So I set to ripping the rest of my Pogues collection to iTunes, & discovered that laser rot has affected not merely Shane's teeth but my CDs as well. Turns out that Waiting for Herb (1993), the band's first post-MacGowan release, simply won't play at all. This is not a huge loss, mind you: the Pogues minus Shane MacGowan is kind of like non-alcoholic beer, or a gin & tonic without the gin. But there were some pretty decent tracks on that disk, I seem to recall, & I'm irritated to think that I'll be tempted in the days to come to actually purchase a second copy of that anemic record, just so I can satisfy my inner anal completist.
[Oddly enough, it turns out that the band's 1996 release, Pogue Mahone – also without Shane, & without my hero Terry Woods & two other core members of the group – is actually a pretty potent piece of celtic punkery, or so the first listen in maybe 8 or 9 years reveals.]
There's an eloquent post today on Eric Selinger's Say Something Wonderful; Eric, humblingly, takes the publication of The Poem of a Life as occasion for asking what he should be doing next. Eric's done the academic writing-about-poetry thing, in a tenure-panel's worth of peer-reviewed essays & in the form of his lovely first book, What Is It Then Between Us?: Traditions of Love in American Poetry; he's spent years training secondary school teachers to teach poetry in his NEH seminars; he's published – what? – 8 or 9 perceptive and lively omnibus reviews of books of poetry in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, writing for whose editor Herb Leibowitz makes writing for PMLA seem like falling off a log; and he barely mentions it, but he's co-edited two big & important critical collections, Jewish American Poetry: Poems, Commentary, and Reflections (with Jonathan N. Barron) & the forthcoming & eagerly awaited Ronald Johnson: Life and Works (with Joel Bettridge).
Eric & I have been friends a long time now – at least 15 years or so – & there's nobody's critical opinion I value more highly. To be frank, Eric's always made me feel like an also-ran: his prose makes mine seem lumpish & academic, his critical eye cuts to the quick of the matter while mine is still lingering over the surface, & his wit runs circles around mine. I've always felt like Jack Lemmon to his Tony Curtis. So it's odd now to find that both of us are in something of the same boat: for I, too, am wondering what to do next.
I've been in Zukofsky-land for a long time now, ever since I started my dissertation at Cornell almost two decades ago. That dissertation morphed into a handful of articles & the book Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (1998), & the biography, which I started work on while LZPK was in production, seemed a natural outgrowth of that project. Along the way, there were some ancillary jobs – the essay collection Upper Limit Music: The Writing of Louis Zukofsky (1997) & the "additional prose" section of LZ's Prepositions+: The Collected Critical Essays. And of course I was writing other things: conference papers, essays, lots & lots of book reviews (the best of them, like Eric's, for Herb L's Parnassus). But this major, panoptic Zukofsky-project was always the great looming presence in my intellectual & writing life.
And now my Zukofsky affair has come, if not to an end, then to an appropriate pausing point, or at least a fermata. And I, like Eric, am wondering what the hell to do next. I have a bunch of ideas:
•first & foremost, it's time to find a publisher for another collection of poetry; goldfinches, maybe 120 pages of carefully cull'd post-post- poetry, has been shamefully gathering dust in a drawer of my hard driveIt comes down I suppose to a question of obsession, for I've found that I can't really write deeply or memorably at length about a given subject unless I'm to a certain degree obsessed with it. And while I'm pretty interested in all of the above subjects (the poetry collection, of course, is something else altogether), I'm not – yet – quite obsessed with any of them. (Now a book on contemporary avant-garde erotic poetry, that's got me interested at the moment...)
•and then there's the notion, which I might have aired on the blog some months back, of a brief & popularly-pitched book on the relevance of biography for reading modernist & late-modernist literary texts; this isn't a wholly serious intellectual project, but I've been reading the books middling biographers have been publishing lately on their art & have concluded that I could do just as well, if not better
•and there's all those book reviews and occasional essays – maybe 3-400 pages' worth, tho I haven't counted lately; but I'm not Helen Vendler or Marjorie Perloff or Dominick LaCapra – it would be a mad press indeed that would take on a collection of Scroggins odds 'n' sods
•what about another biography? ask readers who have little idea of the effort & agony that went into The Poem of a Life; truth to tell, I'm deeply tempted by a second biographical venture, but I have no idea who the lucky biographee might be
•a book on contemporary British avant-garde poetry, focusing particularly on those poets' relationship to the English language, to history, to place
•a book on the poetics of gardens, and the poetry of gardening – from Marvell thru Pope all the way to Ian Hamilton Finlay – indeed, such a book would probably end up being a book on Finlay with a very long historical preamble; but Lordy, the research it would take, & what I'd have to learn!
I suspect it's the time to lie fallow for a while, to let the next thing grab me from behind, unexpectedly. It's no great sin to stand and wait awhile, to see whether this past decade's labor will turn out to be a grand Roman candle or a damp squib. In the meantime, I'm entertaining and & all suggestions as to where my energies ought to be applied.
My worst fear, tho, is that my own Oblomovian tendencies will get the better of me – that 20 years hence, as I shuffle onto the dais to receive the gold-tinted, Chinese-made wristwatch Our Fair University hands out to career retirees, the young poets publishing four-dimensional poems on the ultra-internets & the young turks at the MLA will vaguely recall my name as "that guy who wrote some stuff on Zukofsky back in the day."