Saturday, November 10, 2012


"Richard Noel" is Harry Thomas' slap at obscurantist modernism in all its forms, resisting the lure of diffuse and the oblique for the clipped, staccato version of Rudyard Kipling. The British Poet would have furnished the fife and brass to accentuate and enliven the rattatatat of the military drums. Thomas' poem is a rhythmic straight jacket, the confined emotionalism of someone trying to keep their bleeding heart to a steady, unexcited beat. If only if he'd actually let it all go to provide us with something fiercer, more explosive than this soggy parody of Hemingway's latherings about a Personal Code.

To finish the long profile**his grade depended on,the afternoon before**the surgery, alone,he worked late in the library.**I saw him typing away.On my desk were his ten pages**the first thing the next day.  Over the years I, too,**have had hard things to face.But when did I once summon**such fortitude and grace. 
It is admirable, one supposes, that a student gets their homework turned in on time despite an affliction, but this tribute , with the hushed bathos , seems very, very silly indeed. But there's that element of "Gunga Din" that valorizes situations one does not know intimately although one fees they should, and so attempt to compensate by inserting themselves uselessly into the narrative, flagellating themselves for theoretical cowardice in the face of someone who is merely doing the best they can with the hand they've been dealt. Contra Susan Sontag, Thomas exoticizes the sick, the afflicted with this sappy rhyme. There is something remarkable in the attempt to overstate a point using such a crabbed rhetoric; the clich├ęs and the conventional wisdom toward the sick and the afflicted area boiled , chipped and chiseled to their irreducible essences, leaving only a salty residue of uninteresting thinking. There is ossification here, there is poet tasting, but there is no poetry, such as we understand it. So what does one do to mend this tendency of amateurs to compose and distribute these stanza'd insults to the eyes? Exactly nothing. Nothing can be done to cure the lagging tastes of the naive.

There is that large faction of the otherwise diminutive poetry audience that likes its verse rhyming, rocking in a cadence that suggests a three-legged clogging competition, stanzas that are morally coherent and as comprehensible as a stack of pancakes, and the seldom discussed aspect among the rest of us self-declared elites fighting back gag reflexes is that this more or less a permanent state of affairs in this odd and contentious corner of the literary world. For all the chatter some of us offer up about being ecumenical. inclusive and appreciative of the broadness contemporary contains with regards to style, aesthetics, and the subtly differentiated concerns each of the coexisting schools collectively undertake to have their respective poems achieve their results, many of us choke with contempt and despair over the obvious if unacknowledged truth that doggerel, poesy, poet tasting and all the loutish rest are permanent fixtures in the literary culture that thrives beyond the ramparts. There are no mass conversions forthcoming when it comes to convincing the rest of the poetry world that they’d be better off reading the stronger stuff. Consumers know what they want to read, and the amateur poet, not beholden to particular school of poetics or allegiances formed while they were a graduate student, will write exactly how they see fit, daring, strange enough, to write poems that make sense.