Sunday, April 26, 2015

NPM: Ode to Failure

Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle (unfinished)

Last night I borrowed a copy of The Portable Beat Reader from a friend's bookshelf. There's a fair chance that anything else I end up posting for National Poetry Month from here on out will come from its pages.

I've always found Beat poetry vivifying, and I suppose I need a shot of hot cider for my soul lately. I'm still a little weak in the legs from a breakup (this month would have been the three-year mark), and the spiritual anesthesia of island life has been getting me down. (It's real easy to just let go and stop giving a shit about everything in a place like this.) And while I don't want to say I'm in the thick of a forestalled quarter-life crisis, lately I find myself dwelling on the discrepancies between where my twenty-one-year-old self hoped and imagine he'd be in years, and my actual position as a thirty-one-year-old. But I think this is the rule rather than the exception where people my age are concerned.

Tonight this piece by Allen Ginsberg caught my eye. Here's the man who wrote pretty much the single greatest English-language poem of the twentieth century lamenting (in an ecstatic sort of way) how far short he fell of the mark. Maybe dissatisfaction (of some degree) is as congenital as talent and hard to escape as senescence. And maybe this poem is an admission that words might not count as much as we'd hoped.

Ode to Failure
Allen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997)

Many prophets have failed, their voices silent
ghost-shouts in basements nobody heard dusty laughter in family
nor glanced them on park benches weeping with relief under empty
Walt Whitman viva'd local losers——courage to Fat Ladies in the
     Freak Show! nervous prisoners whose mustached lips dripped
     sweat on chow lines——
Mayakovsky cried, Then die! my verse, die like the workers' rank
     & file fusilladed in Petersburg!
Prospero burned his Power books & plummeted his magic wand to the
     bottom of dragon seas
Alexander the Great failed to find more worlds to conquer!
O Failure I chant your terrifying name, accept me your 54 years old
epicking Eternal Flop! I join your Pantheon of mortal bards, &
     hasten this ode with high blood pressure
rushing to the top of my skull as I if I wouldn’t last another
     minute, like the Dying Gaul! to
You, Lord of blind Monet, deaf Beethoven, armless Venus de Milo,
     headless Winged Victory!
I failed to sleep with every bearded rosy-cheeked boy I jacked off
My tirades destroyed no Intellectual Unions of KGB & CIA in
     turtlenecks & underpants, their woolen suits and tweeds
I never dissolved Plutonium or dismantled the nuclear Bomb before
     my skull lost hair
I have not yet stopped the Armies of entire Mankind in their march
     toward World War III
I never got to Heaven, Nirvana, X, Whatchamacallit, I never left
I never learned to die.

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