About a year ago I was told that I’d simply not read enough, and that was my failing. Whilst I had an eye for the poetic, I didn’t have the weight of the canon on my shoulders.
So I went away and started filling in the gaps. I hid behind a thicket with Ovid and watched Diana bathing naked. I walked through nuclear Winter with Petrucci and went home in an ambulance with Larkin. I smoked pot and put on a few Charlie Parker vinyls with Kerouac, ignoring the yellow fog pressing against the window panes. I went to Ithaca and tried to take part in an archery tournament, then shared a Coke with O’Hara. Every now and then I’d ask one of these guys to look at my portfolio, and every time they’d say “look kid, I like you, I think you’re a nice guy, but I’ll be damned if I need your help with my writing, why should I offer you mine?” I did not know what to say, my mouth had no way.
So I carried on with my journey. I had a weekend mini-break in a penal colony with Kafka. I did a few lines of coke and disappeared somewhere in California with Clay, then went on a detox out in the bush with Les Murray. Me and Luke Kennard went for a coffee with a murderer, then I made my excuses and enjoyed a walk in the park with the Second Earl of Rochester. I found Andrew Motion knocking about Anne Frank’s attic and Don Paterson leant me some bootleg pornography. The tape just had three hours of Shakespeare beating up his wife to win a bet he’d made with his friends. Still, nobody wanted to help me out with my writing.
I had a crawlin’ stinkin’ drink from that lazarushan leather Gunga Din. I sat in Mudsville with Thayer and watched mighty Casey strike out. I arose and went to Innisfree, and I stopped by some woods on a snowy evening and put flowers on the grave of Richard Corey. I stood on vile clay and sang with Dunbar. Me and Rilke stayed up for two weeks straight, writing sonnets. When the job was done we shouted salvation and washed in the blood of the lamb. Then, with a noise like tambourines, the Highwayman came riding in a French cocked hat singing ‘Goddamm! Gas! Gas!’ Then he poked out his tongue and called me ‘nigger’, so I ran down certain half- deserted streets, and in truth I was afraid.
I rode a water-smooth silver stallion with a saddle-back of rock.
It didn’t really become clear for me until I went back to the States and had a beer in a seedy bar with Bukowski. He spoke sense when he said “The problem is, 0513210, that as we work toward a purer, looser, more holy warmth of expression and creation, the critics are going to have to work a little harder to find out whether it's water or piss in the holy grail, and even then they might end up wrong. You know the old comic strip joke about the painting hung upside down or etc., well, there's a lot of practical truth in this. But pure creation will always have its own answer finally, and it will neither be a set of disciplines or undisciplines, it will simply be.”
The guy made a convincing point. So I got us another couple of beers and walked home. On the way I took a piss in Duchamp’s urinal and offered a construction worker $20 to let me look pensively at a pile of bricks he’d left next to an unfinished house. The guy just stared at me and said “boy, you know there’s no money in poetry right?” I said “yeah, but there ain’t no poetry in money either.” Clearly satisfied with my answer the construction worker took my money and went off to buy a second-hand copy of Madame Bovary from Oxfam.
I sat for a few minutes looking at the seemingly randomly scattered bricks before Elizabeth Bishop walked by wearing a newspaper hat. “What are you supposed to be, some kinda Bohemian or something?” she asked. “No Liz, I’m a raconteur and there’s a fucking difference!” I replied.