The book club tonight was a nightmare. We were discussing Sharon Olds' poem "Exclusive (for my daughter)" and we were going through the usual questions when we deal with poems: what it's about, why isn't it perfectly easy to understand, why must poets be so obscure. Another facet of every poetry discussion: our most rednecky member, whom I will refer to henceforth as Screw Loose, decides to grace us with his poetry, which I mostly just suffer through. Some kind soul among the seven or so of us gathered at our table at the Jewish Community Center decides to ask our "poet" what he tries to achieve, you know, as a writer. A writer. I sit and say nothing. I've been going to this group for years now, and I know it's not best to engage Screw Loose in any conversation, mainly because he's a racist nut with a reactionary philosophical streak and he likes nothing more than to just get under my skin. He reads another poem, which wasn't really a poem, so much as a loose collection of thoughts about the death of John Kennedy. When he finishes I tell him he ought to publish it, because people will think he's being ironic, that he's merely adopting the mask of a crazy Republican fascist. He forces a hard laugh and then proceeds to recite yet another poem, which he annouces will "offend everybody in the room." Title: "Why I Hate Niggers." The year is 2004. Can you believe this? Again, I don't say anything. I just leave, because the meeting's actually over by now. I tell myself I should have said something, and I tell myself -- accurately -- that it wouldn't matter if I did. I've told him before he's a racist. I've said before his head is full of trash. I've told him these things to his face and so far as I could tell he liked it.
Before all this, by the way, we did have a few interesting things to say about the Olds poem, which was so short we all read it alound individually, even Screw Loose. It's about a woman's exclusive love for her daughter, who is described as having skin like a biscuit, which threw us all a bit. On the way home, I called the former director of the group -- who left us some time ago -- and begged him to come back if for no other reason to improse sanity and restore the kind of intellectual fiber we once had.