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Journal, Day One
Randall Jarrell wrote that “Poets are in the beginning hypotheses, in the middle facts, and in the end values,” which may be another way of saying that poets begin as questions marks, become exclamation points, and end as ellipses.
Great Caesar’s ghost! Last summer, in a moment of weakness, I promised the Poetry Foundation folks (PoFofos, for short) a blog, having only the faintest idea what a blog was. I threw out a date that seemed sufficiently far away, an ice age or two. Now—as in a bad movie—the PoFo has come knocking on the door with a priest, a couple of guards, and an apology from the warden. I’ve read some of the previous journals and if they were any duller you could print them on cereal boxes and put half the nation back to sleep every morning. Especially the ones by those jokers on the bus tour, reliving their Ken Kesey fantasy and making the mistake of telling everybody about it, at length. I tried to read their collaborative poem on Santa Cruz, but the fair city of Santa Cruz should put out warrants for their arrest.
A few of my former students write blogs—so, all right, I’m not piss-ignorant on the subject. I’ve read blogs by other poets. Most of the entries are humdrum stuff, this sort of thing: 1) I had bacon and frog’s legs and those miniature Tibetan pears for breakfast; 2) Goodness, I just wrote a poem about the sinking of the Titanic!; 3) I’m preparing my new manuscript, titled The Second Time Around Was Too Much for Me, or maybe just Revolution—what do you think, dear readers?; 4) I was blown away by that poem by Strand in Mother Jones, or was it the poem by Rodney Jones in the Strand?; 5) My lovely, lovely child, who has the most lovely, lovely name (Mica, which is, you know, very unique), just took a lovely, lovely shit in our lovely, lovely toilet, and his stools are the same exact shape as those teensy, tiny pears from Tibet; 6) Have you heard the latest gossip about Jorie Graham? I mean, whatever.
Old news: these lines from Edwin Arlington Robinson—
She may have reasoned in the dark
That one way of the few there were
Would hide her and would leave no mark:
Black water, smooth above the weir
Like starry velvet in the night,
Though ruffled once, would soon appear
The same as ever to the sight.
I don’t much like Robinson—the ways in which he tried too hard don’t seem worth the trying, and he’s at any moment susceptible to the sort of Romantic nonsense that gives similes a bad name: “Like starry velvet in the night” might as well be a portrait of Elvis, on velvet. And yet! These seven lines show the most tender discretion. They don’t say the woman’s a suicide, partly so as not to have to say it (her husband—the poem is “The Mill”—has just hung himself; but all the poet writes is “But what was hanging from a beam / Would not have heeded where she went”). The woman isn’t just hiding from her life; she’s hiding from her dead husband. The water will be ruffled only once, so she plans to drop straight down (perhaps she will weight her pockets with rocks, like Virginia Woolf). The black water will resume its blank reflection of the black sky—but underneath the water, there is a weir. The water must therefore be tidal. The weir will become visible at low tide, in a dozen hours; then her body will be discovered. (Weirs must have been a point of interest for Robinson, because they come into “Eros Turannos” as well—as metaphor.) What haunts me about this portrait is the way the woman doesn’t want to make any fuss (and she’s not making a statement about failure, as her husband did, by dying in his failed mill). The poem is troubling the way the best of Hardy is troubling.
Tonight I saw the glow of sunset beyond the shopping center, the sky a steady black declining to the dusty orange that radiated behind the shaggy black outlines of palm trees. That’s northern Florida a month after the equinox, the nights cooling, ladybugs nesting in the window frame, geckos still taking a meal of moths attracted to the lit windows—and the skies so lurid they look painted by color-blind hacks. I’d like to say I was at the shopping center watching the birds, because the retention ponds there attract egrets, ibises, and wood storks. In fact, I was there to see Infamous, a movie so intent on making its points six or seven times, and then making them again (Art is Hard; Art is Very, Very, Hard; You Write a Good Book and Then, and Then You Die!), that I would have paid twice as much if they’d hung Truman Capote along with the two killers.
I don’t see that poetry blogs do any active harm, or that they do much active good. If I want to read about someone’s life, I read Coleridge’s letters or Byron’s journals or Herzen’s memoirs. If the ephemera and disjecta membra of your own life bore you to tears, well, mine bore me, too. You’d be doing me a favor by complaining to the Poetry Foundation and getting them to yank me before the week is out. You’re welcome to comment on this blog or ask questions, and if I don’t answer it’s because the questions are too difficult.