A good new poem in any style

will appear to a poet who writes in another style

as propaganda

for the Demiurge he has hated all his life.

Who deprives him of respect

(however respected he is), who excluded

or beat him in elementary or high school,

who kept him from being beautiful or loved

(however loved he is), sober or rich.

He may study the other poem, feel

the hair on the back of his head

rising, as Housman said, or the top of his head

coming off (Dickinson),

run upstairs to show it to his wife

and email it to friends and students, but

beneath all that maturity and culture

he hates it -

not only because he didn't write it,

but because it's in another style.

This rule applies to women poets also,

don't kid yourself.  Eventually he (or she)

goes for a walk.  And what he thinks he's doing

is seeking new perspectives

on trees, cars, childhood, the decay

of Being, the depredations of capital, but what

he's really doing

is trying to get past that poem: to rewrite it

in his style or, if that's impossible,

to make it not to have been.

He may decide that canonical sophistication

counts less than being accessible

to dreaming, warm-hearted, ordinary people.

Or that style is obsolete, even oppressive;

that it can be transcended

by, say, aleatoric techniques.  These insights are futile:

whatever he writes next will be a style.

For poets only think they go outside.

Actually they sit, each in his room

in a grimy old apartment building;

the street, other poems, capital are in the room.

A painted-over door in each back wall

leads to a shared hallway, but few pry it open;

a mugger lurks there,

swift and merciless,

familiar with all the words, believing none.



Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published
by Story Line Press.  Other of his  poems and essays have appeared in Hudson Review, Southern Review, Fulcrum, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), Representations and elsewhere.  Poems have most
recently appeared in the print journals Iota (UK), Orbis (UK), Naked Punch (UK), Magma (UK), The Hat, Bateau, and
Moment.  Online, poems have appeared in Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, The New Hampshire  Review, Denver Syntax, Barnwood, elimae, Wheelhouse, and elsewhere.  Pollack is an adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University, Washington, DC.


Recently I've seen poets praised, by editors and reviewers, for being "humble."  I don't think poetry should be humble.  If it is, it usually has a lot to be humble about.  Poetry should be bold, visionary, and rude.  This poem is at least rude.  In part it concerns the awkward fact of envy among poets, and their rationalizations of it.  The repetition of "style" is also calculated, for "style" is an unfashionable term nowadays.  The academic pseudo-avant-garde like to feel they have escaped or transcended style,
via "aleatoric techniques," asyntactical word-salad, the "signifier set free" and other nonsense.  Moreover, no one likes to feel that his or her style is merely part of the style of an era, which will one day rest in textbooks, no longer "modern" or "post-modern," its flaws and blind spots all too evident, imitated by second-raters. My work brings to bear an historicist viewpoint, applying it consistently and uncomfortably both to my self and to my world.  Towards the end this poem invokes ("for poets only think they go outside ... the street, other poems, capital are in the room") the idealism I also like to play with.




Copyright 2009