Happy P.O.E.T.S. Day! The James Matthew Wilson Edition

In snuck up on you didn’t it? Another week passed. Think of all the opportunities squandered, inspirational quotes ignored, and occasions for brilliant self-expression overlooked. You’ll never get that time back. That week is gone. On the bright side you probably got a nap in here and there. Good for you.

On the really bright side, it’s P.O.E.T.S. Day, Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. It’s your weekly clarion call reminding you that life is not all work and toil. Life is joy, wonder, and a bit of hot sauce should you like it. So seize the mid to late afternoon and sneak, bully, or connive your way out of work a few hours before closing. Fake thrombosis. Invent a minor ailment – psioreminces has promise. Do what you have to. Join us at the bar and start the weekend early with an ice cold Good People Pale Ale or a moderately cold Stella Artois (the cooler repairman is on route so that should be taken care of shortly… assuming the repairman doesn’t take a P.O.E.T.S. Day himself.) I prefer a nice vermentino at the end of the week myself, but to each his own.

Just get here.

This week’s P.O.E.T.S. Day is brought to you by James Matthew Wilson, a poet who stands out for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being that he is so far the only poet I have featured who is on the top side of the dirt. Living poets are hard to sift through and want to “shed restrictions” so you often end up with a structureless mass; a piece of oddly indented prose.

The April New Criterion features an article entitled “On Formal Restlessness” by Amit Majmudar. He discusses the poet’s tendency, not all poets of course, to try on different styles before settling on his or her “voice.” My take away is that the truly great poets shuffle between and invent styles throughout their careers, but many not so great poets try out all manner of things before they “shed restrictions” and adopt whatever free verse fad is prevalent amongst their contemporaries. I was reminded of teenage goths rebelling by dressing, speaking, and acting exactly like all the other goth rebels who’ve “shed restrictions.”

Wilson is a breath of fresh air, though a breath of fresh air that can be dark on occasion. In his book The Hanging God he dances from form to form but does so with respect. I’m sure he has a favored meter and scheme but though he uses several in the book, I couldn’t tell you which it is. That may be an ease with form or a meticulousness that won’t allow a drop off from poem to poem. In the introduction Dana Giola notes his “dexterous modulations from verbal austerity to extravagance.” Like with form he is comfortable changing tone. It’s wonderful.

The Hanging God is a Catholic work, acknowledging that though grace is a worthy goal in itself, we must strive for grace because we are capable of profane acts. More from Giola’s introduction:

“The formal principles governing The Hanging God are not limited to individual poems. They appear even in the overall design of the book, which unfolds in six sections built around two long poetic sequences. One depicts a sordid and destructive love affair, the other describes the Passion of Christ. The two long poems stand in symmetrical and audaciously contrasting positions.”

Without further ado, one of my favorites from his book which also just happens to mention a profession that is dear to me.

XIII

The bartender stood playing with her black

               Hair, combing it down one tan tattooed shoulder,

               Too early yet for college kids to pack

               The smokey booths and beer-soaked rugs, some older

Drunks nursed the happy hour specials. When I told her

               Why I’d come, she just held a Sharpie out,

               And said, “The men’s room’s by the smokes,” not colder

               But less surprised than you would think. The grout

And tiles were flecked like the scales on a trout

               Starved in a murky tank, and, on the wall,

               In black, my name and failings all spelled out.

               I scored the marker through her words, so all

Was wiped out with my strokes. When it was done,

               Our lines were sealed in that dark block as one.

The book is available here. It’s a great way to spend a few afternoon hours.

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