The first part of this extended Dispatches feature is an excerpt from a long exchange that took place on Barrett Watten’s Facebook page, May 8-11, 2018. It was initiated when Watten posted a link to his blog where he had published a critique of Grant Jenkins’ review of Watten’s recent book, Questions of Poetics: Language Writing and Consequences. Watten then posted further comments on Facebook, engaging with several interlocutors. Some of his comments came under challenge, and he later deleted the entire Facebook thread. What remains and is reproduced here was captured in screen shots by a witness before the thread was erased. The comments have been edited by us to remove tangential discussions. The Facebook conversation then moved to an email exchange between Nathaniel Mackey and Watten, which is reproduced here in its entirety. Dispatches suggests special attention to the bracing clarity of Mackey’s ripostes.
Dispatches is reproducing this exchange because we feel it engages questions that are crucial to the current state of poetry in North America. The animus to Robert Duncan and his work evident on the part of Watten is in one sense personal and related to the apparent trauma Watten claims to have suffered at Duncan’s hand in 1978. The real issue, however, is poetics and the ongoing, last-ditch attempts by Watten and members of his cohort to dismiss the work and current relevance of the New American Poetry (dismissively characterized by the old LangPo-garde as “mythic”), in favor of a shallow—and quasi-sectarian—materialism.