I have just read the entirety of the exchanges between Barrett and other poets, particularly Nate, totally absorbed and bemused. Read in one go, a few things strike me. First, while associating himself with a historical approach and positivist Adorno-Marxist thinking, Barrett totally believes in one’s writing being private property. My mind begins to spin by this double vision. Maybe, Barrett should require from everyone entering and reading his blog to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The second thing I noticed is Barrett’s thin skin. He knows how to dish it out; but at the slightest disagreement with or criticism of his views or actions, his response disintegrates into a series of petulant complaints and often ad hominem attacks.

As it has been often before, the audio of the encounter between him and Duncan is the subtext in these exchanges. Barrett openly admits to Nate that there is absolutely nothing in the audio that reveals in any way that Duncan bullied him or physically barged into the conversation. In fact, if I remember correctly, after the exchange between  them, someone else (I think Larry Eigner) joins the discussion. In other words, things were placid enough for others to enter the conversation.

Barrett claims that “those present at the event” saw the truthfulness of his claims of bullying, without, as far as I know, naming who those witnesses were and what they saw. What one has here is, on the one side, some rumors of bullying and, on the other, an audio. Barrett does not claim that the tape was doctored or edited in a biased way; only that it was released, i.e. made public, without his permission revealing a personal trauma. As I see it, rumors with unidentified sources are much more conducive to myth making than undoctored videos. And we know what Barrett’s attitude is, as a historicist/positivist poet, toward myth making.

Like Nate, I also listened a number of times to the “infamous” audio when it was first liberated by Dispatches. As I remember, one of the topics of the discussion was Zukofsky’s translations of Catullus. Barrett the person was in no way the subject or focus of the discussion. In short, there was no attack on him. Duncan asserts in the discussion that Zukofsky’s reductively phonetic approach to translating Catullus trivializes (italics my own) the Latin poet, missing the huge cultural dimension of his work. (Peter Valente’s amazing recent Catullus translations published by Spuyten Duyvil explores exactly that gap). On the other hand, for Barrett those “sounds,” the totally abstract Latinate music that Zukofsky hears/creates in his translations is the only things worthwhile in Catullus (italics my own). These diverging points of view  embody a dialectical tension—in my view, an authentic bifurcation— in American poetics: between the positivist, secular approach to language embedded in  Language School poetics and a gnostic (not necessarily religious) approach that in this exchange, almost by accident, Duncan represents. As a poet, I am not a fan of Duncan. I think the mellifluous, full-throated version of Gnosticism in his poetry is much more fruitfully explored (for poetry) in the austere, finally more profound poetics embedded in Spicer’s After Lorca, Homage to Creeley and Language. Nevertheless, either via Duncan or Spicer, Nate, I, Joe, Norman (the last three participated in the present exchanges) and others like Peter O’Leary, Peter Valente, etc. belong to a gnostic strain.  This strain (which further involves not only Emerson, but also Melville and Olson) is a vital, dynamic current in American poetry, whether Barrett likes it or not.

Barrett completely ignores the basically historical point Duncan makes, his idea behind his criticism of Zukofsky’s Catullus: namely, an attack on the reductively materialistic approach to language, embodied in the poetics of  Language School, that in the tape is reflected in Barrett’s exaltation of Zukofsky’s translation as the only possibly worthy one that can exist.  Barrett comes up with no intellectual argument in response to Duncan on the spur of the moment. He chooses to remain silent on the subject, in contrast to his almost comically grandiose claims..

For years, Barrett tried to stop the airing of the tape, simultaneously spinning a narrative of bullying on Duncan’s part around it. The tape simply speaks otherwise.




June 2, 2018