Sunday, May 31, 2020


When he's on his game, Jim Powell has a finely tuned ear for voice, place, and period, which we can see with his poem "The Seamstress," which can be read here in Slate. A good poem, as it goes, nothing special in the long run, but Powell does a neat and not-so-obvious job of creating parallels between a holiday that commemorates the dead and keeps their memory alive (and in so doing preserving some order in the minds and morals of those remaining alive), and woman trying to bring a decorative skeleton figuratively "to life" so it might add impact and meaning to the celebration. Powell is rather good at implying that it is all for naught, under the noise and decoration; the dead will remain in their graves as dust despite collective conjuring, and the skeleton will just continue to look limp and tattered, a rattling assemblage held together with costumes thread and brocade. And so it sits as well with the seamstress, herself old, creaking at the joints to finesse a stitch, squinting in the night light as the seams get wider, less tight, loosened with age. Her bones ache, her eyesight fails by degrees, the skeleton is a limp and tattered symbol whose power has waned, and meaning has lessened to the level of Saturday morning cartoon. The dead themselves are even more deceased than they were before, memories of their existence buried under the same ground the children dance upon other than that children love to the dance for any reason or no reason at all because being alive is only its most fun and enthralling at those times and moments when there is no knowledge of limits, of what you can't do or what can't be done. Powell's poem "First Light." What about it?Perfectly suited for a slice-of-life poem, an observational piece focusing on the workplace, though it's problematic that the job described turns out to be in a bakery, alone baker just beginning his workday before light. The situation is a shade archetypal, and what is noticed in the lines "tufts dusted with a snow of flour," and especially "thick arms cradling rolls and crusty loaves, a gift for late-returning revelers..." for the derelict who washes in the creek under the bridge his daily bread at daybreak come off more as wish-fulfillment than as inspired vision.

The setting is too ideal; everything that you would expect to be in an early AM bakery tableau just happen to be there, right down to the homeless man who picturesquely "washes his hands under the bridge." The stops being a poem at this point and become instead one of those faux Impressionist paintings of Parisian cityscapes in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, filled with blurry, alienated figurines in their shops and on the slippery hued streets going about their anonymous chores. There is an idealization in this well-crafted piece that strikes me as wrong and inappropriately dreamy. This may be because Powell gave us one painterly detail too many in this hyper-literalized diorama. Had he omitted the line "under the bridge" -- the problem is that bridges and rain are ever such ready poetic words to use when inspiration falls midline -- and substituted another tactile element, something plausible, recognizable yet unexpected (garden hose, a playground water fountain, a janitor's mop, something that could credibly be in the scene), the poem may well have worked. Even so, one expects something more to be said about this situation than the idea that it swells, dreamy, and meant to make you go "oooooooohhhhhhh" and "ahhhhhhhhhhhhh." There is an underside here that is ignored, and Powell shuns an urge to get beyond his cozy poetics to discover something remarkable, disturbing, and finally memorable. This poem is not unlike those previously mentioned faux Impressionist paintings, which are produced by the hundreds for tourist dollars. Powell's poem reads as if he's written dozens of variations on it. That isn't writing; it's the only production.

Not every poem clicks, of course. Another poem published in Slate, "Two Million Feet of Vinyl," worries an idea instead of bringing it to life. A bit laborious, heavy on the obfuscated detailing of industrial manufacturing in the attempt to let convoluted descriptions yield strange, alienated poetry. But one sees rapidly where this going, where everything, including workers, is mere materials to be converted in endless, brutal processes and wind up as dust. Powerful, perhaps, in a poem that doesn't telegraph its tragic punchline so much--you can see it coming like the Underdog float in the Macy's Holiday Parade--but here it just hangs there. You want more, and it doesn't come. It appears that he's seen "Things to Come" recently and is enamored of "Modern Times" and tried to emulate their effects with his own reassembly of the deadening effects of a technological economy. But this is not a journey where Luddites and technocrats haven't gone before; it's a setup for a joke; man shapes his tools, after which the tools shape man. It's a poem based on first-semester political science lectures. The level of discourse is fine for freshmen. Still, by the time one gets around to be a published poet, there is the reasonable expectation that there's more than the gasping gee-whiz of it all occupying the writer's worried mind. What's being delivered is the moldy metaphor of alienation in Modern Times, that repetitive and mechanical means of production have made man a part of the machines he invented to save him labor and time. Yes, you get it, right, Marxism 101. The facile equations between machine processes and the rescinded world are irksome at best. I don't know if he intended this to be ironic, a parody of futurist rhetoric, or whether he merely wanted the glorification of brute, soulless contraption would itself yield remarkable poems of the "found" variety. This isn't the kind of ambiguity that makes for great art. It would have to point toward something and give a sense of direction if it were worth discussing longer than a terse dismissal. But this points nowhere other than at its clipped locutions. Powell is a good poet who must have dashed this off in an odd mood and didn't see fit to change it. Fine, I have dozens of poems that exactly like this; cryptic, spacy, unyielding in their impenetrable weirdness.


Jim Powell's poem "Dance Figure" resembles William Carlos Williams' poem "Poem (As the cat)" in its sharp, curt delineation of something observed; the difference, though, is that the Williams' poem is closer to the late poet's natural, evolved style. Williams worked a lifetime developing a poetics about poetry based on what he considered the American voice, a natural, un-embellished cadence that he considered the model for his Imagist inclination. Direct treatment of the material thing perceived was the goal:

As the cat
climbed over
the top of
the jamcloset

first the right
then the hind
stepped down
into the pit of
the empty

It's short and not so sweet; something here reminds me of the still photograph experiments of Eadweard Muybridge, in his continuous photographs of a single action that, when seen in rapid sequence, replicates motion. We can see the cat padding about cautiously as it tests its balance on a precarious edge; we can sense the progress, stanza to stanza, the halting placement of the forefoot, the comedy of hind leg stepping into an empty flowerpot. This artfully, succinctly condenses visual information to essential actions, creating the feeling of the excited, rapid commentary of one friend nudging another to view a comic vision. One nudges the other, whispers, "get aloud of that. " Longer digressions are left behind, compound words and their alliterating implications are left on the workbench. Word selection and length are everything. The goal for Williams, I think, was to create a sense of the event happening in real or recent time, detailed with words that are fresh and pure of post-reflective abstraction. He hasn't larded up the perception with cracker barrel philosophizing.

Jim Powell accomplishes much the same effect as Williams, although he isn't as temperamentally taciturn as the late poet was. He does have, though, a strong sense of the lyric move and succeeds, in his strongest work, of knowing when the lines break, when the image commands the center of the work, and when the narrator's rumination filters through the descriptive arrangements, an insertion of a personality that sufficiently his subject more confounding. It's a delicate balance of the objective, the correlative, and the subjective. It's a nice seduction when the writing hand isn't overly eager to deliver a payoff.

Dancer Figure
He interlaces
his fingers
and stoops
to make a saddle
at knee level
of his palms
where she places
her right foot
and steps up
continuing to rise
while he straightens
to lift
and boosts her
springing from his hands
arms extended
fingertips pointed
arrowing skyward
as she leaps
than either

Ah, but this is a crisp description of a delicate scene; like Williams, the concentration is on closely observed movement, the cupping of the male's hand to form a lift, a bridge for the woman to place her foot, the slow rising from the floor toward the sky, the final, cascade-seeming leap. What Powell has assumed from Williams are lessons well learned; the brief lines are an internalized beat, a slowly wound spring tensing up until an eventual, ceiling-bound release--the motions here are a seamless stream without the bumps and segmented grating a stitched-in abstraction would have brought to Powell's elegant outline.

One element rings false, if only slightly, the additional commentary at the conclusion "...she leaps / higher / than either / separately could." The narrator emerges from the wings, Rod Serling style, and offers up the summarizing afterward, and this an intrusion on the serene, zen-moment mood Powell had otherwise established here; it takes the reader away from a simple, sweetly arranged music, remarkable for its brevity and absence of loaded terms and freighted associations, and places us in the realm of argument. It's a jolt, as it was both unneeded--did anyone really need to be told, at poem's end, that this was a feat a dancer couldn't accomplish without a partner? The abrupt turn, shifting from the evocative to the editorial, would suggest that Powell has things in mind that the dance partners are symbolic of or symptomatic of, but I doubt that's the reason. He's too concrete a poet to become vague and allusive and allude to invisible concerns outside his actual writing if there wasn't anything in work to give the insinuations a tangible presence. I suspect it's merely a case of the instinctual habit to sum things up; this is a habit that can be effective in longer works, where a brief paraphrase of a poem's tropes can illuminate how imagery and theme have been reconfigured in the process of bringing to an articulate expression, but "Dance Partners" is too brief for effect. The minor failing of the ending illustrates my belief that a large factor in a good poet's working philosophy is the instinct to know when to stop writing--often, a poem is complete before the writer thinks he's finished with it.  The point of these tense, brief lyrics is to leave well enough alone.


Barry Goldensohn offers up a poem titled "War Work" , the intent being to bridge childhood memories of Manhattan thunder storms that he mistook for a nuclear attack, and how his parents consoled him that his small world still held its comforting center. A moving sentiment ,perhaps, if told in real life, but horrid and malnourished as a poem. The poem confirms the tired complaint that too many poems are bad prose broken into irregular lines--the reader is given the worst qualities of and must surrender to vague critical asides that claim there is more in the ambiguity than the unguided eye can connect. Or the reader must suffer the personal insult, by implication, that manage to live despite the fact that they have no heart. I suppose I have no heart.This poem is so weak that if on the off chance that this incident is true , I hope his parents made fun of him from that day forward, into his adult life. Writing this poem the way it is seems like an attempt to ennoble a childhood embarrassment by dressing it up in the unseemly character warping issue of Nuclear Destruction and General Apprehension. This has interest if one were to read it as a single entry on a blog, or paragraph out of a long letter, but as a poem is slight and repulsive for being so unambitious. 

It's the equivalent of being a bad mood while on the way to work early one mid-week day and seeing homeless men gathered at bus stops, smoking mooched cigarettes and drinking , and then having your mood uglier. You want to throw these guys in jail for being lazy, shiftless, drunk and leisurely at 7 in the morning while you and your fellow wage slaves go off to work to make a wage and eventually pay a tax that pays for the bench that has become their reclining point. It has nothing to do with fairness, logic, the like, and it goes against my professed belief in social justice, it's just an emotional response, hitting me like a sucker punch. I feel the same way about this poem; it irritates me that this half-baked pot of gummy sentimentality gets the exposure while the rest of us work hard for our muse, producing better work in the responses to this gruel than the what the actual poem contains. 

Again, fairness, balance, reason has nothing to with this reaction, and it's obvious there are other things under the tight lid of my personality that makes me want to slap Goldensohn for being so shiftless in my presence (in a manner of speaking). Envy, resentment, arrogance? Well, yes, all those pesky defects. But beyond it all, beyond all my failings on this issue of being a wordy critic of other people's poems, this poem has the appeal of a small toy after a baby as finished slobbering and puking over it. It mights the bag, it chews the root, it sucks long, deep and with braced teeth. This poem is so bad it hurts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


I was in high school during the late sixties and early seventies, suffering from all the belated-arrival blues that was the usual blend for teens who wished they were older than they were, thus more experienced and hip. The daily aggravation started with a look in the mirror and sighing loudly, too loudly, that my facial hair wasn't coming in thick enough. I was particularly pissed that I'd missed out on the Beat era, and that I was too young to truly be involved in the college folk revival.Still, I took my Dylan very seriously, although I considered him at the time to be an also-ran--the last great age of hipness was the fifties--and I went about my way, my rather self centered and self righteous way, to become a campus poet, seer, gadfly, intellectual, man of mystery. I had long hair, wire frame glasses, I wore as much black as I could, which was absurd since I was living in Southern California, a terrain where I still hang a shingle and get my mail.Black clothing makes sense, I guess, if you're in colder, damper, more overcast climates, ala NYC, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, but in So Cal there was and remains a surfeit of sun, which made attempt to be a gloomy, dark, frost-bitten avatar of hip a ridiculous enterprise. It's only beginning to occur to me how absurd my middle class yearnings for street credibility really were. I'd lived up to that point as a self-conscious, shy, hard-of hearing and overweight nerd who was often the brunt of abuse from others because I was thought of as dull and dumb do to my hearing loss--I didn't always catch on to what others were talking about and tried, often times, to bluff my way through a conversation. My responses to what others had said or had asked me , or what I put forward in attempts to become part of a conversation already in progress, were as often as not guesses at the topic, based on what the words I thought the phonemes resembled . It was a poetry of its own sort, and I felt absolutely exhilarated when what I had offered at risk wound up being dead on, and it was even more electric when my mad stab at relevance somehow managed to jump the rails of the subject and introduce a related tangent that others hadn’t considered and thought was a brilliant leap on my part. Too often, though, my remarks caused a quiet in the room that had the dead solemnity of a tombstone; I was the Coltrane of Confusion, the Mozart of Misspeak, and the Picasso of Puzzlement. It went something like this:

"I just got a new bike..."
That's great. What kind is it?"
"One o'clock..."

Norm Crosby, a comedian who was a regular player on the Ed Sullivan Show, came up with that joke, but it got the experience of a hard of hearing fellow trying to make his way through the world without letting on that he had a loss. Crosby got the absurdity of it precisely right and I still use the quip as a reference point some forty years later Even so, I wrote poems, did special readings in 7-11 parking lots, and performed some original verse at an ersatz antiwar rally where in an especially precious ad lib I announced that Bob Dylan was "...the father of us all". One might have wondered how I discovered half the paternity of the counter culture. 

My nonsense utterances gathered many rueful looks; I was among those weenies that went to dances to listen to the band. During my senior year I'd made something of a name for myself as a faux bohemian, dark and mysterious as previously described, taken to mispronouncing names of famous men and writing reams of awful poetry of which there is not a single line in existence; I tossed the poems into the trash one night, all three folders and four notebooks. It was liberating, if that word ever had any meaning. It was as if someone had taken a big boot from my throat. I was now free to be a pompous git on my terms alone. Not perfect, but progress, no?

Monday, May 18, 2020


Is it allowed to bring a pen and paper into the Celestial Room?Kim Rosen of the Huffington Post wondered in a 2010 post if Americans are afraid of poetry; some of the essays is a warmed over a collection of the usual symptoms, and some of it is intriguing, worth a gander. I don't think Americans are afraid of poetry; rather it's a matter of not many Americans, comparatively, think of poetry as a resource since we, as a culture, are not an introspective culture, but instead, one that continuously looks forward to a future to be created. Poetry, so far as the general reader is concerned, is a matter of one being alone with their thoughts and structuring their experience in a narrative form, a narrative that not only chronicles events along a timeline, but also the nuance of experience, the fleeting sensation of something changing in their psyche. This requires making the language do extraordinary things to accommodate an uncommon interpretation of experience, and Americans, a people reared on the ideology of what can be done in the face of adversity, have no expansive desire to do something so impractical. Language is a thing meant to help us solve material problems, to achieve material goals, and poetry, a strange extension of linguistic twists and shadings, does nothing to put food on the table, put money in the bank, to further the quest to cure an endless variety of incurable diseases. 

Poetry is immaterial to purpose, function, policy; the absence of larger audiences for poetry isn't about fear from a perception that it's a mode of expression that is the least useful among several the lot of us might select on a given day. There are those of us who would argue that poetry's lack of identifiable utility is exactly what attracts us to the form--I happen to think that, like Wilde, that all art is quite useless in practical application (save for the fact that I believe humans crave beauty in form and in expression) and adhere to Harold Bloom's running definition of what literature, in general, avails the reader: to paraphrase, literature (poetry) helps us think about ourselves. Americans, I think it's safe to say in the broadest sense, have no real desire to reside individually and psychically work their way to an "aha" experience with poetry as a conduit.

Americans are not introspective people, a national habit that infects all of us; it seems, regardless of race, skin color, religious choice, cultural formation or any number of things. I might suggest prevailing conditions of isolation, anomie, alienation and a host of other diagnostic words that have lost their punch and are now mostly free of meaning, but what it comes down to, basically, is that it seems most of us in this stew, within these borders don't like to think any harder than it does to make a peanut butter sandwich; we want things given to us in images, sound bites, we want things "broken down" into simple parts and not actually explained. Our psychic well being depends on how the world affects our material status; that is the equation we prefer, with a massively huge collective case of denial that there is any need to plumb the depths of the soul, those elements of imagination, spiritual worth, of being willing to consider one's place in the universe and how they might better live in it. 

Poetry, when the desire for poetry arises, is not the "aha" experience, but for the blandishments of "there, there", the mother or the nurse stroking your hair, feeding you chocolate, assuring you things will balance out and that one's bad dream will soon be over. It's not surprising the poetry that is the most popular, while routinely competent as crafted compositions and generically clever with insights and surprises you sense coming as one does traffic lights are therapy rather than art. We like the illusion of being deep while continuing to view the universe we are in as no complex than a daily comic strip. This is a bad thing, absolutely horrible.We do think about ourselves, but more in terms of accumulation rather than an inner equilibrium. The measure of a man is his wallet, not the subtlety of his thoughts, and this a form of fearlessness that borders on insanity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


"Odysseus Seeing Laertes"  , a poem by George Kalogeris,  has a burdensome title, if nothing else. We are made to think that a cataclysmic revelation is about to make us quake in our boots, that something had been written in a more formal age has resounded through the historical corridors and asserts its truism as prophecy. This isn't the case,  however, and the portentous title does a disservice to the  poem's real merit, which is more in line with sort of slight lyric that attempts to clarify a vague feeling but succeeds instead in producing another  kind of beauty.The thinking here appears to be that this poem would resonate louder, brighter, more deeply if there was a classical gloss laid upon it. 

As there is nothing within the poem that clicks with the oblique title --no reference, that is, that would trigger the reader's own associations independent of a didactic explanation--the reference is merely decoration. The weight it adds isn't inherent significance , but merely freight. It threatens to make the poem ungainly and unspeakably pretentious; the poem, though, survives the author's striving to insert irony where it does not exist.   All this is a pity , since this poem has the makings of being a nicely controlled bit of observational verse, an adult perspective of a distant childhood perception that has, by chance, influenced the narrator as he was growing up; through the fog of memory poet George Kalogeris could have situated the speaker's current state of mind and shown us what it was that made him grasp this faint memory with such a sudden vividness of recollection. I am thinking , of course, that this could have been an intriguing reconciliation between parts of himself that have never quite been at equipoise.  

The poem, though, does work effectively as a snapshot of a something pulled up from one's distant past--there is that sense of someone going through their family photographs, placing them in the best chronological order they can manage. A narrative forms from the sequence, and what emerges in the telling, wonderfully spare at its best , uncluttered (save for the title) with quaint literary props, is a young mind as a blank slate which the world is writing upon. he elements from modern Greek culture aren't in dispute and, in fact, make this an interesting contemporary poem. The weak corollaries with classical texts, though, serve the poem not a wit. Themes of absence/presence regarding parent-child dynamics have fairly much been absorbed by the larger culture have, in fact, become common stock for poets, novelists and playwrights to make use of; this poem, as is, is fine as an evocation of an adult attempt to bring focus to a diffuse memory and can stand on its own merits. 

It does not need the Classical allusion the title provides; it's window dressing, a redundant signifier, an advertisement that the poet is well read. The poem does not need it, the reader does not need it, George Kalogeris didn't need to provide it.  This is an alarm bell I've sounded before, tiresomely so; my dislike of poetry about poetry.One of the things that have been choking the life from much of the work of poets these days is the habit of many to clog the arteries of their stanzas with entirely self-conscious and self-admiring references to poetry and it's traditions. Indeed, too much of the the subject matter of poetry has been poetry itself; there are some with genius and talent enough to make the self-referential style swing and sing with real verve and brains, but genius is rare. Something less than that level of genius--of a Stevens, an Ashbery, a Silliman--is to not be a poet at all. It's a different kind of game, and it is fueled by its own waste products.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


Beat poet , playwright and essayist Michael McClure has passed away at the age of 87. I had the honor of getting to know him sometime back in the 90s when he read at D.G.Wills Books , when we had the great fortune of having a string of great Beat writers, at different times, grace us with a reading. Along with Michael, the bookstore also featured readings by Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Ted Joans and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Michael was an especially affable fellow in the days he spent with us; of calm demeanor but intense feeling, gracious, curious about those around him, willing to suffer what I thought in retrospect were naive questions. What he spoke of during our brief chats, and his remarks during his reading , was what I had always marveled at with respect to several writers and their ilk, a seamless integration of the moral,the political, the spiritual, and the artistic. He as a strong,restless poet who had a riveting, muscular lyricism that pierced untouchable mysteries and allowed light ,wisdom and humor to bear on the darker corners of the soul. He was interested in a myriad of things that have no reason to be connected other than the vivacity of McClure's interest and imagination. His body of work, his poems, had a broad range of subject matter, expression, musical and of the well phrase, and then it could be explosive, declarative, oracular, even anthropomorphic, the giving of human traits to animal figures. His interests were varied, and those varieties ran deep, and were deeply felt/ Again, a longer tribute to him is warrented because the wealth of his writing deserves better than a cramped and generalized description of what he did as a poet and spiritual seeker. But I will this to my musings: Michael McClure's life as a writer, revealed in his many books of verse, plays, novels, essays, memoirs and collaborations was an admixture of rigor and intuition. And McClure wore these elements like a loose fitting garment, a man completely at peace in his own skin. Here's a poem I rather like he wrote about trying to make note of the world as it speeds by .

                                  and clods of mud.
The mind drifts through
in the shape of a museum,
in the guise of a museum
dreaming dead friends:
Jim, Tom, Emmet, Bill.
—Like billboards their huge faces droop
and stretch on the walls,
on the walls of the cliffs out there,
where trees with white trunks
          makes plumes on rock ridges.

My mind is fingers holding a pen.

Trees with white trunks
             make plumes on rock ridges.
Rivers of sand are memories.
Memories make movies
             on the dust of the desert.
Hawks with pale bellies
             perch on the cactus,
their bodies are portholes
             to other dimensions.

This might go on forever.

I am a snake and a tiptoe feather
at opposite ends of the scales
as they balance themselves
against each other.
This might go on forever.
--  Michael McClure,
"Mexico Seen from the Moving Car"
from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Of course I plan to write something longer and more concrete in a few days, but this note is say thank you to a great poet, a grand man, for a measure of fellowship and credible consul.

Monday, May 4, 2020

two poets, two poems

Called into Play
A.R. Ammons

Fall fell: so that's it for the leaf poetry:
some flurries have whitened the edges of roads

and lawns: time for that, the snow stuff: &
turkeys and old St. Nick: where am I going to

find something to write about I haven't already
written away: I will have to stop short, look

down, look up, look close, think, think, think:
but in what range should I think: should I

figure colors and outlines, given forms, say
mailboxes, or should I try to plumb what is

behind what and what behind that, deep down
where the surface has lost its semblance: or

should I think personally, such as this week
seems to have been crafted in hell: what: is

something going on: something besides this
diddledeediddle everyday matter-of-fact: I

could draw up an ancient memory that would
wipe this whole presence away: or I could fill

out my dreams with high syntheses turned into
concrete visionary forms: Lucre could lust

for Luster: bad angels could roar out of perdition
and kill the AIDS vaccine not quite

perfected yet: the gods could get down on
each other; the big gods could fly in from

nebulae unknown: but I'm only me: I have 4
interests--money, poetry, sex, death: I guess

I can jostle those. . . .

Since I've raged and ranted more than once around here about how there should be no more poems about poetry, I thought why I liked "Called into Play" and not the work of other writers. Attitude is the difference, I guess. My basic gripe is against those who regard poetry as a vehicle of relentless self-revelation, the sub-Nerudians and faux Rilkeans who seemed to have skipped the other qualities their inspiring source's poetry had and instead are determined to make a cult from the practice; the poet- as -priest is not an image that appeals to me and even the most supreme of egoist geniuses, Walt Whitman, would likely find the conceit a bit vain. I don't include the Language Poets, as someone had asked me, even though the poetic language is at the forefront of their work; the effort there, I think, is an honest and exciting investigation into new ways of thinking about how language can be written to more creatively engage the complexity of experience. Ammons, of course, is much less formal and has the aura of someone just risen from bed and is trying to get the sleep from his eyes. What he sees is the same old things, only completely different, to paraphrase comedian Steve Wright.

Ammons demystifies the subject by simply talking about the search for something to write about. Often it's the case that he doesn't latch on to a topic to use his techniques upon, but with much subtly manipulated writing that at first seems plain and idiomatic, his writing turns into inquiries about being in the world with the senses absorbing the raw and restless data and creating a modicum of coherence within frameworks. Whether the room he's in, a conversation he's having, a recollection that becomes overwhelming if temporary obsession, Ammons writes a poetry that never relinquishes its commitment to the material world and the struggle to remain sane and resilient within its demands. This a metaphysics that William Carlos Williams would have appreciated, the idea that the thing itself is its own adequate symbol What he mentions here, things like lawns, mail, current events, are brought up as things he might impress into the details and subject of a poem he wants to write. He might have been talking about a mad search for missing car keys; there's humanity in this momentary frustration. There's the suggestion that Ammons is tired of his old turns of phrase and wants to forge new ones:
...should I try to plumb what is

behind what and what behind that, deep down
where the surface has lost its semblance: or

should I think personally, such as this week
seems to have been crafted in hell: what: is

something going on: something besides this
diddledeediddle everyday matter-of-fact: I

could draw up an ancient memory that would
Wipe this whole presence away...

Ammons admits his limits as a seer or oracle and speaks of language as something he works with through the craft of poetry, a practice he works at diligently to find an expression that transcends mere competence and achieves an artfulness. The poem is funny and moving in its way, as Ammons' work is constantly aware of death, which makes philosophical certainty a cluster of moot points. This all puts A.R.Ammons' musings on poetry in sharp contrast to a host of others who'll essay forth in verse about poets being the intermediaries of Truths and Principles only a select few can design and decipher for the less gifted. Without repeating my previous misgivings, I'll say that this is his Hogwash and Elitism, and these are the sorts of people I imagine Ammons himself asking to go away.

Marvin Bell
He believes the tar pits hold bones but preserve
No emotions, and he believes space is matter.
He still thinks a kiss with full lips transformative,
the hope of a country boy with an uncultivated
heart, from the era of doo-wop and secret sex,
when the music was corny, cliched, and desperate
Like teenage love. Who now will admit that poetry
got its start there, in the loneliness that made love
From a song on red wax, from falsetto nonsense.
Who does not know that time passing passes on
Sadness? A splinter of a song lyric triggers shards.
Of memory and knots in his gut. He regrets he was
Lashed to the mast when the sirens called. He
believes the sea is not what sank or what washes
Up. There are nights the moon scares him.

Associative leaps are not the easiest thing to do when so much of what your attempting to get across has more to do with a transitional state of mind than it does a position that can be easily parsed and contained. Marvin Bell is one of those poets who can offer a string of nonsequiturs and still having you following the heart under the odd contrasts in his lines. Unlike Tony Hoagland's poem, "The Story of the Father" (featured at Slate last week), where what should have been seen from a longer prose narrative got compressed beyond human caring with mannered, showy language, Bell has the ease of line transition, the ability to jump from one nervy island of reference to another and provide a sense of something gathering speed, assuming nuance. The young man going forth into the world of the senses, sparked by music, sirens, scents, and touch; there is a skillfully maintained idea, implied and not editorialized as intruding and ineffective aside, of music as that thing that bypasses the mind's censors and entrenched protections against foolishness and lands and seeds the desire to experience more with the senses, to test one's expectations against experienced fact.

He believes the tar pits hold bones but preserve
No emotions, and he believes space is matter.
He still thinks a kiss with full lips transformative,
the hope of a country boy with an uncultivated
heart, from the era of doo-wop and secret sex,
when the music was corny, cliched, and desperate
Like teenage love.

This is a fast run of language, streaming, quite literally, with all the elements that compose it melded together in a fluidity that rushes towards a crashing and overwhelming satisfaction. Tempo, rhythm, what the hip-hoppers refer to as “flow,” this poem is simply perfect, simply lovely.