Thursday, July 2, 2009

This poem has no handles


We find ourselves reading one poem about poetry after another in nearly all the slim collections we are sent our buy , and I have a growing dread that this is something no amount of harranguing will make go away.It's a category more bards show a personal powerlessness
to leave alone. And poetry editors. Soon enough we'll have a literature that is not from someone engaged with life in that search for the surprise, the miracle, the hard truth that resides outside themselves, but rather only on how well they are playing the poet/priest role they've taken for themselves. Would this have something to do with the trend toward young writers who've hardly entered their thirties composing memoirs of lives that aren't nearly as interesting as people you pass going to work?

Perhaps, perhaps; Americans might have gotten over their taste for Confessional Poetry just a bit, but rather than seeing the rise of a New Disinterest concerning topics and content, writers are confessing, revealing and genuflecting at the altar of their meager achievements more than ever. Hey, it beats working, and writing a poem where the language seldom lands on anything other than the writer's temperature is easier than sussing through the problematic strands that make life such an inconclusive thing from dusk to dawn, cradle to grave. Some of it has to do with a poet wanting to have the last word with dead poets who's work motivated him or her to do the hard work to participate in a financially strapped art; if someone can't get rich writing poems, they can at least emerge from the shadow of the giants who've come before them and flip them the bird. More often than not, however, it's puffery, self-congratulations, sophistry.

It's not the playful wallow that characterized the avant gard indeterminations of seventies post structural poetics--that at least skirted the edge of dada gesture and surrealist logic. This new habit is
mere vanity. The long rolling is incredible.

And once again the self-reflective
twitch proves to be an ideal way to fill a page, a monitor, a notebook with a series of eccentric line breaks. In this instance, Campbell McGrath's"Lincoln Road" offers a twist and merely uses the meta poetry index as a means to
jump start a verse:

Browsing, before dinner, at Books & Books,
checking out the new poems
in the new journals, the vast glass panes thrust against
by shoppers and gawkers on Lincoln Road
emit a particular cautionary hum
as they insist upon delimiting inside from out,
tongued and grimed by the fingerless
gloves of the homeless,...



Irritation is the mood here, a man of ideas focused on the latest missives from the competition, seeking either pleasure or taking notes on what
the hot first lines are, when the bustle and commotion of the rude public interrupts him. Damn, I hear him think, now I have to slip into my flaneur costume and observe the cursed details of things in the city and the population who negotiate the hard corners of sales counters and
intersections! Damn it all! There isn't, of course, any further mentioning nor obvious dwelling on the entwined poetry or being a poet, but the tone and pace of the poem, the leaden use of "literary" words to describe banal circumstances, bespeaks a boredom. This doesn't have the virtue of the boredom become genuine ennui, a variant of despair, a quality that at least might inspire sharper language that bypasses the rote literacy of McGrath's ode to his
prowess as an observer.

...the splash
of modest fountains
in common space, a baby
in green hip-harness
staring back at me goggle-eyed, recording it all
like the tourists with digital camcorders
pre-editing their memories
and the ringing of cellphones broadcasting
a panegyric of need
with whichever hooks and trembles
we have chosen in the darkness to answer.




The problem is tone, of course, and none of this convinces me that what was described was actually seen . Suspension of disbelief comes into play here, since this particular list attempts to get across what was observed in a hurry, while browsing, on the fly, it needs to suggest something fast, mercurial.

You'd think, really, that this sort of matter should catch the rhythm of things that are fleeting, and are fluid. The people, places and things should be made to seem that they have lives or conditions of existence apart from the frame Campbell places around them,

The effect in the poem, though, is static, like butterflies ethered and pinned some eccentric's collection.

There is a surface beauty to the poem, but all these people, those who've interrupted our narrator's browsing, are stick figures all. Campbell's descriptions are worked over, padded with overly precise detail that sounds mechanical, unnatural. Attitude as well ruins the mood, with the asides about tourists with their cell phones and cameras seeking an unnatural process of memory preservation belonging more in a reckless, full tilt rant rather than a poem that at best would claim to be a skillfully rendered sketch. It satisfies as nothing at all, and the material is so dry that these lines could be used as kindling.

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