“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges—
Toot Lememe, poetry mime and part-time phrenologist, author of Read My Lump, Tom Mahoque, poet with an axe to grind, author of Flying Off The Handle, Judy Hoyt, known to all as Hoity-Toity and author of Anecdotal Evidence, Moroccan poet Al Frah’d Jeri, author of You Be Raw, with his girlfriend, Patty Fishsticks, poetry voluptuary and performance artist, Andy Mattre, the experimental (emphasis on mental) poet, author of Chance Operation, and Donna Matrix, author of These Boots Are Made For Wanking. He knew them all. They were part of a group that he had once dubbed The California Roll School of Poetry, or the Sushist. And wild eyed poet Lyman Rossi, author of Ode to Wall With Men (about a bathhouse) cruising the edges of the crowd looking for an opening. And there too was Bobby ‘Rubber’ Ducken, recognized for what he had attempted rather than accomplished, best known for his unfinished epic Do Little.
“What you have here is a veritable Postmodern potpourri self-devouring feast, like the worm Uroboros, spinning into an ever tightening circle, trying to bite their own tails, spiting their faces, and those limber enough to accomplish the feat know soon enough the smell of shit.
“Most of the poets in these little cliques are made up of FOPPS, Friends Of Poet Professors, who get taught or touted to clueless students and night school housewives which then leads to incredibly incestuous and inbred in-crowd behavior hence the name of their anthology, Fusion, known to some with a sense of humor as Confusion, though a more appropriate title would be The In-Breds. It just serves to underline the fact that MFA programs are for those who can’t read or read with any discernment or are too locked into their view of themselves that they can’t make sense of anyone else.”
“But what about the avant-garde? Have they been co-opted, too?”
“The problem with the avant-garde is that those who claim to be at the leading edge of art are really the après-garde. You’ll never know about the avant-garde until it is already history. Then I guess you might call that realization a post-modern epiphany. Take conceptual poetry or Flarf. They say they fight the power while at the same time hoping to be assimilated . . .it’s a very gay, the mother revered reviled kind of thing.”
“I’m not familiar with Flarf.”
“Flarf I think stands for Fluffy Art Federation, mostly bored middle class twits playing with refrigerator magnets. They’ll eventually drift back to dungeons and dragons or their game consoles and masturbate in their socks. As for conceptual poetry, it’s like the guy who gets into the ring with himself as his only opponent and starts punching himself in the face with his fists. . .there will be blood, but never a knock-out.”
“Do you agree with Ellen Mudhen when she says ‘Poetry is a very stupid thing to be good at’? That poems are basically like dreams, something that everybody likes to tell each other but nobody actually cares about unless it’s their own. And which is why poetry is apparently a failure of the intellectual community.”
Wendt laughed. “I don’t know who Ellen Mudhen is, but it sounds like she has a point. Now those guys over there might be a perfect example of what she’s talking about. Al Bebak, the author of Why Me, and Sam Maritain, author of Any Qualia. Denis Winkle wrote a collection of anecdotes titled Name Your Poison.” He indicated the cluster of dour intellectuals. “I reviewed Holly Grail’s Floor Sample, and Claire Del Ulna’s Exaggerated Misery. Favorably, I might add.”
“So you’re not affiliated with any of these poets, you don’t cotton to any of their notions?”
“That’s one way of putting it, but no, I don’t belong and I like it that way. And that scene, like most scenes, is way too church for me. By ‘church’ I mean pious and narrow-minded.”
“You enjoy your cutting sarcasm, don’t you, Carl? I mean, that’s why people read your column, isn’t it? You’re the representative sarcastic prick for the city.” Allie gave him a tight smile, the kind that comes with reaching a conclusion. “You know, Carl, sometimes we attribute our own worst faults to others. You might call it theory of mind with extreme prejudice. Problem with smart people like you is that they feel obligated to demonstrate their superiority no matter whose feelings are hurt. I suppose when you consider yourself vastly superior to anyone else and you’ve cultivated that critical acumen to such a sharp edge, you’ll ultimately cut your own throat to reveal a total and irrevocable incompetence at anything but waving the flag of your over-inflated sense of self. And I mean that in a nice way.” She glanced down at the smart phone in her hand. “Oops, sorry, gotta go, I have more explaining to do.”
Wendt watched her walk away. Yeah, he could probably kick her ass.
A buffet table had been set up near the large video screen with a live feed from the reading on the floor below. He wandered over and noticed that the wine bottles all appeared to be dead soldiers and whatever food was left had been thoroughly picked over. Not very appetizing, if it ever was. The poet peering at the assembly of green glass corpses for any signs of life or vino was Horace, Horace Kopes. Wendt had once said a kindly word about his book of poems, Astral Weeze, an obvious cop from the Van Morrison album of similar name, and now they were friends for life. Horace took his poems from the daily astrology columns in the various newspapers around town. He claimed that he could write a poem a day for a year, every year. The poems were cutups of that particular day’s forecasts or predictions. Horace was a deft editor and had a sense of humor. But his method might have been too much of a good thing. And they would never escape the fact of being other people’s words. “I’m afraid the oasis has been drunk dry,” he said, addressing Wendt’s searching gaze. Under the table in a large tub once filled with ice a few diet beverages bobbed like flotsam, of no interest to even the thirstiest.
Wendt turned his attention to the big screen. Shown in the harsh halogen lighting, a skinny fey man wearing a powder blue wig spoke his poem in a bullhorn which oddly enough gave it resonance and authority. He queried Kopes who was peering down the neck of a wine bottle. “Who’s that?”
“Uh, I think that’s Francis X. Finity, the defrocked Jesuit from Dublin.” Kopes directed his attention to the reading on the flat screen. “And he’s only got one good poem. That one, Eek, A Homo!”
Well, nothing to see here, Wendt mused, move along. He located the entrance to the stairway down and started in that direction. He passed two men engaged in a heated discussion. One was a professor at the University, Franklin Rydell, author of Fortune, Opportune, and a selection of translations, Importune. Wendt had called him ‘Fiddle’ in one of his columns and the name had stuck. Some people were under the impression that his name was actually Franklin Fiddle. What gave the truth to his sobriquet was that Rydell obsessively revised and rewrote his work. In actuality he had written only a handful of poems. Most of his works were variations on those same few, rearranged and reordered and reconsidered. His translations as such were numerous variations of the one extant poem by an obscure Latin poet, Fluxus Refluxus.
The other man was someone he only knew as Stu, president of SPU, the Street Poets Union (pronounced “spew”). Stu was saying, “Poetry’s first purpose is to say fuck you to people like you. What you need to know is that we’re the bad boys, the rude, the purposely uncultivated, lacking in couth outlaws, outsiders. We take somebody like Kenneth Rexroth and hold him up as an example of what we are or would like to be. Owing no allegiance to any academy, hermeneutic, autodidactic, and not the least bit polite about it. We adhere to what Diogenes said about Plato’s carpet to be indicative of our attitude toward the insufferable academic toadies who are merely gatekeepers for the inanely conservative status quo. Action prompts reaction, conservative against radical on the culture frontier. We are the gunmen, the assassins of a misguided respectability. What disturbs you most and threatens your grip on your much vaunted correctness is what we are. I wipe my ass on tradition because I just shit on your ideals.”
Wendt would have stayed to hear Fiddle’s rejoinder but he spotted the red haired pompadour, craggy crazy leprechaun face, full length deep purple leather trench coat and make-me-taller lifts of Lon Murphy who was accompanied by his usual contingent of sharp shouldered, narrow-assed churls cruising for a back to stab or posterior to osculate. Right at the moment they were engaged in some polite chit-chat with Lu Sacke-Shoen, another disagreeable person, and needless to say, British, author of You Couldn’t Possibly Be Right, but, as Wendt could attest, great in bed, her body accepting what her mind denied—even more incentive to vacate the sulfurous atmosphere.
In the lobby some of the vendors were beginning to pack up. Men in hardhats, some white, some red, were directing people toward the entrance. It looked like the cops or the fire department had come up with an exit strategy. Wendt ducked into the main arena just in time to hear Michel Brezon’s name bellowed over a bullhorn. His image arrived before he did as a large screen had been set up as a back drop and the feed from the camera at stage center was projected larger than life. Brezon looked quizzically at the bullhorn he’d been handed as Wendt made his way close enough to hear the MC, Bruce Roberdeux, aka Bruised Rubberducky, author of Blood Seed, instruct him to “just pull the trigger.”
Brezon liked that. He spoke into the mic end, “Testicle, testicle.” Pleased by what he heard he began, “Poets of every stripe unite! I’m Michel Brezon, acting secretary for the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Poets, and I can say without exaggeration that never has poetry been menaced as seriously as today!”
An odd smattering of benches and chairs fronted the elevated stage mostly occupied by a similarly odd though tentatively attentive audience. The further away from the stage area the less dutiful was the interest paid the speaker. Wendt drifted toward the back where conversations were more important than what was being said over a bullhorn.
“Today I see world poetry united in its historic destiny reeling under the blow of academic departments armed with an entire arsenal of post-modern terminology. I am by no means thinking only of the poetry wars that draw near. In a time of crass unversed superficiality, the position of poetry has become untenable!
“In so far as it originates in the poet, in so far as it brings into play poetic talents to create a poetic which brings about an objective enriching of poetry, any poetic advancement seems to be the fruit of precious chance!”
Wendt made the mistake of listening. The words and Brezon mouthing them struck him as highly unlikely and incongruous.
“That is to say, the manifestation, more or less spontaneous, of poetry. Such poems cannot be slighted. I cannot remain indifferent to the anonymous conditions under which poetic activity takes place. Nor should I fail to pay respect to those who break the laws which ostensibly govern poetry.
“In the contemporary world I must recognize the even more widespread conditions under which poetry is impossible. From this follows, of necessity, an increasingly manifest degradation not only of the poem but also of the specifically poetic personality, the poet. The regime of the Ivy League, led by Harvard, now that it has rid literature of all those writers whose work expresses the slightest sympathy for the imagination, has reduced those who still consent to take up the keyboard to the status of hired help of the post-modern establishment, whose task it is to glorify its own stink, according to the worst possible anachronistic conventions. If reports may be believed, it is the same at Stanford where Thermidorian reaction is now reaching its apex!”
A familiar unmistakable laugh erupted from the crowd. Whether it was directed at what Brezon had just said or simply a reaction to a snide comment from a companion, it announced the presence of Gary Parsons-Snow, also known as GPS, as his location could be immediately determined from his high pitched horse whinny.
“It goes without saying that I identify myself with the currently fashionable battle cry, fuck a bunch of post-modernists! A slogan which frightens the literate elite and leaves them clinging to the tattered remnants of the demoded metric past!
“True poets are not content to play variations on ready-made models but rather insist on expressing their inner needs!
“True poetry is unable not to be revolutionary! Not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of poetry!
“I recognize that only the poetry revolution can sweep clean the path for a new poetry!
“I reject all solidarity with the establishment now in control of sovereign English precisely because it represents not poetry, but it’s most pernicious enemy, the writing prompt!”
Next Time: As the fire department begins moving people out from the potentially dangerous Reed Hotel, Wendt wanders the shoals of Michel Brezon’s speech meeting friend and foe alike. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY & WEEK to read the pdf file.