1.0 Since Consumer Culture has sucked the marrow of every conceivable pleasure, from eating to fucking to watching the sun rise (without Claritin, thank you), there’s nothing left to do but – smile. Smile though you’re heart is breaking; smile while you’re masturbating, or filling out that questionnaire (though you’d rather be writing poetry and you know it); smile everywhere and always, alone, but especially in public. Smile, smile, smile that shit-eating grin you see in the commercials and magazines and talk-shows. Smile right back at ‘em when you’re waiting in toxic traffic or riding their dirty trains or walking down their numbing neon streets. Smile until they start to wonder what you’re up to.
1.0 Trust nobody who believes in anything but nothing.
1.1 Believers can be bamboozled, dumbfounded, snookered, had.
1.2 Those who believe in nothing often do believe in money.
We Modern Poets
1.0 I celebrate myself and sell myself. What I believe you too shall believe – or I will kill you and enslave your children.
1.1 Sorry. That’s just the way it goes.
2.0 Modern American "Literature" is worse than irrelevant, it’s boring.
2.1 Be a bug, like Samza. Annoying wrench in the works.
2.2 Wake the easy reader from her snooze.
1.0 The generation that rose from the ashes of Lennon’s first cigarette didn’t rise high enough, or at least didn’t go anywhere special after their own youth burned out suddenly and unexpectedly they morphed into Clintons and Gores.
2.0 The burning Bush is god? or talks to god? or burns and burns and burns for no reason at all?
Revolution (sort of) and The Law
1.0 Fighting is all that’s left worth fighting for.
1.1 A pie in the sky is hard to eat.
1.2 Occasionally, somebody is right about something; but EVERYONE is ALWAYS wrong about EVERYTHING.
2.0 They took the words out of our mouths, lifted our wallets and built The Law into an edifice of cruelty. We have no choice but to resist – or write our local representatives.
3.0 Fear is terrifying; hence, we must wage war on terror to rid ourselves of fear.
3.1 War is terrifying.
4.0 The Pen is mightier than the sword or gun.
4.1 But only if you can use that pen to sign fat checks.
4.1.1 Generally, nobody gives a damn what you write unless you’re heavily, heavily armed.
5.0 A person with a college degree and no integrity has two places to go in this society: The Cubicle, or The Classroom.
5.1 A person with a college degree and integrity also has two places to go: The Hospital or The Cemetery.
5.2 And the rest? The Street, The Military, Jail or…College.
1.0 Suppose — it’s difficult — but suppose we were to become men and women rather than the little boys and girls the plutocratic pedophilic Pharaohs have been shtupping from Day One. What would life be like? Would we still worry more about cholesterol and tooth decay than global warming? Would Real Men still wear ties and dread the possibility of gay genes swishing furtively throughout their DNA? Would women still be too fat or too thin or too something (hairy, maybe?) to be forty without surgery or Photoshop?
Art is journalism. Dispatches from other zones. That’s why it is impossible for us, why there are no great artists – here, now. No one is willing or able to leave this place. Or they think, mistakenly, that they can find another planet here. True, one doesn’t have to travel very far physically – Jane Austen in her parlor, Dickinson and Kafka in their fathers’ houses; Keats and Marvell in their gardens; Faulkner in his ‘postage stamp’ of a town – but mentally you’ve got to take great leaps, light years from where you are, where you’ve always been. Physical travel can’t hurt. Henry Miller in Paris (note, not the "Moveable Feast" of Hemingway, but Paris after the crack-up, the Paris less than a decade from Nazi occupation). Gaugin in Tahiti. The Beatles in acidy Indo-Edwardian Pepperland ("Let me take you down…"), and after that, in solemn, sober White ("Half of what I say is meaningless…"). Even Pynchon, Burroughs, and Delillo traveling through previously uncharted zones of techno-freak Americana. But now. But now. Nobody goes anywhere. Or if they are going, they’re not reporting back. Perhaps they find only dead lands, cold moons, rocks. There must be life out there, still, life in the universe to be seen and touched, experienced, even if such life is mad life, or drives you mad, or mute. That is, even if it can’t be put in words and pictures or otherwise expressed, it must still be out there to be known (And I’m not talking about "The Corrections" for gods sake who has TIME for that shit?).
The Joyful Wisdom
Hero stood six feet tall, which is just the right height for a protagonist, don’t you think? A body of pure earth and feet of clay. He worked at the recycling plant, smashing bottles against a wall. He liked his job. He listened to music while he worked. One day it all seemed so pointless.
After his breakdown Hero read novels in bed. Words marched lock-step in orderly, narrative formation. Which was too bad. The words should have dispersed. Someone should have set them free.
He visited the cemetery for peace and meditative silence, but stumbled accidentally into the life of Rose Vestinger, 1920-1995. A day at the beach when Rose was thirty and tending her husband and two small sons. A clear, warm beautiful afternoon. Small talk. Sun tan lotion. Salty breezes. A day in this stranger’s life revealed nothing to Hero, who was still recovering from his nervous breakdown.
Morris, the Adjunct Professor, came bearing gifts: tobacco, alcohol and country music. They smoked and drank and listened to the music of the country. Hank Williams yodeled sadly; Bob Wills quipped as Tommy Duncan crooned. Leadbelly wailed the Truth, but neither man could understand a word.
"What’s the matter, Hero? Depressed?"
"Nothing," said Hero. "Nothing."
"’Nothing.’ Holy shit. That’s really something."
"Nothing from nothing ain’t nothing."
"Let’s go to Odessa’s Diner. Stuffed cabbage. Herring. Poppy cake. The works."
"Think it’ll help?"
Thus spoke Morris.
We and Thou
1.0 You can’t ask life to be anything other than it is, but you can refuse to be ridiculous.
1.1 I refuse to be ridiculous.
1.2 If everyone refused to be ridiculous, perhaps "Seinfeld" and "Friends" would be yanked from syndication and off the air forever.
2.0 Maybe we already are ridiculous, which would be too bad.
2.1 Then again, who’s "we?"
2.2 "We" is not me or you, but everything other than you and me.
2.3 "We" is ridiculous.
2.4 Sez I.
ADAM ENGEL can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org