Monday, October 26, 2020


 I'm often curious what Slate's poetry editor Robert Pinsky must think of the reader response in the Poetry Fray forum section of that online magazine. Here are the last two week's of his selections, one yay, another nay in my perhaps annoying estimations: "Riding Westward" is an extraordinarily good poem for most of its length, a knowing evisceration of a venerable American icon, a myth stripped of it's power and portent , with nothing left but dress, mannerism, the predictable slew :

Compromise his very own shoot-'em-up

tilt to the brim of his hat self, smirk to match,

all-for-love-if-it's-gotta-come-to-that half


half unintentional, I think, sashay. 

Phillips reads as if he's hung around a few country and western bars and had gotten fairly tired of seeing an endless stream of gas-station buckaroos strut and preen their big hat up and down too many sawdust and spit covered floors to put up with it anymore. But this poem becomes a ghost story of sorts, an observation of what's left on earth after the power of particular symbols cease of have any real, practical force;  

The silver spurs at his ankles where maybe

the wings would be, if the gods still existed,

catch the light, lose it, as he stands in place,

scraping the dirt with his boots: lines, circles

that stop short, shapes that mean nothing—

no bull, not like that, but scraping shyly, like

a man who's forgotten that part of himself,

keeps forgetting, because what the fuck? 

What's left is all mannerism, gesture, cults that consist essentially of dress up parties among  those in later decades who rummage through the past trying to find or at least construct a useful set of props and stylistic tics with which they can create an identity and hence a purpose. Yet the hats, the boots, the song he sings bemoaning an idealized loneliness under red Western sunsets are iconic and empty; nothing of this comes from the need to survive, but rather the need to belong to something with a fixed certainty.  This is an interesting poem to contrast and compare against Ed Dorn's epic poem "Gunslinger", where the poet reconfigures a series of Western icons into a search for some real matter and meaning beyond what mere language can manage with it's crippling dualisms;it's an anti-epic poem that prefigures many post-modern gestures from its 60s era starting point. Funny, cartoonish, erudite to the extreme, it also locates a tuned lyricism in the Western vernaculars that Dorn uses: the metaphysical aspect of our legends, the sheer questing for answers as Euro-Americans come treading closer to a West coast that will stop them and force them to settle and create lives from dust and ingenuity, comes alive in way that never escapes the zaniness of Dorn's narrating inquiry into the nature of the search.  

Phillips takes in the same set of aggregated props and conventional wisdom and sees instead the gaping emptiness beyond the heady glee of being dressed up in the spare vocabulary of personal codes and principled ruggedness. It's all empty and bankrupt, a story we tell to keep the darkness away. Phillips hints at something more profound than the cosmic silliness he sees with the strutting, posing and atonal warbling of prairie songs: our costumes represent nothing but wishful thinking , and that such thinking is the closet we stand to being transported to a serene, transcendent place. The gods have died, Phillips states, and we are left with our lives to either accomplish something real, or to wander about deluded, reduced by stereotypical narratives of individuality.


It might be said that was impossible to make anger a boring subject for a poem until Aliki Barnstone tried her hand at it. "Anger", Robert Pinsky's selection for the week, is set in situation a good many --too many-- of us recognize as awkward, strained, thoroughly unpleasant, a dinner for two who, sitting presumably at opposite ends of the table as they cut and chew their food with controlled strokes and grinding, manage a language in which they put each other on trial. Each has a turn to outline their argument , to make their case, the casing of civility chipping away with

every stroke of knife and stab of fork:


Yet we sit together at the table, each to serve

the other artfully poisoned morsels, point a fork,

and go on and on, watching the widening distance.

This would work, perhaps,if this were a fresher take on a soured relationship, but the poem treads territory that is too familiar, and Barnstone's greatest mistake here is over writing the scenario her template provides. The poem reads like a set up for a knockout punch that does not materialize from the corner she's trying to fight her way out of. It goes on too long, and the device of comparing this meal and its discontents to a trial is less a metaphor than a reason to write further , to add stanzas.  

You say, "You should have listened to me,"

and, "But you had to be you, didn't you?"

Then I become the witness who testifies against me.

We deliberate all night, inventing counterpoints,

narrowing our vision at spears of candlelight

and we go on and on, watching from a distance,

as we appeal, go back to discovery, retry, seek

sympathy by recounting suffering and history,

though this defense may deliver the verdict against us: 


The prosecutable element would have worked  if it were brief, even fleeting, and if it were a means to segue into something else about the world this couple thought they were living in contrasted the world they now perceive as they relationship, presumably, slowly grinds to a stop. Barnstone might have managed something genuinely poetic if there were a sign , in images, of how the reality has changed. Rather, "Anger" reads as if Barnstone were too fascinated with the mechanics of making her -trial conceit work; the poem is damaged by repetition, needless volume. It is a mistake of perception, the assumption that the length of a piece is a measure of it's value.This length equals a long wait in a doctor's office.Grating as well is the last stanza, where Barnstone's woman character, the "I" narrator, has a failure of nerve and instead wallows in the misery she and her husband/boyfriend make for each other:

our embrace will pull us down

through the shades, and we'll hold on to our grievances

and go on, too watchful, unable to get some distance,

reading and helplessly rereading the sentences against us. 


Who amongst us does want to yell "get your ass out of there"?Barnstone clings to the relationship less for affection than for a reason to continue writing poems like this one. Poems written in bad faith about bad faith give evidence not just of bad, self-pitying verse, but gives obvious clues to an underlying disorder.I prayer is that Barnstone gets a relationship that is everything she desires it to be, and writes a poetry that doesn't reinforce a pathology.

Sunday, October 25, 2020


 David Orr is a smart writer and poet who has taken on the task to add yet another apology regarding poetry and its under the radar status with most readers, yet another attempt to make the craft less off-putting to a larger audience. It is an enjoyable book , but the joining of poet and readership is not something that can be accomplished by easy suggestions ; as usual, I adhere to the pragmatist dictum that the value of any theory is in how it works, which means, to paraphrase, the allure of any poem, in any style, of any theory, of any agenda composed in English, resides mostly with the talent of the individual poet. 

We get into matters about how well the poet has absorbed and assimilated their readings, ie, "made them his/her own", how broadly they've outgrown their influences and progressed toward their own version of originality and genius, of course. At the end of the day and long into the night and the following morning, what draws a reader to a poet again after a first reading was the quality of the stanzas, the line breaks, the stylization of the verbs and the spare placement of the adjectives, the use of imagery that seemed both unique and yet plausible, the use of metaphor that is delivered smoothly, invisibly, musically. It is, I think, less a matter on whether a poet opts for simpler diction and terse couplets in regimented rhyme schemes, or a shambling flow that winds through so many associative canyon highways before coming to something resembling a poetic effect; poets are not unlike jazz improvisers of the language, which is to say that how ever they choose to address a problem they've assigned themselves, it comes down to if the writer has developed as style that has an elegance that adheres to and extends the dictates of their chosen form, if the poems in question have their activity placed in the world the poet is nominally apart of, and if this is accomplished with the least amount of pretentious self-awareness. 

This is to say that what makes a poem an attractive item to return to again and to ruminate about depends on the skill the poet can forget the prevailing nonsense that "poems are always read in the context of other poems" and get on with their task of fathoming more interesting mysteries, oddities, paradoxes and alluvial epiphanies the experience of being alive, breathing and seeing brings us. There is nothing wrong with living in your head, per se, but even poets need to stop watching the dust gather on the furniture and go for a walk, a drive, a movie, a date.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


 If you have any desire to write poems that are distinctive, fresh and are notable for having a language style that is interesting and able to “express the inexpressible in terms of the unforgettable “, you have to cleanse yourself of the vanity that everything you write as a poem is precious and must remain untouched . 

You have to read what you’ve written with a critical eye and find out what it is you’re trying to say , and then chip away everything that in the draft that does not add up to a convincing poetic sequence. Having favorite poets and being aware of the techniques that make up their style is a must; if you understand why particular poets appeal to you, have an effect on you, cause you think about your world in a more nuanced way, then you have the start in developing a good critical ear for your own work. There are things that great poets like Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Eliot, Laux, Wanda Coleman, O’Hara do make their poems memorable and a proper and alluring expression of their personalities.

 So it wouldn’t be at all harmful to your creative expression to get into the weeds a bit and study precisely HOW your favorite writers are achieving the resonance that comes from a well considered poem. This will likely improve your habit of mind as you compose and will strengthen your creative flow while writing. Along that line, you have treat your first draft as a first draft and realize that half of what goes into a poem, more often than not, is rewriting, revision, correction, editing.

 I was told by a poet fifty years ago that in order to make something wonderful in the form of a poem, the “best writing has to be removed.” For me , this was getting rid of didactic language, lectures, pointless literary allusions, and concentrating on what is truly “poetic” in something I’d just written. This next point has an endless stream of variations, theories, styles and the lot and each has a coherent aesthetic , but any poet worth reading over time realizes the difference between poetry and prose. They do different things. As a wise writer named Clyde Hadlock once said of the two, “Prose is the photograph, poetry is the x-ray.” 

Friday, October 9, 2020

A few poems by LOUISE GLUCK

 Louise Gluck's poem,"Crater Lake",is cold as refrigerated marble , a specimen of wordy inertia. Not that it really matters, though, since the effect here is walking into a room thinking that it was empty and coming upon someone already there there, back turned toward the window, muttering phrases and broken references to whatever is passing on the street. 

There was a war between good and evil.
We decided to call the body good.

That made death evil.
It turned the soul
against death completely. 
You do get the feeling that there is a submerged attempt to marry myth archetypes with the sweltering and restless subconscious tensions that confront us as we, a race, reconcile the glory and agony of love and death, but Gluck boils her worries to an arhythmic, unmusical aridity. Think of that strident piano banging in Kubrick's most pretentious film Eyes Wide Shut; terse, strident cadences applied to a scenario of ritualized, debauched despair, pushed forth with a hardly an interesting nuance, phrase, image to part with and make us consider the further complications. The pretentiousness comes in large measure from Gluck's glib and unconsidered use of Big Terms in an effort to make a reader pause and inspect a line for a profundity that isn't there. "Good and evil", "love", "death" , "love" are all dished out like portions of food you don't want to eat--eeeewwww, cooked carrots, liver, creamed corn, grossssssssss--and yet we have to read and digest on the sorry promise that it's good for us. Gluck, though, recedes into a vagueness here that commits the worse sin one can manage for an oblique poem; it provides you with no reward for reading it. There is an absence of euphony whatever and underscores the notion that the poem fails because it cannot sustain itself without knowledge of the myths Gluck is ostensibly deconstructing.  It does, perhaps, fulfil a structural function with the single narrative which this poem is reported to be a part of, but the effect is lost here; we assume, the punch of this writing exists only its context with the other works that go with the storyline it obliquely refers to.

"A Myth of Innocence" [], which is lecturing, nearly hectoring, and weighed down by a ridiculous solemnity that reminds me of the pinched nerve seriousness of elder priests at mass whose ruthless lack of cheer or life would make a nine-year-old boy or girl want to liven things up with arm farts or gum popping. Gluck's writing is so weighted with unbelievably padded writing that it reads in slow motion, like a funeral march, through all the obvious paraphrases of overplayed myths and the cumbersome attempt to bring a universal concept into a private moment when one's loss becomes the sadness of the world.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body. Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance

cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists. 

This syntax is tied into knots and hamstrung loops of unfulfilled metaphor and allusion that it makes you think of a distracted chef who cannot complete a single plate of palatable food. I get a strong feeling that this poem is likewise composed of scraps, items intended for more complete poems, wholly coherent and perhaps fresher in their utterance. So many indefinite and transcendental qualities zig-zag in this writing, mentions of myth, reflecting pools, a yearning for a younger self and an unassigned future. It's a traffic jam of references, not particularly musical or convincing beyond nudging a reader in the ribs.This may be a poem that Gluck worked on quite a bit in order to give a semblance of poetic content, but no matter how she tailored her first draft the writing remains lifeless and unconvincing. I've written hundreds of poems that I hoped to make evocative with a mannered strangeness of phrase and allusion until I realized I had only produced a variety of convoluted poesy. Gluck should have cleared her palate, and gone for a simpler, less cluttered tongue to speak what her muse presents to her.

Critic Robert Christgau commented once that Eric Clapton was a classy blues guitarist who was perfect for the tasty, brief statement but who had the habit of playing in long form and , consequently, losing emphasis, momentum, and gaining only redundancy. Something similar might apply to Gluck, who's strengths can be seen here, a confident voice, a sense of place, a subject addressed directly and indirectly without drift in a voice that still has the capacity to be surprised. This is a wonderful lyric, as much as other of her admirers might object to the term; she sounds like she had an idea of what she was trying to achieve. --tb

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure sea water.


There's a poignant moment somewhere in At The Dance, but Louis Gluck's drifting, shapeless, monotonic style effectively obscures it. She is an outstanding example of the sort of poet who has charmed the chronically introverted and other over-thinkers who love to think they have a rich interior life but who can't really make it of any use; rather than measure among the experiences she's had and decide what carries the most weight and value. We are handed , over and over, a series of lumpy reminiscences that resemble a long gaze into a an unkept house; nothing gets thrown away , every item has equal value, and the narrative , such as it is, lacks any animation. Gluck loves to talk, but is hesitant, it seems, to create a hierarchy of signifiers that would create a momentum toward what she wanted us to assume was an inevitable irony. This is a droning piece, and what ought to have been a cleverly constructed series of parallels between the the protocols of dance, the rituals of attraction and the surrendering and reacquisition of power in interpersonal relationships is static instead, at best the the static-like rip of Velcro jacket being slowly pulled open.
By smell, by feel—a man would approach a woman, ask her to dance, but what it meant was will you let me touch you, and the woman could say many things, ask me later, she could say, ask me again. Or she could say no, and turn away, as though if nothing but you happened that night you still weren't enough, or she could say yes, I'd love to dance which meant yes, I want to be touched.
Some readers may find the seemingly un-ruddered drift of Gluck's poem appealing and opine that the spread of daily speech is in itself fascinating, and others would prefer that the writer remember that poetry is writing , distinct from speech, and that the power of daily speech would lay in how well the elements are selected, presented, given voice and cadence. Gluck , to my ears, is attempting an imagined transcription of a spontaneous utterance ; the effectiveness of something so literal is best spoken, I suppose, but here, sans sound facial expression, hand gestures, the pauses, rises and diminutions of the voice actual heard , I find the poem to be dormant. It does not move toward some crystallized set of particulars that memorably frame the exposition. In the area of prose poems detailing an author's bringing a past event into an at least temporary relief, I prefer Dorrianne Laux's poem How It Will Happen, When. Her tone is more engaged with the specific images that arise from her rummaging through her recent history--she shows an intimacy in the descriptions only the long view can provide, and yet holds back revealing the final mood as she constructs this poem neatly between the mess her mate left her to deal with, the ritual cleaning the house and the burning of all traces of what would remind her of a memory that would other wise shackle her, and the fast, unexpected revelation that what was an intellectualized acceptance of loss now hits her hard and without relief; triggered by a random occurence, she knows her mate is gone and not coming back, and this creates empathy within the reader. It's a poem of felt experience, and what I appreciate in Laux is her craft, which we do not see on the page. This has the power Gluck doubtlessly attempted in her poem. One might call this a poem of awakening, when young women discover what they are attracted to and that they , in turn, are attracting the attention of young men, and it's here where I think Gluck missed her opportunity to present us with something effective and delicately presented, which is the potentially metaphorical structure of dance It's not just that young women come to understand that they have attractions and are attractive in turn, but also a sense of empowerment; one finds themselves in a mysterious position of both drawing attention to themselves by simply being , and there is a gathering feeling that one might also control the elements about them with various, nascent rituals of beckoning and denial. She draws away, but does not flee the situation, she looks down, but does not leave his side, she watches where his hands touch her body and flinches at a sudden brush or attempted caress, but does not reprimand, lecture, become angry or afraid. 

This seems a dance no less than the location the title suggests, and what really dilutes the power these burgeoning emotions and impulses might have contained is the way Gluck , or her narrator -stand-in, goes on with a what comes to a dead pan recounting of the facts; her poetry, perhaps, was supposed to emerge from the tone, but I would have been interested in something more closely observed, with something more about the interactions between the young women and young men, the camps coming into the hall in various clusters and cliques, where they chose to stand, some snippets of overheard dialogue, the eventual pairing off and awkward exchange of exploratory small talk. This sounds more plotted than the monologue Gluck offers us, but it is a way this poem might have come alive with a sense of place rather than become what it remains, a routine , uninflected regret. Gluck sums up of the scenario in a quick application of the story's moral, a conspicuous working of the old saw that when a women means no, she really means yes. Something wonderfully twisted here might have emerged if she had hacked away at the talky qualifications around the poem's main points and pushed harder toward the edge, talking about how women and men cause hurt and are hurt in turn by misreading's of intent and gesture. 

What Gluck had here was a small poem, a minor sigh of regret in later life, the impression that strikes you when you're preparing for the day in front of you , or when you stop to catch your day. It is a slight insight into what had done in the awkwardness of maturing, but the scale of this thing, not epic length, not Ashberyesque in density , is, all the same, too much for this slight conceit. What might have been intriguing would be a juxtaposition of the narrator's current situation and the anecdote she's chosen, with a judicious use of the telling detail, the image that can stand alone, unadorned , which could contrast with an equally effective image . This is how one produces resonance that carry on beyond the page, and this is among the things that distinguishes poetry from the linear inclinations of typical prose. This is typical prose that requires an editor's blue pencil.


The length of In the Cafe, appearing this week in Slate, would have you think that author Louise Gluck is a monologist. That's not the case, we find; a skilled monologist will have a a point or an effect they achieve , more often than not. Gluck's poem long lines are merely that, long, un-inflected,without snap or spice. Instead, we have a droning account of a male friend who happens to be a serial romancer--a sensitive male who absorbs portions of women's lives and energy over a period of time and then leaves them for the next adventure. It's not that this isn't worth writing about, but this is more topic drift development, an exercise in killing time. Gluck doesn't even go through the pretense of trying to make this intriguing as poetry and offers up the stale device of disguising undistinguished prose in irregular line breaks.

Gluck's long- form poetry is part of the disparaged School of Quietude, the conservative conglomeration of professional poets who's careerism controls the major book contracts, literary awards and plum teaching assignments who's market-pleasing style, a gush of self-infatuated musings that prefer to leave the reader hanging in murmuring waves of uncommitted relativism--the sort of work that doesn't move you to think beyond your conventional wisdom but leaves you anxiety -ridden in the decorated fringes of your misery. The attitude, among the worse offenders , seems to be gutless, indecisive, reflective rather than reflexive, passive rather than active in the world. One appreciates stillness and the sharply observed detail independent of an interfering ego, but that is not what Quietude, in the worst of it's world, is about; the poets seem to be bothered that they were cursed with compositional skills. You read them time and again and come away with the idea that a requirement among this coterie is to speak of themselves in their work as attempting to have an experience. You can feel the shrug , sense the poet dropping his pen, you can nearly hear the soft swearing under his or her breath about the perception being too hard to convey with wonder, awe, as a miracle in itself. That is to say, complacency wins again and the prospect of changing one's loath some circumstance is too frightening. One would rather suffer with what they know rather than dare a single foot step in another direction. The worst of this kind of poetry, I've heard, is like a three hour forced tour of your own living room.

Hers is better described, perhaps, as the "School of Drone", a kind of outlining of unexceptional incidents involving straw figures wherein a reader suffers what would have been a tolerable three minute on -air NPR essay about a diminutive epiphany stretched egregious lengths. that provoke involuntary teeth grinding. One doesn't really care about Gluck's portrait of a man-in-process; she attempts a neat inversion in maintaining, toward the end, that this man wasn't wasn't a bastard nor a feckless creep. By the time she grapples with her reasons for having sympathy for her comrade's quest for enlightenment, we are out of sympathy with her tale. This becomes the melodrama you switch the channel from.

It's cut-rate D.H.Lawrence, but without the  skewed erotics.She does, retain Lawrence's rhetorical bulk.Like him, she sounds like she's trying to talk herself into believing her basic premise as well as the reader, a trait that makes "In the Cafe" a dry lecture that hinges on a vague and brittle point. This poem is the equivalent of the bore at the party who continues to prate although everyone else has gone home and the lights are turned off .Adding to the despair over this poem's glacial pace is the promise of the first lines, which are bright, with a hint of witty resignation; 
It's natural to be tired of earth.
When you've been dead this long, you'll probably be tired of heaven.
It's a perfect set up for a story of an every man's quest for the place where he might find contentment in love and spirit. But where there might have been a telling comedy that provides the moral that our expectations undercut what we assume are our virtuous yearnings instead turns into a drab recollection. No time is wasted in weighing down the promise of the first two lines with the leaden grouchiness of the second two: .
You do what you can do in a place
but after awhile you exhaust that place,
so you long for rescue. 
This gives the whole game away.I wonder if this would have worked far, far better if Gluck had written this as a short story. The prose -quality of these lines might have bloomed a little more, breathed a little more air, the scenario might have been more compelling.The first lines are terrific and they could have been a poem by themselves, a condensing Gluck seemingly wants nothing to do with. Being succinct has amazing advantages.It provides an ending, a place to land. Gluck and other writers --myself at times--often mistake raw length for more substantial writing.Some writers have the gift to go long and reward the patient reader .Most do not, and few of us are Proust, few of us are Whitman, few of us are early Allan Ginsberg.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020


 David Biespiel is a poet after my own heart, which means that he prefers to have his language interesting and spiky on the surface rather than being merely clear; this will allow the reader ample chance to sort through his tricky conflations and tricked up tropes and so enjoy the benefits of delayed awards; for all the cuts and nicks his writing can cause the uncalloused psyche, there is a marvel of a writer taling about the plain facts in not so plain ways, and that's fitting. Nothing really is what it seems to be at first, right? Well, no, nothing is what it seems like at second either, which is why I suppose Biespiel writes the way he does, and why his poems merit more than one, two or three readings. They are compact measures of various narrators climbing out of their life time of rhetorical defenses. This we see in his poem Though Your Sins Be Scarlet"There is something intensely private going on in this poem and for want of anything else to say, the conflict herein involves someone struggling with sexual orientation . There are enough phrases and oppositions joined in smarting retorts to make us assume this otherwise unremarkable interpretation , especially in this richly conflicted section:

Scarletted-up—all those years—I fiddled and giggled
And got muscle-bound as a deaf dreamer, a striper,
A pressed-against pirate, got teary and ripe with the scuttled
Worry coming back again and again, and no winners
To speak of, no vintage TV to settle in with like sins
Of the zodiacal light or kissing cousins or crummy laws.
I haven't been called a weak sister, and I don't mean to, that's plain.
But the rummy tumblers, the bloody knuckles, I'll crawl
For them. I'll crawl. And the cutting up and the swear words—
One gets the struggle of harboring the secret and toying with the idea of letting it all out and allowing the cards to fall where they may, but there is, again, conflict, a taking back of one's decision and yet another attempt to live up to ideals other than the ones finds or creates for themselves. The images provided by television, by conflicting stereotypes, whether body builder or sentimental sissy, offer anything like real solutions to this dilemma of identity and desire. Sadly, though, it seems that one has accepted their lot , to be marginal and abused and used with no center of self to fall back upon when reflection is finally possible but there is no other life one can imagine they'd want to lead. It is a poem of a some one's hell who cannot see a way out of it.

Biespiel's poem deals with a personality that is, if not at war with itself, at the very least is attempting in this impressionistic stew to merge contradictory notions of gender and the sexual/manneristic qualities any of these memes ought to ensure. There are no real incidents in the poem to locate these flashing qualifiers to and hence create a picture or at least a narrative outline, rather we are in that sort of verse that is a form of mumbling, a stream of associated terms and distinctly paired contradictions that are like a species of schizoid speech one might see in public places as homeless men or women speak to vacant spaces as if someone were actually there, embroiled in a life time of counter assertions to demands and pressures they feel have tortured them long enough.

In any case, there are the constant contrasting of qualifiers, material references of macho body building culture and camp elements more directly gay and effeminate by association, that the poem seems not about straight versus homosexual identity, but rather appears here as streaming bit of harsh imagery of the confusion as to what sort of identity a gay man might settle into; identity crisis might be the basic point of this odd, effectively elusive poem. A life situation, barring particulars that could happen to anyone.

Commenting on this same poem, Paul Breslin remarked on Slate’s Poems Fray:

This poem speaks in a voice that soothes pain with the pleasure of extravagant language but, unable or unwilling to name the source of pain directly, arrives at no closure--the poem doesn't so much end as stop, for now.. The speaker needs to keep talking because silence is unbearable, while the playfulness of linguistic invention comforts.

This nails something I was thinking while I read the poem again and again, that it's part of a longer and perhaps endless stream of cognitive associations that just happen, in this example, cluster around a cluster of ambiguities and which hint that the language might further morph and encompass another series of binary oppositions that confront a restless personality.It's a writing that makes me think of John Ashbery , only with more agonizing, more self-laceration; Ashbery's soft focus dialectic between consciousness and the phenomenal world maintains the lyric tone and finds the narrating presence at some measure of equilibrium despite an influx of sensory input (whether memory, an offhand remark, a distracting aroma).

There is aesthetic distance between Asbhery and the things that inspire him to write poems the way he does. One can even say there's a serenity in this realm.Biespiel's poems, though often as cryptic, are shorter, yes, more constrained than Ashbery's quotidian expansiveness, and there is a provocative admixture of the self-mocking, the lacerating, the cynical and the fatalistic that makes his willful refusal to clear subject and tone seem like a bomb about to go off. Biespiel might be carrying on the dark, depressed tradition of Mark Strand or the Confessional poets; this is the poetry of thoughts seeking a clear, declarative phrase, only to have their distinct lines blurred again by persistent agitation.


 Wallace Stevens found 13 ways of looking at a blackbird; Ishmael Reed's poem "Scrub Jays" imagines the birds looking back   at the man glaring at them, finding six stanzas of taunts. This is , in essence, a poem about aging, the gaining of some simple knowledge that was formerly obscured by ego and youthful exuberance. Where a younger man could sustain a good battle in protecting what he perceives to be rightfully and exclusively his, his apple trees and the fruit they bare,  running to and from his house with all manner of pesticide, rakes, air horns , convinced that he can make short order of this ordeal and restore the principle of property rights to his personal piece of earth, the body with time grows slower, muscles go soft, bones ache, the awareness arises that no amount of assertion of will can make settle anything permanently. The bird is the old man's inner voice, speaking in mocking tones under remains of the rhetorical veneer that refuses to acknowledge inevitability. It is not this bird, nor even birds in particular that will win this battle.

What good are apples
To old men, anyway
You have lost your bite
You have run out of
 Ladders to climb
Your ultrasonic solar-powered
Animal repellent
The Honda among dissuaders
Might rid your garden of
The capo cats, but
 The bandit raccoons
Within 48 hours  
What good are apples, indeed what good are things that one attaches one's name to and changes their essential nature from being something useful and with a function , or purpose, in a large and infinitely complex system of things and makes them mere trophies, souveneers of a conquest? With the ache of the limbs and the fading of light from eyes that no longer see things crisply, clearly, without ambiguity, the possession of things is an error, a mistake in perception.  Nature, in any event, turns out to be not a particular thing one does battle against, not a personality, a thing, a personality one defines the terms of their existence against. Nature merely is, that condition of existence within which all things exist and , more or less, abide by. This includes the deflating ego of many a strong willed man and woman who assumed their could change the terms of the condition . The tragedy, voiced by Reed in the voice of birds who mock him for his erring presumptions about his cosmology, isn't that we all become bitter old men yelling at kids and critters to get off their lawn, but that we might never realize that we didn't own the lawn in the first place.