When I read something like this or this, I want to soothe my brains and ears with something like this:
“The goose that laid the golden egg
Died looking up its crotch
To find out how its sphincter worked.
Would you lay well? Don’t watch.”
Pretentiousness is best answered with derision, not well-meaning attempts at understanding. That merely encourages the pretentious and swells their already swollen sense of entitlement (to readers, to publication, to good reviews). Arguing with a proudly incompetent poet is as futile as talking ethics to a welfare cheat. Why change if you like the payoff?
“Ars Poetica,” quoted above, was written by X.J. Kennedy and collected in Peeping Tom’s Cabin: Comic Verse 1928-2008 (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2007). Kennedy, who was born in 1929 and published his first poem in 1956, writes in “The Furnace of Life – sort of an introduction” that he adopts the ancient Chinese notion of dating one’s birth from conception:
“Right away, a fertilized egg starts gestating poems. It just hangs there, piling up material that won’t see print in a hurry. Like all true artists, it can’t be rushed. Come to think of it, millions of incipient American poets must have been aborted before they ever printed a line. That can’t be totally bad. At least, the country has escaped utter deforestation.”
Which doesn’t, of course, address the pandemic of online poetry. Of all the artistic gifts, music, mathematics and poetry are the most sparsely and unfairly distributed. Generations can pass without first-rate artists, and the situation isn’t alleviated when the giftless are not only encouraged to write, but to do it publically. Here is Kennedy’s “A Poet-critic”:
“Swap got a wildly favorable review
Written, of course, by some kiss-ass he knew
To whose last book he’d suckled up in turn.
Better to marry, said Saint Paul, than burn.”
Kennedy possesses the inspired nastiness of Swift, and a comparable dedication to the hard work of craft. Here is one of his “Poetic Ends”:
Flushed himself down the drain
When it seemed clear
That The Bridge didn’t cohere”
Kennedy revels in a sort of pseudo-Philistinism as a strategy to expose the true Philistines. His art is manic and rigorous, like Swift's. Here is “Defending the Canon”:
“The stooping scholars labor, hot
To keep intact the status quo:
They’ve proved Hawthorne a Hottentot
And Milton’s Mom a Navajo.”