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

Sunday, September 22, 2013


    This isn't a trick question. "All successful poems" means precisely that:  every noteworthy poem on every topic for every audience and use in every form or genre and in every language and culture throughout human history.

    So what is it?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Another 9-11 poem

     It was forty years ago:  the morning of September 11th, 1973.  Chilean President Salvador Allende's land reforms and nationalization of copper mines had met with economic sanctions from the Nixon administration.  Three generals were approached by American operatives and asked to stage a coup.  The first two refused and were killed.  The third, Augusto Pinochet, accepted.

     The overthrow began in Allende's birthplace, the port town of Valparaiso.  During its unfolding, the complicity of the police forces in manipulating events became more evident.  As he vowed in a final radio speech to his people, Allende died performing his duties in the presidential palace in Santiago.  Among his final words were these, on the death of democracy in his country:

    "Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society."

     Not until 1990 was Chilean democracy restored.

     By the Pinochet regime's own estimates, 3,095 political prisoners were tortured and killed, including 1,200 "desaparecidos", many of whose bodies were dumped into the Mapocho River or directly into the ocean.

     As we mourn the victims of the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers, let us not forget those of the original 9-11 tragedy.

Beans (D.P. Kristalo).

"Beans"  by D. P. Kristalo

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.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #71
     In his September 6th, 2013 Chicago Tribune article, "Where competency ends, poetry begins", Michael Robbins mentions how only 1% of the Chicago Review's poems come from unsolicited submissions.  This preamble was hardly the point of the article but it did raise a few eyebrows...and a few hackles, since it suggests that 99% of the final product was solicited.  While that may be higher than the norm, most objections came from those who have never glimpsed the horrors of a slush pile--at least not Chicago Review's slush pile.  It is the flip side of the Watermelon Problem:  what do you, as an editor, do if you don't receive enough memorable poems?

    Why, you go out and acquire them, of course!

Armin Shimerman plays "Quark"
     If poetry is about poets, as the print world insists, you approach producers:  recognized poets.  This makes perfect sense.  In theory.  In practice, it results in a lot of "New Yorker"¹ poems  and the dull homogeny of a clique.

     If poetry is about poems you seek out specific recommendations from consumers:  critics, bird dogs and readers.  This approach gives us eclectic sources like The Hypertexts.  Editors might be surprised to hear how many interesting poems people have encountered in workshops, open mics or elsewhere. How can it hurt to ask your readership for tips?  To paraphrase Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #111"Treat subscribers like family.  Exploit them."

     I enjoyed Michael's article.  However, it seems that Mr. Robbins and I have very different definitions of competence.  For example, regarding "Apple Slices" he writes:

"Now, this is crushingly banal (and, at the end, questionably grammatical). It's not just that this scene of adolescent wholesomeness is textbook workshop pablum, but that it has been platitudinized. It's trite and conservative.

"But it's eminently competent."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #11
     Yes and no.  As an exercise in sonics it is downright excellent.  It fails as a poem because, in addition to imagination, it lacks everything else we might hope to see in free verse, starting with thoughtful linebreaks.  Shouldn't competence include more than assonance, spellchecking and an overactive ENTER key?

     Then there is this:

     "The merely competent should study Mlinko's work with envy."

     I appreciate the bold statement.  In my time I may have made a few, myself.  The problem is that this sample illustrates what Michael is bemoaning, not what he is championing: 

You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel,
but it's an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane'll hit here.

     Before we pursue that, though, we must make the same detour Mr. Robbins did in considering Mark Edmundson's "Poetry Slam" article in Harper's Magazine:

Mark Edmundson "Contemporary American poetry speaks its own confined language, not ours. It is, by and large, pure. It does not generally traffic in the icons of pop culture; it doesn't immerse itself in ad-speak, rock lyrics, or politicians' posturing: it gravitates to the obscure, the recondite, the precious, the ancient, trying to get outside the mash of culture that surrounds it."

Michael Robbins "This is just not true..."

     "Not true?"  The Ange Mlinko excerpt was not obscure?  Not recondite?  Exactly how many anglophones do we think will know who Ixion was?  Greek mythology isn't ancient and "outside the mash of culture" here in North America?  What could be more precious than speaking of Ixion using quaint contractions, the last of which breaks voice and rhythm?

     In an era when few MFAs grads know whether "Prufrock" is verse or free verse competence is a far greater and rarer accomplishment than some seem to think.


¹ - "New Yorker" poems = throwaway poems by celebrated poets.

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