Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Photo © 2003 by John Tranter
By any reasonable measure, the most successful of the literary tendencies associated with the New American Poetry had to be the
Such “success” creates a kind of shadow effect – everyone remembers Allen Ginsberg, but try to find the Collected Poems of Kirby Doyle. That latter edition was published by Greenlight Press in 1983, but when I searched AddAll for copies through used or rare book dealers, I could find just six copies, only one of which is going for under $100. It made me really appreciate the $4 edition I bought out in
One poet whose reputation – tho not his poetry – has I think suffered from this shadow effect is Simon Pettet. He’s someone – not unlike Reed Bye – who just might be much more widely known & celebrated far & wide were he not always associated with the NY School gen 3. Jacket did a feature on his work in issue 25, including a lovely appreciation by Robert Creeley that had once served as an introduction of Pettet’s work translated into Italian, published in
Pettet’s sense of humor shines through that latter title, self-deprecating & wry. He was actually born in the U.K., tho the only evidence for it you might find in his work is a tendency to set a number of works into palpably European settings – which is not so different, say, from a Harry Matthews – and a willingness on occasion to rhyme, tho only in spots. Viz:
It all passes
Ah, but the lasses
inside and outside
The bird in the bush is
the mad piper,
The cows in the field .
Part of what makes me trust this poem as much as I do is the space between the final word & the period, a gap that captures the unhurried aspect of pastoral, a literary device one associates with Paul Blackburn & which is not much in use today.
My favorite poems of Pettet’s tend to be his shortest, often untitled, sometimes pure description:
La luce terra cotta olive green
Fig tree quiet Tuscan morning birdsong
Church bell toll butterfly zig-zag
(cars on the road zoom by and then returning to silence)
paving stones, dappled shadows
This isn’t an entirely successful poem – I wish Pettet had found another word than zoom to employ there, especially as it’s the first verb coming after three-plus lines of detail – but this poem’s strengths are so strong that it persuades me completely in spite of itself. Or this, literally on the facing page:
mention to the girl in the vets
about the butterflies
and she’s excited!
but has never done it before
but is willing to try (tho)
There’s a remarkable power in that last parenthetical word, even tho the word itself at first seems extraneous, perhaps even unnecessary. What in fact it captures is that flinching second thought familiar I would imagine to all of us. I’ve never seen that pulled off in a poem before. It works perfectly here.