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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A royal pain in the neck

Evidently when you have three and a half months to read 300+ books, you need to take very good care of your neck and back. I am longing for poet Dale Favier, Monsieur le Masseur, to drop by from the other side of the continent.

Today all I can think about is pains in the neck.

Here are some sharp pangs from an infamous and intelligent Pain in the Neck (or so many regard him), all bright and prickly (just full of points):
...complaint is the first symptom of criticism.

If the avant-garde wants to make it new, in Pound’s dictum, what can be left to accomplish when the etiquette has been as codified as the place setting for a twelve-course banquet?

Free verse looks easy to the outsider, as if it just fell off the lap of prose—if you’re going to write a long poem, however, perhaps you ought to possess some ear for the poetic line.

Few poets have examined their bodies more minutely (you feel she hides a speculum in her purse) or taken more childish satisfaction in announcing everything they find.

If a poet has no particular verbal gifts, he’s dependent on an odd point of view, or a warming tone, or—always the refuge of a scoundrel—something to say.

It’s hard to write from a child’s point of view without fatally compromising the illusion or seeming cheerfully stupid.

Even if you paid through the nose to get a vanity press to publish this, you’d have to bribe the typesetter not to cut his own throat.

How can the prescient dog not howl? Only Shrödinger’s cat knows for sure, and I confess I was laughing too hard to ask it.

He’s as protean as many British poets—they write plays, libretti, novels, translations, songs (you’re surprised they haven’t been asked to rewrite traffic laws or contribute the occasional slogan to a Marmite campaign).

Were he unfortunate enough to develop Alzheimer’s, the poems wouldn’t change a bit.

The ghost of William McGonagall must be jealous.

(The believable children in literature are rarely interesting, and the interesting rarely believable.)

There’s no poet quite so in love with her own pain, no contemporary purer in her extremity— she has the gorgeous gloominess of Sylvia Plath, her angers scrunched up like damp handkerchiefs.

A poet’s talents exist in productive tension for only a decade or so. Before, the language is all main force, the subjects mistaken, the voice immature; after, the poet often hardens into manner, his subjects written to extinction.

As he ages, a poet’s main competitor is himself —his younger, ravenous, unforgiving self.
Want to guess? The answer is in comments.

7 comments:

  1. That was poet William Logan, who writes poetry reviews for "The New Criterion" and publishes books of poetry and collected criticism. He is generally feared by the numerous race of poets.

    Excuse me while I go lie on a board.

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  2. (btw, my fellow massage therapists tell me I'm supposed to tell you that "masseuse" is deprecated: they prefer "massage therapist." Apparently this is true even in French, where it's now an ungendered "massothérapeute." I personally would prefer to be addressed as "Monsieur le Masseur," but no one seems to consult me on these things.)

    Baths often work better than boards!

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  3. Yes, hot baths are good.

    Thank you for correcting my English and French! I like Monsieur le Masseur and shall remember...

    I did not lie on a board but on a nice soft bed, where I took a nap with a big calico cat.

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  4. Hah! I fixed it. Monsieur le Masseur it is...

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  5. Those comments make me ill.
    I hope your back is feeling better.

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  6. Better toughen up, Miss Robbi!

    You never know who might have a copy of your book...

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  7. And I'm thinking that at my age, the last two are excellent warnings...

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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.