Sunday, 19 April 2009


There was a very fine profile of my old friend August Kleinzahler in yesterday's Guardian review section (here), by James Campbell. Gus is hot right now, not only winning a Lannan award, but generating big heat in the vicious world of poetry by attacking not only establishment poets like Adam Kirsch and William Logan, but also the sainted Garrison Keillor. Campbell is very good in the way he lets his profile take both sides of the story, letting his picture of August answer Kirsch's analysis. Of course the photo of August that accompanies the piece does that too: wearing his Al 'the Blast' Gallo hat he looks every bit the retired Jersey gangster, but the cat he's holding suggests something else.

I've written about August before at IT, (here), when the NY Times asked him to celebrate the election in poetry, and no sooner had I done so than he won the Lannan award, showing the power of influence Irresistible Targets can have. But I didn't really praise his poetry enough (I must like it; I published a few chapbooks of it, and according to the piece, they may be worth something more than chump change now). That's why I was glad Campbell chose such a good example to accompany the article, a segment from 'Before Dawn On Bluff Road' which shows August's amazing ability to weave rhythms out of the most uncommon poetical words, his confident appropriation of language, and most of all, the unexpected emotion that gives the poem its impact.

August has always been the antithesis of the poetasters, the creative writing professors who write poems about chopping wood and walking through the fields, the Oxford-educated grant-seekers, and the rest. He's been critical of them, and it irritated some critics that he would do so when he proved himself somewhat adept at working the business of poetry while refining its craft. Poetic politics are so vicious, to adapt an old saying about academics, because the stakes are so low. But the real stakes is the writing itself, something few poetasters remember.

Since August has turned 60, and has won the Griffin prize as well as the Lannan, I suppose I'll have to stop referring to him as the best young poet in America. But I'm happy to refer to him as the best poet in America, and celebrate him out of the mainstream as well as in it.

No comments :