Poetry As Crime; Parole at Ten

Poetry As Crime; Parole at Ten

by Pat Nolan

In September of 2012, Parole, the blog of the newly reconstituted Black Bart Poetry Society whose motto is “For those who think poetry is still a crime,” started as irregular memos to a semi-fictive membership that evolved as monthly articles, essays, and book reviews. Apart from the able assistance of a small coterie of contributors, among them Keith Kumasen Abbott, Luci Friesen, Tom Sharp, Steven Lavoie, Carol Chivonne, Bruce Holsapple, Mark Young, Dan Demers, Tim Hunt, and Andrew Schelling, the writing has appeared under my own byline or that of The Parole Officer and The Grand Poobah (also yrs truly). Parole can’t boast of numerous followers (under 100 at last count) but often averages over a thousand views a month, and that is mainly through word of mouth and links to social media which allows the blog to maintain its outlier outlaw status—saints forbid that it should go mainstream.

cropped-bartlogo-2.jpgBeing named after a stagecoach robber who signed himself the PO8, the stance of The New Black Bart Poetry Society tends to be a little prickly and biased against the academic white collar types, and as Charles Boles, aka Black Bart, characterized them, “fine haired sons of bitches.” Parole was meant to reflect the recidivist anti-establishmentarianism that has been at the core of the Society’s impolitic ethos justly described as “surly.” That attitude, when addressing the vast talent pool of unsanctioned Americano lit, and examining how it is paved over by shrink wrapped authors catalogued into schools or movements while overlooking the underpinnings that made all that genius possible, is the tack into the winds of disapproval that Parole set as a course.

At the inception of its latest iteration, the Society stated that it would be interested in a discourse on poetry, poems, and poets. The conversation was to concentrate on 20th century/early21st century poetry and its influencers/influences. The poems, those collected in books or examined individually would be where a consensus of a poet’s work and their impact/obscurity in general could be considered. And poets, examined elegiacally or via biographic accomplishments, would act as the starting point for further discussion on the art of poetry and the writing of poems. (See the Sara Safdie curated Joanne Kyger remembrance). Not many, unfortunately, were interested or capable of entering into the fray.

To prime the pump, a tentative list of topics for potential discussion was proposed in an effort to suggest a range of interests and concerns about the appreciation of poetry. They included:

Pop Renaissance – The New York School and its Adherents
Fixing What Ain’t Broke – Can Poets Change?
Left Out In The Rain – Towards A Classless Esthetic
Why Bother – The Polemical Poem
American Monoglot – Provincialism in American Poetry
I Is Another – The Poet As Cult of One
A Throw of the Dice – Mallarme’s Revolution
Picasso’s Roommate – The Definitiveness of Max Jacob’s Prose Poems
How Did I Get Here? – Modern Poetry and Its Discontents (ongoing series)
Putting A Positive Spin On The Negative — Poetry and Negative Capability
Should Poetry Be Decriminalized? – Pro and Con
The Only Good Poet Is A Dead Poet — Why Is That?
The Poetry Spectrum — From Cool Blue To Red Hot
Poetry, What Is It Good For? – Looking For An Answer
Poetry Professional — Oxymoron or Harbinger
Poetry Workshops – More Harm Than Good?
Poetics – Is it Just A Made Up Word?
A Poet’s Ego – Is There A Cure?
Bored To Death – The Deadly Art of Poetry
Cut Ups – The Cult Of Discontinuity
Provocation – Its Use And Place In Modern Poetry

While none of these issues were ever fully addressed head-on, they did suggest ancillary topics concerning the discontent of modern poets as exampled by posts on Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, Bill Berkson, Ron Padgett, Anselm Hollo, Steve Carey, and Andrei Codrescu in highlighting their Modernist roots in early century French poets including the likes of Pierre Reverdy, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire. Of that early century revolution in literature, the tremendous importance of William Carlos Williams’ visionary esthetic in determining, above all, an attitude of questioning the complacency of the status quo was also duly noted. Addressed as well were the political considerations of the poet in society, the effect of provincialism and gentrification of the poet and poetry, the role of indoctrination of the workshop, and the emergence of the poetry professional.

Taken into consideration, as well, was the entrance of Asian prosody into the Western public domain and its impact, directly or indirectly, effecting a cross cultural resonance by contributing an ancient and unique sensibility to modern Western poetry. With the adoption of certain aspects of Japanese and Chinese poetry in translation, Western poetry has tended toward an elliptical succinctness that eschews the ornate Latinate rhetoric prevalent in the Anglosphere. David Perry’s translation of Sun Dong’s poetry, “Meditations In An Emergency,”  provided a look at Western influence on contemporary Chinese poetry. Also touched upon was the fact that North America has two other, often marginalized, languages of literature, the Spanish of Mexico and the French of Quebec. Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems For The Millenium series of anthologies was singled out as the basis for a heuristic wide-ranging international poetry scholarship.

A special emphasis has been placed on the poetry of Philip Whalen, and a Pacific Rim sensibility that is particularly strong in the Northwest. Kenneth Rexroth once remarked, “The Pacific, like the steppes, unites as well as divides.” Jack Kerouac appreciated the West because it still retained an element of romantic authenticity, and he was particularly fond of Whalen’s poetry. He might have unconsciously perceived that the denizens of the western shores were actually descendants of the Yankee diaspora (in spirit, if nothing else), a kind of Canada to flee to, dodging the draft for the war of secession. Both the excerpts from Whalen biographer David Schneider’s diary, and Steve Silberman’s memoir of time spent with Whalen provided intimate glimpses of the eccentric poet and Zen monk.

The importance of Philip Whalen cannot be understated. Whalen repurposed the journal as a form and distilled its material as poetry, suggesting that the line between the two can be indistinguishable. His method was a bridge to a further exploration and experimentation in language use, and the use of language as self-consciousness. When does the journal stop becoming a journal and become a poem? And how? The poem is a nerve movie of the mind moving as the framed sentience of an adjacent possible emerging complexity in the perceptual identity stream the poet can step in and out of at will (to succinctly paraphrase the equally important poetics of Anselm Hollo).

The new poem is all about breath and utterance and pace and emphasis in a maze of meaning that is the result of a process or a proceeding from an initial condition to the stasis of its balance.

Also considered is Apollinaire’s note to delete all punctuation in the poem as a commitment to “quantum” poetry. To admit that the words put down on the page have no meaning and all meaning. Lack of constraints allows them to roam free in the field of ambiguity. Whalen’s dictum, “as for meaning, let them mean themselves,” applies here. Word combinations will cluster and complement each other like colors on an abstract canvas increasing the focus on interrelatedness at its most finite points. “Relativity” allows everyone their own perspective in creation of the whole. The new poem is all about breath and utterance and pace and emphasis in a maze of meaning that is the result of a process or a proceeding from an initial condition to the stasis of its balance.

In a post-literate era spatial notions have to be considered in the interface with the page/screen. Rather than seeing them as limitations, they can be proposed as opportunities in readdressing the function of literature within the precincts of the eye (& I) followed closely by emphasis on the intrinsic musical quality of language. Meaning becomes a multivalent mode subject to prior knowledge, i.e., educated sensitivity and sensibility. Natural inclinations are what keeps us upright, it is the nature of grace that spells the difference. Great poetry is still being written or waiting to be discovered, but can it be distinguished from the noise of self-promotion, social jockeying, and the pernicious precious pretention of social media augmented egos?

For some, the concept of poet still retains much of the musty aura of art nouveau, draped in a goth cape sauntering through the culture faire of modernity, a romantic nostalgia for a way it really never was. They find themselves ensnared in the Bermuda Triangle of Anglophone poetry, whose apex and base angles are labeled T, S, E (Tennyson, Swinburn, Eliot). And it is into this Anglophone zone that they disappear only to reappear as professional pedagogues leading workshops and issuing prompts.

To others, the poet as a spiritual calling, pursuit, journey may be a proclivity of a unique branch of American poetry, adept or informed by spirit quest still prevalent in non-Western cultures and would include ritualistic as well as contemplative practices. The act is the purpose. Nothing else matters. What becomes of the resultant poem is merely paper work.

There is a general understanding, however, that poet has gone from the rare artfully inspired individual to a marketable job skill in order to legitimize the gentrification of its ancient outmoded role. George Steiner claims poetry is lament, what my old English Lit prof called “ubi sunt,” the basis of elegiac praise poems older than Homer, a nostalgia for a heroic past.

The paradigm shift occurred shortly after the turn of the 20th century: the sectarian cant of literature versus the reconceptualization of the role of the writer in the public domain. The notion of poet as artist (word artist) presents itself in the Duchampian negation of value and finds the ambiguous to be resonate with meaning, personal meaning. Viewed as a fragmentation of the grand order of ecclesiastic rule, cracking the institutional veneer, the entenured body of Anglophone anal neurotics coopt the energy of innovation by marginalizing it with a patronizing indifference as interesting but not particularly proper as literature.

Technology transforms the interface of artists with their work by offering new methods and materials and the esthetic reconsiderations that develop with the use of novel techniques. This applies to poets as well. In the 30s William Carlos Williams presciently pointed out that the quick cut editing techniques used in making compelling movie trailers were ones that poets could employ to imaginative effect. Those approaches were further improved upon by subsequent generations of poets in tune with current developments in the arts including abstract expressionism, pop, minimalism, and conceptual derivation. The role of poet was thus redefined outside of the strictly literary and enlarged to incorporate the universal concerns of art. These ideas were present early in the modernist transformation of literature at the beginning of the 20th century. Williams’ adoption of Kandinsky’s theories of form and composition, Stein’s forensic approach to language are analogous to the revolutionary developments in science and the arts.

Parole exists as a platform concerned that most American poets writing today did not get the memo. The memo is not a manifesto but a link to sources for assembling a manifesto or another memo, if one were so inclined. The gist of this memo can be found in Williams’ Kora In Hell and in Duchamp’s In Advance Of A Broken Arm. The poet utilizing the esthetic tools of the artist and the artist practicing a sense of literary irony become the model for renewing modernism as current innovation.

It is remarkable that the revolution and advances in the sciences, (relativity, quantum mechanics) and in the arts (impressionism/expressionism, cubism, futurism ) of that time were not readily recognized in literature, particularly in the Anglophone world (with the exception of the weak tea of Vorticism), yet analogous innovations certainly existed (surrealism, dada). Should there not have been a quantum poetics?

Quantum poetics would be one of noncontinuity, non-causality, and nonlocality, similar to notions (processes) emphasized in quantum physics. It is in its modernism that the arts can be considered as having more emphasis on the process, paralleling the reconceptualization of the poet, in modes of apprehending the individuality of the divisible invisible. New concepts of form call for recalibration of the esthetic. Thoughts don’t track in a linear narrative like a piece of prose. Instead there are quantum leaps, lacunae, dead ends, psychic phenomena that thwart any particular focus. A thread can be derailed at a lexical whim (as per Roussel) or, in a moment of self-conscious distraction, trip up the most obvious next step.

The quantum poem would express its unity with everything not its separateness from everything else, each word a hinge to a different dimension of meaning rigorously ordered to open in a particular direction. Additional, in a “Hollogram” (named after Anselm Hollo), the form and structure of the entirety of poetry are enfolded into each poem (e.g., each time you write a poem, you are writing the history of poetry), so that when unfolded the form and structure reveals the whole of poetry.

Has anyone paused to wonder that a familiarity with the fractured texts and lacunae-riddled fragments of ancient literature might have accustomed some (curious autodidact poets) to appropriate these gaps so that the artificed omissions in modern poetry resulted from a relationship between fragments that may be intuited as a reading between the lines? Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo come to mind—one severe, pushing the edges of ambiguity, the other, a happy wanderer, herding cloud formations.

The last thing that is needed for a vibrant era in lit history (Beats, NYS, PacRim, etc.) is to be shrink-wrapped by overeducated white privilege know-nothing academics feasting on a body of work the antithesis of exactly that kind of bourgeois self-congratulatory self-aggrandizement of vacuous credentials they represent

A view of poetry as an integral part of the total flow of the poem leads to a harmonious approach to writing rather than the static fragmentary views that do not treat poetry as a process and which splits poetry off from reality, the reality of the poet’s language and how it best describes the immediacy of personal circumstances. Poetry any longer is more than just talking thoughts written down and involves taking into consideration a perception of how the mind works and how sentience can be framed, addressed as a mode of being.

Poetry’s function is to give rise to new perception and the action the perception sparks rather than a reflexive response of “that’s the way things are.” That new perception is a product of the poet’s use of language and reveals how micro tropes can be repurposed to reflect additional properties of resonance. Clearly there could never be an ultimate poem that would make other poems unnecessary. Any particular form of thinking about the poem indicates a way of looking at context with poetry and thus has implications for how one might perceive (read) in this environment. Process is the stream of consciousness from which the poet draws inspiration. The poet has to be open to further fundamental changes of order in the poem as they go along with the process, and such changes have to be realized in fresh and creative acts of language, gesture, dance.

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the dominance of the visual (gaze), increasing complexity required more of everyone. Starting in the early 21st, it appears to be the dominance of the digital, the pixelized illusion of reality taken to another level, that holds our attention. Complexity isn’t complicated if nothing more than passive acquiescence is required. However if engagement is essential then the learning curve is steep, steeper than many can tolerate.

Print highjacked the angular gyrus to bypass the visual cortex in ways that focused solely on the page and the words found there as a shared knowledge for the growing literate segments of populations. What was read was a read reality that over time blurred the definitions of physical space and existed as a special linear experience. The authority of the printed word depended on predictability of its organization as the consistency of a standard in representing the symbol base. In reading, the somatic balance favors the cerebral to actualize the information “viewed” in a panoply of concepts, knowledge of which is foregone or to which that knowledge can be adapted. The saccades of reading follow a directional sequence whose determination is anticipated by context. Manners of narrative are expected in expressing the clarity of the material. That material has the property of a machine in its singular predetermined result which, in effect, overlays the read reality onto the physical and casts its light/shadow on that which is perceived. It leads to a tyranny of the word’s representation of the world.

Photography brought a representation of light and its reflections into the consideration of nonidealized renderings that unequivocally evoked a moment in time and reanimated the visual cortex to return to its prime purpose which is to convert the visual to analogy. More than mirrors available almost exclusively to the well-to-do, the ubiquity of photography, portraits in particular, ignited a unique blend of self-consciousness that no longer had to refer to a higher authority to seek a determination of self and identity, and essentially created the modern mindset. The end result is a particular neurosis of uncertainty that requires multiple self-representations as an assurance of existence. At the same time the visual arts were freed from the dominance of accurate perspectival depiction and returned to the basics of color and form in portraying the self-consciousness photography had brought about. Once photography was converted into motion, the odds drifted back to a more nonliterary somatic balance.

“Nobody buys your book because no one will publish them, and even if you do get them published, they will not be a success, they will not reach a greater public—if you are not read today, you are dead.”

The contemporary poet is affected by these developments whether they realize it or not. First with the mechanical means of the typewriter (digitally with the word processor), the poet is able to manipulate the text outside of its purely cerebral/syllogistic constraints by standing outside the work and leveraging its potential with the use of judicious appropriation, focused replacement, nuanced reframing, and extra lyrical juxtaposition. The result is the creation of resonate layered surfaces open to appreciation outside of the formal expectations of literary context. Writing the totality of experience within the framework of the poem develops a way free of the inflexibility inherent in those forms of poetry which try to define, once and for all, what the whole of poetry is by confining it to literary convention.

The last thing that is needed for a vibrant era in lit history (Beats, NYS, PacRim, etc.) is to be shrink-wrapped by overeducated white privilege know-nothing academics feasting on a body of work the antithesis of exactly that kind of bourgeois self-congratulatory self-aggrandizement of vacuous credentials they represent. One should always remember that MFA stands for “Middle-class Fashion Accessory” and a PhD in Creative Writing is like a prison tattoo—hang around an institution long enough and you’re bound to get one. The whole idea of trying to legitimize a coterie of writer artists from a past or passing generation as a category of literature is the work of institution. Generations of scholar analyst—clerics in the universal scriptorium—hedge their bets against the growing entropic demands for a static sameness.

In writing a poem the poet seeks the acquisition of language as a kind of renewal. To say that poetry is a nuanced meditation which one can understand, not only by participating in it with a feminine sensitivity, but also by keeping a record of all those little masculine rages with which poets torment themselves would be a paraphrase of Gaston Bachelard. The most difficult poem to write is the one that says nothing. Poetry is a self-structured disordering that degrades the low entropy of language into something consumable.

And that’s where poetry stands today, on the edge of edginess, despite the paint by numbers curriculum of workshops promoted to banalize an otherwise mysterious process. As to the criminality of poetry, the Society has always maintained that there are no bad poems, only bad poets. (A once popular lapel button from the old Life Of Crime days read “The Only Good Poet is a Dead Poet.”)

Poets exists in a state of dilemma, a social quandary. Do poets have to play to their milieu or can they rely solely on purity of intent? Why must the product of their solitude require social approval for its actualization? It is a trap of sorts, a game, the glue that grips them in place, the fascination with a chance to stand in the illusory light of celebrity. Compromises are made to be made. And a poet can be as much a deer in the headlights as anyone.

William Carlos Williams once wrote, “There are a lot of bastards out there.” And most of them are poets. Tom Clark offered the “starved dog” theory of poets, “poets turn into back stabbing creeps just to get their names in print,” to characterize the social scrum. Steven Lavoie, the blog’s society columnist, has provided behind-the-scenes reports of poets behaving badly. Pierre Bourdieu, on the other hand, presents a focused spin on the dilemma.

The radical question posed by “poetry” is circumscribed by the interest linked to membership in the “literary” field, that is to say, the very existence of this field and its corresponding censorships. That field is an historical product of the labor of successive “poets” who have defined “poetry” by forcing on it commentary, discussion, critique, and polemic. But the problems, theories, themes, or concepts which constitute objectified “poetry” impose themselves as a sort of autonomous world on would-be “poets” who must not only know them, as items of culture, but recognize them as items of belief—failing to would disqualify them as “poets.” All those who profess to be “poets” have a life or death interest, as “poets,” in the existence of this repository of consecrated texts, a mastery of which constitutes their specific capital. Thus, short of jeopardizing their own existence as “poets” and the symbolic powers ensuing from this title, they can never carry through the breaks which imply a practical suspension of the existence of “poetry” —that is, a denouncement of the tacit contract defining the conditions of membership in the field, a repudiation of the fundamental belief in the conventions of the game and the value of the stakes, a refusal to grant the indisputable signs of recognition—reference and reverence, obsequiousness, respect for convention even in their outrages—in short everything which secures recognition of their membership. 

To put a less academic spin on it, the illustrious Julia Kristeva opines that “Clannishness is the childish illness of the literary world and even though this compartmentalization may have created and protected innovative stylistic experiences in the past, it is now hindering development of the novel.” This has been especially true of poetry. “The clans of the literary establishment want to amuse and gratify one another and have no need of knowledge. The literary marketplace, along with the way it is overseen by the publishing industry, has become a prime fixture in the normalizing and corruptible order in which we live today [1994].” The grim reality many poets face is just as Kristeva indicates. “Nobody buys your book because no one will publish them, and even if you do get them published, they will not be a success, they will not reach a greater public—if you are not read today, you are dead.” Poet, on the other hand, is one of the last art practices where you can still go on your nerve, and without corporate support, notwithstanding the grant grubbers, mostly vanilla conference networkers, self-congratulatory parlor sentiment synthesis sanitizers, self-righteous schoolmarms, and posture queens of vapid gesture. It remains a sullen art no matter how many followers you have.

The idea of poetry as a crime is an old one. Most everyone has experienced the pain of bad poetry at one time or another. Some of it can be classed as felony mayhem for the harm it poses to impressionable minds. Otherwise it’s merely misdemeanor mayhem, similar to showing off in public. Upon his release, when asked by the warden of San Quentin prison if he were going to rob more stages, Charles Boles avowed that he was done with his life of crime. When asked if he would continue writing poetry, Black Bart reiterated, “Sir, I am done with my life of crime!” For the poet, the likelihood of reoffending is always close at hand. Poetry is life even when it leads to a life of crime.

exilepic2Pat Nolan’s poetry, prose, and translations have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of a dozen poetry selections and three novels including So Much, Selected Poems Vol. II (1990-2010) from Nualláin House, Publishers (2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, 2018). His online novel Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusing at odetosunset.com. He is also the founder and editor of The New Black Poetry Society’s blog Parole, now in its tenth year. Made In The Shade, a poetry document, is a limited term project that began posting monthly in January of 2022 and will end on December 31, 2022, and can be accessed at made-in-shade.com. His most recent fiction project,  Dime Pulp, A Magazine of Serial Pulp Fiction (tencentfiction.com), just published its 21th issue. Pat lives in the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

This entry was posted in Poetry, Poetry Society and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Poetry As Crime; Parole at Ten

  1. cupton2013 says:

    Dear Pat Nolan,

    A good evaluation of the contemporary literary mess—from the inside. Me, I seceded from the literary world in 1979.

    A few responses:

    As against Apollinaire’s banishment of punctuation, one of the implications of Lew Welch’s poetry is speech is the use of punctuation, along with spacing, upper case, italics, even capitalization, as musical notation: sharps, flats, the seven clefs, longer and shorter notes, along with allegro and sotto voce etc. etc.

    Responses to some of your proposed themes:

    1)I Is Another – The Poet As Cult of One

    CULT OF ONE AUDIENCE OF ONE (IF THAT) 2) How Did I Get Here? – Modern Poetry and Its Discontents (ongoing series) 
    IRONY IS HIP, MEANING IS GAUCHE 3) Putting A Positive Spin On The Negative — Poetry and Negative Capability 
    DON’T SWIM NEAR THE WHIRLPOOL 4) The Only Good Poet Is A Dead Poet — Why Is That? 

    Dare he

    Write poetry

    Who has no taste of acid on his tongue

    Who carrys his dreams on his back like a packet?

    Ghosts of other poets send him shame

    He will be alive (as they are dead)

    At the final picking.

    5) Poetry, What Is It Good For? – Looking For An Answer

    READ MY BOOK WHAT POETS USED TO KNOW 6) A Poet’s Ego – Is There A Cure? 
    SEE NUMBER 4) 

    A further response in the form of an excerpt from What Poets Used to Know:

                  The Poetic Art in the 21st Century: a Rant 
                                                           for Ed McClanahan 

    Jack Spicer said: “I can’t stand to see them

    Shimmering in the impossible music

    Of the Star Spangled Banner. No one

    Accepts this system better than poets,

    Their hurts healed for a few dollars.”

    Well, they are still shimmering,

    Only the music is now the music of

    Timothy Leary, Jim Morrison,

    Frank Zappa and the Merry Pranksters—

    The Embalmed Sixties presented to you

    Courtesy of the CIA’s MK-ULTRA

    mind-control program, 

    (Which is where LSD came from in the first


    And the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Bohemia had some use and rationale

    When it was a real alternative to the

    “plastic people” of the 1950’s, 

    To a society dominated by the strait-laced


    But now Bohemia, or what’s left of it,

    Is pure Establishment, and the middle class

    Is dead. You can no longer run away and

    join the hippies 

    So society and your parents won’t bury you


    And you can’t even “go straight” any more,

    Can’t even clean up your act, get a life,

    Get married, have children, become a self-

    respecting “productive member of society”, 

    Now that the family has been outlawed


    And human decency outlawed culturally,

    And any way out of the universal Skinner

    Box of the Engineered Society 

    Either permanently shut down or por-

    trayed as some kind of fanaticism or 
    extremism—religion, for example— 

    Leaving us nothing but the Brave New World

    with its licensed deceptions, 

    Among which is “literature and the arts”,

    Reduced to a category of acceptable entertainment,

    With poetry just another vaudeville act,

    Along with juggling, burlesque and standup


    Nothing but pure diversion, one more necessary


    From the intolerable truth of our lives and our


    In the standard establishment poetry of today

    The sublime is outlawed,

    Depth of feeling swiftly neutralized,

    And if anybody is foolhardy enough to approach

    the world of meaning— 

    Well that guy gets his name put on a list.

    The conventional verse of our time

    Takes despair as axiomatic, and then proceeds

    To make a little aesthetic space to live in,

    Or at least peek into,

    On the plains of that despair.

    We are all doomed, says 21st Century American


    All headed for death,

    Our freedoms stolen,

    The planet shot,

    But still we can share the little commonalities

    of our daily experience 

    With others equally doomed, smiling ruefully

    at each other through the haze; 

    Sometimes rising to wit (as long as it’s not

    too pointedly intelligent); 

    Sometimes dipping into nostalgia (as long as

    it never gets deep enough to confront us 
    with the depth of our loss— 

    No orgiastic lamentations, now, or we’ll be

    forced to call security—) 

    That’s what my art has been reduced to,

    The art that produced Homer and Dante,

    And Blake and Shakespeare,

    And Whitman and Emily Dickinson,

    Now risen to the modest, latter day heights

    of Garrison Keillor (as editor and presenter), 

    Who really is the best of them, now,

    In the lurid crepuscular twilight of the latter


    The world ending with a bang all around us,

    in the streets outside, 

    While we, huddled around the flickering firelight

    of the TV screen and the computer monitor 

    Listen to the same world ending with a whimper,

    Courtesy of art and literature, including 21st

    Century Poetry, 

    And us whimpering along with it, in dull and

    somnolent unison, 

    As we stare our tasteful uselessness in the face,

    A rhythmic, studied uselessness, faithful to the

    subtle textures, stinks and fragrances 

    Of language, language (Ginsberg from “Wichita

    Vortex Sutra”), 

    Product of our perfect, unconscious and

    intrinsic obedience to society’s norms, 

    Among which must be included the pose of

    youthful rebellion pickled in formaldehyde, 

    All adding up to the sort of resumé one might

    circulate in hopes of landing the position 

    Of euthanasia tech, with a letter of rec.,

    From the late Dr. Kevorkian

    And another from new the poet laureate of the

    coming season….     

    And the alternative? What if there isn’t any?

    What if all of us are now reduced to what

    even Spicer had to admit when he said, 

    “Should I throw rocks at them/

    To make their naked private bodies bleed?/

    No, let them sleep.”

    But we are not “them”, the audience who asks

    only that we pack their sleep with cushions 
    plush enough not to wake them, 

    And decorate with minimalist canvasses or

    nostalgic country scenes 

    The anteroom of death—no. We are those

    who have essayed to speak, and so bear 
    the responsibility, as Lew Welch put it, 

    Of becoming the kind of people who might

    have something worthwhile listening to. 

    But exactly how is this to be done? you ask.

    Is it possible? Will it hurt? It won’t end up

    being unhip will it, heaven forbid? 

    In answer, all I can do is list the steps:

    1) Wake up and realize that you’re in the box.

    2) See if you can conceive, somehow, of a

    desire to get out of the box. 

    3) Try to imagine (something poets used to be

    able to do in the olden days, or so I am told) 
    what might already be there outside the box, 
    calling to you, gesturing frantically at you 
        through the smoke, 
    pounding on your door.  

    Beyond that, my only advice is:

    American poets, learn your job;

    Write whatever irks the mob;

    Stomp these wimps who fear to mean,

    Whose sole craft is to make the scene.

    Born yesterday, to the world they go;

    “Born again” they’ll never know.

     Cast a slim eye 
     On dusk, on dawn; 
     Driver—drive on. 

    Lastly, if there is any “school” of poetry I now belong to, it’s the one represented by the anthology Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain and Oceania, edited by Andrew Harvey and Jay Ramsay, San Francisco: Tayen Lane, 2016.

    Will we ever convene again?


    Charles Upton

  2. cupton2013 says:

    One more thing: some verses dictated (by who?)

    in the dream state, word for word:

    This is the age when all stories have been told

    the dead going on without poetry

    and poetry telling them the

    truth of gravity’s art.

    “I write for the dead.”

                                            ~~ Jack Spicer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.