Saturday, July 02, 2005

Open Letter to the Editors of Poetry (Chicago)

Dear Editors:

The wonderful thing about poetry is that there are all kinds. Different strokes for different folks. Jorie Graham in conversation with Mark Wunderlich says:


[T]here have always been different kinds of poetry written at any
given moment — what I refer to, sometimes, as an AM track and
an FM track — and a culture needs variety. Some poets are writing
an easy-listening kind of poem — it doesn’t interest me particularly,
but it does interest a large readership. It moves them. They have a
right to be so moved. And those poetries shouldn’t be constantly
compared to poetries that have other aims, other ambitions. No one
accuses rock music of not being jazz, or opera.


Even so, we still aim to raise some poetry above the rest, poetry we feel is stronger, more resonant…better. Taste is a strange beast one must wrestle often in the halls of poetry in getting from one end to the other but many of us have by now learned some tricks, some moves, some methods by which to wrestle taste. Taste, in the collective sense, is like any body of people rich with a range of perspectives; poetry’s singular audience idealistically is anyone who can hear or read but ultimately is broken down according to any number of rubrics dealing with camps, content, tone and whatnot. The worst of the bunch fall by the wayside, maybe are voiced in coffeeshops or written on high school toilet stalls, maybe published in obscure magazines or contentious blogs. We know these unfortunate poetic experiments are no good, even failures, because they lack the vigor, the excitement, the electricity that we hope to get from poetry. Even when a poem does not stun, we hope that it will surprise, interest, tickle, flirt, explain, something/anything. We, the audience, are often drawn to poetry not for its difficulty or its simplicity but because it is a heightened language, because it does more than what we do with everyday speech. We often desire poetry that cannot be written by just anyone but by that poet.

Billy Collins, a knight of the School of Quietude, has become a posterboy for much disparagement. Collins is not my cup of tea but he has written plenty of poems that I consider good, witty and energetic. I don’t know that his work will last into the ages but for now his sardonic humor and his plainspoken ruminations do a few tricks we can all appreciate in the moment. There are plenty of things to disagree with when it comes to Collins the poet, Collins the laureate, Collins the anthologist, but this will happen with any writer. Collins is a busy man and I have noticed that even for a wordsmith willing to risk dull metaphor & trite imagery, he seems to be slipping off the edge of what is good even for grouptaste and into the bin of group therapy wankery. Even Frank O’Hara worked on multiple drafts of his best work; his drawers were filled with one-offs, many of which should never have seen print but his spontaneity in the midst of a busy existence yielded a few gems; the rough edges were polished on many of them and put in volumes that many of us still praise & love even on these hot summer days. Collins seems to be too busy to polish what could be good poems, falling prey to the pressure to produce that being a populist poet laureate apparently produces. I am all for plain speech in poetry; I am all too happy to accept work that is commonplace in its approach but to serve up poetry that lacks any zip, poetry that could have been written by a ten year old (check out Ron Silliman’s blog entry on June 29 for more on this), well, that is just poor taste and bad editing. Your publication of Collins’s “Silence” in the April 2005 issue of Poetry is a fine example of lazy poetry, poetry that should not grace the pages of a journal that has been home to excellent poems like David Wojahn’s “Stalin’s Library Card” (excerpt), Frank Bidart’s “”In the Third Hour of the Night” (excerpt), even Collins’s own “Writing in the Afterlife”. In the interest of serving the readers’ interests and maintaining the quality of Poetry, I offer my own “Silence”, one that might be better or worse according to your taste; whatever the case, you will find that it is pretty much the same.


Silence


There is the rush of silence tamping
the child as he hits the pavement,
and the silence of the sniper.

The silence of the girl
after her father leaves the bedroom,
the silence of the house when it is not a home.

The stillness of the car and the driver beside it,
the silence of the bar after closing
and the mute sun passing over the dim day’s din.

The silence of the telephone
and the surrounding hours,
the silence on the other end

when you finally call;
one silence broken
with news of another —

on the news they say it was a robbery
but I know you were shot for not keeping your mouth shut,
silence a gift you did not have but were given.



AT
Austin TX
July 1, 2005

13 Comments:

Blogger Snark said...

So did you really send this letter? When? Did Poetry write back? Let us know...

1:01 PM, July 02, 2005  
Blogger Agent Trochee said...

Sent the letter yesterday. Will let you know if it is published &/or responded to.

1:45 PM, July 02, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...

Billy Collins is a greater poet than Jorie Graham. You have to understand at bottom what a writer is, you have to feel it, and I think you get hung up on being "literary" and you confuse this "stance" with being a writer.

I think I said some bads things about Mr. Collins in the past, but he is the one of the only living poets who seems able to write.

There is no pretense with him because he is able to write. Your quotation of Mrs. Graham was an attack on Billy Collins.

These people are not bright. They just don't have the IQ to handle words, and then after/before that, they just aren't writers.

THEY DO NOT WANT TO WRITE FOR THE READER. THEY CAN'T. THEY WANT TO WRITE FOR THEMSELVES, AND SHOW OTHER PEOPLE HOW SMART THEY ARE BY SOUNDING PROFOUND AND OBSCURE.

But someone like me see their poetry for what it is. It is muddled and confused pretense.

9:03 PM, July 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your opinions about poetry are unobjectionable, banal and true.

your poem is self-aggrandizing, boring, received and imprecise.

"tamping the child" -- what's that? is the kid a pipe? are the shots from the gun being compared to the kind of light tapping when you press down something malleable like spackle? what's the point of that comparison, other than to prove that you have a word processing program with a thesaurus?

stanza two is manipulative pc bullshit. The house when it is not a home doesn't exactly penetrate into new observations about the difference between those two concepts.

stanza three is high school melodrama.

so is stanza four, with the compounding amateur use of a dramatic stanza break.

and the big event at the end of the poem is unintentionally funny -- it makes it sound like the person was shot for blabbing on and on, instead of standing up for him or herself, which was probably your intent.

This poem manages to be plainspoken, dull and trite, all at the same time.

how does your own medicine taste?

6:35 AM, July 05, 2005  
Blogger R.C. Bald said...

"They just don't have the IQ to handle words," followed of course with "...someone like me see their poetry for what it is." Astonishing what the will attempts to trump in the willing.

7:32 AM, July 05, 2005  
Blogger Agent Trochee said...

Dear Anonymous,

You dolt. Of course the poem I wrote is plainspoken, dull and trite. That was part of the exercise. You strike me as someone who would have taken Swift's Modest Proposal and seriously tried to eat his baby (if he had one). While some of your reading is a bit unimaginative, you certainly get the point and your criticism is on point. Good work. You will note the dramatic turn is the same as in the Collins poem, so that is not my doing. I don't how long Collins spent on his poem but I spent just a few minutes. The end is supposed to be a little funny, some of that dark humor that Collins & I seem to enjoy; in fact, the person was indeed shot for opening his mouth instead of keeping it shut (it happened to a friend of mine recently but don't worry, i don't suffer from emotions about anything..i am a cold fish: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8349935) You assume in your reading that the child and the sniper are part of the same event, a natural reading but that does not have to be the case at all. It is this interplay of juxtaposition that Collins attempts to play with but does so in a flat manner, which I decided would be fun to exploit.

Good work, Anonymous. You have found the elephant in the room. Now, if only we could find you a brain.

AT

8:51 AM, July 05, 2005  
Blogger robert said...

Speaking of Silliman, there's a nice piece o' snark on him on web del sol (see Tribute to Ron Silliman halway down the page):

webdelsol.com

Based on his absurd Clark Coolidge blog discussion a few weeks ago.

10:42 AM, July 05, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adam, I love your passion even though you strike me as an idiot on repeat. You're consumed with hatred that strangers to you write what the hell they want to write and some other people like it and it burns you up, absolutely sends you off. You explode daily is my guess. I hope you aren't a stepfather.

You are muddled and confused pretense, you are. You are all the things you shit on in these comments of yours, you must be. To make such an effort like you do! And it's just fun watching you explode. It's fun watching you twist and turn in your seat. What are you waiting for Adam? Where's your tome that'll make the world of literature right again? Where is your manifesto that saves poetry from itself?

Bark little doggy, bark! It's cute.

My name is Scott and I like your mouth, Adam.

10:26 AM, July 06, 2005  
Blogger bill blood said...

web del sol ron silliman silliman cram CRAM cram
My YAHOO somone once told me ar ar I wish I could get it all out the blood the blood the BLOOD IS BOILING boring bloggers

7:18 AM, July 07, 2005  
Anonymous byd said...

Billy Collins & greatness have never cohabitated the same sentence before & good god thank you for what you did until now, when it seems it has all come apart, ruff ruff. Sure there's blood boiling when everything objectionable is petty & has raised eyebrows & a snapping finger, when comments become pats on the back & suddenly the city shines brighter b/c you anonymously slap someone for nothing at all meaningful, when you presume an answer & bludgeon its course of due dilligence. bark bark, goddamnit. blood I am with you & heavy bored with jabbing arms. cleverness is empty as my steel bowl where water goes but is gone. I am given cause to drool. I want ankles to bite motherfuck bring bring.

7:47 AM, July 07, 2005  
Blogger Adam Hardin said...

Why do I concern myself with the poetry/literary world rather than not concentrate on my own writing in that producing real literature in opposition to the Tessafied Lofty-Verse is the best way to prove my argument?

This is my entertainment. This is the break in my day.

We are all here arguing with aethetically centered value judgements. We are all full of shit.

The sad part is that I am the only one who will admit it.

The humanities are an absolute artifical and constructed sham, and poetry and lit crit or the worst offenders.

Be a Physicist. You will never ever have to worry about meeting low-IQ WASPY dilettantes.

8:18 AM, July 07, 2005  
Blogger Ginger Pennebaker said...

Hey Hard-on,

We make value judgments about aesthetics? We're full of shit? Oh come on, Adam. You think your little pet piece of irony is lost on us poetry snarkers? (Okay, fair enough, I'm a bit of a diletantte). But sorry, you're not the only one who will "admit it." YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL. Aesthetics is the new metaphysics and we're riding the conceptual zamboni machine. We're pedaling paddle-boats into the tornado. Sure. It's an absolute artificial constructed sham. Boo-hoo. I'll ride that artificial pony into the artificial jello sunset. You'll be clinging (reasonably, sure) to your little flat plot of pigweed.

11:29 PM, July 07, 2005  
Anonymous Billy Collins said...

Keep up the good work, boys!

3:22 PM, July 08, 2005  

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