On Poetry

Allegory over Poetry, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli

I. A Manifesto

A plastique, e. e. cummings said,
is easier than poetry, but a great poem
keeps detonating as long as readers
have ears to hear. To begin: take
a deep breath then release words
by the lungful as the heart beats
against the stress; say it straight
and get out, leaving clear images
and a clarity of thought. Poetry
is simply and only those times
when language yields imperishable
eloquence, the unfading flavor
of choice words tasting perfect
in the mouth, the loving syllables
rubbing together in sonorous bliss,
the frenzied world finding a brief,
bright, particular focus. True poets
ask all those wallflower words
to rise up and dance; perhaps,
as Flaubert lamented, a tune
banged out on a cracked pot
to set a bear to bopping, when
we would make the stars weep
for our melodies, but as long as
there’s life in it, as long as poets
love their words well, take
pains to present their best
acts of attention, then poetry
can still give us the pleasure
to experience the incongruous
truths of the world. I’m talking
about genuine wordslingers
mastering our common tongue.

II. Poetry Nowadays

As might be expected
contemporary standards
so-to-speak are tailored
to creative writing students
lacking in worldly experience
who think they know all
they need to know about
themselves—hence we are
seeing a lot of selfie poems,
short on craft but packed
with sincerity, lots of feelings,
true confessions in vogue,
transgressive is good.
I see very little concern for
line-by-line coherence
or for making use of the rich
cornucopia of our language
to create appropriate music—
rhyme, of course, is scarce,
but so it would seem are
alliteration, assonance,
consonance, simile, metaphor.
Instead of a verbal feast
we are fed a bland diet
of stale familiar words.
The poetry is often abstract,
a statement of sentiments,
very little effort to use
the five senses, evoking
the taste, feel, smell,
look, and sound of the
things of this world.
Yet on occasion a poet
must as in this poem
step back and size up
the state of the art.

III. Just Beat It

Ginsburg declares he saw the best minds
of his generation fuck themselves up
big time, meaning he and his buddies
take too many mind-altering drugs.
Poetry is written in reverie, revised
with lucidity—the Beats skip
the second part. They see themselves
as jazzmen blowing riffs on an unspooling
roll of paper (I see another analogy),
give poetry-as-jazz readings
in coffeehouse cellars, everybody
dresses in black, wears shades,
but it seems we don’t give a damn
about how messy words can be
on the page, we want our poets
to act out the life of the poet,
the more outrageous the more
self-destructive the more authentic
is the going notion. Poets should
flame out at an early age, drunken
staggers, maniacal rages, hooked on
those ironically named controlled
substances, bipolar, bi-sexual, gender-
bending lifestyles the preferred
modus operandi. What I fart is art
might as well be their motto, an in-
comprehensible sprawl on the page
proof of the bearded bard’s genius.

IV. The Poetry Reading

During delirium tremens
a drunk experiences an army
of ants walking on his skin—
many feel the same if asked
to read or listen to poetry
that doesn’t rhyme or provide
reassuring clichés. The dance
of musical language eludes
the ear, the visual images
are not seen, the sensibility
of the poet is not theirs,
they squirm in discomfort
at unaccustomed words,
a prickling sensation on
the face. I’ve heard of
an African tribe that once
buried a man to his neck,
daubed him with honey,
a swarm of ants finished
the job. Our victims are
merely condemned to sit
still at a poetry reading.

V. The Bard

If it’s got an answer
don’t ask the question,
that’s what I say.
My friends think different.
In fact, they say
I’m a little strange,
cracked, as in crazy,
which may be the case
for all I know.
So there you have
it, to do with as
you wish, the circular
file, down the toilet,
it’s only ink on paper
for god’s sake, nothing
to get wound up about,
nothing to take
to heart.

VI. Trying to Say

things happen we
talk about them
not that
the telling comes up
to the event
not that
speech equals deed
the telling will continue
elaborating with
inadequate words
not that
it does any good
not that
saying explains doing
not that
words and the world
are the same
not that
we’ll ever stop