A Philistine’s Complaint

October 31, 2014


John Keats, looking poetic in a portrait by Joseph Severn

In my day job I often work with contemporary poetry that I don’t understand. Far too much a prose guy, I like passages that start here and go there, and if detours are taken along the way, fine, but I want to be able to look back and see where I came from, trace the route, and if all I see is a jumble of trees and broken glass and pizzas and penguins and other stuff that doesn’t seem to belong on the same street or even in the same country—and to me much recent poetry is like that—I wonder why I began the trip. In other words, I want poetry to be like that preceding sentence, difficult to diagram but coherent.

Clearly, then, I’m an idiot when it comes to present-day poems, and the following catterel* could be called “A Philistine’s Complaint.” Instead, being pretentious, I chose a clumsy echo of Keats for the title. Today being Halloween, I present this as a tiny contribution to our holiday of horrors.

*Catterel, of course, is verse not good enough to qualify as doggerel.

On First Looking into the Esteemed Poet’s Latest Volume

I don’t get this poem, do you?

The lines skitter

this way and

that, with no reason I can discern

and naturally no

rhyme, except from time

to time, seemingly at


and the images dance even more

W * I * L * D * L * Y

about in fervid or perhaps ironic

f r e n z y     , punctuated


and though I mildly admit my slavery

to logical thought, it’s hard to guess

what this mess

might signify.

It’s profound, I’m sure. In a way, dreamlike.

Yet in earlier centuries the author of such tum-

bling imaginations

would have been burned or be-

headed for witchcraft. Surely this punishment is too dire

for a poet who

teaches other poets

at a poetically

ivied university,

and yet one could hope for

a true witch to boil

this cauldron of wordy gratifications,

stir it, curse it,

drain it


revealing a single tough



to the bottom, like a burnt strip

of meat.

That, I could get my teeth into.

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