Who knew there was a school or sub-school of poetry labeled I-do-this-I-do-that?
The New York School of poetry was just full of surprises for me. Since I had barely ever heard of it of course that would be true. But that I would come to enjoy it and almost want to read more than assigned in the class was the real surprise. Hmmm? Why would that be?
We read a poem or two of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer. Never heard of them you say? Where did Robert Frost go? Much less ‘the friendly cow all red and white…’ These are not them!
Well some of the poems by these famous New York School poets are easy, some are hard. What they have in common—for me—is they’re all lists.
Yes, really. The I-do-this-I-do-that genre (can I say that’s a genre?) is really a listing of the day’s activities. Interestingly listed, purposefully listed, cleverly listed. Still…a list. Like Frank O’Hara’s A Step Away From Them where the first stanza goes like this:
It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
I am learning to care about poetry like this—a sort of big picture has to appear which, thanks to Professor Al Filreis, emerges in the introduction to each section or ‘school.’ I must figure out what the big picture means to me and, in the case of the New York School, it’s this. First of all, like the Beats and San Francisco and the sprawl of mid-America, these New Yorkers seem very intent on describing the look and feel and mood of their city. I feel my obsession with ‘place’ satisfied. Secondly, they are almost always listing these things; their poems are like diaries. Since I love lists and diaries and journals, again I feel connected. Okay so this is a little silly since I’ve only read a few of these poems. But it makes me like them and be curious enough to keep talking ModPo forever like my friend Bob.
Here’s an easy one that I like very much.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” by Bernadette Mayer
Moon out and no snow yet November first
The first anniversary of our wedding and
The day before election day, 1976, yesterday
Was Halloween, next Friday I have an appointment
With the dentist and the following Tuesday is
Lewis’s thirty-second birthday, exactly one week
After that Marie will be eleven months old.
The day before yesterday we turned the clocks back
One hour which made it seem like every day
Will have an extra hour in it, not only of darkness
But of just plain time, the time I used to spend
Skipping lunch is longer, the time for dinner
Is too early now, the time for sunset comes too soon
The time between dinner and Marie’s bedtime is too long When it’s time to go to bed there’s still a few hours left
To read, I’m dreaming twice as much as before
I spend all my new time lying in bed thinking.
Last night I saw “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”
And tonight when I came into my room to go to work
I found an old seed pod on the floor by my desk.
In the movie if you see one of these it’s time to die.
It’s time to write some letters, good cold air
Comes in my window, it wakes me up, we had a bottle
Of champagne and Marie went to sleep without crying
It’s time to read Fielding’s Guide to European Travel
And the Alice Toklas Cookbook again, a few books by
Our new American Heritage anniversary dictionary,
The Adventures of a Mathematician by Stanislas Ulam
And The Wild boy of Aveyron by a behaviorist psychologist
About a boy brought up by wolves.
The poet is a new mother married to another poet and obviously keeping herself sane by putting the ‘list’ of her daily activities into poetic form to remind herself that, after all, she is a poet. And as the Professor Al pointed out, the last line may reference her exhaustion and thoughts of her daughter having some occasional play dates with the caretaker wolves.
I’ll save the hard poem for next week after I’ve had a talk about it with Bob my poet advisor.
Here’s my photographic version of I-do-this-I-do-that
ON MY PRETTY ALBUQUERQUE CORNER.