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« "The People of Yesteryear" [by Loren Goodman] | Main | An Interview with Amy Gerstler [by Aspen Matis] »

February 03, 2021


All this poem means is that Mr. Stevens now is free to consider the next string of thought that otherwise is too short to be saved. Within the context of institutions that would produce poets, if they could, it means the person seated closest to the blackboard is likely the one whose imagination is too meager for the job.

Thanks for letting me let off steam; what has been allowed to happen to poetry is as criminal as the slaughter of Vietnam, and, roughly, co-terminal to it.

"What has been allowed to happen to poetry is as criminal as the slaughter of Vietnam, and, roughly, co-terminal to it." That is a very strong statement. How did this happen? Are you thinking of the lack of reverence for tradition? The dismissal of dead white men? The fate of the canon? The debunking of the idea of genius? The neglect of form, meter, rhyme, and other adjuncts? Is it your sense that the "essence" of poetry has been re-defined to serve a socio-political end?

It was easy as pie; the academy decided it wanted to add poetry to the list of cultural artifacts and artistic constructs that it makes bank with. (See Yvor Winters, 1930s). The care and feeding of born poets never was part of the equation; it would be about the minting of taught poets (taut?), who would become just what we have today.

Look at the early funding source of the flagship "creative writing" program at Stanford. Look at what happens to Poetry magazine/foundation in the wake of massive BigPharma money.

Born poets are odd people; academic poetry mills produce polished product, ready for pop culture, which ate culture culture's lunch, at least since the plastic people* emerged victorious from the 1960s. (*see Frank Zappa)

Donald Hall's career provides an object lesson in what it takes for a "learned" poet to get around to producing good poems. At his valedictory reading/lecture (UNH, Nov. 2017), he said this: "the best American poetry still is Dickinson and Whitman."

Thanks to him, nobody has to subject herself to such horrors as Exeter, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Michigan (including a stint as an unwitting tool of the CIA at the Paris Review.)

My point is that the academy, at its essence, looks backward and tries to make sense of things. One can make marvelous, entertaining, verse using nothing but wrote material; poets must first set roots in the present, then visit the future, take refuge for a while in the library, mess around looking for company, and, if there's any good will remaining in the tank, set down instructions for their progeny's edification.

Also, they need to spend time in the south, or otherwise tan their own hides; a thick skin is more important to a poet than the fancy parchment doled out by deans and others with penchants for pomp, circumstance, and the regalia designed for the pleasure of the crown.

You want to be a poet, kid? then, follow Wallace Stevens' example; find a career that won't cost your soul, walk to work, and use your mind along the way. The money is in the insurance business; write poems for love, not lucre. It is that simple - am I the only simple-minded man, with Internet access?

Now look, our junior poet laureate is all-in with the NFL*. I rest my case. (reserving the right to revise and add to my remarks, at whim, or by invitation!) *NFL was alongside CIA, FBI, LBJ, et al. on the people's wall of shame, when poetry was yet an amateur pursuit.

Thanks for the soapbox, Tony.

Why thanks to Donald Hall?

Hall died a poet, after decades trying to fit himself into the scholastic canon, thanks largely to Jane Kenyon's influence, and to what he learned from Henry Moore. Poets belong in the streets, in the delivery room, in the board room, courtroom, garage - everywhere but the yesterday room, the university.

and furthermore - search for a posthumous take-down of Donald Hall by Lewis Turco, published in "The Hollins Critic."

Aren't you confusing "The Paris Review" with "Encounter"? I never bought the conspiracy theory that the CIA used Abstract-Expressionism for propagandas purposes. Also, as I understand it, Hall quite his tenured faculty position when he was in his 40s. Maybe David Lehman will clarify. He holds Hall in esteem.

Peter Matthiessen created the Paris Review as cover for his CIA work; that's not a secret anymore. Why wouldn't they meddle in the art market, is it somebody's sacred cow?

Aren't we all free to believe whatever we want about the CIA - it is their primary function to operate in the impossibility of total darkness, and to manipulate the lighting everywhere else. Look how they arranged a Nobel for Pasternak. I wonder if they had a hand in Dylan's?

I asked Donald Hall his thoughts about Dylan's Nobel - to summarize his response, which was not at all unkind to the Song and Dance man, "...Phil Roth should have got it, and now he never will."

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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