Friday, August 24, 2007

Robert Grenier and Clark Coolidge

Just because Kasey mentioned zombies the other day I'm reposting this--an essay from an earlier, more innocent time...


What is this?

Journal # 8 – Robert Grenier and Clark Coolidge

We have spent a lot of time discussing language in this class. Well you have anyway, while the rest of us stare unblinking at you as if we were extras in a remake of a George A. Romero film. Remember the movie “Dawn of the Dead” when the zombies longed for the brains of the living but were relentlessly gunned down in a shopping mall by the well-meaning “heroes” (I mean, come on, even if zombies don’t have “feelings” like the rest of us they were somebody’s loved ones—I just feel that blasting them in half with a shotgun or decapitating them with a machete is overkill considering that most of the time they could be taken out quite effectively with a sharp blow to the head with a baseball bat)? If not, I’m sure that you remember Barbara Guest and Jackson Mac Low from last week. They were the poets who, among others, talked a lot about language. If Guest’s An Emphasis Falls on Reality was about the birth of language and Mac Low’s “Dance” poems were about the usage of language, as I have previously claimed (see Journal # 7), then Robert Grenier’s poems are about the tools of language.

Even if Grenier’s poems were total gibberish (which they aren’t) they would “seem” to have substance because of the tool he uses—namely the IBM Selectric typewriter. When I was a kid, my parent’s ancient manual typewriter fascinated me. I would spend hours hammering away on it, not to create my literary masterpiece or even to write impassioned letters to the editor—no, I just wanted to see how many keys I could jam together at one time. Then along came the Selectric with its electric pseudo-efficiency—what a machine! Without those cumbersome keys my hyperactive imagination was freed to zip, efficiently, across the page at 70+ WPM! Since I no longer saw a future in key-jamming on a Smith-Corona (my boyhood dreams crushed like the face of the undead with a Louisville Slugger), I decided to learn how to write instead—something I’ve been doing, on and off, ever since. Grenier’s poems remind me of that simpler time—that time back in the 1970s when the costumes in zombie movies consisted of little more than gray makeup and thrift store clothing—and when I first discovered my love of writing.

Clark Coolidge’s manifesto Words had me reeling like a guy with a twelve gauge surrounded by flesh-eating corpses. Perhaps you were hoping that the zombie analogy would have died with Grenier, but it has, instead, crawled from the grave even stronger and smarter than before—in fact, it now bears more of a resemblance to the creatures in the film “28 Days Later” than anything Romero ever dreamed up. Coolidge’s words, like our weapon-toting heroes, are living, breathing entities—oh, sure they can dance like Michael Jackson in the Thriller video, but they can do so much more.

If I would have read Words only six weeks ago, I would have, embarrassingly (because I’m imagining myself in class doing this), scratched my head and said, “huh?” But my brain is so much bigger now (uh oh, I can only hope that no undead T.A.s—and I know they’re out there—are going to be reading this because, well, you know, bigger brain…)! Words makes sense to me in a way that I would never have expected. I am enjoying the feeling of “getting it”—that beautiful precursor to the magical ability to lavish elitist snobbery on others (a dream I’ve had ever since I first got the ‘F’, ‘G’, ‘H’, and ‘J’ keys successfully locked together like a Mississippi chain gang). Coolidge’s manifesto and his poems have opened my mind (insert your own zombie joke here) and inspired me to experiment with my own poetry. And, since I haven’t quite been able to beat the zombie thing to death yet (for God’s sake, toss me that lead pipe!), I’ll just add that, for me, Coolidge is definitely the hero of this journal. But does that, necessarily, make Grenier a zombie? I think Grenier might have a problem with that, so let’s let him be a hero too—but he doesn’t get the shotgun—no, if I have to use this cheapo plastic Microsoft keyboard, the least he can do is fend off those rotting spawn of Satan with his weighty Selectric.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Emphasis Falls on Reality by Barbara Guest and poems by Jackson Mac Low

What is this?


Journal # 7 – An Emphasis Falls on Realityby Barbara Guest and poems by Jackson Mac Low

I have discovered one of my new favorite poems in Barbara Guest’s An Emphasis Falls on Reality. I thoroughly enjoy the way “An Emphasis Falls on Reality” skates across the tongue before announcing itself to the world when spoken—and that’s just the title! People (as in “those people”), when talking about poetry, have a tendency to devote a lot of energy to things like “structure” and “flow,” but I want to avoid them almost entirely when discussing this poem. Hmmm, no flow and no structure—well, I guess that leaves me without anything to say so I’ll just move on to Jackson Mac Low. Oh wait—I forgot about “language”! An Emphasis Falls on Reality is all about language.

Guest’s brilliant use of language allows us to tiptoe psychoanalytically between the Chora (Lacan’s “Real”), a time before our introduction into language, and The Mirror Stage (our first entry into language)—the place between subject and object, a place philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva terms The Abject. Where do we stop experiencing “the pure materiality of existence” and start experiencing our lives through the “reality” of language? Why, right there in the first line of An Emphasis Falls on Reality when the “Cloud fields change into furniture” (1). I imagine myself as a child, wrapped in my favorite blankie, staring up at the “natural” cloud fields (representing the Chora) before they morph into the “reality through language” that is represented by furniture and then, just as quickly, they change into fields. This back and forth between the surreal and the real creates a startling landscape. She deftly uses language with and against itself to take us back to a time before its existence. She evokes feelings by using the cloud fields, snow, silhouettes, and illuminations to represent that primal state. She even talks of “‘being’ and ‘nothingness’” (13) to bring us ever closer to that earliest stage of life when “silence is pictorial/ when silence is real” (18-19). By interspersing jarring, tangible words into this ethereal world—words like furniture, “fountains” (11), “motors” (16), and “walls” (24)—she is unleashing the revolt inherent in the Abject. These words somehow don’t belong, but they are there nonetheless. She goes even one further by speaking directly to the language, using words like, well, “words” (which “stretch severely” 5), “vowel”(22), “metaphors” (25), and “font” (32), and lines like “that letter composed of calligraphy” (21). We somehow know that “willows are not real trees” (28), but simply a word that represents the objects that “entangle us in looseness” (29) as “the natural world spins in green” (30). By looking at the poem in this way I appreciate the small miracle that Guest has performed. Language, inevitably and irrevocably, really does create “darkened copies of all trees” (45).

Jackson Mac Low speaks to language as well but much more directly than Guest does. He’s not taking us on a journey to a world of pre-language, but simply showing us the “dance” that language can do. I suppose if you’re going to have to use language, you might as well know how it works. He gives us a pretty big clue to what he’s doing right in the title of the collection from which the first three poems in the reading are drawn—The Pronouns. Sure enough, there He is, 1ST DANCE. announcing himself in line one of Mac Low’s He can do all sorts of things. He starts by doing pretty mundane stuff like “[making] himself comfortable/ & [matching] parcels” (1-2), but we pretty quickly realize that this isn’t your grandmother’s He. He starts by “[making] glass boil” (3) and I’m OK with that—I can accept that He is capable of this. But Mac Low isn’t satisfied to leave it there—our hero, He, can do even more. He somehow is “presently paining by going or having waves” (11). Wow! I had no idea He could do that! I in 6TH DANCE becomes the first-person alter-ego of He from 1ST DANCE (kind of like when John Travolta steals Nicolas Cage’s face in the film Face/Off)*. I is doing what He did, only now in his own words and from a slightly different perspective. He boiled glass but I “boil[s] some delicate things” (3). I “discuss[es] something brown (the bottle that’s not white perhaps) and “keep[s] to the news” (16) all while “quietly chalk[ing] a strange tall bottle” (9). You thought the person pronouns were impressive; wait till you see what This in 12TH DANCE can do. Detached, This really gives us a fly’s-eye-view of the happenings and sees things in a whole other perspective making “meat before heat” (20) and getting “leather by language” (22).

I’m going to speed over Trope Market and 59TH Light Poem (both which I liked very much) to get to the only poem of the reading that I initially had trouble with—Antic Quatrains. At first Antic Quatrains assaulted me with its structure and archaic language, but then I realized that Mac Low was playing a joke with language. The words in Antic Quatrains are so over-the-top, so ridiculous in their extravagance that it is impossible to take the poem seriously. Plus, as a bonus, when I began Googling the mostly unfamiliar words I found out the poem was pretty pornographic—and I know this because while I was looking up the definitions on the Internet I actually came across real pornography and was able to successfully compare the two. Unfortunately, all this time surfing porn precluded me from becoming too familiar with Mac Low’s final two poems, Twenties 26 and Twenties 27—on first glance, I guess I’ll just say that I kind of liked them…

* I never actually saw this movie.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big Bar by Kenward Elmslie & Gay Full Story by Bernadette Mayer

What is this?

Journal # 6 – “Big Barby Kenward Elmslie and “Gay Full Story by Bernadette Mayer

We humans are an odd lot. What other creature in the history of the earth has ever had so much leisure time to ponder meaning. Why are we here? How did we get here? Where the hell are my car keys? Is this thing on? No, I am certain most creatures are too busy eating or being eaten to worry about such things. Surely the furry mouse does not ask the python, “What does it all mean?” as the last breath is squeezed from his tiny little lungs (or, perhaps he does in his own squeaky way, but since I don’t speak “mousian” I can only address human behavior). So that brings me to language and how we humans perceive the world. Ever since we learned in childhood that every story needs a beginning, middle, and an end we experience life through the narrative. When confronted with poetry that doesn’t supply us with a narrative, we desperately try to find one anyway—often behaving like a genetic hybrid of forensic scientists and keystone cops—spending hours on the Internet or in the library chasing obscure references nestled in the poem in order to find the ever-elusive “meaning.” In Kenward Elmslie’s poem Big Bar, we can’t help but want to know who this Hank Wurlitzer fellow is and to puzzle over the obsession with weights. There certainly seems to be some kind of meaning going on in the poem. But is there really? Maybe Elmslie is just having some fun with us.

Perhaps Billy Collins (yes, that Billy Collins) explains the incessant hunt for understanding in poetry best in his poem Introduction To Poetry, which someone serendipitously passed along to me not long after our classroom discussion on Tuesday.

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

I bring this up not only to introduce Billy Collins into one of my papers for the sheer joy of pondering your reaction, but also to—oh wait, that is pretty much the only reason. But Collins does, in his pleasurable little poem, nail it. We are so intent to beat the life out of a poem to find meaning that we sometimes miss out on a highly enjoyable experience. For me, Big Bar, was a highly enjoyable experience. Elmslie’s poem reminds me of a circus sideshow or a great Monty Python skit. It both inspires awe and makes me laugh out loud at its absurdity. Instead of trying to elicit a confession from it I just allowed myself to be entertained and—hopefully I’m not hyperbolizing too much here—it has made me a better person. I love it that much!

Bernadette Mayer has a hard act to follow, in Elmslie, with her poem Gay Full Story. Mayer’s poem is fine, but it is difficult for me to not juxtapose it with Big Bar, having read them so closely together. Or, perhaps, I’m already beginning to tire of the “new sentence” poems. Nevertheless, I just couldn’t get into it the way I got into Elmslie or even Silliman. I like the way the poem seemingly mixes directions for scrap booking with an Audubon Society field guide to birds before flitting off to “vaporous vege-/tating vitalization monkeys” (43-44), but I was left feeling a bit wanting. More than Gay Full Bar, I enjoyed Mayer’s essay, The Obfuscated Poem. In many ways The Obfuscated Poem does what Gay Full Story promises (or purports to promise—actually, come to think of it, it makes no such promise), in that it is absurd without seeming absurd. Maybe because it is ostensibly meant to be serious we are caught off guard—shocked even—when confronted with lines like “Abdication of feeling in life or in the mind creates a liverish potential for dead issues” (659). I think she “tells” it (the essay) better than she “shows” it (the poem). And, I wanted to add for the record, in case you were concerned, that no mice were harmed in the writing of this essay.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Clairvoyant Journal by Hannah Weiner and Tjanting by Ron Silliman

What is this?

Journal # 5 – “Clairvoyant Journal”* by Hannah Weiner and “Tjanting by Ron Silliman

If Amiri Baraka’s poem AM/TRAK channels jazz, then Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal is television. Clairvoyant Journal is a barrage of words and images that reminded me of channel surfing on cable—150 channels of nothing on. It is the commercials, reality TV programs, late night infomercials, and FOX news pundits run through a blender and splashed on the page. Poor Hannah Weiner. If this was her experience of the world living with schizophrenia, it must have been debilitating. The only way I can imagine even coming close to this would be to zone in front of the tube glossy eyed, bag of Doritos√§ in hand, for days on end. And, fortunately for me, I still have the remote (unless it slipped between the cushions of the couch again). Obviously I had a hard time with this poem—and not just because it reminded me of TV (and I can barely stomach TV) or that it was particularly difficult in the way that some poems are difficult—it just didn’t allow me the one thing that I enjoy most about poetry—the opportunity to escape from reality. In fact, it did the opposite—it reminded me way too much of our hyper-consumerized, over-industrialized, super-sized culture. It wasn’t even so much the words that bugged me (although some of them did—the word fright pops up several times); it was the disorganization, multiple font sizes, and all-caps that really got to me. I felt assaulted by the BIG APOSTROPHE. Also, I have enough MONEY trouble without it being screamed at me—and don’t even get me started on the HOLY BIBLE. Having said all that, the fact that I was repulsed by her poem probably says a lot more about me than it does about her—and the fact that I still know that gives me hope.

On a more positive note, I liked Tjanting by Ron Silliman very much. Ironically, it reminds me in many ways of Weiner’s poem. They both convey a disjunctive stream of consciousness, but Clairvoyant Journal is exorcising demons while Tjanting is just distracted. In Silliman’s poem I could imagine an old, white-haired poet trying to overcome his writer’s block which was made all the more difficult because he could (cld) “barely grip the pen” (5). I was right there with him when he became sidetracked by the poppies growing out of the rockpile while the “cat on the bear rug naps” (54) and “(g)rease sizzles &/ spits on the stovetop” (54-55). I’m comforted to know that I am not the only person who makes the leap from “(t)hree/ friends with stiff necks” (70-71) to “(t)hree stiff friends with necks” (131) and, believe it or not, I don’t “like all those penises staring at me” (122) either! I have discovered, in Tjanting some of my new favorite lines in poetry. I especially like “Each sentence accounts for its place” (17) and “These gestures generate/ letters” (107-108). Not to mention, “Not everyone can/ make the sun come up” (161-162). I am now eager to check out more of Silliman’s poetry.

I am still pondering why these two, somewhat similar poems affected me so differently, but Google adwords gets results, what does “not to mention” mean?—am I using that correctly?, and, awww, she was so happy last night, but I should really take that cup downstairs to wash it, still, I need to remember to throw a calculator in my backpack in the morning, as long as I finish this journal by five-thirty I should be okay. Maybe it all comes down to this—Weiner’s schizophrenia frightens me while Silliman’s ADD is an affliction that I can really wrap my mind around (and around and around).


*I was so naive when I wrote this journal--seeing Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal in its original form has completely changed my opinion of it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

AM/TRAK by Amiri Baraka and Species Means Guilt by Bruce Andrews

What is this?

Journal # 4 – “AM/TRAK” by Amiri Baraka and “Species Means Guilt” by Bruce Andrews

It really pays to read AM/TRAK by Amiri Baraka while listening to jazz. I dug through my music collection and—SACRILEGE! —I couldn’t locate any John Coltrane. Fortunately I was swimming in music by fellow saxophonists’ Charlie Parker (who influenced Coltrane) and Dexter Gordon (who lived long enough to both influence and to be influenced by Trane—no small feat in a scene in which heroin addiction and alcoholism claimed the lives of many of the jazz greats much too early). Although I am far from being an aficionado, I have a deep appreciation for jazz and have spent time with Coltrane in the past—unfortunately my time was spent with the substandard sounds coming from the blown speaker in my Subaru Forester while Baraka’s time with Coltrane was a tad more intimate. Baraka achieves no small feat in AM/TRAK—he captures, on paper, the sound of jazz. He somehow manages to reproduce the syncopated rhythms and improvisation for the reader (or even more ideally, the listener), but he manages to do even more—he recreates a 60s free jazz scene loaded with raucous music (bahhhhhhh – heeeeeeee 5,38), hip characters (too cool to be a genius 4, 35), and endless nights of partying and excess (Alcohol we submit to thee/ 3x’s consume our lives/ our livers quiver under yr poison hits/ eyes roll back in stupidness 2, 13-16). AM/TRAK is not only an homage to one of the greatest jazz musicians of all-time, it is an homage to an era. Baraka’s recreation is so profane, so vivid, and so honest that I think I need to take an aspirin and download some Trane.

Oh Bruce Andrews, why do you taunt me? I found myself far more interested in how he created Species Means Guilt than in the actual content. Not that the content isn’t interesting—I mean, I was right there with “philosophical smiling kotex reconstruction” (22), but something was bugging me about the poem… I felt myself bouncing off of the surface of the method without really ever getting to immerse myself in the message*. Perhaps, for me, the sources themselves (boy, I’m really gonna feel dumb if he didn’t use sources) were too interesting to be bastardized. I love the line “I was castrated for seducing the local tax collector’s wife” (42). It makes me want to locate and read the original text—out of context, however, it seemed to be drawing too much attention to itself. I felt the same way with “impatience is not an achievement” (21) and, the final line, “Squirrels/ are happy without our help” (thank goodness!) (65-66). Even though these lines were likely pasted together by Andrews, they (and a few others) seem like they could exist outside of the poem and didn’t belong alongside the equally interesting, but more obscure “Well, don’t malice/ shown; only the bold choose liver, ass what gender” (13-14). And maybe that’s my frustration with the poem—there seems to be two separate (and equally interesting) poems going on in Species Means Guilt. But, I guess, as Andrews says in another of his poems, Bomb Then, Bomb Now, “If you want content, you have to pay extra” (28).


* maybe I am looking for something that doesn’t exist and was never intended to.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wonderful Things by Ron Padgett and Leaving the Atocha Station by John Ashbery

What is this?


Journal # 3 – Wonderful Things by Ron Padgett and Leaving the Atocha Station by John Ashbery

Ah, how I look back on that heady time in my life, not so long ago, when words were simply words. A time before Saussure came along to tell me that a text really had no meaning at all until I, the reader, assigned one to it. And, if I had any doubt of the validity of his argument, along came Ron Padgett and John Ashbery to test me. Both Wonderful Things by Padgett and Leaving the Atocha Station by Ashbery are “difficult poems”—poems that don’t “mean” anything in a literal way. Lyn Hejinian, in her essay “The Rejection of Closure,” channels Goethe and the idea that there is a “rage to know” and that language inhibits that knowing. Trying to know the unknowable forces me to confront the language in the Padgett and Ashbery poems in unusual and sometimes uncomfortable ways. For example, in Wonderful Things, what exactly is a “tuba that is a meadowful of bluebells” (28)? The only clue we receive from Padgett is that it is “a wonderful thing” (29). Perhaps I missed something. Maybe if I stare a little longer at the zany chirping birds that are, apparently, riding our radio waves I will gain a better understanding. Hmmm—or maybe not. Is Padgett trying to make me feel like, in his words, a helpless moron? Or maybe a translation of the only line in French, “buveur de l’opium chaste et doux” (3) will provide a clue. Yes, “drinker of pure and soft opium”—that’s it! He was clearly high when he wrote this—that explains everything! Or is he talking about the dead Anne from the first line? Nevertheless, imagining that he was writing this in a hallucinogenic haze encouraged me to look at the poem from a less literal perspective, to see and appreciate the humor in it, and to release my preconceived notion that it had to be “about” something. In letting go, I enjoy Wonderful Things a great deal. Even so, there does seem to be a narrative going on in Padgett’s poem that I can wrap my mind around—I could take no such solace in Ashbery’s piece.

If Padgett’s poem is the stoned guy at the party with the perpetual smile, Ashbery’s poem, Leaving the Atocha Station, is the insane, bug-eyed guy on the corner blurting obscenities at passersby. Trying to force Ashbery’s poem into some kind of storyline proves futile and frustrating. Although it may be fun to hang out at the “epileptic prank forcing bar” (40) it is hard to be sure whether he is talking about a place or an object—or, just as likely, neither. I finally gave up trying to make sense of Ashbery’s poem and instead focused on the images that he creates and the structure itself. Even if I don’t get it, I still like to imagine how the “arctic honey blabbed over the report causing darkness” (1), or “the fried bats they sell there dropping from sticks” (3-4). Why does the “garment crow” (31) get his own line? Perhaps only the “fist”(64) can truly know. When Hejinian’s talks about a dictionary full of words that “seem frenetic with activity” (654) and finding the exchanges in definitions to be “ incompletely reciprocal,” (655) she is describing Leaving the Atocha Station. Just like the lunatic on the corner, Atocha demands your attention. You walk quickly by, day after day, trying to tune him out. Because you don’t have a clue what he’s ranting about you try to ignore him. And then, one day, after crazy guy is gone—in jail, frozen to death, institutionalized—you realize that you miss him, that you wish you had paid more attention to what he was saying while he was still there, pissing and cussing in the alley.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Language by Robert Creeley and Essay on Language by Wanda Coleman

What is this?

Journal # 2 – The Language by Robert Creeley and Essay on Language by Wanda Coleman

My initial response to Robert Creeley’s poem The Language was that I liked it a lot. The poem’s simplicity and structure appealed to me with its enjambment and discordant shape. The three separate readings in class also helped give it even more life and a deeper sense of substance for me. I held this opinion until I read it again on my own. Although I still like the poem and it still appeals to me on a certain level it seems, upon further examination, to be very much about structure and very little about substance. Yeah, okay, sometimes people say, “I love you” to fill the space—I get it. It has been said a million times before in a million different ways. I appreciate the uniqueness of Creeley’s approach, but if you read this straight through without the enjambment and look at the words themselves, separate from the structure, this could have been penned as a cheese-ball broken-hearted love song by any number of 80s bands like Journey or Air Supply. Okay, now that you’ve finished imagining Steve Perry belting out “THEN WHAT IS EMPTINESS FOR,” can you kind of see what I mean? I still like the poem, however, but now mainly for its shape rather than what it says. Perhaps I’m missing something, but now I have “any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, any way you want it” stuck in my head so I’ll move on to the Coleman piece.

My first response to Wanda Coleman’s poem Essay on Language, unlike Creeley’s poem, was that I didn’t like it very much. I thought “Oh great, how clich√©, another African-American poet lamenting the struggles of her race.” She, of course, has every right to point out the travails of blacks in America’s egregious history with regard to race relations, it’s just that I’ve personally felt so inundated by the media for so long about racial issues that I’m practically numb to them. I don’t want to feel this way, mind you, but sometimes I think that by constantly focusing on our differences we will never be able to live in world free from racial prejudice or strife. So anyway, back to the poem. I read it again. I realized that Coleman was not speaking another language. By questioning her own beliefs she was able to draw me in and re-ignite my own empathy for the struggles of African-Americans. She says that they (I assume she’s talking about people like me) say,“the/ best fashion in which to escape linguistic ghettoization/ is to/ ignore the actuality of blackness blah blah blah and it will/ cease to/ have factual power over my life” (24-29). Of course this doesn’t make sense to her. She can’t ignore her blackness, just as I can’t ignore my maleness (or my coffee addiction). Going back to this poem I find more to enjoy with each reading. I’m glad that my first reaction didn’t preclude me from digging deeper because, unlike Creeley’s poem, there is a ton of substance in Essay on Language. I especially like where she asks us to “substitute writer for mirror, visionary for window, hack for/glass” (48-49). When we make the attempt we are rewarded with “…when a writer does not reflect what it is? not necessarily a visionary, merely hack? can it be something other than a hack? and once it becomes a hack can it ever be a writer again?” Wanda Coleman’s poem is beautifully and eloquently written by someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about—someone like, say, Steve Perry.

Personal Poem by Frank O'Hara

What is this?

Journal # 1 – Personal Poem by Frank O’Hara

On first reading, Frank O’Hara’s Personal Poem seems like an ordinary hour in a typical day of the author. Beneath the mundane imagery and seeming ordinariness, however, there is much more happening. I get the feeling that O’Hara, even though he expresses envy for the construction workers on the street—“If I ever get to be a construction worker” (11)—wouldn’t have been satisfied with that life at all. O’Hara, based on the references to the places he frequented and the friends he hung out with, was much more interested in intellectual and social pursuits.

O’Hara packs his lunchtime with references to places and faces that reveal his thoughts, opinions, and biases on a range of topics. He, along with artist pal Matsumi Kanemitsu and fellow poet LeRoi Jones, were highly influential in their day—so when he talks about “who wants to be a mover and/ shaker” (16-17) he is speaking from a position of authority. Considering also that the poem was written during the civil rights era (a fact highlighted by his mention of Miles Davis being clubbed outside BIRDLAND by a cop), O’Hara (who was white) clearly states his politics as well by singling out the Japanese-American Kanemitsu and the African-American Jones as two of his closest friends.

Later in the poem he admits (perhaps embarrassingly) that he feels that his intellectual pursuits are above the common problems of the day when he says that he and LeRoi won’t give the woman a nickel to help fight diseases because “we/ don’t like terrible diseases” (20-21). They then trod off to “eat some fish and some ale” (22) and gossip about their contemporaries (Lionel Trilling and Don Allen), and famous authors (Henry James and Herman Melville). He takes a jab at literary critic Trilling (who, presumably, wrote unfavorably about him) when they “decide” that they don’t like him—as if they are somehow impervious to criticism.

I like Personal Poem very much. Even though on the surface it seems like a simple poem about an hour in the author’s day, a deeper look reveals a glaring commentary on a volatile time in America’s history written by one of the most influential writers of the day.

Screeds on Poetry

OK, here's the deal. I haven't been writing very much poetry these days but I have any number of really, really lame excuses--uh, I mean really, really good reasons:


1.) I'm too busy. This is the old-stand-by excuse. I am less busy than usual since I'm taking the summer off from school, but I do have a gallery to help run which I've been neglecting a lot. I've been playing a lot of catch-up with bookkeeping, taxes, and a myriad of other behind-the-scenes activities that make businesses run. Now for the shameless plug--The gallery I co-own with my wife Nikki and our friend Inger is called Bohemia Gallery & Framing and it is located at 222 A Street in Ashland. We have lots of really great art, new shows monthly, big blowouts every First Friday Artwalk, and oh-so much more--check it out!

2.) I'm having so much fun this summer I don't have time to write. I know, I know..."writer's write," you say. Well I say, "uh, yeah, you're right." I have nothing here. Writing IS fun (or so I keep telling myself).

3.) The pain. Yes, this has been a particularly injurious summer for me. The worst injury (and hopefully the last for a while) was broken ribs at the beginning of July in a mountain biking crash. OUCH!

4.) My new iPhone. Yes, I was tempted by Steve Jobs to go out and buy what has turned out to be, quite possibly, the single greatest purchase of my life. I used to think of myself as someone who shunned consumer-culture but those days are SO gone. My love affair with my new phone is one for the ages (or at least until the second generation). It plays music to me, reminds me of important events, shows me where to turn while we're out driving together, predicts the weather (like a clairvoyant), and encourages me to connect with my friends (what other lover does that?) as well as the outside world. I now spend most days continually checking my email and surfing the internet on a 2 1/2" screen. I know it seems silly but love is truly a mysterious thing. Did I mention I have an iPhone?

All of the above are no excuse. I will write more (I will write more, I will write more, I will...). I actually am writing a bit--my brother's birthday is coming up and I'm writing an essay as payback for the film he made skewering me on my birthday last year. I will post the essay (or a link to it) when it's finished. In lieu of the poetry I'm not writing I've decided to post some of the journals I wrote for Mohammad's WR341 class last winter. I had fun writing these little commentaries (diatribes) and thought I'd share them (along with links to the poems discussed, if possible). If you're reading this you certainly don't have anything better to do this summer...ENJOY!

BTW, all of the poems referenced can be found in this book.