Hi, Julien. Thanks for your letter. As we have often said, we love getting critiques, and not least from folks like you who are on our editorial board. Critique is how we roll.

But hey, we are actually chuckling at having to assert (against your implication to the contrary) that we are all for “creating and sniffing out new subterranean poems.” It goes without saying, by now, that Dispatches does what it can to sniff out the subterranean spirit (along with much other under-radar, contrarian stuff). As we’ve openly announced, multiple times, DPW strives to be, within the business-as-usual of the field, a Temporary Autonomous Zone (Hakim Bey, the famous originator of the term, has himself contributed to DPW). As such, we reject the twelve-strata thick mainstream effluent—i.e., the sludge released by “traditional” and “innovative” tendencies alike, who now share a fully common, careerist, institutionalized sewer. Everyone knows about the sickening stink of it, but no one can talk about it. So yes, we do strive to inspire subterranean, sovereign, scruffy, misbehaving stuff.

But why do you think a critical stance towards cultural officialdom excludes the spirit of creating vibrant, subterranean work? You say the two concerns are exclusive, but you don’t explain why. In these days of career-driven collective surveillance and acquiescence, amusingly/bemusedly calling out the shit that goes on is pretty subterranean work itself, wouldn’t you say? And, in fact, there is no reason why clearing a bit of autonomous space via such critique can’t help foster (in a longer-run sort of way) new and rebellious modes of creation.

Remember the Surrealists? I know you do because you owe them a debt in your own prickly work. They were far from faultless, but they’re proof of how prolonged political resistance to dominant verse culture of the day can fuel unfolding breakthroughs in the very conception of the poetic. Without that determined refusal, and pretending Po-biz is “irrelevant,” one might end up with an author page at the poet-jailing $200 million Poetry Foundation, for example, or doing feature interviews about one’s insurgent writing in the New York Times.

And then the negative dialectic of that “subterranean” starts sliding into just another hip, lava lamp thing. (By the way, and not that the refusal would matter at this point, but we would never submit our work to Poetry—or the Boston Review, or the Nation, or the Paris Review, nor to Graywolf, or Wesleyan, or Coffee House, or Copper Canyon, for instance. Or to anything in the poetry prize or grant system, for that matter. These are all now part of the new reigning poetry-power dispensation, before which the great majority of “innovative” poets sadly submit. The mutual curd of the in-group elitism of these outfits could be cut with a freaking cheese knife.)

Not that these matters aren’t complicated, nor that any of us isn’t compromised to this or that degree. But the above issues are not the main point your critique misses. The main point, Julien, is that never before in the history of American poetry has the field become so totally consumed and compromised by institutional forces—from the Creative Writing business that funds the English Department, to “Poetry” foundations with corporate and State connections, to grant and prize systems designed to reinforce institutional power and regulate acceptable resistance, to a tightknit online and print industry determined to exclude those who critique the Rules of the Game. Never before have such institutional forces been so overwhelmingly omnipresent as to seem, for most poets now, the very natural and permanent order of things. What we have is an unacknowledged state of total poetry war. And it is high time someone started returning fire, in some sort of guerrilla-hit fashion.

To pretend that the generalized situation “doesn’t matter,” and to pretend that one is above saying anything about it (however quixotic, we admit, any resistance might ultimately prove to be), just won’t do. “Aloofness” might make one feel somewhat superior, but it amounts, really, to a bit like the person who ideologically affirms the irrelevance of any “ideology.”

So that’s the view from here. Thanks again for writing. And keep sending out those wonderful, furtive mailings. We salute you for them.

 

Comradely,

 

—Dispatches