April is National Poetry Month. I'm getting a jump and posting today's reading assignment here. A Donald Hall Essay.
I don't wish to argue the merits of contemporary poetry, the role of poetry in society, what makes a poet, who-what-where he or she is, aesthetics, marketplace, 5,000 years of literary history, etc. I will offer, however, the way I've thought about, approached, encountered poetry (and my own work) the last four or so years hasn't been healthy. The result has been I've created a slight amount of it.
Beginning April 1, I'll post a poem a day of my own making. I think I have about enough heretofore unseen work to fill a month. Some, I think, better than others. Many, I like to imagine, have humor in them, some, maybe melancholy humours.
I'll turn the Comments button off for the duration, not that I don't care what you think, but it would surely distract me.
A confluence of events have happened recently to propel me do this.
Last night, in the Yaddo newsletter, I read of Samuel Menashe, who at 79, won a $50,000 award for being an unrecognized poet of distinction from Poetry magazine, or more accurately, The Poetry Foundation. The prize money was drawn from the 100 million bequest Ruth Lilly gave to Poetry in 2002. It was a well chosen award, as Menashe lived in the same Greenwich Village apartment for fifty years, quietly writing poems, not teaching or editing, published six books or so, (most in England), and if anyone had asked, I'd say I'd vaguely heard of him, which may be true, but in reality, I can't recall. That isn't so strange in itself, but supposedly, I've moved among the circles of people who care about that sort of thing, or, at least, on the outer periphery.
Last week, yet another well received book or poems arrived on my desk, written by a peer, a friend, roughly my age. Perhaps that regular encounter--that involves all sorts of conflicting bits of ego, envy, pride, kind regards, healthy well wishes, astonishment--has reached critical mass.
Three days ago, I surreptitiously read the poems from the small book the elegant woman seated below me was reading on the train. It was my morning commute. I didn't learn the author's name, but the poems were short, vile and disturbing. Not sure I liked them, but I've not forgotten them.
Day before yesterday we received a newly-published set of remastered CD recordings of poets reading their work--the Early-Modern-historic variety of poet. I've been listening to them, again. The first I heard them, was on cassettes I checked out of the public library twelve years ago.
There are many other recent events and details I'll spare, joyful and tragic, but my hope is now to set these poems I've written aside, say goodbye, and start something new. Posting them here on happyrobot, as much as I love happyrobot, would have seemed an odd choice to me six years ago, as a newly-minted MFA grad, certain the editors at Norton or Knopf were anticipating my next exhalation. Yet now that I've been here two years as alter-ego John Ball, and not John Ball, and Evan Smith John Ball Rakoff, I know mostly friends read this, so I'm happy to share it with you, cast these April bottles in the big deep. Maybe you'll like them. (I guess I'm saying so long to John Ball too, again.)
Each post is not meant so much as some hung effigy of my Serious Artist self, but rather a Polaroid that I'm taking off the fridge and putting in the kitchen drawer.
Happy Easter. See you on April Fools.
Evan Smith Rakoff