The sun is setting over the Pacific, and I am watching it from the train. I just finished reading again Beautiful and Pointless by David Orr which is about the whole poetry world and how weird it is. It feels like the sun is just hanging inches over the horizon. I can see surfers in the ocean in their suits, the ocean must be cold. The waves are big but not so big as to be ridiculous. We are passing Del Mar which is a lovely little seaside town, the kind of place you wish you never had to leave. My friend’s house in Del Mar has a purple door and somehow reminds me of Winnie the Pooh’s house which was very welcoming and had nasturtiums planted out front although he could never pronounce the name. Winnie the Pooh’s house would be worth visiting because there would always be plenty of honey and probably bread to spread the honey on. My friend’s house is very welcoming too, like a seashell whooshing your own heartbeat.
On the train, the conductors like to say things like “Solano Beach is an adventure,” and, “It would be a shame to bring you safely to San Diego and have you get smashed by a trolley, so be careful when crossing the tracks.” These phrases do nothing to lighten my mood. Once when I was flying from Denver to Omaha, the stewardess said, “In the highly unlikely event a water landing between Denver and Omaha… “ I don’t like to hear about water or landing when I’m supposed to be staying up the sky.
But let’s get back to David Orr’s book. He chews through the poetry world in the most delightful way imaginable. His writing is funny and engaging. I like his part about the blurbs people write that seem to suck up like the tentacles of a squid. I like the section on ambition. Poets are ambitious. They want to be Noticed and they/we are in such a tiny bubble that there is hardly anyone to notice us yet we ardently wish for our tiny group of fans –if we have any—to be raucous and unnerving loud. I like his section on The Fishbowl, which pretty much sums up the strange world we find ourselves in. Yes, poets do get published because they are running in a crowd/gang and someone in that gang is a maker and make it happen for the others. Sometimes that maker goes unappreciated and unseen and nobody really cares whether that person is living indoors or is OK. But that’s the way that little world ravels and unravels.
I like the part on the form wars and on personal poetry. In short, everything about this book gives you a real feel of the game playing and yet real seriousness of the poetry world. Those of us inside it take it seriously; it matters to us to write well, to read each other’s work, to understand the art form and yet there are little camps that exclude people, there are poetry wars, there is nastiness, there are people, I am sure, who would accuse me and Red Hen of doing a very bad job, yet, they haven’t made the sacrifices we have made. And if they had made those sacrifices they would have their own long list of mistakes. That’s not to say they aren’t right. We have made mistakes, but it is to say that it is like people with no children telling you how to raise yours. You want to say, “Shut it. Make your own children, and if you don’t know how. Go online, I hear they have videos.” I’ve gotten dirty and messy making poetry and it’s been a good time. Reading this book reminded me of the good parts and the crazy parts. Orr’s written something wonderful here and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the poetry world. I want to give it to everyone on our board.