Friday, September 22, 2006

The only object of value in poetryland is attention. I want to ask why anybody would give what they have of value to someone who holds them in contempt, for whom contempt is in fact a way of life, but I know the answer: and you, dear reader, either you also know, or you will soon, or you never will.

My point in putting all this energy and time into talking about poetry is not to demonstrate how governance in aesthetics might be made virtuous. I host a show, publish, review, anthologize, expatiate, blog, read, and write to make a place for work that drives me BANANAS F*CKING FOSTER.

Speaking of which, that word "Best" drives everybody out of their minds. Why is that.

In the comments on Charlie Jensen's blog, Matthew Thorburn relates that: "I've heard a story (possibly apocryphal) that Ashbery, when asked to guest edit the first-ever book in this series, asked if they couldn't just call it "Very Good Poems."

It is a deliberate and provocative choice of words, "Best." Might as well call it I'll Show You. "Best." Let's throw down, boys, take off your glasses. Find out who's the best. Divide and eat cake.

And then, when the poems are emphatically not the best -- how could they be? "Townspeople with pitchforks on the left, please; those bearing cans of gasoline proceed directly to the signal fires..."

I remember the first time I saw a complete set of BAPs on a poet's bookshelves. Shit! I thought. My peers take this shit seriously! I suddenly had to reconsider the wisdom of mooning the series editor (and several past and future guest editors).

Last year I decided to just drop my resistance to reading poetry journals. It turned out I found likeable poems just about everywhere, and that a handful of magazines were coming in about one-third fairly decent. One in every two or three magazines had a poem that hit me hard enough I'd want to reread it. Those were poems I'd even risk showing to other readers of poetry as examples of what I've found, what I would have printed if it came to me first. (When I offered to give a bundle of these poems away, only one poet took me up. His response was uncharacteristically protective of my feelings, incidentally.)

Anyway. My feeling about that book is that it is no different in kind from other contests.

“Oh to be seventeen years old
Once again,” sang the red-haired man, “and not know that poetry
Is ruled with the scepter of the dumb, the deaf, and the creepy!”

It would be terrible to have to recognize yourself in these lines from Kenneth Koch's poem "Fresh Air."

In the meantime, since I believe that while it may temporarily make me stupider, mere reading is not going to hurt me, I'm going to read what I want, and figure out for myself what's the best. If you feel like doing the same, say, taking the time at the end of the year to staple together a few of the poems you would risk calling the best, why not. I'd read your anthology.

Jordan - #




I'm Jordan Davis.
I write a lot.
I mention it here.

Say hi: jordan [at] jordandavis [dot] com.

The Million Poems Show.