this is just to say

bad feelings. tried to be a responsible human, stuck waisting time on campus with shitty headphones and work I don’t want to dig into. throwing myself a pity party, dig into a cliff bar, wash it down with water from my dented metal bottle, the sticker chipping off.

two hours to kill at the library, and then a class on modern poetry. we’re reading the canonical modernist poets, so that means white people, only two women, too straight for my taste. well, the canonical modernists, and arthur symons. today: marianne moore. all the male poets except for symons get two weeks, but moore and HD only get a week each. I understand the reasoning, it makes sense if you’re trying to teach us what we need to know about the canonical modernists, but it bums me out.

trying to get through an article about william carlos williams and neuroscience, but I like my science a lot more fictional than this. it wants me to know things about neurons and synapses, and I’m all for interdisciplinary scholarship, but also I can’t hold those forms inside my head very well. my neurons and synapses will not allow that. I skimmed through it and gave up, it doesn’t focus enough on his early poems.

what I like about williams is that he’s just there. he’s simple, and present, and sitting on the kitchen counter for you to reach out and have however works best for you. there’s more too him, sure, but he’s so gloriously accessible, almost frighteningly so. modernist poets aren’t supposed to be this plainspoken, they’re supposed to be fucking eliot at his most extra.

it’s getting to the part of the term where I’m having to actually produce academic writing, and it’s reminding me how much I hate doing that. it hurts to give up my own voice and be subsumed into the style of academic prose. I resist it, or at least I try to resist it, I try to do my best, but there are conventions that must be observed. or maybe I’m just not fighting hard enough, hard to say. this is just to say I’m trying.

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AND

The first word of every line from Tennyson’s “The Defense of Lucknow” :

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floated

never

flying

shot

and

 

Frail

women

hold

never

voice

cold

every

death

death

death

death

striking

death

so

bullets

fire

death

mine?

keep

quiet

click

now

and

 

Ay,

soon

dark

cannon-shot

fiercely

what

storm

surging

plunges

so

kill

ready!

backward

flying

and

 

Handful

strong

each

still

there

children

every

better

roar

clove

rifleman

sharp

twice

twice

and

 

Then

clean

riflemen

one

mark

had

boardings

now

praise

thanks

fought

that

 

Men

but

ever

bugles

ever

ever

ever

ever

heat

stench

thoughts

cholera

lopping

torture

valour

horror

grief

toil

Havelock

then

millions

but

 

Hark

outran

surely

all

Havelock

sick

blessing

kissing

dance

saved

hold

and

I had to read “The Defense of Lucknow” for class last week. We’re doing a unit on post colonialism. It is important to read these kinds of things to look at how Englishness was created, to look at the terrible things in our history, to acknowledge that the important poetic figures of our past were also incredibly racist. There’s an important conversation to have. It’s just such a miserable thing to read.

In another class, we spent the last two weeks reading Ezra Pound. And Pound is just such a fucking problem, I don’t know what to do with him. How do we reconcile his imagism, and the incredible influence he had shaping modernism, with the fascist he became later in life? We can’t not read him, he’s too central, and too good, to be honest. His imagist poems are gorgeous, breathtakingly inventive uses of language. But he still thought Mussolini was awesome, and was antisemitic, and actually committed treason. And how America treated him for ineffectively committing treason was inhumane. But he still did some fairly terrible things.

How do we consume problematic art? This is an incredibly urgent question. And an incredibly vast question, big enough to include everything from Louie C.K jokes to Tennyson poems. It isn’t a question I have an answer for.

The only thing I’m sure about is that it’s a question we should be asking instead of taking things in without interrogating them. I’m less absolute, but believe for myself at least, that there’s value in consuming problematic art, in picking it apart, and having hard conversations, puzzling out the problems, the contradictions, and maybe even finding something worth holding onto.

Tonight one of my classmates read the first words of a handful of lines to say something about the overall tone of “The Defense of Lucknow.” “Death / Death / Death / Striking / Death.” I liked that better than the actual poem, and wound up reading down the whole thing. I find the first three stanza’s particularly effective. Tennyson ends his stanzas with the repeated line, “And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew!” which in the context of the poem is a lot of imperialist bullshit, but taking on the first word, the “and” signals an incompleteness, calling for more, leaving things open.

We consume problematic art and…

gay strains of a sad waltz

Queer culture is appropriating old poems that use gay to mean happy instead of queer. We have been robbed of so much queer literature, we’re allowed to steal whatever scraps are available. The straights killed Oscar Wilde, they have to give us this.

I’m being facetious, but only sort of. I do read poetry that uses the word gay through an ahistorical gay lens. I can’t help myself. I see that word, and expect to find something that belongs to me, something I belong to. Even when I know that isn’t what the author meant to make me do, it’s a hard instinct to turn off.

I could make an argument about death of the author, and maybe I should, but I feel like the real issue is historicity. I’m putting an anachronistic concept onto the work. It’s the problem of how you can’t really call Alexander the Great gay, even though he totally was, because the idea of sexuality as an identity didn’t exist in his era. I feel much worse about putting gayness into a setting where it didn’t exist as a coherent identity than I do reading homoeroticism in a text where the author didn’t intend it.

(I actually feel really good doing that. The Outsiders has strong homosocial tendencies. The author is dead. Stay gay Ponyboy.)

I’m reading Wallace Stevens for a class right now, and I’m really enjoying it. He uses a lot of gorgeous abstract language, poems that are about the orders of the words and the images they create, not about a thing you can point at easily. So I guess it’s understandable that I was able to read one of his poems entirely anachronistic unintended manner.

Here, you go read it and then keep on with what I have to say.

When I read this, I thought gosh, this would be a wonderful poem to read at the funeral of someone who had died of AIDS in the middle of the crisis. I’ve read so much about these funerals, seen them recreated in fiction, and recorded in documentary. I was too young to remember my godfather’s funeral, I’ve only heard stories. My mother was so upset by the hellfire and damnation offered at the small town they grew up in, that she organized another memorial at our hippy church in the cities. I have to imagine there was lots of singing. I know his mother came down for it. I wonder if my mother sang, she loves being asked to sing at funerals — but maybe she was too busy holding me, or too busy crying.

There was just something very striking in the poem. The repeated line, “Too many waltzes have ended” speaks to the scale of loss. And the lines “Yet the shapes / For which the voices cry, these, too, may be / Modes of desire, modes of revealing desire,” could say something community, that is united in desire, even as it is wracked by tragedy. The stuff about Hoon doesn’t fit anywhere, but that’s alright, having a line that doesn’t fit or make sense just adds to the over all strength of the poem. I don’t want to do a close reading, filling each line with ahistorical significance that I placed there. That isn’t the kind of writing I like spending my time doing, and I feel it will be stronger if you make the connections yourself.

“Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz” could be about just about anything you need it to be. Stevens could not have anticipated my reading. He might not have appreciated it. He was a Republican. But also, he believed in the importance of imagination, so maybe he would have been fine with my appropriation of his words. And if not, the author is dead, he’s dead, and so is my godfather, so are so many. “Too many waltzes have ended.”

Too many poems were not written, a generation of gay writers lost before their time, still falling. Today would have been Oscar Wilde’s 163rd birthday, but he only made it to 46. I can take whatever poem I want and get my dirty gay feelings all over it, and no one can stop me.

_______ future

There’s this thing I remember reading somewhere, probably in Please Kill Me, about how punk rock came out of nuclear anxiety. I can’t remember who was talking, maybe Richard Hell or Dee Dee Ramone, but it could have been anyone, and I can’t check because my copy is home in Chicago, and I’m home in Minneapolis. The story is that this dude remembers growing up, hiding under his desk in school, knowing that it wouldn’t actually make a difference, and that his teacher was full of shit, and couldn’t protect them at all. The generation that started punk rock was the first to grow up with that nuclear anxiety for as long as they can remember. (I’m not actually sure if that’s right, I think the post-war Beatles generation would have hid too, but this is the argument this dude was making, talking about his own life, and I’m not interesting in fact checking experiential knowledge.)

Apparently the idea of authority being useless in the face of the end of the world shaped the young psyches necessary to make punk rock. I find that compelling. I think about this all the time.

If punk rock comes from the idea that the world could end at any moment and there’s nothing the people can do about it, then what comes from forty years worth of generations of that?

I think of nuclear anxiety as something that belongs in the past. It went out of fashion after the Cold War, and is only just now being revived. What do the creative fruits of nuclear anxiety look like in 2017?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. It’s the curse, to live in interesting times. I would like to feel more confident that world war three will not begin tomorrow, but I’ll take this because it’s all I have.

i don’t like people who are younger than me who seem to know what they’re doing with their life

and i don’t like people who are older than me who think they know what i should be doing with my life

and to be honest, i really don’t like people, like, at all, hardly ever

which sometimes makes life hard

but whatever

there are a few people i love

and that’s enough

fuck what the rest of the world says

the things i can not change

which vastly outnumber the things i can

grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

 

today does not have to be a bad day

today can start to get better right now

i’m on the brink of another beautiful positive summer.