In something of a bold move, the editors of Poetry magazine solicited New Pornographers singer Neko Case to write for them about, um, poetry in general. I couldn’t approve of the gesture more–poetry needs to be brought to the masses, and for that to happen, there needs to be messengers. No one can afford to reject the cult of fame and celebrity if it meaningfully brings attention to a worthy cause!
Here now a taste–you have to buy the November 2007 issue of Poetry to read this thing in its entirety. Also, I added in the supplementary appendixes the original version didn’t provide, so call it a remix. REEEEEEE MIXXXXXXXXX
My Flaming Hamster Wheel of Panic About Publicly Discussing Poetry In This Respected Forum
by Neko Case
When I was asked by Poetry to write an article for them I was ecstatic. I was flattered. I felt important. I agreed immediately. About twenty minutes after sending my e-mail of acceptance I paused to triumphantly sharpen my claws on the bookcase when I noticed the blazing, neon writing on the wall. It said: YOU’VE NEVER EVEN PASSED ENGLISH AND EVERYONE WHO READS THIS MAGAZINE WILL KNOW IT. Why do I care? I’m not sure. I think it’s because I don’t want to let poetry down. Poetry is such a delicate, pretty lady with a candy exoskeleton on the outside of her crepe-paper dress. I am an awkward, heavy-handed mule of a high school dropout. I guess I just need permission to be in the same room with poetry.
I think the fear began in about fifth grade. Right off the top they said poetry was supposed to have “form.” Even writing a tiny haiku became a wrestling match with a Claymation Cyclops for me. (I watched a lot of Sinbad.) We aren’t too cool for poetry; it’s the other way around. At least that’s the impression I took from public school. The face these feelings would remain into adulthood is ridiculous. We all have a right to poetry! How could I still think it’s for other people? Smarter people.
Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus haunts me. Aaron’s death speech is veiled, venomous gospel music. I read it over and over even though I’ve already memorized in like a teenage girl in love.
O, why should wrath be mute, and fury dumb?
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done:
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will;
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.
W.H. Auden scares me under the couch (even when he’s being funny). I hold my flashlight on “The Witnesses,” with its haunting “humpacked surgeons/And the scissors man,” until my arm shakes, my trusty dictionary in my other hand.
Auden, Chester Kallman I believe is on the left.
THE WITNESSES (W.H. AUDEN)
You are the town and we are the clock.
We are the guardians of the gate in the rock.
On your left and on your right
In the day and in the night,
We are watching you.
Wiser not to ask just what has occurred
To them who disobeyed our word;
We were the whirlpool, we were the reef,
We were the formal nightmare, grief
And the unlucky rose.
Climb up the crane , learn the sailor’s words
When the ships from the islands laden with birds
Tell your stories of fishing and other men’s wives:
The expansive moments of constricted lives
In the lighted inn.
But do not imagine we do not know
Nor that what you hide with such care won’t show
At a glance.
Nothing is done, nothing is said,
But don’t make the mistake of believing us dead:
I shouldn’t dance.
Whatever the mess you made, you’re mine, OK?
We’re afraid in that case you’ll have a fall.
We’ve been watching you over the garden wall
The sky is darkening like a stain,
Something is going to fall like rain
And it won’t be flowers.
When the green field comes off like a lid
Revealing what was much better hid:
And look, behind you without a sound
The woods have come up and are standing round
In deadly crescent.
The bolt is sliding in its groove,
Outside the window is the black remov-
And now with sudden swift emergence
Come the woman in dark glasses and humpbacked surgeons
And the scissors man.
This might happen any day
So be careful what you say
Be clean, be tidy, oil the lock,
Trim the garden, wind the clock,
Remember the Two.
Dorothy Parker makes me manic! I can’t even make it through the first three lines of “The Godmother” without bursting into tears.
Godmother (Dorothy Parker)
The day that I was christened-
It’s a hundred years, and more!-
A hag came and listened
At the white church door,
A-hearing her that bore me
And all my kith and kin
Considerately, for me,
While some gave me corals,
And some gave me gold,
And porringers, with morals
The hag stood, buckled
In a dim gray cloak;
Stood there and chuckled,
Spat, and spoke:
“There’s few enough in life’ll
Be needing my help,
But I’ve got a trifle
For your fine young whelp.
I give her sadness,
And the gift of pain,
The new-moon madness,
And the love of rain.”
And little good to lave me
In their holy silver bowl
After what she gave me-
Rest her soul!
Lynda Barry and Sherman Alexie save my life constantly. They battle identity crisis with a sense of humor and a language that speaks so hard to me because they came from my home, in my own time, and they talk to me in our special parlance. They tell me I’m not crazy because they remember it too.
To read this article in its entirety, you’re going to want to become a subscriber to the invaluable Poetry magazine, edited by Christian Wiman.
“Unguided” — The New Pornographers (mp3)
This album had a not entirely negative, but tough critical reception. It’s an album that I think will age very well, both because it’s some of the band’s best live material yet, and because of the otherwordly winsomeness at the earnest heart of songs like “Mutiny, I Promise You” and the title track.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
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