Should poets be moral?
It’s not a question I hear often. More like rarely. And when I encounter an entertaining and sagacious volume like Ron Padgett’s, the question comes to mind once again.
How to Be Perfect is funny first, ethical second. It’s a begrudging kind of wisdom, it seems, almost as if the poet is a little embarrassed to be addressing the things that are most important. Like how to love and how to receive love. And even which of those questions is more important. A wise teacher of mine once said it’s more important to love than to be loved. I’m still untangling that one. Ron Padgett’s How to Be Perfect helps. Here’s a brief review published in the Pittsburgh City Paper:
Padgett, a New Yorker who visits the International Poetry Forum on March 11, has mastered the art of surprise. He leads you down avenues of free association, and you can’t see where he’s going until he gets there. The effect is a cloud of uncertainty zapped by a delightful snap of light, as in a seasoned comic’s polished standup routine.
Rather than being merely witty or self-effacing, Padgett’s comic sensibility is often leavened with a pinch of bittersweetness — as when he muses on his dead mother or on a friend, the poet Kenneth Koch — or a dollop of alienation. “Country Room” seems at first a clever play on the slipperiness of language. But on a deeper level, it appears to touch on the fundamentals of the universe — matter, space and time — while addressing humanity’s struggle to find meaning amid evident meaninglessness.
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