Janet Rogerson

Three Poems

Notes on Mary Torrance (‘Mary is Mary’)

Career spanning four decades, seventy-four essays,
eleven collections. Formal poems; decline in moral values.
Hated free verse in Poetry ’86, ‘The devil Whitman
ruined it for everyone’ and in Paris Review ’92,
‘The New York Pre-School, why no one is counting’.
Her book, Beat, Stick, ‘Howl’: Barefoot / No Feet / Ginsberg’s
Con Trick
, was pulped—for legal reasons—after publication.
Senator’s daughter from Connecticut, first sonnet at five,
voice like Katharine Hepburn. Vocal in criticism of feminism:
‘women ought to defer to men—believe it but can’t do it’.

Overt hostility to other poets, though popular, eccentric,
cherished for what David Lehman describes as her
‘comedy value … unique, intolerable, objectionable,
always doing something worth talking about, rarely
her poems’. Interview in ’85 asked about New Formalists
replied ‘for the love of Nixon, what’s new about them?’.
Affiliations extreme right wing politics in US,
yelled FORNICATOR at Clinton during ceremonial dinner,
dinner that according to official records no invitation to.

Taught briefly at Princeton, left in mysterious circumstances,
some say dismissed for striking student, others for building
fire in grounds burning priceless archives. Evidence gathered
in Avant-Garde journal suggest both true, X who didn’t
wish to be named quoted as saying ‘incidents tip of iceberg,
all very afraid of her’. Controversy follows her—

at a conference in 2003, during reading by post-modern
poet John Ashbery, shouted, ‘I don’t know what in God’s name
that was but it was not a poem’, escorted reluctantly away,
later during wine reception ‘allegedly’ stuck out foot, tripped
the elderly Mr Ashbery. Asked would he give Torrance
benefit of doubt incident was accident, Ashbery
quoted as saying ‘sure, Mary is Mary and situations occur
about and around and happenings to Mary and no one
can persuade them otherwise—and yes the ankle
is a hacienda mounted on the couch growing colder
purpler while the white dog shuns it. Thank you’.

Since 2011, writing villanelle sequences, has 361,
described at best as ‘inconsistent in quality’ and at worst
‘certain to bring form into total disrepute if not result in
complete extinction’. Villanelles to be gathered
in substantial volume entitled, Nineteen times Nineteen;
publisher could not be reached to confirm date of publication.

 

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