The slow fuse of indignation burns in the joints of an old man, keeping him warm.
It's late. Not sure why I'm here. We're having a Minnesota mini-blizzard. I did some late-night shoveling, then took a walk through the new snow, round the old haunts. East River Road - past Granddad's, Grandma's brick house. He built it (grain-elevator engineer) 90 years ago. My mother & uncle & aunts grew up in that house. We used to visit for dinner almost every Sunday. (I live in an apartment around the block from there now.)
The snow is falling soundlessly.
Whence cometh the indignation? Is it envy? Frustration?
Well... let's see. I've been bloggin' here recently about what seems like a kind of atomic oscillation, an inherent duality : passion/detachment, poet/listener, reason/intuition, poet/reader, poet/audience...
Which reminds me that a few days ago I was nattering on about another duality : poet/bard.
Which seems to chime (imperfectly) with the fault line that's troubling me now.
I'm indignant with, I'm troubled by, the institutional pattern of poetry in America.
How do we (as a social what-not) decide what writing, what poetry, is central, necessary?
We are such a massive, rich, diverse & powerful country. The nocturnal titanic beams of energy from the power-plants are blinding.
There is a kind of establishment prestige which seems to settle like a natural force, like snow, like rain, upon those gifted workers in the artistic fields who find a way to establish their credentials.
It doesn't matter with us how abrasive, shocking, & subversive your art-work is : sooner or later you will be crowned with platinum awards & ecstatic acclamations. You will arrive. This is democracy. This is ***AMERICA***.
The glamour spreads from Lincoln Center & Kennedy Center through all the ivy-clad academic domains & the newspapers, unto the magazines, the radio stations, the local reading groups, the bookstores, libraries... You are the successful author; you are the beloved.
Isn't it great? It is great. So what's my problem? (I haven't written anything, maybe?)
My problem is that America is stultified by its own success. The laurels showered on our favorite writers are like flaming iron tongs, dropped on the martyrs from moronic Nero's box.
Our literary culture rewards its writers with a kind of recognition resembling the daily specials board over the deli counter. It will be different tomorrow : maybe meatballs.
& the poets try so hard. Our top critics review every new book (from a careful selection of new & established authors) with an eye to immediate value for money down. The hyperbole comes naturally; everybody's hungry, after all. They're all brilliant. If they weren't, they wouldn't be writing for the major publications, believe me.
But my problem goes deeper. It goes back to this odd schizophrenic duality.... poet/bard? Emotion/detachment?
I walk down to the Mississippi in the dark night of the snow. Poetry is not about poems. Poetry is about the dark night of the snow. Queequeg was covered with tattoos; each one was painful to apply. Time & history turn the artist into her own fresco. The crux of things is a matter of life or death - of spiritual values, not literary reifications.
Yet the poet must struggle toward an integral wholeness - a good end, a finished work.
Hence for Mandelstam (for one example) the appeal of the Redemption. Hence for Dante the adoration of the high-school flame (a resolution of all things).
The Promised Land must be a kind of vanishing point, where life & art coalesce in equilibrium. Some romantic kind of classicism, maybe.
I'm going down into the depths, beyond these reifications of the national machine. That's the Mississippi down there. Very cold tonight.