Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ars Poetica A La Yanqui

I GET A LOT OF READING done on this week-long winter vacation. Here's a poem from the shelves where Mark Halliday tackles the subject of ars poetica in a vast country like the US, in the "wacky, talky" Goldbarthian style of my former Wichita State teacher, but effective nonetheless. Also note his attitude towards time. What makes a good poem: sensibility, idea or texture? Or all of the above? You decide.

Pasco, Barbara

I find I am descending in a propeller plane upon Pasco
in the state of Washington. I accept this;
I have reasons for participating in the experiential sequence
that has brought me here. Down below the land is printed
with huge circles, doubtless an irrigation system,
doubtless it makes sense. There are people who understand it
living with dignity in square houses
and the result possibly is one billion radishes.
Now some so-called time has passed. This nation
is a huge nation in which the infinity of for example
Washington State
is just one segment of an even less thinkable hugeness
and yet zim zim zim zim United Airlines has me
here in my Eastern metropolis
with its ten thousand makers of third-rate pizza
uncannily far from the possible radishes of Washington State.
The taxi driver experiments with narrow streets
to shorten our detour caused by sports fans and he says
the Eagles will out-tough the Steelers.
I defer to his judgment, I am conserving my powers.
After “a while” I have this unsettlingly smooth tuna salad
with a pale pickle
in a drugstore designed by Dwight D. Eisenhower,
reading a few poems by David Rivard. I have thoughts.
I have my Uncle Ralph’s jacket soft and droopy giving me
a Sense of the Past. The rain out there
on the roofs of retail outlets is saying No Guarantee
and in a way I am nowhere, in another way maybe
definitely not. In a wide wet parking lot
I turn back toward the store to explain to the cashier
that she charged me for six cans of seltzer when in fact
I only had one from a six-pack
but the idea of justice seems so fatiguing
I would rather read a surprisingly serious detective novel
so I vibrate with indecision in the parking lot
till all the car windows rattle imperceptibly. Then
an alleged interval ostensibly intervenes, at the mall
a woman at a piano has played 1800 songs from memory
according to the radio personality who stands with a mike
explaining her bid for the Guinness Book of Records.
I am walking away at an unplanned angle singing “Tiny Montgomery”
which I bet she wouldn’t have been ready to play.
I have this inner life, I think of my father
lonely in Vermont, I think of myself lonely in Syracuse
and my old poem about a detective who can’t solve his biggest case
and as a result I have feelings—but my teacher said
the future of American poetry can’t be merely
the notation of sensibility. When he said that I felt
a chilly fear at the edge of consc-consc-consc-consciousness
like an ice cube in the corner of my stomach.
That’s how I felt. So then, so then consequently
I thought “I must gather up some serious ideas” but then
Ashberry phoned and left a message after the beep.
“Don’t be a sucker, ideas are where it isn’t.”
This made my throat get sort of dry so I drank a Classic Coke
and then another Classic Coke two hours later
as time so-to-say passed. What was always there?
Texture, that’s what, how it was/is, the how of how;
when I pick up my color prints at the camera shop
the disappointment I always feel is actually a blessing
is it not? I can say “I’ll go along with this charade
until I can think my way out” even though I’ll never
think my way out. I’ve come this far;
that day in 1971 I hitchhiked all the way to Montpelier
didn’t I? And here I am.
Suddenly I have a son
who focuses with tremendous insistence upon
dogs, balloons, air conditioners, hats, clocks, and noses.
To him I convey that the world is okay:
life is good: we accept it. Your dad is a little mixed up
but your shoes got tied, right?
As Barbara Cohen in high school said about politics
it’s interesting, giving the word four earnest syllables,

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