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Monday, May 16, 2005

al young named poet laureate of california

now, this couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. al young. i have to say, i've workshopped with al, and al is what i would call a pappa poet. he will lecture you, like your daddy will, and you can roll your eyes all you want but you will listen. al doesn't go for any of this bellyaching kind of poetry. he doesn't care a whole lot about a poem being a poem for the simple and only sake of 'feeling,' especially feeling that's always, and only, about the 'i'...anybody who's had al knows the speech he gives at the beginning of workshop. the 'young poets need to learn to move outside of themselves and their personal experience' speech. i hear you al. but lately, i've been reading a whole lot of, well, stuff outside of experience, outside of emotion, outside of the pastoral, the industrial, the pedantic and's like a seinfeld syndrom of 'nothingness' in poetry. good poetry as craft goes...not about much.

i read a poem recently, in a pretty little journal by someone who i won't name. the poem was so obviously crafted...written by a writer who fought hard for the words. the occasion, though, was a moment of watching television, specifically, i think, the preview channel. it stopped me. i didn't dislike it. i actually read it a few times because i admired the way the poem was put together. it was like watching those nice bodies at the beach or watching, for me this spring, college basketball, except in basketball, there was a very specific passion. i didn't know what to walk away with in that moment of the poem. perhaps i should say i couldn't find the thing i was supposed to walk away with. it made me think of roethke and how he could write these small poems seemingly about nothing but when you left them, when he ushered you out of the poem in the last lines, a hinge swung open and the world was before you...the small thing made enormous.

i think this is what al's talking about when he gives his speech to younger writers...finding the enormity in the ordinary, which is very different than simply crafting the ordinary into a poem. that whole business of writing a poem about nothing...don't take it literally. every little nothing needs to be about something.

here's a short excerpt from al young's interview w/ ray gonzalez in which he talks about his long time home and new poetic domain:

"From the time gold was discovered in California back in 1849, California has been viewed as a place where people go to remake themselves, to start all over, to test out new ideas, new ways of living or being. As we understand all too well by now, the California dream can turn nightmarish. So within the very confines of this vast settler nation, there has been yet another frontier to tame and to settle. One of the lines that sticks with me from Jack Kerouac's tricky Mexico City Blues, the book-length poem he composed on drugs and drink in Mexico back in the fifties, goes like this: "America is a permissible dream/if you remember that little ants have Americas/and mules in misty fields have Americas." I'm quoting from memory. So America's America-mythically anyway-has always been California."

congratulations al young.