Reading at the Telephone Bar, NYC, March 6th, 2006 [Banquet and Ascent to be read aloud.]
Tonight’s selection will be two poems of opposite tenor. They tell weird interior tales of consciousness stretched to the uttermost. The references beyond the dome of one soul’s feelings are erudite, scattershot. The thread of the feeling must be noticed, and followed, for these experiments in lyrical insistence to work. Once the thread has been caught, and pulled tight between you and me, here in this room, tonight, together we may strike a chord and hear the heavenly music which is always part of poetry’s supposing.
The first poem, “Banquet,” is the dark, devilish core of the exploded poet. A withering inward glance at the toothless uselessness of poetry. How, when the thread’s not grasped, or when the poet in too hot self-contemplation incinerates the thread before it can be grasped—only the drama of the pyre can satisfy. As when Hamlet, at the close of his trials, drowns the disaster with a refreshing blood-bath. This is how a failure to communicate must end.
The second poem is, instead, a “loaded ode to limitlessness and light.” It has some beatific banter, and some instructive couplets. This is what may arise, phoenixlike, from the auto-da-fe of the first poem. There are longish passages of scenery; the inner feeling has suffused the world in its hopeful glow. The goal of universal love is presented as a given, and the world itself must be the context for that love, today as every day. The soulful voice in the second poem, “Ascent,” seeks to incite a response to the poet’s coo and call. Good luck to us all.
[Available elsewhere on this site]
[Available elsewhere on this site]
THE CURSE OF THE GILDED LILY (AFTER-HOURS)
The reading at The Telephone Bar was a blazing success. It’s no exaggeration to say that I was smashed; I mean, that I was a smash. There’s something about poetry reading events that ignite all the ambition and envy in my soul. Although, ambition and rivalry is nearer the mark. I don’t really feel a negative envy of the other readers. I enjoy their soarings and homilies.
But I do feel a bit left out—seated on the curb as the parade rages on. Harold, the MC of the evening, walleyed and tall in his vintage red sweater, said I’d’ve fit right into Mardi Grais (from which he’d recently returned), and promptly furnished the fireplace with the remnants of my reader’s notes. The goldenrod pages flared a moment and then joined the eternal ashes in the grate.
Somehow, even when people dig what I do, invitations to participate, or gestures of connection, rarely follow the brief fellow-feeling. It was quite unusual for Julie Androshick to ask me up to New York to be a featured reader after listening together to a previous poetry event which she had hosted in the toasty backroom. Most people seem to think that I’m already some kind of success, or that I’ve got “my own thing” going on. That happened even in college, when by definition every writer’s just a callow hack full of egocentrically tender self-regard. My professors thought I didn’t need or want any encouragement or too- close guidance or helpful hints simply because of the radiant bliss I experienced in poetry’s presence. I’m the snagged and angry Daffy Duck, but come off as the brazenly bouncy Bugs.
It might just be that because I enjoy myself so immensely and intensely at these outings that people empurple with a wry shyness—almost as if I’d find them out as fakes or dime-store swamis. I’m always holding myself back, way back, yet am full of a very visible, if not risible, “mire and spark.” I’m going to call this the curse of the gilded lily. Too much shine to actually be divine.
But, unlike the Music Man with his biblical tarrada-tant-ta, I have not found a way to turn my spurious shine to good effect. Oh, poetry’s just not about hosing the wogs in Iowa for a sheckle. (Not anymore, eh Homer?) It’s all about sifting the shiftless from the shineola; those moments of drifting like a thought, a golden straw flitting down from the haypile.
If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a success. 1200 rejections in a single year bear pop-eyed witness to that. Weary years of wringing words from turds have taken me precisely as far as I could walk in a desert unaided and unwatered. No phoenix will rear and arise here, only more of my alienated longing for beauty will occur.
I’d love for my words to wend their way somewhere other than to the fiery pit; to sigh a sonnet from a teleprompter, or band-aid my hands from book-signing injuries. Anything that would extend, enhance, or deepen those solid moments of eye-to-eye embarrassment that I live for. But those I meet who enjoy a buoyant success, only offer me their scorn and condescension. Ah, yes, it’s the back of the hand for me—and you, too, my readers—and then the lily’s in the wastebin.
The heat in the room was more oppressive than a Swedish sauna. It was Hell, with mittens. Women with their wonderful slopey breasts were in evidence, and I was a hit with the geriatric set. Those soonest to die love the poets best.
Prof. Harold Hill
March 7th, 2006