When I read Stephen Henighan's article, "A Traitor's Dirge", I was too upset and too emotionally distraught to fashion an appropriate response. I have been thinking about it again recently: Henighan's misreadings and misconceptions about Robert Allen and his work and Henighan's misrepresentation of Matrix Magazine in the article.
I was comforted greatly by Anne Stone's response. Anne says it perfectly. Here is that response.
And here it is below:
Stephen Henighan has a piece in Geist about Rob Allen, his one-time teacher, my good friend. The direction of the piece is pretty much apparent in the title, “Traitor’s Dirge,” and byline (Henighan’s name has been made less for his literary fiction than for the way, in short essay style, he strafes Can Lit’s no-fly zones.) It’s not that Henighan doesn’t have a point. He does. Rob did love America and pop-culture and he loved a good literary line, however long. At times, the esoteric quality of his writing landed its punches far from the gut. Preferring the eye, say. Or what’s behind it.
For a study in the local, emotional power, and quiet perfection, I’d recommend Henighan play catch up by reading the sonnets in Standing Wave, a collection that’s among Rob’s best.
While Henighan does have his point, it’s trivial and expressed meanly: the form Henighan’s dirge takes is a funnel, and all of the broad and generous observations he has about Rob spiral down into a final dismissal of much of Rob’s work. “Traitor’s Dirge” doesn’t strike me as particularly honest or fair. Reading it, I get the same sense I do when reading much of Henighan’s work. Whatever Henighan looks at is an excuse for him to further elaborate himself.
It’s unfortunate that Rob died early. If he’d lived longer, maybe Henighan would have had the chance, and the grace, to kill his mentor off before the man himself died.
Thanks, Anne. You always come through.