Saying & Doing, Reading & Watching, Dream & Act

Many, including myself, have posed the situation of poetry in America today as a problem or dilemma. But maybe it's more like a puzzle - a puzzle for each poet to work out for themselves.

Maybe it's not so much a problem of institutionalization - MFA programs, official & semi-official authorization mafias (MFA = MAFIA). & maybe it's not so much a problem of politics (blue poets in a rageful red world). Maybe, in fact, it's something more mundane and technical : like the disconnect between poetry as a reading experience and poetry as a performance. There's a slight gap or dissonance there, which, if unacknowledged, just maybe grows into a sort of malignancy (sounds scary, Henry!).

Because reading is a pure & exquisite pleasure, for some. More than that : it's an exercise of the mind & imagination. We read : & a whole imaginary psychic theater leaps up into cognizance, the boundaries of our inner world are lapped in a tingling metamorphosis. It is possible we haven't yet acknowledged the silent resistance, even resentment, of the reader for the performer. The poet who performs his or her work with dazzlement & panache might just possibly be felt to be taking away something from the reader. (This kind of theory really pleases the bad actors & readers among poets out there, like me.) This might be the source also of the amused contempt in which the idea of "poetry reading" is held by many. The poet is out of place reading his/her poem out loud.

What's the "solution" to this problem? TS Eliot had an idea : the verse play. (This was something which occurred also to the Elizabethans - folks like Marlowe, Shakespeare... you know.) For Eliot, dramatic poetry was the telos of intelligible "objectivity" in verse.

Ben Mazer is aware of this, I think. His little verse play "City of Angels" has come in for some carping & sniping - but it got some people's attention. Why? First of all, because Mazer has a real gift for verse. & secondly, because he's pioneering in this direction - this corn maze, this labyrinth which has wrapped itself like a snail shell around the gap between poetry and performance (between word & deed).

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