Dear Emily Post-Avant,

In a new interview at Jacket2, the poet Marie Buck quotes the ending of one of her favorite poems, “For My Future Children,” by her contemporary, Brandon Brown. It goes like this:

and we hated the
obsequy we were
forced to perform and
couldn’t overthrow
unless maybe by
the time you read
this we did? I dunno
you tell me

She also says that this passage is one of the best endings to a poem in recent poetry. I sort of like it and was wondering if you did, too.

—Expat Minnesota Poet Living in Belize

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Dear Expat Minnesota Poet Living in Belize,

It’s not a bad ending, and it’s definitely an improvement on most of what precedes it, which gets a bit affected in its knowing insouciance, for my tastes. Actually, the playing around with past-present/future oscillation-overlaps has become a chic gesture for younger poets of late, ever since Ben Lerner did it, and quite complexly, in 10:04. Lerner himself (though Whitman is his reference for it in the novel) no doubt picked up the Time-slippage overtone from Deleuze–or one of those postmodern dead guys we can now only gape at, arms outstretched, as we’re blown back into the future.

Anyway, what’s most interesting to me in the passage is the evident malapropism, obsequy, which Brown has entered for obsequiousness, apparently thinking it a more “elegant” form for the latter term. Of course, I could see him protesting that he did intend the former. But, if so, and regardless that the plural obsequies is properly prompted there, the word makes little sense, bereft as it is of compelling rationale (you don’t overthrow a funeral rite, any more than you funeral an overthrow, really).

Obsequiousness, then, is the mot juste in this case, given that Brown’s clear addressees of the future are poets to come. Surely, what Brown had generally in mind is the endemic, crass obsequiousness that decidedly rules the transactional, careerist swamp of the Poetry Field today, and more than it ever has before. And the repressed shame which poets feel about it (subtly evoked by Brown, to his credit) runs so deep that it incites weird Freudian slips, like obsequy for obsequiousness. Which no one catches, because everyone’s inside one really big subcultural Unconscious, as Pierre Bourdieu proposed, writing about the Literary Field of France in the 19th century, which could largely be ours, whatever time this is.

Stay in Belize, sweetheart.

—Emily Post-Avant