my god, there was actually a lot of poetry in my (new) house this week! (no, i'm not talking about my shelves again, and, no, nothing got written, but why is everything always about stupid that?!) i mean, poems (not mine!) were read aloud!

poems read aloud:
"fern hill" ( i bet with my visiting lover (yes, it is a kind of appointment) (no application process-- top secret nomination only) over the last line--i won twenty dollars AND got immediately laid). (such is the power of me plus dylan thomas.)
"home after three months away" (the lowell/bishop correspondence is being read-- randomly, instead of i-pod shuffle, instead of i-ching)
"a birthday present"
"lyonnesse" and "amnesiac": for the longest time i thought they were one poem having really learned them off that tape (were they one poem once? on the day they were both written?) ("like sparks off their brother-sister rears!")
referred to and almost read : "a jar in tennessee" (couldn't find my collected stevens) (did you see that moma jar of sun?-- i think i might want/need that for my yard.)
transmitted by cell phone: adelia prado's "mobiles" (from my garage) "what a beautiful poem if i can write it...."! i love the guy who is not sleeping. that is my x-boyfriend.
listened to over the phone: elizabeth bishop's "Something I've Meant To Write About For 30 Years" (why not decorate morning?)
(brought to mind by a mirror broken in the move and used for several projects, including an art guild house in the medieval castle reproduction due today.)
poems memorized in my house this week:
the applicant. (by my daughter, and, i might add, of her own free will and perfectly.) plath frenzy sparked by this poem being put on a mix cd by lover (and, okay, truth be told, poet) referred to above. (also worth memorizing off the mix: the ting ting's "that's not my name". plath would approve.)
poem read out loud out of the house:
billy collins' "the straightener" from the november issue of real simple to my son at home depot while we waited for my brother to figure out insulation.
poem glued to the back of an envelope headed to brooklyn: matthew zapruder's "frankenstein love".
poem that fell out of a book: jon anderson's "john clare", ironically sent to me once by my once (come on! ii still love you!) friend david rivard, who made me read lots and lots of stuff including vallejo and herbert and lorca and not just that great little color poem in tasker street (hey mark! thanks for the books and i am burning you cds and making smart people read the grossman conversations) and the poem about kissing your best friend's wife in sweet ruin and every poem i went apeshit crazy over in beloved infidel. (dean!)
and, finally, this e-mail from my still friend weston cutter:
I've been now meaning to write forlikeever—to respond to yr very first post on the poetry thing (which I haven't been reading enough of--I'll check it after this), but also to say hi and what's up and everything, and so now tonight, 9pm and listening to NMHotel (forever) and avoiding writing a paper about WStevens (it's actually a paper that's already fully written in my head, I just need to like transcribe the thing)(I dig the fuck out of Stevens. I need to go back to that 'interview' I did with you forever ago and see if you like him too.)(I didn't like him then, when I interviewed you, forever ago.), now will do.
Quick updating stuff: appplying for jobs sucks. Talking about my ideas about poetry sucks. Trying to 'explain' stuff re: teaching philosophy's really, really hard/complex. All this stuff's infinitely more complicated because I'm reading Stevens as of late (and also Bolaño's new one, 2666: Get that fucker. It's like living in the mouth of a monster, reading that thing), and if he doesn't make you distrust language and intent/meaning, I don't know what'll make you doubt (the paper's about his ideas of silence, which is really fun). Also shitty: that in like 2 months both DFWallace and JLeonard died. So, so shitty. I'm really sad—like, seriously, I-feel-bad-and-I-sniffle-thinking-about-them sad. Other than all that: life's rad. Writing another novel, because the last one was too fusty and uptight and prissy (in good ways, I think), but I wanted a dirty greaser, so the new one's all fucking glass-pack mufflers and nastiness. It's big fun. Also: done with a poetry manuscript, and have sent it out, and who the fuck knows. Do I care? Sort of. Yes/no. The thing that's really awesome/hard is that, really, there's no joy in writing aside from the writing (I don't think, anyway, or at least there's not much for me). It's pleasurable to read stuff I've written and feel like I got something I was struggling to get, but really, it's like sex or smelling a flower: if you think there's something to hold on to after, yr so fucked it's time to take a nap. Anyway. That's all the detaily stuff. Oh, and for my birthday, by the way? I went bowling. In a street. With empty cans of PBR. Also: I'm pretty sure I'm gonna be single forever, and I'm really, really down with that. Also: I realize that I should turn back on the google-chat thing in my gmail, because the only person I ever used it with was you (I turned it off because I had two friends who'd always write, everytime I was on there for even like a fucking second, so that's obviously no dice). Anyway.
There's plenty more, but I wanted to just write this little bit and then give you this in response to yr first post. If you want to post it, go ahead, and if not not, and who cares anyway. Also: OBAMA! Okay, response-to-blog-stuff below, and take care and etc. etc. etc. and more soon,
(download Leona Naess's "Ghosts in the Attic," by the way, if you haven't yet: that fucking thing's just lousy with amazingness)(also: the Little Joy disc? Oh man.)(Also: Lykke Li?)
Okay, here's the thing I wanted to wonder/push-back-at about yr first post. You asked if we are bad motherfuckers, and so I guess the question is: should we be? This is all real dicey, because I'm taking a class in formal verse this semester, and so I'm forced to look at the fact that poetry's an explodey/inbent thing and has been since, well, modernism (TSEliot esp), and one of the theories (obv) has to be that in poetry, as we now understand it, you've got to figure what the poem's doing at the same time you've got to figure out what it's saying/meaning/etc-ing. Which I personally think has got to have something to do with the fact that poetry's not exactly saving the ass of publishing companies lately (aside from (according to her, which she's proud to shout about, conceited fuck that she seems to be) f'ing C. Paglia's book, and I don't know why I've always presumed her a decent person: she's written two such horribly disagreeable things lately (one slamming J. Graham (among others) for stupid reasons, which is so sad (in-fighting among people who're lucky if they sell 10000 books in a lifetime seems like the stupidest fighting there is) and one saying how she (CPaglia) still liked the fucking numbskull that is SPalin...ugh) that if I saw her coming toward me I'd at the very very least cross the street).
But so let's assume that there's some truth to that, that when people come to poetry, they're being asked to figure out both the rules and point of the game simultaneously. Think of how irregular that is, re: art. Imagine what'd happen if all fiction was as screwey, rules-wise, as the shit Danielewski or HMatthews or MPavic or the Oulipo group writes. Just think of it. Are there outliers? Of course: we could name dozens. But the thing is, most 'novels,' as most readers understand them, are pretty graspable. Ditto (to use yr own example from that post) music. All of us—in the CD group, plus I'm sure most of yr friends, and for sure all of my friends—like 'indie' or 'strange' or whatever music (and NMH comes up on the ipod again, at a perfect moment), but none of it's radical. None of the stuff that you or I seem to really get off on—Wilco, 2Gallants, whoever (by the way, for like two weeks in October all I listened to was/(were?) old mixes you'd sent)—is hard. Not a bit of it. This NMH song, "King of Carrot Flowers Parts 2&3"? It's like a click and a half from Beach Boys territory (with more noise, certainly, but nothing wild).
But that's what poetry is, so, so much (wild, I mean, not Beach Boys). And of course most of us'd rather people just sit down and work through it, but we've got to at least acknowledge that that's asking a lot. I (for instance) have the time/mental energy/stomach/discipline/whatever to work through JGraham's stuff (which I'm now, after having read all her stuff pretty hard over like a month, in a position to claim is really not all that hard, but is it not all that hard just because I've done all the work? Probably. Would Justin Morneau of the MNTwins tell me that hitting a fastball's really all not that hard? Probably. Why? Because he's hit fucking thousands of them.), or through (for instance) your stuff, or MZapruder's stuff, none of which is 'hard' necessarily, but all of which asks something of the reader re: form.
And that, to me, is where the issue really is: yr question about whether or not we're bad motherfuckers seems already answered. Yes, we are: that's what TSEliot and the NYSchool and plenty of others made sure of. We are, all of us, radically alone and brutally individual Bad Mother Fuckers. That's what this is, what it feels like. And so then we have to look around, and see that being Bad Mother Fuckers has helped poetry become this tinny/tiny/stupid little Duchampian let's-put-this-shit-on-the-wall-and-call-it-poetry game.
Is that what's happened?
Is that what we've done?
Is this what being Bad Motherfuckers has wrought?
I haven't the faintest. I turned 30 less than two weeks ago and I'm nothing like a scholar. I'm not at all saying that poetry should get 'easier' or 'more approachable' or any of that shit: I'm all for the sexy snarl and for the really wildly-spiraling smarts of the best-best-best stuff (which means everybody's got to get back to digging elitism and admitting that there's some shit that's really hard because it's smart, and it's not for everbody, and it demands a level of dedication that somebody who thinks he's filling up on 'art' by watching A. Idol is probably not gonna understand/be willing to put out). I'm all, all for smart. I'm for hard-that's-worth-it. But the idea that we should be even a little excited about the idea of being Bad Motherfuckers now—when poetry by and large seems basically totally divorced from 'real' day-to-day life—the idea that we'd want to be Bad Motherfuckers, that seems bad and dangerous.
Because here's the other(/final) part of this (I know you were talking about a musician when you wrote about this, and I just put it in my head that it was a bassist, and that that bassist was/is Tommy Stinson (of the Replacements, obv)(speaking of: did you get that latest disc? Those newly-remastered/old songs are just fucking sick)): when Tommy Stinson claimed to you to be a Bad Motherfucker? He was talking about a pose. No one, not any of us, really dig people for their poses. We may move toward someone for their pose, but we stay for substance. It's like getting attracted to a girl because she smells nice: that's a reason to approach, but you (I, I guess I'm now talking about) only stay if she's funny and is decent to her friends/family and is engaged with the world and etc. That's badmotherfuckerness, I think: that falseness that draws people in. Westerberg/Stinson are both sort of sillily perfect examples: both were total fuck-ups and wildmen, and sure, people went to Mats shows for the spectacle, for the What-If and etc., but the only reason the Mats could take a stage, anywhere, was because they wrote shit like "Kiss Me on the Bus," and "Color Me Impressed" and etc.
Anyway, that's my take: fuck bad motherfuckers. Let's try mattering first and get back to our poses later.
(none of this, by the by, is a dig at you: I think it's a valid and real and good question. If we all ('we all' being, I guess, people who like to think of their relationship to the world being fundamentally about seeing it and writing shit down in something like 'verse') took more than five minutes a year to think about this shit, I think we'd be doing well. Anyway)...
and, each reach made my week more. better, o.

Originally Published: November 24th, 2008

A first-generation Ukrainian American, Olena Kalytiak Davis grew up in Detroit and was educated at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan Law School, and Vermont College. Davis’s poetry collections include And Her Soul Out of Nothing (1997), selected by Rita Dove for the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, and shattered...

  1. December 1, 2008
     Ed Skoog

    Right on.