Lament for Makers

I can barely resist these terms: degenerate, enfeebled. I can’t accurately speak of omission, though. All these suggest a prior fecundity and flowering, a choice, determination.

Don’t confuse this gnawing grudge of mine with bitterness—profound, prohibitive dismay tugging at the corners of my mouth, taxing my vocal cords, straining my lungs. No more excuses.

An aging population, fit for retirement. All the Cambridge ladies and their genteel writing clubs intent on pose and promotion…brazenly unaware, seeking solace and ease, contentedly nodding their heads in agreement with the simple message simply displayed, the truistic epiphany that—of all things!—occurred while standing in line at the ATM machine. They swallow poetry as routinely as daily supplements, wholesale verse replacing direct, wholesome nutrition: “the best words in their best order.” There’s a prize for everyone…

It’s not enough to read many poems. It’s not enough to read injudiciously. These Cambridge ladies likely have read some very good poems, and mistakenly believe that they approximate the art by chopping sentences into irregular lines—without guiding logic or order, precision counterpoint: torque and tension unfolding. For example,

Ten thousand feet above the high desert

the ancient bristlecone pine forest

clings to rock. Those trees that survive

are wind sculpted, hoary, gnarled,

low to the ground, looking like Lear.

I touch one branch, a curved foxtail,

bristles and purple cone, a frisson

of energy in my hand.

How soon we forget to count. These eight lines…unmetered, unrimed, unadorned—uneventful. There’s no infusion, no charge or sparkle. The alliterative allusion: unqualified, unearned. This sample belongs tucked away in a private journal, while its scribe deserves little crowning.

But to pursue the craft and tradition of that “high and ancient art,” recognizing subtle devices that electrify poems, vestigial time-tested methods. The more study—careful, patient examination—the more despair at what’s been lost. “A good poem exists at the center of a complex reminding, to which it relates as both cause and effect.” We’re almost entirely suspended by subject matter alone, with little more than quick smiles for the poem that’s slightly interesting or somewhat bewildering.

Zero penalty for average.

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