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June 5, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Welcoming Rant

So is this going to be a blog “about” poetry? Shall I pass vast judgments and lofty condemnations on the unwashed hordes of MFA’s with books in hand?

I saw a great flyer for a poetry reading tonight! somewheere in South Berkeley. Hand-cut strips under heading of HOW TO FRUSTRATE A POET. “Sigh when he brings out his notebook.” I wish I were more specific here , but to go to this event I will have to reconsult the oracle of the flyer, which is in the window of a newish spa next door to the Hoover vacuum storee on Berkeley Way, just east of Shattuck.

Probably i will check it out again . I have to go pick up my student anthologies (REACH THE MORNING SUN, from Sobrante Park Elementary School, from Krishna Copy. If I go, I’ll be the one with a pink carnation in her buttonhole.

I don’t get out much these days to normal events. I might go kayaking.

Kayaking will deserve a post of its own. I go out on the Oakland estuary, near Jack London Square, in La Tortuga Roja, the tubby red recreational kayak I won in a raffle from California Canoe and Kayak. I typically paddle pretty strongly around Coast Guard Island, about an hour and a half. Dawn or Sunset are best. Blue herons, pelicans, egrets, loons and the odd seal popping up to take a look at me. Boats big and small, wakes, wind, tides, salt spray dripping, the great air.

About poetry. The greatest poets of my generation are Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Precisely because they took it to another, lower-culture context, just as Shakespeare and Marlowe took poetry to the playhouse.

Poets poets. I wrote in a post deleted from Harriet (nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded) that Charles Potts and Jack Hirschman were the best male poets of my generation. I’d add Al Young, the late d.a. levy, and, on the evidence of partly-read Revelator, now visible from his blog, Ron Silliman. Juan Felipe Herrera. Robert Hass. Jack Grapes. Nobody remembers Donald Schenker.

Probably more good women poets than men. I’ll particularly mention Sharon Doubiago, Rusty Morrisson, Kay Ryan. Many many younger people with gifts overflowing their cupped hands.

But the whole American poetry thing is so local. We cannot write about it other as a fish from within the ocean: all we can do is cheer for our home team faction. Witness how genial Ron Silliman turns polemic around the subject of the Language Poets. We can’t help it.

I’ve spent almost thirty years peering over the borders, travelling and translating, and what I find is that it’s the same in every country, every poetic culture.

“La poesía chilena es una bolsa de gatos,” they told me in Santiago. You know what happens if you put three cats in a sack? Pablo Neruda, Vicente Huidobro and Pablo de Rokha circa 1935. Plagiarist, goon and señorito were some of the nice things they called each other.

In Argentina ca. 1996, the territory was split between the Objectivistas (terse, tough, monosyllabic: “I see the lights of the motel. I light a cigarette”) and the Neorrománticos (gothic, lyric, almost greeting-card: “the wonder of the chrystanthemums in my dying heart”), Put them together, you might get one good poetics. But I was just a fly on the wall.

Continent-wide the scene is split between the Neobarrocos who stem from (Spain, siglo de oro) Góngora and Cuba’s José Lezama Lima. The Neo-Baroque was incarnate in Nestor Perlongher (1944-1993), a great gay chaotic Argentine poet who laid gauzy lines down in camp superfluities across the page and died of AIDS.

The neobarrocois, including Roberto Echevarren in Uruguay and Coral Bracho and David Huerta in Mexico, tend toward elaboration of language, recondite dandos de vuelta as the sentence is reflowed, layered landscapes. The other tendency is toward a purer, unadorned, more direct speech. Alberto Blanco and Homero Aridjis in Mexico.

The guy I’m translating these days, Eduardo Milán, Uruguyan who fled his country in dictatorship and has lived 31 years in Mexico City, is a kind of an outlier of the neobarroocos. Milán allows language to reverb him a bit, which gives me freedom to wail and follow sound rather than sense till he bounces back to message. Check my versions of Milán out in Two Lines Online come 10/10.

The (North) American scene is still dominated by the ancient split between the establishment (School of Quietude, según Silliman) and the avant garde, or several flavors of avant. Hey, that’s probably true everywhere — the neobarrocos are avant vis-a-vis the purists. It’s an inevitable fight that, as Hegel reminds us, nobody really wins.

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Hybridism via David St. John antho, without which, DSJ affirmed from the podium, one would not score at AWP. Annie Finch recognizing what she has in common with Language.

So if we can summon the distance to see Language, New Formal, Spoken Word, High Workshop, Old Radical (the most invisible; I belong there) and/or Women’s, Queer, Ethnic Poesies all in perspective, from above somehow, as merging, separating, braided strands, a metaserpent in process of evolution.

These Tesla Rose poems of mine are Formal. After an initial waver, every line of every poem has eleven syllables. Annie Finch said she wouldn’t read them if I wasn’t writing in meter. Sorry, Annie! The meter on these guys can go from tetra through penta to hexameter. Don’t think I don’t hear it. Also a syllable can be as short as the last two in infinity or as long as streams, grounds, cheese, choose.

Anyway I’ll post the second poem in the Tesla Rose sequence next.

Hasta ahorita,

More will be revealed.

January 2010, just before I picked up squirmy Tesla Rose. Photo by Kia Simon.



Leave a Comment
  1. Poetry Wholesale / Jun 5 2010 2:08 pm

    You may even spot some bad poetry, especially near Christmas. Poetry Wholesale

  2. Jan Simon / Jun 5 2010 3:08 pm

    Hi John,

    Nice blog. I’ve been reading JD’s also. What a beautiful setting! Have a great time on your visit.

    Buen caminos,

  3. Jeff Brain / Jun 5 2010 3:36 pm

    I feel like I just learned far more reading this entry than the four years I spent getting an English degree. As Dave Fleming says when there is a nice rendition of the National Anthem before the Gigantes take the field, “Nicely done.”

    • johnoliversimon / Jun 5 2010 4:40 pm

      Bad poetry knows no season.

      Gracias… you can Skype TR’s mama by her full first name in Costa Rica.

      Mr. Brain:
      You have just received the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in English from reading my rant. $160K (cost of a Stanford BA) wiill automatically be deducted from your account in favor of my banker in Nigeria. Play ball!

      Include Cowboy Poetry in the list of schools above. But you can leave out flarf for all of me.

      John Oliver

  4. JoAnn Anglin / Jun 5 2010 9:37 pm

    Am looking forward to your commentaries. And pleased that you have the undescribable [or infinitely describable] joy of grandparenthood.

  5. Pam Hazel / Jun 6 2010 11:39 am

    It’s been a long time since I learned anything new about poetry. Thank-you, grizzled grandpa guru. BTW, I very much like Kia’s photo of said grizzled grandpa.

  6. johnoliversimon / Jun 7 2010 7:29 am

    Charles Potts weighs in by email:

    I hit reply to all here, when I may only be replying to you.
    I think you have the structure of the catbag of poetry pretty well down. I’ve
    always been flattered that you found my work in the top drawer. I am not in
    sink with your opinion on the popular music poets, Lennon and Dylan. Somehwere if I don’t forget where I put it is a little ditty called “A Bob Dylan Song Lyric Generator.” And I Actually much prefer the lyrics of Paul Simon. Not that you asked. But I am charmed by your depth and humanity, and your ability to notice how and why Silliman gets provincial around the subject of his friends. I suppose we all do. I was relieved of a lot of poetic stress by Oswald Spengler, in whose two volume The Decline of the West, is more poetry than in all but a handful of American “poets.” but more to the point his observation that men (people) of literature, history, philosophy, art, are trailing the phenomena of war, econ and history, not leading it. So nothing we have to say actually penetrates the war lordism that prevails. Alexander marching off to subdue the world with Homer in his hip pocket. Once upon a time such news would break my heart. Now as I return to the Neolithic with my horses it doesn’t matter much.
    much love,
    Charles Potts
    (I’m in Las Vegas with my highschool sweetheart of 50 years ago, doing some ketchup.)

  7. C.M. Mayo / Jun 8 2010 11:32 pm

    Welcome to the Blogosphere, John. Blog on!

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