Poets in their Youth

I did that “20 Books of Poetry” meme on Facebook and have enjoyed reading the lists generated by other people.

Except that it sparked a good case of neurosis in me as practically no one shares affection for the books I chose. I think about 3 books I picked have ended up on other people’s lists.

And it’s, you know, an exercise in inauthenticity, doing this list thing. At the moment I wrote the list, I chose the books that stuck out in my memory. If I were to be excessively honest, the first poet whose work I read in great depth was John Updike. I was in high school, it was the biggest book of poetry I could find at Half Price Books (and therefore, the greatest value for my Wal-Mart dollar), and so I read it.

From then on, not being an English major in college, I read uninformedly, continuing in a tradition of reading each year’s Best American Poetry anthology and being sparked mostly by the work I read there, not fully understanding then the implications or ramifications of anthology inclusion/exclusion.

I don’t like a lot of the poetry I should like. I remember teachers in my MFA program looking at me with great sympathy and confusion when I said I’d rather stick red hot pokers through my eyes than read any more Wallace Stevens (the only poem of his I can stomach is “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”). I actually described Stevens’s poems as “word noise” in that class. I would rather replace my shower soap with sandpaper than have to read Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems again. And I, too, dislike almost all of Marianne Moore’s poems.

The list of poets who’ve shaped me in the negative is probably longer than its companion list.

Sometimes I wonder if this means something significant about the quality of my own work. Something, you know, I don’t want to hear.

And it’s true, too, that I’ve drawn much of my poetic inspiration from watching widely of cinema. I could easily scrap out a list of films that make me want to write great poems. To wit:

Citizen Kane
Cleo from 5 to 7
Rear Window
The 400 Blows
Moulin Rouge
All About My Mother
Poison
Dead Again
Myra Breckinridge
Closer
V for Vendetta
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Bonnie and Clyde
Chinatown

That was a 30-second list. A longer reflection would lend itself to more certainty, but there you are.

I think The First Risk owes a great structural debt to Poison, for example, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon reflects my obsession with Lost.

Generally, I think I should read more poetry.

My Biography As Told in a Series of Facebook News Feed Updates

1977
Charles Jensen is now online.

1979
Charles joined the group “Bipeds.”
Charles turned on his chat feature.

1983
Charles joined the Eagle Elementary network.

1986
Charles kissed a girl, and he liked it. (Sort of)

1990
Charles RSVPed for the event “Moving to an island.” So far, 0 of his friends are attending.

1991
Charles RSVPed for the event “Moving off an island.” So far, 0 of his friends are attending.

1994
Charles is skipping class for the first and only time!!!!1! w00t
Charles was tagged in the album “Prom.”

1995
Charles wrote on Palmyra-Eagle High’s wall. “Peace out, bitches.”
Charles has joined the University of Minnesota network.
Charles is no longer interested in women.
Charles is now friends with Dorothy.

1996
Charles was tagged in a note: “Alcohol: the cause of and solution to life’s problems.”
Charles and Marlboro have made it clear on Facebook they are in relationship.

1999
Charles has joined the group “Summa cum laude/unemployed.”
Charles is bleeding maroon and gold. And rent money.
Charles now lives in the Downtown neighborhood of Minneapolis.

2000
Charles now lives in the Falcon Heights neighborhood of St. Paul.
Charles is no longer friends with snow.

2001
Charles became a fan of saguaro cacti, Sparky the Sun Devil, and sweltering heat.

2002
Charles is writing and reading poems.
Charles and Marlboro have ended their relationship.
Charles became a fan of yoga.

2004
Charles was tagged in the album “Hot Pants Halloween 2004.”
Charles has updated education info: MFA Arizona State, 2004.

2005
Charles posted a link: Little Burning Edens.
Charles was tagged in the album “Hot Pants Halloween 2005.”

2006
Charles has welcomed Arden to his family using the Dogbook application.
Charles updated education information: MA, Nonprofit Studies, 2008.

2007
Charles joined the group “Gay Retirement: 30+”
Charles sent a drink to Beau using the Smooth Seduction application.
Charles is moving to a new apartment for the 17th time since 1995.
Charles now lives in the Avalon neighborhood of Phoenix.
Charles was tagged in the note “New chapbooks from New Michigan Press.”

2008
Charles is ready to be done with school forever.
Charles tagged Arden in an album: “Moving to DC.”

Modern Life

Emily posted this a while back and I recently fell deep into like with it:

Hamlet
(Facebook News Feed Edition)
by Sarah Schmelling

– – – –

Horatio thinks he saw a ghost.

Hamlet thinks it’s annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.

The king thinks Hamlet’s annoying.

Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better.

Hamlet’s father is now a zombie.

– – – –

The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.

Marcellus is pretty sure something’s rotten around here.

Hamlet became a fan of daggers.

– – – –

Polonius says Hamlet’s crazy … crazy in love!

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet are now friends.

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.

Hamlet thinks Ophelia might be happier in a convent.

Ophelia removed “moody princes” from her interests.

Hamlet posted an event: A Play That’s Totally Fictional and In No Way About My Family

The king commented on Hamlet’s play: “What is wrong with you?”

Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.

Polonius is no longer online.

– – – –

Hamlet added England to the Places I’ve Been application.

The queen is worried about Ophelia.

Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers. Oh, look, a river.

Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don’t Float.

Laertes wonders what the hell happened while he was gone.

– – – –

The king sent Hamlet a goblet of wine.

The queen likes wine!

The king likes … oh crap.

The queen, the king, Laertes, and Hamlet are now zombies.

Horatio says well that was tragic.

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, says yes, tragic. We’ll take it from here.

Denmark is now Norwegian.