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Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Fear Poetry, Eh?

I have used the above illustration before, but on one of my poetry sites so it's a pretty sure thing nobody's seen it. It shows me driving my friend Willie downtown in a 1971 VW bus. What has this to do with poetry? It was Willie introduced me to poets like Ginsberg and Brother Antoninus via Rosset's Evergreen Review back in the '60s. This was the poetry of life, written to help us navigate the universe. It was on coffee tables. People read it --strong, gentle voices among many.

Willie also introduced me to the poetry of Marguerite Duras, Dylan Thomas, and participated in the Ferlin-exchange. He held forth on the importance of Ferlinghetti while I extolled the lyricism of Ferlin Husky. These discussions were often punctuated by the word "eh?" Even as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, my VW bus had an assertive horn. It went "Beep!". It hadn't the startling dissonance of American-made horns that combined obnoxious atonalities into auditory tantrums. It was dignified. And over the years got more pensive, quiet and interrogative. Now it goes "eh?"


Oh certainly we are put off by pedants who ostentatiously condescend to improve my...I mean, our ignorance, or that dreary class of poets whose compilations consist of one damn suicide note after another. They dishearten us, leave us in gloom while they live happily ever after. Sometimes they all gang up with excuses: this poet was gloomy (from a childhood spent running at things and chewing them) or that poet was myopic (then got glasses and saw the dog he'd joyously romped and wrestled with in youth was really a tattoo on his neighbor's butt). Admittedly, illusion and disillusion are rampant in the arts and puzzling to all concerned.

And, to be fair, the problem is sometimes ourselves. Could we be a little afraid of how scary and beautiful self-expression can be?

"Eh?" says my old bus, apart from its roar and mephitic fumes. It is metaphor; it becomes the poet who burns freely and smells like a heretic. It echoes the Biblical Logos, the Word of cosmic reason, which is also an interrogative. Poetry is the engine that contains explosions and propels us down the road.

Happily, last I checked under the bonnet, both Bus and Willie are in good shape. Poetry, however, seems to have hidden under rhythmic profanity between subwoofer blasts. Some of it is pretty frightening, but remember the Logos --the still, small voice that remains after the fury, eh?


  1. I remember a long-ago time when poetry and self-expression were as crisp and precise and assertive as the horn honk of a VW bus. I remember greedily delving into the deliciously distinct literary realms of Ginsberg & Ferlinghetti & Dylan Thomas. It's too disheartening to think that, perhaps, those days are gone forever.....
    I greatly appreciated your poetic post!

  2. Good question. Where has all the poetry gone? A few years ago there were Poetry Slams in town. They're all done, too. Something is very not right about that.

  3. Eh?

    A VW bus... now that is poetry in motion. The first poetry I was introduced to in school was relating to war (waving not drowning) and I never really got into it, though I could see it was obviously good and intelligent (Oh, what does that say about me LOL). I wonder if I just haven't found the right angle in. I did read The Crow (or summit) by Poe a few weeks ago and enjoyed it, and have a book of darker poetry upstairs that I never even read called The Lobotomy. I should get on that. Right now. And then maybe look for something more cheery.

  4. It's not only poetry but writing in general. Where did all the great writers go? I pretty much avoid today's fiction simply because it is so boring and quite simply not real. Thank god there's still lots of books from before the 60's that I have yet to read.

  5. Thanks all. I think the muscular sort of performance poetry one remembers from pre-"corporate monoculture" (Ferlinghetti term)days is still alive in stand-up. Dylan Moran's "and then the cage comes down" (it's on YouTube)is an excellent example.

  6. My goodness, it seems your VW has morphed into something of a Canadian, eh?


    Seriously, I enjoyed your comments about poetry!

  7. All auto horns should sound Canadian, at least on July 1st. Thanks, Lorna!

  8. What a thoroughly wonderful post! In the '60s, when I was a student at the University of Maryland, a group of us frequented a dimly-lit little coffee house in Georgetown (HA! You would've loved it!)near D.C. One after another, poets would stand at the mike and perform their poems. (Oh, so much more than simply READ them.) And we, sitting at our little table with our massive mugs of coffee, would tap our cups with our spoons at the end of the performance to signal our approval. Magical times.

  9. I thoroughly enjoy the way you think.


    p.s. Have added you to my blogroll.

  10. Thanks Susan.
    Thanks Pearl.

  11. I will occasionally write a poem. At least I think it's a poem. The trouble is I'm not actually too sure what a poem is. So having written it, I begin to worry that it is not a poem at all. I hardly ever save my poems. Thank you for commenting on my blog. I should really do more drawings, and forget about poems.


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