The morning after the AWP Associated Writing Programs. Last night went to a reading celebrating Salmon Press at some wretched Bowery bar. The music next door was more compelling. Had a conversation about James Dickey. Even told two Dickey stories to a woman from South Carolina which is how his name is kept alive in the South. Dickey read the poem Falling at Beloit College in the early 1960s when that school did actually then ask good poets to come to the college for short visits. Now they have writers come for longer periods of time and no one remembers their names.
And Beloit College to this day never remembers that Lorine Niedecker from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, one of the great American poets, attended the college. It is all a little embarrassing for them, I suppose. Here was a woman washing hospital floors while writing poetry and corresponding with Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky who both knew she was their equal. All something no college really has the ability to understand or wants to know about and anyway she had to drop out of the college for lack of money.
Back then W.H.Auden came and disgraced himself.
Charles Olson came and gave the Beloit Lectures.
Galway Kinnell came when he was still a modest author of one good poem. He became a "famous" academic poet of still one good poem. He did the illustrations for Pati Hill's`book of poems THE SNOW RABBIT when they had an affair in the early 1960s. She is still the better writer based on her IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS.
Kinnell is now retired, they say, and I suppose still an activist.
How I love that word activist.
And I am sure you do too.
When you hear the word activist you know you are hearing about some sort of crook.
Preface No. 8
It is probably true that there are no interesting living poets under the age of 60 in the United States. I did not place that age limitation on my sweeping judgment because I would not want to include David Slavitt's WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON AND OTHER POEMS however I really think there are no poets in the United States at this moment.
The last good poet in the United States was Ronald Johnson and he has been dead for ten years.
Find his ARK.
Find his other little books.
His re-write of Paradise Lost, RADI OS and of all things his four cookbooks.
Read the essays by Guy Davenport on Johnson if you don't believe me.
Preface No. 9
But you say: how extreme! You are full of it. What are you talking about?...Okay, I will introduce into evidence one poem by David Huddle.
Just before deciding to do this I had been distracted by reading in "the thoughts" of Gregory Orr in a issue of The American Poetry Review that was given away at the AWP. But to find a poem by Orr is too much of a bother. He is as pathetic now as he was back in the days when he was at Columbia University writing imitations of Mark Strand poems who in turn was imitating God knows who...and of course we all knew that Orr had killed his brother by mistake--- the sensitivity ran like wine and vomit down West End Avenue which by coincidence is where David Huddle lived back then also... but the David Huddle Story is for another time. His poem awaits you and is my evidence for my assertion: there is no poetry in the United States of America in the year 2008:
from the collection GLORY RIVER Poems to be published by Louisiana State University Press in April
That moment in Hair
where the whole cast
gets naked on stage?
Lindsey and I and Jean
and Ellsworth Bahrman
bought tickets, ate grass-
laced brownies and rode
the Broadway Local downtown
to see the show, but we were way
back in the balcony,
I got sleepy, and Lindsey
had to give me an elbow
when it happened. Fact
is, I liked Hair best
the year before, at a party
in Roanoke, Virginia,
when somebody put on the record
(vinyl, of course), and a bunch
of Hollins girls started
to sing along---"I like black boys..."
and do a little footwork
that way you can step into it
when you're twenty years old,
about half-buzzed at a party
and somebody puts on a song
you like. But back to that night
when the lights came up,
and behold, there were the actors
wearing nothing but their bodies---
It was in the fall of 1970, audiences
were getting thinner every week,
and the way I see it now
is that I, David R. Huddle,
your basic twenty-eight-year-old,
moderately stoned, white,
liberal grad student, sat
right at the focal point at the exact
moment when the nation
made its final turn away from love
and generosity and toward greed,
hatred of the poor, bullying
the rest of the world, and pillaging
what's left of paradise. Please
forgive me, all of you lost
Americans. If Instead of nodding off
into a stupor--- I'd just stayed
a little more alert and received
every megabyte, of that vision, I might
have become the single human
being empowered to save
the planet from George W. Bush.
Preface No. 10
I am sure you can hear the knowing smiling applause, even the laughter when David Huddle the poet finishes reading this poem at the University of Vermont, at Bread Loaf and other stops on the usual poetic tour...
This poem is a summation of the state of poetry and indeed of the whole academic world that lives within a similar callow smugness typified by this isolated tenured academic--- You should know there is even a DAVID HUDDLE READER--- who has lived too long among like minded people up there in Vermont and now no longer knows he is living within a poorly understood bad faith, no longer self-aware of anything beyond the immediate smiling applause indicating that they are all they are all oppressed beaten down victims...
Preface No. 11
Is there any evidence out there that I am wrong?