The poet is no different than anyone else: there is a middle ground of normalcy which they need to work in, to get along with others and be understood. It doesn’t matter how obscure the vocation—and the more obscure, the more it is understood that there is an acceptable swath of acceptable behavior required to be accepted in that niche.

Motorcycle clubs demand leather and black and if you stray from the norm you will be seen as a freak—by the other freaks. This paradox needs to be pointed out to understand what everyone is up against.

The great middle ground of acceptable behavior is much, much larger than we often realize, and to “think outside the box” has to be done in the context of the “box,” so that even to rebel is to do so in the context of normal. So, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” for instance, is a very religious song—if you look at it the right way.

Some people think that to be “poetic” is to be out of the mainstream.


The “poetic” is more mainstream than the mainstream.

All radicalism comes out of the mainstream and goes back into the mainstream, in order to truly corrupt the mainstream—if it can. The mainstream wins in 99 cases out of 100, and simply drowns you: That poem? It sounds like a million others.

And in that one instance when the “mainstream” is changed or defeated, it is done by showing the mainstream itself, in a very clever way, how to be more mainstream than it was before. The “revolution” is for “the people,” right? And what is more mainstream than “the people?”

Here, then, is the mystery of radicalism and fame, beauty and fame, poetry and fame.

The mainstream hates fame.

The mainstream is the mass of people who give you completely blank looks when you read them a “famous” poem.

The mainstream wants to eat cookies on a green couch and then find a better machine to get the crumbs out of the inside of the couch.

The mainstream will never care about your poem—even if your poem is about cookie crumbs in a couch. Especially if it is about that. Or about cookies. They want to eat cookies, not hear a poem about cookies.

Poetry is not dirty, filthy, life. This may be a mainstream comment, and yes, it is a mainstream comment.

The mainstream is where you find fame, but the mainstream will do everything it can do to prevent you from being famous. The moment you pander to the mainstream, you will drown in that great swath of normalcy which is where fame goes to die. The mainstream will only be famous on its own terms—and all of us on the outside know what that’s about. And the famous? They are on the green couch giving an interview. And they are not poets.

So you are working in this niche called poetry—and within the poetry niche is a bigger swath of mainstream than in the world outside the niche of poetry. Yes, that’s right. The smaller and more specialized the niche, the more peer pressure there will be to conform to the rules—spoken or unspoken—of that niche.

If you act like a jerk in a bar, someone will let you know within two hours.

If you’re not the right fit in a sewing club, you will find out in two minutes.

If you can’t sing, and try to sing in a choir, you will find out in two seconds.

If you walk into a formal gathering wearing informal clothes, you will find out in 2/10 of a second.

But if you hang out and get along, how will you be famous? How will you be an interesting poet?

The answer?

First, belong to no clique, or club. If you are a poet, stay the hell away from all “poetry clubs.” Or, hang out in them with secret animosity and ridicule.

Second, see what the mainstream is doing, what it wants, on a very practical level, and then replicate and exaggerate what the mainstream strives to do to meet this most primitive need in the most obvious manner, and present it to the mainstream in the most efficient way possible, genre and niche be damned.  A classic example of this is Dante inventing the modern lyric by viewing the new poetry as simply a love letter to a girl who had no Latin.

Patricia Lockwood—her poem, “The Rape Joke” went viral on social media a few years ago—is currently the coolest poet living today—trust me, she is; but it is the very nature of cool to die fast—so says the mainstream. So, as her window closes, we present her line:

How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel Marry Across Niagara Falls on a Tightrope?

Candace Wiley will be immediately recognized, from her line, as a worthy opponent in the super cool department:

My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

The cool, anti-mainstream poets live in a vast forest of mainstream symbols:

Niagara Falls! Your honeymoon destination! Your place to risk your life in a barrel! Barbie! Greatest Racist Sexist Mainstream Doll of All Time!

Lockwood versus Wiley is a vast contest in a vast middle ground.

March Madness cannot contain them.

The tickets are going fast for this one.














  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 30, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    The green couch with the cookie crumbs and the mainstream wanting a machine to get the cookie crumbs out of the green couch and NOT wanting a poem about the cookie but the cookie itself, that whole thing became an island to which I retreated laughing; the rest of the discussion being foreign to me except for the wonderful, horrible timetable about how long it takes to get kicked out of certain groups. Being a person kicked out of quite a few I found it healing (the timetable I mean) and hilarious. We do have to consider the human context or we are just being two years old again I think but I also recognize the grave (in terms of the consequences when you don’t) true recommendation to not be a joiner except to find things out (and especially that is very risky).

    Open a book of poetry at home and you can ‘join in’ there and make your own coffee. Or listen to audio archives of favorite poets recorded online. And open a window if it smells like spring outside. And this is pleasant ,freedom and no expectations of anyone and no bitterness, no discontent, just happy.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 30, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Might add I would also like a real cookie, preferably the one from Ric C’s neighborhood bakery with the chocolate layer and the walnut one melted all in the middle. But there would be no crumbs.

  2. noochinator said,

    March 30, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    This post poses the question, “How will ‘How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel Marry Across Niagara Falls on a Tightrope?’ compete against ‘My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.’?”

  3. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 30, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Or a grandfather as the case may be. I loved both my grandparents.

  4. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 30, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    And things generally are as good as you choose to make them in your own mind. Or as bleak and pointless.

  5. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 30, 2016 at 6:08 pm


    [to my grandparents: Milton and Lucy Young]

    the jackdaws slice the scissored air
    while the beautiful stare, uncomprehending
    fixed on a crystal stair through Heaven winding into

    November’s thunderheads.
    and while the caw from branches overwhelms
    those in the present tense and bent and furrowed

    on their way to work

    the lovely live entranced
    in the memory of roses and cannot shirk
    the visions vouchsafed them

    in the long ago.
    you in your sullen poses flee

    you will, the early Spring
    and all and all my loves,
    my little ones

    come back.
    to me

    in a music that is undeterred.
    the earliest green, the softest Word.

    mary angela douglas 30 march 2016

  6. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 30, 2016 at 8:30 pm


    [to Mary O’Hara, premier Irish singer and harpist-
    this lament for banished Song]

    the wind through the roses is harplike still
    though you will not credit it, I know,
    dire modernists.

    the moon through the slit of clouds

    causes them to glow as the soul must,
    through the body; this alters not.
    but for you, for you- bright words are

    caught in your net of subterfuge
    the one for which you will become famous
    and you would bury them.

    and you pretend, and tell all men

    these images are rust and you pursue
    the reasons why
    we see colours, breaking it all down

    for us.

    but the wind through the roses is harplike still.
    the harpers return to the ruined villages
    where people make out their wills

    yet have nothing to pass on by way of song.
    yet we will gather pearl like from the great distances
    wildflowers drenched with inordinate dews,

    we who recall all the tunes

    and the jeweled stars in their ellipses
    patient in their sparkling,disregarded.
    by what laws and byways have you come

    to crate the beautiful and bolt it down
    where children can never find it again!
    and mine the language, keeping the husk

    thowing the emeralds
    like discus far from the Mays
    while you tote it all up:

    what’s to go, what’s to stay.

    you would wrest Heaven from God if you could.
    and make little subdivisions out of it.

    mary angela douglas 30 march 2016

  7. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 31, 2016 at 4:33 am


    fitting the cloud to the sky , the sky to the tree
    will you end up with too many pieces?
    or will it all fit easily and there

    in the pastoral scene you will feel:
    there is home, the small cottage.
    the sheep feeding by the tranquil lake.

    or it will take nights up late as you go through

    one by one all the scenarios.
    and something seems missing,
    though it isn’t you-

    like in a dream where you can’t
    remember your last address
    or if the next bus will wait

    and your fate is
    like a jigsaw puzzle
    with a yawning canyon

    of blank cardboard and no way
    to figure out where the pieces
    would go, if you could even find them.

    and it begins snowing pieces of snow
    on a jagged earth and is this the dearth
    of making things whole and sound?

    your sitting on the ground by the earthquakes.
    your angels playing with the shards
    of old pottery

    when someone shows up over the ridge to say
    come quick! in the devastating geophysical year
    cave paintings had just begun to appear

    on the walls of a heart.

    mary angela douglas 30 march 2016

  8. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 31, 2016 at 1:19 pm


    while toying with the sand in our teacups
    at the Great Feasts we were told
    to make ourselves useful:

    grinding cracker crumbs for the
    Marvelous Meatloafs;
    mixing the berried vinagrettes for the green beans

    snapping to attention.
    checking the pink and the bakelite stove
    for the little plain cakes for our supper.

    in the fairytale castles
    life is not what it seemed
    and minus the icing

    when we wrote on diamond slates
    waiting for our bluegreen majority.
    carol it whichever way you can

    on a green strand
    near the hollyberries
    and the soapflake snow whirling all around

    but I remember when learning
    was the glasslike hills
    and the golden apples rolling down.

    mary angela douglas 31 march 2016

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 31, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      On the hans andersen poem should be “majorities”, not “majority” as it refers to all the children in The Wild Swans.before things went badly for them. I know my poems are not generally responses to the original posts which I do read and pay attention to. They are just my writing in the margins of Scarriet just in case someone might find them here and be entertained as I can’t seem to be published anywhere and Tom is kind enough to let me (and others) write here wildly off the subject a freedom which Harriet the perfunctory poetry foundation blog NEVER did I don’t think. Thank you very much Tom Graves or Tom Brady whichever it is today for your kindness in this regard. I hope it’s not irritating anyone but I think it probably is. Comments really are supposed to be about the original subject posted. I wish all poets well. And I do agree with Eliot or the Catholic Church at least in the matter of “all things shall be well.”

      • maryangeladouglas said,

        March 31, 2016 at 1:49 pm

        I do love the online archives of the poetry foundation very much. and their poet biographies.

  9. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 31, 2016 at 1:44 pm


    in the margins of Song we will live
    like the small birds after the rains
    chirping near the puddles on the pavement

    drinking the clouds.
    how can I say outloud what I feel
    in the public wayfares

    the heart could be stone
    that listens there
    the heart could be stone

    write anywhere.
    write on the pages of the sun
    though like icarus you melt

    into the uncomprehending sea.
    write yourself into the music:

    mary angela douglas 31 march 2016

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