November 3rd, 2011 / 12:05 pm

On Embarrassment

**Note after the fact: let me just preface this little bit by saying that while I’m confessing a feeling I get writing for a group internet blog, I am not confessing something deep and wrong about my own character. Please, don’t comment about my self-esteem. I’m pretty fucking okay. I meant for this post to be more concentrated on thinking about how internet culture, for me, demeans things deemed “more traditional” in art. That and my feelings about groupthink. Sorry if it comes across as something else.  I’m going to keep it as is anyway.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my favorite poems–most of the time that tiny flash of shame comes when I’m writing for HMTL. I feel like I have to be hip and cool, read things that are experimental and edgy (which, by the way, I do and also love). Like most HTML contributors I read widely and variously, and the cool thing about being a contributor here is that we do read variously, have different tastes, get excited by totally disparate things. Yet somehow I’m still embarrassed by my roots–the poems I can’t shake, obsess on, memorize–when I sit down to write posts. Those poets and poems that turned me into a poet from the outset somehow seem out of step with the 21st century (Dean Young being the exception?), or at least with the internet’s version of it. But they are my epiphany moments. For me, the brilliance of these poems comes not from experiment or postmodern aesthetic (we’re past that, right?), or political stance, though I think you could argue for those things. The brilliance of these poems derives from their depth of thinking about the human experience: the history of knowledge, the cold zero of perfection, the universal solvents and pilgrim souls, language’s redemptive power. I think, here, I’m supposed to be too cool for being in uncertainties, Mysteries, and doubts, that the simulation of being literati somehow precedes the ability to feel deeply. It’s as if I’m supposed to, but can’t, say everything with a wink and a nod. I’m probably wrong; likely, I’m being insecure, a wild child who has been invited into a gentleman’s club in which I feel sometimes validated and other times lost in the woods all over again. If you want to read a rant on “joining” at my blog, you can. It’ll maybe explain some of my feelings. Or you can just read some good poems from me to you.

Elizabeth Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”

Mark Strand, “Always”

Yusef Komunyakaa, “My Father’s Loveletters”

Philip Levine, “They Feed They Lion”

WB Yeats, “When You Are Old”

Dean Young, “Sunflower”



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  1. ian

      i hate the fact that you feel the need to apologize alexis
      or feel embarrassed
      i don’t hate the fact that you mentioned it
      just the state of things

      your list is rich and awesome

  2. Cole

      from A la Coconut School, Kenneth Koch

      Oh, to go back to the Schools
      With all that we know today!
      The teachers we thought were such fools!
      The hours and hours of play!
      On était un peu ridicule
      And went riding about on a mule
      With a pleasure undreamed-of today
      Bonheur aujourd’hui même pas revé!

  3. Ester

      What is going on with this recent note of shame, humiliation, and embarrassment in HG posts? Have I missed some mass Roman Catholic conversion? Will we all be self-flagellating next? Great poetry is great poetry, regardless of school or style. And it’s forgone that what today’s hipster-whatever find cool will be laughed (if remembered at all) at in 20 years. Then in 20 years it’ll be the good old days and lauded. Then 20 years after that hated. Then…and so on. The only thing you can do is say fuck-em-all and just follow your heart. Love what you love and spend your time reading it or writing it and fuck shame, humiliation, embarrassment and all those other symptoms of narcissism masquerading as self-analysis. It’s a sympton of the bad side of talking too much about art instead of just making it or eating it. Your list of poets and poems at the end of yoru post are by any standards absolutely sublime. Any clique that wouldn’t recognize them is a joke. So feel good. Your taste is fine. (And you don’t need any of us to tell you that.) Onwards and upwards!

  4. Erik Stinson

      trying to write an html giant post called “internet love poetry of the 1990s” right now – seems pretty bad for my ego. 

      also, that i might fail to do it, seems upsetting. 

      and, it has nothing to do with economics.

  5. alexisorgera

      well, that’s the spirit. please don’t mistake my post as insecurity of being. i don’t need anyone to tell me my taste is good; that’s not what this post was about.

  6. Michael

      I would sweat people who are still searching for their own voices and visions who need to create strawmen or bogeymen to rebel against.  Most of them aren’t well-read enough to know what they’re talking about.

  7. Michael

      I like you. Hopefully they don’t chase you off.

  8. MJ

      Yeah. I read Time Magazine’s take on Steve Jobs’, as they’ve been following him for some time. I took away from that article, this: He did things his way and said fuck it. Those character traits that people really dislike about me are the things that make my art (and me) whatever it is. So if I don’t feel like ‘pretending’ to be cool or hip or whatever, and that is not somehow “cool”, then whatever the fuck. Because, you know, I care about a lot of things. I am not afraid to admit I care too much about everyone. At the same time, I’m like, ai, “Fuck you cuz, and your mother too.” I think the reverberations of the Fight Klub mentality (no one is special – nothing you do matters, so nothing matters in this vast nothingness of nothing) is rampant in internet culture, its cliche. Im really not afraid to admit I think I am special. As I think a lot of people are special. To the point where everyone is special — quantum physics type of special, not “you’re so precious” special. Get it? But, you know.

  9. mimi

      Yeah, Ester. Stick around at least through Mean Week.

  10. Ester

      Thanks Michael & mimi. Always nice to hear such things. I’ll stick around, most likely. I do enjoy HG. Keeps away the lonliness. Though if there’s anything called “Mean Week” coming up, I expect I’ll probably be getting my appendix removed at the time. Pity. But I’ll be back after that. :)

  11. Guest

      there is no reason to be ashamed about liking this or that sort of poetry, don’t sweat it, op

  12. JJGallaher

      I’ve never understood cool.

  13. Guest

      it usually requires being in an unprivileged or politically verboten or hostile (etc.) situation and being able to maintain an ironic bodily sense of coolness and calmness about yourself, and, in most cases, pretty much almost nothing to do with a privileged taste in avant-garde poetry

  14. Lilzed

      I like how you said “ironic bodily …” as many ppl think of irony as a head thing.

  15. Guestagain

      so-called cool is the underground tradition, which is real and threads through history, threatens and/or attacks the establishment culture (including the academic culture, sorry) and then remakes/remodels it and goes wide. this is eluded to by Ester above, but it’s cyclical and regenerative. if there were no zoots, we’d make no progress culturally. Having said all that, there are poseurs which are not always easy to spot…

  16. Guestagain

      underground game changing work has emerged from the academic culture, of course, I’m feeling marginally bad about this now and therefore ping myself

  17. marshall

      when did the game change last

  18. Guestagain

      I don’t know, I’m kind of out of touch, might have happened in the last 10 minutes, you’re point goes to the phraseology, to call it a game, and I agree this wasn’t the best way of putting it, although I think human systems naturally organize themselves into a hierarchical chaos. I was thinking about DFW, The Pale King, I read mostly technical material and have my face in software 12, 15 hours a day so want more emotional and less intellectual or “difficult” literary work, but I peeled through that book, and I get that it was a mash up, he photographed bureaucracy, it’s mysterious

  19. bartleby_taco

      If I am honest with myself, I feel like, maybe excluding Nicanor Parra, Kenneth Koch is my favorite poet to read. New Addresses!

  20. bartleby_taco

      Going out on a limb here and saying that all of the poets you have mentioned are probably more important and enduring than a lot of ‘cooler’ stuff that is more popular today. I know that that is a ‘hackneyed’ argument, but I dunno. Feel like a lot of writers/poets today are becoming less concerned with the massive specter of tradition w/r/t the old fogey canon, which I of course don’t advocate as necessary scholarship for every writer, though something in my mind does feel weird when I read that a writer’s favorite writers OAT are “BRET EASTON ELLIS, CONTEMPORARY WRITER, CONTEMPORARY WRITER.” Not knockin, just sayin !!!

  21. Brooks Sterritt

      koch is cool