Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dear Blah Blah Blah

Going old school, I recently read Leonard Nathan's Dear Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980).  Nathan, a former Berkeley professor, "won wide critical acclaim," as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship & a National Institute of Arts & Letters award for poems (I'm taking this directly from the book cover) that "have an explosive meaning barely contained in the few words that hold them together."

Ok, I get it: Nathan's a minimalist, but how do words hold the poem together if their meanings--to borrow an expression from renowned SCTV Farm Film Review critics Big Jim McBob & Billy Sol Hurok--blow the poem up real good?  Moreover, it strikes me as rather ambiguous to say the "meaning (is) barely contained" in the words, which makes it sound, in one sense, as if Nathan doesn't quite understand what the words mean. When a blurb bothers me--even though it doesn't necessarily follow that the poetry is similarly flawed--I usually take it as a bad omen.

Ah, my tingling poesy sense served me well!  For if Nathan is "a storyteller & a fabulist" as the lying rat's ass of a cover claims, it's only if he intends his numerous poems to/for/about God (the majority of this book) to be seen as not so much fable as complete fabrication.  Take "Gap," in which God is the absence of a spider & the presence of a butterfly.  (FYI:  He's also the absence of dead leaves.)  That God's so much a part of the absences may be why, in "Habakkuk," Nathan says, "In conversations with the Lord, / you can't tell always / who's talking to whom."  It's kind of like someone talking on a Blue-Tooth in a dead zone.  Or the indigent street person constantly talking to an invisible other, maybe God, or maybe the ghost of Leonard Nathan himself.

In other poems, Nathan wanders a'wonderin' down a trail of abstractions, as in "Hieroglyph": 

Much is behind you
not to be known
and much ahead
of where you stand only for one true sound
(less maybe than a word)
before knowledge passes on.

Be ready,
be clear.

(For a detailed explanation of these lines, click here.)

Also included in this volume is "Memo," posted in its entirety below:

Who wrote
"I love you daddy"
on this white page?

The littlest daughter did
on this white page
under which lie concealed
thirty virginal pages
for later messages.

Looking beyond the general saccharine sentiment--if that's possible--& forgiving the use of the homey "littlest" (which Nathan does a couple of times in the book for, I suppose, emetic effect), the entire foundation of the poem rests upon a ridiculous rhetorical device.  The answer to the posed question depends on whether the speaker has any young children at home.  If yes, these children may provide an invaluable clue to the sought after information.

If not, then who?  Louis XVI, that bad egg?  Steve, the mechanical man?  Sylvia Plath?  Henry Pussycat?  Lolcat?  Oh, I don't know--maybe it was Satan? 

Do you know who wrote the note?  If so, please comment with your guesses.  You need not make a purchase to enter; you may enter as many times as you want.  The person who submits the winning entry will receive a slightly used copy of Leonard Nathan's Dear Blood.


Riley said...

Ugh! Oi! This is what it would be like if William Carlos Williams and Rod McKuen had a love child. Terrible. Who on earth decides on these awards? The same people who phone in votes to American Idol?

Matt Morris said...

I didn't intend to mislead, but as is often the case with blurbs, the accolades & awards mentioned on the cover refer to Nathan's previous book. However, unless Nathan suffered a traumatic head injury between the publication of the two books, I'm going to assume, for safety's sake, that it's more of the same. You raise a valid concern about who decides these awards, but in fairness, I doubt if many American Idol viewers read poetry in light of their illiteracy, not to mention idiocy, though I slipped it in anyway.

Zack said...

Great as usual. I've been cynical for most of the day, so your words really touched on that social need of my emotional response to all the fucktards in the world. I pray there's a God: "Hey you up there. Ya there? You better be because we're all irresponsible morons down here." Dear God, I hope you're real. Dear daddy, please respond to my love note to you. I tell you what, that stupid child is probably Dakota Fanning portraying another doesn't-matter pretentiously precocious snobby "princess." Daddy's little girl. Give me a break. It's no wonder he hasn't written back, sweetheart...

Either way, it doesn't matter. I just can't wait to go deaf or blind or something. This place is a mess. When I grow up, I wanna be a Luddite.

Zack said...

And what's with the "white virginal pages?" This man's such a hack that a banana could see through his thoughts. Anyway, I guess the little girl is saving her virginity for her father's reply? I surely hope not. If so, this guy's dirty mind needs some serious brainwashing.

Zack said...

...Thinking about it more now. There's sexual tension between the father and daughter, and later on in her life he will rape her... OK, BFD. Go watch any Bergman film. The Virgin Spring is certainly truer to the heart. Not my heart. But I get it. Whatever. H.P. Lovecraft is a hack. At least he had good ideas. Too much crap is rewarded. I want this man's head on a stick!

Matt Morris said...

Zack, I'm sorry you're angry, but on the bright side, you're cracking me up! As you know, I take delight in holding bad poetry up to the light, preferably a torchlight, & making light of it as it burns like a tire fire. "Memo," in particular, may be the worst poem I've ever read--& I've read Michael McClure! Thanks for tossing volatile material into the flame. As Big Jim McBob & Billy Sol Hurok would say, "It blowed up real good!"