THE POETRY PROJECT

Don’t they mean the Bedbugs Project? Or the Wino Project?

When I told the famous poet Jim Behrle the Poetry Project was a stupid name he invoked tradition to defend it: “It’s been around for 45 years.”  It might be a stretch to equate 45 years with tradition, but hell, why not?  Jim Behrle’s no T.S. Eliot, but no one is, and Eliot’s been dead since the Beatles’ first LP and the Poetry Project is as old as 1965’s Yesterday, which, by the way, blatantly rhymes as much as any rap song, but you might say Yesterday is elegant rhyme, but in the 3 Stooges 1934 Columbia Pictures episode that rhymes, there’s slapping and rapping. (It’s the episode where Larry gets married, despite his lifetime membership in the Woman Haters Club.  Jackie, Tom and Jim are the boys’ names in this early Stooges show.)

The Poetry Project’s website wraps itself in the “tradition” (nyuk nyuk nyuk) of John Ashbery:

Since its founding [in] the late ’60s, the Poetry Project  has been a major force in contemporary American literature. It’s not just an  institution but an entire social sphere, where poets and their readers can  mingle freely, listen to each other, and come away with new ideas. The current  worldwide interest in American and especially New York poetry is a direct  result of the presence of The Poetry Project at St. Marks Church. – John Ashbery

Do we believe John Ashbery when he uses phrases like “major force” and “come away with ideas” and “current worldwide interest?”   Of course we do. If Ashbery isn’t purifying meaning, who is?

We must take Ashbery at his word, because we discern no winks, no smirks, no eye-pokes, no fun.  “Major force!”

The next blurb on the website is courteous enough to explain the importance of the Poetry Project:

The Poetry Project has, over the decades, provided poets with a safe haven, laboratory, and stage. These, combined, have activated and preserved our various ways of thinking and linking language to ourselves and to the world. Remarkably, the Project has never stopped reinventing itself as an institution: that is, it has allowed the currents of poetic innovation to inform its choices and decisions. In this, it is as unique as it is irreplaceable.  – Ann Lauterbach

Now we’re getting somewhere.   They give a “safe haven” to “poets.”  So they are a charity house. If you are a “poet,” and are running from the police, you go to them, or, if you need a meal and a clean bed and you are a “poet,” they are there for you.  Shall I remember this, the next time my wife throws me out of the house, or the bartender throws me out of my bar?

What can this mean, though:

“Remarkably, the Project has never stopped reinventing itself as an institution: that is, it has allowed the currents of poetic innovation to inform its choices and decisions.

Does this mean my rock of charity could turn to sand? What in the world does “poetic innovation” have to do with a meal and a warm bed?  Here I find my faith in the institution, in Ashbery and Lauterbach’s sincerity, slipping.

“Innovation,” as we all know, is the fine print in every contract: that may have been true yesterday, but poetic innovation makes it impossible to say who will be our friends tomorrow!

Faith forever topples into the ditch of “innovation.”

We already have our doubts about the venerable Poetry Project, and suspect it is a private club posing as an open one, playing hide-and-seek behind “poetic innovation” and terms like “safe haven, laboratory and stage.”

What if Melville made the Poetry Project his “safe haven” or his “stage,” rather than the wide, wide ocean?

What “poet” would seek the “innovative” illusion of an institutional promise of a “safe haven?”

The Poetry Project?

That was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone.

If my critique seems unfair, sullen, or rash,  it is in the spirit of Voltaire.  I seek to eliminate, rather than cultivate,  middlemen in poetry.  Recall the inscription on Voltaire’s church at Ferney:

Deo erexit Voltaire.

Voltaire erected this to God.

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12 Comments

  1. jimmy said,

    January 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I wasn’t really invoking a tradition. I’m just blaming them for coming up with a bad name for the place 45 years ago.

  2. jimmy said,

    January 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    I would have gone for THE CHURCH OF WACKY POETRY

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      CHURCH OF WACKY POETRY?

      Is Project Poetry a Christian organization?

      (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I actually have a great deal of respect for the faith. I’m reading Pascal now and I’m half-converted.)

  3. Jon Sillymon said,

    January 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    John Asnbery is a standup guy, full of good, positivity and karmic cuddles..

  4. jimmy said,

    January 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Well, it’s IN a church

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 4, 2011 at 3:09 am

      Ah, the Lord preserve us!

      Let’s say three Hail Marys and an Ashbery…

  5. Noochness said,

    January 4, 2011 at 12:24 am

    A Sampling of Lines from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock” If T.S. Eliot Had Been Mentored by the Three Stooges instead of Ezra Pound

    Let us go then, youse and I . . .

    Do I dare
    Distoib the universe?

    In the room the women come and go,
    Talking of Curly, Larry, Moe . . .

    I have measured out my life with coffee spoons . . .
    You knucklehead! That’s not coffee—it’s gun powder!

    And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
    Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

    The yellow fog . . .
    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
    And seeing that it was a soft October night,
    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
    Zzzzz—mimimimimi—zzzzz—mimimimimi . . .

    We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
    By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
    Till human voices wake us—
    whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop!
    —and we drown.

    Larry Gaffney

  6. Unfamous Bore said,

    January 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Thus it happens that the directors of publicity can juggle with values and ideas, hide what is excellent and exalt what is mediocre and worthless. The advertisers become the advisers of public taste and the Arbiters, not of the Elegances, but of vulgarities. To the vulgar you must appeal through vulgarity.

    When we find ourselves confronted by ‘best-sellers’, movie ‘stars’ and fashions which are ‘put over’, gilt edges, go-getters and magnates clothed with ephemeral fame, is it any wonder that a man of taste should shut himself in from such things, ‘closit in his tower’?

    Oliver St John Gogarty

    The Unitarian Church, a compact walk-up prayer-hall on the SW corner of Stephen’s Green: bards reading from the pulpit, Dublin, lots of American poets, the best of whom..hmm, is, I mean, you’re all so fabulously fucking talented over there, reading your milion and one seperate, distinct, unique Ampo gospels from a pulpit in St fucking Marks …wow, hey, Christy Don Jimmy Marty, come on Mick, don’t mess about; you know all minor gods in the fabric of whatever Ampo is as an eh, ‘urgent’ one in the poetic bankruptocracy digital emunction enunciated; not long back, shortly after that gaffe of wow fuck me it’s Contemporary American Poetry, yeah, the only one legitimate loony amongst the fucking lot of you: Jim, or is it Tim, or Jon, or sorry, no, I mean, that shit hot American poet who aint dicking about, delivering a genuine bill of goods, from the Unitarian Church pulpit, Reverends, do you fucking know?

    A toss up between Ben Howard reading Zen inpsired Dublin poems from Leaf, Sulight, Asphalt, Thomas Lynch reciting poems published a year later in Walking Papers, memorably so, on the recording of him one made and (rarely now) listen to for the sheer poetry – from His pulpit in the Unitarian Church; a Michigan undertaker who happens to be a poet; writing with great aptness, lightness, distinct gravity, on all sorts of topics, making all kinds of sophisticated statements that, I distinctly recall, seared in the memory of all us there.

    Lynch is an order above but equal to Howard; and also Julia Callaghan (longer here now than there), and I must admit, in the House of the Dead on Usher’s Quay, one recorded Hirshfield and Denis O’Driscoll, thinking at the time Jane was slight, lightweight, or rather, wanting to believe this because of one’s own failings as a luvvie; but on listening back, hearing the graceful and civilized American note one missed as a live oaf with blinkered vision on what is and what isn’t poetry, as all of us have, in the urgent gang… I fell in love with Jane Hirshfield’s poetry, as someone I’d measured wrong on first listening; Marty, erm, the other people at DE who packed in suddenly after cornering the chat-market; not long post the Harriet outrage, when myself, Graves and Woodman were underhandedly dealt with, in print, via private e mail the Owners’ puppet instigated, and tho looking back now, one can see why the ptb decided thus, in essence we deserved more, of course, or at least, looking back on the terror that went on, in the paranoid minds of a few faux arty academic know-alls who settled the question what is poetry by, er, silencing three random weirdos …yes that’s fucking you Jimmy, and you Noochiness & Coochiness and Travis.. well what it is especially not, is the fucking satanist NWO Illuminati Charlie Manson mouthpiece of a gothchild bi-anism, like mmm, like wannit, wannit wannit, gwimme gwimme gimmee Ampo you slackers on the ampersandic outre colonic semi-period – fuck you – Michy Robbins …in a west texas town of el paso, where lives a young lady a mexican girl, you know, you fucking know, don’t ye silent ones all sorta shut up when er, the happiness ended because the real poet, the faux Brady who beat anonymously, all you sad acts, had still to come here as Graves calling you all, quick as you come when you’re name’s occur, getting slagged off, not being blurbed, unprofessional, human: the most fucking human of the lot, a bloke who played it dead straight all the way, the whole summer of Love when we fucking ruled that blog man, going on the green eye of jealousy, closet stantists wanting you only all to fuck off and die..

    ha ha ha

    The War on Bad Taste began here.

    How many of you have the brass kneck to deny it, the fucking Truth about the Horror in that virtual Civilization, online, at work, being part of a really pro-mind crew who’d it all sewn up, owned moolah & yet still mad, mad doctors and professors of creative writing, specialising in ‘real’ poetry that exists beyond a 9-5 we all fucking share throughout the English speaking world, at our lecterns, Pulpits of Poetry, spouting to hundreds of kids processing along to (non) greatness and fame, future MFA poets; nowt about Amergin’s prose-poem that is the fucking answer you, muppets.

    Yourselves.

    200,000 Ampo poets in 15 years time; that’s pobiz, the goal, the rock and roll of academic poetry, being fucking Nice.

    You saps, you boring, trivial squares of everything because you’re so fucking brilliantly pleasant, nobody hates us, I mean you, ooh are really, really, normal american, regular poets teaching, mentoring, knowing and living practitioners of an urgent serious art, pretending to be a real person the rest of the 200,000 faking it as, lovely average shaman, unfamous, unbought, zero dough from poetry, superb teachers of even more pointless squares than ourselves.. think marvelous, pretending to be summat we aint,, fabbo yeh american jokers jingling song singing twaddle, i mean, c’mon, you’re all fucking fake freddies, faux ogham, yer fucking arse don ampo Travis fucking Bickles, weedier, needier, falser fucking older brothers and sisters settling to bring fame to your wickles names, by being jolly decent and making sure we give no cause for any complaint whatsoever, from no one; not a single bad word sent our way by all colleagues playing the exact same game of being incredibly fucking pleasant.

    Not content with manipulating money, the Mesopotamian mongrels must dictate ‘ideas’, make it virtuous for you to turn the other cheek while they pick your breast pocket. They put that ‘across’. Now they seize on every thought of man and take it to their bazzars and sell it shop-spoiled, spoilt or copied at second-hand. The Public is deceived instead of being inspired by the thoughts of humanity’s finest minds.

    As I Was Goin Down Sackville Street

    ~

    The Glad Creators

    Had I been born a decade earlier
    I might have found myself in Dublin city,
    An able novice gamely setting out,
    Equipped with confidence and cautious diction
    But all the same a lamb amongst those lions
    Who frequented MacDaid’s and Davey Byrne’s,
    Reciting Yeats or Ferriter by heart
    Or bellowing invectives to the rafters
    Or sitting meekly with a ball of malt.
    I might have hung my hat with Kavangh’s
    Or backed a horse that no one esle believed in –
    The counterpart, if I may say it plainly,
    Of all those cherished scripts and precious verses
    That never saw the light, or if they did,
    Were not to be regarded or remembered.
    I might have strolled along the Grand Canal
    Or greeted Behan on an evening walk
    Up Baggot Street, or stopped at Parson;s Bookshop
    To turn the pages of O’Connor’s latest
    Or, if lucky, met the man himself,
    Smartly dressed and ripe for conversation.
    What better place for scintillating talk
    Than Baggot Street, its sun-reflecting fanlights
    Looking down on ralists and dreamers?
    What better place than Dublin, all its glory
    Tarnished just enough to make it human
    And all its grace reduced but not abandoned.

    Ben Howard

  7. thomasbrady said,

    January 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    • U.R. America said,

      January 5, 2011 at 12:52 am

      Hearing for the first time Tom, i’m struck by your voice. There’s a sincere quality, hovering, testing, projecting into a microphone and recording, over premade music – which I and my colleagues also do – your tenor of fate and fame in the apparatus and paraphenalia of whatever it is we yearn to speak, setting us to singalong, coz your alone, launching like the old Irish poet flock

      Who thought themselves as birds
      And made her realize how wings are crucial
      To succeed in flight as a shape-shifter.
      At the New York poetry club, we taught,
      Ourselves in air and understood our wings
      Breathing as Jim Carey in his Unnatural Act
      Stand up routine, 1991, singing Michael
      Boulton, voicing as it should be done, Canadian.

      Thanks for letting us hear your real voice, alone without you, extemporized i guess, ‘you can’t see me there, you can’t see me, you can’t see me, you can’t see me there: you can’t see me anywhere cause you’re alone..

      Join the club, were all the same, hooked up to computers releasing our rants on a recording. At least you’ve the werewithall to be yourself, however humble, authentically so; like this man JC, at his peak, like Bono, many will mock, tho still remain in a minority. We love Jim Carrey in the House of Swords, always have, and we hope one day to meet him and shake his, er, his hand you know, and watch the man work, at the top of the world of entertainment, unobtainable heights for us now we are getting past it in the house at least, facing into a new congressional cycle of brave luvvies, huggy teabaggers clutching their Constitutions, being dependable and loving every moment-to-moment-music of what happens, debating point-by-point, repealing OC, the Moon Landings, Summer of Love, Laurel Canyon psy-ops, wet work, big jobs, hidden hands, unheard claims, spurious demands on an already weakened America, Fed casino congress spinning on zero, historical amnesia, JFK shot in Brownsville, Roswell, a ranch in Waco, jungle Jim, black-budget ops, LSD, AIDS, earthquakes, HAARP, space and planet earth, the Sun, moon, tides and grace in which a human voice replicates, its source from outside the space-time body suit, 3D green side shamanic sleight of hand, onstage ham behind a wooden front cardboard store selling the Dream of being anyone but us, unlucky it is, sheeple sold in at birth, deniers of Amergin’s ‘words, the ‘blows of fate’ Emerson wrote Merlin’s were.

      And if he were here today, returned with Eliot and Pound, Michio Kaku, Teller and with the rest in that Conspiracy of what’s beyond knowing at surface present; then Hallelujah, hallelujah for it all; the precience and facing scales with our heart balanced by a feather, the professional foul preventing justice at the highest torque of online chat, advertizers, adminstrators, advise the global ampo in critical debates your voice disproves, unless of course three are wrong and the Chicago Poetry mafia, honest as the day is long and pleasant as Al Capone, Poetry alone publishes, in the new, urgent inheritors of Digital Emunction’s DE swords, slings, spears, barbs and arwoos..

      Cheers.

  8. This Is Not America said,

    January 4, 2011 at 11:02 pm

  9. Andrew said,

    January 19, 2015 at 3:12 am

    Tom you are SO right about the “time-suck”…


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