As if poetry were a craft that there is a right way or wrong way to do: in which case, I prefer the wrong way — anything better than the well-wrought epiphany of predictable measure — for at least the cracks and flaws show signs of life.  –Charles Bernstein, from State of the Art

For a while – several years, in fact – I paid little attention to lit-mags outside of hunting down a particular poet or noticing a friend’s recent work popping up somewhere out there in a prairie review. It wasn’t intentional so much as a by-product of revisiting and rethinking and rebuking and rewriting my own work and, as a result, thinking and drinking a lot less of contests and deadlines and prizes and presses. More poetry and less po’biz makes Jack a Kerouac. Recently, however, I felt compelled to “borrow” (sshhhh) several magazines from a colleague-under-the-sea-of-making-an-anthology. I chose them more or less at random. Most are university-based and have been in publication for 35+ years. Dunno what I expected from these husks of old established trees that stand around as poems. I thought by now they might have shifted drifted shimmied – even slightly – away from the “well-wrought epiphany of predictable measure.” But when I opened the first one, I snapped its spine. If this random sampling is any indication, the conventional personal lyric is not only alive and well but thriving as ever. In fact, were there no dates on the covers, one would be hard-pressed to determine in which of the last four decades most of the poems were written. I’m not naming names or pointing passages or quoting fingers. My porpoise here is not a blow hole.

And A Summary Will Suffice

Personal, plain-spoken lyrics
of approximately a page,
broken almost exclusively
by grammatical unit,
with little or no attempt
to treat lines as units
-of-sense that might expand,
deepen, or agitate the sentences
that all too easily cascade
over them into clear pools,
free of predation.

As if originality were a function of content. The jar comes before the wine (I’m not making this up). Nor is my purpose to rehash tired arguments about Who Killed/What Mattered, but to ask thee personal question: “Why?” Not why make the personal lyric, but why make it the same way? And the same way? The anonymous artist [re]making Monet. Whenever I make the mistake of mentioning I’m a writer in mixed company, someone will eventually ask me: “If you were alone on a desert island, and you could only have with you the work of one author, who would it be?”  “None,” I say, with a flip o’ the hand. “It would defeat the purpose of a desert island.”


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