Monday, April 30, 2012

Poetry on the Brink? Marjorie Perloff

Dejà vu?
What happens to poetry when everybody is a poet? In a recent lecture that poses this question, Jed Rasula notes:
The colleges and universities that offer graduate degrees in poetry employ about 1,800 faculty members to support the cause. But these are only 177 of the 458 institutions that teach creative writing. Taking those into account, the faculty dedicated to creative writing swells to more than 20,000. All these people must comply with the norms for faculty in those institutions, filing annual reports of their activities, in which the most important component is publication. With that in mind, I don’t need to spell out the truly exorbitant numbers involved. In a positive light, it has sanctioned a surfeit of small presses . . . to say nothing of all the Web-zines.
What makes Rasula’s cautionary tale so sobering is that the sheer number of poets now plying their craft inevitably ensures moderation and safety. The national (or even transnational) demand for a certain kind of prize-winning, “well-crafted” poem—a poem that the New Yorker would see fit to print and that would help its author get one of the “good jobs” advertised by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs—has produced an extraordinary uniformity. Whatever the poet’s ostensible subject—and here identity politics has produced a degree of variation, so that we have Latina poetry, Asian American poetry, queer poetry, the poetry of the disabled, and so on—the poems you will read in American Poetry Review or similar publications will, with rare exceptions, exhibit the following characteristics: 1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NaPo #4

Yeah, I know.

Kissing Tolstoy, a Brave Act

Today the trees rustle like people in hell,
every leaf a broad hair on Tolstoy's chin and lip

You have a third-class ticket to the afterlife
and the legend bends down for the buss.

Tiptoe to reach him and remember all
those lovely words sent to die in the ether

when he goes or when you go. Tell Turgenev
and Dos to back the fuck up. He's your man,

Sonya and your grip on his short hair
is tighter than comfort would normally allow

but this is no ordinary marriage and after the kiss
I look into your eyes and feel myself desiccate.

The wind takes me east and west but never north
I am air and wind and sun and rain all at once

as I disappear into a wave of butterflies.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

NaPo #3

I'm close to catching up, I swear.

John Wieners Advises Against the End

I met John Wieners last night alive as you or me.
On Joy Street the light backfired from windows
screened and shut against the lean wind thrown
up from Cambridge Street and the tea-house
we had dinner in, me & John. I asked him about
the Hotel Wentley poems and he gently brushed
me off. I have new things now, he said, showed me
a blank page with a ripped out newspaper snapshot
of Marilyn Monroe. Can't you see it? he said. It's, well,
it's not much but it's better than dying
. We sat in his
apartment after. You're so cynical, he said, hands flitting
like a slowed-down hummingbird, like something that
won't last another moment. I want some ice cream, he
said. And watch out for your friend there. He motioned
to my silent companion, Death. His poems don't suit you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NaPo #2

Third Wheel Blues

Cockatrices in the bedroom!
I told you that shit had to stop,
no more calling animals in
when your surfaces elude the mind.

Some stars streak across the sky
delivering bootylicious nuggets
of light from years and years ago.
I bet they saw the Stones in Boston.

That night Keith shot up onstage,
and they played Sister Morphine
three times before anyone noticed.
I fell in love with you late on an Aerosmith

tour when Skid Row opened and Sebastian Bach
challenged us all to smoke a little Mother Nature.
Now you've broken the hymen of our time
together with a strong hand and a rubber glove

I feel as if I could unsay all those negatives and
you would jump on my back for another ride,
rolling our trousers and walking through the muck
of the Duck Pond in the Common at three am

when no one but homeless people are out
and you feel free to crack jokes about the Dead Pool.
It's a safe bet I still love you and the way the fine
hairs on your arm still rise when I enter a room

might give me the impression some bone-jumping
is in order but your period came four hours ago
and I am a hot mess pleading for attention in a poem.
Please don't make me beg; I love those bacon dog treat

commercials. They remind me of you and I, the way I beg
and you, well, you know what you do. The sun is rising
like a pillow from a removed head. The new day promises
lots of things but sadly, I've found in this poem that despite

all the things I've said to re-woo you, they're nothing
when compared with the love you no longer have for me.
I'll cart up my laptop now and my silly dreams and fly
into the east. That means I'll follow the sun, yes,

and never forget you or your penchant for tiny dogs.

Monday, April 2, 2012

NaPo #1

Guess what I was doing all day?

Big Mutt Blues

Don't want no Bichon Frise, no beagle howling too.
My good German Shepherd, done flown the coop.
I got no luck but bad luck, the damn Basset peed.
2000 bucks to buy a Pug? What the fuck is wrong with me?

                I want a dog, a big old mutt like you used to see,
                Shed like a mofo on my sofa, chase the kids off my street.

Lost my John the Conqueror root, all the ladies say.
just slide that big-eyed puppy over, they line up for days.
Them hotties wearing Ugg boots, got nothing for me.
'less they get down with this big old clown, they just crowding my scene

                I want a dog, a big old mutt like you used to see,
                Shed like a mofo on my sofa, chase the kids off my street.

At the end of the night now, stumbling home mad drunk,
My woman meets me at the back door, calls me a little punk,
I can't argue with her, that much is true,
But I walked in a slick old grin and an ankle-biting cockapoo

                Now I got a dog, tiny boy like I never seen,
                Shed like a mofo on my sofa, keep the women all off my street.