The American Poetry Review

NOTHINGISM

Writing seems to be approaching the condition of speech, and perhaps it’s merely nostalgia for print culture, but it feels nefarious to me. If Marshall McLuhan was right, and the “medium is the message,” then the speed with which online communication seems to be circulating outrage and jealousy (with an intensity that is hardly unprecedented) will only increase, and the intensity of fury one had hoped would pass as the medium “matured,” whatever that means, will not pass. (Clearly digital or “post-print” culture is not terribly mature, and this lack of maturity seems to rub off onto those who engage it.) Even though the internet came to us through the military and the academy, it has kept the values of speed and immediacy, without the accompanying values of those institutions: hierarchy, decorum, rigor, apprenticeship, analysis, evidence, respect. We have allowed a century of regulation to collapse as we welcome “disruption”; we have devalued expertise in favor of crowdsourcing; we have devalued the physical in favor of screens; we have devalued revision and precision in favor of immediate response. Headlines are not the stuff of morning and evening, but are now round-the-clock intrusions. Any opening of the tiny computer we still call a “phone” brings an us-versus-them array of crises and disasters (real, dire, misleading, fake, and manufactured). Unsuccessfully, I keep trying to turn these “updates” off.

Reflection is not action. I trust reflection, and I do not trust action. As a child, my father would often tell me a military saying that escapes me now, but the essence was that, often, an answer is needed before you have time to formulate one. So, of course, I became a poet, the sort of person who can delay answering a question for as long as needed. Sometimes the delay is only as long as a sonnet. Sometimes the delay is as long as a career. Sometimes

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