Schools of Poetry, Part One
An excerpt from Pat Nolan’s online fiction
Ode To Sunset—A Year in the Life of American Genius
Wendt met Andy Porter for lunch at Bebop Dim Sum Café on Clement. The place was run by a jazz lover from Taipei who still had not mastered his adopted tongue. The musical ambiance was Golden Age bebop. Whenever the owner saw Wendt he would shout “Bud Powell!” but unfortunately it came out sounding like “butt powwow!” Invariably heads would turn.
Andy was cheerful, maybe a little more than usual. He was young, after all, hopeful, full of ambition, full of himself. This was different. He was bursting with what he wanted to say.
“Good news?” Wendt asked as the waitress placed the pot of green tea between them.
“I got the fellowship. I’m going to China!” Then he shared his excitement, in Chinese, with the waitress who giggled and moved quickly back to behind the service area. Andy liked to practice his Chinese on restaurant staff, often with hilarious results. Wendt was clueless but amused by Andy’s apparent discomfort.
“I think I just said ‘a dog’s leg is bitter as ashes after sex.’” He shrugged, resuming his cheery demeanor. “I’ll be a year in Shanghai. I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t leave till late August, but I’m going to make an exploratory trip in June, just to get a feel for it.” Andy was beside himself, “It’s going to be really cool,” and blushed at his enthusiasm.
“That’s great, Andy.” Wendt poured the tea into both their cups. “Your girl friend will be house sitting for you while you’re gone, I assume?” The wheels had begun their spin, tumblers rolling in the slot machine behind his eyes. Andy lived in a studio apartment on Turk, a pied-à-terre owned by a relative or a friend of a relative.
“I don’t think so. She’s spending the summer with her parents in Rhode Island, and she’ll be gone as soon as her classes are over.” Andy made a fake sad face. “We’re kind of in the process of separating. She’s going to intern in DC, and I’ll be in China.” He turned over a hand, palm up, as if letting something go. “Why?”
Wendt explained his upcoming eviction from the Balboa address. He would need a temporary launch pad until he could find a more permanent situation. He mentioned that Nora was arranging a reading tour for him. He did not mention that nothing had been settled and often Nora’s schemes resulted in miscommunications and the threat of lawsuits. So, ostensibly, he was assured, virtually, of a cash flow.
Andy agreed readily. And having Wendt look after his tiny apartment would be perfect for the month he was away on his recon mission to Shanghai.
Ka-ching! Wendt thought, which is not in itself a Chinese expression meaning jackpot. The perfect solution had presented itself, an archipelago of house sitting for his friends dotting the summer months while they vacationed in Big Sur or Yosemite, Paris or Athens, someone to collect the mail, stack the newspapers, water the plants, pet the gold fish. The wobble of his flight for the last couple of days stabilized, and his smug became a little more self-satisfied.
There was more to Andy’s show and tell. He handed over an issue of Autoclone, a literary magazine from Tasmania, for Wendt to page through.
“International, with a twist.”
“It’s the first time my own writing has appeared outside the country. That is if you don’t count the poems I published in Perverse Notions, an on-line magazine from Oslo.”
Wendt recited a list of his foreign publications. “Translated into Hungarian, Czech, Finnish, and Romanian. I have no idea if they even came close. I was in that French anthology and whoever translated those poems made me sound like a tight-assed academic.”
“Weren’t you in an Italian anthology?”
“Right, I was. Do you know that in Italian my poems rhyme? But then so do everyone else’s. It’s a wonderful lyrically rich language.”
He tried to remember the name of the anthology, but that had been years ago. Secret Ballot? Something like that. And that had been Sheila’s doing. One of the editors was a friend she made when she’d studied a year in Padua. He remembered how delighted he’d been at the thought of being read in Italian.
Interesting also that the French experience had turned out to be so phonetically askew. And his inclusion in that anthology had been with the help of Val Richards who was a lycee schoolmate of the publisher of the volume. He remembered the name of that anthology because of his original mishearing of the title, something that caused him additional consternation once he learned the truth. He had been told by Val, who had a habit of slurring her words when she took certain pills, that the anthology would be titled L’heure du temps which his rudimentary French told him was a typical Gallic redundancy but, loosely translated, was The Time Of Day. When he finally got his hands on the volume he read his mistake. The title was L’horreur du temps.
Andy passed a book the size of a small shoebox across the table. “Here’s that anthology I was telling you about.”
“Whenever I read an anthology I always think of all the poets whose poems are not represented, and that’s an anthology in itself.” Wendt scanned the columned gallery of names on the back cover. Not one signaled recognition. “Ok, here’s one, A. W. Porter. That’s you, right?”
A rosy glow colored Andy’s cheeks. “Yeah, but you know, the editor was a year ahead of me at Stanford. It helps if you know someone.”
“You’re telling me?” Wendt flipped the volume and read the cover. “Poets of A Later Latitude, A Geography of Poets Under 30. No wonder I didn’t recognize any names.” He set the large book on its spine and let the pages flop open at random. “And look at that, it opened right to your poems! Good placement. Do you have to pay extra for that?”
The noodles arrived and Wendt ordered a Tsing-tao. He was beginning to feel pretty. A significant worry had been alleviated. It made him feel a hundred pounds lighter, virile even. He felt like having fun, special fun, rather than his usual mundane day to day fun. A frenetic Charlie Parker solo punctuated his musings.
“I always like looking through the contributors notes, sometimes they’re more interesting than the poems.”
Andy chuckled his agreement.
“Let’s see now, herewego, Andrew Walter Porter. . . .”
“Walter’s my mother’s dad, my grandfather’s name.” And then as an afterthought, “Isn’t Walter your first name?”
“You are correct,” Wendt said considering his first taste of the old German recipe of his Chinese beer, “but, no offense, I didn’t want to be known as Wally so I go by my nomen, my middle name. It’s one syllable so it’s direct, to the point. Kind of like ‘shit’ or ‘fuck,’ both of which I’ve answered to, by the way.”
“What about Walt? That’s one syllable.”
Wendt feigned consideration with an impish grin, “A little too Whitmanesque, I’d think.” He referenced what he’d been reading with his finger on the page. “Anyway, your note says, born in Santa Barbara in, hmm, for some reason I thought you were older. Currently pursuing a post-graduate degree in Asian Studies at Stanford. Published in Yadda Yadda, This Then, and Contemporary Literature In Translation. So you’ve got some cred, that’s good.”
Wendt turned a page. “Who are these other clowns? Jesus, look at this guy, Ross Arbuckle, associate professor and he’s hardly a few years older than you. Two books of poems, too. You’ve got some catching up to do.
“Jerrold Lloyd, professor of Creative Writing, a string of books from presses I’ve never heard of, the recipient of the Golden Lyre and he’s barely twenty-nine. Ok. Laurel Hardy, also twenty-nine, lives in Vancouver, MFA from SFU, recent book, Special Agent from Screeming Lesbo Press.
“Barbara Keaton, professor of European Literature specializing in Beowulf. How can someone so young specialize in Beowulf? Baffling.” Wendt shook his head with mock consternation for Andy’s benefit. Andy, for his part, was enjoying the running commentary.
“You’re traveling in some pretty rarified company. And Darla Costello. A Steiner Fellow. How nice. She’s like a year younger than you and yet she has two books of poems, Don’t I Know You From The Microwave? from Platypus Press. . .must be an Australian publisher . . . .”
“I think that’s a misprint. It should be I Don’t Know You From The Microwave.”
“. . .and Last Warning, Poems of Self-destruction and Resurrection. Her titles are intriguing.”
“Get this, the guy she studied with is the Buddhist poet who runs the monastery outside of Omaha.”
“Omaha. Perfect place for a Buddhist monastery. Om. . .Aha!”
“ So essentially Costello studied with an abbot.”
“You know her?”
“Sure, she’s part of our gang, you know, the writers down in Palo Alto, the two Steves, Panke and Timey, Alfred Falva. Darla’s married to Ben Turpin.”
“Right, the horn player. He’s been on Leno.”
“That’s some glamorous crowd you’re running with.” And referring to the book again, “How about Laurence Mot-Kerlit?”
Andy shrugged. “I’m like you, I haven’t heard of a lot of these clowns, either.”
“Professor of Abstract Languages at Buffalo. Now there’s a job for a poet, a buffalo job.”
The noodles had cooled to an edible heat though their spice ensured that they were enjoyed tentatively. Distracted, while they slurped and then inhaled big gulps of air through their mouths to cool their tongues, Wendt leafed through the paper brick.
“Ok, so explain to me what these guys are about. Are they any good? Besides you. I know you’ve got chops.”
Andy was bursting to please. “Well, there’s a real mish-mash in here because the editor wanted to be representative. A mistake, I think. Anyway, you’ve got your conpo. . . .”
“Whoa, whoa, your what?”
“Conpo, conceptual poetry. Or poets.”
“Alright, I can see poets as a concept. But I thought conpo would be more like the poetry my friend Deidre Davis, DeeDee the Destroyer we call her, for the number of marriages she’s torpedoed, taught to the inmates at San Quentin or here at juvenile hall.”
“Uh, no, it’s like when you say Ampo for American Poetry. Or Fopo for foreign poetry. And formal poetry too, I suppose.”
“I’ve heard of faux pas, never Fauxpo. But I can dig it. Pretend poetry. That could be what I write.”
“And there’s Fempo and Gaypo.”
“Is there a bipo, you know, for bisexual poets? Or would that stand for bipolar poets? Like Jimmy Schuyler. Or Ann Sexton.”
“That would probably be bipopo,” Andy said without cracking a smile. “And Avpo which stands for avant-garde, or average poetry.”
“Sometimes they’re the same.”
“Mopo for modern poetry.”
“Mopo sounds like one of those Japanese toys you keep on a key chain.”
“And there’s Autopo, Surpo, Clapo, NeoClapo, Pomopo.”
“Northern California Indian poetry?”
“No, Postmodern Poetry. Native American poetry would be Napo.”
“It’s like you’re naming off future generations of Marx Brothers. I mean, look at all the possibilities. Synpo, Cypo, Actpo, Poactpo, Slapo, Slangpo, Slampo, Slurpo, Minpo, Haipo, Gypo. . . no, wait, he really was a Marx brother.” Wendt pointed his faux porcelain spoon at Andy for emphasis. “So by what you’re saying, it sounds like schools of poetry are similar to vaudeville acts.”
“There is a Hypo. It stands for hybrid poetry.”
“Oh, I see, I was thinking of haiku poetry. Hybrid poetry, isn’t that a little redundant? On the other hand, hypo could also stand for hypothetical poetry. I’m pretty sure that’s what I write.”
“That would probably have to be hypopo. And I suppose you could have hypnotic poetry which would be hypnopo, and you’d have to have posthypnotic poetry and that would be pohypnopo.”
“Now you’re talking! We’re starting to sound Greek!”
Caveat Lector: Ode To Sunset is satirical fiction, not a roman à clef or veiled autobiography. No actual poets were named in the writing of this fiction with the exception of dead poets who serve as historical or literary markers as is often required of dead poets. To read more of the scurrilous and louche peregrinations of the last of the hardboiled poets go to odetosunset.com
Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in the US and Canada as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, two novels, and an online serial fiction. His most recent books of poetry are Exile In Paradise (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2017) So Much, Selected Poems, Volume I 1969-1989 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018), and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.
Parole Officer Report: SNARK ALERT!
In the early 80’s Steven Lavoie and Pat Nolan published Life Of Crime, the mimeo newsletter of The Black Bart Poetry Society, originally a one-shot put-on satire of the East and West coast poetry whirl. After the first and putative only issue, the reaction was such (both negative and positive) that they concluded it might be worth the trouble to produce a few more. The content then became more pointed if not sharp, the targets of the satirical broadsides broader, with a more vengeful agenda due to contributions of obvious bias. Thus for the ten years Life Of Crime sporadically published, the contents and tenor of the newsletter was what might now be termed “snark.” Snark found a fertile medium on the internet in blogs and in the comments sections (aka “snark tanks”) and spread like an infection in the cultural Petri dish. Today, the record of rivalry, real or imagined, between institutional bastions and schools of poetry, once ephemeral whimsy, has niched itself, thanks to cyber ubiquity, as an agent under the rubric of Dispatches from the Poetry Wars (DPW) in an historical nod to the Bureau of Surrealist Research. It was inevitable that this one function of poetry, delicious catullian gossip, would be bureaucratized and as a consequence, banalized. For the pathologically curious their wide array of antic antics can be viewed here.