Tentatively, Convenience's Reviews > Memoir and Essay

Memoir and Essay by Michael Gottlieb
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I read this w/ mixed feelings - not quite so extreme as love-&-hate - more like like-&-dislike. Much of the "Memoir" part is about people I know, a movement I was involved in, bks & magazines I've read & contributed to, bars I've been to, places where I've read &/or performed.

People like Alan Davies (who sent this to me - Thanks Alan!), James Sherry, Hannah Weiner, Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, etc.. The movement? "language writing". The magazines? "Oculist Witnesses", "Roof", "A Hundred Posters", etc.. The places? Ear Inn, St Marks Poetry Project, etc..

As I've probably written about elsewhere numerous times & skirted in numerous ways, "language writing" was something that I was involved w/ in the late '70s.. but I quickly lost interest (even though my parallel interests have lingered on to this day) b/c I thought the "movement" itself was comprised mostly of academics whose politics were mostly fantasy not likely to accomplish much more than give them 'leftist-cred' at whatever cush job their privilege eventually led them to.

When I think of my friends who do things like start bike co-ops, books-to-prisoners programs, free food programs, info shops, etc, & compare their activities to those of the Marxist academics whose non-transparent writing was thought by some (including me) to be liberatory for the mind, I can't help but critique the impracticality of the intellectual imposture.

& while I was particularly interested in reading about things like Michael & Alan Davies' friendship & "Roof" packing events at James Sherry's, I found most of this memoir to be precisely indicative of what makes most language writers politicos-in-their-own-mind-ONLY: viz: Michaels' life is pretty damned dull b/c it seems that he really didn't do much - &, from my perspective, writing poetry just ISN'T ENUF. Sorry, poet friends.

SO, I read thru this bk, enjoying it b/c of the way it filled in my personal knowledge but wondering: who the fuck wd be interested in this? Are people like Charles Bernstein so 'important' to anyone that someone other than another poet who knows him wd want to read about what a classist dick he was when he didn't share the work to be done? Maybe so. But, then, Gottlieb does address that somewhat when he writes about the ghettoization (not his word choice) of poets.

But, GEE, Michael, did you EVER really do anything revolutionary other than write yr highly abstruse poetry? Don't misunderstand, despite all my writing about how uninterested I am in poetry, I LIKE HIGHLY ABSTRUSE POETRY & write & make movies & music that most people find utterly incomprehensible. So, oh well, for better or worse, I still share some of the theoretical framework that "language writing" grew out of & developed.

BUT, I've also LIVED & struggled in ways that seem almost entirely absent from this memoir.

FORTUNATELY, the "Essay" that concludes the bk: "Jobs of the Poets" at least addresses some basic issues relevant to the practical politics of poets. This begins:

"We sit in our rooms. We write. We try to read. It begins to grow dark. We switch on the light. We wait for the world to come to us. Or, we don't. We start asking ourselves questions. Others arrive unbidden.

One of the questions: what kind of jobs do we, should we, as poets, end up with as we do our real job?

Gottlieb resisted being drafted in the Vietnam War by enrolling in a CO program; I resisted by refusing to register - potentially punishable by 10 yrs imprisonment as a federal crime. Gottlieb worked as a private investigator catching people stealing from work; I stole (minimally) from one or 2 grossly underpaying jobs. Gottlieb feels no sympathy for the thieves but at least discusses the dubious ethics of his spying on them. In the end, I suspect most "language writers" of being entirely too bourgeois for me & Gottlieb's bk borders on reinforcing this.

BUT NOT COMPLETELY. I'm actually thankful that this ISN'T another memoir of 'how-I-was-a-heroin-addict-in-NYC-aren't-I-cool?'. As such, I actually welcome, at times, the type of details he pays attn to. Anything but heroin & coke, ok?!

As for NYC? I'm extremely glad that I don't live there. Reading "Memoir" made me wish there were similar published recollections from BalTimOre during the same time - b/c I think that writers such as Kirby Malone, Marshall Reese, Chris Mason, cris cheek (honorary BalTimOrean for awhile), Tom DiVenti, & myself were as interesting, if not more so, than anything that was happening in NYC.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 3, 2010 – Finished Reading
June 4, 2010 – Shelved
June 4, 2010 – Shelved as: poetry
June 4, 2010 – Shelved as: politics
June 4, 2010 – Shelved as: biography
June 4, 2010 – Shelved as: ontology
July 24, 2016 – Shelved as: working-class-intellectuals

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