Friday, July 29th, 2005
So Camille Paglia is irritated because poems aren’t exigent contraptions anymore and I have to say if I only knew the introduction to Fold Spindle Mutilate what did she call it? I’d have to think that is one good marketing plan, go out and tell people what the NEA and their high school teachers want them to hear which is that poetry got too pointlessly non-standard and what Foetry and literary journalists want them to hear which is that unless poetry writes a Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to create a self-regulatory organization there will come a flood from angry confused individual heaven to wash away the logrolling and the backscratching and why don’t they just write the good old poem kind of poems I hated when they made me read them because the teacher hated them but I hated the teacher so I had to end up liking the poem but I liked the poem anyway. I think. But I don’t like what they do now or anyway what do they do now, I think I saw Alicia Keys read a poem on tv they don’t make poetry videos like they used to when I was at poetry camp back in great old Ronald Reagan "guess what we’re gonna nuke Lawrence Kansas on tv and Jason Robards is gonna be sad" days you remember Leah Thompson so hot in Red Dawn and there were even breakdancing movies? Wolverines! Well so back in poetry camp I saw this video called "Some Gangster Pain" and it felt pretty good to see gangster next to pain because doesn’t that get right to the point, the way hydrogen jukebox gets right to the point, or penguin dust, and then a book of that title came out and I was pretty excited not only because the author had done the photo on the cover thing why don’t poets do that more often own that rockstar impulse I mean don’t answer that because I’m not kidding but not only was there that excellent what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it photo like you-talkin’-to-me? And there was that phrase that I felt so ambivalent about because after all ok maybe those two-noun compounds are jokes that get used up unless they’re total world-beaters like kral majales but no actually it’s pretty good so when I read the poems and there was all that disrobing and teenagers peeling foil from gumwrappers I hadn’t seen Blood Simple but I could fake knowing about Texas noir and sex and sullen sensuality because I’d read this book
Cut forward a couple decades during which we all make other plans and therefore have unintended lives during which even a compulsive poetry collector can lose track of stray interests unreinforced by the rest of his or her choices such as a poet whose work doesn’t fall into the accepted exigent contraption category or the metronome-for-dummies category or the angry outsider category and so, Profane Halo, yes there’s an Agamben quote up front like an FBI badge so yes, the author survived the theory war but didn’t I see her picture on the cover of Teachers & Writers with a Kerouac-like caption and Volt! Finally somebody with the chutzpah to outdo Wyndham Lewis’s title and the work in the magazine always running off in three thousand specific directions like rodents on rafts in Werner Herzog movies and so full disclosure I finally got them after years of trying to take a little squib of a three-thousand-rodent poem of mine but all my contact has been with the associate editor so I don’t feel anonymous poetry webmasters we love you come to the open mic and save your contest fees for a date fund or if you have ensnared a partner for presents to demonstrate your affection in a less sociopathic manner you know trips to Rome where you can throw ribbon candy at the house where the Academy keeps the winners of the Prix that this is all that problematic my talking about the editor’s book because look how far we’ve come and I haven’t even related a single moment of my experience with Profane Halo which is not quite as great a compound as Gangster Pain, setting aside complaints about the emotional residue of comparing for a moment, this feels so much like a badge-flash, a name check on a certain high-strung flaneur we all know now if you want to outcool everyone you have to nerd it up so
What’s going on here? I’m thinking as I read through these guarded stichomythics I always read single-line stanzas as guarded as unnecessarily lonely I’m seeing a lot of the gestures I remember from the old days but they’re isolated and repeated Dear Sunset Dear human mood dear mated world Dear ease Dear ravishment how did I end up at a Robert Wilson play? I like Robert Wilson plays, I’m processing the images and they really are images "New ones just wiped of their meconium" "Theriomorphic clouds color of sweet milk cast shade in darkest suit" "automaton odalisque" images made of polysyllabics carrying intense affective charge a nude robot a clean newborn it’s ok I’m fluent in dictionary that’s not holding me up but what’s up with socking out the hunger the middle the driving force that made that early work so badass is this a speed-of-reading problem if I slow down will it all fit together roll backwards show me a hidden message a Mad Magazine fold-in explaining who’s speaking and to whom about what and why it starts over here with a church program nailed to a tree and ends over there with some blurry shapes
I know this is how we write poems now and I also know spacing out is a form of hostility and I know there’s a lot to be angry about in as elegant a manner as possible. Frankly I was shocked to come across a spiky Shelley Kraut poem in Paglia’s book it threw that whole project into relief or rather it spelled ROLAIDS for me to see "on my cheeks I wear / the flush of two beers" this terrific terse assertion of identity by one of the most secret poets telegraphed to the tens of thousands it reminded me of what I liked so ambivalently of "When I’m alone, I like how my nylons / mesh, the rustle I get / just walking" ("Patsy Cline", SGP), those hurt and hurting criminals Conoley mentioned. But even a little glimpse at the Kraut poem reminds me how satisfying it is to hold a rock in your hand. And as I keep seeing every time I open Profane Halo there are unsettling (and, er, hilarious) instances "at the postal station I awake and out of the p.o. boxes pop all these penises / each with a pink ribbon"
and there is usually enough poetry
to pass out, the day is ongoing,
you can get more material there
a rough sleepingwrit large.
("It Was the Beginning of Joy and the End of Pain")
I remember thinking Barbara Guest’s book Fair Realism was going to change everything (this was part of that planmaking future I mentioned back in graf two I realize it’s redundant to take the gonzo approach to poetry but hear me out I’m almost done and yes there’s way too much me in this review but there’s way too little Conoley in Profane Halo and that’s a shame because just like me she’s a lot more fun than her references and obliquities) "I was outside the vortex. close to the wall. / Hecate managed me" will do as a representative quotation from Guest and then it did. And I suppose that’s ok but I’m sorry when anybody leaves off being focused and alive to all of these gangster feelings to take up blowing smoke rings, scattering insights and images, and generally acting like poetry, while it may be the most important thing in the world, can just, you know, say whatever. Because if you don’t catch the inflection, the whole sentence, the context, of that whatever right, that’s what you end up saying back.