Since I started my blog, nothing has been more shocking and hurtful than Alfred Corn's decision to de-befriend me on Facebook.
For a gay man who has been as influential and powerful as Corn I am bewildered why he would cut off ties with a young queer who has intermittently read his poems. Over a year ago I wrote responses to his posts on his blog. Once he even responded saying I was full of passion.
But no longer. According to Corn's public statements on Facebook, I accused him of being --his words, not mine--"a culture-vulture."
He is one. But still.
The fact that he uses words like "culture-vulture" prove his old age. Not mine.
I don't have anything against vultures. They live for a pretty long time.
So have Corn's poems. His poems would have been hits in the 1890s. Which is a good thing. A lot of important events happened back then. I can't remember them. But still.
I've never met Corn. The one thing I know was conveyed to me by a friend who went to Columbia. The stories may have been a bit sketchy, but I have no doubt there is some truth to them. She told me that he put letter grades on their prosody assignments. You would have to write, say, ten lines in iambic pentameter. For each line that failed to qualify as such, your grade on that assignment would go down.
At the time I heard this, I was going to Syracuse, studying fiction with Tobias Wolff. I wrote short stories. The following descriptions are of actual ones I turned in.
One involved an evil man named Joe attacking and trying to rape a young woman at an AA meeting. Peaches, a sassy woman, pulls him off her. The story ends with the women going to Arby's and drinking milkshakes.
Another story centered around a boy with two different colored eyes and a face ruined by a crazed pit bull.
Tobias Wolff didn't have much to say to me. He said once that he liked my leather jacket. Which was cool. It didn't matter to me that he was wearing one that looked identical to mine.
Syracuse was a lot of fun, but when my best friend at the time told me Corn stories, I was upset I couldn't afford Columbia. Everyone seemed to be serious there. A spondee out of place and they would fuck you up.
I wanted to receive the same education as my friend so I studied every one of Corn's books. Or tried to. I picked up a book, I put it down. The poems were long suckers. But it was even worse: It seemed like you needed to know a lot about The Bible. Or History and Myth.
I am still the kind of guy who at Blockbuster Video will only rent from The New Release Section.
Not to mention the Bible scared me.
Myths and History just bothered me. I've never been good with names. No way was I going to be one of those people who use flashcards to remember stuff. I'm not good with props. I always lose them. That's why I've never has a cigarette. Despite the fact I love smokers. They always slink away from the party at odd times and have deep conversations on a porch.
So: I was stuck at Syracuse with Toby.
I always meant to read more of Corn's poems. But then I started perusing J.D. McClatchy's books. And occasionally glancing at Richard Howard's. Sometimes even Thom Gunn. What surprised me was this: they all blurred into one another. This statement is not necessarily a critique of their work (Howard's syntax is always intriguing).
But at the time Corn was a success, gay male poets felt compelled to prove their worth by overstuffing their poems with classical allusions. They felt people would then feel they were well read. And if they were well read it could justify, at least in part, their subject material: queerness. They could talk about something new if they knew everything old. That sort of mentality. Gay poets suffered a lot back then. They did the best they could.
So: recently I wrote a post about a J.D. McClatchy poem. Which simply retold the myth of "Er." It was an empty poem that didn't seem to have any sort of reason to exist except to show off its Knowledge of Literature in a pointless way. It seemed like a SparkNotes plot summary written by an elderly man who had a better sense of grammar.
Corn did not like this. We exchanged some words on Facebook, and then he asked if I thought of him as a Culture Vulture. It sounded like an appropriate thing to think. I agreed.
Corn claimed that I didn't read enough of his poems to make such statements. I said that I had had read more than anyone else my age. This went on at least five rounds. Days later, I looked at my list of friends to admire my more beautiful ones and I saw that he debefriended me.
How could he do this to me?
Tonight I am in my Lucky Charm Pajamas, listening to my partner snore, visiting my favorite website Squarehippies. I have an obsession with men's pectorals. I'm adopted. I was never breastfed. Someday soon I hope a man with a good chest will stalk me.
But for now I'm alone. I am holding Alfred Corn's poems in my hands and I don't really know why the man behind the poems has forsaken me.
I gave him an opinion. Is it that bad?
I didn't buy his books used. There are a lot of them. Go see for yourself. The temptation was huge. But I did pay full price. I didn't see them as total relics. I paid full price. I said I love you in the only way I know how.
New poem in The Cortland Review
5 weeks ago