Friday, November 30, 2007

November has been long

The next-to-the-last day of November was one
filled with vitriol. Not that I would apologize
for anything I did yesterday, which is too
much to go into, other than the Cohen gasket
bursting below, but there has been something
in the air in late November. At least, something
around my air.

Bring on December.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tidbits on Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen of the New York Times doesn't
really write his column, the words are dictated
to him by the prostitutes he employs to
demean them.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times calls the
White House to ask them what he should have
those prostitutes say.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times visits
Friedman's grave, crying.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times would like
you and your uncle and your family to starve.

Roger Cohen is the fascist.

Roger Cohen drinks blood, probably from the
same syphilitic prostitutes writing his
column in the New York Times.

Roger Cohen is a known cannibal.

Cohen wants you dead.


***


It is possible I've taken a liberty or two, but
I felt that I could be allowed to tell half as
many lies in this humble blog as Cohen does about
Chavez in his Times column today.

Cohen, you're a real piece of shit.

Okay, I'm done now.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Pleasures of the Damned

I don't know if John Martin has closed the
gaps left by the five hundred or so posthumous
collections of Bukowski's work, replete with
seemingly every line the man scribbled on a
bar napkin, but the world finally has a volume
by which to judge the poetry of Charles Bukowski:
The Pleasures of the Damned, Collected Poems 1951-1993.

I've been screaming from the rooftops about the
necessity of such a collection. The American literary
scene seems to have two distinct... and
inappropriate... reactions to Buk: 1. Contempt;
2. Lionization, leading to imitation.

For the first, I'd offer that most of his harshest
critics have read little of his work. This is a real
issue with Buk, because, as I mentioned above, hardly
a thing he's put on paper hasn't been published. This
has resulted in scores of volumes which include poems
far better than many (maybe any) of his contemporaries
that are surrounded, it would be fair to say buried,
by hundreds of pages of very pedestrian, stories broken
randomly into line-type stuff.

The principle antagonism, I think, from the academic
poetry world is his class status. "Who is this
poor sot, thinking he's a poet?" I wouldn't hesitate
to state plainly that there's a feeling out there
that Bukowski didn't earn his bona fides in the
academy. Why is it that people who argue that Buk's work
is completely without merit are often quick to sing
Carver's praises? Could it be the fact that he got
himself trained?

It doesn't help that Bukowski has outsold, out-influenced,
and will outlive every poet published in The New Yorker
or POETRY during his career. I think this
drives the Professional Poetry types insane, and they
exorcise it by resorting to criticisms which are often
incorrect and always petty.

The second group, to which I've belonged on and off, can
go a bit far. I have to admit that I love Buk for the
same reason so many ProPoets hate him: he represents
my class, he looks at the world in much the same way
that I do and he can hold his liquor. There is no
question that Bukowski was a great reader. He litters
the page with evidence. To repeat myself again, he has
penned some fantastic, unforgettable, risky stuff.
"Dinosauria, We" alone merits him some inclusion in the
modern canon, to whatever extent there is such a thing.
That said, the guy wasn't Jeffers or Pound or Ted Hughes
or Neruda. Given a comfortable life, who knows what he
might have accomplished?

Some would argue that a comfortable life would've rendered
his work irrelevant. That could be. If it wasn't for the
subject matter, what would distinguish him? Would his
prose style work (this is with his short stories, which
are great -- stop internal dialogue, MFA candidates,
you're wrong, the short stories are very good)in the
context of an Evelyn Waugh type upbringing? Doubtful.
My contention is that Buk's mind could've adapted to this,
possibly went the epic route, but we can't know and
it doesn't matter anyway. He's the laureate of the
working class, and had to compose, more or less, in that
language.

Whether one finds himself in the love or hate group,
at least the attempt has (finally) been made to offer
a selection for consideration. How many of us would
be just fine with offering our first drafts for
publication, especially when it means a huge payday,
relatively speaking. The posthumous stuff has been
out of control, but it was, of course, out of Buk's
control. Any further discussion on his merits or
demerits should focus on this collection... unless
one wants to pore over the thousands of pages we have
looking for the gems. I think it is obvious that
his detractors have no interest in this.

In the end, shouldn't the idea of communication
apply to poetry? After all, communicating an idea is
the reason we write. I don't see the benefit in
having the ideas targeted for an élite group that
operates like a quasi-secret society. If one were
to make a numeric rating for the efficacy of a poem
or poet -- a horrible thought, I'll concede, but
it gets the general point across -- with five
qualities worth two points each (just off the
top of the head, we'll say: 1. Aesthetic achievement;
2. Social relevance; 3. Scale of communication, i.e.,
how many people read the work and find value in it;
4. Metric abilities/rhythm/musicality; 5. Influence
on contemporaries and future poets) Buk would
rate all right. We'll put him up against Robert Lowell.

Lowell
1 - 1.2 points
2 - 0.3 points
3 - 1 point
4 - 1.3 points
5 - 2 points

for a total of 5.8 out of a possible ten.

Bukowski

1 - This is the root of the argument, but I'll throw out a
compromise number of 0.7 points
2 - 1.3 points
3 - 2 points
4 - 0.3 points
5 - 2 points

for a total of 6.3 out of a possible ten.

If we were to discuss the two of them using only
one element, say the size of readership on one hand
or artistic achievement on another, the balance would be
heavily skewed in the direction of either Lowell or
Bukowski. I don't think anyone would argue that
Buk was in the same league in terms of craftsmanship...
hell, I doubt anyone would argue he was in the
same sport! But is that all poetry is? How far
does it go before it comes flat out contempt for the
public? I'm not suggesting Buk was a better
writer than Lowell. I am saying that the aesthetic
side of things is subjective, while numbers, whether
it is in terms of readers or volumes sold, speak
for themselves. I am the first to impugn the
tastes of the general public. The fact that anyone,
much less millions, watches, for instance, "Big
Brother" or the like should be great cause for concern.

I doubt that the same people calling in to vote
on "American Idol" are the ones buying Bukowski or
Lowell or Dugan or any poetry whatever. While we
are mired in what amounts to a cultural sewer, there
isn't a cozy distinction between the literate 10% and
the illiterate 90%. How often do you meet a person that
is either brilliant and urbane or a complete imbecile?
There is a whole lot of gray area in public literacy.
The gray area, one could argue, is where literacy
really exists. It is easy to forget that literature
wasn't designed solely for the study of other
creators. Readers should be nonspecialists, at least
the preponderance of them.

Those who curse the very name Henry Charles Bukowski
are usually specialists writing to other specialists,
and they seem to see no problem in that. More often
than not, their work isn't niche because of its
complexity, though they often try to be as complex
as they can... or at least appear complex... it is
niche and specialist because people rightly consider
it solipsistic shit.

In my barbaric number rankings, one could take
Buk down to zeros on the aesthetics and metrics
scale. I wouldn't agree, but we're compromising here.
He'd still get at least a three in the remaining
categories, which would put him around 3 points ahead
of Michael Ryan and Kay Ryan combined. I rest my
case.

Monday, November 12, 2007

50,000

Hit it! That wasn't so bad, but now I have
to write the other 40,000 to finish it.

What a tremendous exercise. Through finally
going this far with a piece of prose, I
think I've found the varieties of
protagonist available to me. That thrills
me.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Putting me through my paces.

I've learned a lot in 3 days of Nanowrimo
participation.

Most importantly, I've learned that my
writing pace, when I want to sit down
and compose, is about 5,000 a day.