My article on the 1930s poet Haniel Long, “Haniel Long’s Pittsburgh Memoranda: Documentary Form and 1930s Political Poetry,” is published in the journal College Literature, Volume 42, Number 1, Winter 2015. The issue may be purchased directly from the journal’s website (here), or, if you have access to the Project MUSE database, may be read in PDF or HTML form (here).
Saturday, March 07, 2015
Meg Ronan’s the obligatory garnish argument (SpringGun Press, 2014) is a 51-page, 6” x 4” chapbook consisting of a series of variations on themes. One of these themes is the title-phrase itself, which doubles throughout as the title of the majority of the book’s three-line poems. Its meaning is never explained, but that seems to be the point. This is a ludic, absurdist exercise: “obligatory garnish propaganda posted about / the new museum of discarded knobs / a bargain for dues paying members and cooperative mobs” (page 39). Here’s another, a little further on: “competing luxury lumber yards boast / golden rash simulations but no no / nothing like the obligatory garnish argument” (page 42). Ronan’s ultimate forebear in this method is Gertrude Stein, of course, but she’s updated the Steinian subversion of linear language for our own contemporary era. Interspersed through this book, she gives a number of pieces that appear to comment obliquely on the act of reading itself, which inevitably must take into account internet reading strategies. Many of these come across as found comments from a blog or internet article. For example: “If you’re still reading, then you’re pretty serious about your car audio. / If you’re still reading this you’ve gone too far. / Why are you still suffering this hardship at your age?” (page 26). The joke is that such questions inevitably bear on Ronan’s little book too, and, although it perhaps takes a short while to tune in to what she’s doing here, it’s actually not really a “hardship” at all. Perhaps, then, this is a little slap at those critics of “avant-garde” poetry who dislike it for its supposed “difficulty.” Here’s another one, probably also found, that wryly, self-reflexively alludes to the obligatory garnish argument itself: “Thanks for reading my blog, you dirty sluts! / If you’ve read this far the one thing that’s probably sticking in your brain is / WTF with the name? That’s honestly so nice” (page 43). Yes, WTF? but in a good way.