Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Amused and irritated by turns at the profile of Dorothea Tanning in this week's The New Yorker. Tanning herself is a hoot—she's had an amazing life, and she's created some images that I will not soon forget (some stranger-than-Balthus little girls here; a sculpture whose title says it all, "Pincushion to Serve as Fetish"). She's become a self-styled "emerging poet" at the age of 93, and her poetry is charming, judging from this sample from her forthcoming Graywolf book, A Table of Content. But the article, by Jane Kramer, does nothing to melt the impression of an American Poetry Wax Museum that New Yorker poetry continues to be an exemplar of. Consider these sentences:
Within a year of her flowers show, tanning, at eighty-nine, was publishing in McClatchy's Yale Review (" first serious published poem"). A year later, she was chosen for the anthology 'Best American Poetry 2000' [the Rita Dove edition]. By last year, she was everywhere: Poetry, Parnassus, The Paris Review, The New Yorker.
Everywhere? I don't know why I should care or be even faintly surprised, but the incredibly limited palette represented by Kramer's "everywhere" could set me to grinding my teeth at night. Here's the other irritating paragraph:
McClatchy used to help Tanning edit her poetry. (They're still arguing about a poem that ended with the word "aubergine." "I kept telling her that 'aubergine' is not the right kind of word to end a poem with," McClatchy says, but Tanning held out for several drafts, because as she says, "I fell in love with 'aubergine,' with the sheen, the wicked color, the 'O' of it.")
Now Tanning can, I'm sure, take care of herself, so I'm not going to get mad at McClatchy for trying to bully her out of ending the poem with "aubergine." But is it crazy irrational of me to ask that a reporter covering the poetry beat not come out and ask questions about what lies behind McClatchy's bizarre assumption. Why, for the love of Pete, is it a bad idea to end a poem with "aubergine"? Fagh. Phooey.

I hereby propose that we all write poems ending in "aubergine" and send them to Who's with me?

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