Posts Tagged ‘Hunter Thompson’

what I wish was a drunken conversation in a McDonald’s at AWP

February 8, 2011

The g/f and I went to one off-site event while we were at AWP, at The Asylum, where we watched some poets read, munched some vegan appetizers (which were incredible, despite their non-animalness)(not awesome enough to make me give up my animal tasty treats for good, though) and where I got the beginnings of a headache and tired of some personal space intrusion. This was still at the time I was having to do a TON of grading for the courses I teach, so I wasn’t in the best mood to begin with.

So, we left after the readings and struck out for the convention again, hoping to catch the last bit of the Jhumpa Lahiri keynote address. Instead, we wandered into a basement McDonald’s and griped about the state of poetry and the faint of heart, spotlight shunning writers who just don’t stomp the terra firma, to borrow and, likely, butcher a quote from Hunter Thompson.

First, I should say, I’m not a huge poetry fan right now. There just isn’t a lot out there that interests me and a lot of it sounds pretty similar. This isn’t to say it’s not good, I just don’t find a lot of it catching or interesting. It seems a lot of what is said is said to work in a slam environment though not necessarily on the page or even in your own head. Again, this isn’t to say it’s not good, it just feels like everyone is doing the same thing right now. And none of them really say a whole helluva lot.

And part of the problem seems to be this odd anti-intellectualism that permeates poetry (and, truth be told, fiction). This isn’t to say they’re dumb, or ignorant, just that I have continually witnessed an aversion to research and reading something that isn’t fiction or poetry.  I’ve griped before about this idea that the work is sparked by some muse and comes from on-high, which is another way of saying what I often heard repeated, that “you don’t think about it, you just write it and it’s THERE.” Which I disagree with too a fair extent, despite how many well written poems I’ve read that chronicle the depths of your despair in the eyes of a puppy on a sunny day.

Which, in a roundabout but perfectly logical (at the time) way, took me to Allen Ginsberg and my declaration that he was the last poet that I could genuinely respect and admire as a Great (capital G) Poet (capital P) because he not only wrote great poetry but, by all appearances, had a meaning and purpose behind what and how he was writing. I’ve liked poets since him, sure, I really enjoy Bukowski, but respect him as a writer? As an artist? Maybe not so much.

And what sort of disgusted myself with this declaration is that it’s sort of like bringing Hitler or the Nazis into an internet argument – it’s just so over the top inarguable, that it’s pointless to bring it up. I mean, is there anyone who is going to argue that there was a bigger, more influential and flat out better poet after Ginsberg in the last half of the Twentieth century? I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, unless we begin pulling in guys like Bob Dylan into the argument, or try to argue that filmmakers are poets in a visual medium.

And what disgusts me a bit now is that I know, and have known, other poets who are very good, who are dedicated to their craft, and who I stupidly insulted. But, at the same time, I still have this nagging feeling of having still been right, to a certain degree. There have been poets since Ginsberg who entered our social consciousness, who found themselves or made themselves part of our national fabric, but none of them have carried the weight of Ginsberg, none of them have cast his shadow. None of them have stomped the land.

Anyway, that’s my off-handed gripe/post. Take it with the grain of salt it was written with.


Albany Weed: William Kennedy

January 15, 2009

My knowledge of William Kennedy is admittedly limited. Like many authors that I have come to read much of, I found him through another writer, Hunter S. Thompson. From what I recollect from my far more extensive Thompson readings, they were friends and Kennedy is mentioned at the back of many of Hunter Thompson’s works in the “Honor Roll;” people who had passed the judgement of Hunter Thompson, who had been deemed if not good, then at least respected.

Which was enough to get me to pick up “Ironweed,” Kennedy’s most honored and highly regarded work about the return of Francis Phelan to his home in Albany, 13 years after a tragic accident took the life of his child. Came across this blog at Littoral that talks about the work (and Kennedy’s appearance at a seminar) far more thoroughly and eloquently than I.

Kennedy’s writing in “Ironweed” was free and his gift for dialogue was undeniable. From “Legs,” the second book of Kennedy’s as I progressed through his Albany Cycle in reverse:

“Heh,” said Morrie. “What’d he say?”
“Ah, a few things.”
“Nothing good, bet your ass on that, the son-of-a-bitch.”
“It wasn’t exactly flattering, but he was interested.”
“Who’s that?” Billy asked, looking up from the newspaper.
“My old man,” Morrie said.
“He’s a son-of-a-bitch?”
“In spades.”
“What’d he do?”
“Nothing. He’s just a son-of-a-bitch. Always has been.”

the language is a bit coarse at times, reflecting the characters who peopled his novels: every day folks largely from rough backgrounds and relatively small towns. While Albany isn’t exactly the backwords of Missouri, it is also isn’t the streets or New York.  Reading Kennedy is a picture of similar towns across America. You can put faces and voices to the characters and draw them into your own world.

As I said, my actual knowledge of Kennedy is scant but of the four novels I’ve read (“Ironweed,” “Billy Phelen’s Greatest Game,” “Legs,” and “Very Old Bones”),  but my respect for his abilities are great. He’s also written numerous works of criticism, two plays, two childrens books and three other novels. He’s a writer of tremendous talent and I encourage everyone to give him a shot. Some other links that might be helpful:

Wired for Books Audio Interview of William Kennedy

Wikipedia Entry

NY State Writers Institute Biography of William Kennedy