"A Passel of DC Bards"
[from the Poetry Project Newsletter 44 (April 1, 1977)]
This is a short introduction to some interesting, budding young poets. Most of them are already represented by little books which they have done themselves. In keeping with the time-honored practice of poets publishing themselves. I am not attempting to make a case for them as a whole new "school," for they each have very distinct individual qualities that distinguish them from each other. It's only that they are writing in the same city, and without exception, know each other quite well.
The best known of these Washington D.C. poets are Michael Lally and Terrence [sic] (Terry) Winch. Lally currently lives and writes in the highly media-conscious poetry community of New York City. "In The Big Time," so to speak. His basic style is almost prosaic. He excels at autobiographical writing. Usually in very long, tight, formal poetic structures of free (blank) verse. His nearly-epic length poem, "my Life," is an extraordinary example of this style in action. He is most successful when working in this straight forward frontal assault. His subject, therefore, is most usually himself. And one finds the tone quite in contrast to the usually French intonation of the NY School of writers, with which Lally has closely identified himself. His poems, are dry, unconcerned with much (or any) improvisation, giving one the feeling that he always knows where his poems are going.
Winch, is as much a musician as a writer so his structures show a bit more freedom in their use of verb-direction and noun-spirit. His best collection, to date, has as much to do with the flexibility of the middle period Auden, as with the more obvious inspiration of Surrealist ideals. "Luncheonette Jealousy" divides it's [sic] 22 works unevenly between prose-like adventures (the best of which are "Fear Itself," "Honky Tonk," & "Loss" which is really fascinating), and more-difficult-to-read poems, which seem at times to be both an extension of Williams's basic variable foot and certain common concerns of the NY School. Of these works, "Excuses" is a brilliant example.
Winch carries his poems off wrapped in lavish self-hatreds. He shows definite signs of being a splendidly repressed romantic. Lally on the other hand, can move with a tightness that bespeaks more than just a working knowledge of how a poem moves in narrative style.
P. Inman and Tina Darraugh [sic] are the most experimental of the D.C. poets. Inman's "messages" are wrapped-up tightly in short variation-like passages. Which deal as much with the rhythm of what is being passed from his finger-brain to our mouth-ears, as in the usually punctuation-less structures that he deals with. There are tender coherences that momentarily flash before our eyes when we've been wised-up enough to correctly decode them. One can catch definite flashes of lyric sensibility.
Miss Darraugh [sic] has a style that is at once easier to deal with. She writes her poems like grocery notations. It may take a bit longer for one to get used to their rhythms. Her pages look quite sparse, words are arranged looming in separate places on the page. How we "read" them is solely up to us. There are far less literary considerations here. In contrast, Inman's structures are written always in oblong line blocks, more frequently the way Western writers do it, looking like prose paragraphs. Neither of them are visually as complicated as, say, Clark Coolidge, or Bruce Andrews (both of whom have a quite different visual style, and "meaning.")
Miss Darraugh [sic] has a sound heart of the provincial daisy, whose written outbursts explode in coherent mass exodus through the eyeball. (Incidentally, these two poets are married to one another. Which doesn't mean much to the ear, I don't think.)
Lynn [sic] Dreyer, Doug Lang, and Bernard Welt (his real name) have distinctly different styles. Miss Dreyer writes about her personal life in a just-distorted-enough style that comes across like a verbal maniac. Her multiple worded surfaces conceal rare clarities beneath. She has all the delicate perception of a newly risen Lorca, momentarily soaked with words, spinning like a flaming pinwheel, faring with odd coherences from some invisible absentia. With all the stunning layers of twisted verbs, there is a natural sexiness here that is just frightening.
Doug Lang, Welsh-born, writes his poems with a directness that is sheer beauty to the tongue. His indepth puzzles, of decidedly French-Americano tense, makes for a talent that just won't quit. Like Inman, one of Lang's chief inspirations, is Modern Jazz. His various odes attest to some lessons that the rhythms of this music have instilled in him. Likewise, Lang is like an administrator for the D.C. crowd. He runs the chief series of readings, from the Folio Bookstore, every Friday night. Pairing major out-of-towners with the D.C. mob.
The last poet here, Bernard Welt is also the most advanced, and therefore, the best. He has a rare sensibility which resembles no one's more than John Ashbery's, with just the merest dash thrown in of a young budding Frank O'Hara. It is to his eternal credit then, that while his work is so engaging, and incredibly clear and very lyrical in his own form of complexity, he does not ape Ashbery's style. Only his quality. Welt's forms are very traditional, as in O'Hara's more mainstream works, and the best of Auden and Denby. His own self-music is so beautiful I was bowled right off my ear lobes. I cannot recommend him enough! He has no books that I am aware of, so editors take note. There is a rare bud in D.C., publishers scarf him up.
There poets attest to the continuing vitality of the regional dance and advancement of poetic art forms. As praise is the nutrition of poets, these writers should be constantly enthused to keep on with their work. They will anyhow. Now, only time will tell.