Monday, November 28, 2011

Difficulty! Accessibility!

When I walk to my bookcase to pick up a book of poetry, I don’t ask myself how challenged I want to be today. When I decide between two books of poems to take on a trip, I don’t weight their difficulty.


I’m tired of the term “difficulty.” It was a terrible word for art. It does nothing for readers, except to make some people feel smug. “I like difficult art!”

Yes, most of the poetry I like is called “difficult.” But I don’t find it difficult. I don’t’ find it challenging. I find it variable and shifty. I like variable and shifty art. Why not think of it that way, rather than as some sort of fight or homework problem?

“Difficult poetry” sounds like something you have to work hard on. Right? Well, all poetry needs to be worked with, so “difficult” poetry must be the best, most important poetry. And if you don’t torture yourself with it, you just must not be good enough for the best stuff. Bah and fie. That’s a terrible use of terms.

What would the last 30 years of poetry be like if instead of “Difficulty” we used the term “Twisty”? Would people not have taken the art so seriously? Well, have they taken it seriously as it is? (No, not really.) What has “difficulty” done for anyone? (Very little.)

Liking “difficult” poetry is like saying you like to date “difficult” people. It’s just simply the wrong word, unless you’re either a masochist or you just like fighting. Maybe some people do like fighting with their art. Maybe for them “difficulty” is a perfectly good word for how to describe it then. But it’s not for me.

On the flipside, I find the term “accessible” to be so flatly obvious as to make me wonder what value anyone could ever get from it. For me, “Accessibility” is a term for building access: all people, no matter their physical abilities, can get into this building. When applied to poetry, I find this term to be highly patronizing. Demeaning, even. “Even my secretary can read it,” to paraphrase Ted Kooser.

I imagine someone at a bookstore, browsing the poetry section (do people even do that?), and thinking “I hope I can find a book that’s accessible to a reader like me.” I feel that person is in need of a hug. These are just terrible terms.

Someone please invent a new economy. One based on positive experiences of art. Please.


PS. Literary criticism is just another form of fan fiction. Pass it on.

121 Comments:

At 11/28/2011 7:40 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

But this is serious business! No fun allowed!

I don't have very much hope for a new vernacular to talk about art. Someone, inevitably, will find a way to twist it into, "You like X poetry, which is responsible for the death of it. Why are you laughing? This is serious!"

I feel like the pleasure we get from it, is something that people aren't talking about, and should. we either get bogged down by technical discussions, lineage, or poetry wars. Maybe taking a step back and just describing the kinds of pleasure people get from poetry (without mentioning who or what camp) would be a step forward? I don't know.

My girlfriend just discovered a certain poet who comes up pretty frequently here after writing it off as nonsense. Now she's hooked. One of my favorite things about this is I get to talk about poetry in a completely non-academic, human way.

 
At 11/28/2011 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

Good article, thanks. A gentler version of Scarriet slamming Eliot's "difficulty," etc. Agreed: "difficult," what a dumb term. Yea, we need to move on from this 'difficult/accessible' debate. Delmore Schwartz took issue with Eliot's term, but he didn't do it with flair, as you have done.

But the common counter to "difficulty" doesn't quite work for me, either, and I'm talking about the Vendler formula of "pleasure." All sorts of useful, moral platitudes can be dragged out: poetry is a great teaching tool because it makes language fun! OK, and maybe this is a selling point for poetry: it aids literacy by finding pleasure in language, etc. But this still begs the question: what, exactly is pleasurable about poetry? Is it enough to invoke 'pleasure?' Will that get us anywhere? I don't think so.

We can go back and forth between 'take it more seriously!' and 'don't take it so seriously,' too, but I think the real issue is something else, and for want of a better word, I'll call it Context.

Good writing, whether it is funny or serious, or "difficult" or "accessible," creates its own context for any number of things. It doesn't just talk to 'insiders,' though it can, and even then, it's all about creating context for whatever it happens to be doing. Why I don't like "The Red Wheel Barrow," for instance is that it doesn't create context; it makes the reader find it. And this leads us back to the 'difficulty' argument, because Dante's "Divine Comedy" for instance, is 'difficult' AND 'accessible' because Dante did the work to create a context for the reader. (A crazy comparison perhaps, though Daisy Fried in yesterday's Times compared WCW to Dante.)

Tom

 
At 11/28/2011 3:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Fuzz,

I wish that story would be repeated several million times across the US. I believe it could. I really do. That doesn’t mean it will, though. I wish there was a large cultural spokesperson for poetry. Again, why doesn’t The Poetry Foundation just make some 30 second commercials of people reading poetry? They could call it educational, and run them like PSAs or something. DO they do that already? It seems such a simple idea.

Tom,

If we could keep things general in this way, just talking about the way poetry is talked about, I think we could agree on a lot of things. This is what I think places like The Poetry Foundation and the Poet Laureate should be doing with their time.

“Difficulty” implies the pejorative “Easy” as “Accessible” implies “Inaccessible.” It makes me want to move to the universe next door. There are things that poetry does that are specific to poetry, and I agree, simply saying “pleasure” isn’t quite it, though that’s a lot better than the “Difficulty” / “Accessibility” binary. Ick.

When I come across turns of phrase or description or somesuch in poetry I am given a friendly slap. It works like a joke in that way, but it doesn’t have to be funny. A slap of recognition. One could say that it brings me into a context or it takes me out of one. I’m OK with those terms, though they’re not the ones I would choose. I want to have a better way to talk about the experience of reading or participating with poetry than just how poetry itself works. The way it works is to work on people, and what I often do when I read poetry is a kind of laugh or chuckle. The way one can laugh in admiration of an athlete or dancer, I suppose. A kind of “Look what can be said!” I’ve not heard that before!

There’s a kind of hope in that.

 
At 11/28/2011 6:58 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

The terms ‘difficult’ and ‘accessible’, in regards to poetry, have no intrinsic meaning. Many ‘accessible’ poems address concepts that are very difficult for some and many ‘difficult’ poems are easily accessible to others. The question today, rather, is what, specifically, is a poem.

There is a difference between a collection of words that form a poem and a ‘poem’ that is no more than a collection of words.

 
At 11/28/2011 7:17 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I see no quicker way to polarize this conversation than get into definitions of what a poem is and isn't. At that point you're arguing aesthetics, which would would essentially be arguing schools.

Just saying.

 
At 11/28/2011 8:12 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Fuzz said:

"I see no quicker way to polarize this conversation than get into definitions of what a poem is and isn't. At that point you're arguing aesthetics, which would would essentially be arguing schools."

Schools, schmools!

That's a weird response. I thought I was de-polarizing the debate by noting that 'accessible' and 'difficult' were meaningless terms in poetry.

You're basically just a malcontent, aren't you?

 
At 11/28/2011 8:53 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

And besides, if there was no disagreement or contention in a conversation, no debate or difference in point of view, no argument or dispute; if everyone agreed with each other about everything, then we could all just pat ourselves on the back and go home, totally bored and having not learned anything new at all. And, if so, then why bother going anywhere to discuss anything? Just stay at home and watch your TV.

 
At 11/28/2011 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuzz is right. Questions like "what is a poem," "what is art," "what is jazz" just balkanize people according to prejudice. I mean, "school."

Not to say such conversations can't be had intelligently, it's a rare occurence. And it only takes one person in the room who thinks there's a single right answer to eliminate the possibility.

Paul

 
At 11/28/2011 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, Laure Anderson made a version of your point (I think) in "Difficult Listening Hour."

......

Good evening. Welcome to Difficult Listening Hour. The spot on your dial for that relentless and impenetrable sound of Difficult Music. So sit bolt upright in that straight-backed chair, button that top button, and get set for some difficult music.

......

http://www.ubuweb.com/film/kitchen_anderson.html

Paul

 
At 11/29/2011 5:36 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Gary,

No, I'm not a malcontent, and I'm not saying we should all agree. The problem with starting the conversation you've proposed is that we're going to be having the same conversation we've been having, just in slightly different terms. That's not learning anything new, it's putting what we know in a new color of chalk.

By the way, do you see the irony in calling someone a malcontent and then preaching the virtues of disagreement?

 
At 11/29/2011 7:21 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Tom,

The context of the wheelbarrow has been restored this year; New Directions has reprinted Spring and All.

Jordan

 
At 11/29/2011 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuzz,

You wrote,

"By the way, do you see the irony in calling someone a malcontent and then preaching the virtues of disagreement?"

I think Gary meant that you are such a malcontent that you cannot handle any disagreement.

I agree with Gary. Why does a discussion of aesthetics have to devolve into a discussion of schools? That's exactly what the 'schools' pedant wants you to think.

T. Brady

 
At 11/29/2011 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan,

The twentieth century poetry (2 vol) anthology published by Lib of Amer about 10 years ago reprints 'Wheel Barrow' in 'Spring & All'---not 'Spring' in its entirety, but enough of Williams so that someone like me says, "Gee, this poem's not bad, why don't they ever reprint this one?" A very solid anthology. I probably give the impression I hate WCW. I don't hate WCW. I hate the inflation of wheel barrow and plums and the notion that WCW invented American speech, or whatever grandiose claim is currently being made. WCW didn't invent anything and he's no more American than Eliot or Auden---Americans move overseas or arrive from overseas: that's what Americans do. Williams was fully immersed in the international avant-garde shenanigans---and we shouldn't let the fact that he happened to be a doctor from New Jersey distract us from that. If Williams is American, Duchamp is American.

Tom

 
At 11/29/2011 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why does a discussion of aesthetics have to devolve into a discussion of schools?"

Discussions of esthetics don't have to, but discussions of "what is a poem" almost always do. Especially when the subject is broached by someone who's sure he knows the answer.

Paul

 
At 11/29/2011 10:16 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Paul,

Agreed. Given the choice between the two, I'd rather go back to the whole accessible/difficult conversation. At least no one would forcing poets out of the conversation that way.

 
At 11/29/2011 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do we all agree with John that 'difficult' and 'accessible' are poor terms in which to describe poetry?

If so, what are better terms? Can we start with that?

Fuzz mentioned 'pleasure.'

Quite frankly, I don't think that gets us anywhere.

I like 'context,' but no one seems wild about that.

What else?

If we talk in terms of poetry that appeals to both the popular AND the critical taste, are we generally agreed on what is meant by that: popular, as well as critical taste?

Tom

 
At 11/29/2011 12:04 PM, Blogger AnointedRuins said...

I'm deriving pleasure from the prose poems in this comment box, precisely because and completely irrespective of their difficult accessibility.

But seriously, the terms "difficult" and "accessible" work for me as ways of describing one's experience of different poets. I enjoy "difficult" poets whose meaning is impenetrable to me as much as "accessible" poets whose meaning comes easily. Both stimulate my mind and soul with a pleasure that can be attributed to "poetry" and nothing else.

http://anointedruins.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/two-poems-about-memory/

 
At 11/29/2011 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all about Reading Formations.

Gary Fitzgerald, for example, is a poet for an upper-shelf Susan Polis Shultz or Rod McKuen audience (did I spell those correctly?). I mean that with all due respect: there should be more poets of this kind, and I don't know why Mr. Fitzgerald doesn't market himself more aggressively towards that market, as he'd probably make a bundle of money. This audience is down to earth, not at all concerned with poetry politics, theory, careerism, and so forth; they simply want to have their beliefs confirmed, and there is nothing wrong with that. One person's doggerel is another person's Transcendentalism.

Jordan Davis, for example, is a poet for an elite (and elitist) insider-group subculture, and I mean that with all due respect: there should be more poets of this kind, and I don't know why Mr. Davis doesn't market himself more aggressively towards this now-international mini-market, as he'd probably be more famous than he already is. This subculture writes with all sorts of camp-code, whose grammatical structures and lexical bobs and weaves are competently comprehended by only those who have been allowed into the group (being allowed into the group involves its own arcane rituals and bobs and weaves, but that's another matter). Members of this audience want to accepted as one of the group, and there is nothing wrong with that. One person's Transcendental Art-for-Art's Sake is another person's doggerel.

The point is that neither one of these Examples of poetry is better than the other. Even as each of the poets above may be sure that their poetry is much better than the others... Or more important, or whatever one wants to posit. Aesthetics is the opiate of the poets. As I said, it's all about Reading Formations. And about their evolutions through conflict with other Reading Formations.

 
At 11/29/2011 3:07 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Marcel Duchamp became an American citizen in 1955.

If you're satisfied with the context provided in the anthology you mention, bully for you.

Jordan

 
At 11/29/2011 3:13 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Anonymous,

I've tried marketing before but I will not anymore.

Jordan

 
At 11/29/2011 5:33 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/29/2011 6:13 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Fuzz said:

“By the way, do you see the irony in calling someone a malcontent and then preaching the virtues of disagreement?”

I agree. Pretty funny. But, I also said:

“There is a difference between a collection of words that form a poem and a ‘poem’ that is no more than a collection of words.”

Does anyone see the irony in the fact that nobody ever even asked: ‘What do you mean by this, Gary? Can you give us some examples?’

Anonymous said:

“Gary Fitzgerald, for example, is a poet for an upper-shelf Susan Polis Shultz or Rod McKuen audience.”

This observation would indicate that:

A) You know nothing of philosophy.

B) You know nothing of Science and its relationship to Religion today.

C) You know nothing of poetry.

D) You have never read my books.

To compare me to Rod McKuen is like comparing Blake to Edward Lear.

“It is much harder to write about difficult things with simple words than to write about simple things with difficult words.”
- Gary B. Fitzgerald – 2004

Jordan said:

“I've tried marketing before but I will not anymore.”

Jordan Davis…a funny guy! Never give up, though! Time is on your side.


For You Not Yet

As I write, right now, your mother
is the size of a pea.
She will grow and be born
and not hear of me.
You at this time
do not even exist and only
by luck and grace will you be
if your mother survives
and gets married.
But I write not for your mother
or even right now.
Now knows nothing of me.
Now knows not what I do.
I write for tomorrow, for they
not yet here.
I have written for you.

Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns-New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

 
At 11/29/2011 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This subculture writes with all sorts of camp-code, whose grammatical structures and lexical bobs and weaves are competently comprehended by only those who have been allowed into the group"

Easy for you to say, but what exactly do you mean by 'grammatical structures and lexical bobs and weavers are competently comprehended?' By its very nature, 'grammar' is an agreed-upon set of rules, and so breaking those rules so that they are 'competently comprehended' really makes no sense. An expert grasp of grammar would imply 'elitism,' but not in the sense of using grammar so that the Gary B. Fitzgeralds of the world would NOT comprehend its uses---and Jordan Davis and a small in-side group of 'elites' would. This is to totally misconstrue the whole idea of what grammar is. Grammar is both mainstream in the sense that its rules can be looked up by anyone, and elitist in the sense that to use grammar especially well belongs is a practice of elites (try diagramming a Shakespeare sonnet sometime). But breaking grammatical rules is in no way elitist and there's nothing at all 'competent' about it, especially since expert use of grammar in more complex modes, will APPEAR to be rule-breaking to those not expert in the use of grammar. Jordan Davis either is more expert in grammatical and lexical usage than Gary B. Fitzgerald, or he is not. It really has nothing to do with 'elitism' or any of those sorts of things. If Jordan Davis breaks grammatical rules more often than Gary B. Fitzgerald, we, again, can assume no 'elitism' at all, and may even suspect that Jordan Davis is less competent in the ways of speech than Gary B. Fitzgerald. I don't know Jordan Davis' poetry; I'm just responding to what anonymous said.

T. Brady

 
At 11/29/2011 9:13 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

We don't need paintings or
Doggerel written by mature poets when
The explosion is so precise, so fine.
Is there any point even in acknowledging
The existence of all that? Does it
Exist? Certainly the leisure to
Indulge stately pastimes doesn't,
Any more. Today has no margins, the event arrives
Flush with its edges, is of the same substance,
Indistinguishable. "Play" is something else;
It exists, in a society specifically
Organized as a demonstration of itself.

 
At 11/29/2011 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as a better word than "difficult," we may be able to do better also than John's interim sugestion, "twisty" ... I'd be looking more or less in that direction.

For me, the stuff that gets called difficult is really just writing that resists the narrow ways most of us were once taught to seek meanings and messages in language.

If we insist on forcing the work to give up meaning in these ways, then yeah, our task will be difficult. It may even be pointless. But if we try to find the levels on which we can appreciate the language, the situation quickly gets less dire. It might even become enjoyable.

Which isn't to say that some poems aren't difficult. Difficulty is always subjective, of course, but I don't think that the dificult/easy lines would really be drawn in the places that peddlers of that kind of distinction try to draw them. It's easy to find completely abstract poems that are easy for kids to enjoy, and simple, plain-spoken poems that present layers of challenges.

Paul

 
At 11/30/2011 3:55 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

First rule of the internet: Never let ignorance of a subject keep you from commenting on it.

 
At 11/30/2011 4:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I often miss allusions in poetry, especially when they are allusions to ancient Greek things. Therefore, allusions are all Greek to me.

What help are words like “difficult” and “accessible”? To me, these terms are code to insider groups that function to normalize those inside and disparage those outside. Those in the DIFFICULT group can sniff at those outside, saying they make “easy” art. Those in the ACCESSIBLE group can sniff at those outside, saying they make “inaccessible” art.

I just don’t think that’s a fun game to play. I see no useful point to it.

Example. A poet who is in the “accessible” group is Kay Ryan. If you look at her poems, though, they are in very few ways conventionally accessible. One can think of them as playfully working with common maxims, or what have you, but they are not, themselves, directly accessible (Kay Ryan, to an ESL class would be much more difficult than many “difficult” poets). This is also true of the poetry of Dean Young. These poets are in the accessible group because of friendship bonds more than an aesthetic pledge.

Conventional? Unconventional?

These terms are only marginally more helpful, if even that. But we do so like our binaries. In honor of James Joyce, perhaps we can borrow back quarks. There are six types of quarks, known as flavors: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. Perhaps we should use those designations for aesthetic positions. “Strange” and “charm” appeal to me. “Bottom” and “top”, well, that’s a whole different conversation.

 
At 11/30/2011 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul wrote

"For me, the stuff that gets called difficult is really just writing that resists the narrow ways most of us were once taught to seek meanings and messages in language."

I don't understand this. What are
"the narrow ways most of us were once taught?" Is this that 'difficult' insider-speak that John is talking about?

I'm toiling in the vineyard of Shakespeare's Sonnets at the moment (what 'school' does Shakespeare belong to?) and I'm thinking, 'do we think of Shakespeare as 'narrow?' Is Shakespeare the 'narrowness' we need to "resist?" If so, this is the sort of thing which makes the 'difficult' tribe seem so unattractive and arrogant. And I do think this goes to the heart of what John is talking about.

Secondly, I do think we need to make a distinction between difficult ideas and difficult language. Are there ideas so difficult that language can't express them? Is there difficult language that no idea can penetrate? And what do the 'difficult' and 'accessible' tribes think of this distinction, or do they even make this distinction?

Tom

 
At 11/30/2011 7:07 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/30/2011 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>To compare me to Rod McKuen is like comparing Blake to Edward Lear.

Mr. Fitzgerald, please understand that I say this in all good faith and as a fan who only wishes you the best: Getting yourself to AA will probably help you acquire some purchase on your extravagant megalomania. And it will probably help you to write even greater doggerel in the time to come!

I am trying to point out that you are, potentially, a significant Kitsch poet. You are in a position to make yourself into a best-selling versifier, one whose books could be sold at the Barnes and Noble counter. There are agents out there who would be open to this idea! I am serious. I don't know why you waste your time sharing your poems with the minor "innovative" crowd of this blog. It is like the great Thomas Kinkade devoting himself to sparring in the Letters pages of Art News with derivative and soon-to-be-forgotten Soho-scene paint-splashers!

Also, you really should break once and for all with this sorry and desperate crowd of Scarriets, or whatever the movement called. Such poetic Hitler-Stalin pacts of convenience will only hold you back.

Please consider what I am saying.

 
At 11/30/2011 8:16 AM, Blogger David said...

What help are words like “difficult” and “accessible”? To me, these terms are code to insider groups that function to normalize those inside and disparage those outside.

Doesn't one need to be "inside" the circle of published poets for these words to cause a problem in the first place?

 
At 11/30/2011 8:21 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David,

Perhaps. But as the audience for poetry is so small, I tend to think of all of it as part of this economy. Certainly the blurbs on the back of books that talk about "Accessibility" function in this way, though I've never seen "difficult" on a jacket blurb.

I suppsoe I'm thinking of the ways that we write about and talk about poetry. These terms are often used there, so whomever reads things ON poetry, rather than just poetry itself, is part of this.

I'm saying this as well as I should, apologies. I'm in the midst of 50 first-year composition conferences. The glory of the academy.

 
At 11/30/2011 9:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really? Agents are out there waiting to put Gary B. Fitzgerald on the front counter at Barnes & Noble? The attempt to damn Gary's poetry with faint praise by saying it will 'sell' in a 'shop' betrays the animosity of the 'difficulty' tribe---which thinks because it does not appeal to the popular taste, it will by default appeal to the critical taste.

The 'difficult' tribe is the first group of poets in history which has no interest in appealing to both the popular and the critical tastes---they have abandoned the former, and unfortunately are under the delusion that because they have abandoned the former, they will automatically appeal to the latter.

But appealing to both is the best.

The 'sour grapes' stance towards Barnes & Noble by anonymous gives the game away.

Ideas or platitudes? Music or doggerel? Speech or still-born prose? Imagery or pictorial irrelevance? Unity or lyric triviality? Allusion or obscurity? Linguistic interest or sterility? These issues confront all poets all the time, whether the poet hides behind a 'difficult' tribe, or not.

Tom

 
At 11/30/2011 9:44 AM, Blogger David said...

It seems that if we love poetry and poets, we would avoid polarizing terms that function only to exclude. The need to adopt a more inclusive attitude should be especially apparent to poets who teach for a living.

 
At 11/30/2011 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>to damn with faint praise

I was very clear (my first comment) in stating that "value" is ever contingent on Reading Formations. Mr. Fitzgerald's poetry is no more or less "worthy" in some kind of universal or teleological sense than John Ashbery's or John Skelton's. If you haven't seen the film Melancholia (what a great movie!), you should, for it is all about how there are no universals.

Mr. Fitzgerald, it's clear, sadly believes his poetry is universally greater than almost anyone else's in the history of Literature, with exception of the ten or twelve he includes on his canonical list (and on which he obviously thinks he belongs). I made the comment about his "extravagant megalomania" with that in mind. But his poignant confusion about his place is a secondary matter.

My simple point is that Mr. Fitzgerald is a potentially great popular/kitsch/doggerel poet. This is no small thing. I would say he hasn't quite hit the edge of his greatness bubble yet because of his (self-proclaimed) drunkenness. A problem, I do fear, that makes him write some terribly embarrassing clunkers (even for a doggerel poet)... I made the comment about AA with that in mind.

Yet all in all, he shows serious promise as a large-audience middlebrow poet, a versifier with philosophical pretensions (even if such pretensions fall generally flat on their vulgarly rhyming faces): He is someone who could be a kind of Shel Silverstein for non-poet adults--which is to say for more or less *normal* adults.

And what's wrong with that and what's wrong with Barnes and Noble, for crissakes? I never shop there myself, but who am I to judge those who do and who might pick up a little verse edification at the counter on the way out? My main point is that there is ONE person commenting on this blog (these are my own first comments; I felt I should speak out, for Mr. F is much maligned here) who has a chance to become widely known as a poet. And that person is Gary Fitzgerald.

 
At 11/30/2011 10:47 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Um, I'm only going to step in here to say that these are actually not your first comments here, though they might possibly be your first anonymous comments.

Just saying.

 
At 11/30/2011 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Mr. Gallaher, you are mistaken. I am typing from the machine of someone who has made comments here before, that is so. But I have been visiting this person, and while he is in class I am using his office machine to write emails and to make these comments. He and I are on our way to give a reading in Milwaukee later this afternoon. On Friday, we read together in Dubuque. I leave on Saturday. Sorry to disappoint you.

 
At 11/30/2011 10:58 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I’m not disappointed, one way or another. Have a good reading!

 
At 11/30/2011 11:32 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

"These issues confront all poets all the time, whether the poet hides behind a 'difficult' tribe, or not."

This is why this conversation is stupid. Right here.

No poet chooses "to hide" behind "difficulty." It's arrogant and stupid to think any different. It's also flat out wrong. John Ashbery used to be considered difficult (is he still?) and has explicitly stated he cares very much about having a readership and writes to appeal to the widest audience possible.

Besides, if you really wanted to play the binary game and make this argument, wouldn't the opposite also be true? That poets who go for the accessible route are being lazy?

I don't believe it myself, but as long as we're having half-baked conversations about the motivations of writers let's throw as much shit at the wall as we can. Eventually, we'll all be covered.

 
At 11/30/2011 11:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed, I'm with you. "Throw enough until something sticks" is a fun internet game. I can't see that it helps anything, however.

As the first comment in this thread, and yours, said:

"I don't have very much hope for a new vernacular to talk about art. Someone, inevitably, will find a way to twist it into, 'You like X poetry, which is responsible for the death of it. Why are you laughing? This is serious!'"

But we need to try, right? Or maybe we don't. "I also like the movies."

 
At 11/30/2011 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuzz,

No poet hides behind 'difficulty?' Ever? Really? Are you kidding?

Of course we're only talking about the good sorts like you and me!

I reject the 'difficulty' label and agree with John.

But as we dismiss 'difficulty' as a label, we can't pretend the label doesn't have a history and a certain real existence.

And yes, I'm assuming 'accessibility' at least has the merit of 'wanting to be understood.' As John said, what good is 'difficulty?'
I was mostly responding to anonymous and his 'barnes & noble' post on Gary.

We can throw all the cards in the air and say 'hurray for everyone being the same and everyone being nice,' or we can be mean and burn the cards we don't like. There's no in-between, right? I think there is.

Tom

 
At 11/30/2011 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to repeat: The writer at this blog with the best chance of acquiring a substantial audience in poetry is Gary Fitzgerald. I say that even though I do not care very much for his verse. But he works hard at what he does, and much of what he does he does competently and with reasonable measures of charm and wit. It's true he can be clumsy in his rhymes and amusing in his phrasings without meaning to be. And it's true that he can be greatly annoying in his gas-balloon self-regard (though that is not an unusual trait for writers to have). And it's true, as well, that he embarrasses himself greatly by bragging repeatedly about his drinking (please stop this, Mr. Fitzgerald!). But he seems to me in a better position to gain a large audience for his writing than most poets I know. Call his poetry middlebrow, popular, lyric-vernacular, or whatever (I'd used "kitsch" earlier and that really isn't the right word), but his general ambition and poetic steadfastness strike me as very interesting and worthy--not to mention more ennobling and moving, all in all, than most of the empty fill-in-the-blanks stuff from run-of-the-mill second-string abstractionists such as most of you here, who would so smugly think themselves aesthetically "above" someone like him.

 
At 11/30/2011 3:59 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

"Anon,"

You're just trying to start a fight, and no one is rising to the bait. Thankfully.

So please stop. What you're saying has nothing to do with anything anyone else is saying.

 
At 11/30/2011 4:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Davis's Law: Poets exist mainly to keep other poets from writing.

Drive safely, anonymous.

 
At 11/30/2011 6:00 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

.

AA

I’m not going to say what I’m supposed to say
because I’m a poet and a drunkard
and I’ve always been that way. I’m not proud.
I’ll say: “Hello…”
I’ll say: “My name is Gary…”

But what I really want to say I will, too loud, that is
that I’m the guy who sits in the very last pew
every few years when I go to church,
the one who’s never seen.
And when you all do your fellowship thing,
I’m the one who doesn’t even want to know you
let alone embrace or hug you.
Please don’t touch me.

I came here to talk to God, not more people.
I don’t like all this touchy brotherhood stuff .
First off, I hate people. You are violent
and destructive and mean. I hate you and
I’m bitter. I’m Episcopalian, yes, but cynical.
I’ve seen Baptist, Catholic and Methodist,
seen Lutheran and Evangelical,
and all the things you’ve been,
but where the hell can I find a church where
it’s just God and me?

“Where’s Gary? It’s time for church.”
“God only knows! He just took off into the woods
with a sixpack.”.


Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns-New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald


Preface - Ponds and Lawns

Honest words may not be kind,
kind words not always honest.
A wise man does not argue,
he who argues is not wise.
A wise man accepts knowing little,
he who knows much can not be wise.

Lao Tzu

 
At 11/30/2011 8:42 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Tom,

I sincerely believe that. I also think there is a middle ground, but I don't think the conversation in this comment stream has approached it.

If we're going to have a new discourse about poetry, the first thing we need to do is talk about how we read. What are the kinds of things we're looking for in a poem? Why are we looking for those things? Are we disatisfied if what we're looking for doesn't show up? Surprised?

 
At 11/30/2011 9:01 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Just for the record, I would like to note that the term ‘doggerel’ has been thrown around a lot lately. This term, for a poet of any stripe, is the equivalent of the ‘N’ word to a black person. There are many other ways to express one’s dislike for a poem or a poet. I have never been shy about my opinion of certain contemporary poets like John Ashbery or Rae Armantrout, but I have never, nor would I ever, use this term when discussing these great (though not to my taste) poets. Doggerel basically means ‘garbage’ but, then, that’s just an opinion. But it’s a double-edged sword and one must be careful. Let us remember these famous observations that don’t reflect well on the observers:

Robert Louis Stevenson on Walt Whitman
“…like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon.”

Friedrich Nietzsche on Dante Alighieri
“A hyena that wrote poetry on tombs.”

Gertrude Stein on Ezra Pound
“A village explainer. Excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”

Lord Byron on John Keats
“Here are Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three novels by God knows whom… No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.”

Dylan Thomas on Rudyard Kipling
“Mr Kipling … stands for everything in this cankered world which I would wish were otherwise.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Jane Austen
“Miss Austen’s novels . . . seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer . . . is marriageableness.”

Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope
“There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.”

Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe
“An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”

Elizabeth Bishop on J.D. Salinger
“I HATED [Catcher in the Rye]. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it?”

W. H. Auden on Robert Browning
“I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.”

Virginia Woolf on James Joyce
“[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”

William Faulkner on Mark Twain
“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce
“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”


dog•ger•el adj \’do-g(ə-)rəl,‘dä-\.

Doggerel is a derogatory term for verse considered of little literary value; also: marked by triviality or inferiority. The term is one of critical judgment rather than technical description, and readers may differ as to whether it is properly applied to a given poem.

 
At 11/30/2011 10:19 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

T. Brady said:

“By its very nature, 'grammar' is an agreed-upon set of rules, and so breaking those rules so that they are 'competently comprehended' really makes no sense.

‘Grammar is both mainstream in the sense that its rules can be looked up by anyone, and elitist in the sense that to use grammar especially well belongs is a practice of elites (try diagramming a Shakespeare sonnet sometime).”

W.S. Merwin won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for poems that used no punctuation at all. So much for ‘grammar’. What does this say about those who judge poetry today?

 
At 12/01/2011 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary,

Very interesting stuff. Doggerel, the N word for the poet. I hadn't thought about it quite that way, but you're right. That word is thrown around a lot as a slur, especially by those who never use meter.

'A church with just God and me. Don't touch me. In the woods with a six pack.' 'Anon' is right. This does have tremendous potential for popular appeal.

I LOVE those quotes of writers disparaging other writers---as "wrong" as they sometimes might be, they are good, I think, healthy, and who can say they are not honest and, in their way, and enlightening? Letters is better for those opinions. And if you don't have strong opinions, you probably won't be a writer worth reading.

But I notice those quotes are all from the 19th century into the early 20th century---and then they stop. I think that says a lot.

Tom

 
At 12/01/2011 6:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuzz,

"If we're going to have a new discourse about poetry, the first thing we need to do is talk about how we read. What are the kinds of things we're looking for in a poem? Why are we looking for those things? Are we disatisfied if what we're looking for doesn't show up? Surprised?"

Exactly: "What are the kinds of things we're looking for in a poem?"

I think you've hit the nail on the head.

And the first consideration when we ask 'what are we looking for in a poem,' is OK, what other genres can do this better? Moderns tend to sneer at the poems of someone like Shakespeare or Poe as 'narrow,' but they forget that Shakespeare wrote plays and Poe wrote fiction of a high order, and their poems were essentially amusements for them. Excellent amusements, perhaps, but amusements nonetheless. OK, so you say, but I don't want to write plays/fictions and then toss off poems, I want the poems to be primary. But one shouldn't take lightly the feats of Shakespeare and Poe and the possibility that their main works are where the best literary things are found, and that poems will be limited for that very reason.

That's the first consideration, in my opinion: what things should we NOT look for in poems? Only then, can we begin to consider what we CAN find in them. Before Poe and Shakespeare, we might have taken a different path, but those guys exist, and we can't turn back.

Tom

 
At 12/01/2011 7:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Tom,

It might say something about GBF's reading habits, but it says little or nothing about the poetry of the last century.

Just saying.

I'm not much for collecting such things (read some William Logan if you want--this is his favorite genre), but I do remember one, a paraphrase of Robert Lowell on Theodore Roethke: "I can tell he spends that extra afternoon getting each poem just right."

 
At 12/01/2011 7:30 AM, Blogger David said...

I came here to talk to God, not more people.
I don’t like all this touchy brotherhood stuff.


Amen, brother. I'm Catholic, and oh how I hate that touchy brotherhood stuff every Sunday. If you visit my Church, I'll leave you in peace. I like the poem. It's accessible to me.

 
At 12/01/2011 7:43 AM, Blogger David said...

What are the kinds of things we're looking for in a poem?

That question could be answered in different ways by the same person, depending on if he's reading the poem as:

a teacher of poetry
a practitioner of poetry
a lover of poetry

He might be all three of those things, but they are different hats depending on the context, e.g., the classroom, his writing desk, a cozy chair by the fire.

 
At 12/01/2011 7:44 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Gary,

No. Doggerel is not even approximately the same as that. At all. Unless you can show me that part of history in which several nations took poets as slaves, raped them, denied them rights, and passed laws that counted them as 3/5 of a person, you're...wrong. I don't know how else to express myself about this, really, but that's an incredibly self-congratulatory, offensive argument. You don't need that kind of analogy to talk about poets being shit on.

Tom,

I'm less interested in creating a rubric for what we shouldn't look for in poems. No matter how you draw your lineage, each generation of poets has shown the ability to break those taboos. I'm more interested in the bigger conversation of reading strategies and investigating why those strategies exist.

Lastly, sure, those poets exist. They're great too (I actually prefer Poe's verse to his stories), but you're not obligated to engage with them in your writing. In fact, there's plenty of stuff that comes prior to those writers which points in a wildly different path. I might recommend Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred. Lautreamont's Maldoror would interest anyone who liked Poe and language. I guess what I'm saying is that we each have our own canon, and you can't ignore what interests you.

 
At 12/01/2011 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

I dunno, that Lowell on Roethke quote is pretty mild---it almost sounds like a compliment. Logan is just one critic. Where are the strong poet-on-poet opinions in the last 50 years? I think I'm on to something...

Fuzz,

A 'personal canon' is an oxymoron. I don't know that I was describing "taboos;" I thought I was describing something more fundamental. If prose does X better than poetry, should poetry try X? Perhaps, but I'm just saying no poem stands alone.

Tom

 
At 12/01/2011 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I consider doggerel an admirable craft. If anyone accuses me of being a doggerel writer, I hope they'll say I do it well.

There's good and bad doggerel, good and bad non-doggerel.

I don't know about difficult doggerel.

Paul

 
At 12/01/2011 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't understand this. What are
"the narrow ways most of us were once taught?" Is this that 'difficult' insider-speak that John is talking about?"

I think almost all of us, in English class, are taught to look for a message, a decodeable meaning, something paraphraseable in a poem. It's a nut to be cracked.

Some poetry works this way and is easy to crack, some is more difficult.

But I suspect that the stuff getting the black-and-white label of "difficult" is stuff that doesn't work this way at all. Or at least not primarily. Beat your head against it all you want, you won't find any unambiguous referent, at least not til you start hallucinating.

Ms. Stein offers nice examples from a century or so ago.

Paul


CHICKEN.

Pheasant and chicken, chicken is a peculiar third.

CHICKEN.

Alas a dirty word, alas a dirty third alas a dirty third, alas a dirty bird.

CHICKEN.

Alas a doubt in case of more go to say what it is cress. What is it. Mean. Why. Potato. Loaves.

CHICKEN.

Stick stick call then, stick stick sticking, sticking with a chicken. Sticking in a extra succession, sticking in.

 
At 12/01/2011 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul,

Doggerel is strongly pejorative---always has been, always will be.

If poetry's taught as something with a message to decode, this were merely a pedagogical device to make sure students are a least on the same page with the instructor and the poem. Let's not pretend that the most sophisticated genius doesn't begin, at the least, by saying, 'OK, let's see if there's a meaning or message here. If not, then one can pursue more 'sophisticated' paths, I suppose, but I think you are confusing 'how something is taught' with 'how we grasp the essence of something from the standpoint of a general audience in a pedagogical setting.'

Free us from the Chains of Meaning, O Modernism! This red herring's been ridden to death, already.

Tom

 
At 12/01/2011 12:21 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Tom,

The 20th century has shown us the canon is not as singular, fixed, and authoritarian as once thought. I don't want to argue about this though, so let's call it a pantheon. Every writer has a pantheon of artists from which to draw inspiration they consider more important than any catalog of approved verse.

In response to the conversation you're having with Paul, I would say that the first question I ask is not whether or not there is a meaning or message present, but: what is the poem doing? I don't read poetry for messages. They're certainly there, and I appreciate them, but if that were the first thing I was concerned with, I would listen to talk radio and read essays all day.

 
At 12/01/2011 12:23 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I prefer to call it a black box. Every poet has a black box to carry around. It's very, very heavy, and they must learn to swim while balancing it on a toothpick.

But "mix-tape" would also do.

 
At 12/01/2011 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuzz,

Nah, the 20th century hasn't made anything less "authoritarian." The canon is just as "fixed" today. This is kind of what canons do. The canon-sweater just has more burrs sticking to it now: Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Moore, Lowell, Bishop...I can't think of any century with more of an "authoritarian" stamp than the 20th...and it's precisely because taste is driven by a few well-placed academics with connections to the poets, and not the public.

"what is the poem doing?"

Let's see, what does that mean? LOL

Tom

 
At 12/01/2011 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If poetry's taught as something with a message to decode, this were merely a pedagogical device to make sure students are a least on the same page with the instructor and the poem. "

Maybe so, and there's nothing wrong with this approach ... unless it's the only one taught. And I get the feeling it's indeed the only one that most students are ever exposed to.

As a result, poems that don't yield to it will inevitably seem difficult. Impossible might be a better word.

Paul

 
At 12/01/2011 4:35 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This may sound somewhat bizarre, but I think I actually agree with everyone here. It is so incredible to find so much intelligence and knowledge at the same place.

Would that our congress were this way. Maybe we should organize a political party and all run for office.


GBF

 
At 12/02/2011 7:30 AM, Blogger Smith said...

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spanish interpreters

 
At 12/02/2011 8:12 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Having this comment stream hacked by an adbot seems a fitting conclusion.

 
At 12/02/2011 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary,

This has been a great thread, and I think it's because everyone was allowed to air their opinions strongly and when things got a little 'off topic' and it sometimes became about the person, (horrors!)it was OK. Allowing an ego to have its moment in the sun only makes the whole better, not worse. Let's face it, we're passionate human beings, not faceless cogs in a Walter Cronkite newscast. Why po-biz is so uptight about airing differences is something I've never understood.
I think a lot of it comes down to: "psst! hey moderns! it's ok to like Byron...! relax a little...forget about your avant hipster cred for a second...!"

Tom

 
At 12/02/2011 10:03 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Tom,

How about, “Pssst! Hey doom and gloom person who hates current poetry and who thinks there’s a conspiracy of college teachers bent on warping the minds of normal people, and who thinks all the good things ever written are in the ever receding distant past, it’s OK to like Frank O’Hara’s poetry. Dancing is also allowable. And snacks.”

 
At 12/02/2011 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was because of Byron we have the term Romantic Irony! He's our father!

 
At 12/02/2011 10:37 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Tom,

Yes, it's ok to like Byron. The New York school has been pointing this out for sixty years.

Jordan

 
At 12/02/2011 10:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And snacks and dancing! Don't forget them. One does not live by Byron alone.

 
At 12/02/2011 10:47 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/02/2011 10:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

So how did your readings go?

 
At 12/02/2011 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan,

I can't think of anything less Byron than the New York School. Where are the New York School's songs which Byron traded with Thomas Moore, like "We'll Go No More A Roving?" Where is "Manfred" and "Don Juan?" etc?

Byron was extremely loose in spirit, but he wasn't loose in form, and he was grounded in the classics. Byron's favorite poet was Alexander Pope.

The New York School resembles Byron superficially in that it was highly discursive and jolly. But I don't recall the New York School flying the flag of Byron. Certainly the NY Skool did not resemble John Crowe Ransom, who explicitly said 'we can't write like Byron anymore' in the 1930s. And I think it's interesting to note that when Ransom wrote this, he was as far away from Byron in history as we are today from Robert Lowell. I can't imagine anyone today saying, "Don't write like Robert Lowell! He's too old fashioned! Or Elizabeth Bishop!

The Eliot/Ransom modernist rejection of the Romantics was so powerful in mid-century, that the New York School, naturally reacting against Eliot/Ransom's stuffiness, would have sort of been pro-Byron simply by default.

But ultimately the resemblance between Byron & NY Skool feels very superficial to me.

Tom

 
At 12/02/2011 11:07 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/02/2011 11:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Tom,

You might find Kenneth Koch's poems, especially his longer works, a revelation. Consider it a homework assignment. Order them from the library. Start woth KO and The Duplications.

Just saying.

 
At 12/02/2011 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

Thanks, I like Koch. And I'll look at those.

But if these are Byronic poems and no one has heard of them, that proves my point.

If the New York School and po-biz in general in the last 75 years was more receptive to Byron, your answer would have consisted of well-known poems by the New York School, not works that no one has read. I have no doubt that poets some where along the way tried their hand at Byron in a kind of sheepish way and there are surely aborted attempts under people's beds, etc. But that doesn't change my thesis.

But Ransom and Eliot's advice basically stuck: "Can't write like Byron anymore. Sorry."

Tom

 
At 12/02/2011 11:25 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/02/2011 11:26 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well, you can’t write like Lowell anymore, or Bishop, or Marianne Moore, or e.e. cummings either, then. Circumstances change. But people have heard of Koch’s mock-epics, even if you haven’t. I don’t mean that as a slam at your library. It’s just that not all that many people read poetry anymore, but a lot of valuable poetry is being written anyway. It’s not as if a great poem would rise to the top if it came along. There’s really no longer much of a top to rise to.

 
At 12/02/2011 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent, have you stopped beating your wife?

 
At 12/02/2011 11:51 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/02/2011 12:05 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/02/2011 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

"It’s not as if a great poem would rise to the top if it came along. There’s really no longer much of a top to rise to."

You are assuming here that there's no longer a canon. But there's more of a canon today than there has ever been.

True, canons shift and change, and this shifting nature accounts for why you may be familiar with a poem that I am not, and vice versa.

Koch's 'Byronism' has had virtually no impact on Letters and the reasons go beyond whether or not you or I or Kent Johnson have read Koch's more obscure works. This is not to take anything away from Koch.

Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron" could be dragged out to prove the Moderns were wild about Byron, but we know in general this was not the case.

There are still rules and exceptions here.

At least that's how I see it. But maybe the canon just shifted a little under my feet. If it did, I thank you, John.

Tom

 
At 12/02/2011 1:29 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Well, I know I’m going to get myself into trouble here, especially with John, but I see no alternative. I posted my poem ‘AA’, above, in response to a commenter who insinuated that I needed to go there (wrong). The first poem probably gave the impression that I am just a nasty old bastard so it seems only fair that I post the following poem in response, which is basically a companion piece. Here is the other side of the coin.

Please forgive me, Mr. Gallaher.

Gary



The Misanthrope


Yes, humans are the problem, I always said,
why so many innocent now lay dead.
It’s the unrelenting, driving need, the primitive fire
that consumes all required to nurture self,
produce more seed, to achieve another birth.
The ultimate proverbial selfish gene,
like vermin in the pantry of the Earth.

Malaria, diphtheria, suburbia…
what difference among disease?
The destruction is the same despite the size.
The scale does not obscure the fact
of its effect, despite the lies, prevent
the gruesome truth of its result.
Yes, humans are the problem, I say,
by no selection of their own, just the unstoppable
unthinking base desire. Some like wolves,
some like rats, a virus in the body of the world.
I pretty much just hate them all.
I wish they’d pass like their empires do,
relinquish the realm to those who truly love it.

Later, at the store to get some beer,
a little girl, maybe seven, maybe eight,
made it to the door before me…little brat!
I reached to open it for her, she being a kid
and all, but she, being quicker, opened it first,
held it open with a great big smile of victory.
“Well, thank you.” I said gruffly, in my most adult
and appreciative voice. “You’re welcome.”,
the little angel said sincerely, without judgment,
without fear of the grumpy old man with the beard.
She skipped off after her mother. I stood there.
Shit! There goes the whole damned theory.
Maybe there’s hope for us after all.


Copyright 2008 – Softwood-Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

 
At 12/02/2011 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

Oh, and 'my library' IS offended. LOL

So one can't write like Lowell or Bishop or Moore any longer? Check out the latest issue of "Poetry." I can assure you they still are.

Read "Poetry" since 1912. You won't find Byron.

Tom

 
At 12/02/2011 1:45 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Actually, there was a good Moore-like poem by James Longenbach in The New Yorker a few weeks back, "The Crocodile."

Dan Chiasson's last book is almost certainly echoing Lowell.

While many many writers would like to claim to write in the style of Bishop, I'm not aware of anyone who succeeds.

Cummings I'll give you, but I don't keep up with the Montevidayo site as carefully as I might. (Too much barfing and rubbing potatoes together.)

Tom, good luck with your efforts to make an impact on Letters. Be careful, though: for so many people, it ends up meaning throwing themselves at Letters from a great height.

 
At 12/02/2011 3:26 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Jordan said:

“Actually, there was a good [. . .] poem [. . .] in The New Yorker a few weeks back…

Ha!

The New Yorker, he said.

Ha!

And I thought we were talking about poetry.

Ha!

 
At 12/02/2011 4:26 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Well, to be honest, I did do a Google search for ‘The Crocodile’ by James Longenbach. Apparently, it is available (on every referenced site) by subscription only.

Hell of a poet, don’t you think?

‘I wrote this poem, but…YOU CAN’T SEE IT UNTIL YOU COUGH UP THE BUCKS!!! Bwaa-ha-ha-ha-ha!’

We, your readers, all thank you, you self-righteous megalomaniacal nincompoop. I’ll be sure to run right out and buy all your books, you arrogant self-important bastard.

 
At 12/02/2011 5:20 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

87 comments? You guys have time for blog badinage this time of year? Don't you have to carve the stockings on the mantel and stuff the turkey with gifts? Don't you have children to build and snowmen to dandle?

By the way, I'm not the David who commented earlier. I'm a Sikh.

 
At 12/02/2011 5:55 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Gary B. Fitzgerald said:

"We, your readers, all thank you, you self-righteous megalomaniacal nincompoop. I’ll be sure to run right out and buy all your books, you arrogant self-important bastard."

Don't get your knickers in a knot. I was kidding.

But who was it that said that the average person felt that poetry was like prayer and should be free? Gioia? Barr?

 
At 12/02/2011 10:08 PM, Blogger David said...

By the way, I'm not the David who commented earlier. I'm a Sikh.

Ha ha, I figured that my comment was buried and forgotten. David Grove's revelation reminds me, isn't it about time to revive the discussion on the New Sincerity? Tis the season!

 
At 12/03/2011 3:56 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

David, your comment was a pea I felt through the many mattresses piled on top of it. Or maybe a pea boat obscured by a fleet of Fitzcarraldo's steamships.

When I was five, my dad told me a five-year-old boy named David A. Donohue had been hit by a car and killed. He'd chased his ball into Court Street. I thought, "That could've been me. Same name, same age, and sometimes I ride my Batmobile down the driveway into Court Street..."

 
At 12/03/2011 8:26 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/03/2011 8:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent,

When I asked GBF not to post his poems in the comments on this blog, I also asked that people not post advertisements or press releases about their work. I asked that, because I don’t want this blog to become that. Others disagree, and I hate telling people what to do or to delete comments, so I’m just, well, suggesting. So far, with only you and GBF doing such things, it’s fairly manageable, but I fear that if others follow you, then this blog will turn into a big jumble of advertisements.

And just as someone anonymously tried to get under your skin yesterday, you’re now attempting to get under Jordan Davis’s skin. There’s really nothing to be gained from such poking. It does tend to start something.

 
At 12/03/2011 8:57 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/03/2011 9:15 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/03/2011 9:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

It can be read here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237636

Useful website. Ahem. Or, YIKES, depending.

 
At 12/03/2011 11:23 AM, Anonymous David said...

I find the Poetry Foundation website to be extremely useful. That said, I'm not a poet by profession. Thus I'm neither in the "inner circle", nor in the "circle" of the outer periphery who disdain the inner circle that the Poetry Foundation apparently represents. What's up with all of that? Please pardon my ignorance.

 
At 12/03/2011 11:40 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Keep on adding that value, Kent.

 
At 12/03/2011 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is poetry and song?
Our cruder thoughts march along
In measured measure
For bumptious pleasure
And only prose is wrong.

BYRON obeys every rule,
And names every satired fool
While KOCH, in his "Fresh Air"
Gets silly---but nothing's there
For critic or song or tool.

"Air" has a reference or two
To RANSOM'S "Kenyon Review,"
But we cannot be very
Sure "Air" isn't ASHBERY
Who was awfully silly, too.



Thomas Brady, copyright 2011

 
At 12/03/2011 1:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rules are for squares, man.

 
At 12/03/2011 5:11 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

John said:

“When I asked GBF not to post his poems in the comments on this blog, I also asked that people not post advertisements or press releases about their work. I asked that, because I don’t want this blog to become that. Others disagree, and I hate telling people what to do or to delete comments, so I’m just, well, suggesting. “

John . . . lighten up, man. The controversial posters like GBF and Kent Johnson, et al, are making your blog more popular and famous than Silliman’s was. And count your blessings that you are plagued by other poets and not those genuine nasty trolls like Silliman was.

Chill, dude! Go with the flow of your own blog. It’s a good thing!

GBF

 
At 12/04/2011 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The controversial posters like GBF and Kent Johnson, et al, are making your blog more popular and famous than Silliman’s was."

Wow, what a ragingly narcissistic bit of conjecture. I mean, false on all counts but that's beside the point. Why don't you just comply with John's wishes, or get your own bog? If you're a tenth as popular as you think you are, it will be an instant success.

Paul

 
At 12/04/2011 1:45 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Paul said:

"Wow, what a ragingly narcissistic bit of conjecture. I mean, false on all counts but that's beside the point. Why don't you just comply with John's wishes, or get your own bog? If you're a tenth as popular as you think you are, it will be an instant success."

Paul's response is to a comment I made to John Gallaher:

"And count your blessings that you are plagued by other poets and not those genuine nasty trolls like Silliman was."

My mistake.

.

 
At 12/04/2011 3:00 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Gary,

Paul isn't trolling. He's challenging the assertions you've made.

I find your advice "to go with the flow" a little strange, given you're paddling against the general consensus that we'd prefer no one advertise in the comment stream. This isn't an affront to you or Kent or whoever. There's just plenty to talk about without throwing that stuff into the mix.

 
At 12/04/2011 3:15 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Fuzz said:

"I find your advice 'to go with the flow' a little strange, given you're paddling against the general consensus that we'd prefer no one advertise in the comment stream."

'that WE'D prefer...' ???

Does John actually pay you guys to be his door bouncers?

Paul said:

"Why don't you just comply with John's wishes, or get your own bog(sic)?"

Although, at this point, 'bog' might be a more accurate term.

My question is, since this is John's blog, why the hell are you guys so concerned about who posts on it...or what they say? You act like it's YOUR blog.

Pretty weird, don't you think? I'm pretty sure that John can take care of himself.

 
At 12/04/2011 3:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Gary,

Aw, heck. Come on.

I would’ve commented on your post myself, but I was too busy rolling my eyes and groaning.

I don’t really consider the comment stream of this blog to be “mine.” If I did, I would put it on moderation. All I can do is suggest that it not become a bulletin board.

 
At 12/04/2011 6:10 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Bulletin board, I understand. I could put up a lot of links to my books and comments about them. I don't.

But poetry? Really, John. I thought that was your thing.

If Ashbery or Armantrout suddenly showed up and posted an original poem, what would you say? How would you react?

 
At 12/05/2011 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GBF wrote: "You act like it's YOUR blog."

No wonder John is rolling his eyes. Have you looked in the mirror lately, Gary? The suggestion has been made that Kent get his own blog; you should too. You could post your poems to your heart's content, and no one would object.

 
At 12/05/2011 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment stream is like 'letters to the editor' for John's magazine.

Even with print magazines an implicit understanding exists that the opinion of the letter writer is not the same as the magazine.

In cyberspace, I would imagine this understanding is even greater.

It takes a split second to hop over a comment one doesn't want to read, and unlike a print magazine, a blog doesn't have to worry about 'space concerns' with its letters to the editor.

John is absolutely within his rights to set an 'editorial tone' here, but it seems to me that other 'letter writers' who voice their opinions on why a certain person (Gary, Kent, etc) shouldn't be allowed to comment here are doing exactly what they are protesting.

Tom

 
At 12/05/2011 4:22 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Anonymous said:

“No wonder John is rolling his eyes. Have you looked in the mirror lately, Gary? The suggestion has been made that Kent get his own blog; you should too. You could post your poems to your heart's content, and no one would object.”

Actually, I have already ‘posted’ my poems to my heart’s content. Not only on the internet (where, except for certain apparently negative individuals, they are actually appreciated), but have also published six books full of them (you can check Amazon, Barnes & Noble or just Google ‘Gary B. Fitzgerald . . . 2.5 million hits and counting). I have published over 460 poems in all covering almost 50 years of writing. How about you, there, Mr. Shakespeare?

However, considering the tens of thousands of people who are dying every day due to war, violence, famine and disease, not to mention the impending implosion of civilization itself, it seems a little trivial on your part to get so worked up and take all this trouble to condemn me for the despicable crime of sharing my poetry on an internet poetry blog. Is it really that important?

Get a fucking life, will you!

 
At 12/05/2011 9:19 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Please don't take my comment above in the wrong way. All I'm saying is . . .

it's only poetry and, relative to what's going on in our world today, it ain't that much.

Nothing to get too excited about, anyway.

GBF

 
At 12/05/2011 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"it's only poetry and, relative to what's going on in our world today, it ain't that much."

I'll admit that you've made a very strong case proving this.

Paul

 
At 12/05/2011 10:11 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

"I'll admit that you've made a very strong case proving this."

It just always has to be another snide put down, doesn't it, Paul?

Is it possible that you might have some emotional issues?

WV: Worries

How strange! This just has to be Jungian synchronicity.

 
At 12/06/2011 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is it possible that you might have some emotional issues?"

Who doesn't? But the big issue here is impulse control. Gary, seriously, you lob such easy ones my way, what I'm I supposed to do? I'm only human.

Paul

 
At 12/07/2011 5:22 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12/07/2011 6:04 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Comment – Revision 1
Paul:

What you are “supposed” to do is buy my books, read them, become a fan and then a champion who writes and publishes a positive, glowing review that makes us both rich and famous.

Duh! :-)

Seeking Ezra Pound.

 
At 12/07/2011 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish someone around here had made that clear earlier. Would have saved a lot of trouble.

Paul

 
At 12/07/2011 8:00 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I know you hate me, Paul, but I really think you're pretty cool.

I mentioned Jungian synchronicity above regarding a word verification. Well, here's the proof:

WV: Shami.

That is actually the name of one of my cats. (Shamrock...Shami for short).

We call her 'Shami shami coco puff' because before we adopted her she was attacked when she was a kitten by a pack of dogs. She lost her tail and also had to have a rear leg amptutated. The vet warned us that due to loss of muscular conrol she may occasionally drop an unintended 'coco puff'.

The good news is that I now own the fastest three-legged cat in the county. It's amazing. She puts the four-legged ones to shame.

 
At 12/07/2011 8:32 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

'amputated' I meant, above.

Jeez, I hate tpyos.

 
At 12/09/2011 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, my arguments and occasional expressions of annoyance hardly constitute hate. It's not like you've slept with my wife or sabotaged my career (I'm fairly confident of this, since I have neither).

And I appreciate your allegations of my coolness, which unfortunately now I'll have to try to live up to.

Paul

Word verification: frewnip (eagerly awaiting Jungian analysis)

 
At 12/23/2011 5:33 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

12/23/11

WV: gintea

Hey! That's what I'm driking tonight.

Told ya!

 

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