Celebrate the Life and Work of Paul Violi (part 3) by Reagan Upshaw

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If you happen to be in NYC, please consider attending the book release party for Paul Violi’s new Selected at the Poets House on October 22nd. You can find more information about the release here, and be sure to read Michael Quattrone on Paul Violi here and David Lehman’s poem for Paul here. Below is Reagan Upshaw’s poem for Paul Violi.

Answers for Violi

                                                           (in memoriam P.V. 1944 – 2011)

 

An easy and ingratiating demeanor, coupled with a knowledge

of where the boundary lies between collegiality and the overly familiar –

those qualities in a subordinate, true marks of a good upbringing,

are deeply appreciated, as we know

 

when we find ourselves, so to speak, caught with our mental pants down,

a situation as awkward as the preceding metaphor. None of us likes being

“the jest or riddle of the world,” to use Pope’s phrase (via you),

yet we inevitably find ourselves thus, victims

of our own intellectual laziness or outright stupidity.

It is then that a line such as “Boy, was that a brainfart!”,

delivered with an only half-hidden smirk, has a particular sting and imparts to us

a sense of discomfort in which

 

we attempt to define the terms “wealth” and “wisdom”

and their possible connection. If we are wise, are we not already wealthy,

at least in terms of mental health and general well being? On the other hand,

if we are wise, why are we associating with this boorish hanger-on

whose jerkish behavior reveals

 

the ability to demonstrate intellectual superiority? He was supposed to be a subordinate!

If past experience is any guide, he won’t change, and it would be an exercise

in almost mystical faith to expect him to, say,

 

abandon the stubborn belief embedded in each of us

that we are somehow the center of a caring universe, one that loves us

and yet threatens us with excruciating punishment in a afterlife

for our failure to live up to some blessed-by-antiquity set of rules

on how we should comport ourselves, both vis-à-vis our fellow humans

and while kneeling before a variously-described First Cause.

But our nemesis won’t be changed by any theological threat,

much as we might wish that this loud-mouthed pseudo-intellectual thug

now ignoring our aggrieved, accusatory stares

would shape up and emulate our motto that

 

attempts to assist by bringing something good into the world or at least

staying out of the way of those who are trying to do so, like pandas

as they struggle to increase their endangered yet adorable numbers.

Such general benevolence finds outlets for expression every day,

whether by a dude-ranch cowboy in the storied American West

or some anonymous Florence Nightingale, while

 

a train substation in a bustling East Coast city — that would tax her eleemosynary urge

to its utmost. And what if, awed by our example, not only this creep but thousands,

nay, millions of our fellow citizens were to get caught up in an all-encompassing

wave of good feeling, engendering a tsunami of generous deeds while

 

a mighty paean of praise rose towards that dazzling orb

whence all of us derive our sustenance? Any general euphoria,

like the violets and periwinkles crushed by ardent lovers in their bosky trysts,

cannot maintain its pristine condition, but

 

changes, as revelers awake the proverbial morning after to find themselves

once again in their usual malaise which, oddly enough, brings the comfort of familiarity.

At such times we give the horse-laugh to any claims of authority

presented by ancient texts, or at least I do, my disgust with their shopworn proscriptions

leading me sometimes to violence against the very words on their pages, and

nod with world-weary satisfaction as they disappear from sight. Afterwards, of course,

a chastened mood sets in, as my doppelgänger, fearful

 

while repeating to himself the Preacher’s admonition that “All is vanity,”

nonetheless presses on with neither hope nor despair, “self-ultimate”

in Goethe’s formulation. But who wants to pal around with such

an insufferable character? He’s as bad as the jerk we have finally shaken,

that know-it-all completely unlike you, whose deep knowledge

was tempered with humor and humanity, and whose unmistakable individuality

did not prevent so many vital connections, your death leaving so many bereft, thus

 

weeping in the forlorn knowledge that the mournful notes we struck

and the flaming objects we hurled to light your way to some poetic Valhalla

were not enough. For myself,

 

come into poetry via the Romantics, still harboring the notion that great poetry can still

enter into us and alter the very fabric of our being, I find

 

the belief (my belief) that your poetry will last

 

 

Reagan Upshaw is a poet and critic living in Beacon, NY.  His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in Able Muse, Atlanta Review, Bloomsbury Review, Boston Review, Hanging Loose, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Poets & Writers, San Francisco Chronicle, and others.