Some interesting stuff over at Limetree with the Basboll Jennifer Moxley vs. Billy Collins challenge:
Collins has a certain way with words, even though I'm put off by what he's saying, and what it implies. Kind of like Phillip Larkin, who also has a certain skill with words, but who I'm totally horrified by beyond that. Collins approximates the relaxed, immediate tonal effects of Kenneth Koch, but to very different ends. The poem in question at first seems like a relaxed accounting of comfort with and pleasure in one's environment and life. Sort of. Okay, read it again: it's a tense, naked celebration of self-satisfied complacency. Yes, but there's more. Read it again: what it's doing is locating the process of writing (a writer's table and solitude and pen is the setting) as a mechanism for asserting a separation of selfhood and history. It's saying that writing is about using one's creativity to call up a triumphant fantasy of withdrawn total independence from the world. It's saying you don't have to engage with the actual environment you exist in because you can withdraw into a private magic circle where you have no needs and you have no claims from the outside world apart from how you wish to imagine it for your own comfort. So it's actually neurotic power fantasy: a very common poetic one in fact. This poem is the embodiment of a defensive disconnection presenting itself as happiness. The affect of the words doesn't lie. There's no real joy in the feel of the poem, there's tension, because the poem claims to take pleasure but actually clings uneasily to a defensive fantasy. The tone is seemingly Kochian, but it's a long way from Koch, who would never bother with this insisting on being in control of some imagined suit of armor of independence from context. He would use a related tone, but would drawn down details and information from the environment, the pleasure of life, and mix them with playful rearrangements responses that would actually engage the human and social vibe of that environment and of it's actual, dependant pleasures and comforts.
The Moxley poem is similar in several ways: the setting, the details and some of the themes. Her chops are much more advanced, and are put into the service of different things. Comparing Moxley to Collins is like comparing June Tyson to Bing Crosby. The Moxley poem is about rejecting some social pressure to over-plan life in the name of comfort and security. So, like Collins, it involves a rejection of claims being made upon one, but it feels like specific claims being responded to in a specific context. It's engaged. Read it again-- it's saying: I don't want to arrange my life (and my mind) so that everything is totally safely planned out ahead of time according to some standard social material script. It's reacting to the suffocation of material comfort and safety and the vision of time and change that goes along with that. Like the Collins poem it deals with a kind of psychological need for independence, bit it handles it much differently.