Poetry Is A Crowded Room, Part 2
Ode To Sunset, A Year in the Life of American Genius
a fiction by Pat Nolan
Attending the Cirque De Penumbroi, a poetry happening in the partially demolished Reed Hotel south of Market, Carl Wendt, last of the hardboiled vigilante poets, is guided to the performers’ facilities on the second floor by Allie Gary, a tall blond explainer dressed in a flight attendant’s uniform impersonating the Muse. Once done with his business, Wendt proceeds to dish on all the assembled poets. To Allie’s questioning whether he thinks that all the poets hate him or bear him ill will, he replies by quoting Pound’s “the vendetta of imbeciles is endless” and as an afterthought adds “Poetry is a crowded room. Someone’s toes are bound to get stepped on.”
Toot Lememe, poetry mime and part-time phrenologist, author of Read My Lump, Tom Mahoque, poet with an axe to grind, author of Flying Off The Handle, Judy Hoyt, known to all as Hoity-Toity, and author of Anecdotal Evidence, Moroccan poet Al Frah’d Jeri, author of You Be Raw, with his girlfriend, Patty Fishsticks, poetry voluptuary and performance artist, Andy Mattre, the experimental (emphasis on mental) poet, author of Chance Operation, and Donna Matrix, author of These Boots Are Made For Wanking. He knew them all. They were part of a group that he had once dubbed The California Roll School of Poetry, or the Sushi-ists. And wild eyed poet Lyman Rossi, author of Ode to Wall With Men (about a bathhouse) cruising the edges of the crowd looking for an opening. And there too was Bobby ‘Rubber’ Ducken, recognized for what he had attempted rather than accomplished, best known for his unfinished epic Do Little.
“What you have here is a veritable Postmodern potpourri self-devouring feast, like the worm Uroboros, spinning into an ever tightening circle, trying to bite their own tails, spiting their faces, and those limber enough to accomplish the feat know soon enough the smell of shit.
“Most of the poets in these little cliques are made up of FOPPS, Friends Of Poet Professors, who get taught or touted to clueless students and night school housewives which then leads to incredibly incestuous and inbred in-crowd behavior hence the name of their anthology, Fusion, known to some with a sense of humor as Confusion, though a more appropriate title would be The In-Breds. It just serves to underline the fact that MFA programs are for those who can’t read or read with any discernment or are too locked into their view of themselves that they can’t make sense of anyone else.”
“But what about the avant-garde? Have they been co-opted, too?”
“The problem with the avant-garde is that those who claim to be at the leading edge of art are really the après-garde. You’ll never know about the avant-garde until it’s already history. Then I guess you might call that realization a post-modern epiphany. Take conceptual poetry or Flarf. They say they fight the power while at the same time hoping to be assimilated . . .it’s a very gay, the mother revered reviled kind of thing.”
“I’m not familiar with Flarf.”
“Flarf I think stands for Fluffy Art Federation, mostly bored middle class twits playing with refrigerator magnets. They’ll eventually drift back to dungeons and dragons or their game consoles and masturbate in their socks. As for conceptual poetry, it’s like the guy who gets into the ring with himself as his only opponent and starts punching himself in the face with his fists. . .there will be blood, but never a knock-out.”
“Do you agree with Ellen Mudhen when she says ‘Poetry is a very stupid thing to be good at’? That poems are basically like dreams, something that everybody likes to tell each other but nobody actually cares about unless it’s their own. And which is why poetry is apparently a failure of the intellectual community.”
Wendt laughed. “I don’t know who Ellen Mudhen is, but it sounds like she has a point. Now those guys over there might be a perfect example of what she’s talking about. Al Bebak, the author of Why Me, and Sam Maritain, author of Any Qualia. Denis Winkle wrote a collection of anecdotes titled Name Your Poison.” He indicated the cluster of dour intellectuals. “I reviewed Holly Grail’s Simple Sample, and Claire Del Ulna’s Exaggerated Misery. Favorably, I might add.”
“So you’re not affiliated with any of these poets, you don’t cotton to any of their notions?”
“That’s one way of putting it, but no, I don’t belong and I like it that way. And that scene, like most scenes, is way too church for me. By ‘church’ I mean pious and narrow-minded.”
“You enjoy your cutting sarcasm, don’t you, Carl? I mean, that’s why people read your column, isn’t it? You’re the representative sarcastic prick for the city.” Allie gave him a tight smile, the kind that comes with reaching a conclusion. “You know, Carl, sometimes we attribute our own worst faults to others. You might call it ‘theory of mind with extreme prejudice.’ Problem with smart people like you is that they feel obligated to demonstrate their superiority no matter whose feelings are hurt. I suppose when you consider yourself vastly superior to anyone else and you’ve cultivated that critical acumen to such a sharp edge, you’ll ultimately cut your own throat to reveal a total and irrevocable incompetence at anything but waving the flag of your over-inflated sense of self. And I mean that in a nice way.” She glanced down at the smart phone in her hand. “Oops, sorry, gotta go, I have more explaining to do.”
Wendt watched her walk away. Yeah, he could probably kick her ass.
A buffet table had been set up near the large video screen with a live feed from the reading on the floor below. He wandered over and noticed that the wine bottles all appeared to be dead soldiers and whatever food was left had been thoroughly picked over. Not very appetizing, if it ever was. The poet peering at the assembly of green glass corpses for any signs of life or vino was Horace, Horace Kopes. Wendt had once said a kindly word about his book of poems, Astral Winks, an obvious cop from the Van Morrison album of similar name, and now they were friends for life. Horace took his poems from the daily astrology columns in the various newspapers around town. He claimed that he could write a poem a day for a year, every year. The poems were cutups of that particular day’s forecasts or predictions. Horace was a deft editor and had a sense of humor. But his method might have been too much of a good thing. And they would never escape the fact of being other people’s words. “I’m afraid the oasis has been drunk dry,” he said, addressing Wendt’s searching gaze. Under the table in a large tub once filled with ice a few diet beverages bobbed like flotsam, of no interest to even the thirstiest.
Wendt turned his attention to the big screen. Shown in the harsh halogen lighting, a skinny fey man wearing a powder blue wig spoke his poem in a bullhorn which oddly enough gave it resonance and authority. He queried Kopes who was peering down the neck of a wine bottle. “Who’s that?”
“Uh, I think that’s Francis X. Finity, the defrocked Jesuit from Dublin.” Kopes directed his attention to the reading on the flat screen. “And he’s only got one good poem. That one, Eek, A Homo!”
Well, nothing to see here, Wendt mused, move along. He located the entrance to the stairway down and started in that direction. He passed two men engaged in a heated discussion. One was a professor at the University, Franklin Rydell, author of Fortune, Opportune, and a selection of translations, Importune. Wendt had called him ‘Fiddle’ in one of his columns and the name had stuck. Some people were under the impression that his name was actually Franklin Fiddle. What gave the truth to his sobriquet was that Rydell obsessively revised and rewrote his work. In actuality he had written only a handful of poems. Most of his works were variations on those same few, rearranged and reordered and reconsidered. His translations as such were numerous variations of the one extant poem by an obscure Latin poet, Fluxus Refluxus.
The other man was someone he only knew as Stu, president of SPU, the Street Poets Union (pronounced “spew”). Stu was saying, “Poetry’s first purpose is to say fuck you to people like you. What you need to know is that we’re the bad boys, the rude, the purposely uncultivated, lacking in couth outlaws, outsiders. We take somebody like Kenneth Rexroth and hold him up as an example of what we are or would like to be. Owing no allegiance to any academy, hermeneutic, autodidactic, and not the least bit polite about it. We adhere to what Diogenes said about Plato’s carpet to be indicative of our attitude toward the insufferable academic toadies who are merely gatekeepers for the inanely conservative status quo. Action prompts reaction, conservative against radical on the culture frontier. We are the gunmen, the assassins of a misguided respectability. What disturbs you most and threatens your grip on your much vaunted correctness is what we are. I wipe my ass on tradition because I just shit on your ideals.”
Wendt would have stayed to hear Fiddle’s rejoinder but he spotted the red haired pompadour, craggy crazy leprechaun face, full length deep purple leather trench coat and make-me-taller lifts of Lon Murphy who was accompanied by his usual contingent of sharp shouldered, narrow-assed churls cruising for a back to stab or posterior to osculate. Right at the moment they were engaged in some polite chit-chat with Lu Sacke-Shoen, another disagreeable person, and needless to say, British, author of You Couldn’t Possibly Be Right, but, as Wendt could attest, great in bed, her body accepting what her mind denied—even more incentive to vacate the sulfurous atmosphere.
To read more from Ode To Sunset, A Year in the Life of American Genius, go to odetosunset.com. Excerpts from the Pat Nolan satire on poets and poetry can be found in the Southern Autumn issue of Otoliths (scroll down) and at Dispatches from the Poetry Wars. As well, excerpts have appeared on occasions in this blog, viz, The Poetry Reading, Poetry Is A Crowded Room (1), How To Write A Preface, Schools of Poetry 1 & 2, The Poet In Love.
Pat Nolan’s latest book is SO MUCH, Selected Poems, Volume II (1990-2010), Notebook Keyboard, now available from Nualláin House Publishers.
Ron Padgett, Big Cabin, Coffee House Pres, 2019
Pat Nolan, So Much, Selected Poems, Vol. II, Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019
Sandy Berrigan, Gentle Opposition, Albion, 2019
Red Pine, Cathay Revisited, Empty Bowl, 2019
Roberto Bolaño, The Spirit of Science Fiction, Penguin Books, 2019
Edmund Berrigan, More Gone, City Lights Books, 2019
Garrett Caples, Power Ballads, Wave Books, 2016
John Coletti, Deep Code, City Lights Books, 2014
John Coletti, Mum Halo, Rust Buckle Books, 2010