Confidence; or, Poetry and Golf

They say that golfers' games go to hell when they lose confidence, which is an elusive thing. But when you have confidence, they say, the hole looks as big as a basketball hoop. Confidence, notoriously, comes and goes. Over the last decade I have written probably fifty poems, or drafts of poems, that I have never quite managed to finish or send out to editors. I lacked confidence in them. My game was off. But over the last year or so I have been going back to those poems and finishing some of them and sending them out and they are beginning to get published. I blame the avant garde. I blame flarf and conceptual poetry and Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman and all the Language Poets from sea to shining sea. I have always, temperamentally and politically, identified with the cutting edge, with the most progressive policy, with the new. Make it NEW, Pound told me when I was but an impressionable boy. I tried to be like those guys. I kept tinkering with my swing. The result was that I was always hooking or slicing of digging the club into the fairway. Jim Furyk has a swing you would never teach to a beginner, but he has been ranked as high as number two in the world -- it's a funny-looking loopy thing, but it's his swing and he has made it work. I think I'm maybe finding my swing.

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.

4 thoughts on “Confidence; or, Poetry and Golf”

  1. Panjandrum Press in 1972 published a book, over-sized, thick paper cream colored w/ ink cover drawing by Justine Jones Fixel (the then famed Jungian family therapist, sand tray authority and UCBerkeley professor) by Lawrence Fixel titled TIME TO DESTROY/TO DISCOVER that is a long single poem that deals with what you are discussing above. I could see I was influenced by the theme when later i wrote that you ‘have to destroy a lot to discover a little/ music in the masque of a chained romance”in a piece of mine. Personally it relates to a saying of my dad’s that you ‘have to shit for an elephant to bring forth a mouse’ –an old saying that i gather goes back to Ovid about the mountains will tremble and a little mouse be born. Fixel was working with a phrase from Picasso that he began TIME TO DESTROY/ TO DISCOVER with as motto: “In my case a picture is a sum of destructions. I do a picture–then I destroy it. In the end though nothing is lost.”

    So you are right, Joseph, in not taking “production’ itself too seriously. (Though it’s not easy to stay out of that “tristi fummo” place low in the Inferno of Dante: Oscar Wilde, is quoted on Dante by Wilhelm Ekelund on page 16 of AGENDA, a Cloud Marauder Book of 1976 that Lennart Bruce translated from Swedish. Ekelund’s note says “Dante places low in the INFERNO those who willfully live in sadness…” and quotes Wilde thus: “beneath the dreary marsh lie those who were sullen in the sweet air, saying for ever and ever through their sighs: ‘Triste Fumo….'”
    As if he’s saying not to get all quaggy-faced and press on, writers.

    But sometimes of course that’s easier said than done. Fixel said you need two drawers: one for work to be published and the other for ‘privishing’ for the work that perhaps came to nothing or that taught you something more.

    Here’s something of the last years of mine in a somewhat lighthearted manner on this:

    re-creation as recreation: life not as a game but more a gamble in a gambol

    i’m afog, as usual, pressing onward. feet to the fire, shoulders into the wind, nose to the grindstones, brain dragging like a heavy pendulum, swinging my arms to propel myself hopefully forward or however movement goes and while the heart beats use it, bruise it, enthuse it, export it but don’t recuse it. face the music. enter the fire without ire. let it consume me. use me and this time once again use it up use me down. i am one twisted symbol of humanity and about as humane as the legendary griffin and resembling the phoenix. out of the fire of my destruction may i return with a mouth of ash and naked to the new.

    Edward Mycue

  2. my bad above as it’s Horace, ARS POETICA 139.
    AND my dad said you have to grunt for an elephant to shit or (or forth) a mouse. of it all, the effort. edward

  3. Sean Bentley sent me this on facebook, and I thought it was apropos to this discussion:


    When I saw the zooman
    Drop raw horsemeat roasts down the stovepipe
    Into the castanet teeth of a wildcat…
    Who had jammed his head tightly into the chute
    While the other half-dozen or so
    tawny tornadoes of fur
    Tore at his rump in despair,
    Then, I knew, I had seen poetry.

    – David Peebles

  4. T, that’s funny and I’ve certainly seen that behavior; but what I was trying to get at was that I had lost my swing at least in part because I had tried to be something I am not, to move in a way I cannot move. The golfer David Duval went from No. 1 in the world in the late 1990s to No. 823 as of a couple of weeks ago (he’s moved up because he had a very good showing in the US Open ten days ago) — all because he had lost cost confidence in his game, his swing. I’m rooting for him in the British Open, which starts later this week. So when I say that “I blame Silliman,” etc. I’m really joking. It’s not their fault. But then I don’t have much patience with the avuncular Donald Hall school of poetry, either, though I suppose I’m closer to Hall than Silliman in my basic assumptions about the art.

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