Monday, December 31, 2007

New year's irresolution

I am tired of reading bad poems and worse poems and, every once in a while, not-good poems, which cheer me up, because, though not good, they are better than bad and worse. The remedy is in my own hands, of course. I need to spend less time reading new poems online and more time reading old poems in books. The fault is not entirely with the online poetry sites I visit. Most new poems are bad--at every time and in every place. We forget that because history is an editor, and time has winnowed what we know. It is possible that were I to see as many brand-new Elizabethan and Caroline poems as I see Bushy verse, I should be as dismayed by then as I am by now. (I don't really believe that, you know.) But I don't. The moiety of those new poems lined pie pans and lit fires, so I never have to take them into account.

Anyway, it may be that too much brand spanking new poetry, read online or off, is not good for you. I need to find out.

P.S., a day later:

I can't imagine how editors cope with this phenomenon. One told me recently, apologizing for a cursory reading, that she receives 1000 poems a week. Almost all of them must be dreadful, but even if they weren't, how could she know? Gentle Reader, would you--literate, experienced, sensitive connoisseur that you are--have been able to sort the Tennysonian wheat from the Victorian chaff if it had come to you, a single poem concealed among 999 others, with 1000 still pending from the week before and 175+ more about to arrive in that day's mail? No wonder most of them give up and settle for publishing their friends or, if they publish the poems of strangers, selecting those which look most like the poems they published last time. 52,000 poems a year! And that's one editor at one magazine.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


When I post prose, I get comments. When I post verse, I don't. What does this mean?

Anyway, here's a prose query. There's an awful lot of blank verse out there on the internet--Paradise Lost. All of Shakespeare's plays. Thompson's The Seasons. The Ring and the Book. But if you type "blank verse poem" into Google, one of the things you get, on the very first page, is my poem "A Short Course in Theology" on this blog. Why? (Not that I'm complaining. An awful lot of people find their way here in just that manner. No word on how disappointed they are when they arrive.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

An Ars Poetica

He bade them sit and watch from cozy chairs.
Rabbit, he said, and there it was, a jugged
Hare, for the coarse of palate. He said, Sun!
And into the room his kid slouched. "What up, Pops?"
This isn't a piece of cake, he told them. There,
Right on the rug, synthetic, hard as brass,
A slice of apricot pie declared itself.
Poets do magic. What they want is sense,
He said. A copper spray of pennies sailed
Lustily round the room, harboring on
The children's shoulders. Not no other word,
The poet shouted: ungrammatically,
Their room, and all and everyone, was gone,
And he alone was left to tell some tale.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Out of Sequence

Atonement over, now comes autumn.
First contrition, then the fall.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Over at

one of the very-impressed-with-itself Poetry Places posters are listing what's currently on their desks. Such a list. You should be such a Scholar-Mensch. Everyone is reading Yeats and Dante and Beowulf and The Complete Works of Bertran de Born. They are glancing through Cavafy and Murasaki and Seamus Heaney. They are idling away their non-ode-ing hours with Homer and Propertius and the untranslated Manilius and memorizing The Mutabilitie Cantos.

None of them is reading Elmore Leonard's new novel. They do not mention James Lee Burke or Charles McCarry or Philip Roth or Joseph Heller. They can't be bothered with Trollope or early Dickens. They spit on The Reivers and Sanctuary. Joseph Andrews? Scenes from a Clerical Life? Shamela? The Bab Ballads? I don't think so. They've got Buddenbrooks to think about.

I don't know which would be worse, if I believed them or if I didn't. If the first, they are prigs; if the second, poseurs. Anyway, I can't think about them anymore. I've got a velvet painting of Mickey Spillane to finish.

Friday, August 31, 2007

More poems, fewer poets

I'm told there is another new Best American Poetry out*. This means another surge in chatter about poets and clique of poets and schools of poets** and departments of poets and incestuous poet-y relations***. And so on. And so on. And scooby dooby dooby. All I have to say is, Ooh sha sha.

I just don't care about these poets and their lives. Not until the booksellers hire Dr Johnson to write brief biographical prefaces to collections of their poems. If you want to get my attention****, tell me, not about the poets, but about the poems. I don't care if there are major defects in these poets' characters. If they wear their knickers on their heads and snort Cheez Whiz, I can live with that. If their poems aren't good, I won't be thinking about them anyway; if their poems are good, I'll forgive them almost anything.***** Point me at the good poems, and tell me anything you think I should know about why you think they're good. Or tell me they're bad poems, and warn me off.

But for God's sake, talk about the poems and leave the poets alone. Or at least move them to the back of the line.

* I don't care all that much, because I know from the start that it's fatally deficient--i.e., none of my poems is in it.

**As though such poets were krill. Could be, I suppose.

***As though they were Lots of poets.

**** And my guess is you don't. Or, to be more precise, you don't give a shit whether you do or not.

*****Time that with this strange excuse/Pardons Kipling and his views, etc., etc.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

You never know, do you?

Today someone arrived at this blog by performing a Google search for "tapir fucking at the zoo." Wonder what he was hoping for.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why do fools fall in love?

What holds message boards together is the need for praise. For all the blather about how poets just want straightforward criticism so that they can grow (you can do the same thing at The House of Pies, and it tastes better) (are there still Houses of Pie?), what they really want is acclamation. So they forum shop till they find a place where other posters either like what they write or are willing to say they like it, in exchange for reciprocal tub-thumping.

Anyone reading through poetry websites/message boards/forums will find himself saying over and over again, "Anyone who likes that would like okra boiled with Gummi Bears." But the answer is pretty obvious, really: today's gushee is tomorrow's gusher. And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. Workshop-wise.

It's a nicely-nice thing, I suppose: a place for everyone in the internet poetry universe; and if the stomach sometimes recoils when drivel is overpraised, well, our turns will come, too, when we have found the right foster family----change places, and handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What about Gutenberg?

One of my poems appeared this week in an online journal. It looks fine; the "magazine" itself is neither better nor worse than the print outlets in which my poems more commonly appear; and the editors deserve thanks for their doubtlessly unremunerative devotion to the art. But for us sons and daughters of print, there is something oddly unsatisfying about e-journals and online publication. It seems so ephemeral and provisional. (No offense to that other magisterial symbol of our times, The Shit Creek Review.)

I know this is illogical of me. Scholars, fans of poetry, and potential biographers are not going into Widener, browsing through bound back volumes of the DeKalb Literary Arts Journal or Phoebe in the hope of finding a dimly remembered poem of mine. And yet. And yet. They could. Is the same going to be true of my latest electronic incarnation?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Many beginning prosodists treat metrical variations as though they were vermin: find them, identify them, then ruthlessly exterminate them. But variations are neither good nor bad in themselves; they are only prosodic tools. All that matters is how they're used and whether they work. When you've noticed that Shakespeare's

What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling?
In leads or oils? what old or newer torture
Must I receive, whose every word deserves
To taste of thy most worst?

is not perfectly regular, your analysis has only begun, not concluded. Too often, though, I see "critiques" which are little more than lists of metrical variations, as though they were spelling errors, and the critic had performed some regulatory action by ferreting them out. I usually respond with some reference to Milton's

Rocks, Caves, Lakes, Fens, Bogs, Dens, and shades of death[,]

since critiquers are a tad hesitant to claim either that every other word must be stressed or that Milton didn't know what he was doing. (They may think, "If only he'd had access to The Gaz," but they aren't quite brave enough to say it.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dear Good-Hearted, Fan-like Correspondent,

Thanks for the suggestion that I talk more about myself, that I reveal more--what do I read, what do I eat, what do I drink, who do I know, who do I do, what do I listen to, what was I like as a obnoxious, precocious whippersnapper, how many bedrooms in my house, how many frozen toaster waffles in the fridge, how do I like my steak, that sort of thing. I have considered your request in the generous, earnest spirit it was made.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Every Mother's Song

Born with teeth, a caul, a head of hair,
marked for great things,
Is anybody there
to hear the mother as she sings,

Unto me is born, is born, here, a child?
The same starfall
Spattered a desert, wild
forest predators saw it all.

He now pays bills, she irons out disputes.
No one here sings
To the naked men, suits
of skin, cold miraculous things.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Apart from You

I've never been particularly happy with this poem, but I don't get all that many requests, so, Shirley, I dug it out of the filing cabinet.

Apart from you, there have been none.
Yes, I have stared. I looked at one
who walked like leaves caught in a breeze.
I pictured this, remembered these.
Piffle. Trifles. Bagatelles.
Our bed at night remembers, tells
me more than I should know. It makes
too little noise. I wake. It wakes
shadows of colors, and once a light,
though briefly, shook apart the night.
I must be done. I am undone
apart from you. There have been none.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Assume a woman. There she sits, bemused,
already knowing she has been assumed.
Women do, mostly. She lifts her long hair
and lets it fall, half flirting, half fatigued.

Assume an incident, the victim slumped
against your hedge, holding himself together.
The cops have come. The perp has fled. You can
assume the rain will not efface the blood,
though something will, if you can hang around.

Picture the telephone. It is prepared
to ring, whether it rings today or not.
If no one calls, you can pick up your phone
to see if it's still working. But it is.

Assume the central man. If vectors run
from woman through the phone to accident,
he'll light them up at night. And if they don't,
he can propose the sense of why they should.
It falls together, when you reach the end.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sauce for the gander

Someone referred to me a website posting "formalist poetry by women." Folks have been trying to enlighten me for years, but I must be ineducable: it just hasn't worked. I still don't understand why such places and labels aren't offensive. You know, don't you, that if someone opened a site dedicated to "formalist poetry by men," it would be booed, hissed, reviled, and castigated for being openly, blatantly sexist. (It also would be ignored, but that's a different problem.) Why is this different?

I welcome answers, you know, though if they consist of little more than "you troglodytic brute," I'll just delete them.