Literary contests and The Contest

Kings and Councillors, by A.M. Hocart.  This is one of my favorite books.  I'm re-reading it now.  Hocart is a free-thinking anthropologist - but more than that, he writes well.  A scholar who semaphores not from cloistered halls, but from long experience in the messy world-field.  With a lot of asperity, wit & humor, but mostly with a great synthetic imagination for the human "project".  He's not tedious or eccentric, like many a free-thinker; he's quick, addressing complex problems with leaps of pithy insight.  Like a poet should write, but a sort of logical poet.

He was something of an outsider for a long time (his whole life).  I guess I can identify with that.

My own changeful, discombobulated, nomadic life of late (back & forth on U.S. 80 between Providence & Minneapolis) has somewhat dislocated me from my own patterns of self-confidence, you might say.  I am out of the library where I lived as a quiet squirrel for 30 years.

I reflect in brief bursts of "consciousness" between one rest stop and another packing-&-moving problem.  My strong father is gone.  My kids are on the move.  I have to say goodbye soon to Rhode Island, & to my backyard where poems are made.  I have to go back to the middle of the country, where I lived long ago (really long ago) as a child, as a yoot'.

It's good (I hope).

But let's get back to poetry.  Amazingly enough, I have piled little pebbles into this blog-pit for almost 15 years.  It is read (or visited) - if you can believe Blogger - by scores &/or hundreds of people around de world every day.  Who you peoples?  I don't know.  Hi.

Let me introduce myself : me am an Hocartian of the poetry scone.  The stone of the scone, if you will.  Hard to place.  A presence on the margins.

As I hurtle down the superhighway east-west, I reflect on this fate.  Why me?  I am extremely meek & normal.  Yet I think there is a barbed subtext there somewheres.  I remember the battles of nearly 20 years ago on the "Internet", as it was called.  There were tribal poet-wars & gang-turf conflicts in a twilight of sudden free-speech spaces.  Mostly men, but not always.  The Buffalo Poetics List.  The Sub-sub list.  Debates about different "schools" (New York, Language, Conceptual).  Remember avant vs. traditionalist (Sillimanism)?  Cooked vs. raw, etc.?  I was right in there with 'em, slinging the wahootchie.  I was a walking talking internet scandal, now & then (now very much then).

Listen & learn, ephebe, of the vanity of the vanities.

But what, at root, is the meaning of this clash of elkhorns?  This is an anthropological & psychological riddle to me.  There is an archaic prehistoric quality at play, very appealing to the pseudo-anthro-psycho-ologist in me.

Because it seems to get a my own track through this maze.  A mirror.

At the juvenile numeral of anno 63, I am absolutely nowhere in the professional literary world.  It's as if I occupy a negative space, invisible except for the noise I make (the poems themselves are imponderable).  Yet I have all this time been pursuing, in a fairly consistent limp or habitus, a strategy, a meaning.  To put it putly : I write long poems.  I do this because I am engaged in an agon, a game, a rivalry for the crown.  Like two elks clashing horns in the forest (I am both elks).

The name of this crown seems to be epic.  I have been engaged in long poems because I am struggling with the inheritance of The Waste Land, Ulysses, The Cantos, Maximus Poems, "A", Paterson.... and Iliad, Odyssey, Star Trek, Divina Commedia, Paradise Lost...  (not to mention the Romantics!)...

I want to wear that crown : in order to do so I have to play a very long game.

But why would anyone want to wear that crown, or any crown?  It all sounds like the most musty wrongheaded chauvinist reactionary hateful autochthonous archaic primitive "traditional" & stupid complex of mental hash Ezra Pound or any other crazed megalomaniac would ever want to creep into, like a creep...  very un-American.

But there's the rub.  It's a shady struggle in the sacred woodshed, you might say.  Like Hart Crane in a way, or David Jones, I am trying to inhabit the past, because in certain respects the past radiates a memory of something lost.  It is a psychological search, as well as an epic claim (to auth-author-authority).  Something beautiful, finished, resolved, complete... something whole.

Something true.

So every writer has a schema and a leading idea.  A plan.  But there are poets out there with plans or schemata which do not fit into the immediacy of the scene, of the industry of poetry, of the established protozoa.  They do not win the literary contests.  They are engaged with something deeper : the kingship battle in the forest of Nemi, for ex.  "Who will wear the crown?" wails Janis Joplin.

No comments: