Betts’ poem in the current issue of Poetry Magazine is roundabout, jarring, queer, forceful. One might call its composition avant-garde.
As faithful readers of this blog will suspect, avant-garde doesn’t spring from my pen with pristine credentials—experiment for experiment’s sake spells disaster for all but the most brilliant artists. Why?—well, in my estimation, meaning is not made, but apprehended; the go-to gesture of the would-be avant-garde is the gesture beyond, to the horizon, with the real answer lying depths below the Current all the time. Consider Duchamp: Fountain‘s ‘question’ spawned a half-generation of yes-men, and a half-generation of ‘ready-made’ junk with marginal (if any) artistic merit; one looks to Apropos of Little Sister (1911) or Nude Descending a Staircase no. 2 (1913) for Duchamp’s artistic achievements.
Let’s discuss The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even— another time.
The point of this tangent being: Betts’ piece strikes me as an attempt to reclaim a lot of lavish, ‘don’t-go-there’ terms from their current quiet relegation as too ‘literary’ to have currency; he asks me: ‘What words are inside your everyday estimations?’ The bee I mark afternoon after afternoon on my trip to the car is anthophilous, I would likely define part of its existence with the very terms used in anthophilous‘ definition, but have lived without that word for 30 years. Without the peculiar beauty of the word. Remarkable.
And my interest is in the beauty of some of Betts’ terms: ‘anthophilous,’ ‘lithophilous,’ ‘symphily,’ terms he calls back from jargon directly after their use: “petrophilous, stigmatophilia: live near rocks, tattoo hurt.” It’s a compelling strategy, as is the introduction of ten-dollar words most of us do know (never have ‘philatelist,’ ‘demimonde,’ or ‘antiquarian’ seemed like such gimmes).
I think his constant motion within the [-]phil[-] prefix and suffix is a good practical move, too, in a poem this trying (trying!)—it provides a nice touchstone, as if it’s always the same tricky jetty on which we are balancing, however far or near we venture; words with immediately apprehensible parts (‘negrophile,’ ‘philopornist’) function the same. And, though I’ve made a tacit acknowledgment, on some level, of the ‘story’ running through the poem (despite all my trips to the dictionary), I’ve got to admit to the blindsiding I meet with every time I arrive at
All these words
for love (for you), all these ways to say believe
in symphily, to say let us live near each other.
—And why not be blindsided. I’m deeper than I was before.