William Logan

Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 49

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An E-Mail to William Logan
Cc: David Yezzi
Bcc: August Kleinzahler; Garrison Keillor
Subject: A Cube with a View

Hello Yet Again My Friend:

I am truly sorry for sending that rude Messenger note on the night of the Charlottesville nastiness. (My true hope is that you never received it.) I was furious over the fact that one of your publishers has a hard-on for Steve Bannon. … Not that I’m a Liberal, but I’ll touch on that in a sec. …What split across my mind that evening – other than the vodka – was A) my deep admiration for your criticism (as I flippantly stated in the Messenger note, I feel your poetry is flaccid, which is true – I do … simply put, and as I’ve stated to you in an earlier e-mail intrusion, “side by side, the emotions of our work would show we hang amidst pointedly different crowds – mine is the slightly burned out but still smoking; your crowd simply sparkles”); B) my disgust over the emotion Bannon emotes (at base, to my mind, doing all he can to inform a political atmosphere meant to capitalize upon the failing American ability to practice critical thinking); and finally C) the things I’ve read from a publisher of yours, Roger Kimball, that express a high regard for Bannon and his notions. I came to the angry conclusion that by allowing your work to be published within The New Criterion (TNC) you are complicit.

I still kind of feel that way. It is a feeling I must overcome. I do recognize that this feeling is unfair to you, and entirely assumptive.

As I have informed you in the past, I was once a subscriber to TNC. What you don’t know is that I was a subscriber in two different eras of my life. The first was a three to five year stretch back in the middle Nineties, when I was on the Gentleman’s Jack full-time, wearing a tie daily to my employment at the Art Institute of Chicago (rest assured, I did not hold a glamorous academic-leaning position – I was one of the ones that accepted the public’s donations … I worked the register back when donations were accepted by the non-profit), listening compulsively to G n’ R, and I began, at the age of 26, to smoke a pipe (what a douche, eh?). It was a period of time in my life when I was ripe for being in a conscious revolt against my generation – against the apathetic ways of Grunge.

No doubt, I was a sad-sack of contradictions back then. On one side of the coin I was an enthusiastic burnout, while on the other side I was burgeoning formalist. In the midst of that period I read a profile of TNC in, if I recall correctly, The New York Times Magazine, wherein it was mentioned how TNC’s staff and crowd are whiskey-drinking intellectuals. I longed to be just that. I was a few years beyond an academic career in which I excelled at nothing in the classroom, and I was yearning to prove that I could indeed think and reason. I learned much from the erudite criticism published within TNC. I learned that serious, meaningful criticism is necessarily impolite. I had been becoming more and more appalled by Poetry Slams, by the academic temper of contemporary poetry, by the emergence of Performance Art, by how artists spoke amongst themselves against the common Conservative foe – by what I perceived as being an art scene more concerned with therapy-sessioning, with utopia-ing life, and less concerned with being of the Lone Wolf mentality. With each issue of TNC that arrived in my mailbox, I grew more and more repulsed with the polite back-scratching I saw going down in the contemporary art scene. TNC’s editorial stance was at that time stoking my anti-PC position.

Then I went away for a while, for really no other reason than I just did. Nothing prompted my stepping away. I simply did not renew my subscription one year, and that stretched into several years. I came back, yearning for TNC’s hard-bitten criticism, but upon reading my first issue in years, I was disappointed. I had remembered it as being different, livelier. What I came back to was a pile of intellectual stoicism – a pile of righteous Academic stuffiness. For some reason, I had remembered it as being more ebullient—more expansive. I recognize the importance of editorial stances/missions, and I now realize TNC had been doing what it had always been doing: sticking to its smarts. So, simply put, it was I who had changed during my break with the journal. By the time I came to TNC for a second go, I had acquired different expectations, I had become a different sieve.

In the years between subscriptions my wife and I bought a home with a basement in Bridgeport, Chicago, on the city’s South Side (bang bang). I matured into this middle-aged punk before you who still shops for bongs, and never, never tucks in his shirt. … Never! … I grew back into who I was when growing up: my friends are all proud Union members or work in the Service Industry or the like, they get their life philosophies from The Simpsons, they don’t tuck in their shirts, either, and they could care less about poetry or coffeehouses, but yet they crush coffees day-long, just one of the many elemental habits they unconsciously embrace during their debauched drafts—read: days—in the pursuit of cultivating out of life itself a heroically unapologetic poem; I stopped trying to pronounce words correctly, allowing my natural Chicago accent to bastardize any tact I might possess. I stopped posing – I am not an intellectual. Far from it. I realigned with who I really am: a Chicagoland boy who happened to come upon an artistic inkling; but who pays less heed to that fruity inkling than he does to his craving for a stool at the corner tavern where he can participate with his peeps in bitching about all of their laborious attempts to unfuss their days, and share in crude laughs over how splendidly well they all fail. And in such a re-cultivation, I had projected a hope that TNC might have evolved into a more … uhm? … pluralistic anti-PC. But when I came back to it I immediately understood just how really privileged TNC’s take on being anti-PC is. With each arrived issue of my renewed subscription, I was becoming more and more bored with TNC.

I had grown into a Free Thinker. I have come to believe that both the Left and the Right give Populism a horrible name – a horrible reputation. (Understood: I’m writing with broad strokes here, but this ain’t no essay – it’s an e-mail. And though I might begin to sound apathetic here, I do vote.) Each tries to appropriate Populism to its own agenda. Both parties, both agendas, have played the populace into tribes. They got us exactly where they want us: they got us battling against the other’s respective perception, rather than aspiring to a collective respect for critical thought. Both Modern Liberalism and Contemporary Conservatism, each being utterly compartmentalized by its own PC and by its own increasingly Gizmobation-based definement of who and what is “elite,” stand as embarrassments to the fearlessness of the other, to the art of listening—to the American imagination.

Apologies, William. I know your writings were in TNC during my second spell with it. I always look forward to your work, but unfortunately, to me, your writing was getting bogged down in its surroundings. It began to seem to me that all of the writing in the issues was neglecting the “Culture” in favor of the “War.” (Again, writing in broad strokes here.) To my mind, your criticism does not deserve to be lodged in the spine of the Culture War. When I read your criticism outside of TNC it is nothing short of irreverently brilliant, it entertains and enlightens; inside TNC your writing becomes snobbish, steeped in agenda. Seriously.

More recently, I read on the great and ever-widening internet machine the series of essays TNC – Roger Kimball’s TNC – published on the theme of Populism. I was confused. As I read each essay, I couldn’t help but to imagine each author as being like a Napoleon, a Napoleon atop his stallion on a gentle hillside far, far, back, peering through a telescope at his forces as they engage and die in battle. Populism is utterly simple. It means one thing only, and that meaning is not up for dissection by intellectuals, nor is its meaning there for the commoner to assume as a justification, a comforter, for single-mindedness, prejudice. Populism is the awareness that honesty and dignity – humility’s forces – are propelled not by the cosmetic questions of our vitality, but rather by the gutsy questions of our temporality. It is an awareness that is void of ego—of class, ethnicity, sex, color, religion. It is in the embracement of the gutsy questions of our temporality where We the People can become unshackled from the earless entrapments of being of the Left’s reality or being of the Right’s, where We the People can fearlessly come to accept the fact that separation of Church and State is the most imperative notion of democracy. And with that, We the People will center the American imagination, and finally find the common reality that our perceptions of who and what is “elite” have always been one in the same. … Yet, obviously, We the People will never fully be one tribe – unfortunately there will always remain a douchey sector of American society – inclusive of both Left and Right leaners – wherein the amplification of the differences in our sets of belief, and how to react to, enact on, those takes on belief, shall always be self-righteously (Godlessly, actually) heralded. … In practicing humility and refraining from being pigeonholed, we could better gain the courage needed to pursue an unsafe – irreverent – as opposed to tiptoey – PC-laden – dialogue that would go a long way in creating a civil approach to understanding the underlying grievances between, say—to bring matters closer to home here—between the Lone Wolf character and the MFA mentality .

I urge you to step away from TNC. Get out of that context. … But again, when I take a step back, I fully understand I’m being unfair and assumptive here. This might be exactly where you want to be published. It is not for me to judge, though I do.

… Anyhoo, I have written something with the Culture War in mind. In fact, I’ve titled it that (its working title for some time was, “Colin Jost and Michael Che vs. Roger Kimball and Steve Bannon”). The germination of this piece was my feeling bad, terribly irresponsible (and hungover), really, the morning after I sent you that Messenger note. But it’s come a long, long way from the sense of culpability that was its launch. Below is the culmination of my trying to work through my political angst, which has much to do with my cultural ignorance. Enjoy.

Toodles,
Chalice Sinclearly

Culture War
“Ecoutez la colère du peuple”
~Sign held high amidst tear gas during the 2010 strikes in France
I. Freedom Fries
When in the dying sun’s rise its still
Allegiant rays burn off the frayed
Gauze fog that dressed the battle-
Field as a shelled vestige to the prude
Shock surround of a post-common
Sense gushed into a night that was to be
Paced by the leathering into bone
Of a licked persecution’s lyrics toothed
Cerebrally as an anthem accompanied
By the acoustic resolve that’s fuzzed
With “Chillin’” amid gateways of a 4th
Wall while beside the blazes of too natural
Pyrotechnics our gazes would forage
Beyond this enlisted presence towards
The pulse of our guiltily negotiable
Neighbors who required conflict once
The vagaries of the possible ear
Surrendered to spike the illusorily
Lived lesson of a suburban-raised Punk
Ethos with wannabe MILF diatribes
Loaded in the pill-born strains of a life-
Style whose nosey choices dimension
The parenting of an agenda whose back-
Attack slants at perfection of White self
-Pity:
The foolery masked by the crusade of an ambition
barefacedly polarized by the fear of being cultured
It is in this preparatory phobia at the muffin
-Top-bookended crack of Facebook’s dawn,
When we will need the Rastafarians armed
On our legalized flank with smooth hoorays;
As our drums “Immigrant Song” below our
Curling flags of Joker, the complacent eye-
Witness world suffers two-faced Bukkake.
II. Brief Trajectory of a Voice’s Paradigm
The arrow parted from Poetry on a straight choice, a quickened aim stretched across the bow purchased in lieu of Poetry’s remove from the consequential cowboyhood of firearms, and yet being fanatical over the right to the safety of oneself and one’s – response to a world gone now to the whims of media consultants financed by the financial struggles of street gangs to strain the gripes of kingpins’ turfs into a greater, more single staging against the infusion of White self-pity’s holed up position on the potential banning of a fictitious Soul on Ice; to perfect podium gestures that better perpetrate the possession of a conviction harbored only in an intellectual capacity cultivated behind bars raised to expectations of emotions irked by blames juice-lipped in nature, and numb-assed with time – and being ultimately not gifted with no sense of right and wrong, Poetry aimed to only wound the trunk of this night stalker whose presence was suggested at when through a breeze avowing window came the familiar unfamiliar early AM jiggle of a poem’s door handle in an alleyway (the sound of revision is like a smile: its purpose should be as decipherable to you as it is to the next principle-minded Beef Head or Knuckle Fuck). The arrow’s bulleted passing from backyard to alley biffed the home plate of a diamond in Poetry’s chain link fence, redirected to enter the underside of a cleft chin, pierce a criminal tongue, and poke the roof of a Poet’s skin-rot mouth: The calamity might be best exemplified by an actual readership.
III. POV: Revolt the Revolution
Re-inquest the sense of pigged depravity, in-
Where the cinemascopy recovery of order
Might go legit beyond the bludgeoning gage
Of ever since, whereout the Gentle Mental,
His jiggly nips in the throes of a heave as His
Decree overspends in the fervor of this bottle-
Flu world’s talked over narration, utilizes defiant
Syntaxes of a billy club – wherein, for keeps,
Gentle Mental Himself resurrects not lightly to
The fish-net-driven hard-ons of White self-pity’s
Unambiguously hermetic fantasies of intellectual
Freedom: “As a rule I fright the ‘You’ out of me:
‘Boo-scary-scary! BOO!’”
But billy clubs do vignette; and the polarizer
Hostility, whose star-shy nativity is evidenced
In fingerprints discoverable upon unexecuted
Molotovs, cuts an atoning swath across steadily
Beasted sanctuaries of an encrusted resistance
As Gentle Mental outs brutality in the midst
Of without – as if “True dat” will polite into
“Precisely accurate” within the Haymarket
Of a civilization whose protest song twangs
A Woman governance over the over-mannered
Ideal Gentle Mental quashes under His fear
To hear Truth is not a brain shart of His alone.

 

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Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 28

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Episode 28: An E-Mail to William Logan
Cc: James Comey
Bcc: August Kleinzahler; Garrison Keillor
Subject: Unwanted: Dead or Alive

“I wasn’t very long at Stony Brook when it occurred to me that the English department
had all the charm of a street fight where no one actually landed a punch.”
―Jim Harrison, Off to the Side

Great Day Mr. Logan:

Me again. You may recall my email to you some time ago, regarding my take on a certain somebody’s debut release. I have copied the FBI on this correspondence – my way of assuring you that these transmissions are not from a deranged stalker. I do not pose a danger, merely a threat (wink wink). 

Thank you for recently posting on the great and wide internet machine a link to your brief essay published in last Spring’s The Battersea Review. Funny story: a few hours after reading “The State of Criticism,” I viewed The Battered Bastards of Baseball for the first time. What a sublime combination. But what’s more, throughout the days since then I’ve been frequently harkening back to a spat my main man Hoz and I had some time back (by the by, this is one dude who you should actually try to get to know; he is, after all, trying his damnedest here to scribe my irreverent core into upstanding theory – God bless his sagged heart; Hoz is without doubt the exact kind you’re referring to within “The State of Criticism” when in your requisite aloof / collegiate-funded way, you concede, “These days, with the internet open at all hours, there is more criticism than ever and more poetry than ever. … A few of these critics are rabid, most are rhapsodic; but the usual sins do not attract the rare virtues. On occasion, you will find a reader dogged with purpose, one who scours the poetry carefully, has an idea or two, and who can write a few sentences that don’t make your eyes bleed. … I am glad for them. They are obviously men and women of leisure.”), it was a spat that ended with him duping me into encouraging him to grow a rattail, which the douche can’t even really do because he’s bald as shit. On his way to duping me he touched on something about how by avoiding crawling into the skin of Trash, American poets are occupying a limited, limiting, scope. … His dupe, your concession, the thoroughly American spirit of anti-establishment on display in The Battered Bastards of Baseball—well, I’ve been put in such a state these past days that my inner-delinquent – the exact delinquent to whom I pay homage when shopping at the Targè, searching out t-shirts whose very near futures on Chicago’s South Side (bang bang) promise to be sleeveless—the delinquent in me feels justified. In the past days I have found myself at complete peace with the paranoia that I will most probably always be looked upon as an unwanted voice – an unwanted voice within the one artistic ring into which I have always projected tossing my lifer hat.

I just knew you would want to hear from me. …

American poetry needs to aspire to be as irreverent as a noon-time fight taking place on a gravel parking lot over the fact that one dude deliberately touched one of the chunky breasts of the other dude’s significant other, a significant other who, incidentally, having just entered the second trimester of her unannounced and as of yet unnoticeable pregnancy, at first didn’t mind the passing fondle, however unasked for, and actually thought for a split-second of grabbing the offender and yanking him out the back door and pinning his ass against a Dumpster and forcing his way to the resolve of her thirst (his unit, the weathered burnish of a curved leather stock in want of conditioning – this, her imagination’s accompanying snapshot) while her old man continued to do shots and play pool and stuff singles into the jukebox—continued to ignore her in favor of playing the outlaw and taking trips to the john for a few snorts here and there. But that’s all that lady allowed herself for fantasy – a split-second; a snapshot – because the offender no sooner gave her a wink of an eye than she screamed out bloody hell to dig up the attention of her old man’s vengeance. And right now out on that gravel parking lot (one dude is wearing a Slayer T-shirt, the other dude stepped out back humming the opening verse of an Ozark Mountain Daredevils tune while unbuttoning his flannel), with knuckles and bile and grunts and denim and oily hair all Tasmanian Deviling amidst the whoops and curses of the intoxicated spectators and the occasional approving horn-blow of a passing semi, we readers capture the faint writhe of a psychiatric cultivation bring on a nuanced cleanse to the trap-like lines in that lady’s expression, and we sense her trialed conviction’s just abandoned her for a backbone-swallowed stomaching of where exactly she’s at in all of this; and we readers mouth a “Sweet Jesus” to the nonjudgmental gauge of the words hand-picked to whip her back into the tavern to go cram into the broom closet and force down as much cleanser as she can lay her hands on.

There’s a goddamn scene to get the pulse going. Right there’s some content, some American-born narrative of the plain-ass real-world’s condition. But it’s my guess the majority of the curators of the American poetry world are shuddering right now: OH, but I just hate fights, and drugs, and violence, and psycho-sexual brain thrusts; they’re all just so ugly and nasty. I hold to autumn sunbeams penetrating mountain mist, to frosted moss on fallen limbs just inside the edge of an eve-wanting woods, to the untouchable possibilities surrendered in the quiver of ruby-colored lips behind a sunshower-touched window of a public bus. … Copping Sons of Anarchy for an atmosphere is quite simply not the thing of taste. … But I’m not talking about that crap specifically, Mr. Logan; what I’m trying to get at is the emotion that goes behind the seemingly mindless totality of such a scene. Yes, it’s ugly; sure, it could feasibly be politically incorrect to the Lefty Looseys, morally abhorrent to the Great Right Hope, and way too genuine for the blanked-out snickers of hipster ironics*, but tough titties. 

I’m attempting to purvey an emotion that exudes a poetry that will not reside warmly alongside the careful MFA character of the majority of the poetry that is perpetually touted in our publications of esteem, even when said poetry is being touted as “fresh” or “hip.” I’m trying here to purvey an emotion that exudes a voice that actually stands the chance of removing American poetry from the lingering nonexistence of an American poetry culture whose discernment is rooted in the cause of making poetry less dreadful to the reading public. 

Now, I get it: the American reading public – the intellectually curious and creatively attuned American public – is already a limited population, and those within this population who care an iota about poetry is limited even more. I get it. But I figure the poet doesn’t have to settle with that – well, not if he or she hasn’t made of poetry a “career” that depends upon him or her settling into the “careerism” of a “system.” We can attract more; we don’t have to assimilate to the “system” – the few.

The poet’s got to be a dropout. (Here I must thank you, as I did in my previous email to you, for being a stepping stone in my ever-establishing suspicion that a poem deserves to be more than poetry, and that the poet must risk his or her stake in poetry for the sake of the poem.) The poet must reach out unapologetically towards irreverence, bringing to the poetry world’s set table an offering rendered from the heretofore “sophomoric” endeavor of entertainment. The poet needs to rip the tablecloth from under the table’s setting, and if nothing’s left standing, Oh the fuck well – if he or she manages to pull off the trick, Holy shit. … The poet should not be crafting for the safety of a classroom stuffed full with student debt holders; the poet should be the craft of a nasty-ass fisticuffs between strangers out on a gravel lot, a fisticuffs that just as it’s taken a sudden turn into being a knife and a broken bottle affair is halted by a waitress’s unworldly scream coming from inside the tavern. In this way, the emotion of poetry becomes an expression of spite for the scam that claims poetry is for brainiacs. The conception that a reader needs to be skilled or educated to enjoy poetry is an entrenched false reality; it is as invalidly entrenched in our poetry culture as the word “God” is being stamped on our currency and dangled from our politicians’ tongues. Separation of church and state is a motto to absolutely live by, strive for, in American culture; separation of classroom and poet must become the motto the American poetry culture lives by, strives for. …

You see, Mr. Logan, when brought in and being interrogated by today’s American poetry culture, the unwanted voice makes no excuses: knowing and accepting full well the fact that she or he is the possessor of a Lone Wolf nature, the unwanted voice assumes full accountability for his or her criminality. From behind a one-way mirror the legend-less legacies of American Poetry Awards watch on as under the lamp of a closed-door basement the unwanted voice exhales smoke into the American poetry culture’s face; and staring the interrogator square in the eyes, the unwanted voice, without pause, without stutter or a blink of the eyes, sings like a canary, throwing his or her poem straight under the bus. … After all, that’s where the “system” has been throwing poetry’s potential readership for a long while now.

Cheers,
Chalice Sinclearly

 

*This is the second time I’ve used “hipster ironic” within an episode. My thinking is entirely derived from Christy Wampole. ~J.H.

 

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Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 7

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An E-Mail to William Logan
Cc: David Orr
Bcc: August Kleinzahler; Garrison Keillor
Subject: Food for Thought from a Lone Wolf*

Good Morning Mr. Logan:

I am a 50-year-old administrative assistant for some company that I imagine does some good in this world. I hold a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, but I really don’t remember much how that happened. I have a vague recollection of nearly wanting to minor in Religion. Today, I live in Bridgeport, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side (bang bang). I sneak cigarettes behind my wife’s back, but I’m certain she knows this – she tells me as much. I love her with all of my heart, she’s truly my better half, and I apologize to her for this constantly. Anyhoo …

Since the Nineties, when I first became a Guns n’ Roses-loving subscriber to The New Criterion, your criticism has plagued me as an encouragement to take my own quest for poetry with acute seriousness. Thank you for being a stepping stone in my ever-establishing suspicion that a poem deserves to be more than poetry, and that the poet must risk his stake in poetry for the sake of the poem. I must convey here, however, that I am quite apart from you morally: my tactical view of survival in this labor that is our art shows as a mostly informal process. Side by side, the emotions of our work would show we hang amidst pointedly different crowds – mine is the slightly burned out but still smoking; your crowd flickers. We may not ever be drinking buddies, but my respect for you is of solid stuff.

I have calculated a course of obscurity that promises to properly unveil the booty of my vision for language’s use. That’s to say, I have been setting myself up to be discovered by the literati, as opposed to engaging the literati for notice. I am fully aware that it is important for the artist to move beyond the self to embrace an empathetic notion of the greater possibilities for art to actually mean something in the world. (I also understand that our particular art is of absolutely no use/interest to a huge majority of the reading public.) I understand the artist must share, must partake in the artist community. Blah, blah, blah. That said, it does seem to me that in such a chosen course it is wise for the no-name recluse to poke his utterance out of his basement every once in a great while and attempt to have an influential individual or two of the culturally curious and critical world become interested seekers of his potential.

Ever the procrastinator, and with perpetually holding little confidence that I might ever be taken seriously (even by myself)—well, I’ve sat on this damn thing long enough. Time to pull my head out of my ass, and reach out from the grave I’ve been digging for myself. Below is printed a 1218 word opinion piece that I put together back in early 2014. I hope you will find the opinions I express about the poet Michael Robbins to be of interest, no matter how street-thuggish they may be.

Cheers,
Chalice Sinclearly

Satellite vs. Probe
by Chalice Sinclearly

The hoopla that cropped up around poet Michael Robbins’s debut effort in 2012 propelled him into “Rock Star” status. Well, as “Rock Star” as one might become within the American poetry scene. With his sophomore effort about to hit the shelves at month’s end, this is an opportune time to illuminate the failings of the poet who popped up within the book Alien vs. Predator, and in doing so also reevaluate the very character of poetry.

Though the choice Robbins conjured for the content of his debut – various elements of Pop Culture: Pop figures, Pop slogans, Pop products – could indeed seem to position his work as being an invitation to the nonpoetry reader, and though while this promise of accessibility might evoke the sense that his poetry is offering something audacious, it must be argued that within the big picture of contemporary American poetry, Robbins’s work is just the same old same old. That’s to say, his craft is totally safe for consumption – like a seemingly devious craze that brings deep pleasure to youth but happens to strike no fear in a parent’s or community’s conception of complacency. I have no beef with Robbins’s highly developed technical chops and the energy he brings to his execution of these skills (and as an aside, I will also acknowledge that such a command of rhyme and meter should be practiced every now and again by any poet wanting to prove his weight). Rather, what I find miserable is that his craft exudes a carefully chosen roguish pretense that is unwittingly betrayed by its fluff. Robbins is all pretense, no substance; all exuberance with no elicit afterparty. Robbins seems to be aspiring to be the poet of hipster irony, for the poetry within Alien vs. Predator proves to be the perfect poetry for the contemporary poetry world to grandstand: it’s academia donning a “School Sucks” T-shirt.

It is my fear that Pop Culture is all Robbins really has. He reaches out to the easy accessibility of Pop Culture with the presumptuous assumption that such entities as Camel Lights and Motörhead hold within their reference some edifying metaphorical ambience, when in all actuality such things as Fruit Stripes and Theraflu are really only that: only Fruit Stripes and Theraflu—unsweeping, self-delineating objects. Pop Culture is by no means weightless and without its place in poetry, it just doesn’t work when it is being used as poetry. (Let’s not even get into the drawbacks of obsessive name-dropping here, which Robbins heartily practices, what with such peeps as Milton and Swinburne popping up in his lines.) The occasional placement of an entity of Pop Culture in a poem reveals the poem as an entity concretely present in the real world, while, at its best, simultaneously acting as a simple, unclogging, stepping stone in the meditative disclosure of the poet’s greater offering. On the other hand, when attempted to be used as the poet’s greater offering, entities of Pop Culture end up acting as dumbed-down markers. Think of that sweet little pop tune by R.E.M., “Man on the Moon” (not a poem, undoubtedly, but the words serve my purpose here): turn right at Mott the Hoople and drive until you pass by Fred Blassie and arrive at Twister, take another right; you’ll come across an impersonation of Elvis, but keep going straight till you come to Newton and his apple – stop right about there, look out the passenger’s side window and you’ll see Andy Kaufman in a wrestling match. Now that was a fun little ride, wasn’t it? Sure it was. But that’s the makings of a log; that’s not the makings of a poem. Overly employing entities of Pop Culture in the endeavor to achieve a tangible, poetic atmosphere will only ever have one result, and that is the quaint rendering of nostalgia. A nostalgia for the ever-observable, to be specific, which is a characteristic of the poet who hasn’t learned the road grids of a dare taken or grasped the progression of addresses within a compromised imagination – a characteristic of the poet who lacks the intuitive understanding of direction needed to navigate off campus towards a genuine investigative experience.

Robbins is asserting—one might even say plainly inserting—objects of Pop Culture in the reliance that they will cumulatively promote his voice as being that of a crafty personality. In her review of David Bowie’s offering, The Next Day, NPR Pop Critic Ann Powers reflected upon the song “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” by commenting how with references to the likes of Brad Pitt the song plays out as a rumination on celebrity. She commented, “He is making modern myth out of our everyday lives.” Could this be in some fashion what Robbins is up to in his debut? Well, I’m not even sure if that’s what Bowie is actually doing. To my mind, the essence of Robbins’s failure lies in the fact that he satellites; he does not probe. When Robbins mentions CSI: Miami or Slash or the like, it’s just that: all mention, no meaning. Likewise, when Robbins references a meth lab it’s just that: a reference—the bottom line being you can tell without reservation he’s never seen a tooth decay inside a drug house before. At this stage, Robbins’s work seems best suited for providing such high-end critics as The New York Times’ Dwight Garner with the license to himself go Pop and impress the kids by laying down such a supposition as, “You can also imagine Florence Welch, the soaring voice behind Florence and the Machine, wrestling these lines into bat-black song.”

What-evs. …

As evidenced by the aforementioned quote, Mr. Garner expresses much excitement for Robbins’s debut. However, two sobering observations within his review of Alien vs. Predator prove Mr. Garner is able to see through Robbins’s pretense, see beyond the publisher’s press release, and recognize the poet’s inconsequentiality (basically, quite conveniently servicing my point of view herein). Mr. Garner says, “He’s not confessional; I doubt he has much to confess. He’s not particularly soulful. He doesn’t, as yet, have overly much to say,” and “In bad young poets, knowingness is to knowledge what truthiness is to truth, as Mr. Robbins’s lesser stuff makes plain.” These observations speak volumes. For in his review, Mr. Garner is only able to comment upon how Robbins’s poetry speaks to and of poetry; sure Robbins references Pop Culture – the outside world, as it were – but it’s only done so in the cause of poetry. His craft is all about craft at this point, meaning he does not complicate language, he patronizes it: his sensibility is that of a boy band, not of a spiritual.

The worthiest poem is the one that is found guilty of being more than poetry: It becomes within the reader’s experience an emotion that risks against self-righteousness to menace the toil inherent within a disclosure of the imperceptible (even the lightest of poetry achieves this; well, at least within accomplished hands). Not that the poem becomes a thing of life affirmation; rather, it’s that the poem becomes a life of things affirmed. The poet couched in Alien vs. Predator relies too heavily on smoke and mirrors, rather than ball and chains. Here’s to hoping Michael Robbins’s sophomore effort is more difficult.

 

*originally blogged in slightly different form September 14, 2014
This is wannabe John Hospodka‘s bi-weekly instructional blog.

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