Poetics II
 POETICS: The structure of poetry.

Two essays on the state of the art of Poetics...


Living with con-artists, liars and thieves

Some years ago, it came to my attention that a poet from back east, who was famous for his tales of mayhem during and after the Viet Nam war (where he claimed he was disfigured while he served as a Navy Seal), was lying about his whole war experience.  Itís even doubtful that he served at all.  Yet his books (which were published by the thousands by a reputable press operated by Henry Rollins) are often cited as true chronicles of that horrible time.  Apparently he had a vivid imagination.

Then, last year, a poet of modest success here in the kingdom known as the small press (or more accurately, the alternative small press), staged his own death.  This guy couldnít get enough play from the drek (my opinion) that he called poetry, so he decided to pull a fast one, letting it be known that he had finally succumbed to his demons and taken his own life.  When he was found out (and he was found out because he announced that he was still alive), a shockwave of disgust and anger rocked those of us who gave a damnÖimagine, a poet operating with impaired judgment and an ego the size of Penn Station!  Shocking, indeed.  This was a bitter pill to swallow for all the editors whoíd been busy fitting this guy for a halo and a pair of wings.  Naturally they were pissed off for being tricked as well.  No surprise there.  Nobody likes to be fooled.

Now thereís a "poet" who claims to be Algerian poet, Amari Hamadene*, who is submitting work around The Web that he has plagiarized from other poets whose work has been published on reputable websites, such as Pedestal Magazine.  What has become of our little poetry heaven?  Yes, itís a deceitful world, but not in our Ďhouseí Ė say it isnít so!

Well friends, it is so!  And itís a damned shame, too.  But, letís get serious for a moment.  How can we be surprised by any of this?  After all, isnít it high time that we (I speak as an editor as well as some poet with an opinion) accepted some of our responsibility in all this?  I mean, these jerks wouldnít be able to get away with this if it werenít for the editors who supposedly know the difference between the good stuff and crap, publishing their puerile and pusillanimous drekÖall in the name of artistic freedom, or free speech, or some other jingoistic nonsense.  Yes, itís shocking when you hear of some guy over in North Africa cashing in on some ďlocalĒ poetís skills and notoriety.  This certainly isnít the first time this has happened (I recall a friend of mine up in Oakland telling me how a certain famous poet plagiarized the first half of a poem he had written about 9/11 and there was nothing my friend could do about it, since the famous poet had so many Ďconnectionsí) and I doubt it will be the last.

But I wonder, havenít we encouraged this kind of behavior in our quest for a ďpureĒ form of expression.  Wasnít that the ideal for poetry on the Internet?  A place where one could post their poems for the ďentireĒ world to see, unfettered by politics, risk or salability?  Where poets with no reputation or formal training could find a forum for their particular voice?  I know that, that is why I was drawn to the Web in the first place, for the promise of free expression (just as long as you didnít violate the code of ethics of the web-hosts) in an atmosphere of anything goes.   

Since we live in a time corruption (which is nothing new when you examine the path of history), itís easy to understand the dichotomy between those who seek a purer forum for expression and those who just want to muck everything up.  Itís the old battle between good and evil being played out on the (supposedly) sacred grounds of poetry and we can only watch with horror and/or delight.  The crazy antics of these players are entertaining and diversionary, distracting us from the fact that the whole theater is about to collapse under the weight of its own pretense: that poetry should be a level playing field for everyone.  Well, itís not.  Nor should it be.  Itís as complicated a terrain as the people who travel through it.  Letís face it, poets are just as screwed up as everyone else.  Sure we might express ourselves a little better, but basically weíre all cursed and thereís no way to get around that.  Perhaps thatís why we strive towards perfection in our chosen craft. 

Thereís nothing wrong with trying to improve oneself, and I wish more people/poets would make the effort; but thinking that the problem is just a few individuals, a few rotten apples, one might say, is to be extremely naÔve.  The problem, as I see it, is that we are continuously tempted to take the easy route.  Itís a hard life for most of us, and the temptations are many.  Itís hard to keep your eyes on the prize, when youíre not really sure what that prize is.

It takes discipline and focus to survive this trek.  Poetry, being the bastard step-child of literature, demands constant attention.  Itís not an easy task, in spite of what many think. Itís high time that we stop sitting on our hands and start doing something to legitimize this craft we call poetry.  Maybe there will be a union effort, or maybe it will fall to individuals to start the ball rolling, but, folks, if weíre going to make any headway, weíve got to put our house in order.   


* I received an email from Amari Hamadene in which he claims that his name was used by an unknown person in the commission of these fraudulent submissions and that he is the victim of a hoax.  One wonders what the point is here...why would anyone bother to sign someone else's name to stolen intellectual property?  But then I suppose, given the thrust of my essay, anything is possible.

Here is Mr. Hamadene's email:

Dear editor,

A few days ago, you published on your web journal an article untitled Poet heal thyself by RD Armstrong concerning my person. Briskly, you go with the rumors in a squalid crusade without taking time to consult me, nor also to try to discover reasonably the truth. Since this date, I was in contact with a certain person which informed that I am really accused of plagiarism and we arrived to the fact that he considered the case as closed in his website. But in spite of this, the article you present as prophetical and which himself erased from his archives long time ago continue to be published in your site without taking in consideration all the consequences this can have on my person. I wonder today, what are your real intentions and wish to receive from your part an explanation to this?

Under the name of Amari Hamadene, my name, yes some texts have been published in many reviews around the globe and are deleted or in the way to be deleted. Since, I have been implicated therefore in an infernal multiple plagiarism story which let sometimes to many persons the possibility to give out every hypotheses on my person more grave than the case of plagiarism itself. Unfortunately, weeks after the bursting of this fact, and apparently using only a simple email address as everybody, and for reasons that I completely ignore til this day, my imitator was so clever to throw doubt on my existence and to completely isolate me from the international poetry world. I donít understand until this day how can online editors accepts texts from persons without taking time to informs themselves about their existence and consulted them or ask at less to receive a postal letter from them. My imitator throw doubt so far that he went to imply other people who I don't know to be the instigators of all this hoax. At present, I find no other explanation to this stunt except that to humbly ask you to completely delete my name from the published article and from your archives. As you are in democracy you could say everything you want but please respect the intimacy of any person. I was surprised that you don't cite any of the names of the other plagiarists but just my name.

I will also ask you to be very heedful because as everyone didnít receive texts from me by postal mail with a handwritten letter from my part explaining my step is the only responsible for his acts. I ask you to accept no correspondence in my name by email and if it possible to post this from my part on your website.

Counting on your understanding, I pray you to accept, since itís my name, all my apologies for all the inconveniences that it could have caused you.




Pen and Ink drawing by Lummox contributer
Claudio Parentela




Theodore Roethke, Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, and Charles Bukowski, the consensus has it, are major American poets who hail from the West Coast.  Roethke was, of course, from Washington. Duncan was a San Franciscan. Snyder lives in northern California, away from the coast, near the big timberline. Bukowski was a Los Angelino through and through.


Duncan, inspired by the Wildean esthetes of the l890's, assumed a velvet cape and embroidered vest, and created poetry influenced by Villon, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. He also loved Ezra Pound's, Hilda Doolittle's, and Charles Olson's work, and immersed himself in astrology. His arcane verse requires an attention similar to that required for Yeats's poetry.


Whenever Snyder descends from his yurt-life in the Rockies, admirers flock to his readings and celebrate by baking bread from sprouts and molasses in outdoor ovens and by drinking the manzanita berry tea he encourages them to brew. You are never truly "Californian," I heard him once say at a bread-love fest, unless you have gathered the berries, steeped the reddish brew, and quaffed deeply. Like Duncan, Snyder is from the Bay Area where Telegraph Avenue, UC Berkeley, a poetry renaissance (featuring Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Broughton, and Helen Adam, among others), Poetry Flash, and the efforts of the indefatigable Jack Foley with his KPFA weekly "Cover to Cover Show, have created a climate for poetry unlike anything in Southern California, where at least, though, we do boast of our Buk.


Bukowski lived and wrote in Los Angeles, sharing his life with a vast array of whores, touts, vagrants, and winos. Just before his death, the American literary world recognized his genius and originality. Hitherto they had dismissed him as formless, too enamored of four-letter words and obsessed with sleaze, and too accessible (you could read and, presumably, enjoy a Bukowski poem without ever having taken a college lit course). Moreover, he was a boozer and might turn mean, not at all the friendly poet-lush say that John Logan, James Dickey, and James Wright were.  In the late 60's, when Herbert Schueller, a Detroit friend, gave me a copy of Crucifix in a Death's Hand, my poetry world changed. I junked my imitations of Dylan Thomas, Yeats, and Cummings and began to write (and publish) poems inspired by Bukowski. To share my enthusiasm, when I sought to invite him to UC Irvine for a reading--I felt our MFA students should hear him, I was overruled by colleagues Charles Wright and James McMichael. The latter vowed in so many words that CB would never set foot on campus. Vexed, I managed an end-run and hosted Bukowski as the centerpiece for a course sponsored by the University Extension, a course featuring living poets. The auditorium was filled.



Despite Bukowski's presence in Southern California, why have Los Angeles and Orange Counties remained so dismal for poetry? Obviously, San Francisco has the advantage of a compressed area where poets thrive. In Berkeley, hippie coffee shops and bookstores near the UC Berkeley campus, encourage comradeship among poets. In northern California, there's nothing like the L A and Orange County sprawl that isolates poets. In the south, efforts to establish poet communities have been rare. Clayton Esheleman before leaving Los Angeles for Ypsilanti encouraged a poet scene. Holly Prado and Harry Northup, through the Cahuenga Press, bring poets together socially and are a nurturing force. Beyond Baroque, in Venice, under the stewardship of Fred Dewey, has workshops and readings. Nevertheless, distances required to reach most venues are usually over crowded freeways. Though I am on the board of the Red Hen Press, Palmdale, I have yet to face the drive from Orange County to their meetings. As I age, I am increasingly paranoid. Since extra minutes, even seconds, spent driving, enhances your not getting home alive, it's best not to venture forth in the first place. I haven't driven to Los Angeles in more than a year and have no immediate plans for going there.


Southern California, unlike Berkeley, lacks a nurturing environment for writers. Though UCLA has poets Stephen Yensur and Jascha Kessler, it is conservative, with little space and honor given to controversial younger poets. USC is similar, though David St. John and Carol Muske make gestures towards community from within academe and the Los Angeles Times. Muske with her monthly column in that paper's "Book Review" section has an opportunity to invigorate poetry. She has the latitude and vision to make it happen. UC Irvine seldom encourages experimental voices. Michael Ryan and James McMichael apparently run a tight ship, and select fledgling poets for their Writing Program from similar programs elsewhere. As a former campus poet myself (UCI) I am very aware that these writers are self-censors. To receive tenure they must be non-controversial, so that senior professors of English, voting on security of employment, grant tenure to non-threatening types.  Let's face it, campus poets nearly always wear, and love, their metaphoric straight jackets, their sinecures.


This thwarting of individual talent by academe is sadly further corrupted by the proximity of Hollywood, and by the enormous wealth scriptwriters can make. No matter how pure a poet's motives, there's always that Hollywood golden carrot on a string dangling before his eyes. If he can write a single screenplay (just buy a How-To manual, or take an Extension writing course), he'll forget poetry as a commitment for the promise of bucks and even fame. The fiction prevails that just as almost anybody can write a novel, it's even easier to write a script--you don't need all those descriptive passages.  Just invent a story with lots of sex and violence. You do though need an ear for dialogue--but script doctors can handle that for you.  Style is one of those necessities, like air and water, that turns up once you scribble your story down, or so the gilded goose would have us hopefuls believe.


Robert Peters has been active in the Small Press since the early sixties.  He's had a number of books published and his reviews appear regularly in Small Press Review, among others. 

Exploring the Creative Process since 1996