Poets

One of the things that this weblog demonstrates is that poets -- at least this poet -- have a hard time distinguishing between reading a novel, thinking about politics, & cooking breakfast or watching birds. I'm not sure if this is a good or productive way of approaching the world, but it's what I do. If it's not all connected then it doesn't make any sense to me. Maybe my problem, if it's a problem, is that, aged fifteen, I discovered Bob Dylan & T.S. Eliot, the Grateful Dead & Ezra Pound, Joni Mitchell & Sylvia Plath, etc. all at the same time. My sophomore year in high school, 1966, marks a great fissure in American culture. (I can't speak for other countries.) Dylan Thomas & John Lennon suddenly had equal cultural weight. Oh, and throw Julia Child & Janis Joplin into the mix while you're at it. When I was seventeen I would sit up after my parents had gone to bed watching Johnny Carson, keying into that by then old-style hipness. When Johnny would have another comedian on, someone he respected, someone he would call over to the couch after their two minutes, & would riff with them, cracking each other up, it was like jazz, except that I didn't know anything about jazz yet. And even if Johnny & his guests where hoplessly square, they were so much more hip than where I came from & they were not so square that they lacked irony about themselves. No one I knew -- none of the adults -- had a sense of irony about themselves. They couldn't afford to. They had to work to make ends meet. My step-father, who had lost his job at Boeing, was working as a Fuller Brush Man. They were disdainful of show biz types unless they were Red Skelton or Phyllis Diller, who were the opposite of hip. Who validated the anxieties of the working class rather than mocking them. God, how I longed to be able to mock those anxieties, which were my own. Being hip was (& is) the ability to mock those anxieties.
Phyllis DillerRed Skelton

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “Poets”

  1. hey,
    i’m a 17 year old poet, and i would love for you to help me edit some of my work. Like you, i have discovered bob dylan and john lennon and dylan thomas pretty much simultaneously. I love Kerouac’s on the road, the beat hipness. I want to be hip, leave my worries about colleges and money and such- i have no clue what to do with my life.

    I consider myself an Epicurean, but where is the best place to live a leisurely life? What job would best allow it? I’m smart, but hate school…

    I have written a total of ten collections of poetry, about four of which are fairly good, in my opinion- however, no one else has seen them, and i really need another poet to look at them. I like your blog, so i suppose you will do as well as any. Email me if you would be will to help. It will be brilliant.

  2. Well, Rephot, I can’t help you edit your poetry because I have already got students who take up that particular energy & who pay tuition for my expertise. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but I don’t mean to be dismissive. You sound like a smart person & I can certainly see the appeal of Epicurianism. In Asia, poets often served in the government so as to earn a pension that would allow them to retire to a little cabin in the country in order to cultivate a garden & write poems. The problem for an artist in our particular society is that you have to find a way to make a life in which you can honor the values of the imagination. To do that, you usually need to at least take cognizance of the values of the marketplace. Or, to put it bluntly, stay in school & take what you can use. When you go to college you will find a lot more freedom to pursue the values of the imagination. Of course, if you are a genius or have a trust fund, you can ignore this advice. Dylan never went to college & I teach his work in my classes! In either case, if you love poetry, look up these names & read their work: William Blake, William Wordsworth, William Carlos Williams (So many Williams!), Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, Wallace Stevens, Hayden Carruth, Robert Creeley & then just follow your instincts. Start with any couple of anthologies of poetry & then out-distance your boring teachers. But beat them on their own terms, not by running away from them. You may have to serve at the emperor’s court fo a while before you can retire to your Epicurean paradise to pursue your artistic inclinations. On the other hand, your poetry may be deepened by having to confront daily reality.

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