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  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.”