Did you know that Emily Dickinson once wrote a poem about being frightened out of a toilet by a spider? And that, in that same poem, she figures the spider as having stolen from her “the marrow of the day”? I transcribe:
Alone and in a Circumstance
Reluctant to be told
A spider on my reticence
And so much more at Home than I
I felt myself a visitor
And hurriedly withdrew
Revisiting my late abode
With articles of claim
I found it quietly assumed
As a Gymnasium
Where Tax asleep and Title off
The inmates of the Air
Perpetual presumption took
As each were special Heir—
If any strike me on the street
I can return the Blow—
If any take my property
According to the Law
The Statute is my Learned friend
But what redress can be
For an offense nor here nor there
So not in Equity—
That Larceny of time and mind
The marrow of the Day
By spider, or forbid it Lord
That I should specify.*
(*For clarity, I have installed four stanza breaks: the last four, above. Otherwise, the text is reproduced exactly from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958, volume 2, page 815. I should like to draw the reader’s attention to Dickinson’s use of the word assiduously at line 4. The word appears nowhere else in her poetry.)
Nerd, and dork. These terms are not interchangeable. Nerds are worse. They are. In movies they are cowering things, but in real life they have nerdy self-confidence. Intelligence, anger, self-confidence—and no savvy. This guy right here knows what I’m talking about. Nerds are sinister.
Whereas, for dorks there is hope. Dorks aim to please, and sometimes they figure out how to do it. They “try too hard” for years on end, but eventually they learn. And more, at the end of the process they have soul. They have suffered for their art. It is painful to forgive them, but they must be forgiven….
All this is about poetry, of course—an ecosystem top-full of these two types. Wicked little martinets and frooty goofballs. But the goofballs are going somewhere. Some of them are. They must be smacked in the mouth sometimes, heaven knows. But you must never forget they are the future.
Every single poet should compile his or her own Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. I mean a totally personal anthology of one’s Gold Standards. Poems one returns to over and over, like one returns to a favorite CD. I don’t know how many pages, but there has to be absolutely no pretense to fairness. If three quarters of the book is one poet, so be it. If one of the poems is seventy pages long, and none of the others are anything like that, so be it. If it’s all men, or all women, or all gay, or all straight—so be it. There has to be ONE operating principle behind the book: THE poems that you treasure. Nothing more, nothing less.
Robbins told me Bill Knott has been doing something like this for years. He’ll make, like, his own Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy, based strictly on his own taste. Compile it, self-publish it, give it to friends. That is excellent. I would love to do a John Ashbery selection like that. The ones I love, irrespective of chronology, importance, Ashbery-ness….
But mainly I want to have a look at my friends’ Golden Treasury compilations. As long as the supreme editorial principle is adhered to—requiring that every included poem pass the Love Test, and that all other criteria be absolutely banned—then imagine how much I would learn about the compilers! Actually, now that I think of it, this little project would be a cinch to engineer. Just do it all online. Be like Pinterest, or whatever that shit is.
PREDICTION: This idea will be a reality within the next hundred and twenty seconds.
Hafez says somewhere “Snatch up a book of poems and head to the wilderness.” Yes. And you either aspire to write books that would live up to that, or you don’t.
Sandra Simonds told me: “Poems are either really good, or almost, or they have no right to exist.”
Hannah Gamble told me: “I can't take any more of these Victorian kitchen utensils and Google words. Corvid, silique, whipstitched, runnel—I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to read Miss Havisham’s poetry.”
And Chris Crawford says: “All poems should… no, all metaphors should, I mean all poetry should always…wait, what the hell am I talking about, what’s poetry?”