Friday, January 29, 2010

Form more powerful than free verse?

In a post on the Rumpus called "Defending Memoir," Stephen Elliot makes the following aside:
There is only one rule in writing a memoir, but it’s an important one: You can’t intentionally lie. This one rule has the effect of form on poetry, setting up a challenge that often forces creativity and makes the work more powerful than free verse.
In context (he's defending recent memoirs against novelists who claim that memoirs are too easy), this analogy strikes me as especially odd. Isn't he basically saying that free verse is too easy? In other words, my kid could paint that? Seems like a very fuddy-duddy approach to poetry. Poems should rhyme, paintings should look like landscapes, memoirs should be true. (All memoirs lie, it's degree and intention that matter.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Photographs & aura

A while back on Twitter, I "microblogged" an observation/realization that I don't particularly enjoy photography exhibits in museums because photographs have no aura. This was met with shock and disapproval, as though I'd said photography's got no mojo, or power, or that, by god, it's not even art, which is not what I meant at all.

I like photography as much as any artform, certainly more than some. I was using "aura" in the "Benjaminian" sense: aura is the quality an original has that reproductions don't. Uniqueness as an object, a thing located in time and space. Aura isn't a necessary condition of art (poetry doesn't have any, unless you fetishize handwritten drafts), but it's the reason why you have a different experience when you see a Kandinsky painting in a book and then see the "real" one in a museum. With photos, there is no "real" one. Or the distinction is academic.

Really fabulous photographs are going to make for a worthwhile experience no matter what, but let's say it's just a pretty good photo vs. a pretty good sculpture or painting. 99 times out of 100, I'll appreciate the sculpture or painting more in a museum setting, and the photograph more if I see it in a book (or even online, gasp). If a photo is meant to be real huge, then yeah, probably seeing it in person is better, but that's usually not the case, and usually the effect is the same whether it's hung on a wall or not. In fact museums often wreck the effect for me (just shake your rump) by hanging them under glass and creating a bunch of glare from the lighting. For me this makes the experience less intimate, almost sterile. (Plus you're in a public place and there's this prescribed way you're supposed to look at it, ugh. Maybe I just don't like museums, as places to be.) But with the sculpture or painting, a picture in a book is not at all the same effect. I have similar feelings about film; I don't need to see a film in a museum, if it's not interesting in another setting then it's not an interesting film.

Obviously there are many cases where a museum is the only setting where you could see a film or a photograph; that's the distribution channel, it's how the artist's work gets an audience. I'm just saying, given the option, my personal preference ... (also leaving out of this discussion conceptual art that is perfectly reproducible but not easily distributed) ...

So my question is, is this really that wackadoodle? Am I being a dick?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

She doth protest too much

Brooklyn Copeland wrote a very flattering post about my po-po blogging in which she says, "I'm finding that while we prefer different styles, her posts are helping me to define my preferences, and forcing me to articulate them to myself." I find it interesting that she so adamantly believes we don't like the same kinds of poems. And who knows, maybe we don't. (If you've been following the comments, she's been on the anti side of the (very friendly) idea debate.)

I had only read a little of her work, so I sought out a little more. While I wouldn't describe it as idea-driven per se, I do think Brooklyn traffics in ideas (to good effect). Here are some selections from the chapbook Reunions (Blue Hour Press):
Rings possess fingers.

Fingers remember
what the eyes have

blocked. The blindness
in this

case is figurative.
The figure in this

case is
curvaceous.

*

Milled, folded,
soldered.

Inlaid omen.
Mokume gane.

Ifs as hinges.
Ands as pins.

Rings as
reunions.
This bit from a sequence in TYPO uses the same motifs, rings and pins:
Sat down just now
to write my requiem
on a hairpin
turn
.

Meanwhile,
let's see how much I can get
for this (with this

ring, thee, I)
See, I think these are ideas. Metaphors don't always qualify as ideas (how a ring is like the moon, O), but this is an extended (very, across multiple manuscripts) metaphor with intention.

I really like "Sat down just now / to write my requiem / on a hairpin / turn." I just sounds good, but the artfulness isn't forced. The "on" (as opposed to "for") makes it ambiguous. Is she literally writing upon a hairpin turn? A bobby pin? Why is it underlined? I don't know. I thought at first it was a link. Maybe she writes on a typewriter that can't italicize. I find Brooklyn's poetry to be unabashedly pretty, a style which isn't usually my fave, I admit. But I don't dismiss it, and in fact I like reading it, because of the obvious thinking going on behind it. It's not just flowers and kiss-stains. And I like when poets have obsessions.

This could all be totally fallacious of course. What one prefers is not necessarily what one writes. Do we write the kinds of poems we prefer, or do we only hope so?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Poem and the Idea, Part 2: Diffuse Ideas

I feel that I may have created some confusion in last week's post about publishing the poem, not the poet, w/r/t "ideas." So I'm going to try to do a series of posts on the idea in the poem. (Coming soon, a post on the difference between ideas and abstractions, as requested by Brooklyn.)

Last week I cited a poem by Matt Henriksen composed entirely of overt ideas, just to show that it's possible, but not to say that it's the only or the easiest or the best way to put ideas in poems. (Matt, sorry I misspelled your name before; I was just reproducing the typo in Handsome.) The central "idea" of a poem doesn't have to be overtly stated at all.

Here's a poem by Jon Woodward that I first read on Verse Daily:
Salamander

The janitor asked me how
to pronounce the creature's name
& I said salamander for him.

He looked at it on the screen
and I looked at him.

Slide your legs into its tail I said.
I can't he said as he did.
Dish your guts there into its cavity

of guts, I can't he said (manifestly untrue
for he did so). Mash the thing's
name and yours I said together into

that irreversible hole I know you keep
and he did & it broke over his face

& flowed, water from the earth,
I can't, I can't, he said.
Superficially, this poem is pure narrative description. He said this, then I said this, then this happened, etc., with no editorializing. But this poem is remarkable because it has an idea. You can't locate it in any one line; the idea is diffuse, it emerges from the poem. You can think of any number of dumb ways to paraphrase the idea (e.g., "Sometimes people say and even think they can't do something when they can") but there is no better way to express it than the poem itself. That paraphrase especially sucks because it turns the poem into a lesson; it's reductive and aphoristic and the poem is not. The poem is like Mexican magical realism.

I'm only really moved by poetry when it feels like a direct manifestation of thought. (Which doesn't mean it has to be "stream of consciousness" ... I don't know about y'all, but I can think in complete sentences.) This is why I'm often suspicious of forms -- they're a way to manipulate content to fit an established pattern. It's like, "I've got some poem content here, should I package it as a sonnet or a sestina? Sestinas can be nice*." However successful they are, forms always feel somewhat like an exercise.

So, can I preemptively but the kibosh on comments of the "But I don't like that poem" nature? Even if you don't like this particular poem (weirdo), you can see my point, right? If not, tell me why.

*Not true. Sestinas are always tiresome.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Perfumes: The Buying Spree

Since being gifted with a copy of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez, I've been obsessed with fragrance and siphoning my income to start a small collection. Prior to 2010, my "collection" could hardly be labeled as such; it was limited by the fact that I considered perfume to be an extravagance best restricted to gifts. I reserved my "nice" perfume (Gucci Rush) for dates and parties and such and wore something cheap and simple, if anything, during the day, like Fresh Strawberry Flowers or the Crushed Peony oil the Gap used to sell.

The Turin/Sanchez book inspired me to realize that perfume is really a pretty affordable luxury. Small bottles can be found for under $30 and larger bottles last nearly forever. Although I did, at my last address, finally throw out two old bottles I'd had since high school; like everyone else, apparently, I used to wear L'Eau D'Issey and Clinique Happy, the latter of which I take it on good authority hardly suits me. Weirdly, in junior high or maybe even earlier I was fond of White Linen, which even at the time I recognized was kind of an old lady fragrance. I think all three were presents from my grandmother. She may have also given me a bottle of CK One. I seem to remember wearing that for a while in 7th grade. Ironically, I felt original for eschewing Sunflowers and Vanilla Fields.

Here are some perfumes I've bought recently:

Juicy Couture - The original, not Viva La Juicy or Couture Couture. Still, sounds like it would be cheap fruity crap created for college students, but this is actually a very classy floral, mostly tuberose, I'm told. (I don't even know what a tuberose looks like.) I bought a teensy rollerball from Sephora and anticipate upgrading to full-size down the line.

J'Adore - This is just a very pleasant, not too strong floral which is nicely inoffensive for daily office wear.

Flower by Kenzo - A more forceful floral. I like this review in the column Scent Notes, especially since it compares Flower to my stand-by since college:
If one is to categorize it, I would hang it next to the brilliant work of abstract art that is Gucci Rush, which smells like being in a fabulous hair salon — the sprays, the shampoos, the metal sinks, the hot blow-dryer air. It’s Flower’s second act that smells like an abstract art concept: the idea of a flower, all the flowers you ever smelled, but perfected, flooded with halogen light (this thing must be loaded with methyl dihydrojasmonate, a molecule like liquid light), smoothed with powder.
C.O. Bigelow Winter Lemon - I bought the lotion and liked it so much I went back and bought the eau de cologne the next day. I think this is for men? It doesn't smell at all like cleaning products. It's got a bit of fig and clove in it that really do make it smell dark and wintry; it reminds me of lemons that have started to turn and shrivel so they lose that bright edge. Smells both masculine and pretty to me.

Angel - This was another small bottle purchase. I liked Angel when it first came out and was a big deal, but remembered it being mostly chocolatey. The review in the guide convinced me it was more complex than I remembered, and it really is. It smells crazy, lasts all day and keeps changing; it almost smells different with every spray, sometimes fruitier, sometimes with an almost bugspray-like off note. Sort of addictive.

Here are some I want to buy:

Carolina Herrera - This was the signature fragrance of my best friend's mom when I was in jr. high and high school, so I associate it with the '90s. Because my mother doesn't wear perfume, it seemed very glamorous. Surely I'm old enough to pull it off now.

Envy - An expensive-smelling green (obvi) floral.

Notorious - I've never smelled this, but the description is sooo enticing: "a bracingly chilly gin-and-Campari top note, then a whiskey-cola middle section." Mmm, remind me to order a Negroni later. Don't worry, I'll smell before I buy. Some of the stuff these guys like smells atrocious to me. So far, almost anything launched more than 30 years ago. Maybe my nose needs training?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Publish the poem, not the poet

Going through Absent subs lately, I've been reading a lot of poems that feel basically perfunctory. They are perfectly competent poems written by poets who have every indication of being good writers: I recognize their names and the places that they've been published; their credentials are impressive; often I'm already pretty familiar with their work. (Everyone submits to and gets published in the same online journals, for the most part.) But the poems are merely competent; they have no [oomph/je ne sais quoi/duende/poetry]. It's like the poet wrote them just because you gotta write something. These writers are probably capable of turning out a "publishable" poem any day of the week.

I get the feeling that these writers are accustomed to being published because of who they are--because they have come to be accepted as good poets--rather than because of the particular poems they have submitted for publication. Everybody knows this happens. Everybody's read a throwaway poem by a good poet in a journal. Fine. I write those too. But I don't want to publish those poems in Absent. I admit it's hard to turn down mediocre work by a poet you're excited to have a submission from at all, but you have to publish the poem, not the poet. Otherwise you end up being, I don't know, Ploughshares. (Sorry to pick on you so much this week, Ploughshares. But you're so namey.) When I scan the TOC in an online journal and it's just the usual suspects, half of me assumes they are half-ass poems, potentially written primarily to keep up with solicitations from online journals.

Here's what I'd like to see more of in submissions: IDEAS. Why don't poems have more ideas? So many poems I read are essentially just descriptions. So you went outside. It was beautiful. Or not. I don't care how creatively you describe it, if it didn't trigger any thoughts beyond "Hells yeah I am going to describe this," it's not a poem. It's just showing off to yourself, or as Matt Rass used to say, "masturbating to language." Ha. I love that phrase. Anyway: ideas. Take this poem by Matt Henricksen from the new Handsome (a journal that has a recognizable aesthetic not wedded to names):
NO DIRECTION

Numbness is where
depression gets the beauty beaten out,

she thought she'd written on the wall
by the sink. Shoot the horse

if you want to, but negative capability
is only possible in the less-than-human,

and Keats meant become of things
to describe a tiny, despicable self.
You'll note, first of all, that MH is guilty of Move #20, "surprise re-framing of an utterance." (I say "guilty" in jest; I don't think moves are don'ts.) Secondly, notice how little of this poem is description. If you take out the description ... oh wait, you can't, because there really is none. This is a poem made of ideas. See? It's possible. Lots of poems I read in the slush, if you took out the description, there'd be nothing left. All facade, no scaffold.

I know nobody wants to read grouchy editor posts, but I'm writing this as a reader, too. Poems are not supposed to be beautiful (though they can be). They're supposed to be good.

NB: I'm strongly considering a number of poems in the Absent box, so if by chance you happen to have submitted, and not heard back, do not despair, there is every possibility I'm not talking about you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Of white people and their discontents

Conversation I had at a cocktail party this weekend:

Kenny Rogers*: So what brings you to Boston?
Me: I live here, ha ha.
Kenny Rogers: Ha ha.
Me: I moved here for grad school.
Kenny Rogers: What school?
Me: Emerson. I studied poetry.
Kenny Rogers: You majored in poetry?!
Me: No, I didn't "major" in it. I got my MFA.
Kenny Rogers: Oh, I know someone who works at the MFA. I can't think of her name ... long brown hair ...
Me: Not the MFA. An MFA. The degree. Master of Fine Arts.
Kenny Rogers: [Blank stare] What kind of poetry do you write?
Me: Um. What kinds would you recognize?
Kenny Rogers: Excuse me?
Me: Poetry doesn't really taxonomize neatly. It's not like science. I mean, you can try to classify it after the fact--
Kenny Rogers: I took a poetry class once. We studied Bob Dylan.

*Not the real Kenny Rogers

And it continued in that awkward vein. I know I sound like the bitch here, but his tone was unbearably condescending. He kept talking about his grants (worth $13 million in toto) to build lobster and bee robots. Holy cliche oldster. I guess no one ever told him you can't buy friends. As party douches go, I preferred the black metal guy.

I've been reading the new Handsome. It strikes me as way better and more readable than the average journal, but maybe it's just really aligned with my tastes? I'm also (re-?)reading Why I Am White by Mathias Svalina. I don't think I ever read it front to back, I'm realizing. It's still hilarious. It's like:
A brief history of white people is a history of gears & boats & railroads. One named Frank.

Furthermore, white people are not considered so mysterious that they warrant the type of article National Geographic published. Furthermore, white people aren't scared of black people, they are scared of young black men. BIG difference
This chapbook was published in August of 2007. Stuff White People Like was created in 2008. Therefore, Christian Lander and SWPL were probably just riding the white-people wave that Mathias got started.

I've always wondered, is Stuff White People Like itself an entry on Stuff White People Like? I've never checked, and wouldn't know how.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why I'm not on Facebook

This post is in response to a request from the lovely and talented Ana Bozicevic, who recently wondered why it is again that I don't bring the wit to Facebook, where it can be enjoyed in regular, brevity-sized doses. So here are some reasons why I'm not on Facebook:
  1. Inertia/The Challenge/"Because it's there": I initially didn't join Facebook for the same reason I didn't join Friendster or MySpace: it seemed rather silly and high-schoolish and like it had the capacity to be a tremendous waste of time. I waste enough time online as it is, and I didn't want another outlet or another thing to check. I had no reason to believe it would be any different from MySpace or Friendster in terms of staying power, either. It kind of took me by surprise when I realized one day that very-nearly-literally-everyone is on Facebook. John and Martin were two of the last people I know to give up resistance. I think maybe Allen still isn't on Facebook, in earnest, but it's unclear. So at this point, it's sort of a personal challenge to remain on the outside. It's like not having a cell phone, or growing your own vegetables. I should probably write a memoir.

  2. Facebook Is a Cult: I'm resistant to Facebook partially because it seems cultish. People periodically try to lure me into joining and their reasons are generally selfish, i.e., it would make their life easier, not mine, e.g., they wouldn't have to send out a separate email when they want to invite me somewhere. After-school specials worked their magic on me; I'm still very suspicious of peer pressure.

  3. "I don't want to know": People often tell me that it's great to be able to peer into the lives of people you otherwise wouldn't be in touch with, high-school friends, ex-boyfriends, etc. I suppose that can satisfy a passing curiosity, but googling works almost as well; you can get an overview without that person necessarily knowing, and you don't have to sign up to be "friends" forevermore. If we're talking about people I was never that close to to begin with, I don't need a constant stream of updates. If we're talking about people I was once very close to, especially in the recent past, I don't really want to know the details of their life without me. It would just trigger feelings of jealousy and make me miss them. I'm not imagining this, it happens when I browse people's lives thru John's page.

  4. The Approval Process: This part is just kind of gross; now that everyone is on Facebook, you pretty much have to develop a policy on who you accept as a "friend" and how you handle your privacy settings etc. It's potentially awkward and confusing. I like that I can read strangers' blogs without having to ask them first, and vice versa. I also prefer the long-form format of blogs to blippy updates; they're more oriented toward rumination and theorizing (at least my favorite blogs are), or at least stuff that's potentially useful to a large audience like recipes or trendspotting. Whereas Facebook seems more oriented toward self-promotion, back-scratching and overt signaling (look what I did last night). And there's a place for that (it happens on blogs too of course), but when I want to read or share short-form updates, there's Twitter, which, again, doesn't require a mutual approval process.
I'm not going to pretend that there aren't disadvantages to not being on Facebook or that I don't see any value in it. Its value is pretty obvious. And I don't mean for the above to sound judgmental, like I think everyone on Facebook is really shallow or something. I mean, of course not. Like I said, that's EVERYONE I KNOW.

It'll be interesting to see how long I can sustain the Facebook-free lifestyle. I mean, how long before it's synonymous with society and to remain on the outside I'll have to go full-on Unabomber? Only time will tell. Most likely scenario? I'm forced to join for work-related reasons. Jobs are the peer pressure that works.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More poetry moves

Over at HTML Giant, Mike Young and I collaborated on a big list of moves in contemporary poetry. If you used to read the pshares blog, back in its previous, less "professional" incarnation, you know I've written about poetry "moves" before. I wrote (in reference to Alice Fulton's poem "About Face"):
I first read this poem in college and really loved that move, the sort of exposed revision. And I do think of it as a "move" now, though I'm not sure I did then. I guess this comes from having both read and written a lot more poetry and being able to recognize techniques and strategies as patterns. Realizing not everything is original and born of pure inspiration. Poetry is kind of like chess in that way: there are an infinite number of possible games, but experienced players know the classic openings and defenses and so on.
It was fun to flip through my poetry books and identify a bunch more moves. If you know me, or if you don't, you might find yourself on the list.

The other day I read a poem in the new Ploughshares that was chock-full of one of these moves, the "X of X" construction (as John Skoyles once phrased it). It's hard if not impossible to write memorable poems without using identifiable moves (all the better if they're of your own invention) but moves always run the risk of becoming tics, and I think this move is especially prone to that. It has the instant effect of making a phrase poemier (see "light bulb" vs. "bulb of light"), so it's easy to abuse.

Here's the poem (by Lisa Russ Spaar), which I can't really figure out. Some of these X of X's are just so outrageous. Is she joking? Emphases mine.

WHETHER

Out of a cinched sack of bones, the dog's half-cast
opiate eyes ask can't you hear the moths, pelting

the pear glass?
& then there is nothing else I can hear,
bulbs opal and ignited as felted anus-stars

of snow
spot the porch, blast the poplars:
the thumbscrew aortal pulse of Philomela.

Whose fork is this? my mother asked me, pointing to her cane
in the dark of the backseat last week. I was driving.

Probably one of the kids' I replied, they're always trashing
my car
, but truly they are the brillant canto of my antiquity.

I search her eyes, terrified for signs of pain.
She is light, and waits not for the flip of a switch.

Nor is my love portable, quick lick in the history of the world.
For her, do I get down. For her, my fork and cane.

Her other poem in the issue has its share too: "bathos of years," "my impatient turning off of the lamp." I mean, "felted anus-stars of snow"? "the brilliant canto of my antiquity"?? I don't know. It's so OTT it really is almost funny, but I can't fully bring myself to believe that's intentional.

What moves are you guilty of using and abusing?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Literary Death Match: 1/13/10

I'm reading this Wednesday in Opium's Literary Death Match series, representing Open Letters (which, by the way, has a flashy new design). Come out and see me? I'm a bit nervous; the structure is such than one can lose! Or at least, not win.

Here are the details from LDM's website:

After a stirring (and noisy) debut last April, Opium returns to Boston with a talent-rich lineup to heat up icy New England. The fundraising event doubles as the launch of Opium9: The Mania Issue. See readers Elisa Gabbert (Thanks for Sending the Engine) representing Open Letters, Steven Brykman (Four Stories), Janaka Stucky (Handsome) and Michelle Hoover (Night Train)!

Plus, brilliant judges Billy Giraldi (senior fiction editor of AGNI), comedian Lamont Price and one-lady-band Audrey Ryan!

Hosted by Opium founding editor Todd Zuniga.

When: Doors at 7, show at 8:05 (sharp), afterparty: 9:30 at Enormous Room.
Where: Enormous Room, 569 Massachusetts Avenue (map)
Cost: $10 (the first 35 guests will receive a free copy of Opium9: The Mania Issue)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Infinite jokes

Certain jokes from my past remain funny to me eternally. Do you have any of those? Bottomless jokes. I don't mean the poodle-walks-into-a-bar type of jokes, I mean organic jokes, from my real life. Here are some of mine (Note! Profanity ahead):
  • My friend David Castillo from Rice was good at these. Once, we were driving to New Orleans, and he suddenly announced, in an announcer voice, "And now, introducing, Miss River Bridge!" Right after he said it my roommate Kate and I saw the road sign reading:

    MISS
    RIVER
    BRIDGE

    (you know, as in Mississippi) and just about pissed ourselves.

    I realize most of these are going to be you-had-to-be-theres.

  • Another time there was a flier pasted up by the 'vators, as we called them, in our "college" (what you call dorms), enticing people to join the Ultimate Frisbee team, with a picture of a guy leaping to catch the "disc" and the tagline "Find out what you're made of." Under that, David wrote "Mostly water."

  • David was me and Kate's suitemate; our other suitemate, Will Ray, was also a sheer delight. One day he decided we should come up with a catchy mnemonic for our phone number, or rather, the last four digits, since the first three were the same for everyone on campus, or at least our building. But the best we could come up with for those was "UR1C." Will pointed out that you can keep dialing after seven digits and still get to the right phone number, so we could tack on more letters after the C. For instance, he suggested, our mnemonic number could be 713-348-U-R-1-COCKFACED-FUCKFORCE.

  • One of my favorite jokes ever (and prodigiously related to my current career!) was the time Allen typed "pot rulezzzz" into Google and it returned, like, tens of thousands of results. Then he kept adding another z, and another, and no matter how many you added, there were always results.

  • Here's one I'm responsible for. I was eating dinner with my friends Robo and Stacey at my brother's old crappy apartment in North Austin back around the millennium (come to think of it all of these so far are Rice-era), and Robo asked my brother what music was playing, and he said Mozart. I added, as though Robo might not be familiar with him, "He's excellent." Sorry. I don't know why, but I still think that's funny.

  • I should have some from my brother, but I can't think of any right now except for the time we were at Taco Cabana with Wilson, probably the nicest guy ever (he taught me to play proper (Asian grip) ping pong), and my brother said to him, "Wipe that silly grin off your face, before I tear out your eye and skullfuck you." Sorry. Actually I think the shine is off that one.

  • I still think this poem I co-wrote with Kathy several years ago is funny:
    Say your prayers, princess--
    I didn't become a knight to meet girls.
    I wouldn't slay a dragon--
    I became a knight to meet dragons.
    It's like he's gay. For dragons.

  • Uhhhhh....
I was going to provide you with a pasta recipe, but that seems real taxing now. 'Til the morrow.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Grace Kelly's Arms

It's hardly a new idea, but I think Grace Kelly is as beautiful as women get. It's hard for me to believe that any woman ever alive or yet to be born could top her out. Her arms are simply the eternal feminine ideal. There are sexier women, certainly--Blake Lively, Victoria's Secret "Angels" and Maxim covers, Liz Hurley--but such overt sexiness is not the feminine ideal.

John thinks she's "too perfect," but what can such a phrase mean? If you find a flaw, then she isn't perfect. I think what people generally mean by "too perfect" is too cookie-cutter, too all-American, or too polished and pristine. I assume the third option is what is applied to Grace Kelly, because she's so beautiful she's not sexy. And I assume this is why John does not prefer her; he prefers a visibly seedy underbelly, a la Jennifer Jason Leigh.

I think I find Grace Kelly beautiful partly because I imagine she was not perfect in person, IRL. I think she so often played a feisty (but vulnerable) bitch because she was one. If Grace Kelly's brand of bitch were a candy it'd be a York peppermint patty: shiny wrapper, hard outer shell, cool but soft and yielding interior. What option has one to be a bit of a bitch when one is so beautiful? And what option has one, when one is too beautiful to be sexy, but to be, in the parlance of her time, a raging slut? IRL, she was.