"The Tambourine that No One Knows How to Play"

A couple of years ago--would it have been 1995 or ‘96?--carelessly flipping through The Best American Poetry, 1995 (an anthology that, to its editor, Richard Howard’s credit, was full of poets a lot of people hadn’t heard of) I was stopped dead in my tracks by a truly wondrous poem: "The Printer’s Error" by Aaron Fogel. It was deceptively simple, direct, moving and thoroughly astounding, full of political, religious and cultural truth. Who (I asked myself and everyone else who might conceivably know) was this Aaron Fogel?

There are a number of poets I’d like to introduce here--present and former students, or my old friend, Maris Brason, whose marvelously atmospheric poems return my childhood to me, but of all of them, Fogel is the one wonderful "unestablished" poet to whom I was introduced through his poetry. That a genuine and remarkable poet like Aaron Fogel should remain "unestablished" though he has published a book--(he considers it more of a chapbook than a book -- it was in 1976 and from a very shortlived press: Inwood Horizon) and despite the fact that his poems are terrific, is, I suppose, just a comment on poetry’s place in the United States. Call it the Emily Dickinson syndrome: if you’re writing really fabulous poems in the United States of America, there’s a really good chance that no one will ever see them.

So if there’s something I can do to break that trend--to overturn the Thomas Wentworth Higgensons of our age, let me do it! Who is this Aaron Fogel? A poet who lets his extraordinary and thoroughly original intelligence write his heartbreaking, witty and complex poems for him. Some of his poems are fairly difficult--but theirs is an earned difficulty, born of the complexity of his thought, of his experience, of the world as he parses it and understands it, never the flamboyant difficulty-for-its-own-sake that attempts to mask the fundamental banality of too many contemporary poems. His poems are so smart and so surprising and so interesting, while constantly remaining loyal to the lackluster day-to-day actuality of this world. Yes, I suppose he’s an intellectual. Yes, I suppose he’s demanding. Quirky. Uncompromising. I suppose he is even not for everybody (what poet is for everybody?). But he is certainly for me. How else would I know the meaning of the "o" in people, the adolescent traumas of the Yiddish language, not to mention the "cantilevered" light of its "stern stars . . . ."