Carol Muske’s short poem, “A Former Love, A Lover of Form” will look to topple Ginsberg’s towering “The Charnel Ground.”

Ginsberg’s poem reeks with details of numerous troubled lives in the lower east side of Manhattan, with its climax a litany of Ginsberg’s ills in his old age, followed by a coda of the young Ginsberg and a sustained final chord: a brief scene reminiscent of his glorious Beat-art days:

feeling lack in feet soles, inside ankles, small of back, phallus head, anus-
Old age sickness death again come round in the wink of an eye—
High school youth the inside of my thighs was silken smooth tho nobody touched me there back then—
Across town the velvet poet Darvon N, valium nightly, sleeps all day kicking methadone
between brick walls sixth floor in a room cluttered with collages & gold dot paper scraps covered
with words: “The whole point seems to be the idea of giving away the giver.”

Here is the ‘honest truth’ of modern poetry told in the starkest terms, Allen Ginsberg as the eternal Beat self, old, young, anxious, fearful, truthful, artsy-fartsy, philosophical, farting.

I asked a friend of mine today, a young unmarried male, who is not much interested in poetry what was ‘the poetry’ in his life and he blurt out, jokingly, the ‘sound of farts.’

I chuckled, and poet that I am, I said, ‘No, actually that’s a good answer.  That might be what poetry is.’  Wouldn’t Ginsberg chuckle, and half-agree?  Every fart-sound is a little different, right?  It’s a human sound, it’s a mixture of air (pretention?) and what’s inside of us.

With beautiful faces, wine, gardens,  athletic prowess, the cinema, music recordings, museums, travel, sex, material comfort, Shakespeare plays, children, philosophy, why do we need poetry, anyway?  Why do we need ivory tower belly-aching about how poetry’s no good anymore, or it doesn’t get enough attention anymore?

As Shakespeare said, ever-reminding us, in Platonic fashion, that art is the trap we should avoid, not embrace:

And more, much more, than in my verse can sit—
Your own glass shows you when you look in it.
—sonnet 103

Carol Muske’s poem gets better every time I read it.  This a profound meditation on about a dozen contrary things at once:

A Former Love, a Lover of Form

When they kiss,
she feels a certain revulsion,
and as they continue to kiss

she enters her own memory
carrying a wicker basket
of laundry. As the wind lifts,

the clothes wrap themselves
around her: damp sleeves
around her neck, stockings

in her hair. Gone her schoolgirl’s
uniform, the pale braids and body
that weren’t anywhere anonymously.

Her glasses fall forward on her nose,
her mouth opens: all around
are objects that desire, suddenly, her.

Not just clothes, but open doorways,
love seats, Mother’s bright red
espadrilles kicked off in the damp grass.

If she puts on lipstick, she’ll lie
forever. But she’s too nearsighted,
you see, she doesn’t spot the wind

approaching in a peach leisure suit—
or the sheer black nightie swaying
from a branch. Is she seducer or seduced?

And which is worse,
a dull lover’s kiss or the embrace
of his terrible laundry?

She’d rather have the book
he wrote than him.

MARLA MUSE: I adore this poem.  It says a lot more than the Ginsberg in far fewer words.

I agree, Marla; it’s anti-romantic, like the Ginsberg, but not quite as blatantly, and yet there’s a despair at the heart of it.  The narrator of Muske’s problem seems troubled by the fact that she is desired, but cannot love.  It reminds me a bit of Eliot’s “Hollow Men,” empty human beings that have become clothes, and yet there’s a seductive, enchanting aspect to her poem, too, as if the woman’s rueful wit is not ready to surrender everything yet.

MARLA MUSE: It sounds like you’re all mixed up, Tom.  You love the poems most which you half-understand.  Now, don’t cry.

Tom:  Sorry, Marla. Modern poetry is a strange mistress…

MARLA MUSE: OK, ladies and gentlemen…uh…Carol Muske has won! She’s knocked off a no. 1 seed and is going to the Elite Eight!   Muske 90, Ginsberg 87!  Congratulations, Carol Muske!


  1. Bill said,

    May 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    «ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta»

    • Googled Italian support said,

      May 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

      And he had made a trumpet of his rump.

  2. Lee Ermey support said,

    May 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    “Listen up, you maggot pukes!
    Her full name now is Carol Muske-Dukes!”

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