Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents' Day Poem

Reproductions of Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware graced the wall of my elementary school, as well as middle school & I'm pretty sure high school too. There are historical inaccuracies in Leutze's depiciton; the flag, for instance, displayed prominently in the painting, didn't exist at the time of the battle.

To be fair, one could level similar charges against my poem. I don't have any sources to confirm what items Washington packed for his overnighter, but at the same time, nor do I know any that debunk my claim, so as far as I know, I freakin' nailed it!

To whatever degree of success, my idea was to write a tongue-in-cheek description of the Leutz painting. I had Larry River's painting & Frank O'Hara's "On Seeing Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art" in mind when I wrote.

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" first appeared in Swink & subsequently, in my chapbook, Here's How. I'm presenting it here as a Presidents Day poem in hopes of placing my name on the list of candidates for the next U.S. Poet Laureate. I understand it's a long list--here's hoping!

Washington Crossing the Delaware
What does one pack
for a jaunt into history?
Honeywell reports: A change
of clothes, powder

for his periwig & a Fannie
Burney novel to pass
the night in Trenton. But now, icy
clumps batter the klutzy

ferry. Frozen in his stance, boot
propped confidently atop
his duffel bag, he fixes
his determined gaze

upon New Jersey, drawing
closer as if
he willed it so, his ragged
troops slaving to propel

the Durham up-
stream, the turgid river
maintaining fierce
loyalty to the crown.

He stands, tattered
flag at his shoulder, saber
at his side, big hands
curled into fists.

Monday, February 1, 2010

ABC of Poetry

I have, in my humble estimation, about a hundred zillion volumes of poetry. My personal library includes the first book of poems I bought (Poe--I was 12 or 13) as well as worn & weathered Cummings & Stevens collections from high school. What happened to my Brautigan? Lost in a cheap motel with lights all over the place, grungy ice machine outside moaning, I suspect. Of course, a fair share of these books I bought in college--some for classes, but most for my own enjoyment & enlightenment.

Since graduation, I've continued, as one may rightly assume, to acquire more & more poetry, so much so that I can't remember every book I own. As a result, I've repurchased titles that have sat idly on my shelves for years. Why keep a book, it occurs to me in those moments of buyer's remorse, if it exists simply to gather dust, its contents occupying not a whit of the owner's consciousness?

As part of my new year's self-reclamation project, I decided to read--or rather, re-read, as predominantly is the case--from A to Z, the poets on my shelves. To be clear, my idea is to read a poet whose last name begins with the letter A, then one whose name begins with B, then C & so on until I exhaust the alphabet--perhaps myself as well--before returning to A.

Listed below are the books I've read so far--I'm currently reading David Ignatow for I--along with brief comments about each:

Dick Allen, Flight & Pursuit. I could have chosen Ai, Addonizio, Akmatova, Ammons, Angelou, Apollonaire, Arnold, Ashbery, Auden--among others--to begin my poetic journey, but I picked a poet I had basically forgotten. A skilled writer, Allen counts & recounts flowers on the trellis, symbolizing (I think) his tendency to sentimentalize. I place this book on par with televised golf in the sleep-inducing section of my sofa.

Michael Benedikt, The Body. Other than The Poetry of Surrealism, that classic anthology which he compiled, I hadn't read Benedikt for quite a while. Sometimes the poems–"Air" & “Hair” come to mind–remind me of early Kenneth Koch. After reading The Body, I reread it. I thought about delving into other books by Benedikt, but adhering to my plan--to the letter, I might add--I moved on to . . .

Raymond Carver, Where Water Comes Together with Other Water. I consider meeting Raymond Carver as a highlight of my piddling literary life. Even if alive, he wouldn't remember me or that he signed my copy of Would You Please Be Quiet Please?, the best short story collection ever: "To Matt--With admiration for his poems." Point is, I'd feel like a heel were I to say anything negative about his poetry, for instance, that his poems about writing poems & those in which he achieves closure through the deus ex machina of love seem somewhat, uh, amatuerish. I'm nobody & he's a great writer. Besides, some truly excellent poems here, such as "Blood," "Next Door" & "Ask Him," make me recommend this collection wholeheartedly.

Tim Dlugos, Powerless. Billing himself a post-New York School poet, embracing O'Hara's Personism as his aesthetic spirit guide, but lacking--who doesn't?--O’Hara’s wit, Dlugos is a decent poet, but sadly, the poems generally become more interesting when he finds out that he’s dying of AIDS. Those poems--I want to say ironically but fear it would seem insensitive--have lots of power.

Russell Edson, The Tunnel. If Gary Larson wrote poems, I’m tempted to say in order to characterize this book for the uninitiated, he’d write prose-poems like Edson, but such conjecture undercuts the philosophic nature of this enigmatic volume of selected poems (1964-1985). For me, Edson hits his stride in 1973 with The Clam Theater & The Childhood of an Equestrian.


Kenneth Fearing, Afternoon of a Pawnbroker. Perhaps one of the most overlooked poets of the 20th century, Fearing remains one of my favorites. I like the way he merges pop culture, society, politics, the arts, etc., into noir-ish poetry. A must read!

Tess Gallagher, Portable Kisses. Not Neruda, but several good poems like “One Kiss” & “Sugarcane” make this an enjoyable collection of love poems. Some are forgettable or forgiveable but never dull as a thud. As the title suggests, this book is ideal for carrying around to read in spare moments. Gallagher also advises readers to kiss someone when they're done, which seems, at first blush, terrific advice. However, I'm no longer welcome at Starbucks as a result, so let this serve as a cautionary tale.

James Harms, Freeways & Aqueducts. In flowing, sometimes flowery lines, Harms seems to hold an abiding appreciation & compassion for everyone & everything. I particularly like “Copernicus,” which I heard him read a few years ago in Morgantown. If you’ve not read Harms--not that I want to tell you how to live your life--but maybe you should.

To be continued . . .