Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wroth, wroth with Ted Hughes

Dear, dead, evidently-irresistible Ted Hughes, there I was sailing along, enjoying your unscabbarded lines, the force of your word-twisting, your leaps like a salmon who tosses up rainbows. And you broke it! You broke my reading! Why on earth did you write that poem? No, no, I know why. Not a good reason. But why did you keep it?

With luck, I shall be an old woman in the future. Ideally, I shall be a spry, creative, generous, and busy woman like my mother, who is almost 83 and just bought a new 4-harness loom. She is spunky and creative and beautiful, my mother.

And what did you go and do? You made up a horrible, silly pastor and had him preach nonsense to group of old ladies: "to the old women's faces / That are cold and folded, like plucked dead hens' asses." Even aside from the fact that you had to point out that a plucked hens' ass would be a dead hen (yes, I could see that, dear sir), I am ticked. Well ticked. I know no old woman in the universe who deserves for her face to be compared to a plucked (dead--you liked to pluck them living, did you?) hen. I resent your poem and your preacher and your old women.

Hey, I even resent it on the behalf of poets. This is not satire; it is just mean-spirited. You are supposed to love the world, you poets! Love it. Cherish it, even when it is buffalo-headed and obtuse. Do your best by it. Don't turn a bunch of old ladies into a pack of hen butts because of some idiot pastor that you make up when you have an axe that needs grinding! Don't grind axes! Don't even turn old ladies into hen butts if you didn't make the poor man up! Leave him and them some dratted humanity, will you? Love them, love them, love them: be a Flannery O'Connor if you have to and show their inner freak before you give them the sword of your illumination. But love them!

I think I will have to wait until tomorrow to read any more of your poems. Or at least a few hours. Did I tell you that I like a lot of your poems? Maybe I will just reread this little one called "Welcombe."

But don't tick off a future old lady by lovelessness!

There is more.

I also resent this on behalf of the chickens. Chickens and I go way back. I am fond of chickens. I have a chicken pact with Howard Bahr (although I'm afraid I may have broken it now and then.) The chickens do not want their plucked-naked butts stuck up on old ladies' shoulders as faces. (They are said to dislike surrealism. I believe this is true.) They do not! I speak for the chickens!
There, you see? The future old woman speaks.

She's a little strange, but she knows whereof she speaks.

I think maybe she will have to go work out some energy in a poem now. Good-by.

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Photographs courtesy of sxc.hu. 5 chickens and a cat by Tijmen van Dobbenburgh of the Netherlands. Convocation of Bantams by Loretta Humble of Malakoff, Texas. The chickens were from Tennessee.

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11 comments:

  1. Of course, now I want to read this poem ... title, please?

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  2. Hmm, have repressed it. Must dash out now but will look when I get back... shouldn't be long.

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  3. Jeremiah,

    I was back right away but got distracted looking at the loot my husband brought back from Vietnam. Like Christmas!

    Luckily the poem was right by "Welcombe."

    It is called "Exits." Page 299 of the FSG "Collected Poems."

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  4. Thanks! I have the Selected Poems, which does not include "Exits", probably for good reasons. I will fetch the Collected Poems from the library.

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  5. Who knows--you may love it. If you do, you can tell me why I ought to love it as well...

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  6. I like this notion of a monologue directed at a dead person. More please Marly.

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  7. At first glance I thought "Howard Hughes" and said to myself he must have have done that poem in his crazy pajamas days...hahaaaa but then I realized who you were talking about.

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  8. I know the feeling. I had this very discussion (not about chicken butts though or old women's faces) with a very living poet about the way she treats the people in her poem sometimes. Sometimes I don't like people, but probably then I don't write about them, not in poems, anyhow.

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  9. Clive,

    Shall do when the rant takes me, I suppose!

    Susanna,

    I believe the two men did have something in common--that is, an interest in women.

    Robbi,

    Alas, it is not uncommon for poets to have an axe to grind, and to grind it on the necks of other human beings.

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  10. I never did like that misogynist anyway, so now I know how much I don't like him. So glad, though, to be back and looking for updates on you!

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  11. Laura,

    Well, I don't push anybody into the outer darkness! There are things to learn from Ted Hughes the poet... And they are interesting, too.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.