Thursday, August 20, 2009

how would someone feel


here's a quote from Jonathan Mayhew's blog, "Bemsha Swing", date 09-28-2007:

Georg Trakl, César Vallejo, and Juan Ramón Jiménez were not "surrealists." I'm going off the "deep" end next time I see a quote about how James Wright translated "surrealist poets" like these! Whether Lorca was a "surrealist' is at least open to debate. It kind of depends on what your definition of 'Lorca" is. The "American Lorca" was a surrealist. The friend of Dalí, the Lorca of the drawings, might have been. The author of Diván del Tamarit was not.

Vallejo wrote an autopsy of surrealism, explaining its failings. Trakl killed himself 10 years before the surrealist manifesto. How would someone feel if encountering a list of "Language poets like Ron Silliman, Robert Hass, Frank O'Hara, and Bill Knott"? Would it matter that some died before language poetry existed, some hated it? The logic seems to be (1) Robert Bly and James Wright translated Trakl and Vallejo. (2) Robert Bly liked surrealism around this time. (3) Therefore these poets are surrealists.



—Mayhew's question in which my name appears made another question occur to me:

How would I feel if someone called me an "avant-garde" poet, which Robert Pinsky did indeed call me in his Wash Post column . . . ?

I would feel, and I did feel, hurt and insulted, (and I know Pinsky meant it to be an insult)

since I do not consider myself an avantgarde poet, I have never wanted to be an avantgarde poet, and in fact I dislike almost all avantgarde poetry:—

which means that if Pinsky is right in his aspersion, then I have failed in my ambitions and aspirations as a poet . . .

—Well, that is to say, I mean, I know I've failed: I am a failed poet, period; but if his pejorative label should somehow be correct, it would mean that I've failed even more, even worser than I think . . .




I'm reprinting an old post below . . .

(In asserting my civil right to end my life when and as how I choose, I may be transgressing the social norms, which of course poets have never done!

It seems to me that poets especially should appreciate and support this right. I'm not excluding other vocations, sculptors for example could receive such benefits from the Sculptors League, and etcet for every field of endeavor,

but I demand that the Poetic Institutions should aid poets particularly in this matter.

I demand their patronage at this acme of climacteric: they owe me (and needless to say, all other poets like me, we who have overpaid our lives into that metaphorical fund devotionally and are now due our parting pension) that much, they owe me this assisted demise.

This bequeath of death.

I can of course do it via the usual violent methods, but I feel that as a poet I deserve a painless deliverance granted by the Academy of American Poets or the Poetry Society of America or the Poetry Foundation or the Ingram Merrill Foundation or the heiratic Bollingen or similar endowers of poetic endeavor—

Or is it hopeless to expect succor from such evil and corrupt bodies? Must poets form their own self-help groups, auto-euthanistic societies. If those malevolent cabals listed above will not help poets in this quest, must I turn to poets themselves and beg for their individual or collective mercies . . .

I can attend poetry readings with a sign around my neck asking for contributions of the right prescription strength . . . I can write pleas to famous poets begging them to scrape their medicine cabinets for a bolus of panacea, a perk of peace ...

Yes it would be useless of me to protest picket the offices of the Academy of American Poets et al, though I will continue to proclaim that they are in arrears to me, that they are obligated to accord me this compensatory quittance in return for my lifetime of service.)


Once they get to a certain age, poets should be put to sleep; I don't mean all poets, not real poets, successful poets: but poets like me, second-raters, third-raters, whether run of the mill SOQhack like me or superannuated avant, we should get it in the neck. Our poems are already dead; we might as well follow.

Because what's the point. We're not going to write anything important now: I'm not going to, that's for sure. I'm through, I know it. Why hang on and keep going through the motions, which is all I'm doing now as anyone can see who reads the work I've posted here on this blog over the past year.

But there should be an easy out for old poets who've failed. A graceful goodbye, a painless dispensation. We should be helped to put ourselves away quietly. A "terminal dosage" should appear on our doorsill from some anonymous generous patron of the arts, to honor not our accomplishment but our sustained devotion to the bright cause. We don't deserve a prize for our lifelong failed poetic attempts, but surely by those laborious efforts we have at least earned a charitable bottle of sleepingpills! The American Academy of Arts and Letters could spare an OD, don't you think?

Is it too much to ask the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets to help euthanize the exits of old failed poets like me? Can't they set up a discretionary fund, an in-house Hemlock Society, to assist and sponsor such acts of mercy? If they had hearts they would.

Seriously, with all the millions the Poetry Foundation has, Christian Wiman can't take a little of that money and establish an Euthanasia outreach program for extinctist poets like me?


Expunge us from the scene. Wipe us off the screen. We're (I'm) just taking up space and attention that would otherwise and should indeed be going to younger poets.

I'm just taking up space a younger poet should be filling. My job, my publisher(s), my readership (all 12 of them) should be going to that younger viable poet.


Can no one hear us old failed poets begging for surcease? "Put me out of my misery" we whimper. Have pity on us. Is there no kind Benefactor who will aid our quietus, who will press into our hand the nepenthean vial?


(The CIA issues suicide pills to its agents. . . the CIA used to fund under-the-table most USA artistic institutions. . . why can't someone from the myriad Academies of American Coldwar Culture call up their former or current conduits in the CIA and say, Hey we got all these old failed poets cluttering up the mis en scene, can't you lend us some "escape-capsules" to help us delete this mess. . . The Academy of American Poets could benefit AmerPo most by scoring cyanide cocktails for terminal poets like me. . . .)


The CEO of Home Depot just retired with a 210 million dollar payout. I wasn't the CEO of PoBiz Inc, I was only a minor clog in the company: I don't expect 210 million, but can't they at least give me a crummy bottle of barbituates, some goodbye-Bill pills to ease my demise?!

If everybody reading this would scrounge their medicine cabinet and vouchsafe me a tab or two. Or if only some wealthy patron of the arts would find it in their hearts to mercifully anonymously endow me with the Terminal Sedation that would balm and dose me to a close.


suspect should be shot on sight

(a post from two years ago:)


Someone who runs a little poetry reading series here in Boston wants me to do one in their schedule before I leave the area next year . . .

Vanity (as always) tempts, but I can't do it.

My health is not up to it, first and firstmost. That in itself is sufficient reason to refuse,—

but also, as I've mentioned in earlier posts here, back when I was younger and did do readings I was by all accounts pretty bad at it.

And to say "I did readings" is not quite accurate, considering that in my three decades of residence here in the Boston area, I was almost never invited to give them . . .

which is not surprising, really, taking into account how terrible I was at doing them—

and in view of how the few readings I did give were so poorly attended—

it's no wonder I was asked to do them so infrequently . . .

The overseers of such venues knew how small a crowd my limited (meaning "bad") reputation as a poet would bring in. And they were right, of course.

In those thirty years there were certainly plenty of places where I could have been invited to read, most of the many colleges and universities in or around the Boston area had reading series, and there were always non-affiliated independent ones ongoing . . .


But lately I've been wondering whether my pathetically meager reading career might relate to the fact that the State Arts Council had at some point early on in my thirty years here pronounced me persona non grata . . .

and ergo the administrators of all those poetry-reading series knew that it would be *illegal* to recognize me as a poet, to invite me to read—

this is a metaphor, but poets live and die by metaphor, and I've died dozens at the hands of this one, so please stay with me while I tease it out a bit—

Laws are created not solely by legislation, but also by precedence and custom:

so if the State of Massachusetts, through its Arts Agency, has repeatedly and consistently ruled that my poetry has no merit and is not worthy of—

I applied I can't remember how many times, how many years for one of the poetry grants they gave over the course of those three decades to hundreds of other Massachusetts poets—

if the State has determined that I am a nonpoet, if they have rendered that judgement again and again and again, then,

does that not constitute a statutory mandate, does that not have the authority of an ordinance,—

does that not establish a Law, a commonlaw or corpus juris,—

does that not in jurisprudence enact an Edict that finds "Knott is not a poet"—

has not the State ratified, by precedence and custom, and decreed just such an embargo—

and if the State of Massachusetts has legally ordained by fiat that I am not a poet, then, ergo,

it would be illegal, wouldn't it, for citizens of Massachusetts to regard me as a poet?—

No wonder all those folks never invited me to participate in their reading series, when they knew that by doing so, they'd be breaking the law!

(It's obviously why the editors of here-in-state magazines always rejected the poems I send them—)


Yes, the metaphor sayeth: it is illegal for Massachusetts residents to read my poetry, or ask me to give poetry readings, or to consider me a poet in any way.

Hopefully whatever state I move to next year won't enact similar prohibitions.

I guess I'm lucky that Massachusetts didn't actually make it a criminal offense for me to be a poet, and sanction its police agencies to arrest me each time I tried to write a poem.

I guess it's lucky I'm not on Death Row by now.

My poetry career's on Death Row, but I'm not quite there yet. Won't be long, though.




from their website:

The Massachusetts Cultural Council awards grants in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction to some of the most exciting and talented writers in the state. The prize has been awarded to some of the Bay State’s best-known writers including Jonathan Franzen, Robert Pinsky, Sue Miller, Tom Perrotta, and Mark Doty.


from me:

Yeah, I lived in Mass for over 3 decades and applied I don't know how many times for a grant, and they never gave me a fucking penny. They gave grants to hundreds of poets over that period, but I never even made it to finalist. You're gonna tell me I wasn't blacklisted?