My friend David Alpaugh, author of “Counterpoint,” “Heavy Lifting,” and widely read and discussed essays on “The Professionalization of Poetry” and “New Math of Poetry,” responds to my new poem, “Legacy: Muse Neglect,” which opens We’re comin’ up to my birthday./I’m seventy-seven—twenty-three more and I’ll be a hundred!/So what’s it all about, sixty-odd years of writing, scribbling?/Etc. Hello, Robert:
My apology for taking so long getting back to you on “Legacy: Muse Neglect.” Been tidal-waved by late days of summer, gearing up for fall obligations (Coolbrith, Valona, etc.).
“Legacy” is a brave poem. You certainly touch a responsive chord in this poet, as I, too, am starting to wonder if I’ve lost the muse, have been treading water post-Counterpoint. Didn’t old man Wordsworth and young man Byron have similar doubts? (“Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”).
I love the concrete “eye to eye” confrontation with your “first mutt,” that “first published poem.” The metaphorical sense here is as sure as it is quiet. The paradoxical reversal of the dog becoming master and wagging the man is richly comic, and most poignant in that manly dogly reproach, “Bad poet, bad poet!” Unpretentiousness that comes from truly having the goods rather than just the flash has always been one of your most appealing qualities.
Cheer up, Bob. “Legacy” is proof that you’re poems have not lost their canine magic. Dogliness was and is the metaphor for what you continue to aim for in your work. Falling a bit short much of the time is inevitable. (When Samuel Beckett was asked if he had a favorite work he shook his head and muttered: “Something wrong with all of them.”)
The more I look at the history of poetry the more I believe that our mission is (in Frost’s words) “to lodge a few poems where they will be hard to get rid of.” You’ve done that with “Uncle Dog,” “God is in the Cracks,” “Heavenly Sex” and a dozen others, and now “Legacy” will be in the running (or, as you would say, trotting!).
The only question is the crucial one for our Po-Busy time: will the gatekeepers get out of the way and allow poetry to live not by status and accreditation but by love? Here, I’m afraid that “the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Let’s hope we can overshoot their papier-mâché palace and land a few good poems on the other side!
With deep respect for your generous, generative humor,