Sunday, July 29, 2012
It was Ammiel Alcalay who suggested I read this collection of essays by Sorrentino. Ammiel had studied with Sorrentino when he'd arrived in New York in the seventies and counted him as a mentor and friend.
I don't think I read all of the 47 essays collected here, but I do remember specifically reading the one about Paul Blackburn, mostly, I think, because it veers off from a discussion of the importance of the poet's work into something more personal.
He talks about how much the two of them differed in their sense of who should be considered a poet and who shouldn't. Sorrentino describes himself as more of an elitist, in the sense that he believed there were many writers, but only a few worth your time, whereas Blackburn was open to everyone and appreciated them even if they weren't good writers.
I am not describing it well. I'll type out the excerpt.
from Something Said
I suppose the thing that kept us from becoming truly close friends was Paul's conception of poets as being comrades-in-arms, one for all, etc. To him, the most alarmingly dull scribbler was a compatriot. This was nonsense to me. Paul encouraged and assisted anyone who wrote a poem or even spoke of his intention to write poems, as if a plethora of poetry would change the world. My own view of poets is that they are analogous to ball-players; i.e., there are hundreds of thousands of them, but only six hundred in the major leagues. The rest are bushers. There is nothing "wrong" with that–it is simply the fact. The terror of the Pacific Coast League cannot hit the major league curve. It soon becomes apparent. To Paul, the urge to pick up the bat was enough. I think that this was the reason we rarely discussed the merits of particular poets; it was difficult and embarrassing for both of us.