Friday, January 07, 2005

Magazine Report: American Poetry Review

"three little fireworks"

Poetry is a sphere of lit in bad need of drastic change.

Last Monday I read at a poetry series at the main library here in Philly. The audience looked surprised when I raised my voice.

The big poetry journal produced in Philadelphia is American Poetry Review, a good illustration of why establishment poetry in this country is near death. Unplug its life support from wealthy people and it'd immediately vanish.

As it is, the patient (poetry) lies comatose on the hospital bed, green line on a nearby monitor flat. But wait-- there's a ripple on the line. Not a ripple really, but a vibration. An innuendo of a rumor of a ripple of breathing life.


"Hospital: It was Euphoria" by Jean Valentine, constant award winner.

"It was euphoria
little veins of it sent

burst to the brain
three little fireworks
white on the gray MRI

it was euphoria

when you stove my boat
& brought me over
listing in the racing foam- -"

That's it, folks. An entire Jean Valentine masterwork. Earned her piles of money from rich people. THAT'll get hordes of Americans interested in poetry alright. That'll save the art form.

I look through poem after poem in this prestigious Philadelphia poetry journal and can find hardly a whisper of a ripple of life. The green line remains static as I turn the pages. The machine next to the bed begins to beep.

Names? Oh, the rag contains names, without question: Alicia Ostriker; John Updike; Reginald Shepherd; John Yau; Elaine Sexton; Robert Pinsky; Ira Sadoff. What it doesn't contain is any sense, modulated murmur or whisper of excitement.

"Beep. Beep!"

This kind of irrelevant APR CRAP in fact about shoes yogurt cups incense sticks ketchup bottles tiny leaves old rugs is exactly what chases hordes of college students every year away from poetry. Fire hazard as they crowd the exit door in the classroom; people trampled as mobs flee from the uselessness of the establishment Word.


The machine in the poetry hospital is shouting electronically frantically while the caretakers don't seem to hear as the body on the table begins to turn blue.

Here's an excerpt from APR poet Glenna Luschei's bio: "She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a D.H. Lawrence Fellowship in New Mexico, an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from St. Andrew's Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and a Master of Life Award from her alma mater, the University of Nebraska. She was named Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo City and County for the year 2000." Etc. (Her bio is beyond satire.)

"Master of Life"! One might think Glenna's poem, "Waterlillies," should then provide awe, catharsis, or excitement. It doesn't. The poems in this issue range from average to bland to idiotic to insipid to-- in Robert Pinsky's case-- embarrassing.

It turns out Ms. Luschei is a major donor to APR-- one of the nurses or doctors ignoring the condition of the patient. She might be one of those mad health care providers you read about in the newspaper who use the guise of their profession to kill people.


The patient on the table has died. It's turned gray. Poetry was its name. Someone call the morgue and notify the family.


Noah Cicero said...

"when you stove my boat"
What does that mean? Did someone stick his boat in a stove and cook it. I think I'm too uneducated to understand that line.
I thought poetry was supposed to be fun to read, like Langston Hughes or Bukowski. To me personally why I don't read Jean Valentine and the other award winning writers is because it is no fun and their writing is too flowery to arouse sadness.
I don't know, I think Hughes Madame Alberta K poems is the greatest poetry book ever. But sadly I bet you can get an MFA in poetry in America and not read one of them.

Anonymous said...

Stove-up is a better way to put it.

Evil Journalista has been on many boats. In his native Ukraine, in the Middle-west, and where he lives now, in Exile.

Once as a young man, Evil Journalista swam in cold lake waters, in upstate New York. His bodily parts were nibbled by an unseen water-creature, and he has not been the same since.

Jeff Potter said...

Yeah, stove is corny, coming from her, but it's real and correct. Apologies for unstoppable sincerity but this UnJournalist knows the full form for boating is STOVE-IN.

Stove-up is like layed-up. Bashed, broken and resting for the nonce. Stove-up. Boats can't do that or have it done to them. It happens to leg bones, mostly. Or ribs. To people. Not boats.

Stove-in is when we collapse a wall thing. Shove it in. It would leak. Water. If it were a boat.

I've been on lotsa boats, even big ones---in charge even. And I've stove em in! Run em smack dab into innocent craft. Swing a bowsprit and sheer off a railing like it was butter. With no insurance. Boats have mass, some of em. I've been the same ever since. But I'm getting to be leery of planes where the pilot isn't drunk.

King, ya been posting good stuff!

Anonymous said...

Dear Word Detective: My brother-in-law and I are wondering about the Maine term "stove up." Where and how did it originate? Can you also give me any direction on where I can find a book dealing with Maine lingo? -- Kay Brown, via the Internet.

Well, to answer your second question first, one good source of Maine expressions would be Robert Hendrickson's excellent book "Yankee Talk," published by Facts On File Books in 1996. Mr. Hendrickson covers more than 3,500 New England colloquialisms, many of which (e.g., "Meaner than goose grease") are worth the price of the book ($14.95) all by themselves.

"Stove up," however, does not appear in Mr. Hendrickson's book, probably because its use isn't restricted to New England (though I'm sure it's used there, especially given the region's nautical history). Before I explain that "nautical" reference, a few words about "stove" itself. We're not talking Betty Crocker stoves here: "stove" is an archaic form of the past tense of the verb "stave" (and a participle, or adjective, based on that verb). To "stave" something is to break up or puncture it, originally in the sense of smashing a wine cask by breaking the "staves," or wooden slats, from which the cask was constructed. Thus something which is "stove" has been punctured or damaged, often a "stove boat" which has had a hole poked in it by running aground on rocks or other impediments.

A boat that has been "stove in" or "stove up" has been rendered utterly useless, and this same sense is carried over to the more general landlocked use of "stove up" as a synonym for "worn out" or "run down." As I said, I'm sure this phrase is used often in Maine, but since it's also heard in rural settings all over the country, it's classified as a general American colloquialism. The first written citation for "stove up" listed in the Oxford English Dictionary comes only from 1901, but since the literal sense of "stove" applied to boats has been traced back to 1850 (in a work by Herman Melville, not surprisingly), the metaphorical phrase has probably been in use in seafaring communities a good deal longer than that 1901 citation would indicate.