Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch

I don’t like Big Beach Novels for the summer, as novels invariably wind up boring me, but I do enjoy having a Big Booke of something-or-other to schlepp around from airport lounge to train station to rental car office — & to whatever home or motel or inn I’ll rest my bones reading, reading, reading. Happy to report that I most likely have found that book for this summer: Kenneth Warren’s Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch: A Guide to the Homeric Punkhole, 1980-2012, with an introduction by Dale Smith, an afterword by Ammiel Alcalay, & published by Blaze Vox in 2012.

I opened it by chance on the essay “Clayton Eshleman and the Poetics of Relationship” the day after I posted on Eshleman’s latest book, An Anatomy of the Night, and Ken Warren’s piece certainly rhymed with much of my thinking (not necessarily so much the thinking in that small post, but more generally & widely with my overall appreciation of CE’s oeuvre). What is most intriguing to me about the book is that it covers exactly those authors I have always felt were not just underrated but even when highly rated, under-reviewed, under-estimated. It is thus a great pleasure to find intelligent writing on as widely arrayed a set of poets as, among others, Bob Kaufman, Ed Sanders, Rochelle Ratner,  Diane Ward, Maxine Chernoff, Ray Bremser, Diane Wakoski, Hugh Seidman, Lewis Warsh, Richard Blevins, Jack Hirschman, Nathaniel Tarn, Anselm Hollo, Richard Grossinger or John Clarke — besides the more obvious Olson, Duncan, Creeley headliners.

Since my own locale (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn) deeply interests me, I quickly went to Warren’s piece on the big boy from the hood, Gilbert Sorrentino — & found his 1985 essay a most thoughtful, probing & insightful introduction to Sorrentino’s work, both as poet & as novelist.

Here is what Albert Glover [editor of Letters for Origin, 1950—1956 by Charles Olson, (Cape Goliard, 1969)] has to say about the book: “The title of Ken Warren’s selective and provocative history of  American poets and poetry over the past thirty years comes from an 
incident partially narrated in Tom Clark’s Charles Olson. The Allegory
 of a Poet’s Life [318] in which Gregory Corso makes a disruptive
 appearance in Olson’s afternoon seminar on myth, 1964. I say 
“partially” because as a member of that class and a witness to the 
events of that afternoon it seems to me Clark omits a few important 
facts, e.g. that after challenging the assembled students to match him 
in reciting from memory lines of Shelley (or perhaps by extension any 
poet) and hearing only universal silence, Corso began pointing out 
with increasing intensity that “we are all on death row” and that he
was “Captain Poetry”. Finally he turned to Olson: “Aren’t I Captain 
Poetry, Charles?” “Yes,” Olson replied. “Then what should I do?”
And without missing a beat Olson said calmly and with some humor, 
“report for duty.” David Posner, the Curator of the Lockwood Poetry
 library, never stepped into the room – the fracas happened after Corso 
had fled Olson’s class. It did not then and has never since seemed to 
me that Olson asked Corso to report to him, though the exchange might 
be interpreted so; rather, I took Olson to mean report to Poetry. 
Certainly that’s what Olson was teaching. And it’s worth mentioning 
here because Ken Warren’s work over the past three decades, both as 
editor and publisher of House Organ (an occasional magazine in which 
some of these pieces first appeared) and as a freelance essayist and 
critic outside academic writing, constitutes the sort of discipline,
dedication, and persistence which Poetry has demanded from him, not as 
a maker of poems but as a friend, an ear, a receptive mind.”

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3 opinions on “Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch”

  1. Me too, Pierre! Right there with you. Book arrived today, from Kenneth Warren – total surprise.

  2. At this rate, I’ll not EVEN make it to the beach.
    Yeah, I know — weird off-beat klutzy title for a book of contemporary (1980-2012) poetry
    criticism, right? Not to worry : Kenneth Warren, copyright holder of record & former Lakewood Ohio head librarian & cultural witness/critic extraordinaire, wide swaths his way thru vast barrens of spectacularly dense Orphic/Egyptian/Olsonic scree & blather with exquisite poise & acumen. 460 pages of quick-witted independent get-down in prose to die for — $25 and cheap at the price, given that its frames of reference & awareness have ALREADY proved indispensible… I’ve been up all night with it, and will probably continue on all thru this upcoming predicted-to-be-90degrees day….

  3. I keep thinking of how Kenneth Warren has moved from one lake
    (Erie) to another (Ontario), from Cleveland to the Niagara Frontier
    looking across Ontario now from Youngstown, New York. I was born in Niagara Falls so long ago. Looking back now, here is this my writing life in this statement:
    EDWARD MYCUE 1 of 4 pages


    This is of myself, to myself, still wondering who, what ,when ,where ,how & why; & just why not)

    How we begin?, Why we go on?, Who will we be?, Where will it be?, When will it end?, What’s it mean? OK, you say, we know that already: baby questions!

    Three are “it” questions that you may not have noticed. (One of my meditations over years on the pronoun “it”.)

    “So it was/ life became/ ir/ regulated. / ‘It’ developed/ during cen-/ turies/ there,/ for ‘it’ / got so/ diff/-i/-cult.”


    I’m not a professor, nor an antifessor; maybe more of
    a confessor with jingles and tingles and tunes of a sort,
    and clunky brain teasers, warnings, and purple seaweed.


    A California poet Robinson Jeffers, ejected from tribe by critics led by Yvor Winters of Stanford University, warned against creature-specificity wherewith humans
    are placed way up & over the top of the pecking order.


    Howard Zinn who died recently said “…human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice,
    courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. San Francisco poet/ philosopher/ teacher Lawrence Fixel who died several years ago might well have added: “But we know that already.”


    Fixel may have also added here: “Beyond the Name and Number/ We forget and we remember.” It’s he, junior companion in the depression era WPA writers’ project of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright,
    student of A.R.“Archie”Rosen and Isidore Schneider, who came up with what I call FIXEL’S LAW for poets/ writers: 4 simple injunctions that are 1. begin where you are; 2. learn from the material;3.believe in the process; 4.become your own reader.

    EDWARD MYCUE 2 of 4 pages


    I will here also invoke the name Paul Valery, a French Poet/ philosopher/ teacher who’s ART OF POETRY
    says in “A Poet’s Notebook” “….the habit of long labor at poetry has accustomed me to consider all speech and all writing as work in progress that can nearly always be taken up again and altered; and I consider work itself as having its own value, generally much superior to the product….no doubt the product is the thing
    that lasts and has, or should have, a meaning of itself and an in-dependent existence; but the acts from which it proceeds , in so far as they react on their author, form within another person more skillful and more in possession of

    his domain of memory….a work is never necessarily finished, for he who made it is never complete, and the power and agility he has
    drawn from it confer on him just the power to improve it….he draws from it what is needed to efface and remake it. this is how a free
    artist, at least, should regard things. And
    ends by considering as satisfactory only those works that have taught him something more….”


    western Americans josephine miles, ann stanford, richard hugo, theodore roethke were supremely fine poets, wonderful critical writers, gifted teachers.

    lawrence fixel, stanley burnshaw and northrup frye in my experience were great thinkers who understood poetry, and fixel and burnshaw wrote it well.

    ee cummings, extraordinary poet, was also a painter and novelist, as was d. h. lawrence who as well as exquisite poems wrote stories, criticism.

    i ended selling pencils & books, was a gardener & oddjobsman , few years a teacher, and worked 6 years for US dept of health education and welfare.

    many times, i thought and many times i just blurted or bled onto paper. some fine poets represented their times while here i maundered morning into noon.

    seriously a poet from my noon in my 20’s until now my moonrising my vocation came to me and to which i surrendered willingly. never in early days believing i could be an elevated poet, but i have been a worker poet for many gifts may be small ones, yet be real.

    living in a time and place where it has been possible, in the end i have written as i breathe, and lucky to do both.

    EDWARD MYCUE 3 of 4 pages

    poetry is an odd, restricting term. marianne moore (“i too detest it…but find in it ….”) and william carolos williams (“but men die every day for want of what is found there….”)–or something like that. but the forms and the meter and syllables and the cadence and the syncopation and the lineation are ball-breakers. i don’t want to censor myself when i am writing with the corset of the word “poetry”.
    just start writing. later you may discover a seed there and if not then you have some compost for some other seeds. time to destroy/ to discover said lawrence fixel in a long poem of his of that title published by panjandrum press in san francisco in 1972.

    i hate poetry that restricts you. but in it miss marianne moore said there is a place for the genuine. and i love what is genuine. it’s worth pursuing.
    i don’t feel sincere, nor insincere. one grows into technique and into one’s own vocabulary. and it’s a good idea to play/ really PLAY/ with the forms. in the early 1970′s william dickey and i were in the same group who met monthly sometimes at his place.
    bill was a forms & technique genius, the best i have ever known and it didn’t hurt his poetry. he’d say: ed, you know what you have here is…with a twitch here or a tweak there…a rondo…a villanelle…..and you can work it that way if you want…or not, he’d add. sometimes it helped the poem to do so.
    i liked having my choice about final shaping, but i never liked writing to a form. my way is not that. (of course, another person may do or feel differently.) things got up my nose. but that made my path.
    i went to n.r.crozier technical high school in dallas, texas beginning 1951 and had this (many thought ‘severe’) woodshop teacher mr. butler
    who wanted us not to get hurt with the tools, some of them quite dangerous –the electric planer, the table saws, and so on–: he was a magnificent teacher teacher and quite nice to me. not once did i get that big paddle that was used judiciously and forcefully and it seems not infrequently. he must have been in his 40′s then and loved differences in woods and form as a stimulus to invention.

    EDWARD MYCUE 4 of 4 pages X.
    i keep banging out stuff with no publication plans and don’t think of them as ‘privishings’ (as lawrence fixel spoke of work assigned to the drawer vs publishing work that you consciously decide to send out).
    “there” is where they come from: ‘there’, for the inside to outside and i don’t pay attention to the shape the outside becomes. of course, i may change it, reshape it by mixed arrangements. operating not simply without shame or style but from impulse (pulse)because i feel the time is a worn thread.
    a dumpster of memory and idea that is only phenomenologically momentarily necessary. if the moment passed without proceeding and how to make poetry work fun. if fun is the right word here.
    and is it poetry if it isn’t fun in the making no matter how serious the content? well maybe, but i’d have to fiddle with the ‘fun’ concept.
    “making” is the operative word really: and the pleasure or satisfaction of making something well and the thrill of the doing in the making. i feel so limited here. sand tray therapy and the use of masks then as well about the-GIVE-and TAKE-congress-of-relations.
    here’s my poem:
    There is a stranger
    within me,
    an intruder
    who is not me
    and is a part of me.
    We co-exist
    and yet
    it’s he
    who habitates
    as I exist.
    He swallows
    and I drink
    who’ll die
    when I die,
    or so I think?

    EDWARD MYCUE San Francisco Monday 10 September 2012

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