Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Frank Rogeczewski : Introduction to “Gratia, Poeta!” in Glorious Past-O-Vision!





Day four of my PhD exams: Poetics. I’ve pretty well aced the first three and this one should be a proverbial stroll in the park.  Five or ten minutes of mulling over the prompts and I boldly begin this final exam with what I consider an O’Hara-esque sendup/tribute to the history of poetics. No ideas but in thinks. However, after a page or so I begin to worry that perhaps some part of my committee will perceive this supposed-to-be serious examination essay a bit too much like one of my prose poems and by way of argumentum a simili downgrade or diss this last of my final exams. As my alma mater is the University of Illinois–Chicago, what then is Michael Anania but “my brudder from anudder mudder”? But also, my mentor and at times my proverbial model.

Anania warns a Modern Poetry class that Ezra Pound was not just fooling around with fascism; he informs a workshop student who’s written a quasi-surreal garden poem that she really shouldn’t title it “Strange Fruit.”  [During discussion of] one of my lefty poems in a graduate workshop, he likens the radicalism of Percy Shelley to the Communist Party, William Blake’s to the Trotskyites. He suggests I might somehow get into the poem the look or feel of the woodcuts that appeared in New Masses or Rebel Poet. Michael Anania knows where a poem wants to go.

David Ray Vance and Catherine Kasper will fall in love in these workshops. I will try to take Anania up on the woodcuts idea. I will write an essay on the raging debate: is LANGUAGE poetry a revolutionary disruption of the commodification of language or is it pretentious moving wallpaper? Mike Barrett and I will have a beer upon arriving at the UIC Writing Program’s student and faculty readings at the campus lounge one evening. Michael Anania will read the silence and music of his lines.

Coming from a working-class background—as did many of us—Anania reacted to the university with the proper amounts of respect for intelligence and creativity and irritation with academic applesauce (it’s not made from real apples). He handled the academic milieu with confidence and he built with us a camaraderie poetical ever after. He dedicated the poem “Considerations in Time” in Heat Lines to David and Catherine. Anania argues the LANGUAGE poets are postmodern surrealists. In workshop he tells the story of Carl Sandburg at an event for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Sandburgh is up on the stage repeating the union’s name again and again to hear the music, the beauty of the name and what it stands for. The Brotherhood. Of Sleeping Car. Porters. The Brother. Hood of Sleep. Ing Car Porters.  “It’s something a poet would do,” Anania explains, “but it didn’t go over well with the whole audience.”

This is the fate of my final essay as well. One [doctoral committee] party pooper misconstrues my serial sketches as moving wallpaper. Then there’s the clatter and clamor of my heart in my brain as I get nervous at the first of the oral exams. But years later when Michael Anania retires, I take up the argumentum a simili as sword and shield—or maybe crucifix and wooden stake—and do us both proud.


Gratia, Poeta!

Well, that settles it. I looked up her website and there’s not one
mention of Charisma Carpenter, who plays the role of Cordelia
on the TV show Angel, being the daughter of John Carpenter

(director of Vampires, Ghosts of Mars, Prince of Darkness, the
original Halloween, and the remake of The Thing). This means the

greatest father/daughter horror team of all time existed only in
my imagination, a word for a concept that has pretty much always

been with us poets, albeit in a somewhat ambiguous relationship
with fancy, that being an abbreviation of fantasy, from the Latin

, itself a transliteration from the Greek, making all these
terms more or less kissing-cousins, but I don’t want to get all

ancient aesthetically philosophical or etymologically medieval
on you, so I’ll skip right to the part where Michael Anania used

to mention in workshops that getting into and out of the poem
were two of the most difficult tricks for a poet. Also, he made it

clear that you have to earn your O’s. In the postmodern world
of today the time’s long past when the poet can get away with

exclaiming all over the poem, let alone apostrophizing this, that,
and the other Muse. People just can’t suspend disbelief in your

transmogrification of an abstraction. When I first signed on as
an undergrad, I was like, “Yeats, Yeats, Yeats.” I sounded more

like a poodle than a poet. Michael Anania and Ralph Mills were
kind enough to bring me over to America and plant me a bit

more firmly in the 20th century—William Carlos Williams, Ezra
Pound, Frank O’Hara, Susan Howe. It’s a good thing too. I stopped

dreaming of ascending in the ranks of The Hermetic Order of
the Golden Dawn—from novice to cloak-holder, I’d fancy—and

started thinking more seriously about poetics in the late 20th/
early 21st century, which, of course, reminds us that Angel is a

spin-off from the TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which
stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and apparently is going off the air this

spring. The character Angel, played by David Boreanaz on the
eponymous TV show, is a vampire cursed with a soul so that he

suffers remorse over the evil he has committed and now wants to
fight for justice—and also for truth and beauty, I like to think, you

know, being a poet and all. In his role as professor of literature, if
Michael found you reading Nova in class, instead of, “That doesn’t

go here,” it’d be, “You read Chip Delany?” He wouldn’t express
the same enthusiasm for, say, Stephen King. I’m on my own there.

Michael doesn’t read anything more graveyard than the graveyard
poets, who were a meditative and melancholy bunch, and guess

what was their favorite setting for those meditations—meaning I’m
grateful that a poet who could see exactly where any poem wanted

to go spent time on my poetry, which always wants to go places
like Frankenstein’s laboratory, Dracula’s crypt, Freddy Krueger’s

boiler room, Its sewer main, the Dead’s shopping mall outside of
Pittsburgh, and the Bates’ Motel. Named after an Avon perfume,

Charisma Carpenter began playing the role of Cordelia, a high
school friend of the vampire slayer, on Buffy and then graduated

to Angel with that show’s premiere. And though Charisma had
only a handful of commercials and a guest appearance on Baywatch

on her resume, and though Sarah Michelle Gellar has starred in

, won a Blockbuster Award for Best Supporting Actress
for her role in I Know What You Did Last Summer, and has become
a spokesperson for Maybelline, I’ve always thought Charisma

the more interesting actress. Sexier too, especially now that she’s
impregnated with a demon fetus and positively evil herself. (You

would think people would be negatively evil, but it never works out
that way—some situations simply cry out for an oxymoron.) I guess

you could say that for me Sarah Michelle Gellar is like the fancy
and Charisma Carpenter the imagination. In the Romantic sense

of the terms. You know, where Blake’s like, “Imagination is spiritual
sensation” and Coleridge is like, “It dissolves…in order to recreate

or…to idealize and to unify,” comparing the imagination (in a
more or less roundabout way) to “the eternal act of creation in the

infinite I AM.” Where fancy “is no other than a mode of memory
emancipated from the order of time and space.” Now you can see

why John Carpenter should be her father. With his fine sense of
the horror film ad her presence and acting skill, why, we’d return

to a new heyday of horror, one recalling sublime partnerings of
previous eras—Elsa Lanchester and James Whale, Janet Leigh and

Alfred Hitchcock, Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter. Not that
I’m in any way putting down Sarah Michelle Gellar. Even though

William Carolos Williams says, “Yes, the imagination, drunk with
prohibitions, has destroyed and recreated everything afresh in the

likeness of that which it was,” the fancy is no slouch either. It may
even be—since imagination came to be used by the Romans as a

substitute for phantasia—that fancy and imagination are cousins
that’ve been doing more than kissing. Or they are Siamese Twins.

And if I were still a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden
Dawn, I’d have to wonder whether there wasn’t some cosmic

conspiracy at work when Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes off the air
at the same time Michael Anania retires. Well, there probably is. I

mean, how do you thank someone for sharing his knowledge of
poets and poetry, his way with line breaks and pentameter. Those

of us who’ve learned from Michael Anania consider ourselves
spin-offs from a more critically acclaimed, popular, and longer

running TV show. Coleridge’s secondary imagination related to
the primary imagination, so to speak. Whoa! All these imaginations

and fancies in my head! They’re making me dizzy and I didn’t
even take my antihistamine today. And did you ever notice how

the pharmaceuticals these days sound like something from the old

Flash Gordon
series? With his pals, Dr. Zyrtek and Dale Allegra,
Flash faces the Emperor Ming and the evil Princess Viagra. By
the way, I thought I saw Michael Anania on TV, standing next to

Mayor Daley at a celebration of Chicago’s one hundred and sixty-
fifth year, and I thought, “Wouldn’t that be something if Michael

retired into a whole other career: his own TV show—if not on the
WB, perhaps on UPN, in the time slot Buffy’s left unfilled.” It’s not

unheard of—a poet on TV. Somebody told me he’d seen Charles
Bernstein reading a phone book with Jon Lovitz on a Yellow Pages

Commercial. Can you imagine? Longinus sees in the imagination
the source of the sublime when “moved by enthusiasm and passion

you seem to see things whereof you speak and place them before
the eyes of your hearers.” Anyway, it’s certainly a show I’d watch,

whether Michael played a vampire slayer or a poet/professor. And
O! Charisma Carpenter! If you would co-star with him, that

would be marvelous!




from From the Word to the Place ed. Lea Graham
MadHat Press, 2022
reprinted with permission




Frank Rogaczewski lives with his wife and comrade Beverly Stewart in bee-yoo-ti-ful  Berwyn, IL with their dear dog, Seamus, their dear foster dog, Kitsu,  and their lovely literary cats, Gertrude and Virginia.  Frank is now responsible for two books of prose poetry, The Fate of Humanity in Verse and Jeepers and Criminy! Are You Following This? A Helpful if Inexact Proletarian/ Smart Ars Poetic Manifesto. An adjunct English instructor and leftist for many years, he continues to move to the left.

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