Friday, February 12, 2010

Tough Guys Don't Write Sissy Poems

Someone mailed me a poem by poetaster William Espy as their way of saying that poems are, by default, a pompous, elitist and obnoxious breed of ineffectual human; I assume the sender was tired of reading my posts on matters large and small. They thought they could put me in my place, a deed for which I'd be obliged to have them accomplish. Often enough I have no idea if I'm coming or going, of whether I'm advancing an argument, or retreating from something I've already said. If someone asked me where I was coming from, I'd have to answer that I didn't know; I misplaced my map of misreading. But enough of that, here is the Espy verse I was sent:

YOU'D BE A POET, BUT YOU HEAR IT'S TOUGH?


You'd be a poet, but you hear it's tough?
No problem. Just be strict about one rule:
No high-flown words, unless your aim is fluff;


The hard thought needs the naked syllable.
For giggles, gauds like pseudoantidis-
establishment fulfill the purpose well;
But when you go for guts, the big words miss;
Trade "pandemonic regions" in for "hell".

…Important poems? Oh…excuse the snort…
Sack scansion, then -- and grammar, sense and rhyme.
They only lie around to spoil the sport --
They're potholes on the road to the sublime.


And poets with important things to say
Don't write Important Poems anyway.


Copyright © 1986 Willard R. Espy




I'm not crazy about the Espy poem for the usual reason, it rhymes , it clanks, it clicks, you can here the parts move as you read it. And, despite the notion that Espy is a public poet, accessible, readable, "gettable", this remains a less-loathsome example of a loathsome narcissism among poets in general, a poem about poetry. It is ironic that a poet who bucked the tendency of Modern Poetry to be abstract, coded , enigmatic and self referential would choose to exercise their whimsy on his own medium. This habit, whether requiring an extreme hermeneutics or graspable after first read, is an elitism that has done much, I think, to keep potential readers away from the investigating the craft.

It might have something to do that poems like these are the ones that become heavily anthologized or reprinted in various places by editors who are attracted to works that would rather gavotte among it's particulars rather than chance a subject matter a reader would recognize and, in turn, interrogate. The potential reader, wondering if poetry has anything to say to them, picks up a volume and comes across like this, and places the volume down again, thinking that the poets are thumbing their collective nose at those unfortunate enough not to have had good English teachers in high school.

It doesn't really matter who writes Poems About Poetry--Language poet, School of Quietude, whimsical rhymesters--it's a sad, involute habit. His readership, though, is not the Ideal reader, the nonspecialist who potentially is interested in poetry and the stylistic perspective the art might bring on how ideas and experience intermingle, but rather other poets , who, as a class of professional, are not likely to change their ways. We have, in essence, something that's more an inter- office memo or motivational talk to boiler room of smile-and-dial telemarketers. It's a clever, wind up contraption that , in it's own way, forsakes the mission of any poet, regardless of aesthetic preference: to be in the world. This is as much an Ivory Tower as anything more elliptical , diffuse. What distinguishes it is the noise all it's moving parts make in their scraping attempt to achieve an effect/