My English teacher in 10th grade made poetry possible for me. He did so by asking the class the simple question, What is poetry? The class replied with the expected answer, that poetry—groan—was rhymed and metered muck that we did not want to read. His next question was on the order of Who said? Dialectic, that friend of educator Paulo Freire, ensued. I think I started reading poetry on my own then, and within a year I was writing what I called poetry.
Great story, Allen. The point here, however, is that poetry is strange and unfamiliar still. And as much as many of us like to see the experiments and challenge, we also wryly linger with the known and quantified.
Reading last week at the Boston Poet Tea Party gave me a curious viewpoint on the affair, and on the poetry scene. By poetry scene I mean current happenings in a somewhat socialized rendering. I was not on the menu, and that made me disembodied, so to speak. I was this extra guy.
I hadn’t practiced what I read. I think I vocalized the syllables well enough but I felt the clock awfully. That produced nerves, because I did not want to be the dick who went on too long. Long dicks, who needs them? So I probably smeared my performance a little in that way. I do not mind that, neither in myself or in others. That’s part of the living production. The perfect reading is always in your head.
Days Poem, either volume, is unwieldy, and the lectern was untrustworthy, so my attention could not easily shift to the audience too much. I felt like people were unprepared for what I offered. I mentioned Olsonian quantity because I had 1000 pages in my hands. I mentioned my appreciation of sentences because I had, oh, 10,000 sentences in my hand. I felt like I had to jar that recognition into the audience. I do not know that I had to, but I surely felt so.
Lots and lots of sentences that I heard that day were strategically dim. I suspect that many writers don’t exactly understand the challenge of the sentence. I do not mean sentences in the bland Poetry Magazine employ, dull prose rigged as poetry. Those loose cabooses in Poetry, full of commas and pressured similes, are just officially recognized distractions. What I speak of is how ordinary and trim the machine being used so often is. Such sentences work for minor purges but seem shiftless in the quantity of surprise that they supply.
What I love about Olson is what made the people needing safety nets bonkers. His twists, his stutter, his didn’t know it was a subject. I think the audience awaited the dead part of narrative to appear in my reading, and I wasn’t bringing the bacon. I was letting narrative stumble as it does in life.
To my mind, the metrics of modernism and post-modernism have been tamped down. The most rhythmic readers were largely theatrical, which maybe sounds bad but I do not mean it so. The rhythm was based on meaning rather than syllable. The sentence, then, glides along a fairly rolling, easy landscape. I think my writing has found another course, and it is rocky. Am I making sense?
Probably not. I am being general in my points, because I am simply sharing impressions. Why am I telling you, Posited Reader, this? To stay with the poetry I think I have found. I hope others write about this event. I have yet to read anything substantive.