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Today we're going to try writing a poem in the style of the New York School. Poets like Frank O'Hara. John Ashbery. Kenneth Koch, Ron Padgett, and Barbara Guest who lived and wrote in New York in the fifties and sixties. So we're looking for a conversational tone and we're going to try to stuff as many things from the following list into the poem as we can.
It's already after two. I'm on the hunt for a specific chapbook in my collection and am about to embark on the messy but obviously necessary task of alphabetizing them by author. My trade poetry books are shelved that way, but until now I've not bothered with the chapbooks.
Oops, I lied! Another couple of digressions and it's now five o'clock. The chapbooks remain unsorted and my poem for today remains unwritten. I leave all this stuff in here, by the way, because it's how I think my way into the poem. At least, that's how it's been working lately. And speaking of lately, I just want to thank all of you who commented so favourably about yesterday's effort on Facebook and on here.
Right, then. Today's poem. Here we go:
What If I'd Stayed in Van, Richard
(Regrets, I've Had a Few)
I came to this poetry game late in life.
Oh, not the writing of it; I've always written,
but to the game, you understand, Richard,
the who's-on-first earthquake of who's-who-ness
in the book department, magazine department,
that's-shit/that's-not school of subjectivity
one must attend if one is to graduate with a fully-fledged
manuscript (manuscriptus interruptus) before one
is taken seriously. Richard, my favourite prof at UBC,
you were the first to say I should get into
(bed? your pants?) a creative writing class asap
back in '69 when the whole of life stretched out
before me like a roller coaster ride I was just
about to crest. What would you have done
if I'd stayed around instead of getting on the first
end-of-year plane I could find and heading back
to Ottawa to continue getting my heart broken
by Pierre whose business it was to break hearts.
We'll drink champagne and laugh at the world
he said after he seduced me—again—
in the back of his '65 Chrysler New Yorker,
then promised we'd fly to New York to see Hair,
leaving me delirious with hope and happiness
until his girlfriend came back from South East Asia
and that was that. What if I'd stayed in Van,
taken up writing for real with all those profs
who seemed so old and under the watchful eyes
of friends like Henry who introduced me to gay bars
and acid and the lesbians who lived on the second floor?
And what if I'd paid attention when I sent some poems
to Tom Marshall at Canadian Forum and they were rejected
but on one of them he wrote I like the general idea
of this one? Ah well. It was a very good year,
Richard, in spite of my not realizing it at the time.
I climbed the Grind, walked across Lion's Gate Bridge,
saw Hello Dolly three times when I needed something sweet
to get me past the horror of Midnight Cowboy,
posed for topless pictures for a guy in my class named Roger
who told me, as he shot, how incredible his girlfriend's cunt looked
right after she came. Wouldn't I love to see those pictures now
but they're gone, locked in the vault of memory,
a fine remembrance of things past and it's probably
a good thing, Richard, that I came to this game
late in life after a modicum of sense set in or likely
I'd be the one they talk about who fucked everyone
back then though if I'm honest, to this day I can't see
a New Yorker (the car, not a human of) without getting
moist and I still know all the words to Hair.