Thursday, April 19, 2012

schadenfreude: 10 poets who are more flagrantly irresponsible/off balance than girl in tights

watermelon picnic basket carrying work lunch=a toothy smile in a tight day

girl in tight place,

nestled, snuggled, firmly ensconced

or, on some (ummm, many?) days, tightly wedged

& stuck

in the crevice of the bourgeousie

& in a place 

where the college loans, credit card debt,

mortgage payment, lawn care, house renovation mania (in which i refuse/am unable to participate),

& the hoards of seemingly perfect children

who are neatly groomed & consistently do all their homework

close in on me

like the walls of the giant garbage compactor in star wars episode IV: a new hope

that almost crushes luke, leia, han solo, and chewy.

like last night,

around 2 a.m.

i'm lying on the couch

wide awake

alternating between plans

to become a more fit citizen of such a neighborhood

& a way to get a jet pack to blast the hell outta here.

call it schadenfruede, call it cold comfort, but it makes me

feel a little better to know there were (& are) poets who were even worse

than i at managing the details of life, who screwed up &

acted like bigger douchebags than me--as if my floundering

& haplessness might be a sign of genius,

as if majorly screwing up, as if profligacy, could make one

a poetic genius

(fallacy: ad hoc, ergo propter hoc).

as in: it could be worse.  as if, through juxtaposition,

i could look real good.

check these folks out, and congratulate yourself for your good behavior or
decide that maybe your bad behavior can be forgiven (unless otherwise noted, the link on the 
poet's name will take you to the website the italicized quote is taken from):

1.  christopher smart 

In spite of having a wife and family to support, Smart continued as thriftless as ever in the 1750s, spending freely on clothes and entertainment and borrowing from Newbery when he got into difficulties. Hunter describes him as "friendly, affectionate, and liberal to excess," but so regardless of practicalities that according to his wife he often invited company to dinner when there was not enough in the house to provide a meal even for themselves.

2. anne sexton

one of my favorite poets, i'm hesitant to say that mental illness is bad behavior, but who knows where on the continuum of drug abuse, personal betrayal, & instablility the responsibility for her actions lies.  here's a an exceprt from her bio at modern poetry that's a little salacious:   

Estranged from many of her former friends, Sexton became difficult for her maturing daughters to deal with. Aware that many of her readers did not like the religious poetry that she had recently begun writing with her more personal themes, Sexton became nervous about her poetry. Readings had always terrified her, but now she employed a rock group to back up her performances. She forced herself to be an entertainer, while her poems grew more and more privately sacral. In 1972 she published The Book of Folly and, in 1974, the ominously titled The Death Notebooks. Later that year, she completed The Awful Rowing toward God, published posthumously in 1975. Divorced and living by herself, Sexton was lonely and seemed to be searching for compassion through love affairs. She continued to be in psychotherapy, from which she evidently gained little solace. In October 1974, after having lunched with Maxine Kumin, Sexton asphyxiated herself with carbon monoxide in her garage in Boston.

3.  allen ginsberg 

so obvious i hardly need to put him on the list, but here's a tidbit i didn't know before today, when i began seeking information on the foibles of others in order to soothe myself:

Known for their unconventional views, and frequently rambunctious behavior, Ginsberg and his friends also experimented with drugs. On one occasion, Ginsberg used his college dorm room to store stolen goods acquired by an acquaintance. Faced with prosecution, Ginsberg decided to plead insanity and subsequently spent several months in a mental institution.

4.  ezra pound 


the new york times puts it mildly in this article about poetry magazine  & pound's relationship with the editor of poetry, harriet monroe:

Pound kept badgering Monroe over the years, while she indulged his bad temper and seemingly limitless capacity for self-pity. Before long, he was living in Rapallo and praising Fascists, and his letters appear less frequently and then vanish as he disappeared into propaganda and madness. But before he turned political, Pound was poetry's No. 1 nut, and when he leaves the pages of ''Dear Editor,'' much of the fun does, too. 

5. derek walcott

i wanted to study with him as an undergraduate.  the gossip pegs him as a philanderer, and in my own investigation, a playwright friend of mine who studied with him apparently did not get sexually harrassed by him, but did tell me the following, "he was always drunk.  and he has a.d.d.  so i learned a lot from him because i had to work so hard to keep his attention.  the minute he got bored he would quit reading your work and giving you feedback."

remember the 2002 scandal about him, wherein two poets behaved badly, the little "contretemps" between ruth padel and derek walcott?  here's a little excerpt from the guardian article:

There is something a bit grubby and commercial in Walcott's behaviour, certainly according to the claims made against him, in the 80s and 90s, that the grades he gave reflected the fact he'd been sexually rejected, in the first instance, and in the second, that he wanted sex in return for help producing a play. You'd want a poet to have more soul, wouldn't you? Sure, fall in love with a student, the heart wants what it wants – the poet's heart (I guess) doubly so. But don't measure out your love in half-hours and end-of-term grades. What would TS Eliot say?

 6. lord byron

In June 1813 Byron began an affair with his twenty-nine-year-old half sister, Augusta. Married since 1807 to her spendthrift cousin, Colonel George Leigh, she had three daughters and lived at Six Mile Bottom, near Cambridge. With his mother’s death in 1811, Augusta became Byron’s sole remaining close relative, a situation which doubtless increased his sense of identity with her. While no legal proof exists, the circumstantial evidence in Byron’s letters dating from August 1813 to his horrified confidante Lady Melbourne strongly suggests an incestuous connection with Augusta.

In the midst of this relationship, Byron received a letter from Annabella Milbanke, who confessed her mistake in rejecting his proposal and cautiously sought to renew their friendship. Correspondence ensued. He later wrote Lady Melbourne that Augusta wished him "much to marry—because it was the only chance of redemption for two persons."

7. samuel taylor coleridge

from wikipedia

Dorothy Wordsworth was shocked at his condition upon his return. From 1807 to 1808, Coleridge returned to Malta and then travelled in Sicily and Italy, in the hope that leaving Britain's damp climate would improve his health and thus enable him to reduce his consumption of opium. Thomas de Quincey alleges in his Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets that it was during this period that Coleridge became a full-blown opium addict, using the drug as a substitute for the lost vigour and creativity of his youth. It has been suggested, however, that this reflects de Quincey's own experiences more than Coleridge's.
His opium addiction (he was using as much as two quarts of laudanum a week) now began to take over his life: he separated from his wife Sarah in 1808, quarrelled with Wordsworth in 1810, lost part of his annuity in 1811, and put himself under the care of Dr. Daniel in 1814.

8. sylvia plath

i can scarce bring myself to add her to the list as her behavior is not so much "bad" as the behavior of one severely, fatally afflicted by mental illness.  her suicide during her children's nap time leads one to believe that the woman had truly run out of hope, options, and her last ounce of strength.

nonetheless, i think about her when times get tough.  a troubled life can also contain transcendent goodness and beauty.  the exploration of darkness can also guide us to the light.

9.  charles bukowski

from the poetry foundation:

Ending up near death in Los Angeles, Bukowski started writing again, though he would continue to drink and cultivate his reputation as a hard-living poet.


“Published by small, underground presses and ephemeral mimeographed little magazines,” described Jay Dougherty in Contemporary Novelists, “Bukowski has gained popularity, in a sense, through word of mouth.” “The main character in his poems and short stories, which are largely autobiographical, is usually a down-and-out writer [Henry Chinaski] who spends his time working at marginal jobs (and getting fired from them), getting drunk and making love with a succession of bimbos and floozies,” related Ciotti. “Otherwise, he hangs out with fellow losers—whores, pimps, alcoholics, drifters.”

10. George Crabbe

from wikipedia

He continued to rack up debts that he had no way of paying, and his creditors pressed him. He later told Walter Scott and John Gibson Lockhart that "during many months when he was toiling in early life in London he hardly ever tasted butchermeat except on a Sunday, when he dined usually with a tradesman's family, and thought their leg of mutton, baked in the pan, the perfection of luxury." In early 1781 he wrote a letter to Edmund Burke asking for help, in which he included samples of his poetry. Burke was swayed by Crabbe's letter and a subsequent meeting with him, giving him a gift of money to relieve his immediate wants, and assuring him that he would do all in his power to further Crabbe's literary career. Among the samples that Crabbe had sent to Burke were pieces of his poems The Library and The Village.[15][16]

A short time after their first meeting Burke told his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds that he had "the mind and feelings of a gentleman." Burke gave Crabbe the footing of a friend, admitting him to his family circle at Beaconsfield. There he was given an apartment, supplied with books, and made a member of the family. The time he spent with Burke and his family helped in enlarging his knowledge and ideas, and introducing him to many new and valuable friends including Charles James Fox and Samuel Johnson. He completed his unfinished poems and revised others with the help Burke's criticism. Burke helped him have his poem, The Library, published anonymously in June 1781, by a publisher that had previously refused some of his work. The Library was greeted with a small amount of praise from critics, and only slight public appreciation.[17]

 a few questions arise from the very preliminary research i did today for this post, thinking about the poets who were gamblers, addicts, insane, philanderers, divas, narcissists, & fools:

1) where are all the bad girl poets?

2) why do the biographers of more than half of the ten poets listed attribute the emotional instability of the poet's mother as a factor in that poet's subsequent bad behavior?  (plath's problems are famously attributed to her father, but ultimately rest on her mother who was too weak to protect her.)

3) i know this question is sort of passé, but does the poet seek trouble as artistic material or does the troubled being seek art as transcendence from a troubled life?

4) there must be a million other cool, badly behavaed poets out there.  who are they, and what did they do?

legwear: black lace leggings à la madonna circa 1983 (see picture above)

inspired by: poetic output in the midst of starvation, abuse, depression, and illness

looking forward to:  performance with lalage at muse music tonight


  1. Hey baby--I always loved, loved, loved Coleridge, more than Wordsworth, because even though Wordsworth was the responsible one, the one who wrote SO DARN MUCH (the Prelude, for heaven's sake), STC wrote Kubla Khan. Plus, he was a total prophet, and wanted to establish a utopian pantisocracy the banks of the Susquehanna River in PA, RIGHT AROUND THE TIME AND PLACE WHEN J THE B AND P, J & J WERE RESTORING THE PRIESTHOOD. Come on now. Plus, what about my personal fave crazy/in debt/poor life choice mentor William Blake?

    You keep me inspired--have fun fun fun tonight!

    Also, I realized yesterday that there is a spot just east of Pendleton where the westward-going highway is separated from the eastward-going highway by a huge chasm, and it looks like you're flying into a green valley that I realized is my favorite place in the world, coming or going. Going to Utah, it's far enough away from home to think, "I'm going away!" but not so close as to be able to see the inevitable challenges of the vacation. Coming home to Seattle, it's close enough to think, "I'm almost home" without being able to sense the dishes and e-mails and dreariness of actual home . . . snuggled in the car, with Amelia reading out loud to me, it's the perfect tight/free place!

  2. First of all, I love this pic and your stance in it. And what the . . . with that purse. Secondly, this post should be an article that you should be receiving a big check for. Just sayin'. And that poem! Send it out now!!!!

  3. Crabbe reminds me of Balzac, who, although not officially a poet, had a similar system, where he would splurge on antiques to feather his rich little nest, then run out the back door when the creditors came calling.

    I also must note that Mormon's - especially Mormon girls, are good at telling such tales and thinking such things. A lot of emotional time on our hands, and a morbid interest in the goings on of the world of aesthetes, artist-types, dancers and absinthists. Wouldn't Oscar WiIlde have got on just peachy at BYU?

    He had manners, and he dressed well.

    Boys in a tight place.

    love you guys!


    1. wow. Mormon's. I'd like to say it was spellcheck. But I think it was just a glass of Jack Mormon Rosé....

      how humiliating.

    2. hee hee--oscar wilde at byu? yes. i would say there are actually quite a few oscars at byu running around even as we speak. luv you, too, shannon! xo

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