Poetry Dispatch No. 191 | September 27, 2007
FEEDBACK on the #!*`^ @#! Poetry Trail by Norbert Blei
Lots of great mostly brief comments on Bruce Hodder’s fiery piece concerning the poetry of our time, “WHICH ONE OF YOU BASTARDS KILLED MY SEXY LAMB? poetry and the academies in Britain” (“Notes from the Underground # 189,” Sept. 22, ‘07), but here’s a longer response from one smokin’ General Surgeon of rebel-rant, writer Robert Zoschke (aka Zeee) — with a warning :
CAUTION HIGHLY INFLAMMABLE, MAY BE INJURIOUS TO YOUR MINDSET
Bruce...You took the time to write it and Norb took the time to flurry it all over the stratosphere, and I was moved to read it through…and I am inspired to take the time to respond…because, from my perspective as a reader and writer, your lines “I don’t know much about the American scene…but I guess I don’t have enough of an overview to comment with real authority about what goes on over there. But I know the British scene,” begs a response from an American point of view….because that is where the intrigue lays…in the differences and being amidst the differences in the different “scenes”. In the scene over here, I don’t hear anyone hollering to “get rid of the Academies”…I hear plenty of people (the people I am tight with, like minded people mostly but more like minded as readers/writers) saying “fuck em in the ass without a courtesy of a reach-around.”
Over here, it’s tough from a thinking writer’s perspective to say “get rid of” something as inescapable as death and taxes. With thousands upon thousands of MFA Graduates every year (Master’s of Fine Arts or Mother Fucking Assholes, take your pick) appearing on the “literary scene” like cottage-cheese-blotches appearing on Britney Spears’ sluggard-drunken-snickers-bar-thundering-thighs…they aren’t going away, period. What they are doing is continuing their sluggard takeover/monopoly of what used to be the “open to submissions from anywhere literary journals” that used to be the breeding ground of a wide variety of writers (from John Updike to Joan Didion to Harry Crews to Nick Tosches to Billy Collins et cetera) but now is a coterie of hind-licking academicians twizzling fuzzy tipped toothpicks and cheese squares at wine parties with University Big Shots, none of them giving two shits or one about what the latest “how azure is the egg” Space Odyssey “poetry” disgraced their school’s lit rag, or how many translations of 17th Century Honduran Altar Boys being made out to be the next Hemingway because some of their graduates had a rich enough daddy to get a second MFA in translations happen to be disgracing their pages….the real deal on the table at those get-togethers is GRANTS, ENDOWMENTS, RICH BASTARD TRUSTEES WHO WILL GIVE MONEY FOR A SPECIAL “Literary” PROJECT IF THEIR NAME is on the masthead of a “Poetry Prize”.
Or, in some cases, since no one reads or buys their shit, and they are standing around wondering how the hell they are gonna keep putting the lit rag out without dipping into their own trust fund interest, they invent “contests” then continually advertise that “submissions are still being taken” until they have enough dough to pay for the issue AND award the prize to a fellow fuzzy toothpick twizzler. Meanwhile, they get hundreds (on the low end) of submissions a month, many from writers who actually have something to say, some with serious things to say. That is the rationale over here in my circle of readers/writers I know, as to why Academies are ruining poetry, and it is accentuated by such poetic works as Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology being in its twenty second printing and continually on back order at bookstores.
If William Carlos Williams (a City Lights Published Alum) is rationale for widespread belief that Academies are ruining poetry, that’s news to me, I read him when he’s in anthologies I buy, but he’s never inspired me to buy entire books of his, back in the late nineties when I read him last, perhaps too long ago and I would be inspired now by him, I don’t know. I didn’t know Buddhists don’t believe in heaven until I read your essay (apparently I really was too acid and pot and blow and booze scrambled during those comparative religion courses I thought were marvelous in College). I believe in Heaven, most presently and notably as existing in between the thighs of the next woman that lets me go down on her, whenever that may be. I am ignorant of Kingsey Amis, one of your references, and if his son would ever hire a publisher to put a book out in normal size type I would read him all the way through, but I am a huge fan of Philip Larkin, everything about the man, which I have researched rather diligently probably for an American, and I would never in Americanese describe his writing as “middle-brow pleasantries”…to me, British middle-brow pleasantries are all the British “Comedies” that run on cable shows over here, which, I cannot stand in the same vein I cannot stand Seinfeld over here, the dumbest fucking show in the history of American Television in my opinion, absolutely nothing funny at all, just stupid, with a bunch of “middle-brow pleasantries” seeking TV watchers enthralled with it. But Larkin is the man in my book of British Poetry.
To me, he’s the intellectually peculiar yet insightful equivalent of William S. Burroughs, particularly if you’ve ever read the Larkin interviews and biographical essays on him. Maybe I’m too much of a sarcastic American son of a bitch, but I could never refer to Ted Hughes as a “meatier” poet than anybody, except maybe in the ball sack and love wand department…he was a cunning enough dude to hump n stick with the right chick and it got him published to the extreme…kind of like Raymond Carver getting a Mercedes in the driveway from the “new direction” of his career before he died, the new direction being into the arms of the Paris Review GRANT crowd thanks to the pussy willow branches he was spreading. As far as your take on Bukowski, I wholeheartedly see him having an immeasurable influence on any writer anywhere if they are a serious writer.
I don’t know anyone in America (or anywhere, though certainly they exist) with more Bukowski books than me, and they all have been poured over by me repeatedly for years and years, including the biographies, and I never have taken as an American reader of him that there is anything “surrealistic edged” as you take his early work to be. I’ve only read three or four Mickey Spillane books, ever, but from that I’ve never drawn in my mind’s eye a Bukowski-Spillane analogy of any kind.
The Hemingway Angle you home in on is the light at the tunnel in my opinion…I would argue that if any writer is really truly more serious about writing than anything else in life, to the point they are actively engaged in trying to put a roof over their head and food on their table with NOTHING but their writing, which Bukowski was doing, even though it wasn’t working FOR YEARS AND YEARS, the same as with TOO MANY OTHERS…then the Hemingway analogy is there at some point because Hemingway was and pretty much still is the HOLY GRAIL AT THE WHITE LIGHT LIFT OFF IN THAT TUNNEL DREAM…he was considered to be what he tried to be, a serious writer, his work was deemed literature and also wound up best-selling, allowing him to do WHATEVER THE FUCK HE WANTED TO DO WHENEVER THE FUCK HE WANTED TO DO IT, WHEREVER THE FUCK HE WANTED TO DO IT, PERIOD, WHEN HE WASN’T WRITING.
Which is all Bukowski ever wanted to do, like every other serious writer, check out some of the best work of Bukowski’s ever, released posthumously, when he is already sick with what will wind up being leukemia, and he is in his driveway looking at a house he bought with poetry, a BMW he bought with poetry, a fine lady taking care of him because of poetry, cats with vet bills paid for because of poetry, and a day at the track without any care about how much he will lose betting because of poetry, sick as a dog but still smiling smirking, ending the poem with “I paid $250,000 in income taxes last year.” I am of the mindset (perhaps American? I don’t know) to be completely unable to agree at all with your take “Buk engages in this almost knee-jerk denunciation of the Academies everywhere in his poetry and letters, without really knowing what he’s talking about.” For my money, and with a loaded .38 pressed to my temple I’d bet my life on it too, he knew what he was talking about when he talked about “The Academies” as much if not more so than any other widely read writer with books printed in the English Language.
Taking it one step further (American point of view? I don’t know) in comparison to your take, I don’t know any American reader/writer friend of mine who would find the mental train of thought to cite as you cite (British point of view? I don’t know) “W.C. Williams”, “Verse Language”, or “approximating ordinary speech”, in regards to discussing ANYTHING about Bukowski. Bukowski was Bukowski, period…an original…ironically an American Original, who happened to sell more translated books of poetry in Europe than any other European Poet at the time (and probably now I would bet), otherwise those European Poets would have been on the European Book Tours Bukowski was on in Europe while coincidentally his image was plastered to billboard advertisements for his books as showcased in the biography books on him. Now, I can think of plenty of American serious-writer friends of mine who will reference “the good doctor” and “Bukowski” as you did in the same paragraph, however we would do it in referencing Bukowski and “the Good Doctor” Hunter S. Thompson as like-minded, similarly successful writers who became part of the HOLY GRAIL AT THE END OF THE WHITE LIGHT TUNNEL DREAM…they made it to the point of being able to do WHATEVER THE FUCK THEY WANTED, WHEREVER, WHENEVER, SOLELY BECAUSE OF THEIR WRITING.
For my money as a book buyer and to my mind as a serious writer, Bukowski’s sentimentality, most notably appearing in bulk in his posthumous work, is not a weakness at all, it is one of his greatest strengths as a writer and human being and goes a long way to explaining why his posthumous material is released as the only Hardcover standing alone amidst tinkerer’s pocket thingies in the “Poetry” section at bookstores across America. The precise reason he “romanticizes his own suffering, and the hard road he traveled” in your mind’s eye…to my mind’s eye is…Because that is the type of writer he was, just as Kerouac was the same type of writer, which I would bet my life with a loaded .38 to my temple is the explanation for why so many “literary folks” have been enraptured with drawing Bukowski into the “Beat Generation.”
You must have vastly different poetry journals in Britain (based on me being published there before anyone else over here ever published my poetry, and I’ll extend Journals to Poetry as a Whole based on Faber and Faber advertising right on their London Website that they are actively seeking book submissions of poetry, no similar publishing house or publishing division in America such as Penguin Poets in the U.S. EVER does that) and perhaps that leads to your take on Bukowski including “So what?” that Bukowski saw relevance in dismissing poets in literary journals because they don’t reflect guys sleeping on park benches, which is completely opposite of my American thinking, including that I would never conjure a paragraph written about Bukowski to include “If it took a big man to suffer, pain probably wouldn’t be a universal experience”…the last thing Bukowski ever thought himself to be, in my mind’s eye, was a Big Man of any kind, he was himself, nothing more nothing less, that’s why he could laugh and smile as leukemia struck because he paid $250,000 in income taxes one year.
The last thing I ever ever ever would give a shit about is “developing a mature poetic sensibility” as you phrase it, yet I take writing very fucking seriously, more seriously than ninety percent of the American “Writers” I know. And I hope you aren’t reading this thinking I am knocking you, or your own work, which I am absolutely not doing (otherwise I never would have asked you in the Kerouac Book, believe me, there’s plenty of others I could have asked but I thought you were a better writer). But my American mind set makes me read your paragraph about “using Buk’s insistence as raw experience as the only legitimate criteria for worthwhile writing being swallowed wholesale as an excuse not even to read Blake Bunting Pound Crane…” as a Text Book Definition, were I to write one, on WHY BUKOWSKI IS THE only poet in our lifetime who can laugh and smile and end a poem with I PAID TWO HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND IN TAXES LAST YEAR and why the only other poets ANYONE could possibly try and say “BUT NO WAIT” including W.S. Meerrrrrr all have had so much GRANT ACADEMY Money shoved up their ass it doesn’t matter if anyone ever bought one of their hardcover books, the mortgage and car payment was already covered.
If a serious writer, of any style or genre of writing, isn’t a special writer because of some sort of extended raw experience, then they have an imagination that should have made them the A.K. Rowlings before A.K. Rowlings ever existed twenty years ago…name me that writer, I’ve never heard of them or seen them on the best-seller list…if RAW EXPERIENCE were to be unnecessary, as in, not a pre-requisite, then the best-seller lists wouldn’t be routinely filled with RAW EXPERIENCE writers (IE, ex cops writing cop stories, ex lawyers writing lawyer stories, et cetera) who have RAW EXPERIENCE but CAN’T WRITE thus they are denigrated in the same articles that praise Norman MAILER for being the last serious writer to win a National Book Award and top the best-seller list, in both fiction and non-fiction no less. And Again, please don’t mistakenly go down a mental road that I am railing on you, I am not, but I am simply awestruck by how different your mindset and mine are…but here’s my take on your conclusion that builds around analogizing “the mission of future poets”, “getting rid of the academies” and a quote from Tom Robbins…if someone were to get a copy of that paragraph in Tom Robbins’ hands I think he would have the impetus to write a sequel to Skinny Legs and All called British Poets and All…in my mind set…and the mind set of every serious American writer I know…it is IMPOSSIBLE to “tell us something we don’t know, in our trembling flesh” to quote your close…without RAW EXPERIENCE.
That is what the American Reader (and I would argue the book buying fiction and poetry reader in Britain and every other country) is after, something that will make them conjure in their imagination “real” characters going through “raw experience”…over and out…Zeeeee