Monday, July 28, 2008

Bad Boy Poet

On the other hand, the Times featured "Bad Boy" San Francisco poet August Kleinzahler, crusty author of the collection Sleeping It Off in Rapid City in a "Column One" page one feature jumping to a long feature on A12 Link to Kleinzahler.

If you're tired of the academic establishment or academic poetry, the belligerent Kleinzahler's acerbic attitude will please you. As the article notes, he once called University writing programs "multi-million-dollar Ponzi schemes" in which, reporter John Glionna says, "Volvo driving poet-professors are too fearful of risking prizes or promotions to make waves."

Well, I don't know how to break it to Kleinzahler, but I've got an 11-year-old Honda and no tenure and I decided long ago that the joy of my sinecure, such as it is, is that there's not much to lose. I am grateful to the academy for being one of the few places that respects and values poetry. It's not perfect, but it's one place where I can find somebody to talk to about, say, the sweet satisfaction of a well-chosen line break, or a poem that grabs me by the neck.

Kleinzahler's chosen hangouts -- the dives of San Francisco and elsewhere -- are indeed rich mines for the pen -- they have been and probably always will be. I began my own performance career not in the academy but in the bar -- a beloved dump in downtown Flint that was long ago replaced by a parking lot. It was a good, rough, rowdy school and I cherish my memories of that time and that practical apprenticeship. But drunks aren't the only ones with insights about this world.

I like my sacramental quaffs of Irish and the occasional excesses of good red wine. But as my students will tell you, I have little patience for those who come to writing thinking it requires alcoholism and drugs as fuel. Writing takes a clear head and physical energy. So, in short, sitting on a hillside this morning not far from where Bukowski raged from barstool to barstool, I'm not convinced I need to read another misanthropic poem about a hangover. Nonetheless I'm glad he's prospering, even in light of his vitriol, because I think lots of poetry -- and lots of voices -- are good for the world. I bought the book and have it in front of me. Once I've put in my own hours of labor over the language, in whatever semblance of right mind I possess, I'll give him a chance to move me.

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