The Awfulness of Pablo Neruda

Can you separate the poem from the person? Is a despicable personality excusable in an artist? I’d never heard about this side of Neruda (and honestly, I’m not quite ready to just take this blogger’s word for it), but it does make me rethink some of my feelings toward his poems. Not sure if I’m comfortable with that. Your thoughts?

 

Well, this is awkward, but it appears the original article this post referred to has been removed from its site. Sorry. 

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Kristen Stewart I’m Sorry I Mocked Your Poem

'Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2' film photocall, Los Angeles, America - 02 Nov 2012Earlier this week the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of poets and poetry fans were buzzing all about Kristen Stewart. Yes, the Twilight Kristen Stewart. Like many other celebrities before her she dared to venture out of her world to stepped briefly into the poetry world. During an interview with the magazine Marie Claire she revealed that she wrote poems, and the magazine’s web site posted one online (read it here). It was even discussed this morning on BBC Radio.

Of course it was not a particularly good poem, but it wasn’t bad either. In fact there were a few really startlingly bright spots. It was the kind of poem a 20-something who probably hasn’t had a lot of (or any) formal instruction in poetry or probably even much exposure to poetry, would write. It’s surreal, a little trippy, murky and plain weird.

So after I and lots of other people who take poetry seriously mocked, sighed and wagged our virtual fingers at the gall of a movie celebrity venturing into our territory without years of practice, vetting and disappointment, I looked back at what I was writing at 23.

When I was her age I was an undergraduate English major. I was trying every way I knew how to immerse myself in poetry (reading constantly, attending poetry readings, drinking cheap wine with other student writers, showing up to class sometimes…), but I was also writing crappy poems. Sometimes they even got published in small journals that no longer exist. But they were still really crappy. They never attracted a micron of the attention that Stewart’s Marie Claire poem did in the first 10 minutes the post was live.

A friend I went to grad school with commented on the poem by saying that someone at Marie Claire opened a window for her and told her to jump, and she jumped. She didn’t show up to the interview  to talk about poetry (I assume, unless this is the beginning of some James Francoesque campaign to rebrand herself). She even admitted to the magazine that it was “pretty embarrassing.”

Yes, that says it well. She jumped, fearlessly more or less (a celebrity probably has less to fear from something like this than other people).

Stewart has been living on movie sets since she was a little girl. She’s surrounded by people who tell her she’s a star. She has millions of fans who want to live her life. Is it any surprise that when she steps out of her safe zone that the result is a bit under-developed?

What prompted my initial reaction, and probably those of most of the other poets who read her piece, is a mix of jealously (her poem was read by millions) and a sense of being invaded—this is our room, why can’t those movie folks stay out! Poets have such a hard time getting attention for their work that when someone uses their celebrity status to jump to the head of the line it pissed them (us) off.

But that’s not really fair or what happened here. I’m sorry Kristen Stewart. You didn’t do anything to deserve the mocking. If admitting that you like poetry gets a few more young people to like poetry, that’s probably good thing for all of us.

However, I will still mock James Franco. I just can’t help myself—anyone involved in Spring Breakers deserves all the mocking that comes to them.

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You can find my newest book Necessary Myths here.

Book Review: Say Luck by Hayden Saunier

sayluckfrontcover

Of the many complements I could pay to Hayden Saunier’s second poetry collection, Say Luck,  the one that comes to mind first is that it’s fun. While there are poems of grief, doubt and anguish, those are balanced with poems of wit and awareness that ring out with gratitude for life. This ultimately is what makes the collection feel authentic and trustworthy. It’s so seldom that one can say that about a book of poems these days.

The first poem, which is also the title poem of the book, is one of my favorites. It’s in some way a reprimand for self-pity even though “Love walks down the road and death waits at the river.” and an accounting for what’s important in life—it’s a lesson in perspective:

Since you are alive and have leisure enough to read poems

I’d say luck has entered your life more than once.

The strength of Saunier’s poetry is her ability so see, to say, almost what should be obvious to us, but often isn’t. “So much goes unnoticed,” she says. The tone, diction and syntax are largely conversational even when more formal elements are used. The approach eases the reader into the poem, as if she’s letting you in on something. Usually that something comes out of a moment of illumination or discovery, as in the poem “How It Happens, Sometimes”, where an encounter with a stranger stirs a memory of the speaker’s lost mother. Other times those moments are of self-awareness “—ah yes, / you recognize your landscape now.”

A tactic Saunier is very good at is smoothly moving from, or I should say within, an image and into those moments of awareness. Sometimes it happens so subtly you hardly see it sneaking up on you, and then, there it is, some wisdom she’s dropped on your lap:

Our arguments blow over,

shake down like leaves,

all sap retracted

but we recognize the danger here:

how lumps of bullet lead

as hard and blunt

as any words we’ve said

remain suspended

            from Living by the Site of a Minor Civil War Engagement 

In passages like the one above, and many others, you see her talent for loaded lines—words and phrases casting two shadows. She moves into those lines easily, and they appear on your horizon like the crest of a hill you’ve been driving toward but didn’t know you’d reached. “The view from here / will always be the view from here, no matter / who is witness.” she writes in a poem about dealing with someone’s death.

By the end of the book, if you’ve read the poems in order, you feel as if you’ve been walked through a life, maybe as a bird sitting on the author’s shoulder, and been invited to share snippets of experience, ordinary moments and epiphanies drawn from them. She observes, catalogs, recollects, questions and offers insights, as good poets do, asking us to pay similar attention to our own surroundings.

You can find Say Luck here at Amazon.

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Sense and Instability: Attack of the Hip Non Sequitur

In the current issue (Jan/Feb 2014) of the American Poetry Review, Joy Ladin savages a Matthew Dickman poem in her essay called Emperor of Ice Cream. The point of the exercise wasn’t to beat up on that poem—the poem was just a handy example used to help her make her argument. The essay looks at the current fashion of hip non sequitur sort of poetry—poetry that, in her words, is “sense optional.” See also: Ashbery.

While parsing Dickman’s Bougainvillae, Ladin raises a number of important questions pertinent to poetry today. In coining the term Hip Non Sequitor she’s given a name, or maybe a category title, to much of what is populating the popular poetry journals.

While she never comes out with a clear judgment-making statement, it’s seems clear that she’s more on the side of sense than non sense. In fact, her most damning statement at the end of the essay suggests that the trend to abandon sense in poetry is the reason so many readers have simply abandoned poetry. “As such meaninglessness becomes ever more common in published poetry, readers stop expecting poetic language to have any relation to sense, which means that poets need worry ever less about it.”

So that’s it? We shouldn’t expect much from poems. She suggests that in such poems, the reader’s search for sense, and lack of finding it, “give way to boredom.” Exactly.

The author isn’t arguing, and neither would I, that poems have to mean in the same way as conversational text or other text, such as prose fiction, do. But so often poems seem to be hiding behind a defense that since they don’t need complete sense that they won’t even bother trying. Just throw the words up into the air and see where they land. There’s a serious lack of responsibility going on in that method. On the other hand, some poems prance around in motely, proud of their senselessness, relying on some higher poetic Morse code that only they understand (see Rae Armantrout and Duran Duran for more on that). “It’s meaninglessness masquerading as meaning,” as Ladin writes.

I won’t begrudge any poet the right to write the kind of poem he or she wants to write, but I reserve the right to not care about them. If meaninglessness is the object, I can get that without reading the poem. For me, poetry itself involves a quest for meaning, for connection. Poetry is largely built on metaphor which seeks to connect one thing to the other thing in order to help the poet (and the reader) make sense of the world. That’s the point, or at least a pretty important one. (yes, I’m oversimplifying, but this is just a short bog post after all)

By the way, I happen to like a lot of Matthew Dickman’s poetry. My copy of his book All-American Poem is full of dog-eared pages and underlined passages, but while the Dickman poem in question has some lovely moments, Ladin was spot-on with her overall critique.

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