Poetry Dispatch No. 102 | September 16, 2006
I have many, many days in which–not considering myself either a writer or a professional anything–I achieve nothing. Most of the time that drives me to crazy, having been raised to be (maybe by nature, too) a purpose-addict. Occasionally, it opens up my understanding, allows integration of all kinds of pending matters–which I’m always deeply snooping into (my profession, I suppose, if I have a profession)–& allows me, once I resume work, to do what I could not do, if I kept producing, even on the bad days. I believe it’s better. But, oh, how rough it is on my reputation & economy! And bad habits are easily developed & sustained, too. Likely, it will be the death of me. I’ll resist, & try, occasionally, to produce something that makes up for all kinds of days of pretty-good production. –Eric (Excerpt from a letter)
This “Poetry Dispatch” (#101, Eric Chaet–Revisited) might also qualify for my occasional online offering, “Notes from the Underground”–or even serve as subject matter for a “Blei’s Blog” where more personal literary essays concerning ‘The Writing Life’ appear periodically and are archived.
(NOTE: At the request of some readers, I will soon begin archiving particular columns from past offerings of both “Poetry Dispatch” and “Notes from the Underground”).
Eric Chaet continues to fascinate me as a writer with a mission, a man with many things on his mind—all of them concerning a better, a more meaningful life for us all on this increasingly sad planet of. He reads widely. Considers the human condition on a grand scale—history, philosophy, literature, American culture—and in his heart, I’m sure, think we are better than we are. Or ought to be.
His poetry is HIS entirely. He marches to his own poetic drummer. Nobody else’s. It may not be your cup of tea. Or yours. Or academia’s No matter. He knows what he wants to say, suggest, consider…have you consider. If they tend to lean a little toward the essay for your good, so what? He conceives them as poems. He hears them as poems. He hopes you will accept them for all the life and thought they hold.
I refuse to argue about who is or is not a real poet. If you’ve read and written poetry long enough, you know who speaks to you and who doesn’t. You know why. You know your own strengths, weaknesses, and what it takes to continue to be more.
We’re just all trying to say the good thing. Get it ‘right.’ Say it in a way it will be remembered. And, hopefully, call the reader back for more.
This is a little of what Eric Chaet is all about. Listen. Norbert Blei
One Letter and Four Poems, from Eric Chaet
Your review of Anna Kavan’s work [See Blei’s Blogs] reminds me of an idea I’ve long held–that many people (among them writers, but I’m not talking about writers particularly) are like expressions of dominant genes, and many
others are like expressions of recessive genes.
As I learned it–and gene theory is morphing and becoming more complex
fast–including more and more that isn’t so, as well as more and more
that is so, I suspect–those people who are praised and rewarded, as
though naturally, without any careful thought, in any particular time
and place–e.g., Marilyn Monroe, Eisenhower, Elvis–have dominant
genes. In our culture, they’re large rather than small, light rather
than dark, aggressive rather than cautious, etc.–as a rule, with
plenty of exceptions, of course.
When the culture radically shifts, then recessive genes may be switched
on, or, again as I learned it, those who had the recessive genes, now
have genes which may very well be more advantageous than the previously
dominant, that is, evolution now favors them more at the expense of
those previously favored. Then you get a shift a characteristics among
the population of the new culture.
I firmly–except for brief crises of faith, I guess you’d call
it–believe that we are at the end of one culture. As to whether or
not we are on the verge of anything so well-defined as a new culture, I
don’t know. And I’m quite certain that if we are on the verge of a new
culture, there’s no reason to assume it will be an improvement, or not
an improvement–likely positive and negative elements–just a different
But many of the writers who are unpopular, yet have a small but
intensely loyal following, it seems to me, are people expressing the
recessive genes of the current culture–and their loyal following share
those genes. Most examples would be unknowns–but Dostoyevsky, post
Moby Dick Melville, and Kafka are obvious examples, too.
You may take this business about genes to be a metaphorical or literal
as you please–I think it works pretty well from one end of the
spectrum to another.
I have always been drawn to those with the recessive genes–but if I am
to survive and thrive a while and deliver what I’m capable of
delivering, within this culture while it lasts, I must attend to those
with the dominant genes, more than I am inclined to do.
I study the economic writings of the investor class, I watch the films
of Schwartzenegger, Stallone, and Norris, I read Norman Mailer who
characters attempt to become Hemingway heroes in New York, say, and I
watch “The Unit,” Mamet’s American fascist series on television–about
people who thrive by being very good at being unscrupulous–lie, cheat,
get others in trouble, assassinate–while they fulfill missions that
seem evil to me, but which they are sure are good, because they come
from “our” side.
Mailer is a slightly different kettle of fish. Rightly, he identifies
artist with criminal and psychopath–not among the dominant, but not
among those who allow themselves to be squashed into drones, either. I
don’t mean he’s right about everything, not by any means. But that one
insight is worth the price of at least one of his books. It’s been
almost 40 years, but I particularly liked “Barbary Shore“–which he
wrote shortly after “The Naked and the Dead,” and, being about
artists–mostly neurotic, tho he tries to transcend it with psychosis,
in New York City–was nothing like the blockbuster hit.
STRUGGLING THEN & NOW by Eric Chaet
When I was young & wanted to join
the community of those who had transcended
the tedium & self-deceptions of their time
whose transmissions I’d discovered
hidden here & there among the others
at the store front public library on Kedzie Street
straight & shop-pocked western edge of my geography
my problem was that what I knew transcended nothing
only invaded thru the membrane of my fear
I could barely even cope with what I hoped
somehow, to rise above & leave behind.
Now it’s very different:
I know so much that you could use
to cross streets, to fly from frowns
from accusations, foolish hypnotic furniture
if I could only find the way to transmit it
to you now starting out against the holes
into which others insist you pound your self
I can barely even cope with what I know
& hope to send to you while also, still
struggling to initiate & complete transactions
with my fellow travelers
thru our little neighborhood of time
who fear & laugh at me & see no reason to trade
what’s come so hard, to me, for trouble–
enough to provide for myself thru evening
when I must release my concentration, & sleep
til another dawn, another struggle.
ENEMIES by Eric Chaet
So, you’ve organized again to break down & possess what’s greater than
recruiting support by blaming others doing the same thing–
blowing up anyone who won’t be governed by you,
harassing travelers & anyone else unwilling to serve as your soldiers,
mocking conscientious students of anything other than serving your
destroying the most useful people by praising those posing as useful
assuring them that The Invisible Hand loves their efficient selfishness,
treating kind, generous development & contribution of originality as
you’re just the ones to teach kind generosity to put on its costume &
& solicit–under streetlamps, along curbs–sex dates-for-pay
with dissolute heirs of conquest, fraud, conspiracy, & intimidation,
whose only so-called work is baiting traps at the ends of mazes.
It’s the Cultural Revolution, McCarthyism, burning of witches,
khans, vikings, Jim Crow, pogroms, nazis, caesars, black list, shunning,
black shirts, brown shirts, snobbery, Inquisition, lynching, morals
Khmer Rouge, Taliban, slavery, powdered wigs, bullying gangs,
yet another attempt at totalitarianism disguised as defense of liberty–
& everyone who has been trying to relieve human suffering
is forced to use up their courage just facing the morning,
while all the cameras & microphones are aimed at your laughing &
puppets–of you who imagine your final triumph is assured & near–
instructing the deluded how to destroy their would-be benefactors, &
the time, attention, & effort of their lives for safe little cubes,
toys, & a lullaby.
But what’s greater than you is greater than you,
& truth is as real as birth, age, & death–
if your schemes require keeping truth hidden, sleep with one eye open–
& without rest, the beats of your heart are compressed & carefully
& your only allies are as dishonest & greedy as yourself–
& I, born & raised in, & undefeated by just such a struggle–not unique
in this way–
am perfectly aware, tho you pose as my protector,
that I’ve only survived so far because I have nothing you want,
& because you believe it’s good economy to eliminate others you fear
TAKE ME OR LEAVE ME ALONE, ALREADY by Eric Chaet
Is somebody going to help me, or nobody?–which is it?
If it’s somebody, will they know who I am & what I need?
Will they be in a position to provide it?
Or if it’s nobody, will I know who I am & what I need?
In this land where only a few kinds of prowess are rewarded,
& everyone else is treated as competition or dirt by everyone else,
where lying murderers are elected to take Washington’s & Lincoln’s
& Jesus is something you mumble while wolfing a chemical & injustice
will I be in a position to provide what I need?
Occasionally, someone has helped me–
otherwise I wouldn’t consider waiting an instant.
Occasionally, I’ve been able to help myself–
otherwise, I’d have laid down already & died by the side of the road.
I wouldn’t have managed even to escape my mad father’s yelling &
or my mother’s demented attempt to save me by pulling me back into an
let alone the tyranny of the other boys at school, or of the teachers–
God forbid you should show some flame of intelligence they didn’t
the tyranny of the police or of the neighbors united by common
or the tyranny–by school, tax, seduction, misdirection, the protection
racket–of their rulers.
Those would have been way too much for me to face up to–
I’d have put my hands on the hips of the dancer ahead of me & got with
unless, occasionally, I was able to help myself,
& burst like a bird out of a carelessly latched cage,
right out into the middle of the fragile, carefully choreographed
game of reasonable purpose–who invited me?–
joyfully singing an entirely different song,
or just full of exponentially surging fight, flight, piss, vinegar,
hope, & defiance–
take me or leave me alone, already.
THE TIME BEFORE THE COMING TIME by Eric Chaet
The generation rebelled, was punished,
& fell back, abashed, to made the best of what remained–
its hopes & compensations out of reach, ashamed of its failure.
But it hadn’t failed–
only its success took longer than expected,
& would be part of something neither rebels
nor those who punished them could imagine.
And those who either slyly,
or because oblivious to all but advantage,
never rebelled, but only did what was required
to impress those most liable to reward them,
ruled–ashamed, too–again, unless deluded–
over a time in which every failure & every success
required cagey representation–never was what it was meant to be–
was always part of something none dared yet conceive
even the price, let alone how lives would be arranged
once its tentative alien sprouts projected leaves, flowers, fruits.