It’s always demoralizing when a favorite song—Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” or the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” come to mind—is co-opted to sell soda or Caribbean cruises.
Poetry, however? I’m not ungrateful to have some smuggled into my day by a commercial carrier whose agenda is somehow less suspect.
Image via Elisa Dorman, Wikimedia Commons
Whatever other criteria we use to lump them together—shared aims of psychedelic consciousness-expanding through drugs and Eastern religion, frank explorations of alternative sexualities, anti-establishment cred—the Beats were each in their own way true to the name in one very simple way: they all colla
Remember Donny and Marie Osmond, the toothy, teenage Mormon siblings whose eponymous television variety show was a wholesome 70’s mix of skits, songs, and ice skating?
Their surprisingly enduring theme song reduced their popularity to an easily graspable binary formula:
She was a little bit country. He was a little bit rock and roll.
Everyone’s favorite alcoholic poet and dirty old man Charles Bukowski was hardly what you’d call a romantic, though he had a softer side: a vulnerability and compassion for the lonely, poor, and suffering. But we don’t love Bukowski because he prettied up the nasty business of being human.[...]
Some of the best, most succinct writing advice I ever received came from the great John McPhee, via one of his former students: “Writing is paying attention.” What do you see, hear, taste, etc.? Questions of style, syntax, and punctuation come later.[...]
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Is it possible to fully separate a word’s sound from its meaning—to value words solely for their music? Some poets come close: Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery. Rare phonetic metaphysicians. Surely we all do this when we hear words in a language we do not know.
“To choose what I should read tonight, I looked through seventy odd poems of mine, and found that many are odd indeed and that some may be poems,” said Dylan Thomas in a 1949 BBC broadcast.[...]
Robert Frost has the dubious honor of being known the world over as the poet of a seize-the-day cliché.[...]
In the years after World War II, the CIA made use of jazz musicians, abstract expressionist painters, and experimental writers to promote avant-garde American culture as a Cold War weapon. At the time, downward cultural comparisons with Soviet art were highly credible.[...]
Drawing by Graziano Origa, via Wikimedia Commons
An old man sits alone, ranting in a nasally monotonous drone. He breaks into rueful laughter, threats of violence, mockery, maudlin lament….