Do you know who is in your garden? Is it a pronoun combined with a chronological list of achievements? Or is it a self-conscious spell, projecting itself on various situations? Does it cast a shadow at brillig? Does it salivate over its own legend? Or is it starving to escape its own fixity, in a desperate flight from the established order?
These questions go out in particular to all the automatons with clock-hearts, dilapidated debutantes and crypto-auto-biographers out there who try to impress journal editors with their marching band of “Published-Ins”, “Appeared-Ins”, “Nominated Fors” and, perhaps most damning, “Awardeds”.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the spectacle of a circus on some child-like level. But anybody who has thought about it from the perspective of poetic justice must side with the slim chance of the animals revolting and devouring the ringmasters. I guess what I mean is that when the forecast is really hot, POETRY LEAVES NO PAPER TRAIL.
Or at least it doesn’t write up its own police report. Is poetry spying? Yes, to a degree, it is a (mass?) observation of “something”, but it is emphatically NOT a self-declared index of one’s own activities. Especially if these self-censored lists include awards but not dreams, punches thrown, neuroses confronted… Or is it full-blown espionage, self-surveillance, snitching? I think summaries and profile screens were invented for military officers and cops. Or at least somebody with a sharp object. Getting “to the point” evokes the bayonet.
But where there are cops, of course, there’s property nearby what needs guarding. Protecting the plots of the bourgeoisie, the literary corps of the police force keeps out squatters and vagrants and ensures that there are clean sitting rooms for people to wait in clutching their freshly printed resumes. Of course, most publication is a kind of job interview, but perhaps there are a few rare instances that see it more as a kind of MODEST OPPORTUNITY FOR INSINUATING ROMANTIC WITCHCRAFT INTO THE BLOODSTREAM OF THE CAPITALIST METROPOLIS. The touching of hearts, through modest exhibitionism of a few throbbing pericardia.
In this context I am reminded of a certain filthy doorway in a bus station I frequent, which, when it rains, reflects along its bottom panels a diabolical light-show of waves from water droplets, radio signals from a utopian neverland interrupting the foot-level gazers and reveries of the working day. Nearby, the word “COME” is scrawled in black marker on a red garbage receptacle. One would be hard-pressed to refuse this call to adventure, and I look around me, to see if others catch the moment…Unless, perhaps, they are instead committed to a much narrower conception of transit; just on their way, maybe. There are other invitations to respond to. Tonight, a highly established awards ceremony. And after, the itemization of said good time on one’s scroll of accomplishments. The life of the agenda and the invite. What, too good for garbage now? Your uncle Moscovitch was never too good for his own garbage.
Ok then. Instead of a coven plotting revolution, a gathering of the Table of Contents society. The mandate? Itemize the subitems. It’s a closed-circle of classification, a new worse scholarship of our own selves. A sad poet who crafts their own bibliography as a favour to their future biographer. “He’ll be so impressed, and I’ll be a bust in a high school cafeteria.” This is nothing new, but I keep wagering my all on the MUST BE MADE BY ALL OF YOU, and ask, can’t we dispense with templates and chronological storytelling?
By all and not one means not dwelling on oneself certainly. There’s a giant Gulliver out there you could be crawling all over. There’s a chance to step outside oneself, the Phoney Pohet, and stumble over an object or a group of friends that jolt a connection unforeseen, unprepared, untrained, and certainly unexposed. We need new faces and masks for ourselves that point far away from our humanity and its accrued skillsets.
When I was younger I spent some time considering poetry journals, prizes, submission guidelines and all the other operating procedures of a successful literary career. I found it was remarkably similar to the advice I was getting from high school career counsellors. The Way of the Professional Pohet: get good grades, volunteer, practice, network, apply, and expose yourself. It’s a rather obvious way to channel the ghost of christmas bureaucracy (and his attendant rewards). I suppose the output of both streams, had I followed them, would be UNFLINCHINGLY SUBURBAN. This means a poetics/lifestyle of comfort, entertainment, stability, and self-obsession.
Ah, look! There they go now, Mr. and Mrs. Poets of the Patriarchy! Cube headed with rounded, aesthetic corners. My, what clean careers and handkerchiefs. I suspect they smell of vetiver. A pink skunk pulls a baby-carriage at their side, filled with tomatoes. They must have drunk lots of fecund blowfish tea to get where they are now, you can see it leaking from their verse spouts (located like a Sperm Whale at the top of the head). A chipmunk could hear the chapbooks rustling in their hearts. I see them murmuring something… Ah, they are accepting their life experiences into their poems. They are living, just like that, right before our eyes! Such a simple movement of tender moments and bowels. I wonder how their spouts work, actually, I do hope they reveal the secret in an interview. Perhaps after winning some prizes. They lament there is hardly a career to be had in this poetry game. But for now they invite us over and look at the sight of their beautiful spinal cords on the shelf, their custom fonts. What a chymical couple.
Ok. Moving along. Now let’s stop and talk to Arcanum XII, The Hanged Man, who dangles merrily without jotting down any notes at all—or if he is doing that kind of journalism, behind his back (for we don’t know what he’s holding in his hands), he’s certainly NOT in the sharing mood. It’s a sort of still, Mass-Observation on his part, an ornithology of the poetic occurrence in nature and on the path towards the city. The Mass-Observers in Worktown would often take notes inconspicuously in coat pockets. The poetic data lives in the mass and belongs to the masses. The junkbox in the garage, the archive of old observations. This is where the poetic itemizes itself, an internal finality and an external slip on the banana peel of the real. You can see it in his expression. It’s that blank supernaturalist stare of Nerval. The very opposite of the self-satisfied smirk of the curriculum vitae. Yes, all acceptable and career-progressing CVs have this terrible facial expression:
The egg only got larger and larger, and more and more human: when she had come within a few yards of it, she saw that it had eyes and a nose and mouth; and, when she had come close to it, she saw clearly that it was HUMPTY DUMPTY himself. ‘It can’t be anybody else!’ she said to herself. ‘I’m as certain of it, as if his name were written all over his face.
Fry the egg. Who is content to be satisfied, when there’s desperation available? I ask the third person in the garden if they are really what was caught on the line (the dangling worm of reputation)… Or if it could be someone else?
A grin without a cat.