Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Poetry Corner

The other day I wrote a long, intemperate post on the subject of Jonathan Franzen. (Short version: I think I know why Freedom is not the Great American whatever, which is, as Frank Norris once wrote, not extinct like the dodo, but mythical like the hippogriff, but I don't want to read it just to see if I'm right.) Then I thought better of it and deleted it. Then today, I was reading about how Freedom wasn't nominated for a National Book Award, and I thought, that's why I deleted it: ultimately you can't spend your time with things like that. So I looked instead at what was nominated: how great that Patti Smith's amazing Just Kids is in the mix. And then I noticed that Kathleen Graber was nominated for poetry. I used to teach with Kathleen back at NYU - I didn't know her very well, but she always had a stack of beautiful books that she'd carry around tied together with a sash or a rope, which I got a kick out of because it made me think about that scene in Rope, but it also because it's just a beautiful way to carry books. Once in a while we had readings in the program I taught at, and she'd read something just so breathtaking I can remember exactly the lines and how she read them. Stuff like this. So I looked up her new book of poems, the book that got nominated, and it turns out it was inspired by a Joseph Brodsky essay about Marcus Aurelius and that when she was writing it she would alternate between reading his meditations, writing a poem, and cleaning out her garage, inspired by Aurelius stoic injunctions against attachment. File that one away under the practical uses of poetry and philosophy.

So, in such a spirit of detachment, godspeed, Jonathan Franzen. I meant you no harm. I'm sure you and Freedom and the great American whatever will be fine. In the meantime, I'll be reading The Eternal City.

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