An independent small press poetry review

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Small Poetry Press
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CA 94524

Alehouse Press
distributed by Small Poetry Press
ISBN 978 0 9785786 1 9

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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

A selection of 22 poems (generally with a bit of rhyme) to do with poetry, poets and poetry-writing. They are wittily original and accessible. GIVING THEM THE SLIP is written from the point of view of an editor forced to reject so many aspiring poets:

	We've just received a fresh box of rejection slips
	In an elegant font, printed on fine stock,
	Looking a little like wedding invitations
	(One of the tricks we use to soften the shock).
A short piece, POET'S PROGRESS, is succinctly done:
	Showing your poems to the world
	like a starlet shows her tits—
	first in the back of the car,
	then in magazines.
THE SECOND WATER-POET REVIEWS HIS POEMS tells the fictional tale of a seventeenth-century commoner (whose job is to ferry gentlemen across the Thames) who gives up the chance of his poems being lionized by his literary betters and thereby achieving his ten minutes' worth of fame; he decides to drop his verses
				over the bow
	And watch them swim under the keel
	Rejoicing as they ride the cold tide
	Out to the Great North Sea.
Other poems contain an array of themes and issues; to give an example or two, one poem rubbishes poetry workshops, and there are very condensed versions of PARADISE LOST and PARADISE REGAINED (sixteen and seven words respectively). The final poem, FEAR OF RIDING, neatly sums up the make-up, and indeed limitations, of the selection, and again exhibits the poet's self-deprecating tone that is charmingly present throughout:
	Poets               Toddlers
	who                 afraid
	keep                to
	writing             take
	poems               their
	about               training
	writing             wheels
	poetry              off

reviewer: Alan Hardy.

David Alpaugh's collection HEAVY LIFTING is worth the purchase for the essay THE PROFESSIONALISATION OF POETRY alone. Slotted in after the poems, this is a revised and expanded version of two controversial columns Alpaugh wrote for Poets & Writers Magazine in 2003. It discusses the proliferation of creative writing programs in the US and their churning out of 'professional poets' at a rate of knots (Alpaugh estimates that 25,000 of these 'professional poets' will be certified in the next decade). Is this industry suffocating poetry? It's worth examining, and Alpaugh examines it with erudition and a cold eye.

It's hard not to read the essay, when it's presented in this format, as partly a self-critique of Alpaugh's own work. In the essay he grumbles about the thousands of poetry magazines popping up in print and on the internet, each of which

sets the bar lower, allowing more journeywork in.
They are, he suggests, good only for adding
one more stamp of approval to the poetry professional's resumé
And yet the blurb for this very collection boasts these same stamps of approval, declaring blithely that Alpaugh's writings have appeared in more than a hundred literary journals and anthologies. He criticises the teaching of creative writing yet announces in the same blurb that he has taught writing at the University of California Berkeley Extension.

This is all harmless, serving only to underline the argument that the professionalisation of poetry is pervasive. Slightly more confusing is Alpaugh's criticism that, because creative writing students need to produce work regularly, whether the muse visits or not,

Poetry and the process of writing it become one of poetry's favourite themes (not surprising since workshopping is the common experience and key concern of teachers and students alike).
The implication is that poetry and the process of writing it is an inadequate theme for poets to pursue. Strange, then, that my main criticism of Alpaugh's poems themselves is that they are so often about poetry and the process of writing it. They tend, what's more, to be funny, sharp digs — lacking in some depth. Take OUT OF THE CORNFIELDS, ENDLESSLY FLAPPING
	I'm a Graduate of the Iowa Workshop.
	Who are you? Are you a Graduate too?
	Then there're hundreds of us, all doing swell,
	thanks to Jorie Graham and Marvin Bell.

	How dreary to be a po-bizz nobodyunmentored, unblurbed, unMFAed;
	to sit and write and be like Emily Dickenson:
	unpublished and (so they say) — unlaid!
I would prefer to see Alpaugh going in the direction of SLOW BURN FOR OZYMANDIAS, a more serious and lip-smacking thing.

Alpaugh's other criticism of poets who write about poetry — that they are putting up a Keep Out sign to the public and addressing only other professionals — is evaded by the use of an extensive notes section explaining allusions in the poems. This can get patronising: we would have more fun working out for ourselves that
"gutless tripe" is an example of what poets call an *oxymoron *
but the principle is a good one. All in all, HEAVY LIFTING is a book with substance, worth digging into.
reviewer: Ailbhe Darcy.