(Writing wretched verse so you don’t have to since 1995)
It looks, from a distance, like a track and field tourney:
so much avid motion in shorts and T-shirts
the college field house rented for the occasion
a blazing yellow pill in the cradle of sleepy elms
and inside: the sad extravagance of a funeral.
On the hollow bleachers, the unquenchable heartbreak
of what it is to be seventeen and out of love
though they are never out of love, not truly,
only concealed for moments in hot spasms of grief,
their bodies fizzing with hormones as they
make out with each other and throw up tenderly
in bathroom sinks and goosestep the diving board
shrieking the joyous lamentations of death
Part of what makes the world so vivid to the Bad Poet is the ongoing surfeit of emotion felt by him or her, and the (false) (but) (somehow) (still) (lovely) (but) (still) (false) sense that this same emotion is felt by the world around them, when it is of course merely projected, or, if you prefer, inflicted, by the Bad Poet her or himself.
The above cited document, entered into evidence on this sixth day of August, 2010, attests to all this. It was composed in the early morning hours of a summer day long ago, and based almost entirely on the five minutes I’d spent watching a graduation party the night before. This was in Middletown, CT, where I’d gone to college twelve years before the Bad Poem in question. I was with a woman I thought I loved — the sort of clever, conflicted type I was always falling for back then. We wandered my old college haunts, the dark graveyard, the athletic fields, the Dunkin Donuts over which I lived sophomore year. Then we stumbled upon the graduation party and considered running inside and tearing our clothes off and jumping into the pool. We didn’t do that, and we didn’t make out either.
So I had some time on my hands, some unspent passion. And this led rather inevitably to the poem, which — whatever it might have believed about itself – was actually about nostalgia, a national disease most acutely diagnosed by our unsung Poet Laureate, Gil Scott-Heron.
I said this all took place “long ago.” But the specific era matters. This was the summer of 2001. A lazy and unsuspecting season. A few months later, a bunch of devout maniacs would act out the pornographic fantasies that fill our multiplexes and transform the Empire into a mob of Bad Poets.
Rather than recognizing the pain and sorrow of the world as objective realities, we appropriated them. Rather than recognizing that mass murder as the predictable consequences of our foreign policy (Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US), we latched onto the childish view that the attacks emanated from some source of evil entirely unrelated to us. 9/11 became a national sanctification ritual, the unforgivable inflicted upon the innocent. And from this insane illogic proceeded our march to systematic murder, or what the TV people joyously call war.
Odds are, some of those kids at that graduation party — one or two at least, maybe more — wound up in Afghanistan or Iraq.
What I’m telling you: bad poetry — bad art of any sort, actually, though I’ll stick to my given bailiwick — makes the world less real. It privileges the writer’s histrionics over the true state of the world. It glories in the failure of imagination. In treating death merely as a literary occasion, it makes us a little less likely to perceive the suffering of others as a moral responsibility.
Before I descend into full-blown didactic assholism, let me note that we are winding down here, comrades. And so, rather than celebrating more of your wonderful terrible verse, I’m going to defer to one of my favorite poets on earth, Yehuda Amichai. As wrong as I done it, he done it right.
God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children
God has pity on kindergarten children.
He has less pity on school children
And on grownups he has no pity at all,
he leaves them alone,
and sometimes they must crawl on all fours
in the burning sand
to reach the first-aid station
covered with blood.
But perhaps he will watch over true lovers
and have mercy on them and shelter them
like a tree over the old man
sleeping on a public bench.
Perhaps we too will give them
the last rare coins of charity
that Mother handed down to us
so that their happiness may protect us
now and on other days.
Rumpus original art by Jason Novak
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