Distribution Automatique

Wednesday, March 30

The Best Minds

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by madness, starving, hysterical, naked..."
Allen Ginsberg

"In art, there is all too much thinking about liking
and disliking."
Jackson Mac Low

For quite awhile now I’ve been postponing reading
*The Best American Poetry 2004* edited by Lyn Hejinian,
though I knew I would, inevitably. How could I ignore a
project like this from such a first-rate mind?
I took it home from the library today, and I dipped into it
and thought: this is going to be difficult. Of course, there are
the expectable ideas or reactions about not having been
included, any poet might feel this. But, as I read through it, I realized
a few of the reasons that I have had some problems reading
AND writing poetry, especially of late. For a very long time, especially since
9/11, I’ve noticed that I frequently avoid newspapers,
news broadcasts, sad movies and many other things
that might depress me. (By the way, my work as a
therapist does not at all affect me this way – on the
contrary, it is stimulating and interesting because I find
doing therapy intensely engrossing,
more and more over time, especially
because I enjoy learning and most of all following
and trying to assist the process of change.)

As soon as I began to read the book, it occurred
to me that a great deal of contemporary poetry continually
reflects on disillusionment and suffering, and not
a little of it, including much of my own recent work
focuses on the hardships of being a poet.
I am tired of thinking about this. I think about it
all the time. It feels like I have always thought
about this all the time. I closed the book and considered
writing a satiric parody of a contemporary poem. But
oh please, not that again! So I reopened the
book and continued reading here and there.

Then, as I paged through the book, I got an idea.
I thought of pulling out one sad, depressed, angry,
bitter or tragic line from each poem. At first I
did this in a provocative or critical way, but then
it became a way of reading the book with an eye
towards insight. While thinking about the work in
this way, I discovered that the book is, in fact,
very worthwhile reading, an absorbing assemblage
of poetic minds and approaches to writing
and thinking about poetry; and also, that the
overall selection does connect; and very beautifully
so. In this manner I forced myself to read each and every
poem completely , though quickly, in order to select the one
line or phrase from each work to include here.
It's interesting also to note, that
when I have read a book of poems in this way, I will
inevitably return to it, as I have made my acquaintance
now with the poems (and in a number of cases, the
poets), and I have become curious about getting to know
them better. (The obvious benefit of a useful anthology).
Finally, I constructed a title from two of the lines.

“Going Toward Nothing”: “The Self-Stung Unfolding”

(Lines from The Best American Poetry of 2004, edited by Lyn Hejinian)

“she should have stayed in her little cage
shat on by her sisters above her” (15)

“Not some writhing in a tortuous canine presence” (17)

“tighten up your resumé sphincter living for a better suicide” (22)

“Almost all the words we’ve said to one another are gone” (26)

“bombing another car…you so hate” (29)

“Now see the damage” (31)

“We were going toward nothing/all along” (32)

“Does something for everyone mean nothing for anyone” (34)

“Memory is to life like a band-aid to a wound” (38)

“I know I’m fucked” (43)

“…he went ballistic” (45)

“’From those who have nothing, even what they have
will be taken away,’ I thought” (46)

“I am on a drive where a mirror has collapsed” (48)

“his face a glass that has shattered but not yet fallen” (51)

“…the city on the hill having failed us” (54)

“It is difficult to describe what we felt” (55)

“who’s pushing who?” (58)

“-your negligence constantly reminds-“ (59)

“and there’s plenty to be unhappy about” (61)

“*I am wretched*” (63)

“stunned from the sleep of a Nobody” (66)

“Inducing doubt and self-hatred in all you come into contact with” (71)

“sent out a feeble cry signifying
grief and confusion, et cetera” (73)

“its heartless calculation, its profound sadness” (78)

“something dirty, something you only do if you are sick and caught in deep clots of blood” (81)

“Adolf Hitler’s radio rant” (85)

“Desperate to see themselves as merry/
In the mirror they carry around with them” (88)

“I returned your book of poetry to the store/
I returned to the scene of the crime” (90)

“Molten days, because of lingering
Nothing’s personal, including yours” (93)

“I have lost the doves of Milan, floating politely” (94)

“Baby would be raped or murdered by now
kidnapped or placed in a holding cell at the police station…” (99)

“*I think I know, but the world’s still mum*” (109)

“Anything can happen under these conditions. Nuclear bombs, dirty/ bombs, small time random murder, and abduction” (117)

“and then everyone gone and not found” (123)

“the beginning of a sentient, formless life” (125)

“I am none but the king of sad persuasion” (126)

“I heard a voice saying ‘Blundering
Coma dancing wild ineptitude…” (131)

“The speculations of that secret self/
For whom to even try to talk to you is death” (134)

“…a replenished body
singing its way into doubletalk” (136)

“Dark passages wait for us…” (142)

“And still we did not speak, did
not know to whom to speak…” (146)

“…a republic of none, the one included/us,/
no one to speak it with, dumbstruck” (148)

“no longer dreaming plowing on through thick mud” (153)

“Perhaps Paul Celan is the crematorium built
especially for Language poets” (161)

“…frozen in terror” (169)

“Is bad weather coming/
how would we know/
Is bad weather coming
call everyone” (174)

“an era of night sweats, gasps and pants” (177)

“the paranoia I feel about all the award
I’m like king of the losers again” ( 179)

“why is the president so popular? because he is vicious” (184)

‘Like an x-ray of infant bronchitis. Wrist slitting stuff” (186)

“Don’t invite me to your pity party.
Don’t call me up on your pity party line
and invite me over for punch and cookies.
I won’t come…” (187)

“terrible vision. I don’t think I can fall asleep” (188)

“a terror that being emperor in no matter how many other brains/can’t squash” (191)

“but nothing sticks, that doesn’t/
have to. Not memory;
not the naming…”(193)

“City of healers and cheaters” (195)

“Your themes/ are plein-air/ endless/ sad.” (197)

“jumping in flames from roaring height for a fooled god/
and his cow disease of long rotting memories” (198)

“Don’t look here for a view
the ice will just cream all over you
latency barometer zero” (201)

“on I trouble raped” (204)

“listen to me./ mirrordown./ these notions are halfbaked understand/
it’s just what’s right/ I’m tired just let me rest” (206)

“The melanoma on my skin
Resumes what’s wrong with me within” (207)

“In the injured house
made of local sun and stone-
In the city of numbers
Which everyone counts and hates and wants-“ (214)

“Lines link lives like words,
glances, an embrace, capable
entirely of administration, deceit,
want, need, the long sigh,
meaning evident to no one.” (223)

“*slowly, poetry had failed me*” (224)

“People are like ciphers. They say this. They say that.” (227)

“just a mistake- I scream outright at the likeness.” (228)

“…when the sky opens up/
and pelts the earth with a momentary lapse of crying.” (229)

“eighteen women in singular postures of
mourning along the sides of the sarphagus;” (231)

“The sudden pressure to
act normal was killing me.” (233)

“..inventing a paranoia into the sleepless
monster that is this bastard maggot poetry.” (236)

“Raucous how fun to rip it apart soon…
Poetry scene lurker as mass-popular unit.” (240)

“We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.” (241)

“And the chorus of tone-deaf guards is bellowing
Lock down and Body Search! Silence and Lights Out!” (243)

“Nothings undoing among the self-stung unfolding of things.” (244)