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I Loved Poetry

I.

But then there was the untreated depression.
But then there was the rampant alcoholism enabled for art’s sake.
But then there was the addiction masquerading as idiosyncrasy.
But then there was someone saying that to quell idiosyncrasy is to hate poets.
But then there were the casual presumptions about who knew suffering and how.
But then there were the suicides and attempted suicides.
But then there were the false crusades founded on misinformation.
But then there were the wrist-cuttings over a kitchen sink.
But then there were the “famous” poets no one had ever read.
But then everyone was suddenly talking about a prizewinner.
But then there were announcements about prizewinners every hour.
But then there were people who knew no poet is famous.
But also people who didn’t know.
But also people who loved being poets more than they loved writing poetry.
But then there were people who wanted to be the Lord Byron of Brooklyn.
But then there were people who wanted to be the Tristan Tzara of the Internet.
But then there was HTMLGiant.
But then there was ego-surfing.
But then there was a blue jay on the feeder outside my office window.
But then there were cadres of privileged and pampered straight white males.
But then there were people who wanted to be Sappho.
But then there was the terror of saying the wrong thing by accident.
But then there were the casual lies.
But then there were career-ending accusations of misogyny.
But then there was Deborah Digges.
But then there was Liam Rector.
But then there was the unhappiness in the eyes of every poet.
But then there was the unhappiness in my own.
But then there was the romantic lure of tragedy.
But then we seemed to be authoring our own tragedies and nothing else.
We hated ourselves.
We hated every poet outside our circle.
We hated several poets inside our circle.
We hated going to readings anymore.
But then there was the censorship and self-censorship on social media.
But then there was the idea of “social” media in the first place.
But then, really now, there was “Flavorwire.”
But then there were ranked lists of poets you should be reading right now.
But then there were ranked lists of books you should be reading right now.
But then there were “the rankings.”
But then there was hatred masquerading as social justice advocacy.
But then there were the partly sealed and partly public rape allegations.
But then there were the Facebook trials.
But then there were the Twitter trials.
But then there was cutting someone off just in case not doing so looked bad.
But then there was cutting someone off in case anonymous charges were true.
But then there were poets leap-frogging from fellowship to fellowship.
But then there were poets who demanded to be paid for speaking to undergrads.
But then, really now, there were poetry readings in elevators.
But then there was a salon whose sole prerequisite was physical attractiveness.
But then there was the cyber-bullying.
But then there were the threats of death and assault.
But then there were the vicious comments about the spouses of poets.
But then there were the threats to the lives of children.


II.

But then there were the casual blacklists.
But then there were intentional misunderstandings.
But then there was the perpetual whiff of New York City arrogance.
And the smugness of destroying an enemy from afar.
But then there was the deliberate misquoting.
But then more smugness.
And a million humble-brags.
And parody Twitter accounts lampooning poets, poetry, and poetry circles.
And Jim Behrle’s cartoons.
But then there were a few people claiming to own alt-lit.
But alt-lit’s a concept, motherfucker.
But then there were poets pretending to have read books of poetry.
But then there were poets who really preferred fiction.
But then there were poets writing the same poem again and again.
But then there were poets willing to read the same poem again and again.
But then there was Tony Hoagland.
But then there were conversations in which no one listened to anyone.
But then there was the war over negative reviews.
But then there was the war over poets at the White House.
But then there was the war over Garrett Strickland.
But then there was the war over Foetry.
But then there was the “war” between flarf and conceptual writing.
But then there was careerism masquerading as literary exploration.
But then again this has happened again and again.
But then there was the war over the professionalization of poetry.
But then there were professors at unfunded MFA programs.
But then there were the hipster glasses.
But then there was the hostility to squares.
But then there was the hostility to the South.
But then there was the hostility to the Midwest.
But then there was the hostility to anyone with an MFA.
But then there was the hostility to graduate degrees of any stripe.
But then there was “broetry.”
But then there was telling people how to write.
How to be a poet.
How to read a poem.
How to find an audience.
How to sound agreeably cracked on social media.
How to sound hopelessly sincere and sell that insincerity as The New Sincerity.
But then there was the centrality of the provincial urbane.
But then a northern cardinal joined the blue jay on the feeder outside my window.
But then there were the divas of all genders and orientations.
But then there were the shameful romantic liaisons.
But then there were the special favors done for special students.
But then there were the cunningly unparseable tweets and status updates.
But then there was Kenneth Goldsmith.
But then there were the trolls who called others trolls.
But then there were the “art trolls.”
But then there was “post-poetry.”
But then someone said that a poet doesn’t call himself a poet.
But then someone said that a poet doesn’t speak about “art.”
But then someone said a poet never explains.
But then someone called Holocaust survivor Gabriele Mintz a white supremacist.
But then the Quietists.
But then a choice between just one conventional and one experimental tradition.
But then too few choices and too much time.
But then making $11,394 a year as a teaching assistant.


III.

But then making $9,089 a year as a teaching assistant.
But then making $13,564 a year as a teaching assistant.
But then attacks on teaching assistants by professors making $83,261.
But then the accusations of greed.
But then there were vile things being said by strangers to strangers.
But then there were people using academic terms to discuss human strife.
But then there were onanists masquerading as activists.
But then there was the Mongrel Coalition.
But then there was “gringpo.”
But then there was bad poetry applauded for its good politics.
But then there were bad politics forgiven for their good poetry.
But then there was bad poetry and politics made palatable by friendship.
Of course I think all my friends are good poets.
But then there was rhetoric.
But no one was actually getting anything done.
No one was doing or saying anything that would change any minds.
Or make anyone’s life even a touch happier.
But no one cared.
But no one was helped.
But everyone was very effective at expressing their righteous anger.
But everyone was in an aesthetic camp.
But there were taxonomies.
But some poets and editors thought they were celebrities.
But then there were lies about sales figures.
And some seemed to think only certain people could speak to them at AWP.
And I wanted every interaction I had to be earnest and kind.
And I failed myself.
But then suddenly, after several thousand years of being vermin, Jews were white.
Then I was an Anglo.
Then everything was perfect.
Then I was in the fast lane.
Then I always had been.
Then I was born to be.
Then I was part of the power structure just by breathing.
Then I was a deliberate manipulator of the power structure.
But then there were the goddamn dialectics overlaid over everything.
But then everyone’s personal pain was masquerading as a cogent politics.
But then there were the zero-sum games and no-win situations.
But then there was Fidget.
But then there were the proudly declaimed blacklists.
But then there were people saying they wanted to erase certain poems.
But then there were people saying they wanted to erase certain poets.
But then there was Kill List.
But then there was Fuck List.
But then people were speculating on why poets write what they do.
No presumption of good faith.
But then there were people saying there should be fewer poets and less poetry.
But then there were people saying that poems could as easily harm as help.
But then poems needed to be helping, and who gets to make that decision?
But then I named the blue jay “Lester,” and the cardinal “Bill.”
But then there were the cronyistic editors called out without penalty.
But then there were the corrupt contest judges too powerful to penalize.
But then there was AWP.
Goddamn it.


IV.

Then everything seemed a power dynamic running counter to art.
But then there were the attempts to get poets expelled from their schools.
But then there was the pitiable public madness, coddled but not aided.
But then there were the inexplicable unfollowings and unfriendings.
But then there were the ad hominem “critiques” in literary magazines.
But then there were the poets and editors wrongly chased into hiding.
But then there was 9/11.
But then Gore conceded.
But then black voters waited for twelve hours to vote in Ohio in 2004.
But then there were the poets and editors wrongly chased into retirement.
But then there was a presumption that every poem is autobiographical.
But then there was a presumption no poem should be autobiographical.
But then there were the poetry editors publishing only their friends.
But then there were the poetry editors who socialized but did not read widely.
But then Lester stopped coming to the feeder outside my office window.
And then Bill became a widower, and started coming to the feeder more often.
And I kept hoping he would find a mate.
But then there were the poetry editors publishing their publishers.
But then there were the poetry editors publishing reviews of friends.
And no one was reviewing work written by strangers.
Let alone anyone who anyone had decided to dislike.
But then there were tragedies poets responded to, years later, with anthologies.
Fuck poetry.
But then there were the misdirected and misdiagnosed accusations of apathy.
But then there were 200 professors aligned against 10,000 young poets.
But then there was the lack of concern for the debt incurred by young poets.
But then there was a manifest concern for whatever affected you and yours.
But then there were double standards.
But then there were the false compliments on social media.
But then there were the performances of comity and grace on social media.
But then there were the manufactured lives, hiding misery, on social media.
But then there was the fear.
Everywhere.
But then there were people saying one thing online and another in private.
But then that kept happening.
But then someone admitted what everyone already knew to be true: “I’m afraid.”
Someone said “McCarthyite.”
But then someone online wrote a manifesto saying that fear is good.
But then someone wrote a poem saying love is good, but it bred only hatred.


V.

But then there were the attempts to get poets fired from their jobs.
But then there were the statistics ignored because they were inconvenient to an agenda.
But then there were the public statements disavowing prior relationships.
But then there were the sudden hang-ups during phone calls.
But then poems in couplets for no earthly reason.
But then the millionth metaphor I’ve read.
The millionth slant rhyme.
The millionth last-stanza epiphany.
The millionth first-person lyric narrative.
The millionth stanza of lush lyrical description.
The millionth poet reading in the “poet voice.”
But then there was “craft.”
But then there was the avoidance of the gauche and the raw and the sloppy.
But then there were the cold calculations bred of avarice, not art.
But then tears.
But then Bill found a mate who was beautiful and gutsy and unafraid of hawks.
But then there were the times I fell prey to all of it.
But then there were the times I felt angry about being a poet for weeks on end.
But then there were the times you felt angry or bitter for weeks on end.
In fact maybe you’re bitter right now.
Yes.
But then there was the inability to read anyone’s poetry without envy.
But then there was the inability to read anyone’s poetry without grimacing.
But then there was the invariable sameness of verse, invariably celebrated.
But then there were the celebrations of personalities rather than courage.
But then there was a general lack of courage in everyone about everything.
Me too.
Me also.
But then I thought maybe we write beautifully because we are awful.
Franz Wright assured me we write beautifully because we are awful.
But then I did not want to be awful.
I wanted to be courageous and speak what I felt to be true.
I wanted to innovate regardless or who read or admired what I wrote.
I wanted to celebrate everyone who had never been celebrated.
I wanted to say everything that had never been said.
But then I began to confuse courage and anger.
But then I had to dismantle the feeder, as the mess was annoying the neighbors.
But then there were the “conversations” in which there was only one side.
But then there was the fact that no one seemed to have read the prizewinners.
But then there was the sense that strings were being pulled.
But then there was the politics to consider.
But then there was the falseness of everyone and everything but poetry.


VI.

But then there was the ugliness and impurity of everything but poetry.
But then there was a hunger for poetry.
Actual hunger.
But then there were the social media profiles drowning out the poetry.
But then there were the well-networked toxic people drowning it out.
But then there were the media-savvy toxic people drowning it out.
But then there were people defending bad behavior because it was a friend’s.
But then there were people attacking honest error because it was an enemy’s.
But then everyone thinks they know you without meeting you these days.
But then everyone summarizes your past and future contributions with a guess.
But then we would all be happier offline.
But then poetry would be better offline.
I miss Lester.
But then I felt I was yelling at the kids to get off my lawn.
But then I told a friend I was willing to lose everything for poetry.
But then I told my wife I would never let my stupidity cause us harm.
But then I felt the awesome gravity of how many wished me harm.
But then I felt that fear was the antithesis of poetry.
But then I started teaching poetics to undergraduates.
But then I saw courage among those much younger and more uncertain.
But then I loved their mistakes and their equally earnest sublimities.
But then there was some clumsy, prosaic, over-earnest work in the mix.
Really over-the-top stuff here.
And I thought it was a good thing, too.
And then I loved poetry.
And I missed Bill.
So I said honestly into a cool, dark room that poetry is innocent of all of it.
And I knew it was a true thing that I’d said: I really do miss Bill.
But then I wrote it in a poem.








































Posted 04/27/15
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