Why bitch? you might ask.
Indeed why? Especially when the word, poetry, seems at odds with the cultural landscape. Especially when the label, poet, is often synonymous with some kind of annoying and pretentious buffoon, much like those that appear in Kenneth Koch’s story, “The Lockets.” Especially when even the best poets feel pressured to become ceaselessly self-promoting on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever else is new out there, as they seek glory in cyberspace.
For comic relief I turn to reviews like DMQ, Gargoyle, Praxilla, Triggerfish, and Plume, and to poets like Peter Johnson, Mark Halliday, Mitch Sisskind, Kenneth Koch, Russell Edson, Henri Michaux, Denise Duhamel, Salvatore Attardo, and of course, the one and only Nicole Santalucia. (There are many others as well, thankfully.)
I have to laugh, for example, when Peter Johnson rants and raves in his latest collection Rants and Raves. Consider the opening of his poem entitled “I’ve Tried to Like Poets:”
At issue in many of Peter Johnson’s poems is an underlying discomfort with expressing what he actually thinks or feels. (We poets shouldn’t have these bitchy thoughts, right?) Peter Johnson’s poems remind me a little of Henri Michaux, especially the poem, “My Pastimes.” But Michaux, unlike Johnson, has no qualms expressing his emotions.
A similar and funny Michaux poem, “The Man Launcher” has been animated and can be seen at the link http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~jima/manlauncher_almostfinished.mov
Also entertaining are Mark Halliday’s essays and poems, such as “Shnordick’s Butterfly,” and “Vexing Praxis/Hocus Nexus,” in which he parodies the fickle and absurd nature of poets and poetry criticism.
Then there’s Denise Duhamel . . . I can never resist Denise Duhamel’s poems. I’ve written fan letters and odes to Denise, and I sometimes wonder, where would the world be without Denise Duhamel? One of my favorite poems is her poem, “Buying Stock.” Admittedly, it is not a poem about the toxic aspects of po-biz, but metaphorically speaking, it almost could be.
The rest of Denise's poem can be found at :http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15333
Also memorable are the many poems that celebrate bad poetry readings. Who among us has been spared the experience? I took my friend, S, to his first poetry reading in Cleveland last summer, and he announced, mid-reading, he found the poetry and its delivery to be truly nauseating. Me too! I said.
Among my favorite poems about bad readings are Szymborska’s “Poetry Reading” in which she writes: “O Muse where are our teeming crowds?/ Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare/it’s time for this cultural affair.”
And John Brehm’s poem, “At the Poetry Reading,” in which he talks of how “he stopped listening some time ago.” How the reader is “from the Iowa Workshop/and can therefore get along fine/without my attention.” (I love a good snarky line.) Instead of listening, the poet begins having sexual fantasies about the reader’s wife. (Always good to keep a good fantasy in mind. You just never know when it will come in handy, especially if you are a regular at poetry readings.)
Finally there’s Salvatore Attardo’s “Banter Poem” in which Attardo suggests we invent an entirely new poetic genre based on the idiotic banter poets do between their poems. To hear him read the poem makes up for many of the bad poetry readings that I have endured.