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On Bitching

by Jeffrey Harrison


after Catullus

Listen, Hilarius, you’ve got to snap out of it.
I know you’re in your fifties now,
but don’t let yourself give in to bitterness.
Sure, when you were younger the muse
used to visit more often, sprawling across your lap
and whispering in your ear, but at least
she treats you now and then to an idea
or plants a stanza in your head as you’re waking up.
And stop bitching about editors
who keep publishing each other’s poems
in Pretension Quarterly or The Moribund Review.
Try not to let it bother you so much.
Why waste your energy enumerating
all the petty injustices that have gone on
since ancient times and are bound to continue
for centuries to come? And there’s no point
in envying the poets who swagger into rooms,
charging every molecule with their need
to be important. So, let them be important.
And if, sometimes, you feel as if you
hardly exist, well, as a great poet once said,
be secret and exult . . . instead of sulking.
Believe me, I agree with you, it’s too bad
things sometimes work the way they do,
but it’s exasperating to listen to you
after you’ve had a few too many cups of wine
railing against the zealously self-promoting
postmodern obfuscators, the hip ironists revved up
on their own cleverness, the tedious fundamentalists
of rhyme and meter, or the one you call
the formalist narcissist Stalinist surrealist.
Not bad, Hilarius, but you need to get over it.
You didn’t want power, remember?
You wanted to write poems. So, write them.
And the next time some self-satisfied preener 
wins a prize, don’t dwell on it, but remind yourself
of all the poems that didn’t get away, the poems
of your friends and how they’ve borne you up
and spurred you on with a better envy,
and remember the friends themselves, laboring
alone at their desks, mostly under the radar
(unlike the “famous poets” you call the oxymorons),
and giving you what literary life you have
which if not dazzling is at least genuine—
and thank the gods to the end of your days
for the time they’ve granted you to spend
on making poems, even if they come to nothing.

Jeffrey Harrison is the author of four full-length books of poetry. Recent work includes Incomplete Knowledge (Four Way Books, 2006) as well as a selection published in the U.K. in 2006, The Names of Things (Waywiser Press). A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, he has had poems published in many magazines and anthologies. (10/2010)


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