An Interlude at the Bama Conference — performed outside the curtain.

A letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract so many Dislike votes on Harriet:

“Your poems are very pure, Gary — indeed they’re unique in that. Because you bring no artifice to them, no stunts, no tricks, no riddles, no performances, no arcana, no complexities of any sort, no contradictions, no obscure references, no quotes, no citations, no buried hints, no deep alchemical or esoteric or psychological knots, no sleights of hand, no fits of madness, no fluff or flarf or fiddling, no lists, no inner flights of foolery, indeed almost no imagery at all, no sacred symbols, confessions or paradoxes, no minimalist self-abnegations, and, most unusual of all, no pretense. Finally, although your poems are almost always philosophical you don’t need to know one thing about Wittgenstein or Rorty, A.J.Ayer, Lyotard or Lao Tzu to understand them.

“All you need is a.) to be a human being,  b.) to know how to read slowly and deeply, with a pure and open heart, and c.) be able to trust something in words without any irritable searching after something even more fashionable to compare it with, or something even wittier, negative or positive, to stump the poem completely.

” You simply don’t give the Harriet readers anything to get their perfect teeth into, Gary — in fact, you make them choke. You make them feel that all that expensive orthodontistry they got done at Iowa or Stanford wasn’t even worth the smile! Because you don’t give them any chat-fat to chew on, and if they actually did read one of your poems, which they don’t, they’d just feel angry, as if you’d tricked them. Because your poems are THE REAL THING in an unwrapped nutshell, and an on-line love-you/hate-you show like the new regime at Harriet can’t deal with poetry that’s humble and, most unnerving of all, doesn’t even try to make it new!

And if you read this as an insult, Gary, or any other poet, you don’t deserve the name or the blessings it could bring you.



  1. thomasbrady said,

    October 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm


  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 21, 2009 at 4:55 pm


  3. garybfitzgerald said,

    October 22, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Here are three poems about poems. They also reflect my philosophy of poetry.

    Advice to Young Poets

    Just write it pure, boys,
    no gimmick or game.
    Give it balance and rhyme,
    make sure the point’s plain.

    Just say what you feel, girls,
    what you think and you hear.
    Give it rhythm and time
    and make sure the point’s clear.

    Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    The Poems Speak

    Simple, plain and simple, we,
    for life is plain and simple.
    Picture an ocean, for example, wild and deep,
    filled with millions, even billions more
    of shapes that thrive and grow beneath.
    Fish and squid and spreading fans,
    algae and anemone pressed tight in the liquid
    static of time with the sharks and whales
    and starfish; the pantheon of phylogeny.

    But stand on a beach one day and see
    the always roll and constant blue
    on the surface of the sea,
    the uneventful ever same
    of pure simplicity.

    We just clear and modest are
    and brief, because life is brief.
    Imagine a forest, rich and full, branch and leaf,
    the countless, colored forms that live and climb
    and crawl within. Birds and beasts and butterflies,
    snakes and snails and many-legged things,
    compressed in the dynamic
    solid of time with the tigers and bears
    and men; the evolutionary mystery.

    But stand and look someday at trees,
    a canopy old but always new,
    the surface of a sea of green,
    the spreading constant always plain
    of still simplicity.

    Copyright 2008 – SOFTWOOD-Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    (advice to budding poets)

    Make one. Then disguise it.
    Make them all try
    to figure it out.
    Be witty and clever
    and erudite.
    Make sure they get
    too frustrated
    in the searching
    to really get it.

    Many references, too.
    Some obscure, so they appear
    to reflect a cultured mind.
    Be scholarly and ever
    more unclear.
    Offer a gift but hide it,
    something they will never find.
    Tie it much too tight
    to unwrap. Lock it,
    without a key,
    behind a door.

    To the sad word-bound
    this will be a joy…
    another literary puzzle
    to struggle with and pass empty
    time, but to the rest of us
    such a bore.

    Copyright 2009 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  4. garybfitzgerald said,

    October 22, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Are you happy now? 🙂

  5. garybfitzgerald said,

    October 22, 2009 at 3:28 am

    Quote from Gary B. Fitzgerald on Silliman’s Blog re: ‘School of Quietude’ vs. Language/conceptual poetry:

    “Some convey ideas with words.
    Others only convey words with ideas.”

  6. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 22, 2009 at 3:36 am

    In his reply to one of the comments to his “New Thing” essay, Stephen Burt admits that every “serious writer” today struggles with the question, “Will I ever have an audience?”

    “One of the solutions is to assume not,” he says, pointing out that “there haven’t been many golden ages in American poetry,” and then joking about T.S.Eliot once having filled a stadium somewhere. Well, this is one of the silliest observations I’ve ever heard, as if “serious poetry” (sorry, Billy Collins) ever existed as a popular art anywhere what is more filled stadiums, or even karaoke bars for that matter. I mean, until only very recently most people couldn’t read at all (there’s still speculation that Henry Ford couldn’t!), and even amongst those, very few had the wherewithal to buy a book or had a shelf on which to put it!

    A golden age of poetry is defined by golden poetry, not golden audiences, or even audiences for that matter. Think about it.

    So, what do you assume about audiences, Gary, and do you choose Harriet because you feel it’s a “good audience” for your poetry? Or just good exposure for it? And let’s say a certain venue is “good exposure” but you get tomatoes thrown at you, that people hiss and boo and stamp their feet and you even have to bring armed guards on the stage to protect you while you’re reading, a bit like those productions in Orahan Pamuk’s Snow where the actors machine gun the audience? Sure, you’re famous at Harriet all right, Gary, but to what end?

    I like the poems you posted here a lot, and am very pleased you entrusted them to us instead of to Harriet this time. Because who at Harriet do you imagine is going to read even one of them with good will what is more pleasure? Kent Johnson, John Oliver Simon, Rachel, Noah Freed, Kenneth Goldsmith, Richard Epstein, Matthew Zapruder, Terreson, Sheila Chambers or Don Share or even Margo Berdeshevsky? Annie Finch would have, for example, and so would have Martin Earl or even Eileen Myles, even though she’s a performance artist essentially, but that’s because they’re all genuinely interested in the community of poets, i.e. the people who actually deepen their lives through poetry. Harriet is proprietal, it wants to own the muse today and re-educate the audience to think their rickety, starving girl in kitsch looks great. Yes, Harriet is a Post-Avant Trade Union, Gary, it’s a closed shop, and you’re a scab as far as they’re concerned.

    I wish you’d talk about that on Harriet, talk about who you are as a poet and what you believe in, not just pretend there’s a Golden Age of Poetry out there and that The Poetry Foundation is the keeper!

    I’d love it if you would talk about that right here as well, as we have a real bone to pick with Harriet ourselves, having all been banned by her. Indeed, we’ve set up shop to open up the shop, so to speak, to start a free trade movement in poetry. We have no interest in establishing a school ourselves at all, and have only one objective that unites all four of us — get poetry back from big business! Because the irony is, of course, that never in the history of the whole wide world has anyone ever seen poetry as depndent on money as it is right now in America. I mean, how much do you think Jorie Graham makes, and if Michel Robbins is telling the truth that the majority of MFA students are getting free advanced degrees, imagine who those graduate students are dependent on for that? Yes, who picks up the tab for training the workers, and who goes on to pay their salaries afterwards, which is presunably what it’s all about? Certainly not “the people who don’t read poetry,” which is 99.5% of Americans. Yet look at the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$? I mean, what do poets talk about today when they talk about poetry if not who’s on the money? Yes, and we got banned for asking that same question!

    Over to you, Gary — glad you’re here.


  7. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 22, 2009 at 7:10 am

    I like all three poems, but the last one, “Point,” speaks most clearly to my argument. I like the second stanza in particular, I like the rhythms, the jolts and shocks, and above all I like the two commas in the last three lines, and especially the one right after “key,” which is the choker — and for me it’s choking back the anger!

    It also launches the last stanza, and introduces the word that ultimately controls the poem: “…bore.”

    My anger is larger than yours, both in this issue and in my person. So I would write the last stanza a little differently. And this is NOT meant as an improvement to the poem either, Gary, it’s just me — I hope it will open up the discussion of the poem as well as of the issue.

    I include the end of the 2nd stanza too because for me its the high point of the poem — wonderful. It is also the part that most arouses in me the feelings that make me want to shout that word at the end!

    Tie it much too tight
    to unwrap. Lock it,
    without a key,
    behind a door.

    To the sad word-bound
    this will be a joy…
    another literary puzzle
    to fiddle with and pass empty
    time, but to the rest of us
    a whore.


  8. garybfitzgerald said,

    October 23, 2009 at 3:13 am

    Mr. Woodman:

    Although I do appreciate your positive response to my poetry, you make me think of someone wandering blindly through a museum at night, stumbling through the darkened halls with a dim flashlight. You illuminate this bust or that, one display or another, but the true expanse of the museum’s collection you cannot see.

    I have over 400 poems published in five books available for your purchase and perusal, yet you attempt to define the very nature of my work from the bits and pieces you find posted here and there on the internet. You are not actually familiar with the extent of my oeuvre and so, as a result of your efforts to praise my work, you unintentionally diminish it. I will not address the specific limitations of your observations, but you are truly off the mark. I recommend that you actually read the books before attempting to assess, define or classify my poetry.

    You know not whereof you speak, sir, and are, in fact, doing me a great disservice.

    Gary B. Fitzgerald

  9. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 23, 2009 at 4:50 am


    I tried to talk about that one poem, “Point,” which I truly like and say why, and in some detail, and now you’re accusing me of panning your whole oeuvre. Well, I didn’t — and why would I?

    What I do is talk a little bit about how my feelings about the “point” you are making in “Point” would influence me if I were writing the poem myself — and made it clear that my version was just me — and that I was throwing it out for a better understanding of the poem and a deepening of this discussion. Because the deliberate distortions that your poem so beautifully and convincingly dissect don’t just bore me, Gary, they enfuriate me — because they’re robbing poetry of its veracity, and doing that in the same way men buy sex and think they’re demonstrating the strength of their masculinity. Well, that’s a fantasy men pay for — porno actresses make a whole lot more noise in sex than real women, too, and writhe around as if they were in the throes of some monumental passion. And some poets too think they can get away with simulating the intolerable wrestle with words, some even going so far as to call it “The New Thing!”

    “Pimping,” “trafficking,” “whoring” are among the most powerful universal metaphors to expose the true nature of corruption in any human activity. I wanted to say that that’s how strongly I felt about the self-serving “struggle” modern poets pretend to be engaged in — which certainly is “to the rest of us/such a bore.” (Porno films are boring too…)

    Here’s how that worked for me as I got more and more into the poem. I liked the rhyme (“door”/”bore”) a lot and found myself, shock of shocks, substituting “whore” for the latter — not as a rewrite, Gary, just as my reaction (there are many great poems where important other considerations come up like that, echoes, hints, alternatives suggested by the rhyme or rhythmic patterns).

    When I found that happening in my mind I realized I couldn’t dignify what Stephen Burt’s poets do as “struggle.” On the contrary, many modern poets, like men with whores, just “fiddle…”

    I do hope you can accept that and not use this exchange to dismiss me. Life’s too short for all that, Gary, and we poets have simply got to take big chances. Like stunt men, we have to plan things well, but when the moment comes we still have to risk everything, like a child — otherwise it’s boring.

    And that goes ditto for discussion.


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