Went to a reading at Kelly Writer's House. I was curious--had only heard of one of these poets. A group, mostly women, who have been meeting and writing poetry together since 1992. Must have been long graduated and established in their respective careers by then, cause they were all well into their 50's and 60's, and those who came to hear them were older than me on average.
I kept wondering why I felt so out of place. Not in general. I mean, name the specifics. There was the poetry first off. Not bad... not that good. Unadventurous, personal... like little personal essays. Conventionally grammatical sentences logically strung together with a coherent argument from opening line to closure.... and always closure. Neatly zipped and packaged.
I thought of the usual no-nothing accusations leveled at 'modern' poetry by people who haven't read a poem since their last English class, and couldn't explain the difference between 'poetry' and 'verse' for the life of them.. how it's just prose with funny line breaks.
In this case, that pretty much covered it.
Suburban New Jersey, Main Line Career-Lady poetry. Okay... Career-Person, cause they admitted to having had a couple of men in their group at one time. I suspect I would break out in hives in any one of their living rooms. Am I confusing person with poetry? Well, yeah. Hard to pry the poems from the person... cause it was all overwhelmingly about them... confessional, but polite. Everyone remained properly clothed, and where sex was hinted at--it was always with conventionally approved partners... with benefit of clergy. One poet ventured beyond the breakwater, but intoned every poem, every line -- the same, so hearing it became a kind of white noise.
There was some evidence of adventure... prose narratives followed by haiku response. That was nice.
But still... the rest of the of world mostly didn't exist--other than in a theme-parkish sort of way (references to 'travels', that sort of thing. A kind of Retirement Community version of reality. I mean, there were deaths, a divorce... but those are staples of Retirement Communities too. A world without war, devastating poverty, pedophile priests. Not the absence of these things in subject matter--but in consciousness. Could not imagine such things existing in the mental world of those poems (though I'd guess the poets were probably all nice liberals and voted for Obama and are appalled at Sarah Palin).
Poetry as Comfort Food... good Home Cooking (but of course, with well thumbed Julia on the shelf).
Then there was the laughter. That really did puzzle me. What were they laughing at, I asked myself each time the room would ripple with titters? Never did connect. Not once. But came up with a theory. The titter lines were like in-jokes. They touched on incidents and emotions that everyone assumed everyone else felt and experienced--not as any kind of sudden realization--the blinders pulled off, that kind of thing... but familiar, known, known collectively and collectively affirmed ...with titters.
More Cosby than George Carlin. Sure as shit no Lenny Bruce.
More Comfort Food.
What was most disconcerting, is that the poems weren't AWFUL. Well constructed. Not simple minded greeting card shit. They weren't trying to write sonnets, Fred forbid.
That, and my being right up there with them in age. Why don't I have more friends my own age, I asked myself.
But it wasn't age... it was class. (Sarah Palin appalls (and appeals) more vicerally because of class than the idiocy she espouses). No, it wasn't age... it was what a life-time immersion in the mentality and world view of a certain segment of more or less comfortable middling-intellectiual bourgeois life can do to the human spirit.
It sure as hell is Death to poetry.