A common inclination of literary critics is to try to impose some sort of order upon divergent writers by lumping them into categories. For example, in contemporary poetry critics have, over the past several decades, come up with such assignations as The Black Mountain Poets, Confessional Poets, Language Poets, and the like. To this list, I would like to add a category of my own that I will call The Goofy Poets. Now I coin this term with deep respect and admiration. I believe that “Goofy” is, for poets, a term of high praise. What it conveys is the sense that the poet is playful, inventive, delightfully comedic, and possessing a talent to enable us to see, not always simply dark humor, but the light contradictory, complex, contentious and absurd aspects of life.Goofy is a tricky category, however, for it is not so much a group of specific poets as it is a height which any given poet may reach on a given occasion. Thus individual poems may be goofy but not necessarily individual poets on a consistent basis.For example, my friend and frequently my poetry teacher-tutor-mentor, Peter Levitt, writes exquisite lyrical, meditative, and love poetry which achieves extraordinary dimensions. But on occasion Levitt joins the pantheon of the goofy gods of literature. These pantheons over the years have ranged from Shakespeare to Lewis Carroll to e.e.cummings.In One Hundred Butterflies (1992) Levitt offers a series of Zen meditations-poems which are both mysterious and appropriately goofy:“Hot and cold are okay,so is wet and dryjust ask the water dipperDon’t eat so fastWhen you use your steaksLike scissorsYou frighten the riceQuick! Open the window!the thief is trying to get out!”Of course, goofy and wise are near of kin.Then there are a host of poems by Charles Bernstein, sometimes dismissed, or perhaps sub-cast as a “mere” language poet. I think he is much more. In fact, I believe that he, too, frequently reaches the elevated stations of goofism. One of Bernstein’s poems is entitled “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now” – it is, by the way, found in a marvelous collection entitled Girly Man. In several poems, he presents aphoristically bunched observations which turn our normal observations upside down and inside out – which is, of course, a major responsibility of goofy poets. For example: All that glitters is not surface. You choose your limitations by realizing them.It’s a kind of theory we are trying to make a meaning for.Behind every behind is a rear end.And so he goes in hundreds, thousands of lines of a rich imagination at play.If you can track down Robert Mezey’s Collected Poems: 1952-1999, read “Pros and Cons,” a deliciously goofy and longish masterpiece of puns:“There is the Cheap Executive and his staph, whose job is to execute. There is the Supreme Cart, dressed in black roads, whose job is to see the elocutions are perfectly lethal. There is Congress, mostly with secretaries. For the wrest, thugs, thieves, rubber barrens. They dream of going down on the anals of history.” Finally, though the realms of goofdom are wind-spread, there is Ron Padgett. In a poem entitled “Advice to Young Writers”, he advises: “It’s alright, students not to write. Do whatever you want. As long as you find that unexpected something or even if you don’t.” Padgett finds humor and pathos literally everywhere.Quite serendipitously, as I was writing this article, I came across a poem by contemporary poet Thomas Lux entitled “Goofer dust: if you want it” which comes to you “a flake at a time.” It is, he says, “given to you by the day, the wind, the world.” That, I believe, is just about write on.
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