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Goodbye to All Them [Or, News You Can Use] by Daniel Nester



If you have a coterie of people with whom you exchange poems and publish each other and do readings and socialize with (and who doesn't?), this essay may make you dump them or move to Fassett, Pennyslvania (it's funny that in that link they say Fassett is located in the Sayre metro area; Sayre has no, uh, 'metro' area, and Fassett is some distance away, another town that no one gives enough of a fuck about to describe accurately, in other words).

Read. You'll feel the uncomfortable frisson of recognition.

I’d like to say I left New York and never looked back, that there was some cloud-parting moment of clarity when I knew I had to stop being a New Yorker, stopped claiming the appellation of New York Poet, and never looked back. But I can’t.

My life as a New York Poet begins at age 26, in seminar rooms near Washington Square, reciting first drafts with sober incantation. Star Teacher #1 orders us to read Poet in New York. I do. “New York has given me the knock-out punch,” Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca writes back to his family in Spain in 1929. I share classes with a Troubled South African Poet of Indian Descent, who ululates and laments the absence of servants in her West Village apartment. She brings in handwritten poems, calls her classmates racists. Finally, one night, Star Teacher #1 tells her this is all inappropriate, calls her into her office. We never see her again. Two years later, another student asks Star Teacher #2 what to do when we get out of grad school: Should we apply for teaching jobs, send poems to journals? Her tone is desperate; she really wants to know. Star Teacher #2 pauses, looks at the ceiling—dreaming of his summer house in Vermont, no doubt.

“Try just being a poet,” he says.

People write this down.

My life as New York Poet ends 12 years later, on March 12, 2005, when I announce my intention to move out of town—upstate to a teaching job, the coveted prize for poets—to 312 people on my personal email list. No one responds to this email. From then, it takes all of six months to lose almost 100 poet friends. “Before the late 1960s,” Norman Podhoretz writes in his book Ex-Friends, “I was much better at making friends of strangers than of making enemies of friends.” Podhoretz’s ex-friends—Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, the Trillings—were part of his Family of New York, fellow travelers in the writing scenes of his time. Some of my ex-friends are now successful, some may become famous. By March 2005, after 12 years in New York, it seemed I was much better at making enemies of friends than friends of enemies.

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