The Tao of Tao #2

Tao Lin has twelve new poems up at The Lifted Brow. He’s also casually tossed off twelve more “in the same style” in the comment stream at HTMLGIANT (scroll down), where all twenty-four poems have occasioned a debate that quickly jumped past “Are these poems any good?” to “Are these actually poems?”

I’m somewhat ambivalent about these myself. Taken individually, they seem almost prankishly slight; but as I read through either set of twelve consecutively, I find myself gradually becoming gently, inexplicably, yet undeniably moved. It’s like what Lin has said (here) about the intended theme of Shoplifting from American Apparel—that the passage of time itself is emotional. Lin seems to be reaching after those moments that are too slight, too vacant, too fleeting, to be caught by more traditional poetry. But that goal leads to an aesthetic quandary: he can’t turn those moments into something that would be “worth writing a poem about” without destroying his whole reason for writing a poem about them.

In response, it seems to me, Lin turns to two forms that specialize in capturing ephemeral sensations—upper limit haiku, lower limit tweet. Whether or not that move creates “actual poems” seems to be the question for most of the objectors over at HTMLGIANT. But it also seems to me to be a question that these poems can’t help but raise—that, in fact, they deliberately try to make us think about. As usual, Tao Lin winds up doing something that, on the surface, makes him look like a disaffected adolescent wiseass; but that, viewed more sympathetically, actually expresses a kind of pomo, existentialist Zen to which he is clearly deeply and sincerely committed.