A reader is displeased: “Oh my aren’t you witty?” He/she was offended by something I had written a long time ago about Robert Bly. Granted, criticizing Bly is like shooting fish in the bathtub with a bazooka. I was a little ashamed of myself but that passed. My consolation is that X.J. Kennedy comes to my rescue with “On Being Accused of Wit” (Dark Horses, 1992):
“No, I am witless. Always in despair
At long-worked botches crumpled, pitched away.
A few lines worth the keeping, they are rare.
Blind chance not wit entices words to stay
And recognizing luck is artifice
That comes unlearned. The rest is taking pride
In boring duty. This and only this.
On keyboards sweat alone makes fingers glide.
“Witless, that juggler rich in discipline
To whom the Virgin might have dealt short shrift,
Flat on his back with beatific grin,
Gracing the air with slow-revolving gift;
Witless, La Tour, that painter none too bright,
His draftsman's compass waiting in the wings,
Measuring how a lantern stages light
Until a dark room overflows with rings.”
Dark Horses is Kennedy’s finest collection. It includes the best poetic tribute to J.V. Cunningham I’ve read -- “Terse Elegy for J.V. Cunningham,” first published in The New Criterion in October 1985, barely six months after Cunningham’s death:
“Now Cunningham, who rhymed by fits and starts,
So loath to gush, most sensitive of hearts --
Else why so hard-forged a protective crust? --
Is brought down to the unreasoning dust.
Though with a slash a Pomp’s gut he could slit,
On his own flesh he worked his weaponed wit
And penned with patient skill and lore immense,
Prodigious mind, keen ear, rare common sense,
Only those words he could crush down no more
Like matter pressured to a dwarf star’s core.
May one day eyes unborn wake to esteem
His steady, baleful, solitary gleam.
Poets may come whose work more quickly strikes
Love, and yet -- ah, who’ll live to see his likes?”
Thank you, dear reader, for giving Kennedy, if not me, the opportunity to work his “weaponed wit.”