Tag Archives: towards a new critical vocabulary

The Emily Dorman Problem Part One.

masouleh, iran

This is not in any way connected to the Paul Muldoon problem or the almost resolved Clavics problem, it may be a sub-set of the not liking Sub Songs dilemma but it is causing some unease.

The problem begins with the publication of ‘Towards a New Critical Vocabulary’ in the first issue of the Claudius App which is startling and funny and inventive and made me smile a lot. This was followed by the usual 5 minutes worth of web research which revealed that Emily Dorman was better known as Mrs Ernest Shackleton but very little else.

So, I did intend to write something more detailed about ‘Towards’ but got sidetracked until the advent of the second issue of Claudius which contains ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ and appeared initially to be disappointing. So, I was going to write a compare and contrast thing pointing out in forthright fashion why ‘Towards’ is much better. Then I played the audio and the problem became apparent.

Starting with the obvious, in-jokes are only funny to people on the inside (hence the term), the use and enjoyment of in-jokes remains in my head as a sixth-form thing akin to the enjoyment of ‘Private Eye’. Poets are overly fond of writing for the cognoscenti, the first part of Marvell’s ‘Last Instructions’ was written for a specific coterie who would ‘get’ the jokes.

Moving on to the less than obvious, the reading of ‘Super Poem’ is wonderfully and seriously inept which makes the poem appear in my head to be much less self-regarding and clever. I was then struck by a fairly depressing thought- am I more impressed with ‘Towards’ because I’m old and British and recognise more of the names that I do with ‘Super Poem’?

So, the problem becomes one of my background and prejudices rather than the work per se. It can be argued that this is always the case but it is rare for me not to like stuff because I’ve never heard of Zucker, Zapruder and co. I’m going to try a section by section response starting with ‘Towards a New Critical Vocabulary’-


This is amusing and a reasonably accurate portrait of critical excess, the inclusion of Girtin is a nice touch and the faux quote is good, I like the use of ‘sleazy’ because it points to a quite complex line of attack. ‘Writerly constipation’ seems a bit too easy in this context but I am intensely fond of the sunspots. The notion of a pamphlet retaining its mortality is one I intend to keep alive on this blog even though the raze/raise thing is as bad as Prynne and Hill at their worst. The last sentence is a bit flat but that might be because I’m not entering into the spirit of things.


The Nigerian scare trope works but, although stupid, isn’t perhaps stupid enough. It does take a little while to realise that the detailed ‘scam’ (consummated or not) doesn’t make sense although the tabloid prose is a nice touch. If this was a lit crit piece then I’d feel obliged to poke at the integrity or otherwise of the italicised numerous. But it isn’t. It also happens that I know at least one Ghanaian poet in Ghana and he’s writing poetry.


We’ve all received these, the Saddam reference ties it in to 2003. The deliberately poor use of English in these things is done in order to lull the recipient into a false sense of superiority, is it over-reading to suggest that something similar might be going on here?


This is really good, I wish I’d written it. I’m reminded of what John Matthias has written about manifestos and the elegaic neediness that lurks blaringly within. In it’s entirety this should be read to every post graduate student every single day until a clear appreciation of the ‘now, on the shore’ device is demonstrated. This is good because it is understated, measured and the degree of neediness is perfectly judged -‘it will’.


This is set out in verse form with two long lines followed by one short. I’m taking it that ‘they’ refers to both answers to the question discussed in the previous section and that the car that is being followed is the answer to both questions that has been ‘reduced’ by the critic.

At first sight, the placing of this seems odd, almost as a superfluous verse afterthought to what has gone before but I do like the cinematic quip at the end which serves as a kind of ironic stop to the pastiche that precedes it.


I’m struggling to know whether this is ironic or not, it’s more obviously philosophical rather than literary but also feels quite personal. Of course, concern about the passage of time involving a degree of decay rather than progress is common to both poetry and philosophy. Whether this is ironic or not, the first paragraph is more successful than the second which is too convoluted, even though that may be the ‘point’.


Here’s a confession, prior to reading this I’d never heard of Millard Filmore and don’t feel sufficiently motivated to find out if there’s a connection between the 13th president of the United States with bear baiting and/or Wall St. I’m going with the supposition that these are reasonably random and serve to underline the overly technical nonsense that is being lampooned.

The riff on overly technical analysis is good, I’m particularly fond of the ‘sforzando of dental plosives’ which is the kind of thing that pervades some commentaries of 16/17th century work- and gets in the way. I don’t understand and therefore cannot judge the accuracy or otherwise of the ‘2 train’ quip and I don’t intend to find out, The demented aunt and the $500 Michael Hamburger is a bit of a jarring end. Are we referring to a $500 Hamburger collection (there weren’t many) or a translation or another Michael Hamburger altogether?


I like Barbara Guest, I don’t think she’s well enough known/read in the UK. If this is meant to be a parody or ‘in the manner of’ then it’s not very good. The faux title isn’t good/shocking/witty enough and seems a bit lazy.


I like the idea of appropriating headlines of accumulating a barrage of headlines. If this is parodic then it needs to be a bit more pointed, i.e. it either needs to be more banal or more dramatic to hit the target.


I can speak with some experience of responses, none of these reflect that stuff that this blog generates, nor do they echo what I’ve seen in other blogs. Perhaps I should pay more attention….

I do take an interest in the use of English in spam which I think is more worthy of creative attention but this only acquires ‘meaning’ if you know how blog spammers are paid.


This is excellent – it’s what caught my eye on the first reading. It captures the tone and the deliberate incoherence wonderfully and all post graduate students should be made to recite it every single day. My only query is about lesser/Lessing- although I don’t know what reputation she has in the US.


  • bellying wave;
  • the intentionality of the prefab;
  • march ends;
  • muscular crusts;
  • shuttling into silhouette;
  • extrapolating that the agape of the Greek;
  • any sparks of chant;
  • let night be an allegory;
  • a clef signifying the displacement of free play;
  • the Beethoven;
  • time is function of a concept of collusion;
  • “missing a composer” won a continent.



I’m taking this as a riff on ‘criticism as rock journalism’ or perhaps there really is this kind of stuff written be people who are just aching to be cool. I’m not familiar with either so I can’t comment other than to observe that it seems reasonably efficient.


This is intriguingly odd- earlyish philosophy contrasted with the most important film director of the last fifty years. I have an interest in both and don’t really think that the first section is strong enough (except for ‘she likes doctors and they like her’) The Godard is more successful, especially the phase/phasing device which is used consciously.

I’m still not sure why these two should be put together, Godard attracts an entirely different genre of pretension than the Neoplatonics….


The first paragraph reads like something I might of written in a moment of low-grade mania and the second points worringly toward the in-crowd problem that I’ve already referred to.


I’m not from Kansas but I am living Somewhere Else. This appears to be a parody of a type of poetry that I’m not familiar with but the fourth and fifth lines do seem quite adept / clever.


I like this a lot, I think it’s both clever and complicated and it makes me smile.


I like this, there ought to be more of this.

Perhaps there is.

The next post will contrast ‘Towards’ with ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ (in both print and audio versions) and ask whether part 2 is a progression or a step backwards.