A Taxonomy of Poets
from Ode To Sunset
—A Year In The Life of American Genius—
a fiction by Pat Nolan
Carl Wendt, poetry polymath and flaneur, has a genius, whether American or not, for finding patrons who will regularly invite him for dinner. More than two-thirds of his social calendar is taken up with a dining engagement at someone else’s expense, either at home or in public. Wendt dines with Charlie Reyes, his editor at the weekly, to go over ideas for his poetry month Gone With The Wendt columns.
“Help, help, a black window spider is after me!” said Jade, or Jolie, and pretended to cringe in fear while being chased by her sister, Jolie or Jade, with claw hands and bared menacing teeth. The twins had greeted Wendt’s arrival at Charlie and Clarissa’s tiny apartment over on Coleridge with gleeful hysteria the last few times he’d come by for dinner. They screeched and ran circling him as he stood in the entryway and then demanded all his attention once he was parked on the sofa in the dining living room. They had just turned four, their jet black hair tied up in a bushy knot on the top of their heads, one with a green ribbon and the other a red. Their big black eyes took him in like an oddity, tiny chins quivering in determined innocence. Jade or Jolie began a demonstration of finger play, a classic, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, opposing a thumb and forefinger to mark the spider’s path up the water spout. Wendt’s attention to Jolie or Jade had prompted Jade or Jolie to transform into a black window spider.
“Black window spider! Your girls are poets!”
“Carl, don’t tell me that.” Clarissa, a large woman with an angelic face, stood in the doorway of the kitchen. She handed him a Red Stripe, and then muttered, “I’ll put them in a gunny sack and drop them into the bay.” Laughing with him, she asked, “Has Charles told you the good news?”
Wendt tipped the bottle and wet his whistle. “Yeah, he just said something big was up.”
“I’ll let him tell you, then.”
Charlie appeared in the doorway with the open laptop in his hand. “Hey, Wendt, I heard the girls screaming so I knew it must be you.”
“Or The Beatles.”
“Yeah. Want a beer? Ok, already got one.”
“What’s this good news Clarissa won’t tell me about?”
Charlie frowned like maybe it wasn’t all that good of news. “Oh, yeah, great news, actually.” He darted a glance at Clarissa. “I got a job teaching journalism.”
Wendt’s expression was a big grin and raised eyebrows. “City College?”
“Actually, Carl, it’s up in Benicia, Solano Community College.”
“That’s still in California, right? Northern California?”
“Yeah, yeah, up 80 on the way to Sacramento.”
“Ok, I guess I know where that is, I’ve been to Sacramento.”
“And the money’s pretty good.”
“We’ll be moving up to Fairfield,” Clarissa added. “We’ve been looking at home prices. We might just be able to afford a house of our own. Once Charles gets settled in.” She sounded thrilled. “A yard for the girls, a garden for me.” Ecstatic.
“So the gig with the weekly. . . .”
“I’ll be giving my notice at the end of the month. I have to get up to speed for the fall semester.”
“Well congratulations, the both of you!” he toasted with his bottle. Why does someone else’s good news, Wendt mused, always turn out to be bad news for me?
Clarissa asked Charlie to put the laptop aside once they sat down to eat. It wasn’t so much a request. Charlie frowned at the screen before selecting an option. “You know that last piece you submitted, Ed Dorn Meets Adorno, a Godzilla Love Story?”
“I’m going to change it to A Godzilla Love Story, and subhead it Ed Dorn Meets Adorno. Though I don’t know if that’s even necessary.”
Carl said nothing.
Charlie knew Wendt didn’t like his words messed with. “Here’s my thinking on it: few people know who Adorno is, even fewer have read him, and no one knows who Ed Dorn is. Godzilla, everybody knows.”
“Charles, do you mind? We’d like to eat?” Clarissa threw him such a look and extended her hands to one of the twins and to Wendt so that they might be joined for the blessing. Once everyone’s hands were linked she intoned, “Almighty Throb, that we may share in the bounty of your Reverberation. Om.”
“Om,” echoed the others.
“Would you like a drink with your meal, Carl, another Red Stripe? Ginger beer? Ting?”
“Got any Big Bamboo Irish Moss?”
“Carl, the last thing you need is an IM.”
Wendt looked down at the dinner plate of black beans, shredded beef, jerk chicken, rice and plantain. “Just like momma used to make.”
“I don’t see any sauerkraut, Carl.”
“You‘d have been right if you’d said corned beef and cabbage.”
Clarissa had made rice pudding for dessert. Wendt eyed the plate of gizzidas. And since he and Charlie always conducted business over lunch, they easily fell into talking shop. Wendt outlined his next couple of columns, and his idea for the feature. Charlie nodded, and grinned, and frowned, and laughed, and agreed, and frowned, and shook his head in close attention to what Wendt was telling him. Carl seemed particularly excited about his updated taxonomy of poets.
“Ok, you might have heard some of these before. There are the spiritual poets who are obviously held down by the gravity of their lofty world saving aspirations. And there are the poets of history who catalog the march of time in the broader strokes of saga and epic. You’ve got your clever poets who specialize in anecdotes and limericky jokes, and the portrait poets who sketch the psychological shape of this or that personage, famous or otherwise, in the dull gray wash of sentimentality.”
Charlie nodded that he was following.
“All right, then your landscape poets also known as nature poets for whom every bug and bee is worthy of catalog and for whom vistas, vast of course, remind them of their significance in recording, in altogether inadequate language, what they think they see.”
“The pet poets who dote on the anthropomorphic antics of their animal companions be they dogs, cats, canaries, turtles, goldfish, potbellied pigs, but stopping at the dark significance of the beast within. The body poets, also known as the narcissists, who revel in relating the minutia of bowel movements, menstruations, ejaculations, orgasms, and ingrown toenails—in general, the narcissism of their pedestrian suffering. And of course the poets of conquest who tally their triumphs in the bedroom, in the public stall, the backseat, the closet, the kitchen table, the subway, and pew. There are also feminist poets, gay poets, ethnic poets, in general, political poets, whose narrow-minded diatribes seek to correct the misguided conceptions of humanity, the us-versus-them factions, in so many words.”
Charlie blinked, maybe as a signal that he was falling behind.
“One kind of poet specializes in personal confession, another in the lexical trappings of fashion. Each has their own style, their own approach with which to distinguish themselves from others, though it would take a micrometer to gauge the difference. The minimalist sketches, the florid flourishes, the typographer experiments, the haughty moralizes with a holier than thou stance that masks the insubstantiality of the verse, the catalogers of mannerisms, mannerists themselves, the woe is me, or humanity, sentimentalist, the idealist, the realist, few in number but loud of voice, and the miniaturist who needs only a few words, sometimes just one, to express the entire bandwidth of consciousness. Each strives with his own trick, a spectacular specialness to an untouchable uniqueness, and thus, with the vagaries of fad, reputations are made. And unmade.” Wendt added a diabolical snicker though it wasn’t necessary.
The twins, dark eyes wide with wonder or horror, had stopped, spoons of pudding held in midflight. Clarissa looked horrified. “Carl, please, you’ll make the children cry!”
Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and two novels. His most recent books of poetry are So Much, Selected Poems Volume II 1990-2010 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019) 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. His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com. He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.
The Parole Officer Notes: Part of the response to the Anselm Hollo Challenge has been a request from John Bloomberg-Rissman who is editing the collected poems and translations of Anselm Hollo for future publication by Coffee House Press as well as preparing a bibliography of the poet’s published work. He is in the final phase of compilation and requests, “that anyone who finds a mistake, or who has further information on something I’ve found, or knows of something not included, let me know about it – at this email – would be great.” A pdf file of the draft bibliography is available here. Mr. Rissman’s email address is john.bloomberg(at sign)ucr(dot).edu