Open Letter to My Enemies

I am sick of my own anger. Sick of its taste. Sick of its smell. Sick of its metalic high-pitched whine like tinitus. Sick of turning it over in my fingers like a dirty pill of bread. Sick of seeing it first thing every morning when I wake up, standing between me & the light streaming through the window. I have decided to let it go. I have reached the age at which enmity is not merely too much trouble, but a terrible burden to lug toward the grave. And so -- though I have not been diagnosed with a terminal illness, nor have I joined a twelve-step program -- I want to apologize to all of you, those I remember & those I have forgotten. Most of my resentments & angers have been literary. That would be funny if it were not so sad. So, I hope I will not bring down too much embarrassment on my enemies -- many of whom may not even know of their honored position! -- by naming them. So: To Linh Dinh: I have reread the poems. I was wrong. I was showing off, talking out of my ass. Sorry. To Dana Gioia: I have slandered your name around the internet for years. I'll never agree with your poetics, but my animus was personal -- I resented your relationship with my teacher Donald Justice. To Mark Jarman: We will continue to disagree about poetry & religion & the relationship between the two, but my anger was personal, not literary. I apologize. To Kent Johnson: You raise the art of being annoying to its highest aesthetic perfection, but always, I think, in the service of art. I should have recognized this before now. I withdraw my objections. To Alison Croggon: It was just petty status-seeking & I'm sorry. I behaved childishly. These are the ones I remember; there are certainly others, to whom I issue a blanket apology. (Email me -- I'll put you on the list!) Anyway, I'm through carrying this stuff around with me. In the words of the immortal Van Morrison, I'm going to "throw it down, on the burning ground." Finally, I want to be clear that I seek nothing in return for my apology, neither recognition nor forgiveness, neither big wet kiss nor little peck on the cheek. Coda: Some kinds of anger are legitimate. I've not gone soft in the head, I hope. I think political anger is often warranted, for instnace, but my political angers have been largely impersonal. Anger at friends is another matter & will certainly require another sort of apology. I continue to believe in the possibility of aesthetic judgment; but I hope, going forward, to keep myself from allowing literary taste to bleed over into personal animus.

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.

6 thoughts on “Open Letter to My Enemies”


    No one not able
    of his own accord

    no one not able
    to affirm

    is my love of paper or a screen
    words just surfaces

    to surf such excuses
    or else I’m delusional out in the garden

    getting ready for the next ornery stage
    always the medievalist

    of organized doubt
    cutting back

    all the dead undergrowth
    and myself.

  2. Alas, Pablo, you’d probably know if you were! By the way, your comment went to the spam bin, though I have no idea why.

  3. this post has the ez poundian vinegar,anger,chagrin,& high
    blood pressure zingful rue.
    but not ass/suring like his
    any thing more than petulance
    (and a fine piece of writing).

    remember ez’s poem below? edward mycue

    E.P. Ode Pour L’election De Son Sepulchre by Ezra Pound

    For three years, out of key with his time,
    He strove to resuscitate the dead art
    Of poetry; to maintain “the sublime”
    In the old sense. Wrong from the start–

    No, hardly, but seeing he had been born
    In a half savage country, out of date;
    Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn;
    Capaneus; trout for factitious bait;

    Idmen gar toi panth, hos eni troie
    Caught in the unstopped ear;
    Giving the rocks small lee-way
    The chopped seas held him, therefore, that year.

    His true Penelope was Flaubert,
    He fished by obstinate isles;
    Observed the elegance of Circe’s hair
    Rather than the mottoes on sun-dials.

    Unaffected by “the march of events,”
    He passed from men’s memory in l’an trentuniesme
    de son eage;the case presents
    No adjunct to the Muses’ diadem.

    The age demanded an image
    Of its accelerated grimace,
    Something for the modern stage
    Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

    Not, certainly, the obscure reveries
    Of the inward gaze;
    Better mendacities
    Than the classics in paraphrase!

    The “age demanded” chiefly a mould in plaster,
    Made with no loss of time,
    A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster
    Or the “sculpture” of rhyme.

    The tea-rose tea-gown, etc.
    Supplants the mousseline of Cos,
    The pianola “replaces”
    Sappho’s barbitos.

    Christ follows Dionysus,
    Phallic and ambrosial
    Made way for macerations;
    Caliban casts out Ariel.

    All things are a flowing
    Sage Heracleitus say;
    But a tawdry cheapness
    Shall outlast our days.

    Even the Christian beauty
    Defects–after Samothrace;
    We see to kalon
    Decreed in the market place.

    Faun’s flesh is not to us,
    Nor the saint’s vision.
    We have the press for wafer;
    Franchise for circumcision.

    All men, in law, are equals.
    Free of Pisistratus,
    We choose a knave or an eunuch
    To rule over us.

    O bright Apollo,
    Tin andra, tin heroa, tina theon,
    What god, man or hero
    Shall I place a tin wreath upon!

    These fought in any case,
    And some believing,
    pro domo, in any case…

    Some quick to arm,
    some for adventure,
    some from fear of weakness,
    some from fear of censure,
    some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
    learning later…
    some in fear, learning love of slaughter;

    Died some, pro patria,
    non “dulce” not “et decor”…
    walked eye-deep in hell
    believing old men’s lies, then unbelieving
    came home, home to a lie,
    home to many deceits,
    home to old lies and new infamy;
    usury age-old and age-thick
    and liars in public places.

    Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
    Young blood and high blood,
    fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

    fortitude as never before

    frankness as never before,
    disillusions as never told in the old days,
    hysterias, trench confessions,
    laughter out of dead bellies.

    There died a myriad,
    And of the best, among them,
    For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
    For a botched civilization,

    Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
    Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

    For two gross of broken statues,
    For a few thousand battered books.

  4. joseph, further thought about your piece, this wonderfilled poem is that is gauzed in sorrow, not
    sadness in the plural. a masterwork surely that re-notated in a traditional manner may suggest
    myriad antecedents who with clear memory lament love life longing as song on the cusp of ‘some other time’. (thinking here from the leonard bernstein song from ON THE TOWN where two couples sing at the end of their time together before the two men are sent off to world war II: it’s quieter than your poem but it has embedded in it
    all–the other side of your coin.)edward mycue

  5. I did borrow some rhythms for EP & father Yeats, Ed. But they came unbidden, out of a felt need to make my soul, as an Irishman might say.

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