Drink Up

For long years now, at the times when i’m forced to look at contemporary poetry and the critical reaction to it, my own reaction tends to run along the lines of wondering whether these breathless halfwit blank-verse connoisseurs are simply on drugs. But then this morning, it occurred to me that, despite the rhetorical nature of the question, the answer is, in fact, ‘yes’ — though not necessarily in the way one might think.

From time to time, i can remember reading about those experiments that sociologists do where they bring a whole bunch of college students into a bar, telling them they can have as much to drink as they want, on the house. And all the while, these students are observed while they get more and more progressively, incoherently intoxicated… without the people in charge of the study telling them that none of the drinks they’re being served actually have any alcohol in them. Because what’s really being tested is how much people will succumb to the feeling of intoxication — the social side of the effect; the contact high, if you will — simply because their minds tell them to expect it.

And so it occurs to me — this is the poetry problem in a nutshell. The aesthetically incoherent modern-poetry freak approaches the art of contemporary poesy in the throes of the same kind of chemically imbalanced compulsion state with which the frat-boy binger approaches a row of what he thinks are 200-proof vodka shooters. And in both cases, the expectation of a buzz produces that buzz even in the complete absence of any real stimulus or kick. The poetry freak needs the self-delusion that tells him what he’s reading isn’t just the load of emotionally fossilized tripe that it is, just like the binger needs to believe that the water he’s drinking is capable of producing the inebriation he expects to feel. The poetry freak needs the kick of knowing how deeply meaningful his drug of choice is. And so the kick is manufactured within from the necessity of belief, rather than from the content and worth of the work itself.