Monday, July 13, 2009

What Is Poetry?

Much to my surprise, a venue that I feared had rejected me actually published me. You can find me in PoetryMagazine in the Spring 2009 features. I'm in good company with Dorianne Laux, Jane Hirschfield, Frank Gaspar and Ellen Bass.

These are some of my best poems. But they were written long ago.


It's not just a matter of the muse eluding me as of late: I don't know what poetry is anymore.

Is this poetry?

And etc.

If a man says he has the answer
he usually made up the question.

The disease is the cure.
Hair of the dog.

Why do birds sing?

That's what I wrote today. But I've really lost my grip. Take this rambling piece, for instance, which I consider "not poetry":


I was thinking today
how the defense of my garden
from the deer is patchwork,
like my life. I have two
motion-activated rain birds
to discourage their entry
along with a wad of deer netting
over clumps of wild radishes
next to the New Zealand tea tree bushes
that should grow high enough
to frustrate the deer
who come by to nip roses
and other delicacies.
I park my car slantwise
in the narrow drive
so the deer will have to
squeeze around it.
I also put a bale of hay
in a small entrance
between the blackberry bush
and the dead rhododendron
but I suppose a deer could leap it
if it was really hungry.

We parked illegally
to get to the beach with the fireworks.
A man stopped me to say
“I found a legal place to park.”
Looking at all the cars
shimmying up on the shoulders
I told him I'd throw my lot in
with the other fools.
He said “That's a valid idea,
they can't ticket them all”
and locked his illegally parked car
and followed behind me.

So seldom do people listen
to anything I say, I was shocked.
Another reason for shock
was to see a man convinced by reason
since I have found reason
rarely convinces anyone of anything.

Last year I planted vegetables, too.
I won't do that again.
It was an engraved invitation.
This year most plantings
are deer-resistant perennials
but if deer get hungry enough
they'll eat anything. “Deer-resistant”
is hype, nothing resists a starving deer
from late summer's brown fields.

When the fireworks blew
my dog spasmed and jerked
with each pop of falling sparks
on the fire-strewn beach.
My wife bummed a beer and we shared it.
I held my inconsolable mutt
just like our last dog
who hid under the sofa
when thunder came.
No bird dogs, these.

A wise man would put up a fence
but that's too much trouble at a rental
where I need permission and besides
the fence would block the ocean view
so I do this half-assedly
and inspect for damage daily.
Sometimes late at night
I look for deer but all I find
is evidence of their nibbling in the morning--
green stems of nasturtiums
like pipe cleaners, the headless roses.

Though swaddled in my windbreaker
he kept jerking with each new explosion.
I kept him on such a short leash
he could barely turn
his golden short-haired head

Did I mention how my deer defense
was patchwork like my life
what my father called “living hand-to-mouth”
how I don't change tires until they're bald
how I pocket the insurance money
when the car is dented at a gas station
but we have no money for a new car
besides this one got us to the fireworks
though our dog wishes he never went.
He's a good deer-chaser, though.

I wrote that a few days ago. I don't know what poetry is.

I feel as if I need a spiritual revolution in my life. I'm bored with my present existence. I have had mood dips threatened of late, but what I'm talking about supersedes that. I want to be more productive. I want to be a better poet.

I may have another thirty years to live. I want to live to the fullest extent. I don't want to waste my days on a dream of being a poet.

(I, I, I. After a while it gets IrrItatIng.)

I would like to apprentice myself to some great poet and have them dissect and encourage my verse. But whom to ask? And who would take me on?

After posting the two first examples, I'm posting a third that I think may be poetry:

At the Carnival IV

At the zenith of our revolution on the Ferris wheel,
your head jerking like a gopher sitting sentry,
I’d like to hear, “Grandpa, what’s that?”

“That’s where the A-Bomb hit in ’62.
Nothing grows there except man-eating radishes.”
“Really? And Grandpa, over there, over there!”

“That’s a whale sunning himself in a tree.
Those are sea otters flying about.
The gleaming carousel is made of abalone.”

“And there, Grandpa, what’s that?”
“That’s the Red Giant, gouty Antares
limping out to milk Orion's dogs.

“Really? What does the milk taste like?”
“Like vanilla ice cream smothered in caramel
and melted into a thick, sweet soup.”

Descend and dismount. Carnies bark
from booths crammed with kitsch.
His red hair and blue eyes.

I wrote that sometime back, too.

There's something I'm missing, some secret that poets who've broken the glass ceiling know. I'm too dense to get it just by reading their work. I have ordered books by Merwin, Ashbery and Stevens to redress some of my prejudices, esp. against Stevens, whom I have never particularly liked, but whom Harold Bloom considers the apex of the Moderns. Then Bloom and I don't agree much. He tries to resurrect Shelley.

This post may be self-serving and self-indulgent. Self is not the problem though dwelling on the self may be. Better to continue in motion, as in this writing.

1 Kilorat,



Bob Pielke said...

Although this may initially seemm not to be relevant to your "I don't know what poetry is" really is!!

"Back in the day" [my "day," or course] when I taught Philosophy [logic, ethics, intro, etc.] I had to deal with the inial question from students, "what is philosophy, anyway, Professor Pielke?"

After a few years of struggling with this Q, and giving the traditionally unsatisfying A's...I finally realized that "It's not anything!

It's not a "thing" at's something you do -- more to the's the way you do it.


Bob Pielke said...

Please pardon the "mystyppes"!