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Doug Anderson: Poetry, Gossip, and War (from a notebook)

James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces continues to sell and make money for his agent and publisher, who’ve disowned him. Initially he tried to sell the book as fiction but was rejected 17 times. Then he tried to sell it as memoir and it got snapped up. Apparently “the truth” is a commodity that the public seems desperate for thus the market for memoirs–somewhat in decline now. The book was published during the presidency of George W. Bush, a consummate liar, into a culture that is a consummate lie at many levels. Some doctoral student could very well field a dissertation called “styles of lying.” There is so much lying that there must be a body of criticism to evaluate it. There could even be a literary journal called The Equivocator.

To what do we owe poetry’s small audience? Jack Gilbert said the audience has always been small, that not everybody can get poetry. I don’t believe it. I think that poetry, particularly academic poetry — that is poetry that comes from MFA program students and faculty — is to some degree responsible for its small audience. I was at a large reading at AWP in Austin and remember the poets, reading principally to other poets and friends, seemed to be laughing at in-jokes. This is the elephant in our poet’s living room: how do we reach a larger audience without compromising quality?

A few years ago a student took me to the annual Jack Kerouac birthday celebration in Lowell, Massachusetts. Most of the audience was young and there was electricity in the room. Allen Ginsburg mounted the stage with aging knees and gave a bravura performance, as did Robert Creeley, John Wieners, and others. The audience response was wonderful. It felt a little like a rock concert.

I’ve seen audiences this responsive at poetry slams, even though much of the poetry was terrible. How do “mainstream” poets reach out to a larger audience? Is the present malaise of the poetry audience part of a larger somnambulence? This continues to puzzle me.

Deju vu all over again. Obama is slowing down the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan because the Afghan army can’t hold out against the Taliban. I remember the putative “Vietnamization” of the Viet Nam War where bit by bit we withdrew ground troops and finally air support and one by one, the North Vietnamese knocked over the South Vietnamese positions until they finally overran Saigon. The Afghan government, corrupt from the get-go, reminds me very much of the South Vietnamese comprador regime that was rotten to the core and how the rich among them managed to get out of town while the poorer South Vietnamese suffered after the invasion, many of them interned in prison camps. A fucking nightmare all over again. Mindless pointless long wars during which the defense contractors get rich and nothing is accomplished in the host country except continuing carnage.

This winter: reading and writing poems, and the via contemplativa. Learning to live with snow and cold and old demons. Good blues and jazz by candle light. And maybe somewhere in all this, love.

Gossip = projection. More and more I am fascinated with self-righteousness as a disease. Projection is the opposite of acceptance. If we own ourselves it is much harder to judge. But projection is addictive: look at the number of scandal rags at the checkout counter in the local store. How pleasant it is to project our worst fears about ourselves onto the meta-pantheon of the famous so that we can for a moment feel better than them. What a high it is to watch them fall from a great height.

Poems map our inner landscape better than any other art form. Why? We are given symbols on paper from which we must recreate their substance along with the poet. The act of doing this, meeting the poet halfway in the space that the poem has created between us, opens up a corresponding space inside the us that is revelatory and often hitherto undiscovered. I’m reading Muriel Ruckeyser’s The Life of Poetry (for the third time). She articulates this so well when she writes about the fear of poetry, that is, the fear of self revelation that comes with reading.

Copyright 2015 Doug Anderson

5 comments on “Doug Anderson: Poetry, Gossip, and War (from a notebook)

  1. Roget Lockard
    December 29, 2015

    I agree/identify with everything you say above, Doug. Profoundly appreciate the subtle thoroughness of your grasp of addiction as a primary shaping epistemology within the fabric of our world. Regarding the Frey mishap — I posted this on FB, but, for the record –Don’t know if you ever saw this — written back then, and came within a whisker of being a NYTimes OpEd piece — got rejected by personal email 2 hours after submission; I’m told that’s a high compliment in The Biz.

    Click to access TheMissingPiece.pdf


  2. Neo-Pelagius
    December 29, 2015

    John Cooper Clarke anybody? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB3NlOUg-ps


  3. Richard Horton
    December 29, 2015

    I find myself being put to sleep by poetry which is well written but glib. There really should be a spark and I suspect the spark may be bought with pain.


  4. Carolyn Gregory
    December 29, 2015

    Doug, glad I read your intelligent comments here on the undeniable similar climate we are experiencing yet again — the Vietnam and long wars in the Middle East connection. So tired from the continuing rape of the earth and chase after fossil fuels as they disappear.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Doug Anderson: Poetry, Gossip, and War (from a notebook) | musnadjia423wordpress

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This entry was posted on December 29, 2015 by in Opinion Leaders, Personal Essays, Poetry, War and Peace and tagged , , , , .

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