Anthony Madrid is by far the most rewarding-to-read blogger on Harriet these days. One feels like each of his posts is a full bucket pulled up from a pouring brook: the taste is good and complex and one can’t forget that the brook is flowing on as one reads—that the bucketful is merely a sample. In this post, Madrid offers a wonderful quote from H. L. Mencken; I only wish he’d documented where it came from:
The old-time poet did not bother with theories. When the urge to write was upon him, he simply got himself into a lather, tied a towel around his head, and then tried to reduce his feelings to paper. If he had any skill the result was poetry; if he lacked skill it was nonsense. But even his worst failure still had something natural and excusable about it—it was the failure of a man admittedly somewhat feverish, with purple paint on his nose and vine-leaves in his hair. The failure of the new poet is the far more grotesque failure of a scientist who turns out to be a quack—of a mathematician who divides 20 by 4 and gets 6, of a cook who tries to make an omelette of china doorknobs.
Madrid frames this as “anti-poetry,” but it’s not; it’s not even anti-failure-in-poetry. It simply acknowledges that “the new poet” (plug in any name that fits for you: for me it would be one of the Languish Poets or one of those Kenny Goldsmith clones) fails in a singularly uninspired way: failure as a kind of grotesque mannerism rather than a genuine attempt to honor either language or the reader; in fact, as Goldsmith likes to point out, this sort of failure assumes there will be no readers, that even the writer of it will avoid reading what he or she has written. An omelette of china doorknobs, indeed!