No More Poems by F. Keith Wahle. Broadstone Books, 2018.
Where to begin?
Can this poem be read backwards? YES.
Can this poem be read inside out? YES.
Will this poem kill off poetry? NO. It is proof by negative conversion. The more you deny, the stronger it grows, leaving the world diminished in its absence.
The time has come, the Walrus said, to admit that “poetic” has replaced “awesome,” and can be applied to any enterprise other than writing poetry. An Olympic gymnast’s performance can be poetic. A superhero movie, thanks to special effects, can create moments powerfully poetic. Violence bedazzles poetic fantasy. Because the poetic is everywhere, poetry is nowhere.
And has no economic value. It’s become an honorific for possessing outstanding quality beyond mere functionality. Utilitarianism is the heartbeat of free enterprise, and if a poem can’t unscrew a light bulb, it certainly can’t wipe blood from your hands after a coup d’état! It has slammed into something between stand-up comedy and confession upon a scaffold.
Is it poetry if it doesn’t rhyme? IT RHYMES INTERNALLY. IT HAS SECRET RHYMES . Words, as Gertrude Stein knew, morph into other words, having caught the flu of sound:
No more codfish poems, or codpiece poems or codicil poems,
No more poems about catnip, or catamarans, or catalpas…
And that’s only “C” in the Dictionary! “There will be no more poems about hermaphrodites, or heliotropes, or double helixes” asperates a list within the list, connected by the alphabet more than by meaning, but inviting readers, with the cunning that poetry deploys, to make their own connections, leaping to figure out how “hermaphrodites” and “heliotropes” are connected, let alone what the “double helix” has genetically to do with either word.
But the poem doesn’t pause ; it relentlessly caroms onward, naming what will no longer be the subject of poetry, which includes everything, and, by allusion, also great poets themselves.
“Hang it all, Ezra Pound, and Donald Hall, and the rest of you,
there will be no more sestinas,
not the one sestina, or the one ‘Sordello,’ or any other damn thing” (17).
Indeed this encapsulates a great tradition of literature now tossed into net oblivion. The indifference of our current age underlies the unspoken critique of culture that this Whitmanesque incantation of outrage savages.
Still, it cannot exhaust all the possible things that “no more poems” celebrates. Only a portion of the canon and the Dictionary has been trashed. A mere 39 pages point out what we will miss, because poetry has been banished. Walk outside and take a look. The world continues beyond the book, and a whole lot has never been captured in print.
Is it poetry if it makes you laugh? ONLY IF IT ALSO MAKES YOU CRY,
It was a mistake to place this list in front of the epic poem:
In memory of Larry Levis (1946—1996)
Kenneth Koch (1925—2002)
Donald Justice (1925—2004)
Jon Anderson (1940—2007)
Michael Benedikt (1935—2007)
Robert Hudzik (1946—2009)
Mark Strand (1934—2014)
John Ashbery (1927—2017)
and Terry Stokes (1943—2017)
I was so overcome with grief, that the title of the book “No More Poems” needed no further proof. And we all have our lists, with other names we could add, whose voices, silenced, will write no more poems.
[August 10, 2018]