Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Remember to Vote!


And read this, from a 2004 article in Slate by Eric McHenry, about the overlooked poetry of George Starbuck, the once-upon-a-time drinking buddy of Plath and Sexton. I am definitely being drawn in to Starbuck's work, and will have to get the collected.

"It's not especially surprising that Starbuck is now so overlooked: Critics today tend to view wit as a poor substitute for humor. Starbuck's major poems are all the things major poems should be—subtle, intelligent, moving—but their distinguishing mark is almost always cleverness, and cleverness is not a quality prized in contemporary poets. There's much more room in the canon, at this point, for the breezy humor of Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch than for Starbuck's elaborately plotted pranks and rococo word-castles.

The best way to approach Starbuck's work is to first drink three cups of Starbucks' French Roast. His poems demand the same sort of hyperattentiveness to language that produced them; they're packed with allusion, neologism, wordplay, jumps from elevated to demotic diction, and technical pyrotechnics. In "Desperate Measures," the increasing hysteria of the speaker—a scandal-addled Richard Nixon—registers in the slow unraveling of the end rhyme:

Bad enough with pot fiends rioting in the streets.
But blackmail! Trading on another person's dirty secrets.
It's worse than being a classified-documents-leaker, it's
Diabolicaller it's slimier it's sneakier it's

Blackmail! Oh Momma I just don't care anymore.
They can drag our impetuous ardor in all its sordor
Into the glare of the lawcourts and the even horrider
Glint in the eye of the would-be boudoir toreador
The Suck-of-the-Month subscriber the PlayboyPortfolioreader
The plain-brown-wrapper Scenes-from-the-Life-of-Ann-Corioorderer—

This may seem formally extravagant, but it's nothing compared to Starbuck's "A Tapestry for Bayeux," written in dactylic monometer, with a 156-letter rhymed acrostic threaded through it; or his "Elegy in a Country Church Yard," a panoramic concrete poem more than 5 feet wide; or his "Verses To Exhaust My Stock of Four-Letter Words," which includes "zoöoögenous," "bullllamas," "disagreeee" (the counterpart to "disagreeor"), and, for good measure, "archchurchmen"; or his Space-Saver Sonnets, which compress 14 lines of Shakespearean pentameter into 14 syllables of rhymed paraphrase:

My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing




This is all great fun, of course, and hard as hell to do. But poetry critics have never embraced the labor theory of value. "

Happy reading . . .

1 comment:

The Sublibrarian said...

Thanks for the pointer to the Starbuck article.

I'll race you to the collected....