“surrounded by cannibals who are nice”: Ron Padgett is cooler than you

by Jacob Sunderlin, Co-Editor of Poetry

Ron Padgett, poet, author of some twenty volumes, memoirist, collaborator, badass, septuagenarian, translator, Okie, grandfather, has earned himself the right to start a poem thusly:

There’s not a lot of time to think
when one is assailed by activities and obligations
and even less time to do it
when one is free of them
because then one spends one’s time thinking
about how little time there is.

Sometimes, when talking about poems, poets, or recent collections with poet friends, I’ll try and distinguish between poets I like “as a writer of poems” (read: poets whose techniques I find “fresh,” whose “voice” I respect, whose “language” is “interesting”) and poets whose work I like “as a Jacob” (read: poets I want to drink for breakfast).  This is sometimes an unpopular (read: schizophrenic) perspective, but—for me—is the difference between Karen Volkman and Susan Wheeler, between C.D. Wright and Elaine Equi, between Alex Lemon and Zach Schomburg, between Ashbery and Koch, between—shit—between the Beatles and the Stones, Ghostface and Raekwon, Joni Mitchell and Townes Van Zandt.

Point being, Ron Padgett is in both categories, comfortably.  He takes a nap in one, wakes up, makes Earl Grey in the other, splatters brains on the wall, and goes back to sleep.  The poem above, titled “Thinking About a Cloud,” from his 2011 collection, How Long, continues: “That’s what it’s like to be in America / early in the twenty-first century” and I really believeit, because Padgett writes with the kind of innocent brilliance, the childlike wonder, at—brace yourself—“The Everyday” that we’ve become too cynical, too esoteric, and too distracted to appreciate in contemporary poems.  That poem is an existential conversation between the speaker and—yes—a cloud.

Like Johnny Cash, Padgett defeats irony.  The prevailing theme here is death, which strikes Padgett as funny, without cynicism—“The Death Deal,” a catalogue of possible options for the poet’s end, ends:

I’m oddly almost cheered
by the thought
that I might find out
in the not too distant future.
Now for lunch.

Are we allowed to have this much fun in a book of poems?  Who cares.  Read Ron Padgett, and age with such grace.

How Long (2011)
by Ron Padgett
Coffee House Press, 91 p.
$12.50