SURGERY AT 57
Sawbones sent JD away
Under the knife for exorbitant pay.
He pulled my pal's guts
And cried, "I'm a putz!
You've the innards of Dorian Gray!"
Yes, the letters are embarrassing and the bio is bonehead. But audience-therapy America ain't interested in a celeb who didn't make it into at least serial rehab. And even if he had, the publicity would only further offend academic anthologists who define their loftier, ivory-tower values by steering clear of marketplace success and cliche failure. Success seems to alienate the effete amateur world of poetry, just as Jim did with the flamboyance of his celebrity. "Celebrity poet" is an oxymoron. Only Jim himself could imagine and assemble and juggle all his whirling disparate selves -- "too various to be trusted" -- into that amazing range of personality. Without him, we're left with the static, contradictory pieces...the poems...the novels...the work temporarily overshadowed, post mortem, by summing up the self-destructive life. The world's hindsight revenge on a non-repentant genius is to cluck and, sadly or not, dismiss him as a fool. But time will put at least the work back together, and bring it into the foreground. It won't be the celebrity who resurrects; it'll be the poet. And the rock will roll away from the mouth of the cave for the same reason it did for Jesus: because someone, some anthologist and/or publisher such as superb Daniel Halpern or an editor like Peter Davison (bless him in heaven), believes hard enough in the work and wants to carry it on.
One of the most revealing things Jim ever said was his endlessly repeated quip to his wife Maxine about being nervous before one of his first readings:
"'Just be yourself,' she said."
"And I answered, 'Ah, but which self?'"
Jim was and still is so confusing, especially to anyone who loved him. But out of that comes the question that might help:
Which Jim do we want to remember?