Quick addition to Nick FLynn/Ben Lerner post

just wanted to add this comment regarding the my last blog post (below) about the two interviews.   I left this comment on the Nick Flynn interview:

This is great, as are all the interviews I’ve read of you, Nick. I admire the interjection “I am trying to make a statement–that torture is wrong.” That statement will be my muse for a while. Good work, Alizah. I’m new to you…I’ll keep an eye out from now on.

I don’t know if you guys have ever seen the documentary Copyright Criminals, but your glossing of reappropriation and hip hop leads me to believe you’d really dig it. I’m a librarian so I came to that film in an information ethics class taught by the amazing scholar Elizabeth Buchanon. I had such a rad perspective in that class on copyright since I came from experimental poetry culture, and people were constantly shocked when they’d ask me questions about the culture. It’s so unlike most lit culture in that, if you want to reference something now, the standard is not even to reference it, but almost just own it in the moment of writing and then have it be a gift to the readers from there, which they can then choose to pass on to others later as writers, perhaps even unaware of its earlier origins. People are scandalized when they hear about an approach to art like that. But I learned to love motown and funk originally through hip hop samples as a kid…didn’t know it was Parliament, or whatever, until decades later… so it makes total sense to me.

Hip Hop is an art born out of oppression and poverty (when you can’t afford instruments, you might make noise from your mouth and a turntable) but, as soon as it became a commercially viable entity, it was incorporated into the very model of oppression it was reacting to. That’s why when I hear people express dismay about how poetry will almost never lead, in this culture, to even the ability to make a living, I can’t relate. I feel quite the opposite about that, really. I’m elated about it. Poetry’s fiscal bankruptcy seems to be in direct relation with it feeling not bankrupt in more substantial ways, for me.

Also, in retrospect, this passage from the Lerner interview strikes me as especially interesting–kind of hilarious–just because I basically (if not quite as directly) described the same experience in my last blog post, but with Lerner preemptively describing my own work.  I’d be interested to know–are there other people who read this that have had this experience?  Let me know, if so.  Read on:

“Steffen was reading the [Lerner’s new] novel, and he wrote to ask me why I’d “quoted” and “rewritten” the opening scene to Bernhard’s book Old Masters in my novel. But I haven’t read Old Masters. And in fact that opening scene in my novel about following that guy through the Prado is one of the few moments in the book lifted directly from my experience. This seems appropriate for a novel about the messy intersections of art and life—my life has plagiarized Bernhard!”


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