Friday, April 8, 2011

Poetry and Death: Part 1

Remembering Paul Violi.  Remembering John Wieners:


              First Impressions

Delightfully garrulous yet a blowhard
Hilariously boorish yet a lout
Exquisitely devious yet untrustworthy
Artfully obsequious yet weepy and goveling
Explosively disagreeable yet a sore loser
Provocatively inarticulate yet mute
Like a demented child yet worrisome
Mordant, venomous yet in an overly critical way
Surprisingly obtuse yet unable to make fine distinctions

             Saving Graces

A ne'er-do-well but unhygenic
Unproductive and overshadowed but a minor talent
Shrill but gouged and trembling
Limited and irresponsible but an inveterate rhymester
Verbose but a splay-footed pigeon feeder
Ostentatious but a bleeder and subject to fits
-Paul Violi from "The Blind See Only This World: Poems for John Wieners," edited by Bill Corbett, Michael Gizzi and Joe Torra. Wieners would die a year or so after it this was published.  Micheal Gizzi died in 2010.

Poets are loathed in the United States, like a priest is loathed by his parishioners.  We are "good for the soul" but practically useless.  The most successful of us are somnambulistically idolized like an 18th-century bleeding cure.  Monmuments are erected that they may be vandalized. The least successful of us are lepers, derided by colleagues, family, friends and strangers.  Most abhorrently, we seem to loathe each other, many of us do, at least.  At last, the prize for our lives of suffering, disappointment, heartbreak and scorn is that poems are a kind of Achillean shield against death, for a little while at least.  The fact that we live on in our work is considered trite by many, but why so when it is precisely the only thing we have, the only thing we can be assured of?

Paul Violi knew my name before I knew his face.  "Hello, Mark," he would say to me in the elevator and speak to me as though he knew me well.  Eventually I would realize, "Oh, that's Paul Violi."  My relationship with the man did not extend much beyond this, but that was enough.  That is the part which is gone; still the greater, perhaps larger, part remains.  It's the only part of John Wieners I ever met.  That, too, is enough.  Some will abhor that sentiment.  Go ahead and abhor it, it's the only thing that keeps me alive.

The Blind See Only this World: Poems for John Wieners. Ed. William Corbett, Michael Gizzi and
     Joseph Torra.  Boston/New York: Pressed Wafer / Granary Books, 2000.

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