Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reading Poetry

This is like me writing about music, which I'll do one day, first in a short story called "Recollecting Patrick Bateman," and eventually in a collection called Secondary. It's me on poetry. Jack Gilbert. A book I came across by chance and I decided to buy, because it caught my fancy. But I discuss that in the post proper. Just wanted to get it out there first: I'm no good at this.

It was the bookstore with my hair up in a ponytail wearing a shirt that was too tight and an over-shirt that I hadn’t put on in a few months. The situation isn’t right, I’m upsettled, to use the Humpty-Dumpty term that I got by way of Neil Gaiman; I think he blogged it. I’m not used to being in Borders without knowing what I’m going to get. You get a list of books going and usually you can just feel it, eventually picking something that’ll work out. And I’ve got it down pat with fiction, I think; perhaps best shown in my picking of Miranda July’s stellar No Belongs Here More Than You, which was just a simple judging of the book by its cover.

The problem then being that, like I said in the last post, poetry isn’t the same as fiction. It’s something entirely different. But Collins is wrong when he says we have to limit what we use it to say. All forms of art are vehicles for much of the same concepts and ideas, morals and images—poetry is simply a different car company. Considering its current place in America, I might even say that it’s a foreign car company; the great American novel is still an idea that’s thrown around a bit too much still these days, but the American poet is a dead subject. I plan to put some nails into its coffin with glee later in the month, but let’s save that for then.

My story is another of the unusual and it includes the parental advisory; these are not life lessons, I’m not suggesting you do this at home, but once again judging a book by its cover seems to have panned out. But I’m bullshitting slightly because I read two or three poems before I picked the book up. Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven is a delightful piece of work. He’s using illeism at times, like I did in a poem apologizing how I wasn’t a good poet. He’s writing poems about poetry itself, which I’ve been doing for a long time, even back in my boring rhyming days.

Reading poetry is something entirely different from fiction, because if you read reviews of poetry you are still reading poetry in a sense. I can chastise the poet all I want, as I did yesterday, as I’ll do, let’s throw it on the list, on the 21st, but I also can’t help but mention that the shininess of it is beautiful. It’s like Socrates who hated the society he lived in, even though it was the best society for a philosopher you could find. The way to interpret it is that he felt that what was best for the philosopher (him) was not best for the city (what he praised). I might have stolen that from…Kraut is it? I think. If I’ve plagiarized, at least I’ve admitted to it.

So what’s best for the world and the poets and the poetry might not be best for the reader. And I don’t mean that, because it is best for the reader, but there is something lost. That elusive little element you try to catch in the poem who’s written by the poet from a pretentious distance. Or perhaps I’m boring you. Perhaps this is nonsense. I’ll get to the poetry and see if I can get back to that Stephen King-ism that I’ve been trying to capture in this blog-writing: that of the one hand clapping, that you’ll catch in Danse Macabre.

I should also mention another of my sins, for I’m going to comment on a book I have not finished. I guess with a book of poems, especially if I do focus mainly on one individual poem, this’ll not be an issue, but I’m writing this with the benefit of foresight. This apology here will be reflected in the next week’s worth of poems (at least by date), where I plan to write about Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis’s book that will be (or was) released on the 15th. I’m not done with it now (as I write this at 12:15 AM on the 19th), nor will I be when I’m writing the entries, so I thought why not through out the caution flag early and get the speed limited lowered: that way I can save gas and preserve whatever position I have in this race currently, because my main fear is that I’ll crash and burn or continue to fall lower in the packs.

Refusing Heaven, then, is a poetry collection named like most (and most albums for that matter) after one of its parts, the eponymous poem. What is interesting about this case is how the ideas that spring up from the title echo throughout the other works. In “Getting Away with It,” Gilbert explains how “[w]e have already lived in the real paradise … we can remember.” And doesn’t that mentality capture the title completely? It’s something Lennon would say: that we should be pursuing perfection here, rather than waiting on it in heaven; we should believe in only ourselves. It’s the reverse St. Augustine, and really there’s nothing wrong with that.

Some of the greatness that I see in Gilbert is the way he can reveal the same ideas elsewhere and still pack the punch of revelation. The continuing idea of all the good that can be found in this world is culminated in “Failing and Falling,” where his masterful voice explains that “[e]veryone forgets that Icarus also flew.” This is, pardon me if I’m wrong, the sort of line that you can read over and then come back to and agree that it’s completely true. Sure, he sunk, but he sure got a lot further in the sky then most of us. And there’s something beautiful there. It was probably better to do what he did than live in the maze forevermore. That’d be uneventful.

In “Doing Poetry,” Gilbert refers to his own dissatisfaction with writing and lack of any real prize for each poem he’s composed. What then inspires the man to continue to pick up the pen? He answers later, in “Bring in the Gods,” with this: “I want to fail. I am hungry/for what I am becoming.” It is this self-same premise (albeit beautifully stated by the poet) that causes me to write this blog. You’re putting the hours in, doing things wrong because there never really is a right way, and you fail because it’s better than doing nothing. That’s how I read poetry.

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