I am just having fun with the title. I’ll state from the beginning if you are looking for an anti-Shavini piece defending the MFA process go to the Huffington Post Message boards and speak of the joy of debt and shitty jobs (I have an MA in creative writing and worked for a porn store–I’m allowed to make fun of myself). No, there will be no polemics for the Polemic Prince; this will be a review of his own work of non-fiction and his new poetry book ‘My Tranquil War & Other Poems’.
Anis has the chops to talk the smack he does and I am grateful for his voice.I was a fan of his posts on Huffington Post that would become part of ‘Against The Workshop’. It wasn’t the MFA bashing that struck a chord (though I’ll probably lose from Facebook friends for say this: a thesis paper is one of the biggest waste of times for any writer) it was his passion for the act of writing itself focusing on poetry, non-fiction, and fiction: stating how much they matter and it is lack of quality that is breeding more mediocrity. His list of overrated writers and assault on the MFA process was enjoyable, needed, and whether you agree with him or not it was an important message for the literary community–we can do better and we should have more ambition to write something of true quality…
On side note, as a musician/writer (if this review sucks, then lets just agree I am more of a musician) this article below by Ben Westhoff was a thing of beauty and shows that being polemical is a duty of the criticism and criticism is needed right now as this speaks the truth for rock musicians who feel as disgusted with the current music scene as Anis does with a majority of the literary community.
But I digress, back to Anis…’Against The Workshop’ was a strong collection of essays, satire, polemical prose, and good praise for excellent poetry. It made me curious about his new book poetry ‘My Tranquil War and Other Poems’ wondering how would the critic and polemic do with the more open and more inward act of creating a poem?
Pretty damn well, Anis poems echo the best parts of his polemics; they are fun, intelligent, well-written pieces that take on the literary and political establishment. Your every day man is not going to enjoy this book as much (they might feel more comfortable reading Billy Collins, even if they even read poetry at all), and Shavini’s piece ‘Billy Collins Confronts a Herd of Mexicans Caught in a Trap’ was perfect parody of a Billy Collins poem.
Shavini’s writing is like a high art Comedy Central Roast; it is the mirror into the literary community and his poems like his essays and satire do bring a fun and playfulness but urgent seriousness. For the detractors of Anis Shavini and those just not wanting their tenure fucked with, I say, this is a man who really cares about art and uses quality prose and poetry to express that sentiment.
There is a signature to certain artists, a certain theme, and for Anis it is someone who thinks fiction, poetry, the written word can be something of great value and a needed part of the human experience. He is not only writing to the reader but writing to the artist and lovers of art as his poems mention writers, directors, and painters saying: you have to do better, don’t blame Facebook or twitter, look in the mirror, get out of the classroom, and really create something that can touch people.
As someone who wears a lot of creative hats I respect Anis and can see those many hats collide and morph into solid poetry: he is a fiction writer, he is a critic, he is many things but in ‘My Tranquil War’ he is a poet speaking to others who wear all hats of art and all who have power–is there a difference between an artists and a politician? He is not specialized like we are supposed to do for our grad school thesis (my thesis was fiction and I got non-fiction, satire, book on way for Christmas–‘The Passion of The Christoph’–shameless plug) but Anis has a gift for poetry.
Politics and antagonism is at the heart of his poems and if I would compare Shavini’s work with a musical act and album it would be with Against Me’s album ‘New Wave’ (Pre-Tom-Gabel-Sex-Change). Art echoes art not matter what the form as ‘New Wave’ represented another poet saying: what does it mean to make my music, why does everything I hear not give me satisfaction, ‘I want a New Wave’.
Against Me’s songs and Anis’s poems are for those of us dissatisfied with the art of today and to focus more on the writing establishment of the 21st Century–we have the two camps ‘the published establishment and ‘the indie publishers’ and he represents the writers who are feeling annoyed with both camps. To use a political analogy Shavini is very much like the 60’s president Gamal Abadel Nasser who started the Non-Aligned Movement not wanting to be part of NATO or The Commies (Wikipedia that–just because I play rock n roll and write dick joke non-fiction doesn’t mean I don’t know my cold war history–Mick Jagger, kids ‘Sympathy for The Devil’), non-aligned but trying to build something, trying to make art matter while being independent and protecting their own creative sovereignty.
That is why this is a great collection of poetry for people who care about what is going on the world and what is going on in art. From the opening of ‘Harold Bloom’s Old Age’ to the closing ‘The Essential Salvador Dali’ we are taken on a historical trip of artists, people of power, and art itself. Each poem stands on its own, each of quality in a different way very much like each essay, polemic, and satire stood on its own in ‘Against The Workshop’ but yet flowed well as whole.
Shavini has now set a standard and I look forward to seeing if he can keep matching it with other genre’s as I plan on reading more of the man and see if he can do the same kind of quality with his fiction. For now, I think he has earned an honorary MFA.