Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Watermelon Problem - Part II

We ended Part I of this discussion with the provocative question: "What does it say when a periodical has no such special editions?" That is, what if a publication doesn't highlight any iconic poems?

Respondent Christine Klocek-Lim pointed out that "the editor is too freaking busy already and...may not recognize the watermelon is a watermelon, tucked as it is between the broccoli and brussels sprouts". That is the watermelon problem at fast forward speed. A dominant jewel needs a prominent setting. Literary history is full of masterpieces being rejected by overworked examiners. No editor or contest judge wants to miss the next "Prufrock", as Harriet Monroe would have without Ezra Pound to provide the pedestal and definitions, the mound and space.

Rostrums and stages are built for a reason. What is the sense of having filters and filters for filters (e.g. assistant editors, screeners, bird-dogs like Ezra Pound, etc.) if we don't have a credible way to spotlight the next "Sonnet 43"? This is particularly important in an age of "channel-surfer" readers.

How did all of this come up? A friend of mine--yes, I do have friends--is an exceptionally sharp critic. This isn't the usual pontificating guardian of good taste. My buddy will go line-by-line, iterating myriad ways to have improved the writing and listing 12 different cases, compete with hyperlinks, where another poet has said the same thing better. In the end, his reader wonders why the underlying verse was ever published, let alone anthologized. This character is certainly not given to blurbing, hype or hyperbole. Imagine my shock when he emailed to tell me that he'd stumbled across "one of only three immortal poems from this decade". (He didn't need to tell me the other two.)

He wondered what could be done with such a diamond. "Can't send it to a poetry magazine, given their lack of readership and track record: no widely recognized poems in half a century. The New Yorker? No. This is the opposite of their typical fare. Trade mags? Not without a narrow focus and a long explanation. YouTube is a thought, if the poet has the networking and capital to produce and promote a video worthy of the text."

Both the author and the person being eulogized in verse have been described as recluses, modest to a fault, never seeking or receiving fortune, fame or the company of celebrities. The writer of this particular poem is known for ambiguity and strong opening lines. This entry doesn't disappoint:

There are no stars for us.

The elegy contains something few others do: humor. I'm not talking about wry tragicomedy, polite grins or wan nostalgia. I'm talking about a gut-busting laugh, something that will seem entirely inappropriate to anyone unfamiliar with the deceased's devilishly irreverent sense of humor.

The final stanza includes lines like:

You told the wicked truth
and I the honest lie.

Can you guess the name of the poet? The deceased?


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