Appreciation #8

“Frank Kuenstler” by Richard Kostelanetz

(From the forthcoming third edition of the Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes.)



In 1964, from the imprint of Film Culture, a New York publisher noted for its film magazine of the same title, appeared Lens, a book so extraordinary that it was completely unnoticed at the time. It opens with a single-page “Emblem,” a sort of preface that establishes in six sections that anything might happen in the following pages, including the destruction of both sense and syntax. The last section of “Emblem” reads: “aura.Dictionary, aura.Crossword Puzzle, aura.Skeleton. aura.Poem./Once upon a time.” What follows are eighty long paragraphs so devoid of connection, from line to line, from word to word, that you realize only a human being could have made them; even the most aleatory computer program would have put together, even inadvertently, two words that made sense. The book concludes with the tag “New York, N. Y., 1952–64,” suggesting that Lens took a full dozen years to write; I can believe it, because anyone who thinks such writing easy to do should try it sometime (and send me the results). Kuenstler’s later publications include 13 1/2 Poems (1984), which is a progression of increasingly experimental poems (though none as radical as Lens). Toward the end of his life he sold antiquarian books on the street in New York, usually on Broadway north of 86th Street. To no surprise perhaps, his name rarely, if ever, appears in histories of American literature.

copyright 2018 Richard Kostelanetz

(Photo from a collage by Ira Cohen.)

Latest Tournament Selections


frost(Photo of a young Robert Frost.)

Have the Tournament judges had it with novelists? This seems to be the case with the latest selections, the #5 seeds, all poets.

A.)  T.S. Eliot

Once THE biggest name in the poetry game– “The Wasteland” remains, perhaps, the most famous of all American poems.

B.)  Robert Frost

Talk about famous poems by famous poets. The title “The Road Not Taken” has become part of the national conversation. For decades Robert Frost was the widely-known face of poetry in America.

C.)  Maya Angelou


For a couple decades until her death in 2014 Maya Angelou was the face of American poetry– aided by her performances at Presidential inaugurals. Who’ll rise to the forefront to replace her?

D.)  Allen Ginsberg

This beat poet’s entry into the “Most Famous American Poem” sweepstakes is “Howl.” An audacious bid for greatness. Allen Ginsberg never came close to writing another poem with similar impact.


Gil Scott-Heron or John Ashbery?



(Left: Ashbery. Right: Scott-Heron.)

Twin strands of American poetry. Two poles. Divergent extremes.

One up from the street, taking poetry to the people.

The other representing a withdrawal behind fortress bastions of the academy.

John Ashbery, RIP. Harvard, Columbia, Fulbright. Partisan Review. The New Yorker magazine.

Was Ashbery’s success an intentional reaction, by the literary establishment, against the threat of Rexroth and Ginsberg– against the populist energy, the accessible strong language of the Beats?

Accolades for Ashbery flow in– but which poet truly, TRULY, was more important, more influential these past decades?

Ashbery or Scott-Heron?

Which poet spawned an entire popular musical genre? Which continued the Beat tradition of dynamic open mics? Which made poets and poetry exciting and relevant– breaking the mold of obscurely tame poetry sessions isolated within universities during which every audience member has fallen asleep?

The Question really comes down to: What place should poetry hold in American society?

We give here and now no answer. We’re simply asking: John Ashbery or Gil Scott-Heron? Gil Scott-Heron or John Ashbery?

Fun Pop Poetry #13

alligator 1

“Alligators Everywhere!” by Ellsworth B. Smith

Alligators everywhere
Eating kids without a care

Alligators in the park
Alligators after dark

Chasing golfers, chewing dogs
Crafty though they look like logs

Moving fast with little feet
I see alligators in my sleep!

Alligators looking cool
Alligators in my school

Climbing fences past the guards
Alligators in my yard

Red-tinged mouths and shells of green
Monsters belched out from a dream

Gazing out with glowing eyes
Choosing soon their newest prize

Chomping down with pro-nounced “crunch”
I fear they want me for lunch!

Faces full of evil grins
Killing’s not for them a sin

Reproducing like a virus
TV shows say worse than ISIS!

You can kill them if you like
poison gas or dynamite

Machine guns might not take them out
Nuclear weapons carry clout

Kill them, kill them, on the double!
Turn these creatures into rubble

Cleanse the planet if you dare
Of alligators everywhere.


Send your striking/fun/outrageous poem to

Fun Pop Poetry #5

shock photo for Dan poem

“Four Poems” by Dan Nielsen


She asked, “Why do you love me—
Is it my shape, or face?”
I said, “You’ve got me wrong;
What turns me on,
Are your quirks and traits.”


She’s supportive, though pessimistic,
And often gives this advice,
“It’s never to late to get started,”
Though you’ll never get done in time.”


Our teacher was Miss Givings,
A woman I adored;
And if I ever had Miss Givings
I certainly don’t anymore.


I received shock therapy
For multiple personality.
It hurt like hell, and was no fun;
And now I don’t have even one.


(Send your fun poetry to