The Unbearable Triteness of (not) Being (at AWP or the Superbowl)

Joseph Campana
February 3, 2008
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February 2nd and 3rd may not ring in the ear like so many other notable dates: July 4th (or 14th if you’re French), December 7th, September 11th, etc. A few important things did happen on these days: the war between the U.S. and Mexico ended with the U.S. acquisition of what is now New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming (1848); Gertrude Stein was born (February 3, 1874); Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were of the first inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1936); Hilary Clinton banned smoking in the White House (in 1993).

History may never remember much about February 2-3, 2008, but some of us may recall record-breaking attendance at AWP and at a Superbowl featuring the New England Patriot’s quest for an undefeated record. Even those of us who stayed home for both events. And those of us that did stay home can attest that things are happening besides AWP and the Superbowl. For example: vandalism. Poetry vandalism, even.

This is not just any vandalism, for who else would be involved in the ennui or hormone driven acting out of youth in rural Vermont but, well, Robert Frost himself. Now, Robert Frost may have been already rolling in his grave after learning that his notebooks (which were never intended to be published, it seems) were probably mis-transcribed. Not only was the editor, Robert Faggen, spanked by James Sitar (a graduate of Boston University’s Editorial Institute) in Essays and Criticism but he will be spanked again by William Logan in a forthcoming review in Parnassus: Poetry in Review.

No–the indignity faced by Robert Frost is not merely misrepresentation. More recently, the farmhouse he once owned become host to neither hired men nor little horses with harnesses. Rather, a crowd of around thirty rowdy teens made their own mark on that place. This is from Dan Barry’s account in The New York Times:

“The damage left in their wake reflected some alcohol-induced mischief tinged with certain anger. Broken window, broken screen, broken dishes, broken antiques. Pieces of a broken chair used for wood in the fireplace. Gobs of phlegm spat upon hanging artwork. Vomit, urine, beer everywhere. And a blanket of yellow, pollenlike dust, discharged from fire extinguishers in parting punctuation.”

Parting punctuation indeed. It’s not that I approve of vandalism, exactly (though crimes in the service of art would be perfectly palatable to me) but having grown up in the middle of nowhere in upstate NY, I can understand desperate things done on a snowy evening.

Still, the saga was interesting enough to surface not once in The New York Times but twice when it was mentioned in an interview with poet laureate Charles Simic. After denying (as poets always do) that poetry is on the wane in this country, Simic reveals his electoral preference (John Edwards) and decries the act of vandalism. Of course, he also points out that far worse things happen in farmhouses in Frost’s poetry. Then, Simic is asked how he feels the wave of recent non-fiction books on happiness. According to Simic, people who want to be happy should cook more. Perhaps we should all try Ronald Johnson, who not only created one of the great poems of the 20th century, Radi Os, by erasing parts of Paradise Lost. He also wrote a cookbook on southwestern cuisine: perfect for hosting a Superbowl party in Arizona.
It’s a slow news day in the world of poetry if that’s the most interesting conversation a reporter can imagine having with a poet laureate. Granted, she does quote a poem or two after congratulating Simic on being surprisingly “accessible.” (Ah, what a relief!) But given the spirally declining coverage of the arts in newspapers, perhaps vandalism and terse banalities are all we can expect. Still, it’s nice to know that, like the Superbowl, AWP was sold-out this year.

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