THE BOMBER AND THE LADY: SWEET SIXTEEN’S NEMEROV, STANTON RUMBLE

I wonder if it’s significant that so many notable poems in the APR March Madness Tournament reference famous people: Dugan: Anne Sexton, Corso: Shelley, Ginsberg: Salman Rushdie, Edward Field: Freud, O’Hara: Ashbery, etc

In this contest to advance to the Elite Eight, Nemerov’s WW II bomber poem, “IFF,” mentions Hitler, and Stanton’s “The Veiled Lady” makes a passing reference to Robert and Elizabeth Browning.

Nemerov’s sister was a famous New York photographer.

Stanton’s husband is also in this APR competition.

So many APR poems are addressed to, or revolve around the famous, or near-famous; reading these poems is almost to be immersed in a gossipy, celebrity party. It is a late-night, decadent, educated, boozy, party where if Freud, Hitler, or Sexton are not being discussed, a good fuck or a good hug is.

It must have been exciting sometime in the 20th century when poetry became grown-ups discussing Freud and affairs and smut openly.  But the problem with boozy, adult-themed poetry is that it isn’t for children; it isn’t for students.  That’s why, I think, APR poetry, and so much of 20th century poetry, is doomed to fade away.  Smutty, wise-cracking Freud isn’t going to be taught to students, because, frankly, it’s smutty, and without that market, forget it;  this type of poetry is only going to be interesting to used-bookstore-grubbing malcontents and perhaps a few social historians.  Oh, and, the few non-university poets who are left.

There’s not much to teach in these poems, anyway; it’s delicious late-night conversation, but we all know what happens when the boozy party is over.  You go home, wake up the next morning and fret about your life, and what some guy said last night about Freud, or the blow-job described in detail, are forgotten.

This may be wrong, and even mean—but it’s just one of those things we like to say around here.

I had an undergraduate (state school) college professor who was very influential on me because I was unformed and she really loved to teach, who used to say, somewhat regretfully: “We (moderns) can’t escape Romanticism.”

Maura Stanton and her poet husband can’t escape Elizabeth and Robert Browning.  No poet couple can, or would try.

But the Moderns set out trying to escape Romanticism.

Only later, after I lost touch with my professor, and after much reading, did I realize how cowardly and excessive the Moderns’ attack on Romanticism was.

Romanticism was already modern was the problem. 

Byron, for instance, was as chatty and frank as any Beat—and metrical and rhyming, to boot.

And this celebrity name-dropping which the APR poets indulge in was already done by Byron (Southey) and Shelley (George III).

The only way around Romanticism was to pretend one was “Classical,’ which the High Modernists did, but Pound wasn’t classical—that was another one of his cons.  If we want to be perfectly honest about the whole thing, Modernism was two things: more prosey and more smutty. We didn’t need Pound to pompously assert that poetry needed to be written as well as good prose—to every good writer in history this is a given, and Pound himself didn’t follow it very well.  Pound, classical?  Bah.

Billy Collins won last year’s BAP March Madness with a parody of a William Wordsworth poem, but Billy wasn’t just name-dropping; he embraced Wordsworth—or what Wordsworth means, and didn’t let go for the entirety of his poem.

Wordsworth wasn’t smutty.  And neither is Billy Collins.  Take note, you who want poetic fame, and you who understand the secret that fame, love, and poetry are the same thing.

What is it about famous names, or almost the same thing: names of beloveds, who become famous in poems: Beatrice, Laura, Stella, Lenore, Cynara, Joan Hunter Dunn?

I have a theory: the name of one’s first obsessive, chaste, exquisitely beautiful love will determine if one becomes a lover of poetry, or not.

Had my first love been Meghan Smith, I doubt I would have gone on to desire the Muse.

Mine was alliterative and suggestive: Karen Cummins.

The interest of the name, combined with the loveliness of the person, combined with the unrequited nature of ‘the crush,’ was all-encompassing, accidental (the combination of the beauty and the name) and it hurt me into poetry, but not consciously—this was money saved, not spent.

I didn’t write the name, Karen Cummins, in any of my poems.

Fanny Brawn was not in any of Keats’ best poems.

Nemerov’s description of Hitler in his poem “IFF” is audacious:

Hitler a moustache and a little curl
In the middle of his forehead, whereas these
Bastards were bastards in your daily life

How much more powerful this than W.D. Snodgrass’s documentary-like poem’s attempt in the APR anthology to capture Hitler.

The ending of Stanton’s poem completely wins me over:

Don’t you see I’m only an illusion?
You look aghast. You think I’m cynical
But when you touch me in the dark at night
You touch biology…

That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.

MARLA MUSE: This reminds me of last year’s Scarriet BAP March Madness Final Four poem, “The Year,” by Janet Bowdan.  Remember?  It had the same haunting quality.

But Stanton’s poem has an entirely different p.o.v.

Plus she has Elizabeth and Robert Browning.

Stanton beats Nemerov, 90-80, advancing to the North Finals.

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8 Comments

  1. Bill said,

    May 13, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Nice piece. There ‘s some story about one of the Bloomsburies coming into a room, and other Bloomsbury burbles, “What’s that on your trousers–semen?” Risqué hilarity ensues.

    You should add overuse of free verse to your pillars of modernism. To my mind the original trope of free verse is figuring an utterance too urgent, too authentic, and too true to be confined to artistic conventions. Now it’s used for everything, as everything that crosses a poet’s consciousness is too urgent, too authentic, etc. People don’t believe any more. It’s just a typographical convention that screams POETRY.

    Marcus is doing the heavy lifting on the meter argument in his discussion with Christopher Woodman. I have wondered about your apparent attachment to free verse, which your hated modernists did so much to promote, contrary to more traditional artists like Poe and Shelley.

    Thanks for your kind words about Wordsworth. It’s not well known, but the Excursion is a great poem.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 14, 2011 at 11:45 am

      Bill,

      I’m with Bales, but you’re right: he’s doing the heavy lifting for meter, and I don’t think meter has a better advocate in the world right now than Marcus Bales.

      On a social level, though, fighting free verse is a losing battle, so I’m trying to fight the good fight in other ways. There’s too much interesting stuff that calls itself poetry. It deserves attention, at least.

      The Modernist revolution changed perception but not reality: Poetry has always been so easy to write, and so difficult to write well; Modernism is like the politician who promises ‘easy.’

      I’ll admit I’m torn: Shelley said a poet would be foolish not to use rhyme and meter, if he’s got those things to use. But he also said in his “Defense” that prose writers like Plato and Bacon were poets. Poe wrote prose I swear is poetry. But Poe is also so rigorous about meter in his “Rationale of Verse,” a work which must be like the cross to the free-versing, modernist vampire. Bales and Poe are right: meter is meter, and we’re dupes if we blur the issue and lose our music for the sake of the vanity of some manifesto-ist, or some bully who has no ear.

      In the end, I think we should go for the well-rounded: essays, verses, fiction, drama, song-writing, perhaps a bit of hard science, social science, epigrams, wit, with wit at the top and social science at the bottom, though I suppose the order would be determined by the particular genius. But the publishing industry doesn’t have time to sit around and wait for ‘a genius.’ “Genius’ is an out-dated concept, like ‘verse.’ Not in reality, but in perception.

      It’s rare for anyone to thank me for “kind words.”

      My friends all want me to be kinder. One day I’ll take their advice. I tend to treat poets like a chemist would his chemicals, with no particular kindness at all.

      Tom

  2. Marcus Bales said,

    May 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

    There are definitely people doing better work advocating meter in the world. Here’s one:

    http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/1550

    “[Timothy] Steele is also the author of a scholarly study of poetic modernism, Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter (1990), about which Richard Wilbur wrote, ‘If it has not the slam-bang simplicity of polemic, it has something better: it is patiently evidential and well-nigh incontestable’.”

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      I played fantasy baseball with Steele’s brother and sister. Never met him, though.

      The New Formalist generation was a disappointment: unfortunately, they just weren’t that good.

      I’ve read “Missing Measures.” I’ve got my copy around here somewhere…

      I hate to be poe-dantic, but poe’s rationale of verse is the gold standard of verse analysis.

      • Bill said,

        May 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm

        I think the New Formalists were pioneers who had the difficult, still unfinished task of recasting American poetry after generations on modernist propaganda. That is a big job. Dick Allen’s essay “Overcoming the Tic of Technique” on the Expansive Poetry website is a very good discussion of the limitations of New Formalism and of next steps.

        • thomasbrady said,

          May 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm

          Bill,

          Thanks for linking that Dick Allen essay.

          Expansive Poetry and New Formalism deserve a post.

          I’m working on it.

          I’m still exhausted from writing “Bate and Switch,” which I think is one of my better efforts.

          I miss Mark’s howls of protest.

          Tom

  3. Bill said,

    May 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Good recommendation, Marcus. For someone less interested in the history, Steele’s All the Fun’s in How You Say A Thing (?) is even better.

  4. noochinator said,

    May 19, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Speaking of W.D. Snodgrass, here’s him in a 1963 poetry reading, introduced by John Simon:

    http://92yondemand.org/w-d-snodgrass/


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