Monday, February 19, 2007

The Ecstasy of Influence*


For years, I have struggled with choosing a path, caught amidst a triumvirate of irradicable desires:
-to pursue the artistic life;
-to work toward social and economic justice in the world;
-to be able to afford a condo in a cool Brooklyn neighborhood or, at the very least, a 17" MacBook Pro.

That is why I find this man, John Barr, so vital. Mr. Barr is the president of The Poetry Foundation. According to his online bio, Mr. Barr has "pursued parallel careers as poet and investment banker." But wait, if you think that is impressive, you must read this tiny sampling of his epic poem "Grace." Barr has ingeniously invented Ibn Opcit, the narrator who speaks in an ambiguous Caribbean dialect. Barr via Opcit tells us:

De gentleman, he produce his próduce
like a corporate salami, and she hers,
like a surgery scar still angry red wid healing.
Den he settle his equipment in de lady’s outback
an’ he spud de well

It is pretty clear that Mr. Barr didn't have to earn tens of millions founding the energy company that became the Dynegy Corporation. But he chose to do that anyway despite possessing one of the most brilliantly subtle voices in modern poetry. In a recent open letter to the poetry community, Mr. Barr makes an impassioned plea for a wider dissemination of the art. All mediums- television, radio, the internets, podcasts- must be flooded with verse. By the choice of my blog's name, I am doing my small but meaningful part. Of course I know the use of my corporate salami will forever exist in the long, hard shadow of John Barr's. But I can still enjoy the ecstasy of influence. Mr. Barr, thank you for spudding my well.

*[My knowledge of John Barr's remarkable poem, "Grace" and, for that matter, the existence of John Barr are due entirely to Dana Goodyear's piece in the Feb. 19 issue of The New Yorker. The term "Ecstasy of Influence" comes from the title of an amusing essay by Jonathan Lethem that appeared in the February 2007 issue of Harper's. Lethem, in turn, claims to have taken it from a certain Rutgers professor. And, of course, everyone knows that the phrase is a turn on "The Anxiety of Influence," a classic by the famed Yale professor Harold Bloom who may or may not be a huge fan of John Barr's poetry.]

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