- The Poetics of Embarrassment is a theater in which is enacted the w/rites of passage between a zealous contingent of producers of poetry and the often anything-but-enthusiastic recipients of such a product.
- The Poetics of Embarrassment enacts the blush in the face of the knowledge that the miasma holding together anything like a sub-stratum called poetry is at once suspect. Such a poetics performs what it takes to be a necessary expositional function for a genre which it takes to be in need, intrinsically, of exegesis. Frequently, the pre-emptive nature of such a poetics serves, as the poem, apparently, will not, to create an opacity which it then purports to neutralize. Any clarity of measure, any knowledge enacted as the poems particular cut into the order of things, is annexed by the Poetics of Embarrassment by which the latter makes itself clear to itself.
- Embedded within the Poetics of Embarrassment is the idea there is something implicitly illegitimate about the poem. It needs to be apologized for, exposed, posed, and reposed before us in order that the poetics which seeks to engulf its object in dazzling defense may perform for us the act of accounting for the poems lack of obvious use (that is, were the poem to be without the pre-read blush*).
- *The pre-read Blush: soon, so much will be said, will NEED to be said before the reading, perhaps before the writing, of the poem, that the poem will become in an unsurprising Nietzschian reversal, the prefatory matter to the Blush itself. Poetry finds itself in the position of servicea service industry (the fastest growing industry in America). There are recuperative stories which apparently need Telling, and what better impetus than to be able to call upon the poem as illustrative punctuation to whatever it may be one wishes to expound upon. The pre-read Blush creates the illusion that the poem came into existence precisely as a result of the force of its own exegetical baggage. Ideally, the pre-read Blush makes itself invisiblethe better at this it is, the more highly visible it really is. It is as if the Blush aims to render the sub/con-sequent poem somehow pre-emptively familiar, just another variation on an old theme.
- It is embarrassing to say so much about poetry. It is at least as embarrassing to say so much about embarrassment. It seems to me (an embarrassed phrase at that) that I cannot speak for, nor perhaps even about, poetry as if I agreed with the notion that such a coherent sub-stratum existsthat such a genre persisted in terms made notorious by the academic institution. This is to suggest that I am perplexed by the need for claims such as: poetry is verse criticism. . .and that criticism is prose poetry.
- Poets must know a great many things. Indeed, everyone must, simply because we are, as the poet Don Byrd says, in a great Jacuzzi of information. The poor rhapsode Ions embarrassment has become our own in the face of the possibility that we may, finally, know rather little but the sound of our own voices (and as Ashbery points out, one may speak for a long time without hearing oneself speak). As poets, we engage a mode of accumulation of information and begin to list. This is not an accidental punthe poetry of such accumulation becomes transmuted into sheer capacity for storage of information to the point where the poem topples under the unbalanced weight. Poems must contain more and more data; our poetics (and I say our because I dont want to be alone) must account for the presence of such accumulate in works which are still sentimentally cautious about what seems to some a departure from a history of the poem being distinguishable from knowledge in the process of happening.
- Cybernetic Embarrassment: cybernetic memorytruly embarrassing. All memory on a disk(ette). Fundamental knowledge in and as a data-base. Fundamental anything becomes a nostalgic notion, all foundations being annihilated. Recall-potential is infinite, and herein the embarrassment: infinite recall-potential includes recalling each instance of recollectionthat is, the computer will be able to remind us of each time we recalled via the machine; it will remind us of each time it was able to contain more than its user- master; it will remind us of each time it reminded us of its recalling. We may be continually embarrassed by the occasion of our being emptyand emptiedeach time we are reminded of the fact that we need contain no memory of having done any of it. Being reminded is, sadly, not the same as being re-minded.
- (From The Hermeneutics of Embarrassment part III): take, for example, Creeleys poem, Something:
I approach with such
a careful tremor, always
I feel the finally foolish
question of how it is,
then, supposed to be felt,
and by whom. I remember
once in a rented room on
27th street, the woman I loved
then, literally, after we
had made love on the large
bed sitting across from
a basin with two faucets, she
had to pee but was nervous,
embarrassed I suppose I
would watch her who had but
a moment ago been completely
open to me, naked, on
the same bed. Squatting, her
head reflected in the mirror,
the hair dark there, the
full of her face, the shoulders,
sat spread-legged, turned on
one faucet and shyly pissed. What
love might learn from such a sight.
It might seem the obvious place to begin, then, with the 5th stanza and to note the explicit embarrassment therein. . .the embarrassment this shy lover must feel. But this is not where a hermeneutics of embarrassment focuses its attention. Such a hermeneutics seeks to make manifest what is implicitly embarrassed, and embarrassing, about the poetics as they may be embedded, embodied, in this poem.
Creeleys I would have us learn something (something) from what not a few critics have referred to as this verbal portraiture. What we may actually learn, which I seems not to have grasped, is NOT that one neednt be ashamed of pissing in front of someone one has just made love with (openly, nakedly), but that, in fact, sometimes one just IS embarrassed by pissing in front of someone one has just made love withespecially someone who is not only observing the scene closely, but is composing the pissing scene for its future in the infinite space of poetic eternity.
The poems title avoids a common reductiveness of any title by being almost a total reduction of any possible point to the poemthat is, the poem is simply some thing and/or the things it says are just some things. Or the something is the pointwhich is that it is awfully ironic, isnt it, that a pisser is embarrassed where a fucker aint. I senses he ought to feel somethingbut he uses the long-hand of the poem itself to present the occasion, to re-present the scene itself, as that which clearly embodies the overwhelming peculiarness of human foibles. The ironies multiply: open and naked sexuality closes itself into excretory self-consciousness (what drove Swift crazy); the desire for privacy as it comes up against the most public, futurizing instance of the composition of ones life by another (Poet); even the shift from the I who does not know how to feel about such matters to the lover who does know, but who cannot act upon her need for privacy because her ambivalent lover needs to be privy to her every move. But perhaps the most embarrassing fact in this poem, and certainly the greatest irony, is that the pissing lover is NOT concerned with being watched, but with being heard; the faucet-water covers nothing but her sound. What love might learn from listening.
She neednt worry. His love is merely literaland while his gaze seems ubiquitous, his attention is flawed. Armed with the Poetics of Embarrassment, she can piss boldly, perhaps IN the double tapped sink. She may leave the lights off, her clothes on, and murmur her lovers poem into the darkened mirror. Because the embarrassment does not lie in her act, nor in his chagrin at never knowing how to deal with ironies he experiences. It lies dormant in the poems USE as the occasion for a sentimental voyeurism intended to serve as ironic punctuation to an idea. Because the water was running, she never saw us (all) watching.
[Originally published in OOVRAH, volume 1, number 1, 1986: 55-57.]