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

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Great Poems of Our Time: "Beans"

September came like winter's
ailing child but
left us
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
doctored moment lied. You lie with
orphans' parents, long

As close as coppers, yellow beans still
line Mapocho's banks. It
leads them to the sea;
entwined on rocks and saplings, each
new vine recalls that
dawn in 1973 when
every choking, bastard weed grew wild.

I could write a book about this poem and the newslist lore surrounding it. I make no promises but I'll try to stick to the facts.

DPK was a member of the Poets.org and Gazebo workshops. Nothing else is known about the author. In referring to the poet people use feminine pronouns because--get this--the writing comes up as more likely that of a female than a male on Gender Genie. We do know that she has designated all of her work, past, present and future, as licensed under Creative Commons, such that anyone can use it for any purpose.

"Beans" first appeared on Poets.org, where critics were impressed by its acrostic curginic form. Later, on Gazebo, "Shit Creek Review" editor Paul Stevens was struck by the core ambiguity of the poem. This remark turned out to be prescient;  people on both sides of the political divide have claimed it as sympathetic to their cause. Indeed, the poem can serve as a litmus test, the theory being that the more difficulty a viewer has appreciating this duality the more radical that viewer's politics. Unfortunately, all of this ambiguity is lost in the video below.

As with Maz's "Studying Savonarola", this source has covered the poem's technical merits well enough. Again, we have in "Beans" a piece that sparkles in performance.

As far as we know, DPK doesn't pursue publication. From conversations with them I know that two prestigious editors, one of a magazine, one an e-ziner, expressed a keen interest in publishing "Beans" until they were told that everyone was free to do so. One said he'd not seen contemporary verse of this ilk. The other managed no more than a "Wow!" I won't dwell on the possibility that neither of the two greatest poems of this century will have been published in print while their authors were alive.

The last seven words complete the experience. 

 "...when every choking bastard weed grew wild."

       Before them, the sounds include gentle alliteration (e.g. "as close as coppers"), consonance ("September came  like  winter's") and, especially, assonance ("recalls that dawn").  Now we hear a change, marked by three iterations of the lead in "when every choking bastard weed",  as trochaic words ("choking bastard") magically turn into iambs, culminating in the "Ta Da!" ending spondee:  "grew wild".  The lack  of repetitions sounds like a typing test.
"The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."
      The last five words stress sounds from the five different vowels:

i) the long "o" of "choking";
ii) the short "a" in "bastard";
iii) the long "e" of "weed";
iv) the long "u" sound in "grew"; and,
v) the long "i" in "wild".

     As for "y" being an occasional vowel, it is in the sixth last word ("every").  As for "w" and "r" being considered consonants despite being vowel sounds, they are in the seventh ("when") and sixth ("every") last words.  The poem loses its composure as the speaker loses  hers.

Beans (D.P. Kristalo) on Vimeo.

We judge poems as great not because we can remember them but because we cannot forget them. If I check with you in twenty years I suspect that you will still be able to complete this sentence:

"Your face was always saddest..."

Next: "Antiblurb" by A.E. Stallings

  1. "Studying Savonarola" by Margaret A. Griffiths
  2. "Beans" by D. P. Kristalo
  3. "Antiblurb" by A. E. Stallings
  4. "How Aimée remembers Jaguar" by Eric Hopson
  5. "There Are Sunflowers in Italy" by Didi Menendez
  6. "Auditing the Heart" by Frank Matagrano


  1. I'm afraid I prefer Billy Collins. Are the videos supposed to make the poems popular? How many people have viewed the videos? Sorry, I don't see what you're aiming for at all.

    1. Kyle:

      Any presentation is designed to put the product in its best light. Unfortunately, very few are interested in poetry. Instead, those of us who care about the art form beyond using it as a megaphone make models based on target audiences, hone prosodic skills and wait for this mode of communication to be resurrected. If you hope to develop your own appreciation beyond that of Billy Collins, try reading "Beans" as text. Once you've gleaned all you can from it, click on the word "Beans" at the top for a technical analysis which should answer most of your questions. At the very least, you'll understand what others see in it.


      I hope this helps.

      Earl Gray, Esquirrel

  2. This is not even remotely a great poem. It is frail, bland and inoffensive. What happened to imagination and passion? The reason even intelligent readers tend to ignore contemporary poetry (or neglect, as you would have it)is because it resembles this crap. If you find delight in this, then maybe you're living in a masturbatory little echo-chamber. I want poetry that moves and challenges me to rethink existence, and as a reader I won't settle for this crap. And as a poet, I wouldn't settle for writing this little nugget of blandness. And as a critic or editor, I wouldn't settle for praising it so damn highly. What has poetry become if this is 'great'? That is what readers who are not directly involved in the closeted world of contemporary poetry ask themselves. This is no better than Billy Collins; maybe when you want to experience poetry beyond this blogosphere-tailored rot, you should go back and read real masters: Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Keats, Shelley, Whitman, Dickinson, Browning, Rimbaud, etc., etc. Readers are hungry for a feast and you turds are giving them a packet of gum and telling them it is a feast. No wonder no one except contemporary poetry types care about contemporary poetry; anyone with a cultural memory extending beyond the past few decades would read this and find it out right pretentious and dumb. Nothing vital in it, nothing beautiful or imaginative, just learned stupidity, like most 'good' contemporary poetry. If poetry is to be a great and vital artform again, its going to take poets who can transcend this stupidity, poets who aren't content to pluck a lesser fruit from a low bough. We need a visionary. The imagination yearns for its torch-bearer.

    1. Please see my response to Kyle. I hope you will let us know how your view changes once you take into account the context, technique and forms. I'd be especially curious to see if and when you can appreciate the irony of calling this elegy "inoffensive".

  3. Anon has it right though ignoring an essential of most poetry that ordinary folk respond to: content, poems that say something about the human condition and are not simply the predominant slices of life and personal stories, meaning poems with clear takeaways, like my mine attached especially nonpunishable because of its brevity:


    Of love's gentleness she dreamt
    with little hope or feigned attempt
    to whisk away his manly moves
    which no caring love behooves.
    He wants hard not soft romance
    Soft be gone for another chance.

    1. Aside from being a memory aid, brevity can be a mercy.

  4. What — if you know of course — was D.P.K like on Gazebo and poets.org? Was she as good a critic as Maz, or was her greatness only in her work.

    (BTW, why/when did Gazebo and poets.org fail?)

    1. Good question! It is important to understand the level of critique involved in these places. Without exaggeration, a person could learn more from one such post than in a year at Linebreaker University or a lifetime elsewhere.

      DPK's time on Poets.org was brief, on Gazebo shorter still. She was neither a social butterfly nor a prolific critiquer but, based on our collective recollection, would have been in a class with Maz and Hannah Craig, though perhaps not quite their equal. Still, infinitely better than the interpretation & biography that passes for criticism everywhere else. In our opinion, of the ten great 21st century poets, Maz, DPK, Julie Carter and Rose Kelleher wrote the best critiques.

      The demise of Poets.org was far more abrupt than Gazebo's. New elements on the Poets.org board eliminated the critical forum, citing some problems with hacking as a final straw.

      A lot of Gazebo's better critics left after a dispute over an administrative decision, from which it never fully recovered.

      Both departures occurred about a decade ago. PFFA and Eratosphere are still available, and there are one or two Facebook groups from survivors.

  5. Hello,
    Being the big authority on curginas I wondered if you could tell me who wrote these poems on this site. (Williams and Brooks excluded of course.)

    W T Clark
    PS: Three by Kristalo?


    1. As far as we know, DPK wrote "Beans", "Joie de Mourir", "Heartbreaker" (aka "Eve Marie"), and "Leaving Santiago". She reappeared with her elegy for Maz, "Margaret Ann". All of her works are in the public domain.

      "PET" and "Tecumseh" are unattributed and Creative Commons. Of course, "We Real Cool" is by Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Red Wheel Barrow" is W.C. Williams, and "Plea" is by A. Michael Juster.


Your comments and questions are welcome.