Monday, December 26, 2011

Flamingo Watching [Kay Ryan]

Needless to say, I identify and overly identify with the flamingo, here, as I am meant to. She is the odd kid in high school, the arty one in a dull, stale office.  The unnatural elect scorned by the "natural elect" who are less interesting and yet oddly and perennially empowered by their mediocrity.

Ryan's rhymes and twists, slanting and sinuous as the flamingo herself, are a joy. This is a good poem to type out, a fingertip-happy ear-snappy poem. And by the way, since I had to look it up, I might as well share. Furbelow: A ruffle or flounce. [by folk etymology from French dialect farbella; see falbala]

Flamingo Watching

Wherever the flamingo goes,
she brings a city's worth of
furbelows.  She seems
unnatural by nature--
too vivid and peculiar
a structure to be pretty,
and flexible to the point
of oddity.  Perched on
those legs, anything she does
seems like an act.  Descending
on her egg or draping her head
along her back, she's
too exact and sinuous
to convince an audience
she's serious.  The natural elect,
they think, would be less pink,
less able to relax their necks,
less flamboyant in general.
They privately expect that it's some
poorly jointed bland grey animal
with mitts for hands
whom God protects.

Kay Ryan, from, Flamingo Watching, 1994, in The Best of It, New and Selected Poems, Grove Press, 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

She Blasted the Canon to Hell

The older I get, the more I am convinced the canon of "literary" "classics" should be blasted to hell. It's just fine with me if we start over with a perspective not born in the faux democracy of the Greeks, woman-fearing religions of the west and colonialism.

This relates to the latest outrage, Helen Vendler's tasteless critique of the Penguin Anthology of American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove. Dove redefines the canon and bless her for that. Vendler is sour about a redefinition --a-- and --b-- making it clear she is not guided by dictates of democracy, kindness, openmindedness, or a belief in the equalify of all personkind.

I've commented, cross-commented, posted new links including one to a new interview with Dove, already, on Facebook, Twitter and a listserv. All relevant links and opinions are a Google away.

A mere Google away.  I'm not going to replicate the effort here, but in case I'm the only poet left standing after China and Pakistan destroy us,form a pact and destroy us, something I thought about on December 6, Pearl Harbor Day, I want to let the record show that Vendler attacked Dove, and that I was aware of it.

And pro-Dove. I am a dove! Now give me the money to buy the anthology which is long and tasty and not cheap but doable and enjoy a new concept of American verse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Democracy of the Open Mic

What I like about Open Mics is the democracy, given limits of time and space.

Why write this? I recently heard a poet say, No one goes to open mics if they they write good poetry (or--are connected). That's not a direct quote, but it conveys the gist.

Okay. What's different between open mics and poetry readings with featured readers. In New York, the latter are generally staged by the under forty-set. The under-forty set who have graduated from a local MFA program and have friends their age, with their interests.

The poetry readings with featured readers do not, in fact, necessarily offer a finer quality poetry than open mics do, not overall. I recently attended a reading of three featured readers. Each had an MFA. One was a wonderful poet--or a poet I consider wonderful, as does a publisher and critics and the friend I went with. The other two were not wonderful. Much self-absorption. No wit, no wisdom, no lyricism, no ear.

That said, I may only hear one or two poets whose poems make me yearn for more when I go to an open mic of, say twenty poets. And unless I get lucky, I don't hear a Frank O'Hara or Rita Dove or Marilyn Nelson or Doug Anderson in the making.

(Of course, God knows what the other poets think of me. Usually they avoid me. We all make our judgments.)

Unless I attend a reading at Cave Canem, the organization for Black poets, it's unlikely I'll see a Black poet at a featured-reader event. Sad and most often true.  Open mics are often mixed, maybe not fully representative of all New York, but lively, of more than one social set--or more than one esthetic. I remember a young woman--this was years ago in Seattle--improvise a poem about being made love to by her supremely attentive boyfriend. It wasn't a great poem but the event of it, the lighting, her voice, the remarkably quiet (for a bar) room, not to be forgotten. And not to be missed.

 Yes. Sometimes I want to hear high level art honed by years of work. Sometimes I want to hear a famous poet.  But sometimes I just want a chance to test out my own poems. Sometimes I want to be around people who love poetry. How wonderful is that.