Tuesday, March 13, 2012

reprint from old blog (circa 2006-7)


The paperback edition of my book, "The Unsubscriber," published in January 2006 by Farrar Straus & Giroux, bears near the bottom of its front cover a quote by Meghan O'Rourke, from her Poetry Magazine (Feb 2005) review of the 2004 hardcover. 


I didn't choose this O'Rourke quote; nobody at the publisher bothered to ask me if I wanted her words on my book, my book which is of course not mine, they own it, them, the publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux:—

I was amazed to see this quote there because I considered the "review" from whence it's excerpted as a total hatchetjob, a hit-and-run, a termination-with-extreme-prejudice piece, (befitting the nickname everybody calls her behind her back, Agent Double O'Rourke) . . .

Why would FSG use a quote from a negative (I say it's negative: read the excerpts below) review, and place it there so prominently . . .  notice that O'Rourke's name appears in larger type than mine (the author is the least important part of the transaction), and the suspicion arises in my mind that what is really blazoned there on the frontcover is not what's being said by O'Rourke in the quote (certainly its words are not laudatory, and in fact they add up to nonsense),—

no, what FSG has arranged to have displayed there is simply her name itself, as if positioning her name there is the point of it . . . it's more of an advertisement for her than for my unfortunate book (which proved actually a nonstarter, a failure both in terms of its critical reception and its sales figures) . . .

Why?  The only way I can make sense of it is to speculate that this promotional packaging of the O'Rourke brandname is a recognition, a payoff, a salutatory thank-you from FSG,— their way of rewarding her for having perhaps inadvertently accidentally incidentally (or perhaps intentionally) written the kind of spurious review they wanted my book to receive, 

i.e. a review which doesn't address or consider seriously the poems themselves, a review that spreads gossip personal rumors about me, a review whose aim is not to present any intellectual insightful perspective on the book's poetry, but to portray its author in the most freakish way possible, because the latter is what FSG wants to sell, FSG doesn't care about my poetry, to them it's junk, FSG hopes (hoped) to have with me a sensationalized oddity-commodity they could market in a downtrend mode—

which explains why O'Rourke is careful not to compare me with other poets of my generation or to identify or match me alongside poets published by FSG, because doing that would be treating me as if I were a real poet and not the freakish "outsider" FSG wants to merchandise, and so she equates me to a "Punk Rocker" poet . . . 

which is exactly what FSG wants, they have enough real poets on their list already, they don't need another, they need a spectacle they can libel, a scandal they can slander, an "undergrounder":

Not least of their reasons for having published me is that y'know everytime FSG goes to this party or that symposium or a lit-reading or wherever, they keep getting buttonholed by some plastered poetaster or some Langpo/Post-Ahole who always demands to know why FSG only publishes Establishment poets: 

and so FSG always manages to have a token "outsider", a token screwball, a token nobody on their list of poets,—solely so that FSG can always respond to that ubiquitous dope who constantly accosts them at these gatherings:

"Establishment?  That's absurd!  What about [Bill Knott (or whoever)]: he's not an Establishment poet."  

Sadly this particular awkward face-off or gaffe seems to greet FSG everywhere, but its recurrent occasions are usually allayed by such an answer;—

FSG's  precautionary measure of larding its po-list with a token niffnaff whose name can be wielded quickly to silence any spluttering fool who dares to question its traditional normative list of rich white guy poets, is an invaluable ploy. . . 

FSG needs that oddball, that biter-off-of-chicken-heads, you see, to alleviate those endless social confrontations, to avoid the numb of those tiresome arguments . . .

I assume O'Rourke's review wasn't directly specially commissioned by FSG, but it certainly provided them with the kind of thing they obviously wanted, it contributed a few notes toward the naughty notoriety they hoped my book might accrue to augment its specious value—

in vain, as it turned out—

Because as it happens the book bombed.  Both in its critical reception and in its sales figures.

Here are some excerpts from the O'Rouke review:

"[Bill] Knott's work tends today to inspire strong dismissal. . . . [He's] been forced to self-publish some of his recent books. . . . [B]ad—not to mention offensively grotesque—poetry. . . . appalling . . . . maddening . . . . wildly uneven . . . adolescent, or obsessively repetitive . . . grotesqueries . . . . [His] language is like thick, old paint . . . his poems have a kind of prickly accrual that's less decorative than guarded or layered . . . emotionally distancing . . . . uncomfortable. Knott . . . is a willful . . . irritating . . . contrarian."
—Meghan O'Rourke, Poetry Magazine, Feb 2005


No comments:

Post a Comment