Tuesday, March 24, 2009

[Dead American Poets]

If you're like everyone else & me, you're caught up in the dementia that sweeps America this time of year. You've filled out your brackets for the office pool & you're eager to see who'll wear the championship crown of sonnets come National Poetry Month, a.k.a. April. Here are a few observations from last weekend's action:

Not surprisingly, Ginsberg went down early, as top-seeded Whitman administered the lopsided beat down. Ginsberg made the mistake of trying to play Whitman's game & Whitman showed that he was just flat out better.

So much depends upon how far William Carlos Williams' small ball can go in the tourney. A No. 5 seed, he had little difficulty overcoming the size of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or the run & gun of Charles Bukowski. The true test will come against John Berryman when the two square off Thursday.

T.S. Eliot is the wild card. Love him or hate him, he certainly has the pedigree to advance, but I wouldn't bet my paycheck on him just yet. You never know which Eliot you're going to get--the poet of "Prufrock" or the one that spawned Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats & its litter. Let's see how he fares when he faces Wallace Stevens, whom I see moving on to the Elite Eight.

Fresh off victories against Edgar Allan Poe & Edwin Arlington Robinson, Kenneth Fearing remains as the only Cinderella in this year's dance, though the film noir quality of his game hardly seems to befit a fairytale. In any event, the big clock may strike midnight for this glass slipper story in the late game on Friday when he meets high-octane Kenneth Koch.

Other key match ups include Frank O'Hara versus Emily Dickinson. Can anyone imagine a greater difference between aesthetes? E.E. Cummings takes on Robert Lowell, but you can throw in Amy & James Russell Lowell--Cummings will prove too much. It's your pick who'll survive the Plath-Sexton match up. That's not a game I care to see.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dead Dad

My dad died last week. For the past year & a half, he'd been severely incapacitated due to a major stroke.

Sadly, we didn't have a good relationship. I wouldn't liken it to Plath's "Daddy," or, for that matter, Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" either. Nor was it like Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," although Dad's alcoholism has blurred & tainted most of my memories of him.

I allude to this in "The Summer Before Last Summer" (which appears in both Nearing Narcoma & Manthology: Poems of the Male Experience). I've reprinted the poem below as if an elegy:

The Summer Before Last Summer

Taking the fishing trip I never had as a boy,
I’m standing on the boat’s port side because,
well, I like standing, the handle of my rod
propped against my gut. I’m a man.
It’s what men do. When I feel my line go taut,

I begin to reel it in. I’m not very good at this,
& it’s a struggle. Nothing like Santiago’s
great fish, I’ll confess, but there’s definitely
something on the other end. Maybe a hubcap,
maybe a fish. Like a pediatrician,

I have little patience, which
I expect to snap, that is, if my hands don't cramp.
I draw the line in, take up the slack
until, with just a gentle jerk, I’m left
holding a pole, limp & weightless.

My arms can’t describe my loss. I stop, eyes fixed
on white fins cutting across the surface.
I think sharks, but upon closer inspection,
I see it’s my old man, young again behind
the wheel of his ’60 Plymouth, off on a binge,

driving home the long way, the wrong way.