This Old Poem #20:
Thomas Lux’s Virgule
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/1/02
Thomas Lux is
1 of those smugly annoying poetasters who believes that by claiming to be a
‘humorist’ it absolves him of all necessity to write competent poetry. No,
this isn’t 100 years ago where a Bret Harte or a Robert Service could claim
such & actually be telling the truth. No, this is in the same vein as a
Kenneth Koch writing dull passages which have 1 or 2 things askew from reality,
then claiming it Surreal, or humorous. Or, worse, a John Ashbery’s recent
diarrhea, where he writes nothing of nothing, does so with a slight ‘tude,
& declaims it poetry. Yes, TL is in that range- but worse. At least JA once
was a good poet, & at least KK- well, scratch that.
Back to TL. Put simply- attempted humor does not hide poetic horror. TL often has claimed he wants to be remembered as a man who brought smiles to his readers. He, as many a poetaster does, has done the dramatic back book cover photo meditative pose- replete with Fabio-like locks & nerdish specs, as well blather on about how many of his pieces of crap take weeks, months, NAY- YEARS!, to get ‘just right’. TL stresses that what he leaves out of a poem is just as important as what he leaves in. I will show you soon enough hat he should rethink that posit.
But, as a generic MFA by-product he simply cannot do that task. TL was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1946, educated at Emerson College, & [GASP!] The University of Iowa. He is a refugee from that U’s infamous Poetry Workshop! He’s won many awards, grants, & fellowships, had many poetry books published, edited the standard anthologies, etc. Oh, yes- he’s also been a Poet In Residence- Emerson College in the early 1970s. Of course, he’s a tenured professor of Creative Writing- where? Nowhere & everywhere, it seems. Does it really matter?
No. So let’s hit this insipid & profoundly dull, predictable & generic poem. This poem is poorly enjambed, lacks music & structure, & is plain bad. Here is my legend:
underlined = cliché
*** = poor line break
bold italics = predictable workshop trope
What I love about this little leaning mark
is how it divides
without divisiveness. The left
or bottom side prying that choice up or out,
the right or top side pressing down upon***
its choice: either/or,
his/her. Sometimes called a slash (too harsh), a slant
(a little dizzy, but the Dickinson association***
nice: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--"), solidus (sounding***
too much like a Roman legionnaire
of many campaigns),
or a separatrix (reminding one of a sexual***
variant). No, I like virgule. I like the word
and I like the function: "Whichever is appropriate
may be chosen to complete the sense."
There is something democratic
about that, grown-up; a long
and slender walking stick set against the house.
Virgule: it feels good in your mouth.
Virgule: its foot on backwards, trochaic, that's OK, American.
Virgule: you could name your son that,
or your daughter Virgula. I'm sorry now
I didn't think to give my daughter such a name
though I doubt that she and/or
her mother would share that thought.
Sometimes, when doing this series, I feel like giving up. I mean, the shit is so thick &- oh well. Using my legend I point out the obvious flaws, so let me just ask 2 questions: 1) Why does line 20 read as it does? TL states the obvious but is trying to be ‘cutesy’ about it. Cutsiness is often mistaken for having a sense of humor in artists that have no sense of humor. 2) The last 2 lines are terrible & utterly banal. TL thinks it’s funny to actually suggest Virgula for a girl’s name- so much so that the last 4 lines are devoted to that proposition- & his presumed daughter’s & wife’s objections are posited just to show what a ‘wild & crazy guy’ TL is. Are you laughing? Did those lines even move the sides of your lips upward a smidgen? Didn’t think so. Let’s hit the rewrite.
This little leaning mark divides divisiveness.
The left or bottom side prying that choice
up or out, the right or top side pressing down
upon its choice: either/or, his/her. Sometimes
called a slash (too harsh), a slant (dizzy,
but the Dickinson association nice:
"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--"),
solidus (too much like a Roman legionnaire),
or a separatrix (a sexual variant?). No,
I like virgule. I like the word’s function:
"Whichever is appropriate may be chosen
to complete the sense." Virgule:
it feels good in your mouth. Virgule:
trochaic, American. Virgule:
you could name your son that,
or your daughter Virgula.
I didn't think to give my daughter such a name.
off we’ve dashed the colloquial. Why is it that ‘humorists’ think that
anything said in a colloquial tone is funnier than that in an objective tone?
Hmmm? & doesn’t ‘divides divisiveness’ say the exact same thing as
‘how it divides/without divisiveness’- only it can also mean its opposite?
& it also is shorter & more musical? It’s a good use of double
negation? In other words- the rewrite is poetry & the original prose. I’ve
trimmed the clichés & rebroken the lines so that they are all solid. The
Emily Dickinson quote is now indented- a visual play on the word’s meaning’s
pun. I’ve removed some of the prolix nonsense in defining virgule.
& by ending the poem with the single line/stanza of a definitive statement,
we remove this poem from its worn-thin humor to something mildly philosophical-
something a few might wanna reread.
But the whole point & trope of the poem is something that is a veritable workshop staple. MFA/workshop poets always want to ‘see the poetry in the everyday’- this is where divinity is found- very, ahum, Dickinsonian! To muse deeply on the trivial is a grand honor- especially when 1 can lace there poem with 1(or more) foreign sounding words. & to be humorous about it shows that you are truly a cosmopolitan sort. This is why TL writes such a poem- not because he truly feels what he claims in the poem- which is, in & of itself, not bad- but it’s just so trite & generic that it’s utterly pointless as an endeavor. The crux is that the whole conceit fails because there is no depth to the poem, & the poem makes its attempt at humor not at its own lack of depth, rather at the sound of a word that few care of. Oh well, who but I will call him on such things?
Final Score: (1-100):
Thomas Lux’s Virgule: 58
TOP’s Virgule: 72
Return to TOP