In my quest to build a shelf of celebrity poetry, I took on Jim Morrison's three books last month. Yes, I used to make fun of celebrity poetry...because that's what poetry snobs do; but for the last few years I've decided to approach these books with an open mind. After all, celebrities can't help it if they're famous and also trying to express themselves in verse. If you became famous, would you stop writing poetry? No, you wouldn't...even though it would be potentially embarrassing and a big laugh to non-celebrity poets such as you used to be.
I took on The Lords and the New Creatures first, a volume of "revealing, early poems from the voice of a generation." My husband, Monsieur Big Bang, laughed when he saw me reading this. He said only angry teen boys read Jim Morrison. I've never been a Doors fan or a teen age boy but I dove into the project anyway.
In any case, this was my least favorite book of the three. These were his poems at their most enigmatic. In some cases his thoughts were indecipherable and maybe in early stages of something experimental. The problem with experimental poems is that they can be awfully indistinguishable from drug-induced pieces. And I'm saying that without judgement. Drug writing has its own value ("Kubla Khan"). You just can't read too much into it, unlike more sophisticated experimental work. But occassionaly, Morrison would catch my attention with some pithy scrap of thought, (usually when he was talking about fame or show business or his possible messiah complex), all bits which were disappointingly rare. I did find a quote or to which will be of use in my next Cher Zine,
"But most of the press were vultures descending on the scene for curious America aplomb. Cameras inside the coffin interviewing worms."
i will say this, Morrison is good at noticing what's going on around him. In this book he mulls over ideas of voyeurism and participation, film studies (he was a film student), issues of power and possession, alchemy, and a few interesting comments about motherhood. The random notes included are not fully formed. They seem almost like notes for future essays. And many of the poems seem like a string fo terse images in search of a vague mythology.
One of the most interesting things about this used book I found in a Santa Fe bookstore was the inscription on the inside cover: "To Adam (Pedro)/Love Always, Amy/Christmas '96/The Doors Rule!"
I surmise Adam did not feel so much love for The Doors forever or I would not have acquired his Christmas gift book.
Wilderness was my favorite book of the three. Maybe I was just beginning to get into his idiosyncrasies like his shorthand or his capitalizing randomly. This book coheres much better as a book about American culture from Morrison's point of view. There are scattered southwestern images from his young life (he mentions the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, rattlesnakes and cattle skulls) and over and over again he considers his idea of wilderness where he is referring to the wild city of Los Angeles and "the American night." The word 'LAmerica' appears a great deal over the two volumes as poem titles and in the text as does the phrase, "the American night." My favorite parts were discussions of androgyny in Los Angeles and "miles and miles of hotel corridors." There are sexual poems here too and contemplations of the poet,
"Real poetry doesn't say anything,
it just ticks off the possibilities."
and more sad reflections on fame and futility:
"But I deserve this,
Greatest cannibal of all.
Some tired future.
Let me sleep.
Get on w/the disease.
Again, his free association writing can feel almost language poetry-like. He believes a great deal in the meditative power of the ritual of writing poetry and this is as valid as anybody else's use of it.
When I read great lines like "Each day is a drive through history" I wonder why he was so enegmatic for most of this and if his fragments had anything to do with a fear of fully telling.
I'm always interested in sexuality poems, like "Lament for the Death of My Cock." But they seem so tame now. I'm sure they were scandalous at the time.
In fact, this might be part of the problem with Morrison's legacy over all: it's the Cher/Madonna/Britney Spears/Milley Cyrus exponential reveal: what was so shocking yesterday becomes deflated in our hyper-drive culture of pushing boundaries. In light of Miley Cyrus making so much offence at this year's Video Music Awards, Morrison's sexuality seems almost old-fashioned.
Which sort of renders the art of shock sort of flaccid at the end of the day. How far can we go beyond S&M?
In this book, I sensed some racist undertones in a few poems (see the Paris Journal for an example). This book is also propped up with various reprinted lyrics. One lyric from the song "When the Music's Over" was a haunting prediction of our current culture of rampant narcissism and insatiable greed:
"I hear a very gentle sound,
With your ear down to the ground.
We want the world and we want it...
We want the world and we want it,
now, now, NOW!
In the end, Morrison seemed to view death as a clean slate, from "Hurricane & Eclipse" where he says, "I wish clean/death would come to me" to "If Only I" where he claims "If only I could feel/me pulling back/again/& feel embraced/by reality/again/I would gladly die."
Maybe it's this very state of mind that appeals to teen boys, stressed out by the fog of adolescence and living a life not yet fully in control.