Friday, October 7, 2011


Thought I'd change the subject for a minute and acknowledge the publication of a memoir by old friend Ted Greenwald, one of the most original poets of my generation.

CLEARVIEW/LIE (published by United Artists Books) deals mostly with Ted's early life growing up in Queens. It's more directly narrative and linear than his poetry appears to be (that work is usually associated with "Language poetry" meaning his choice and combination of words and phrases is NOT linear or even at times seemingly logical, more about connotation than denotation, but I find all his work autobiographical and narrative, maybe that's just because we're close in age and experience so I get what I read as the subtext and hidden narrative etc.)...

...but still, CLEARVIEW/LIE is nothing like any other memoir you've ever read I'd bet (one of my favorite Greenwald poetry books is an old one titled "YOU BET!"). It's fragmented and elusively almost cryptically so personal you almost have to have been there to get some references and the ways they resonate for those of us who were.

But on the other hand it is also extremely accessible and precise, conversational and clear, so that even if the reference points aren't yours you still get the experience of a complete personality and intelligence making the experiences and influences of his early years and development as a poet totally present (especially since it's almost all in the present tense) and real.

I personally can't see anyone not enjoying this book, and it's a fast read, but then I've gotten feedback on some of my recommendations on this blog concerning poets and their work that makes clear my taste isn't everyone's.

So let me end with a few random "paragraphs" (CLEARVIEW/LIE is written in short bursts of prose with white space in between making it look more like a long poem with extremely long lines than like the usual memoir or book of prose, which adds to the ease and quickness of the read) as an example of what you're in for:


There's a perverse pleasure to be able to say when we do have a TV school assignment, I raise my hand, but we don't have a TV. Oh, well, do the best you can.

Never miss any homework assignment.

As in the DNA early-in-life version, my father's whole working life. Fifty-seven, fifty-seven years, not once, not once, takes a sick day."

See how clear and precise that is, and yet so uniquely personal and individual. I bet you've never read a series of short paragraphs, or bursts of prose, that summed up the origins of a personal perspective more succinctly than that.

Or how 'bout this:

"In public school, it's great to be in the cockpit of the American Dream. Right there the mist-enveloped pop culture crossroads crucible, in there with the devil.

sign on the dotted line"

There's juicier narrative details, tales of gangster uncles or "communist" relatives or working as a teenager in the Catskills or Miami for relatives etc. and the usual family dysfunction and heartache and madness even. But Ted's way of keeping his cool through all this and the telling of it is his laser like focus on words and how they work for him and how originally he can put them together to convey his mind's eye view of what it's like to be him as an old(er) man looking back on what it was like to be him as a young(er) one.

I dug it, you might too.

1 comment:

tpw said...

Ted's new book has all the trademarks of his poetry (including the incredible velocity of the language, in which there is never a single unnecessary word) but, for me, the autobiographical subject matter of Clearview/Lie makes it one of his most compelling books yet. More people should know about Ted Greenwald---he's one of this country's most important & prolific poets.