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Monday, September 19, 2011


In honor of National Poetry Month (or maybe it was in fucking April, who really knows), I thought we'd devote a week talking about the least valid, lucrative, or tangible of all writing forms: poetry.  Or maybe we'll just do it until we hit a wall. Wouldn't want another "Burning Man III" debacle (  It's tough to understand poetry, at least in terms of its functionality in a modernized world. Poetry is like that guy who once had it all in high school.  He quarterbacked the goddamn team, all the girls dug him, all the guys wanted to be him.  But then you see him at your class reunion and he's bald, working in middle management, or selling cars, and he smells like cheese, and you can't understand how this guy was ever relevant.

For me poetry is pretty much this Cracked article (, a once necessary and even vital art form whose use has long been supplanted by things people can actually use, like breasts and the Internet.  Now I must admit, some of my best friends are poets, and that furthermore I, too, used to write the stuff.  In fact, I have a couple poems being published next month.  These are not new poems. Back in aught4 (sorry, Esther), when I first was getting sober and didn't know any better, between the rock and the roll, my ear still fucked up from the years of hardcore stimulant abuse, I wasn't playing the guitar, which reminded me too much of getting high, drugs and the music so inextricably linked, and poetry seemed enough like writing lyrics (it's not), so I stared trying my hand at it, and people started liking it.  I won some award at the CT Review and was paid about $400 to tour the state that summer as a "CT Student Poet," which is apparently some time-honored, -respected tradition, with a long list of poets whose names I don't recognize.  It was cool enough.  A pretty girl once asked me for my autograph.  Always thought I was someone, turned out I was wrong...

Well, my poetry career was a short-lived one.  Once I realized the best I could hope for should I master the craft (which wasn't happening) was abject poverty, chapbooks, and non-recognition, I jumped on the fiction bandwagon (Oh, and that decision has worked out smashingly).  I forgot all about poetry, and the only verse I'm writing these days are the ones that come before the chorus (and usually after it, too, and then again after the bridge, but sometimes we skip a bridge and add last verse and go right back to the chorus--a double rock 'n' roll chorus!).  

(But I still have a few poems that haven't been published, one or two of which I still think are quite good. Occasionally I get solicited by magazines, because I know the editor or because the author and I have appeared elsewhere together, and when I do I will send them some of these.  Which is why I have a couple poems coming out next month.  Not that you give a shit.)

My poetry career died a slow, unnoticed death.  The last poetry reading I gave was in '09, when a friend asked me to read at an event he was hosting.  It was me and three other readers.  It received a single Yelp review.  Which I will re-post here.  

Photo of Janis R.
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5/3/2009Janis R. says:
Being unemployed and finding something to do on a Sunday night, this was a good diversion from the mononity of sitting at home and watching another re-run.

[Reader A] is awesome!  She opened with the funniest poem ever that was a great ice breaker (too bad she was last).  Her preview to her collection of [Book Title] left me wanting more... can you start a blog or something?  I appreciated [Reader B's] poems, but loved his explanations to the inspirations of each one more.  
Joe Clifford's personality is hilarious, but his poems left more to be desired... with the exception of his last poem about his brother... very deep; and lastly, [Reader D]... nice spin on America but had too many re-occurring phrases they took my attention away from the individual poem and left me comparing them to her previous ones.

Overall, thankful they put this together, had the courage to share their works and surprisingly sparked an interest to document events in our lives through this expression.

So clearly the world isn't exactly clamoring for my return to hexameter.  At least Janis R. isn't.  And who are we to argue with Janis R.? 

All of which is a long-winded, roundabout way of saying (much like my poetry itself), I am probably the least qualified guy to review the shit.  I hate poetry.  If Bukowski didn't write it, I don't want to read it.  I find Shel Silverstein infinitely more enjoyable than Walt Whitman, Liz Bishop, or any of the other stuffy set.  And of all the writers I've know, by far, the dullest have been the poets (current friends withstanding, for you are a wacky and zany bunch).  

When I think of poetry, I think if Steve Kobak.  Steve and I worked on a literary magazine at CCSU called Helix.  And holy fuck did we receive a lot of shitty poems.  Most of these came from lovesick undergrad girls.  The staff used to go through these submissions together, basically four guys hanging around a classroom after school, smoking cigarettes, reading aloud and seeing just how bad bad writing could be.  After one particularly dreadfully, sappy love poem, something about "long tendrils of hair," Steve goes, "Happy Two Month Anniversary, Honey."  Still makes me laugh.


I received an e-mail last week from Candy and Cigarettes regular reader Jenny Dreadful, asking if I'd review her poetry chapbook.  Don't ask me why the fuck she'd think my doing so would, in any way, help her "career."  But I said I would. Because 1.) her name is Jenny Dreadful.  I've never had a cool nickname, and so I admire people who do.  Gluehead.  Kelpbed.  Jimmy Dread (Tom Pitt's friend, not mine, and no relation to Jenny Dreadful, at least not that I am aware).  Best I ever had was Tweek the Wunderkid.  Which stuck about as well as you'd think it would. And I gave it to myself.

Part of the reason I haven't gone further in life, I'm convinced, is because I never had a cool nickname.  Life caters to people with cool nicknames.  Reason #2 I said I would view Jenny's chapbook is that she asked me, however misguided her assumptions.  Let's face it.  I'm a nice fucking guy. Beneath the tattoos and the muscles (and the smoldering, movie-star good looks), I'm just a sensitive boy who loves to help others.

So this will be Poetry Week on Candy and Cigarettes.  Which should really drive up the ratings.  

Do you have a story about a poem that changed your life?  If so, please keep it to yourself.

(And I'll get to that review sometime this week, Jenny.  And it won't be a hatchet job.  I've read the chapbook and it's good.  I think you and I are going to be friends. You wrote a poem about Bukowski...)

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At September 19, 2011 at 5:05 PM , Blogger Jenny Dreadful said...

I had to give a nod to Bukowski. That talented bastard leaves me ass-deep in envy every time I approach his works.

Thanks for the nod, Joe! I'm look forward to swimming in abject poverty and chapbooks, pumped up on poetry 'roids. Bring the hatchet! Bring'em on!

(Sincerely. Thank you. I've always thought of poetry as that cousin born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that came out slightly special, the one who won't stop following you around. You just have to give it some attention. There is something idiot and savant in poetry.)

At September 19, 2011 at 5:20 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Your welcome, Jenny! Already started writing it. Seriously, a lot of good stuff in there. But as I will no doubt write tomorrow: switch teams and join the Dark (i.e., Prose) Side. Yeah, you'll be poor over here, but at least you have bigger delusions...


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