. . . . . .
In his post over a week ago 4amSonnets caused quite a little disaster with his comments about J.K. Rowling and her adult fans. I hope he forgives me for bringing it up again and even reposting it, as it compels me into a topic I feel very close to: the ways in which the trappings of fairytale, fantasy, and myth are used by contemporary poets:
"The truth is that I have never read a Harry Potter book and do not care to. I have no resentments against J.K. Rowling and wish her every success in the world--which she seems to have had. I simply think that adults should read adult books (so many great books, so little time), unless they are reading children's books aloud to children. Yes, I have seen the movies because I watched them with my kids. Yes, we have the books so that the boys can read them, when they get around to them. But for adults? With so many good books to read, so much great poetry? Please. There aren't enough hours to read all of Tolstoy. Don't waste what time there is reading Harry Potter."
First I just adore his forthright judgement and bald disdain for those adults who flock at the latest adolescent craze, perhaps in the same way they might mob the stores for something like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," or other superficial, book length "studies" as entertainment. On the other hand, I do have some sympathy for those of us who like to read as a form of entertainment. Aren't these genre books themselves doorways into other hungers? Louise Gluck, for example, has said she prefers genre crime novels in her periods of poetic gestation. I"m not really interested in a debate about the craft of Rowlings work, which like most genre work might lie more in its plot development than its poetic or lyric abilities. . .
"Entertainment" strikes me as a word important to our childhood, where we are entertained by our own imaginitive curiosity, a word satisfied by a good nightmare, a strong fairy tale, boogie monsters and the devil and santa claus and tooth fairies and saints and heaven. It's a word that bears the corruption of adult pursuits. Helene Cixous says reading is dangerous. If we haven't stolen the key to the library, if we haven't killed our family, then we aren't yet reading. Reading indulges our desires and our superstitions. When I think about this fabulous craze to read the Harry Potter saga, I'm comforted by the way very serious-minded adults are corrupted by it. Wait all night for a book? Skip work? Read a novel in a night? Discuss it? Sure it's not Tolstoy, but its doing some of the same work.
When I think about this in relation to poetry, I get very excited. Charles Simic--something must be right in the world!--has just been appointed U.S. Poet Laureate. His later work isn't so much bound to the trappings of fairy tale. It's more interested in small photographic dramas, sometimes in brief lists that reveal the extraordinary truths (sometimes brutal) of our regular lives--and I think his point is that life IS extraordinary, because the mind is such a child in its entertainments: sex, faith, philosophy, politics, nature, love and pain. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of prose poems THE WORLD DOESN'T END, a kind of biography of sorts, but one filled with the trappings of fairy tale. His later book, NIGHT PICNIC, is filled with poems that hybridize an adult sensibility with a child's dreamish fantasy (and aren't we all children in the end? Isn't that what it comes down to on our deathbeds?):
There was the sky, starless and vast--
Home of every one of our dark thoughts--
Its door open to more darkness.
And you, like a late door-to-door salesman,
With only your own beating heart
In the palm of your outstretched hand.
"All things are imbued with God's being--"
(She said in hushed tones
As if his ghost might overhear us)
"The dark woods around us,
Our faces which we cannot see,
Even this bread we are eating."
You were mulling over the particulars
Of your cosmic insignificance
Between the sips of red wine.
In the ensuing quiet, you could hear
Her small, sharp teeth chewing the crust--
And then finally, she moistened her lips.
One gets the feeling, after reading Simic, that our adult preoccupations with existence are not as important as our sensual, bodily desires. This is a further endictment of philosophical and religious edicts, since if what is spoken in the poem is true, this leaves us with an animalistic, even predatory God--what, then, is salvation? Different than we thought, but still mysterious. Belief is a kind of nightmare here, where the faithful come to us with gross passions, which in the end are slenderly our own.
It's striking to me the way fairy tale provides the framework for this kind of investigation and even indictment. I can think of whole books that use similar strategies. . . Popa's WOLFSALT, Hughes' CROW, and more recently, Carson's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED, Fritz Goldberg's BOOK OF ACCIDENT, Szporluk's IDIOTS & EMBRYOS. I'm thinking some of these rely on mythic trappings more than fairy tale, and it also strikes me that there are a number of works that deal primarily with revisionist mythologies, books by Sexton and Broumas and even Gluck. But I'm more interested in how authors build new visions, new entertainments, original fables, forcefully creating their own psychological totems. This is in keeping with the work of Blake and Yeats (or HD, Herbert) and related to Jung's work with archetype. If the fairy tale illustrates a warning by means of violence, myth forges symbols for our variant desires.
WARNING (2) by Beckian Fritz Goldberg
In a fire near the river,
a wolf burned the hair off his face
back to the pink creature--
They were drinking and they threw on
gasoline. They were howling
and unnerving the spirits--if
there were spirits--
They were only boys, new
Don't ever come close.
Don't ever be fascinated
or they'll push you in.
You'll come home
unrecognizable, like the dead--
everyone at the dinner table
passing the salt past you. Glitter.
how we loved you, starry eye."DARK EROS by Larissa Szporluk
She smirks, sets herself up
on a cinder cone--How does
it feel, she asks the old mountain,
to have no choice but to feel?
Succus of Anoton's glottis.
Rumbles, plutonic debris.
Feel this, she hisses into his
sphinctor, then does something
evil with fruit--oh, the power
to cry! Oh, to be able to cry!
His mouth is under the sea now.
The past is a quasi-fetish.
I was the only child, but my
obsession with you was divine.
. . . . . .
This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.
My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.
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