A Review of Your Review: Ben Mirov Reviews Jeff Gordinier’s Review of Chris Martin’s BECOMING WEATHER

Posted by @ 11:47 am on July 18th, 2011

My friend Amy Lawless showed me this review of Becoming Weather by Chris Martin in the New York Times (scroll to the bottom of the article). Here is my review of the review, beginning with an excerpt from the review:

“No, the author of “Becoming Weather” is not the same Chris Martin who is the frontman of Coldplay and the husband of Gwyneth Paltrow. But it’s easy to see how you might leap to that assumption, because what you often find here are the kind of well-intentioned ruminations — “The people I love / lack something sufficient / for the violence of this world” (oh, buck up, people!) — that you might expect from a pop star who lets verse pour forth in his dressing room between bites of a vegan corn dog.”

I like that the critic begins by using the comparison between Chris Martin, the poet and Chris Martin, the rock star. This seems appropriate because both Chris Martin and Chris Martin have similar names. It also displays the critic’s breadth of knowledge in an impressive but subtle way. I feel assured in the quality of the critic’s review knowing that he is aware of poetry as well as more obscure forms of art, such as alternative rock. Also, the comparison shifts the impetus of my attention, so that my interest is focused less on Chris Martin’s poetry and more on the critic’s intellect and the ease with which it dominates its subject matter.

One of the most most incisive and effective pieces of criticism in the review, “(oh, buck up, people!)”, comes towards the end of the excerpt. The phrase “buck up” is commonly used to encourage one to increase their morale, however, in this case the author has put it to use as a tool of critical engagement. Rather than telling the poet to “buck up” or applying the critique to the poet’s work, the author has used the phrase to evaluate the people the author loves. This tactic is effective as it encourages me to assume that the people the author loves are probably undesirable individuals. Though they are loved by the author, I now feel free to assume that these people are vapid assholes.

The excerpt’s final bon mot is reserved for Chris Martin the rock star, as we are invited to visualize Martin in his dressing room, enjoying a “vegan corn dog” as he composes one of his alternative rock songs. This is also a clever move on the critic’s part. With this composite image, he has created a moment of conflation, one in which we are are able to poke fun at Chris Martin the rock star while simultaneously picturing Chris Martin the poet as a privileged entertainer, stuffing his face with bourgeoisie snack food.

Really, though, “Becoming Weather” is an example of a substrain of contemporary American literature that we might classify as Lazy Apartment Poetry. In the right hands, Lazy Apartment Poetry can be a very funny and even an aesthetically thrilling microgenre — pick up Joshua Beckman’s “Your Time Has Come” if you want to lounge on the couch and stare at dust motes with a little masterpiece of the form.

In this excerpt the critic’s thesis is evident. After laying the ground-work for the crux of his argument by effectively categorizing the poet as both a person who associates with vapid assholes and one who frequently partakes in bourgeoisie eating practices, the critic delivers his assessment that the poet’s book falls within a category called “Lazy Apartment Poetry”. In the critic’s words, Lazy Apartment Poetry might be defined as “the sort of stuff that makes you think the author really is sitting around watching TV and pretending there’s some cosmic significance to toe jam.” After a quick search of the web, I was unable to find additional “Lazy Apartment Poetry” with which to establish a broader context for the critic’s thesis. This left me confused. I expected to encounter at least a handful of  “Lazy Apartment” poems somewhere on the web, but my search resulted in only one example of the term’s usage: the critic’s review of Chris Martin’s Becoming Weather.

From this, I assume that the phrase “Lazy Apartment Poetry” is one that has been coined by the critic, for the purpose of his review. Here the author’s canny intellect is also evident. Instead of establishing a historical precedent for his critique, the critic has invented his own categorization of the poet’s work. This technique is more effective than establishing a historical precedent because it takes less time and it excludes the possibility of historical fact negating the elegant nuances of the critic’s thesis.

Fortunately, in the next lines, the critic supplies an example of successful Lazy Apartment Poetry: Joshua Beckman’s Your Time Has Come. Although the critic does not supply the reason why this particular book is an exemplar of the Lazy Apartment genre, the mention of Beckman’s book serves as a placeholder for the establishment of a larger historical precedent. Rather than weigh his critical analysis down with the burden of scholarly research, the critic has chosen a more expedient root, which is perhaps another sign of the efficacy of his intellect and incisiveness of his critical inquiry (in the spirit of the review, I opted to not contact Joshua Beckman to ask him more about Lazy Apartment Poetics).

One of the poems in “Becoming Weather” begins like this: “An affinity for visions / implicates a structure / of permeability.” That grad-school-jargon cluster-bomb then shifts into a musing on how the poet was, like, listening to Wilco and watching the Pistons play the Cavaliers while “a helicopter / crashed in the Afghani desert / so more Americans / could die estranged.” Poetry’s all about how you say it, as Frank O’Hara knew. Then again, not everyone has something to say.

In this final section of the review, the critic has placed some of his most creative and thoughtful insights, such as, “grad-school-jargon cluster-bomb”. The cleverness of this phrase is multifaceted. Without getting bogged down by facts (Chris Martin never attended graduate school, instead choosing to train himself in the art of poetry without the aid of higher-education, probably in an apartment), the critic’s line manages to both discredit the poet’s imaginary background while simultaneously undermining a widespread system of education. The line also contains the subtle yet artful comparison between attempting to achieve a Master of the Fine Arts in Poetry and the act of  cluster-bombing a small village of people.

The final lines of the review mention Frank O’Hara, an obscure New York poet, from the 1950s and 60s. This line serves to further cement the breadth of the critic’s knowledge of contemporary poetry by paraphrasing the little-known O’Hara to summate and validate his critique. I finished reading the review assured that it had been crafted by an individual with an intricate knowledge of poetry, one that reaches deeply into the annals of poetic history for its vision and coherence.

 

 

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