Matters of Taste AND RANTING IN ALL CAPS

I did a lot of interweb reading over the month of April. As I read, I'd cut and paste each and every link I liked, or wanted to comment on, into a draft blog post on my smartphone. I'm finally getting to the point where I have a few moments to spare/type unencumbered on a real keyboard (I'm probably jinxing myself by even thinking I have a few moments to spare), and I decided I'd better get to this post before it became completely unwieldy and/or boring.

April, National Poetry Month, brought with it a slew of "poem-a-day" posts to my email inbox, because I belong to two listservs, the Poem-A-Day from the poets.org (the Academy of American Poets web site) and Audio Poem of the Day from the Poetry Foundation. Generally, I find that I like the taste of whoever manages the Poetry Foundation's listserv more than I like the taste of whoever manages the Academy of American Poets listserv. 

For instance, early in the month, I received this through Poem-A-Day. For those of us too lazy to open the link (don't worry, my hand is raised over here, too), these are the first four lines of the excerpted piece, from Anselm Berrigan's "Primitive State":

Thingitation righteousness for pre-avail to drive away the mighty kraken
Put me in a room full of strangers and leave me alone
...cauldron in twine, disarray as fair game, keen ablution borne skeezed ...
Forced into assertions by a lack of attention
 WTF, man? I mean, really. W. T. F.  I have so little patience for poems like this . . . the associative leaping thing. It's not that the poem asks me to work hard; it's not that I don't "get it" because I'm not reading carefully. It's that I don't find much reward for the work I do when I engage with the poem. It asks that I work, and then it doesn't provide much pleasure.

Aside from my fondness for the kraken, I find little here that compels me to read further. I don't like the second line because I find it smacks of a sullen four-year old (A.B., or speaker for A.B.'s poem, if you want me to leave you alone why are you making me read this godawful stuff?) (and believe me, I'm totally schooled in 4-year old sullenness at the moment). I suppose I like the music of "keen ablution borne skeezed" but it's kind of like Katy Perry's music: Sure, she can sing, but what the fuck is she singing about? OH! Oh! I'm like what? A firework? Do I care? No! Moving on . . .

Old A.B. (Or not-so-old A.B., as his Poetry Foundation bio reveals, as he was born in 1972) is the progeny of poets Alice Notley and Ted Berrigan. I'm not gonna go on some tirade about nepotism -- although holy hell, the boy's published four books already and he's just a smidge over forty. FOUR BOOKS. FILLED WITH POETRY THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE JUST LIKE THIS POEM. Instead, instead, INSTEAD OF GOING ON A RANT ABOUT NEPOTISM, I'll say that having parents with such a pedigree, couldn't they have taught him about restraint? 

Perhaps I'm being mean. My chances of ever meeting A.B. are slim, and I think that the chance he'll ever read my blog is slim, too -- but let's imagine for a moment that I had to actually look A.B. in the face someday knowing that he'd read this post . . . how would I feel?

I think that's an interesting question. I'm sure critics deal with this all the time, and I suppose I'd like to know how they reconcile their taste with their humanity. Some people say that cultivating taste and having discretion and being honest IS having humanity, but I think I'd have a difficult time being in a conversation with someone after calling their work crap.

And to be honest, I don't find A.B.'s work complete crap. I do find it self-indulgent. I do find it not-to-my-taste. I guess I wish people like those at poetry.org wouldn't applaud such work, and send it out into the world as an example of excellent poetry. Because if I'm going to have a poem show up in my inbox every day, and take time and attention away from all the things that are demanding my attention also, can't I demand that those poems be not just rewarding, but an example of excellence?

And so, to answer my question above, I guess I'd feel, well, not exactly comfortable, but okay, saying to A.B.'s old A.B.-face, "Sorry, A.B., but I don't think that piece was the best." I think poetry.org should have done better.

Of course, I'm not half so witty or cutting as David Yezzi, who offered this gem when writing about Mary (yawn) Oliver in The New Criterion:

One of the things I plan to do is pass up, inasmuch as possible, reading more poems like this one.
Thingitation righteousness for pre-avail to drive away the mighty kraken

Put me in a room full of strangers and leave me alone

...cauldron in twine, disarray as fair game, keen ablution borne skeezed...

Forced into assertions by a lack of attention - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23430?utm_source=PAD%3A+from+Primitive+State+by+Anselm+Berrigan&utm_campaign=poemaday_040413&utm_medium=email#sthash.hXZPhGXS.dpuf
Thingitation righteousness for pre-avail to drive away the mighty kraken

Put me in a room full of strangers and leave me alone

...cauldron in twine, disarray as fair game, keen ablution borne skeezed...

Forced into assertions by a lack of attention - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23430?utm_source=PAD%3A+from+Primitive+State+by+Anselm+Berrigan&utm_campaign=poemaday_040413&utm_medium=email#sthash.hXZPhGXS.d
Zing!

I thoroughly enjoyed Yezzi's essay, which was about how poetry today doesn't take enough risks. A.P. thought he didn't quite get it right -- A.P. blames readers instead, and in particular, those readers and/or publishers who reside in or just came out of MFA programs  . . . and how, according to taste, those readers aren't willing to do enough hard work to understand or appreciate poems that aren't, as Yezzi describes them, "the genial revelation, the sweetly poignant middle-aged lament, the winsome ode to the suburban soul."
(Am I paraphrasing you correctly, A.P.?)

Of course, using the standards established by this essay, perhaps A. Berrigan's work holds up, because it does take risks. But I'm not sure that flirting with difficulty or providing a not-so genial revelation is strong or reasonable criteria for good poetry.

OR, perhaps this is good poetry, but I can't recognize that, because it doesn't suit my personal taste. I prefer poems that are less showy, less antagonistic, and more musical, more subtle: if they're going to be antagonistic, insidiously so . . .

Well. That's enough for now. More tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or whenever I can find time to jump in here again.

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