Rumors of the death of the poet-critic have been greatly exaggerated, and Chris Nealon’s here tonight as living proof. They make nice across the hyphen, that “poet” and “critic,” but often the join conceals a hostile standoff. In one corner there’s the poet, all subjectivity and trill; in the other, the Parnassian pro, dispassionately assessing the field.
Once upon a time, good poet-critics smoothed the rift by drinking. Chris, I think, provides a healthier alternative. Across his critically informed poetry and poetically shapely criticism, he’s found a way to put his lefty-right brain to work on two sides of the same theme: the fizz that occurs when you drop a stray self into history.
It’s a sharp, capacious, burning sort of remedy. The self in his equation can be anyone from Hart Crane to “Alanis’s ex-boyfriend”; the historical surround can be ’50s muscle mags or plummeting derivatives markets. Along the way there’s space made for Seleucids, Olivettis, Walkmans, JiffyLubes, Israelites, Tyvek and Lukacs; Art Song and techno; Marxist smarts and “pure despair.” To re-purpose a line from Yeats:
O poet swayed to music, O critic’s glance,
How can you be the disco and the dance?
Open your notebooks and prepare to learn from the many-minded Chris Nealon.
12 hours ago