The unloved nerd in poetry is a tradition that only began recently: the Greek and Roman boasts, the Italian loves, the English ballad-making, poetry of wars and romances and images…love may have been crippled or mad in old poems, but T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock may have been the first to manifest what is now commonplace: the poet so estranged and miserable they create new aesthetics.
The nerd’s self-torture is an endless field for poetic creation.
The alienation of Leslie Scalapino’s narrator obviously shapes the writing:
that they were at the beach (excerpt)
Playing ball— so it’s like paradise, not because it’s in the past, we’re on a field;
we are creamed by the girls who get together on the other team.
They’re nubile, but in age they’re thirteen or so—so they’re strong.
(No one knows each other, aligning according to race as it happens, the
color of the girls, and our being creamed in the foreground—as part of
it’s being that—the net is behind us)
A microcosm, but it’s of girls—who were far down on the field, in another
situation of playing ball—so it was an instance of the main world though
they’re nubile but are in age thirteen or so.
My being creamed in the foreground—so it’s outside of that—by a girl
who runs into me, I returned to the gym.
The adolescent team-sports setting is classic nerd territory: this is where we typically first comprehend that we are nerds.
The narrator lacks confidence—the vision is recorded not with clarity or gusto—but obsessively, with frequent repetition,desperately and passively: passive not only in terms of the narrator’s actions, but in the syntax itself: “my being creamed,” etc.
One gets the idea these are not aesthetic choices by Scalapino, but psychological ones.
Psychology eclipses art: this may be the key to modern art and the nerd artist.
Like pleasant melancholy discords in music, Scalapino’s poetry is deliciously self-wounding. There is something organic and cinematic about Scalapino’s work; an experiment in making poetry come alive, albeit on a fragmented, deranged, fearful, and obsessive level.
Art is not considered ill by society as it once was; brute life has been tamed by civilization and schools and art; but art, to succeed, has lost its ability to surprise, to radically differentiate itself from itself; the psychological ‘sees through’ art and life tamed by art, and the psychological vision returns life (and art) to scary sensation, to the elements of the primitive, the crazy, the longing, the way art must have seemed to the ancients when it emerged as tragedy.
Jack Spicer’s poem is nerd literature as well, from the title to the end:
A Poem Without A Single Bird In It
What can I say to you, darling,
When you ask me for help?
I do not know the future
Or even what poetry
We are going to write.
Commit suicide. Go mad. Better people
Than either of us have tried it.
I loved you once but
I do not know the future.
I only know that I love strength in my friends
And hate the way their bodies crack when they die
And are eaten by images.
The fun’s over. The picnic’s over.
Go mad. Commit suicide. There will be nothing left
After you die or go mad
But the calmness of poetry.
With “I don’t know the future,” Spicer invokes the first Great Nerd Poem, Prufrock’s “am no prophet.”
“Go mad. Better people than either of us have tried it” is nerdy defeatism.
MARLA MUSE: I find the Scalapino more interesting, though the Spicer has a certain Baudelaire Lite quality I like.
Scalapino is a force, and she easily defeats Spicer, creaming him, 91-66.