I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that one of his own poems that Paul Hoover includes in Postmodern American Poetry is called:
Poems We Can Understand
If a monkey drives a car
down a colonnade facing the sea
and the palm trees to the left are tin
we don’t understand it.
We want poems we can understand.
We want a god to lead us,
renaming the flowers and trees,
color-coding the scene,
doing bird calls for guests.
We want poems we can understand,
no sullen drunks making passes
next to an armadillo, no complex nothingness
amounting to a song,
no running in and out of walls
on the dry tongue of a mouse,
no bludgeoness, no girl, no sea that moves
with all deliberate speed, beside itself
and blue as water, inside itself and still,
no lizards on the table becoming absolute hands.
the fingerprints on mother’s dress,
pain of martyrs, scientists.
Please, no rabbit taking a rabbit
out of a yellow hat, no tattooed back
facing miles of desert, no wind.
We don’t understand it.
After reading 484 pages of Postmodern American Poetry I can appreciate the humor and irony in this poem, gently, or perhaps no-so-gently, poking fun at readers like myself who still search for “meaning” in poetry.
After reading some 60 Postmodern poets, it’s perfectly clear that not all poets want to be “a god to lead us.”
I’ll have to admit, though, that I am guilty of looking for insights into life in the poetry I read and am not ashamed to admit it. I want to read poetry that helps me to understand people and society better, that helps me to better understand my self. I don’t read poetry just for “entertainment;” in fact, if I wanted “entertainment” I doubt I would pick up a book at all.
That’s not to say that I expect any one poet to provide all the answers of life. It might even be enough for that poetry to make me appreciate the complexity of life, to remind me that simplistic views of life are not only wrong but ultimately destructive to the human soul.
Of course, if the poem can occasionally make me laugh at my own naïveté, all the better.