Looting Versailles

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Frank Stanford: Don't Believe the Hype

What - what a trite headline, but it's what I want to say.

I've read the poetry, and there is no way other people who read poetry often and deeply can believe Frank Stanford's has any staying power.

The people trying to build him up today, writing about him, are doing it for reasons other than the quality of his work. I'm afraid that, whatever their biases or interests or motivations truly are, what I see happening is another Sylvia Plath myth being created: That of the "tortured poet-genius."

The myth is that poets suffer often and hard - this is probably true. But it leads to people for whom "death is quite romantic."

I suppose I'm angry because myths can lead people to do silly, hurtful, wrong-headed things. Because myths are beautiful, and I love them, and because with Frank Stanford - and also David Foster Wallace - I'm watching myths get built around writers who did not produce work I care about. This blog post isn't about DFW, but my stance is against his sincerity - his use of High Style to convey his true feelings, the same standard-issue emotions I deal with regularly. To me that's egotistical - forcing somebody to be themselves again to glorify his name. Art is artificial, the end. MacLeish's "Ars Poetica" is dead-on.

And the problem with Stanford is that he dated a respected poetry gate-keeper - CD Wright, so there's a bit of Insider Trading going on that's really ugly, the kind that seeing a possible third Bush elected to the White House makes one seriously question the existence of a meritocracy. The other problem is that a lot of people who read about poetry - maybe naive beginners or old people giving it a second look in their later years - don't actually read poems, so they're gullible, clueless, and being sold something no different than what's on infomercials at 4 am to grow back hair - magnetic bracelets and copper-infused socks, etc.

Honestly, it's so ugly and sad. Read a poem by Auden, Tennyson, Ashbery, Merrill, Crane, Eliot, Dickinson, Moore, Stevens. Then read Bukowski. Then read Stanford. The proof is in the pudding, or something.

As for DFW - it's content. But I can't say I've read quite enough to judge conclusively. I've read some shorts and essays and a lot of Infinite Jest - the big words, the sprawl, the rhythms are all there: Structurally and Verbally it's High Style, but the content is not transformative, the word that comes to mind is reaffirming, like the memes on social media with crosses and grandmothers smiling and grandchildren and sunbeams, rainbows, mountains. Just not my aesthetic.

I think though - DFW's and Stanford's canonizations-in-process, to my mind, has a nasty fit in today's Literary climate where Otherness is prized: two white males are gaining entry by killing themselves.

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