I-do-this-I-do-that

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

John McPhee

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

A DAMP AND WELCOMING GLOOM THIS MORNING IN ALBUQUERQUE WHERE THE SUN SHINES TOO MUCH.
A DAMP AND WELCOMING GLOOM THIS MORNING IN ALBUQUERQUE WHERE THE SUN SHINES TOO MUCH.
THE BIRDS SLEEP IN.
THE BIRDS SLEEP IN.
THE PEOPLE KEROUAC CALLED BUMS DIDN'T LEAVE ANY OF THEIR RAGGED BELONGINGS BY THE DUMPSTER NEXT TO MY WORK.
THE PEOPLE KEROUAC CALLED BUMS DIDN’T LEAVE ANY OF THEIR RAGGED BELONGINGS BY THE DUMPSTER NEXT TO MY WORK.
I WALKED DOWN TO WALGREENS FOR BREAKFAST.
I WALKED DOWN TO WALGREENS FOR BREAKFAST.

ON MY PRETTY ALBUQUERQUE CORNER.

AND THEN I ATE IT.
AND THEN I ATE IT.

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