(Seven Stories Press)Usually, poems are concerned with love, the moon, stars, night, the sea, and other like matters. Moss's New & Selected Poems is the first we've run across in a long time that features paeans to hats, kangaroos, menstruating dogs, vomit, "poopoo," and snot:
I cannot forget the little swamp
that grows in my head,
cousin of the tear,
snot, my lowly, not worthy of sorrow,
the body's only
completely unsexual secretion.Obviously, this ain't Pound, Keats, or Yeats. Or Charles Simic or John Ashbery. Outside of a somewhat indelicate interest in the weird and the wet, Moss's verse is less of the traditionalists and more from the antic school of Byron, Pope, and Ovid. "Snot," if you will pardon the expression, does make a vivid point, albeit a rather slippery one. The poem "Vomit" is, perhaps, even more oleaginous ("the devil says / vomit is the speech of the soul") ... as is "Saint Merde" ("forget-me-not, / hot lava.")
Outside of the stercoraceous, Moss is witty in an elitist sort of way, especially with regard to other literati: "Robert Traill Spence Lowell / lays on effects with a trowel, / I place him with Ginsburg's Howl, / Robert Traill Spence Lowell."
He loves paradox, citing a DNA study that proves that all humans have a black African heritage, facts that certainly would give Back-to-the-Bible Baptists not to say the Mormons the heebie-jeebies: "So if God made us in His image / and likeness He's a black man. / Which did he hate more, / crucifixion or slavery?"
Adam and Eve were black,
Cain and Abel black,
Somewhere there was
a white man in the wood pile.
And Moss can be as tender as e. e. cummings: "God of Walls and Ditches, every man's friend, / although you may be banqueting in heaven / on the peaches of immortality / that ripen once every three thousand years, / protect a child I love in China."
You will know her because she is nine years old,
already a beauty and an artist. She needs more
than the natural protection of a tree on a hot day....
Protect her from feeling worthless.
She is the most silent of children.
§ § §
We studied this one for awhile and decided that we like Moss's work enough to suggest that he might consider getting rid of his name. Change it to Millay, or Marlowe, or Milton: anything but "Moss."
The reason: we were thumbing through this collection with the mistaken belief that we were dealing with another Moss entirely, a knucklehead who ran the New Yorker's poetry stool for almost forty years, whose writing was pure blanc-mange, who used his bully pulpit to publish his own verse endlessly in the magazine , and --- as chief bully --- stiffed poets who were trying to drag American poetry into the 20th Century, the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Pete Winslow, Kenneth Rexroth, T. F. Bierly. He was a Moss whose name was prophetically eponymous.
We admit that we've had various problems with poets' names over the years. There was a time when we couldn't tell Suckling from Spenser, or Langston from Ted. Then there was Wallace Stevens, Stephen Spender, James Stephens, William Carlos Williams and William Butler Yeats.
There seemed to be several Wrights floating around: James or Jay, Charles ("one of your legs is both the same"), Richard of the proletarian versification movement, and finally Franz who, according to a recent article in the TLS, offered to give a critic at The New York Times, "a crippling beating." The writer, William Logan, had called him "a sad-sack punk ... who pisses and moans like a depressive teenager." Wright also offered to give another critic "a good spanking." (RALPH has had some heated correspondence with Franz Wright as well. See Splenetic Letter #1 and Splenetic Letter #2.)
In the Moss department, there is David ("A Liturgy for Stones"), Jeff who writes poems about Stegosaurus, and, finally, the Brontosaurus Howard, who, for example, self-published this, not a rondeau, nor a rondel, nor even a rondelet ... but, better, a poetic ronyon:
In the sludge drawer of animals in arms,
Where the legs entwine to keep the body warm
Against the winter night, some cold seeps through ---
It is the future: say, a square of stars
In the windowpane, suggesting the abstract
And large, or a sudden shift in position
That lets one body know the other's free to move
An inch away, and then a thousand miles,
And, after that, even intimacy
Is only another form of separation.
Frankly, if I had my druthers, I would much rather go with Stanley's thoroughly vulgar,
No one my dears is hot for snot
or its institutions catarrh,
asthma, the common cold, although
I've heard "snot-nose" used to mean "darling"
or "my son." There's beauty in it,
familiar as the face of any friend.
Dogs eat it, no one gets rich on it.--- A. W. Allworthy