Let’s say, for a moment, that I am among that widening claque of poets who feel less and less tethered to the history of beauty, rarity, and careful, charged language that made any of us poets—that drove us to write poetry after the reading of it. If I were to become an editor, then, the contemporary scene would give me more poems than I could feasibly print, so vast is the collection of ‘hip’ verse with little stake in any subject of import. And what, in my quiet moments at night, would I know ‘hip’ to actually mean: vulgar; unimaginative; appearing to straddle the confines of taste, while actually straddling what should be silence and the chatty flashbang of marginal talent; then, the pantomime of loving ‘the margin’—but, most of all, I’d know the hip to be utterly married to evanescence. And, I suppose, I’d have to be content knowing my little glossy would find the bottom of a bloke’s birdcage come the 30th of each month.
I used to believe that there was something sad in the duty of a poetry editor under the pressures of monthly or bi-monthly production. Really, how many important, well-crafted pieces are circulating in a given year? fifteen? So, she has no choice but to give a glimpse at real incision, and then a background of clever, or sombre, decently-wrought work. (Or, better, reduce the amount of poems published.) I always felt this way about the Boston Review, specifically, because one would run across a stunning poem, then be agape at the lowbrow tripe filling out a section.
Given the current issue, I’m less sure than ever that the Boston Review has any interest in consistently publishing quality work; I think she’s on the bandwagon of half-baked, trendy poems to stay. For love of the stuff.
Let’s make “Hate Mail” the bête noir of this post. Before half the poem is done, we’ve got the laundry-list of contemporary tactics to claim attention: vulgarity, check; cliché, check; vaguely approbative reference to government, check; identity poetics, check. I’m almost abashed at having attacked Dai George’s poem a few months back after coming across the montage of wan, ready-made phenomena; this ‘poem’ is as close as verse may ever come to the modular home.
[. . . ] You deserve to be
Flattened by the Greater Good—pigs don’t
Fly, yet your arrogance is that of a blimp
Which has long forgotten its place on this earth.
Big arrogance unmoored from its launch pad
Floating free, up with mangy Canadian honkers,
Up with the spy satellites and the ruined
Ozone layer which is, btw, caused by your breath,
Because you were born to ruin everything, hacking
Into the inspiration of the normal human ego.
You are not Queen Tut, honey, you are not
Even a peasant bar-maid, you are an aristocrat
Of Trash, landmine of exploding rhinestones,
Crown of thorns, cabal of screech-bats!
I suppose this is what ‘thoughtfulness’ has been reduced to, eh? The ‘Greater Good’ is so ironic that it can be placed pejoratively without the slightest investigation by its speaker, while the vacuous ‘pigs don’t/Fly’ is a virtual epaulet, self-evident—’Take that, thou believers in “The Greater Good”! I defy thee with my aphorism!’ Which of these concepts deserves more unpacking, really? The concerns of the Ozone, of ‘place on this earth’—these are thrust into the background by Muske-Dukes, and the darling, chit-chatty ‘btw’ and ‘honey’ take center stage. Her gestural use of ‘landmine’ and classical Christian imagery border on the pathetically pre-fabricated, and the fact that the speaker bandies about subjects of actual heft with such ease speaks to her own sense of unexamined entitlement.
And let’s not forget where this poem gets to: the self-reflexive act of composing a poem, which, in this world, cannot ‘refute the truth,’ or only has the palest shot at doing so. Instead of attempting to be in collusion with images of the True, why not let the poem be that thing, the truth of experience, unadulterated by the glare of internet phraseology and small celebrity? For, one can hear the defense of this piece in the corridors of its making: ‘Well, this is just how it is these days,’; ‘Didn’t you read the title, this is just a reflection of e-mails I’ve heard about friends getting’; and ‘Why shouldn’t I write with the kind of speech I hear everyday’; and then, most insistently: ‘I will break free. I will be so hip hip will last, I will make a poetic space for this Gaga instant.’
Unlikely. Check the comments on this piece at bostonreview.net and you’ll find the dull, congratulatory, closest-to-saying-nothing acknowledgments you might fathom, meaning only this: no one is brought to reflection by work that wagers nothing, says nothing original, and builds itself by referencing language that has become nothing. I wonder what ‘next month’ means for Boston Review, and periodicals beyond.