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The Royal Nonesuch

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The idea

is the outlook, the sense

that we have seen

with some

focus on how

and what is…

***

I have turned out to be a royal pain.

***

“The Straightway Was Lost,” first poem in Steven D. Schroeder’s The Royal Nonesuch (Spark Wheel Press, 2013), begins like this—

My best stories all start the wrong direction
on one-way streets. For more information

on parallel parking structure, try the libraries…

—That how-the-hell-did-we-get-here feeling, is it fast talk? Set-up for an epic fail? Schroeder’s vision is tragicomic; the adventure of each poem is the rivering language, like in that “parallel parking structure” and “libraries” line, which seems to say if you want to know more, go read (great advice!) but also if you want order or the facts, look someplace else (welcome to poetry!). 

Some of the lines that follow—

…My work turns workers to words they worry

and revert to cryptograms for moot
or middle-name palindromes I forgot…

—and—

…You could hear we’re post-apocalyptic
if your ears blister in the next eclipse…

—make me go what? But also what beautiful nonsense! (the nonesuch?) And I wonder if maybe these moments make sense mostly as sound. I also wonder What is this poem like? Punk or rap in some ways, but also the wordplay and slick end rhymes and sort-of-sonnet form remind me of Nick Demske’s Nick Demske and Michael Robbins’ Alien vs. Predator, both of which are a blast not just to read, but to hear.

Schroeder’s book at its best is a book like that, and how that opening poem ends,

Has-been has to be my last excuse.

is pretty bad-ass. Has-been doubling as bridge to being (to being alive), but also in its meaning meaning it hardly matters, our insignificance. The straightway is lost, and that is our way, our kingdom and inheritance. We go there to be found.

***

Some palindrome names: Hannah, Otto, Anna, Eve…

***

The foot’s desire to stand.

I know that much.

Maybe not.

(These are first thoughts…)

Now I feel like paint

loaded up

on the brush

in the hand of confusion.

That’s been

the point all along.

***

From The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

AT THE COURT HOUSE!
FOR 3 NIGHTS ONLY!
The World-Renowned Tragedians
DAVID GARRICK THE YOUNGER!
AND
EDMUND KEAN THE ELDER!
Of the London and Continental Theatres,
In their Thrilling Tragedy of
THE KING’S CAMELEOPARD,
OR
THE ROYAL NONESUCH ! ! !
Admission 50 cents. 

LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED

***

Between you and me, hermano: Give me the address of your difficult, patronizing, ridiculous “you’re doing everything wrong,” depressive, neurotic faculty mentor who seems to view you as a threat and I’ll wrap their car and toilet paper and leave a flaming bag of turd on their porch.

***

Schroeder’s at his best in a poem like “A Familiar Conversation.”

Press 1 for a conversation void
wide enough to drive a bus through,

too long to drive the distance home
with a hammer. Press 2 for a voice

based on the graveyard, for advice
longer than rusty knives. To home

in on misuse of hone, say missile
and press the issue but not the button,

or vice versa. To escalate the explosion,
say nothing. Regrettably, the last word

is unavailable. For I’d better let you go
to suggest you’d better let me go, press

oh, don’t say love and stay on the line.

The consciousness in this poem is particular and identifiable: the voice of a telephone operator—the pre-recorded voice of assistance (laughable in light of the situation)—with instructions for how to break-up over the phone, a move generally considered bad form except when the relationship is long distance, as this one seems to be. The operator offers some initial choices—“Press 1…Press 2…”—but neither seem particularly appealing. From there the operator gives instructions for how to “escalate the explosion,” for how to make “I’d better let you go / to suggest you’d better let me go,” a cruel (and perhaps for the caller crucial) bait-and-switch (the “turn”?) of agency. In the end the operator leaves our advice-seeker in limbo—“don’t say love and stay on the line”—an endless ending (it’s what the poem wants us to understand) and a moment of lyric intensity made possible by its narrative frame.

This poem’s energy generates from its formal experiments—the 13-line evocation of the sonnet, its diction and rhyme and generative wordplay. The poem’s content, its points of reference—a telephone operator, a break-up—would be common enough situations for a reader to relate to. But I think how a reader actual reacts and relates to the poem has more to do with its form, its formal effects, than with the situation itself.

***

What Kind?

the kind
that r
equires
seriou
s
conto
rtions

***

When I wonder what questions I should be asking, I try to notice things then go from there.

***

The play The Royal Nonesuch, from Huckleberry Finn, is a con. The “king” comes out on stage naked on all fours, painted up in various colors, painted in stripes and spots. He prances around like a fool while the crowd roars with laughter, and that’s it. That’s the whole show.

***

Schroeder paradoxes the themes in his book—a father figure who is by turns disappointing and absent; struggles with drinking and struggles with relationships; struggles with being—with a comedic timing and fiery wit. The choices he makes draw us along a sharpening edge. Even poems that fall short, that struggle with even their struggle to make sense, do so on terms that are clearly Schroeder’s. But I think the strengths outweigh those moments. The gifts in The Royal Nonesuch are its faith to a tightly patterned approach, and the experience it offers of re-appropriated language reanimated in the mix.

***

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I’m so excited and honored to be reading in Denton, TX, next Wednesday, November 20 (6:00 pm, Curry Hall, Rm. 203, on the University of North Texas campus) with Jessica Murray and Karl Zuehlke.

This event is being organized by my friend, the fantastic poet Kyle McCord.

In the meantime click here to check out this very cool villanelle, “How to Eat a Lobster,” by Jessica Murray at AGNI online.

Then head over to Loaded Bicycle, where you can read three poems by Karl Zuehlke, including this one, “Walking Baltimore,” which I’ve been enjoying this morning like a second and third cup of coffee.

Spread the word, come out if you can. I hope to see you there…

Had lunch with a friend today, a fellow poet, and we talked about what might be called an identity crises that we share: a love/hate relationships with poetry.

Some of what I wondered aloud: Do I love poetry enough? (This question comes up a lot; most recently it was inspired by thumbing through a well-respected literary journal and finding not one single poem I liked.) Do I really want to make art, or do I just like some rock-n-roll idea of being an artist? Are there necessary things I haven’t done yet as a person that keep me from feeling free enough to be any good? What stops me from taking better advantage of my time? Am I smart enough? (This one is inspired by all the “great” poetry I struggle to enjoy, much less appreciate. I’m looking at you Pound’s Cantos.) Why does po-biz–with its conceptual poems gone viral, with its cadres, with its prizes and goodies I seem not to have been bred into, with its young writers who seem to publish everyday and who often have such intelligent and exciting opinions on the state of affairs–why does it weary me?

My friend assured me these questions are normal and good, that we all face them, that the important thing is to embrace them and maybe even write about them. Maybe so. But today, when it comes to poetry, I feel like a crabby old man.

Writers will write about writing
More than bakers will bake about baking

—Matt Cook

My wife (supremely patient) and I (supremely not) were having an argument about time—how much of it I need to write and prepare for teaching (I almost wrote “feeding” instead of “teaching”), how much of it she needs for her scholarship and teaching. That, plus the balance needed to meet our other primary responsibilities: being good to and supportive of each other; and being loving and present for our high-high-octane kids.

If you’re writer, you have probably had arguments like this too. Amen…

It is a high-wire act. One that I have been failing lately. And while failing it—likely because of failing it—I have been experiencing a crisis, a sense of urgency about the passing of time. This urgency forms my thoughts into something like this: I’m 41 years old. If I don’t start carving out the time I need now, if I don’t tend to this want, to this need to write, to this desire to make things, then when will I? More importantly, if I don’t do it, then who am I?

Not a good show…

These questions were spiraling through my thoughts on an evening run (exercise! yet another thing I need to make time for). I know this about myself: my ability to do well in my roles of husband and father are compromised when I’m not writing (or reading) on a regular basis. When my writing gets pushed back, back, waaay back to the back burner, I get frustrated and impatient. I don’t think well. I have trouble sleeping. My other identities suffer. Then I get moody, and that moodiness can permeate the house for days. It is a terrible, pouting form of communication and control (one—when I think of it—that my mother also employed; clearly a subject for another day).

So I’ve been thinking about making a life-style change: going to bed early, say around 8 p.m., in order to get up even earlier—3 a.m., 4 at the latest—in order to meditate and stretch, then steal a few hours of writing time. But changing one’s essential circadian rhythms seems like a daunting task. Is there a better proposal? Is there a substitute for sleep?  I already get so little as it is that half the time it seems like a microphone is crackling in my thoughts.

How else—when else—do writers get things done?

If one measure of aesthetic beauty is symmetry, then Traci Brimall’s monster-movie of a poem “The Last Known Sighting of the Mapinguari” is a smash. I read it this morning–about a half-dozen times out loud–as I walked (with daughter in tow, riding in the Radio Flyer–classic!) to pick up my son at his elementary school.

I really love this poem. So much that I was compelled to call Traci (This is just to say / I have read / your bad-ass poem…).

This poem teases with so many questions to do with relationships of (a)symmetry–the narrator’s sick mother and the sick heifer, the narrator and calf, the mother’s warning in that second line about monsters and the Mapingauri itself, the mother tongue and the moan, the monster without (Mapingauri) and the monsters within (those “thousands of worms”) meeting at the heart of the heifer, the Mapingauri’s disappointment and the narrator’s observation of what’s “wrong and not wrong” near the poems’ end….

Some complicated psychology here. Whatever the connections, they feel intuited more than reasoned out. Such good stuff. Did I say I love this poem? I love this poem…