Am I, a whitish male with a tenure-track teaching job, editor at The Iowa Review and Canarium Books, driver of a Volvo sedan 2014 Honda CR-V, co-owner of a Victorian Vernacular home in a sleepy Midwestern college town, possessor of enough leisure time to spend copious amounts of it bemoaning the serial self-promotion of my peers on Facebook, really the person to answer this question? Or, perhaps the question is, What is the object of the question? To end the discussion or refresh it? Am I the subject of this possible avant garde’s own endgame? 


Meaning, doesn’t the avant garde want, if it wants anything at all, to smash the likes of me to pieces? I have not occupied anything, beyond my desk chair and the seat of my car on my commute to work, so what does that tell you? Is this a disclosure? An admission of guilt? Who is able to inflict this guilt? 


Don’t we first have to answer a few preliminary questions? Such as, Is the possible avant garde racist? Classist? Misogynist? Is the avant garde fat and happy (tenured)? How much did Marinetti pay for the front-page ad in Le Figaro? Not cash money, but what was the psychic cost? How bro was Marinetti? How bro is contemporary poetry? 


Is an avant garde poetry capable of doubt, or laughter? Is it too aggressive? Is it pure technique, whether artistic or political? Is it a template? If so, for what? Revolt? To ask the question differently, Are you popular? Among your peer group? What about among your antagonists? Will you coin a slogan? Will you appropriate someone else’s words/images/emotional life? Will you speak for me? Will you show me how I’ve lost my way? 


Why does my son refer to his preschool as ‘work?’ What do I say to him about that energized word, ‘work?’ He goes into each day of school with a keen understanding of his role, which is subservience to Henry and domination over Pierre, and so I have asked him, “Why don’t you rotate your positions of power?” When I pick him up, I ask him another question, “Did you have a good day?” And he always responds by explaining to me that he did, but this is because he worked all day, and this work is comprised of maintaining a balance between his subjugation to Henry and his enforcing of Pierre and he always asks me the same question back, “Why do you always ask me the same question?” 


Is this what I send my son to school for, to learn how to be dominated and how to dominate, in equal measure? Were you a Montessori child? Why is everything my son does in the classroom referred to as a ‘work?’ Was Maria Montessori a Marxist? Why don’t we turn to the people who created the systems of education we endured as children and subject our children to, instead of the indulgent narcissists that litter the avant garde’s past? Do you hear me, Marinetti? Debord? Have you died yet? We’re all awaiting word, right? You dead?


What to do with a company named Avant Garde Technology, a company specializing in “engineering lubrication,” whose mission statement reads, in part: 


Avant-garde means “advance guard” or “vanguard”.

The French term was originally used to describe the foremost position of an advancing army (also called the vanguard, a small highly skilled group exploring the terrain ahead to plot the best course to follow), but is now applied to any group that considers itself innovative, ahead of their time or in the leading position of any movement or field.


Occupying the foremost position in manufacturing lubrication technologies is the foundation from which Avant Garde Technology was built.


How has the term "avant-garde" (and its close relations "experimental" and "innovative") become so cleansed of its militaristic and radical imperative that it can easily be deployed in a sales pitch? Is there a metaphor here for contemporary poetry? 


What to make of the writer who self-defines as ‘avant garde?’ If I do not, does this put us at odds? If I work at an institution such as The Poetry Foundation, which I did, launching the Harriet blog and managing the audio offerings from 2006-2008, am I part of the problem, or, as one self-defining avant garde poet remarked to me on an elevator ride up the floors of the convention center at an AWP conference, is it “good to have [me] on the inside?” 


Why would I be good to have on the inside? Of what am I on the inside? Why was I asked to vet the poetry of Rae Armantrout, before her first appearance in Poetry magazine? Why was I seen as some kind of alternative by these two mostly oppositional sides? What are these sides, again? Am I being naïve? What was this self-proclaimed avant gardist doing at AWP, anyway? Is this your floor, madam? 


Why am I filled with such doubt about my place in this world? Is this doubt, which I have perfected and wrenched into an epic form of self-flagellation, narcissism? If you grew up with a psychoanalyst as a parent, as I did, is any other mental state possible? 


Did David Foster Wallace suffer from this kind of bruising interior flagellation? I mean, beyond the neurochemistry, or perhaps not beyond, but in tandem with it, if they are even distinct things, did this cancerous doubt lead him to hang himself? This apartness? This implied failure in everything you do, whether choosing a preschool for your child or writing something down on a piece of paper? Will the hashtag enact sea change? Will we ever stop posting our guilt to Facebook? 


Is this how we stop from going crazy? Or is this more like the Self Help industry, which must be constantly deployed? Does it rely on one’s constant failure to help one’s self, in order to exist?


How are you feeling today? I ask my son this every day, and what should I expect him to say? What kind of response would work in the Bay Area? In NYC? Iowa City? Buenos Aires? Berlin? If the United States stops listening in on a country’s top administration, do they cease to exist? What if you haven’t seen a copy of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter in over a decade? 


What do we do with Eduardo Galeano’s renunciation of his early writing? How do we write ourselves out of a lifetime living a lie? How can anyone reasonably take seriously anything poetry has to offer the proles if Vanessa Place can write, “I read this as a gesture of the proletariat, in keeping with a Moscow conceptualist historical practice meets contemporary occupy,” as a response in a Facebook thread to Ted Mathys’ post on Joseph Kaplan’s Kill List, “…including Kaplan’s poem, which leans very heavily on the implications of its title appropriated (yes) from the war on terror military context. It would be very different if it had been called Poet List?” Are we still insisting that they, the great, invisible unwashed, should take our instruction? Should they rely on academics and artists to plan their future? Who’s zooming whom? Should instruction come from the front lines in Berkeley and Cambridge? 


Again, am I being naïve? If I say, “What is the Moscow conceptualist historical practice?” do I exclude myself from the conversation? Should I be more curious or skeptical? Or am I just fucking tired? What conversation am I referring to? Can you help this bro out? When the lyric died, did anyone bother to document its death, minute by minute? Or are we talking about whatever edition we’re at with the Norton buckling your bookshelf, the one you might be in one day, if you play your cards right? How do you want your specific history to forget you?


What would Marinetti do today, if he were alive? Would he be the guy you’d be swearing off of over drinks after his reading at St. Mark’s Place, the toad who posted his screeds on Facebook and relished all the unfriending going down and he’d try Twitter and he’d fail and then he’d start writing for an establishment magazine—take your pick, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Paris Review, Jacket—and eventually his ego would drive all the editors over the cliff and he’d find himself fashioning a noose out of the paper trail he left of the incredible amount of vitriol he wrote declaiming the current state of literature and politics and he’d have occupied your mind for so long, as you waited all these years to see if he’d find anything of interest in your second or third or seventh book of poems, even though he was the worst possible person on this planet and his certainty betrayed him at every turn and he had no friends and his publisher loved him for cultivating his enemies and he took out a series of ads along the Gawker and Vice syndicates print to promote his threat of speed and access, well, he was certain of so many things, and one of them was that your latest volume lacked spine and was better served starting a fire at one of the residencies he had just learned he’d been accepted into, and if he was lucky he’d find someone there to violate, but someone who had attended for just the same reason, so now we have a kind of synchronicity, the kind that begs a simple question: How’s your retirement plan looking? 


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