Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A poet in the lower case

It's strange to go through old bits of writing and see again what you once thought was simultaneously cutting edge and timeless. This isn't the sort of thing I pursued in my writing life, and have vacillated between degrees of difficulty that at least read well, but I can't quite dismiss my time attempting to write within the self-critical confines of Language poetry as being a waste of time; it was , in fact, terrifically instructive, not least of which was to direct me toward my strengths and away from my weaknesses. I also have a real fondness for some of this en-jambed lines and marvel at the language's capacity to snap back into usable form after being tortured and twisted by willfully abusive wunderkind.

But overall, I couldn't see writing a poetry that only a brief coterie of associates and a thin scaffold of masters might appreciate. I read this and recognize that the non-sequiturs have there origins in actual conversations in which tempers flared and love affairs commenced, and that the puns are jokes I used to share about texts, authors, gossip, local landmarks, pop culture references, all mixed together in a way in many attempts to dislodge the master/slave relationship we thought existed between writer and reader. The words to describe the appearance of things that compose an imitated world are the subject of the Language poets; the variant commodity fetishism that links a unified idea of poetry to a consumer reality is reduced to non-sequitur, babble, a distracted murmur of people standing in line.

The problem, though, is that that audience for whom the pieces were intended has dispersed, moved on, or died as tends to happen in the unexamined life, and the poems and texts I produced emulating Language poets are homeless, so to speak, sans an audience to confound and taunt. People just stared at me at the readings where I dared trot this creaking experiments and attempt to perform them; imagine a room full of confused dogs staring at you, heads tilted the side, waiting for the biscuit of wit you don't in fact posses. But by this time my appreciation for the Language writers I was coming familiar with --the multi-tracked universe of Ron Silliman, the satiric inversions of Bob Perelman, Rae Armentrout's crystallization of the fleeting perception that would usually escape a sentence's ability to make lucid--only deepened in an appreciation for the rigorous pioneering their aesthetic undertook when no one would really shake up the post-Beat/New York poetries. But what they had started was there battle to put forward, not mine, and as I began to develop something resembling a mature style--when the poems were "more hits than misses" as poet Paul Dresman told me-- I resigned myself to being an unusual sum of all that I liked in poets in their work, someone at the margins of the scene I was nearest who's influences were clear but whose application of styles had grown beyond emulation and formed something natural and original, something my own. I was content to be a good minor poet, unknown for the most part, but satisfied that what was on the page with my name on it wouldn't embarrass nieces and nephews after I was gone and perhaps some future professors might find some poems that were actually satisfactory in estimations other than my own neurotic rethinking of my own worth as a writer.

Unlike Cage, extended silence bothers me tremendously, and over the years I've opted for a style and strategy that at least invites the reader to interact with. It's not inaccurate to say that I found my subject thirty years ago, but only fifteen or so years ago did I find the consistent, flexible voice to give it life. But I am grateful for the fifteen years of poems that don't make me wince and which have brought a nod, a laugh, a tear to some others and which made me feel as if I was actually connected to a greater chain of circumstance that fended off the desire to wallow in the kind of EZ alienation that is our culture's chief curse and cheap excuse for doing nothing to make this life better. It beats putting a gun barrel where it would do the most harm. Breathing, says all good poetry, beats not breathing.

2 comments:

  1. TEd appreciate your life devted to poetry. We are all abolute beginners as David Bowie said. The problem is nt how we write poetry, though its a problem in the modern world. the problem is that Western Ideas are bankrupt and we dont know what even to talk about anymore. Thats why Western poetry is all news paper reporting on events of no siginificance. Appreciate your honesty of being a minor poet...but its better to swing your chain as the king of gangland, tan admit you are insignificant. We need boldness from poets...not honesty. What part of honesty is a poet? Plato threw the poets out of the public form of ideas...why?...because poets are all lairs. Shakespear was a thief and he didnt even want us to have his own name. Virgil was a lairs for the Empire, Dante placed all the interesting people in Hell..mn wake up.
    The public does not want confession from men who say they are minor..there are news papers for that sort of communication. If you dont have the golden mouth then learn to master something else. We all have to learn to master something. First rule of poetry...dont use newspaper phrases , or in fact any phrase used by most people in commercials (that is no GMAC, frequent flyer, etc). There is a place for that...prose. You are a poet, please have the honesty to use only poetry in your poetry.
    You are cheating to take shop worn ideas and language to express you own great thoughts.
    Now Ted this is not spam...I just talk to you like you are interested in serious feed back. If you want to act pissed off then I am sorry that I took you for a serious poet.
    I honor you for living the life of a poet. Unfortunately most American poets today live the life of a poet since they dont fit in anywhere else in a brutal capitalistic society. But alienation donst not make you a poet. Only a golden mouth can be a poet. I think you have the potential to be a great bleeding heart journalist. And you use words that show you are well read. Please continue to develop...thats my wish for myself also. And yes I take all the above as advice to myself also. For more of this pleasant banter please write me at glpoet@hotmail.com. Dont worry about poetry readings, that is just self-masturbation. If you have a golden poem just get it in a book and get the book on the street. The rest will take care of itself.
    Website is good...it get others to see that you are alive that previously did not know that. This is all written with love for your humanity...and nothing here is critical at all. You are beautiful Ted. The problem Ted is not your poetry...or mine...the problem is the collective body of Western poets...they have nothing to say and they dont have the language to say it. Now tell me I am all wrong here and I have not been honest?? Love, Mark Rendina

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  2. Mark, poetry is language, and the poet's task, if he or she is anyone worth reading, is to investigate the endless ways in which the tongue we speak is used and to make poetry from the form's native cadences. Sorry, but the language that poets may make use of include newspaper headlines, advertisements, pop tunes, pulp fiction, sports jargon, the whole shot. This is what our Greatest Poet, William Shakespeare, did when he composed his sonnets and verse plays; he found richness of meaning and amazing verbal music in the way people actually spoke. I am not comparing myself to Shakespeare, of course, but he wasn’t on to something that was quite liberating for poets, which was to compose a verse about the experience of this life, and not regard poetry as poor cousin substitute for prayers and entreaties for a good seat in the next life. This life matters, and the language we use daily in the course in the course of our affairs matters as well; this is where the raw stuff of a meaningful poetry begins. For me, anyway, and it seems you see it otherwise. I've learned a good many of my lessons about a poem can be and what a poet can do from William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara, along with rigorous portions of Wallace Stevens, Eliot, Paul Dresman, and Paul Blackburn. If you've read the Modernists, you'd catch my drift.

    As for a friendlier chat, Mark, I don't think so. You are too immodest a personality to bother sustaining a useful conversation with, and from a cursory view of your web site and blog, you lack the freshness of phrase or clarity of thought that would mitigate being near you, on line or on the subway. Sorry, Mark, perhaps you are a kind and gentle person, and perhaps you are looking for friends, but you here like a low rent Harold Bloom and assume a superior, lecturing tone and instruct me that you're uttering this gummy conflation of atrociously spelled clichés out of "love". This does not inspire me to continue this conversation, and it’s my suspicion that you get much the same reaction from other bloggers you try to sell your version of the Brooklyn Bridge to.

    Please do me the great personal favor of not posting any more comments to my blog.

    tb

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