I love turkeys—as a food. It’s one of the great foods. I’m literally a turkey-nut. And anyone who’s ever been in the great Midwest—outside the New York area—knows a lot about turkeys. You know, the turkey is one of the world’s dumbest birds. The turkey has a brain about the size of a pinhead. A real dumb bird. If you have a flock of turkeys and one turkey panics for one reason or another, all the turkeys go totally ape and go over a cliff or something worse than lemmings, and kill about five-thousand of them in about five minutes.
One time I really got bugged with turkeys. They grow a lot of them in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where turkeys are particularly suited to that climate. Now turkey is not grown the way you grow chickens. Most people think of a turkey as a kind of a big chicken. Oh no. A very different breed, I’ll tell you! This is a side of turkeys you never see.
I remember one cold, dark night, I’m in a hurry. I’m driving. I say to myself, “I know this road, I’m going to take a shortcut and go over there, and go down that road. I’ll cut out a half an hour. So I’m driving like mad. I’ve really got to get to this place. To be honest, it involved a girl. When you get mad over a chick, that’s bad mad!
So I’m hurrying and it’s dark and cold and I’m in my Ford and I’m about eighteen years old and really got to see this girl and I’m driving through this road, when all of a sudden, I see a light ahead of me. Right in the middle of the road. So I start slowing up. I figure there’s a car stopped there. It’s a narrow road, about a lane-and-a-half. One of these asphalt roads you see in the country.
POETS—Manque and Pro. 1 of 2
What’s it like to be a poet manqué or even a real pro-poet, in a country that doesn’t read poetry? Well, decades ago I wrote over 150 poems, tried a few times to get some published. Ogden Nash, probably our most funny and Beloved American Poet, once complained on a TV show on which he was a panelist, that poets such as himself had to be on such panel shows just to make a living.
A bit of Ogden Nashery:
Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.
Billy Collins is a former U. S. Poet Laureate. He tends to write amusing stuff. I read a profile of him in a major magazine which noted that he had a photo of Jean Shepherd pinned over his desk. I contacted him and interviewed him for my book on Shepherd and he expressed how important he’d been to his growing up: “I had to get my Shepherd fix. He actually made you feel that you weren’t alone….I think he had the best influence on my sensibility. And I think it helped me kind of pursue that sense of being different, being an individual.”
A poem by Billy Collins:
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Bill Knott was a funny, quirky kind of poet, hard to determine if he was for real or not—but poems of his appeared in the New Yorker–WOW! He also achieved a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was highly regarded by some (a comment that he might well have found funny—or annoying). Jeff Alessandrelli, in the LIT HUB website wrote: “He was an odd person, determinedly so. Attentively discombobulated; idiosyncratically calibrated. Most poets are sheep. He wasn’t most.” A New York Times book reviewer described him as “…the brilliant poet and morbid eccentric…” He died in 2014.
I can’t remember the circumstance under which I’d contacted him, but in response he sent me, five autographed batches (books) of his self-published poems. I responded by sending him a copy of my Excelsior, You Fathead! Here’s some Knott:
New Yorker poem, Plaza de Loco poems
Charles Wright is, indeed, highly regarded, and his Black Zodiac poetry book won the Pulitzer Prize. I bought it and several of his subsequent books, but find Black Zodiac by far the best for my taste and understanding. A sample from it and, when I went to a reading of his, his autograph for me:
Eugene B. Bergmann
I only occasionally submitted my poems for possible publication, and only twice was accepted. A Canadian poetry journal, Undertow published two of my poems! (“Arcadian Commute,” and “Nature Morte.”)
When I encountered a contest using magnetic words that one adheres to one’s refrigerator to create poems, I submitted and am now the proudly (?) published author of two poems in The Magnetic Poetry Book of Poetry. In bookstores I still encounter that book, amused to think that my two poems are probably read more than those of Robert Frost or any other American poet! (That little piece of irony is maybe not funny, but just true.)
End Part one of two.