Sunday, October 3, 2010

Q: What Do Nabokov, O'Hara, Poole & Rimbaud Have in Common?

A: I recently read each poet!

In Poems & Problems, Vladimir Nabokov's playfulness often results in great lines, if not great poems. Take, for instance, the following from “Snow”:

Whenever I’m falling asleep
I cannot help think:
Maybe you will find a moment to visit me,
My warmly muffled up, clumsy childhood.

Generally speaking, I prefer his translated Russian poems to his English verse; that said, “An Evening of Russian Poetry,” in which he fields questions from presumably American students, is two thumbs way up.  Higher, higher!

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Many of the selections from Voice of the Poet are accompanied, as one may have guessed, with recordings of Frank O’Hara reading his poetry. In my early twenties when I discovered O’Hara (yes, in the same way Columbus discovered America) it changed my poetics dramatically. I began to see how material from my own life held enough significance to be part & parcel of my poems.  Furthermore, I learned that I didn’t need to stifle my sense of humor, which for better or worse, is a big part of my personality. Of course, O’Hara should have revised more, but as he says, in his own defense perhaps, in “Naphtha”:

you can’t make a hat out of steel
and still wear it
who wears hats anyway

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Scott Poole (The Cheap Seats) is a bit of a minimalist, not in the creepy Robert Creeley sort of way, but he writes short poems with short words & short sentences to describe, in short, life in suburbia. His poetic sensibilities grant him the ability to write such lines as:

But as I crossed the river
the tombstones were not tombstones
but chimneys,
and houses all alike had grown beneath them.
It was not the death I had expected. (“The Crossing”)

I wish this collection had more like examples, but to make a long story short, The Cheap Seats keeps my interest, though only minimally.  Ha!

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A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat, by Arthur Rimbaud (trans. Louise Varese) signals a significant departure from First Blood & its many sequels. A Season in Hell poses the question of how many MIAs can a poet save, even if said poet is a berserk one-man-army with highly volatile verse strapped to his chest?  Stallone's never been this good. My favorite lines occur early in “The Drunken Boat,” in which the boat, like me, is only slightly tipsy:

Light as a cork I danced upon the waves,
Eternal rollers of the deep sunk dead . . . .

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