Imitation of greatness
September 23, 1980
Things are calmer today, though I know in reality, they’re not.
Life has slowed down a little from yesterday with my hardest task so far is my climbing out of bed.
I didn’t even have time to write in this book.
The relentless chatter of the child beside me nearly drove me crazy. Going to class gave me a few hours of relief from the machine gun mouth.
Today, I have time to sit and write and think about what lies ahead.
Joel Lewis called last night, complaining that he had tried and failed to reach me all day, just as he had tried all summer to get me to come to one of his readings.
Michael had notified him about today’s reading, trying to lure him into coming before he took off for England.
Joel is a funny kind of person, struggling to find significance in this world, some niche which will make him stand out against the background or ordinary people.
This is less a judgment than an observation.
He spends so much of his time making connections, he seems to forget what he needs the connections for, grooving up to successful writers like a true politician.
This year, he went for his PH.D in Paterson history and culture, and seemed fixated on William Carlos Williams.
But then any artist associated with Paterson cannot ignore Williams, any more than someone from Stratford can ignore William Shakespeare. His influence infects this place and us, so that nearly every poet I meet wants to be just like him. Everyone talks about Paterson and its historic Passaic River.
I think they all forget – including Joel – that Williams’ writing didn’t merely capture a place, but a time period, shaping those elements into something universal and applicable to any time or place, reflecting people who lived, worked and died.
Williams is great, but wasn’t recognized right away.—which is the great hope we all have, living with the belief that at some point we might find recognition as well.
For Joel, Williams along with The Beat poets of the 1940s is a member of a pantheon of gods, to be praised and imitated, stealing those elements needed to find his own share of greatness.
To date, Joel hasn’t managed to yet come up with the formula he needs. Perhaps some day he will.