friendship with Martin has very often involved enjoying our
disagreements. We bonded initially in our shared admiration for Kenneth
Koch; but before long we realized we loved different aspects of Koch's
work. For Martin, Koch's genius is in the insouciant unpredictable
quick-shifting comedy; whereas my favorite poems by Koch are (while
partly humorous) discursive / argumentative / coherently narrative.
When Martin and I have co-written short plays, usually I am trying to hold together some sort of plot continuity while Martin is trying to explode it all with digressions or contradictions or swerves. I love this energy in him -- as also in Koch, and in Dean Young -- even if I've often tried to "push back" on it.
One of my favorite Stannard poems is a satire of poetry textbooks, with their busy-bee swarms of "Points for Discussion and Writing". I've never wanted to write such a textbook, but I'm probably much more sympathetic to the effort in creating such a textbook than Martin is. His poem pretends to guide teachers who will be teaching a poem that refers to an imaginary painting of naval warfare: "As They Lay Battering of Her With Their Ordnance". Teachers are invited to ask students such questions as "Does this poem have a beginning, middle, and end?" "What if the title had been 'Water Buffalo'? / Would it have been more beautiful?"
In the last ten lines Stannard provides the teachers with background facts about the imaginary poem and its author; these facts apparently will enable the teachers to seem supremely knowledgeable to the students:
"The title of this poem has a complicated history.
It is based on Loussain's painting 'They Durst Not Board Her'
in which the principal and greatest of four Spanish galliases
is assaulted by divers English pinnaces, hoys, and drumblers.
At the time of the writing of the poem,
the poet was living alone, estranged from his wife and,
in his own words, 'unable to find someone to be my bed-mate.'
The overheard speech is that of Portuguese sailors.
Ask students to discuss the poem
before you reveal this information."
I love that passage. It makes you reconsider how you yourself may have "taught" pretentiously allusive poems in pretentiously unclear ways. And it makes you want to hear Stannard explain the difference between a hoy and a drumbler.
Copyright © Mark Halliday, 2022