Dear Emily Post-Avant,

As much as I think that the new Dispatches home page—warrior donkey + poets in gas masks—is a charming improvement that well suits Dispatches’s increasing momentum as one of the English-speaking world’s more interesting poetry web sites, I have to say that I’m disappointed to see that Dispatches has dropped from its home page Russian poet Osip Mandelstam’s bon motEn poésie, c’est toujours la guerre” (to which he added btw: “La paix, les trêves ne surviennent qu’aux époques d’idiotismesocial” (“Peace, truces occur only in times of social idiotism”). I know that many in the US poetry scene have dismissed the “poetry war” theme that you herald, probably on the ideological assumption that poetry should present some sort of unified front in the common “resistance” against all things presently fucked-up in the English-speaking world. But aren’t these same poetry advocates—insofar as they have found refuge in any number of communities and organizations (e.g. the New Yorker, The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Project, Poets House, Double Change, et al.)— overlooking the simple truth that the “communities” to which they belong exist by virtue of a dynamic that necessarily rejects and excludes other poets and their work? No doubt this is as it must be; but why the self-delusion that consists in thinking that the underlying, polemical thrust that systematically does away with the poematic Other in order to sustain the insight(s) of a given group identity is anything but warlike?

Nomadically yours,

La Flâneuse


Dear La Flâneuse,

 Thank you for your letter, camarade. Though I have had a very disagreeable past ten days, I could not concur with you more wholeheartedly. I send you my painful greetings.My automobile is crashed, and I am in a sling for my bras and in a cast for my jambe. This evénément soudain on a high mountain road in Idaho (the northern Panhandle of it) did take place but a few days after I fell from a path and barely missed impaling my side, on the pike-sharp branch of a fallen log, hiking by a lovely stream (the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie) that runs through North Bend, WAthe Cascades town where the first Twin Peaks was filmed. This I would not invent. What an unexpected and memorable death it might have been! Then, with cracked rib, at the very bar where the great David Lynch drank in the evenings, back in the 80s, I read Flaubert, by neon. How strange is life! Soon, I would have my auto crash, nearly dying, once again.

 But otherwise I am fine. Let me only add to your list of “communities and organizations” a few small more. Not that it will exhaust the long and growing roster. Indeed, as Bourdieu has decisively argued, all these interconnected institutional sites are loci for the relay and circulation of symbolic capital and its various degrees of cultural violence,however neutral and benign such “arts” consortia attempt to appear. Or to say it slightly differently, such formations, having achieved a certain status and authority, are poeticpower stations of a sort, channeling, rationing, and disseminating the agonistic flows ofthe field-grid’s atavistic energies. Thus, part of their natural function is to enact blackouts on areas of the grid that prove unruly.

There is, as I just said, a long list of these poetic institutions, but the following, like those you mention, are notable ones that bear naming: The PennSound/J2 post-Langpo cult-cartel; the “Poetry Coalition” VIP Club by-Sponsorship-Only; the Believer Magazine Lit-Mall Auteur House multiplex; the Paris Review Junior Intelligence Services in-crowd; the Boston Review/Nation/LARB official-Avant promo nexus.

All these well-heeled lit-syndicates are immersed to the teeth in the Poetry Wars. They deny it, of course, because such denial is, precisely, a structurally given habit–or, more precisely, an instinctive trait of habitus. Their position of power is a direct outgrowth of permanent, systemic poetry war, which they are necessarily complicit within, even as they disavow any “impure” collusion of ambition-impelled tics or seizures of symbolic violence. The name of this magazine you are reading right now makes them glum and grumpy because it reminds them of something they and almost everyone else knows, even as no one is supposed to know it. Not since the Catholic Church’s denial of child sexual abuse has there been, in North America, within the broad realm of ideological state apparatuses, such a shameless repression of truth as the denial of the ever-present Poetry Wars by so-called innovative poetry institutions and their attendant flunky poet-priests. How innocent they pretend to be!

I am mad, La Flâneuse, for that follow-up sentence by Osip Mandelstam: “Peace, [poetry] truces occur only in times of social idiotism.” What a great and brave poet he was… Yes, this is certainly a period of idiocy in that sense. Everyone sealing their mouth shut with duct tape for fear of consequences to academic “career” chances. Or of consequences to book deals with the right presses. Or of consequences to grants and prizes that only go to those who mind their protocoled manners. Etc.

People will say: But what else could one expect? There is no other way, right now, in our times, that things could be…

And to which we say: This is why an insurgent, prolonged poetry war of resistance is the only possible response to the ruling, permanent Poetry War we have been given, through no choice of our own.

A friend of mine wrote to ask the other day: Where are Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer,Charles Olson, Amiri Baraka, Joanne Kyger, and Audre Lorde when you need them?

I said to her: “Oh, they are right here, darling, where they always will be.

—Emily Post-Avant