Looting Versailles

Looting Versailles
My first book of poems, just released by Alabaster Leaves Publishing

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Harold Bloom / Dumbledore / Gandolf. Koch. Komunyakaa.

Okay, Harold Bloom isn't really like Dumbledore, or Gandolf the Gray - but he has that Father Time, wizened kind of look right? And the reason I mention him is I love his anthologies - the best English poems, the best of the best American Poetry with Lehman, the American Religious poems. I'm not sure of his theories on influence or Shakespeare or any of that, but he and I are in sync when it comes to who's  camped from the 20th century on Parnassus (I love the word bivouac). Hart Crane, Ashbery, Stevens - I think I'm more into Dickinson, he's more into Whitman.

Today I was reading The Best of the Best American Poetry again (where he famously dismisses Adrienne Rich's "inclusive" / ethno-poetics anthology of '96) and I was knocked on my ass by the back-to-back poems of Koch and Komunyakaa. Wow.

First of all, "Facing It" by Komunyakaa is really the epitome of Yusef's work; I mean it seems like the poem he was meant to write. There may be no more poignant image than the last one in that poem of the boy having his hair brushed reflected off the Vietnam Memorial - and it's an incredibly realistic image, unlike some of the surrealistic dips he takes in his other writings. Maybe surreal is the wrong word, but Yusef has some duende to his work, there's no question. He's got some darkness, some blues and jazz, the flavor of New Orleans or Kansas City's 18th and Vine. This poem is less of that -- this is like a radio-friendly hit by a band like Radiohead; it's like David Lynch's "Straight Story" - it just seems so off-type for him, but at the same time, only he could've written it. Reading this poem today, I felt its pulse, and recognized it will probably outlive me, and be known by my grandchildren's grandchildren. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15830

Secondly, the poem One Train May Hide Another by Kenneth Koch, whose Art of Poetry taught me a lot when I first started writing (though I'd probably argue against it being a "poem" now), and his letter poems i.e. letter to himself at _ years old, are enjoyable reads. But this poem really flies - it's kind of triggered by a "found poem," a sign that exists at some railroad crossing somewhere in Kenya - and Koch rides that idea down a beautiful, winding river of free association and pure poetry. In fact, I'd say this poem IS representative of what I'd call pure poetry. Much more so than "Facing it." "Facing It" takes on powerful subject matter, combines several powerful images, all very dramatic, emotional weightiness, and WITHOUT really offering any editorial opinion. But the subject matter outshines the poetry, in a way - the subject matter is unavoidable. "One train may hide another" really has no subject - one could argue it's about the idea of being overshadowed - but really it's a more entrancing experience, where you get lifted off the ground by the poem, not the poem's subject. Perhaps I'm not making sense. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15592

They're both tremendous, gigantic, likely immortal poems. Facing It grounded in the reality of war, One train grounded in the fantasy of the imagination but inspired by something from reality - I think THAT is the difference, what makes Koch's feel more pure. But purity doesn't mean better. I don't believe in one poem necessarily being better than another. Poetry is poetry, like funny is funny and beauty is beauty - the degrees are determined by taste, known (well-known) to evolve anyway.

Helen Vendler is another excellent critic, and a bit less overbearing, a lot more humble. And I think there has been some poetry she's championed that I wasn't too fond of. If I met Bloom in person, I'd thank him for championing Ashbery now, Stevens (who probably doesn't need it), and Crane - Crane I worry would fade from memory if not for Bloom. I'm definitely more into contemporary poetry than the romantics and I'm not sure Bloom would say the same. But Keats' Odes, Shelley's Ode to the West Wind, Wordsworth's Preludes and lyrics, Byron's Don Juan and Roving, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner - all poems that improve our lot in the world. Shelley's Ode for me is Majorly Major - the brilliant combination of Terza Rima with the sonnet. Wordsworth is more philosophical and Keats more fantastic, but Shelley's Ode is really a pinnacle.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Haven't spit at ya' in awhile...

Just some random thoughts:

Pablo Neruda is a masterful image-maker, but a lot of his work is uneven - at least in translation - and at times suffers from that hollowness one risks putting too much weight on the image...some just don't jump off the page, or create the pull of gravitas.

William Carlos Williams wrote great poems, but I think I prefer the philosophical tones of Stevens to Williams' championing of the people - populism gets a bit noxious, but I do admire the veritable foot. His poetry is inventive, important in America's literary tradition.

The best book in my library may be the international poetry anthology by Ecco books - edited by Ilya Kaminsky, a great young poet in his own right, along with Susan Harris. To me this poetry is pure - all of the 20th century, but truly timeless. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Ecco-Anthology-International-Poetry/dp/0061583243)

What impelled me to blog suddenly this afternoon was a thought about great poets, the giants of poetry, often going unappreciated or unknown in their own time - specifically Dickinson, Whitman, Hopkins... To me this situation makes perfect sense. Art must always be new knowledge and completely unfamiliar. Unfortunately what's unfamiliar is uncomfortable or seems unstable, or creates uncertainty, in likely all animals, and editors ARE animals. Whitman said great poets need great readers, but in my experience most people want all poetry to be the same - a PERSONAL, very short narrative focused on sensual details, or some obvious, automatically perceived metaphor. What they don't realize is when everything or everyone is the same, nobody is remembered. It takes courage to be different, to be Dickinson, Whitman, Copernicus, Teddy Roosevelt, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Martin Luther King.

It's a paradox of the literary world that what is great is not familiar, but what's familiar is published.