REC: Alan Joyce’s Poetic Excuse

I like variety in my poetic reading. I can stand pretty much any topic—from angsty godless existentialism to, worse still, soppy inspirational stuff—or form—whether strict Petrarchan sonnet to the most unwieldy, undisciplined paragraph-stanzas. Just so long as you mix it up for me. (And if it’s going to be soppy inspirational stuff, you better mix it up for me fast.)

No, the thumbs down does not refer to Alan. That’s my visual response to SIS–the soppy inspiration stuff.

This is probably why I’ve come to think of albertoxie’s Poetic Excuse as my “WordPress poetry heaven.” To be sure, the man hasn’t updated since May 14, but I still haven’t exhausted re-reading the archives, so I’m as happy as a very literary little crab not being boiled. In Ireland.

I don’t think of Mr. Alan Joyce as a perfect poet, but he is a talented one who’s not afraid to experiment. In fact, I don’t believe he thinks of it as experiment—that’s my sort of word, a sort of cold, clinical view of “aesthetics.” Alan writes from experience—every little nook and cranny of it. “I like to put myself in the minds of many,” he replies to once of my comments, and I say to him now, “Right on (but stop stealing my motto).” You’ll notice that on the very first page he ranges from the philosophical and detached to the personal and rollicking to the gritty to the grittier—to the absolutely delightful kids’ Halloween romp, all shrill voices and knocking elbows and askew costumes.

That doesn’t mean that the poetic instinct isn’t there. It is. (In fact, it’s present on so deep a level that I suspect he doesn’t have to stop and consciously draw it up the way most of us mere mortals do. Perhaps it really does pay to have Irish blood.) Alan seems to shift effortlessly through a wide swath of voices—now reminding you of Dylan Thomas, then turning around and reminding you of Etheridge Knight. Even when he’s in his more “moderate,” everyday-modern-poet voice, it’s a much crisper version than the norm, with more vernacular and more finality. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he seldom gets hung up in troublesome modal voices. It’s all statement and reportage:

Tears fill, emotional torment,
dire straits, confusion…

And damned if it doesn’t work (you should read the poem to get the full effect of all those facts piled on top of one another). Normally these straightforward statements are the sign of impoverished creativity. Not much! Alan doesn’t rely on lazy words like history and love and emotion and dreams and all that rot to carry the poem for him. If he uses clichés he makes them work for him. “Dark and light no more everything forlorn the fight has ended go in pieces.”

Notice the total lack of anything resembling punctuation in that line? A cynical observer might question if the line would be as powerful if there were proper commas. It wouldn’t—good thing he knows better than to use them. Alan also commits that cardinal writing sin of really not giving a damn about caps and commas, and his page is riddled with the wrong homophones. I take issue with the spelling mistakes, but I have had to concede the brilliance of his happenstance approach to proper sentences. It’s all bound up in his glorious understanding of the not-so-tricky secret that poetry ≠ prose + clever line breaks. Poetry operates entirely under its own tacit rules, and each person’s poetry has its own logic—or even illogic:

Music never quietens me, no matter what you think. I’m inside every part of you each molecule so deep.
Your always causing conflict shut up for just one night Ive told you once before that this shit just ain’t right.

…oh… yeah… did I mention a lot of this stuff is pretty dark? Even the wise-father-gives-advice ditty (probably, I admit, his most tepid poem) seems to imply lots of weary suffering. Even the cutesy Halloween romp derives a lot of its charm due to its slightly manic edge. This is certainly no problem according to my taste (look how many ODOPs are tagged as “dark”). I give readers fair warning that they will soon pick up on this as an indispensible part of the Joyce aesthetic. “Reality is a scary place,” he says.

Well, if it is, then part of Alan’s poetic mission seems to be to make us see it clearly—which is the one defense we have. That’s what poetry does: casts things in the strangest light so that we can make sense of them. You should totally go over to his blog and get a dose of it:

Poetic justice; simple in mind simple in stature simple yet perfect.


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