing poetry (visit her blogspot here)since she clearly enjoys it. Perhaps her next article might elaborate further on poetry she enjoys. While I might not agree with her article, she clearly did research on the poets involved. Though she didn’t like it, she did continue to give it additional coverage. By giving the internet poets attention, she inadvertently promotes them and their goals. To see an extremely spirited debate, I’d suggest reading the comments at the bottom to see various people’s reactions.
Art’s purpose is to provoke. If these poets’ work provoked Kat Dixon, whether good or bad, that means they clearly serve a purpose.
PS: I’d like to not call this group of people Neo Dadaists. Whenever a group first gets labeled, it is hard to shake a label off. Kat might not have realized this, but she may have given them a name which could stick. Since I’m not fond of this label I asked Poncho via Twitter what label he’d prefer for his literary movement.
As per Poncho:
CALL US BOYKITTENS
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