I was a bit surprised to receive an email from Henry Gould of The Plumbline School, inviting me (at the suggestion of Plumbline fellow Joseph Duemer) to join their circle. My response was essentially a reaction to the School’s self-definition, to wit:
“Plumbline poetry” is provisionally defined here as poetry which exhibits a stylistic “mean between extremes”: understated, transparent, inclusive, objective. It avoids extremes of both the ponderous and the superficial; it shuns mannerism and facile ornamentation, on behalf of clarity and simplicity of presentation. It strives for mimesis rather than pantomime. On the other hand, the plumbline poet (Bard o’th’ Plumbline, BP, BeeP) is not merely sober, dull, strenuously industrious. Poetry is recognized as paradoxical—as a conjunction of opposites—as old and new, experimental and traditional, funny and sad, simple and complex, personal and public, unique and common.
Here’s a copy of my reply to Mr. Gould—although I’ve added a number of links and made a few small emendations:
Hello, Mr. Gould—
I have to say I’m flattered to be invited but will have to say no.
First of all, I’m simply not a joiner. Woody Allen said he wouldn’t join a club that would have him as a member, and I feel pretty much the same.
Second, I simply don’t agree with your desire to produce “poetry which exhibits a stylistic ‘mean between extremes'”—poetry that is “normative, middling, equable, objective, comprehensive, inclusive, disinterested.” By way of explanation let me address these qualities individually.
“Normative,” deriving from the Latin norma, “a carpenter’s square,” I find too confining. What about round poems? Or designedly rough poems?
“Middling” I understand as “average,” poetry that is “neither very good nor very bad,” and that is certainly not the kind of poetry I want to write or read.
Nor do I want to write or read “equable” poems that are “calm and even-tempered” (at least not most of the time).
I simply don’t believe in “objective” poetry, since all poems worth the name are maker’s distillations and bear the distinctive mark of their maker, which is why the poetry I care for is also not “disinterested.”
That leaves “inclusive,” by which I assume you mean “deliberately nonsexist”; I think that’s all right, but it smacks too much of the censor, and since I oppose censorship of any kind I’m even leery of “inclusion”!
You can see that I have a contrarian nature. It’s probably this that leads me to smile when you speak, in your “Inaugural Message,” about “the plumbline poet (Bard o’th’ Plumbline, BP, BeeP)”; I smile because when I consider “BP” or “Beep,” I think of the great Karl Shapiro, who used “BP” and “Beep” as tags for his “Bourgeois Poet.” I’m sorry to say that the “Plumbline School” feels bourgeois in the sense of “conventional.” And I have to wonder: What about Rimbaud? What about Parra? What about Enzensberger? What about Whitman? I can’t imagine any of them in the Plumbline School….
Anyway, I hope I haven’t come across as contentious. And I do thank you for the invitation.
I have to add that I was invited to join The Plumbline School on the basis of this earlier post, which makes me wonder just how often I’m failing to myself clear. Or maybe it’s just the fragmentary nature of blogs. Surely if Mr. Duemer had read more of The Perpetual Bird, he would have understood how poor a fit I’d be for his school. Wouldn’t he?