NaBlogWriMo 1: "is Matthew Zapruder dumb?"


the cruellest month blindsided me–i was on a plane (san jose to san diego) rented a car checked into a hotel drove over the coronado bridge ate went back to hotel slept early because had to wake up early for the conference today (i was the first presenter of the first panel–9 am!–on the first day). i like going first because i’m done and i can chillax for the rest of the weekend. and i was until i realized that it’s april 2nd! and as we all know, april is National Blog Writing Month (NaBlogWriMo)!


if you followed NaBlogWriMo on this blog last year, you know how difficult and painful and challenging NaBlogWriMo is. what to write about? where to find inspiration? how to let go of fears and blocks? how to find enough courage to make these imperfect musings public? every comment of solidarity helps gets me thru–so please comment–even if just to send a juicy xoxo. or an angry f-u. or an exasperated wtf.

a poet (who doesnt blog) recently emailed me with the question: “is matthew zapruder dumb?” he was referring to zapruder’s essay, titled Show Your Work!” with the tag: “A poet calls for a new kind of poetry criticism, and a new kind of critic.”

the comment field seems to have exploded–133 comments! with zapruder commenting towards the middle-end. i met zapruder once–in st petersburg, russia (of all the vodka joints in the world) 2006 and i assure you HE IS NOT DUMB. he writes:

Today, in American poetry, very few critics take it upon themselves to examine the choices poets make in poems, and what effect those choices might have upon a reader. As a consequence, very few people love contemporary American poetry. Many more might, if critics attempted to truly engage with the materials of poetry—words and how they work—and to connect poetry with an audience based on an engagement with these materials.

it’s so true! on the plane yesterday someone asked what i was reading and

i said: “Poetry.”

she said: “You are one of the very few; you must have a great critic. I’m new in town and havent found a critic i can really trust; as a consequence, I am one of the many who don’t love contemporary Americna poetry.”

you see, zapruder isnt dumb. (aside: ‘criticism’ and ‘reviews’ arent all that different. or are they? i dunno). he writes:

Of course there are good reviewers who write interesting, thoughtful, and provocative pieces about American poetry. But look for yourself at the vast majority of reviews in journals, in print and online, and ask yourself whether for the most part the writers are doing a good job of actually describing what the poems are trying to do, how they are doing it, and why anyone would be driven to write (not to mention read) these poems. Are these reviews in any way truly helpful for understanding poetry?

ouch! now i’m no expert–in the past two years, i’ve only written 58 reviews and of those only 41 have been published–but even i know that Jacket, Rain Taxi, Galatea Resurrects, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Project Newsletter, Cold Front, Action Yes, Lana Turner, Bookslut, Octopus Mag, Pleiades, Zoland, Mipoesias, Boog City, Rattle (among many others) publish reviews that are COMPLETELY UNHELPFUL! what a waste of time–they have only contributed to the unpopularity of poetry. THANKS FOR NOTHING whoever edits those useless journals! zapruder insights:

Fundamentally, this is a problem of a failure on the part of critics to discuss, or even understand, the actual material of which poems are made. Stéphane Mallarmé felt compelled to remind Degas that the poet does not write with thoughts but with words. When you read poetry reviews, ask yourself how much time and energy is spent talking about the “thoughts” being “conveyed” by the words in the poem, versus the actual means of conveyance, i.e., the choices the poet has made with the language. This hegemony of content over form in the mind of the critic is at the very heart of the uselessness of mainstream poetry criticism in America; in turn, the reaction to talk about the fact of form without any reference to its possible purposes or effect on a reader is a glaring flaw in much criticism that appears in smaller journals and on blogs, particularly ones that are primarily interested in so-called “experimental” poetry that foregrounds its own formal innovation.

hopefully zapruder’s imperative to “show your work”
will annul or abolish (depending on whose doing the translating) bad reviews and bad reviewers–er critics (like you and me). i can see the headline now: “Critic Discusses Content AND Form: Revolutionizes Criticism and Popularizes Poetry”. now, i know that I am dumb, and that i am still learning how to write reviews but one thing i am certain of is that zapruder is not dumb. he writes:

So if not abstraction and representation, and if not narrative and lyric, what would be an example of a useful distinction? I propose the following: Does the poem have a single, particular, specified consciousness, speaking in a relatively identifiable situation? Or does the poem have a less defined consciousness, speaking without need of or reference to a particular situation?

wow! now that’s so profound and new! why didnt you think of that? cuz you’re probably a failed critic and dumb like me. luckily the poetry foundation paid the pajamaist for that little gem! if the poetry foundation paid me for an article, i would pontificate: “Does the poem develop in a single, particular place, location, scene? Or does the poem have a less defined location, developing without need of or reference to a particular place?” i would also say that critics should work to introduce the ignorant masses of poetry readers to new and exciting poets you’ve never heard of, like zapruder does. in his essay, he performs his magical mystical new form of criticism by alerting us to the work of Rae Armentrout and Brenda Hillman….whodat? you might be asking your pajama’ed self…i dunno but zapruder sure got me excited enough to buy their books. genuis.

p.s. i think zapruder is so smart that i really want to read his reviews so i can learn more from him. i’ve googled “matthew zapruder + reviews” but cant find any of the reviews he’s written (there are lots of unhelpful reviews of his books). can someone help me? should i google “matthew zapruder + reviews that as a consequence make very many love contemporary american poetry”?


p.s. michael robbins, who was previously predicted to win “most annoying” commenter on the poetry foundation, makes some great comments to the article. as does tony tost (tho he always makes awesome comments).

see you tomorrow if i can find the strength! and dont forget to comment.



7 thoughts on “NaBlogWriMo 1: "is Matthew Zapruder dumb?"

  1. Mah man said “chillax.” Very clean.

    Good luck on NaBlogWriMo this year! Are you collecting pledges for each post you put up? Will it go to a scholarship fund to help people get undumb? Will you donate the proceeds in your name or in honor of a valuable critic who the average Juan can name? Instead of disturbing the Universe, can I just leave a mint on its pillow? Sorry for all the questions but I got a new keyboard and want to make sure the question mark key is working. Is it?

  2. csp you iz killin mee! i am glad it’s nablogwrimo so i can see your pajama’ed self more often in e-world.

    anyway, yeah i also had some major points of contention with the referenced essay, particularly the part which says that readers need critics to tell them how to read and appreciate poetry or something like. though i am sure i’ve only written a fraction of the reviews you have, i realize the target readership for these is not nec. “readers” as in not affiliated with universities and the poetic industrial complex and all. i consider literary criticism important in legitimizing certain literatures (API lit, Fil Am lit, etc) in “the academy,” as teaching tools and all.

    in terms of the “average reader” whoever that may be, how about poets actually doing readings, talks, visits, in places that are full of these “average readers,” you know, local libraries and community centers and all.

    but i am a little off topic. my recurring thought on this essay is part of what bill knott said in the comment stream about elitism: lit critics bringing the enlightened word of these difficult poets to the ignorant masses. yeah, i am not with this at all.

    my post here:

    word ver = fonsh.

  3. killer takedown mr. p ! I am now determined to talk about “words” and “form” in my critical prose, instead of just alerting readers to the fact that the poem is about rivers or unicorns.

  4. well then nicholas! that's quite a radical shift for your critical prose! will you review my new chapbook, titled "unicorns & rivers"?


  5. oscar…hmmm…it doesnt seem your question mark key is working. are you trying to kill me?


  6. barbara, def agree with what you say here and with your post. i swear the idea of connecting to readers is such a simple thing–yet people seem to think it cant be done thru actual interaction!


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