One of the many things I admire about Dinh is his openness to every current out there—aesthetic, political, social, psychological, ecological, economic and more. These currents appear, drawn from all sides and filtered from himself (as Whitman called for in the second section of “Leaves of Grass“), in Dinh’s creative work, only about half of which I’ve had the opportunity to read. In many ways, Dinh seems to be one of those poets who stands opposed to the cultural blindness and amnesia promoted by what Frances Stonor Saunders, in her seminal study The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, calls the post-war “consortium.” This was a CIA-sponsored propaganda network “whose double task it was to inoculate the world against the contagion of Communism, and to ease the passage of American foreign policy interests abroad.” Based on Saunders’s assessment, it’s easy to see why political content was squeezed out of most American poetry until Robert Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War in 1966. Of course, with the rise of neo-conservatism (which is just a nuttier flavor of neo-liberalism) in the 1980s, political content again vanished from the majority of American poetry. Now we’re treated to such trivialities as “conceptual poetics” and “post-avant writing,” the pasty-faced progeny of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and the other ephemeral ejaculations of the 1980s avant-garde. Linh Dinh has somehow managed to develop an approach to writing that I would call avant-garde, but without the prissy brain-surgeon attenuations, the socio-political vapidity, we find in writers like Kenneth Goldsmith and Christian Bök. The latter folks must make the culture desk agents at the CIA rub their hands in glee.
Needless to say, I have no idea whether Linh Dinh would agree with my view of his work or my take on the current state of things in the avant-garde. All I can do is recommend him to readers whose personal pantheon might include Whitman, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, and the ever-rebellious Bill Knott.