Friday, January 09, 2004

Sign Me Up. . .

. . . to be a Mercurist, which is a school of poetry that Shanna is apparently planning to induct me into on behalf of the only actual living Mercurist, Mr. Daniel Nester. Yet I'm not so sure I should be included in the Pop Culturist genus of which Mercurist and Queenist are species and subspecies. I just don't think my actual poems have what you could call a pop sensibilitity. Hm, let's see what else is available on her list. Well, I appeared in one of the last Frequency Series readings so like Shanna I might be a Frequentist. I hope I'm not a Disingenuist, though I love the name. No Flarfist certainly... Post-Avant sure, but that's even broader than a genus in my opinion, it's a phylum or even a kingdom. I'm a fan of the New Brutalists but I don't quite believe in them—like Tinkerbell they only exist if you clap for them and wish hard. Maybe I'll be a Poeticist. That means a poet who thinks it's important to formulate (and keep formulating) a poetics for him or herself, but who is not particularly interested in party affiliations. So there.

Some great stuff in the latest American Letters & Commentary, including a contribution from yours truly that might have Mike Snider calling me a brother Sonneteer. Many poems that I've read so far stand out for me: work from Becka Mara McKay, John Schertzer, Claudia Keelan, Rosmarie Waldrop (the last two are particularly heartbreaking and thoughtful elegies for 9/11 and the American reaction to it), Jeff Baker (funny and dark), Peter Henry (this is terrific but ends a little lamely), Christina Mengert, Michael Dumanis (I met him at Bread Loaf in 2000—I should send him an e-mail), Shane McCrae, Ray McDaniel, Cole Swensen, John Greenman (a prose piece called "The Cowboy Poet" that I as a former temporary Montanan especially appreciate), and others I haven't gotten around to reading yet. A high value on wordplay generally in these poems, or else a certain kind of extended logopoeia, by which I mean a play with context and counter-context that goes beyond the individual word to the culture or cultures suggested by particular phrases and syntaxes. Maybe that goes without saying in logopoeia. For an example, here's a scarifying piece of work by a poet named Linh Dinh:
Eating Fried Chicken

I hate to admit this, brother, but there are times
When I'm eating fried chicken
When I think about nothing else but eating fried chicken,
When I utterly forget about my family, honor and country,
The various blood debts you owe me,
My past humiliations and my future crimes—
Everything, in short, but the crispy skin on my fried chicken.

But I'm not altogether evil, there are also times
When I will refuse to lick or swallow anything
That's not generally available to mankind.

(Which is, when you think about it, absolutely nothing at all.)

And no doubt that's why apples can cause riots,
And meat brings humiliation,
And each gasp of air
Will fill one's lungs with gun powder and smoke.
That's such a fine piece of engagement—not socialist realism or anything Sartre would recognize (and deplore)—instead I mean an alert and outraged listening to the gap between how we'd like to think of ourselves and the way we too often are, as it might be expressed in our ordinary language. I dig it, is what I'm saying—and I consider myself warned.

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