Greg Grummer Is Easy As Sunday Morning
by Don Zirilli
It’s difficult for me to discuss the difficulty of Greg’s* work because it’s not difficult. Imagine, if you will, that you are going to an early church service in order to impress your Christian girlfriend. You excuse yourself in the middle of a particularly excruciating homily based on an outrageous misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians, made even more embarrassing by the furtive glances your girlfriend keeps shooting your way, convincing you beyond any doubt that you will never have any sort of physical intimacy with this girl, without… well… it’s just never going to happen, so you sneak out to the parking lot, where you notice the glorious demise of another sunrise, a tremulous slip slipping from the rosy hips of heaven, trembling your lips into hosannas of praise to your surprised neighbor, one of the smokers who took this opportunity to indulge his little vice. “It’s beautiful,” you say…
And this is where it gets weird. The neighbor turns to you and says, “Beautiful? But what does it mean?”
Of course we know this would never happen. Christians don’t smoke.
But you would do this, wouldn’t you? Fill your lungs with puffery, turn away from the delirious rosy glow of a Greg Grummer poem, and say “what does it mean?” Forcing me to tear my eyes away from that same beauty in order to answer your question.
And this is the sad, lonely difficulty in which I find myself. A difficulty that has nothing to do with Greg’s poetry. Greg is easy. The hard part is the baggage that you and I bring to it, but mostly you, plus the baggage I have about your baggage.
But enough of this. The baggage is there, blocking our view of the sun. I cannot simply dismiss it because I know it’s there. No, ‘tis better to climb upon the baggage, let it lift us to the sky, or ‘tis better to drop this metaphor before it crumbles apart like old, worn-out leather. In other words, let us speak to what a Greg Grummer poem “means.”
First of all, it’s important to know that Greg is a little frightened of his poems — the way one is a little frightened of Jack Daniels and pours a little Coke on him — so he pours on a very long title, suggesting characters and context that, frankly, hope to absolve the poet a little for what he has just written, and he pours on bizarre introductions and linking material as if to lubricate and sweeten his potent formulations.
Or maybe he’s saying that what we call a “poem” is just the glass. Listen to him in his interview, bragging about his inability to use poetic techniques… but these are all sonic techniques, the cold, hard receptacle of poetry. Greg is more interested in the poetry of ideas, or what I would call mental situations. I just read Donald Hall talking about his poem, Names of Horse, and hoping kind of desperately that it’s not a poem about horses. Greg would have a much easier time proving that his poem about Hegel is not about Hegel. He loads poem and environs with evidence.
Before the poem even begins, we are introduced to his mental situation comedy. First, the concept of “noticing” is introduced. The whole macguffin premise of the “Fall of Communism” is cast into doubt, disrespected, might never have been noticed in the first place. And would it exist without being noticed? This tenuousness is suggested by the fictional nature of the poem itself, which supposedly consists of messages left on an answering machine. What is more transitory than that? How many situation comedies depend on answering machine message being missed? The attention of the speaker is being competed for, between the poem and the blue flower, except it’s not about the blue flower, it’s about what’s done with the blue flower and what it might mean to the man fixing his car, really it’s one poem competing with another, and it’s about an idealist or dare I say romantic poet who would have us drink whiskey without glasses, indulging in one long poetry, where we see a poem of the interaction of poems. Yes, these poems keep each other alive, for if the narrator hadn’t been absorbed by the blue flower poem he would have answered the phone, and no message would have been left.
Read the first answering machine message and there are some things there you might recognize from your previous adventures with poetry. There is a lunatic combination of ideas united by the image of the moon. Again, these ideas are mental situations. The man in the church rejecting what he sees, provided an epiphany from outside, his perceptions of his wife and his marriage, ending finally with an “idea” about God. By message 2, we’re catching the main obsessions, his marriage, his future, and submission. By the third message, we have a meditation on death and oblivion. See? I can make Greg’s poems sound like everybody else’s poems, and spare you the savage mess of a rising sun.
But Greg isn’t done. He’s still talking about the movie he fails to make, the Communism he fails to raise. He’s still insisting on situating his poetry in this dangerous place, outside the glass. His worries about the future and oblivion do not go away, nor does the theme of submission and/or helplessness. These issues keep me reading, give the personality or perhaps person-hood to the poetry, but they do not hide as the solution to an arcanely structured symbolism. Instead, they cavort on the surface, hanging playfully from the arcane structure beneath them, an endless reflexive meditation of ideas shaping other ideas shaping realities, etc., revealing itself instantly to the reader as a sheer rose-hued beauty of ideation, even if your eyes never adjust to its light, to see the details of its intricate workings.
*Standards of critical discourse compel me to refer to Greg by his last name, but I stubbornly use the familiar, due to a familiar feeling that Greg gives me, and simultaneously present some visceral evidence of my bias to the reader, who should always be aware of bias, because bias is always there. There would be no life on this planet if it were not “biased” 23 degrees away from the sun. Trust me on that. Oh, and his last name sounds funny. I can’t just keep saying “Grummer” this and “Grummer” that. It sounds like I’m vacuuming this and that, or perhaps rolling this and that around in my mouth.