Truthful speaking would be a simple way to tell the truth, if the truth were simple and could be told.

12 April 2008


As a voracious reader, it should be said that I'm horribly underread when it comes to poetry. Unlike with prose or fiction whose major limit is that there's just way too much to get to, I don't actively seek out poems. And it's not that I don't like them or anything -- some poems have loads to say and they say them magnificantly -- it's just that . . . and I'm trying to think of the best way to say this without coming off as a philistine . . . I don't actively seek them out. The reasons why this may be true probably run long and deep and through woods that I'm not about to explore in the blogosphere but mostly because they don't interest me, I suppose. Bad experiences with classes maybe? Too many terribly read poems from high school? The failure of my own poetry from the very first creative writing class I took o so long ago? I don't know. I'm trying to justify this and I already said I wouldn't.

The last poem (until these) I sought out was Pale Fire, which was a piece of huge metafiction, so it wasn't just a poem but a dissertation of a poem, a chase adventure, a gay romp through imaginary kingdoms, an exploration of envy and a man's mentality breaking down, and just a fascination with the written word. And the poem in that book might not have been all the important to the actual understanding of the book, you know?

Anyway, in class we read "Emergency" from Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son collection, which I read wrong the first time I read it (I didn't know if I should read them as a series of short stories or as a mix-up novel) and I was speaking to the professor about Johnson just in general, because it appears I'm the only one who's read other books by the guy. He told me the guy started off as a poet, which is why you get some fantastic lines in the prose (just because you're a poet initially doesn't suggest that's the only way to write fantastic lines of prose; look at: John Crowley, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cormac McCarthy; we could go on), and suggested I look at The Incognito Lounge.

Which is a strangely compelling collection. Look at these:


I passed a helicopter
crashed in the street today,
where stunned and suddenly grief-torn
passers-by tried to explain
over and over, a hundred ways, what
had happened. Some cried over the pilot,
others stole money from his wallet --
I heard the one responsible for his death
claiming the pilot didn't need it any more,
and whether he spoke of the pilot's
money or his life wasn't clear.
The scene had a subaqueous timbre
that I recognize now as a light
that shines in in the dreams I have when I sleep
on my back and wake up half-drowned.
However I tried to circumnavigate
the circus of fire and mourning --
the machine burst ajar like a bug,
the corpse a lunch pail
left open and silly music coming out --
I couldn't seem to find a way
that didn't lead straight to the heart of the trouble
and involve me forever in their grief.


Every bus ride is like this one,
in the back the same two uniformed boy scouts
de-pansting a little girl, up front
the woman whose mission is to tell the driver
over and over to shut up.
Maybe you permit yourself to find
it beautiful on the bus as it wafts
like a dirigible toward suburbia
over a continent of salons,
over the robot desert that now turns
purple and comes slowly through the dust.
This is the moment you'll seek
the words for over the imitation
and actual wood of successive
tabletops indefatigably,
when you watched a baby child
catch a bee against the tinted glass
and were married to a deep
comprehension and terror.

The other day I was at my show and just looking up stuff about Wilco. Jeff Tweedy in particular and much to my surprise, turns out the guy wrote a book of poems and, further to my surprise, our library carried it (Morgan Library is the best library in the world; maybe not but it's the best I've ever had a membership with). I grabbed it and read it and liked it, a little dismayed at first because the poems sometimes felt that they needed that musical arrangement to really beef them up (there's this guy who said that the people who would be poets in the '60s became rock musicians, i.e. John Lennon, Bob Dylan) but then I stumbled over this really fantastic one:


the best way
to fell your blood
is to lie

tell bold ties
about books
(even better)
you write

lying won't help at all
you pick the right people

people who know
how to write and lie

o, and then the blood will pound
it won't at all

Now, I've written song lyrics and yes I think that they can be poetic or whatever (look at Cloud Cult: "You can take it in stride/Or you can take it right between the eyes/Suck up/Suck up/Take your medicine"; "I shook hands with a man who honestly thought he was the Grandson of Jesus with a penchant for pinchies/He served us communion of cola and twinkies") but I also thinks there's a different rhythm that poetry in the epic general and song lyrics fall on and often times you get these really fantastic lines that are just missing something without that musical arrangement. And the Tweedy book kind of goes in and out of those kind of things.

So there's been the extent of my poetry reading lately and chances are I'm not going to really look for a lot more since I have some Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, John Crowley, Roberto Bolano, E. L. Doctorow, David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tim O'Brien, Steven Millhauser, William Shakespeare, Oakley Hall, Thomas Pynchon, Zadie Smith, Chris Adrian, Doris Lessing, Herman Melville, Richard Adams, Michael Chabon, and Christ knows how many more left to read.

1 comment:

CHARLAX said...

The Fourth Fable
The Fourth Fable

A Jesus Cowboy Song

Eye am a strong man iff strength is not physical alone,
but charachter and hope, love become my armour
my arm as gates once opened close now new ones open at a glance in poverty of riches poor people there in Heaven sing to Jesus as they wave branches from the richness of the trees beside the waters running in the trenches freely given overflowing when a little lamb just wants a drink of water another drink the water bubbles up so no one has to lift her she can reach the water carefully she drinks and then she sings…'
'my holster is empty my life is complete my love is in Heaven
eye have plenty to eat and to drink '
life is not meant to be a shoot em up rodeo
life is not meant to be a shoot um up movie
my life is in Heaven my holster is empty
eye have LOVE'