I’m here at courtside with Marla Muse as we watch another poet shooting all wrong, trying to get into this March Madness tourney…
Marla—oh! two players tangled up…one fell on top of the other hard at midcourt…that had to hurt…Marla, what seems to be wrong with Michael Burkard…
MARLA MUSE: Oh, I don’t know. He graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1973. I suspect drugs, booze… Can you imagine getting a creative writing degree at Iowa in 1973? Happy hour? Dime beers? The 60s were still happening in 1973! Nixon is still in office. Can you imagine…the Iowa Writer’s Workshop? When “Nights In White Satin” was on the radio? I don’t think Michael Burkard has anything left. He’s terrible. He’ll never make the tournament. The APR gave him 9 poems in this anthology—more than almost any of the 180 poets represented, but he’s awful. Look:
Wait, Marla, are you going to quote the whole poem?
MARLA MUSE: I have to. They have to see…how bad this poem is…they won’t believe it otherwise…I have to quote the whole thing…they’re all this bad, too…every poem he’s ever written…they’re all this bad…it’s hard to believe…but you know, when you’re smoking all that dope…
Yea, it must have been a strange life…teaching at Sarah Lawrence in the 80s…I wonder if anyone ever told him his poetry sucked…or maybe that wasn’t cool back, then…in the 80s…you just didn’t do that…or bad was good, or something…
MARLA MUSE: Yes, that could have been it…bad was good…it was the 80s…poetry was adrift…Lehman’s BAP came along at the end of the 80s…there was no direction in poetry…the first writing workshop generation was getting old and putting together their Complete and their Selected…the next generation of workshoppers were following, directionless, in a cloud of pot smoke…they were strange times…I remember the fall of the Roman Empire…no, but even this doesn’t compare…OK, let me read this poem…just imagine it emerging from a giant cloud of weed…what else can explain its badness? OK, here goes:
[I Have A Silence In The Rain]
I have a silence in the rain
and I have my horses.
I have my shoes and I have my name,
the beginning of the street
and the street downtown, between the canyons,
and the trees which shine my shoes.
I have a silence and an end,
an end which is not critical,
not the weight. The houses bloom
and they’ve never been mine,
but there were beings in the rooms,
there were souls to each of the houses,
each of the rooms,
and this extended to the prison of the city
and the prison of the sea, the towns
there, by that sea, and that end
which was narrow
and by itself. It was so much itself—
that I was uneasy there, a facade
it seemed, I had a reputation
for going nowhere.
I was always elsewhere
and that was why. I extended my weight
to my shoes and the few trees
and the horses—and the old closed motel
on the thing I called the bluff, the motel
closed for years, staring in the terribly pink sunset
with its pink vases
and pink doors. And the silence which stared.
The horses were below.
The horses were weight, in the evening
they shined too.
—Michael Burkard (1986) from The Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review
Wow. Marla, I’m stunned. That’s…that’s…bad.
MARLA MUSE: It’s safe to say this poet will not be joining the 64 in the March Madness tournament…but you know what that kind of poetry says…? It says: man, I was enjoying life…I was getting high, I was teaching at Sarah Lawrence…everything I touched was profound…I didn’t even have to try…I’d just put on a wrinkled button-down shirt….and black jeans…and comfortable old brown shoes…and I had my Iowa MFA…and that’s all I needed…and I’d look out the window and scratch my head and THAT was cool…my very being WAS COOL…maybe today we can’t see it…but this kind of poetry should invoke a world of cool, relaxed, pleasure…campus breezes…campus sunsets…campus parties…
But here we are in the 21st century…March Madness…and it’s all different…March Madness, baby!