The Minneapolis Poet: Remembering Bruce Ario

A stylized, 3-colored, tripartite portrait of a smiling Bruce Ario, the great Minneapolis poet.

[Don Moss’s review discusses a yet-unreleased selection of Bruce Ario’s poems curated and introduced by poet Dan Schneider of Cosmoetica. This page will be updated upon the book’s release. For our video discussion of Bruce Ario’s life and work with his brother, Joel Ario, click here.]

I can’t find the quote just now, I think by Kurt Vonnegut, something like; ‘Don’t just hold up in a room and write, socialize. Get people interested in you.’ Vonnegut said it better, a little longer, but this book on Bruce Ario’s poetry is a good application of the idea, though, as for now, online, not on paper. Bruce didn’t hide in his room writing—he got to know people, read his poems in coffee houses, joined the Uptown Poetry Group, UPG, the small informal writing group led by the author/editor of this book, Dan Schneider. (Not the well-fed TV producer actor born in Memphis, Tennessee, but Dan Schneider, from Queens, NY.)

I got to know Bruce through the UPG group, and, now and then, sharing a microphone with him at a reading. I saw a number of his poems and offered comments a couple of times each month for a good number of years. He, of course, commented briefly, in his manner, on work I brought in and on that of others. UPG participants varied as months passed, but Bruce and I and several others were of the core group. I do not say “members,” it was not that sort of thing, no dues, no qualifications. The only criteria for attendance were to bring in work, accept comments, offer suggestions to others, and leave egos outside the door. This last quality is likely why no “known artists” of the Twin Cities ever paid the group a single visit. Word got around that at UPG expect useful critique, not empty praise.

The group worked because of the evenness of its administration by Dan Schneider, a “pushy New Yorker,” from the perspective of Prairie Home Companion Midwesterners. Unrelentingly in your face was, and remains, what poetry constantly needs, and Dan offered that to (and at) a number of individuals and all-too-well-funded arts establishments in the Twin Cities.

As you will read in the book, Dan noticed that Bruce nearly always worked with the short verse form of 3-3-3-1, three stanzas of three lines each, finished with a final line. This was a new form, a sonnet in brief, and Dan named it the Ario. As Dan notes:

I should not make it seem as if Bruce was not poetically adventurous, even if he was best in a familiar form- the ario, whose growing frequency as poetic form of choice seemed to increase with the years. Yes, the ario dominates his poetry, but the little excursions into non-arios, as shown, had some successes, and it’s not as if Bruce was alone in a more conservative approach to his craft. Most poets are. Rare is the poet that lets the form find its function, or is that the other way around? I hear Bruce’s voice asking me.

Let’s gander at this great non-ario that leaves the reader in an M.C. Escherian world:

Urban Walkways

Sidewalks may catch my stride
In a jog or just a stroll
Any day of the week
As the time bides.

Weather permitting or not
I take my cause to their paths
Perhaps with no permission
Other than the life I’ve got.

Point A to point B –
That’s sidewalk 1 to sidewalk 2
Then across on 3.

Asphalt, cement, new and old
Our sidewalks come in differing shape,
Form. Narrow notebooks of our feet,
Or strands or veins of the fold.

In his challenge to the hermetically sealed canon of greats, Dan, for instance, looks at the “batting average,” as Dan calls it, of Bruce’s great poems with that of canonical poets, Emily Dickinson, Robert Bly, even Shakespeare, and many others. Bruce, as you will read, fares well, and Dan uses the analytic tools of the academy to forcefully illustrate this.

Dan Schneider distinguishes between several levels of quality in Bruce Ario’s work, delineating between publishable and great poems. Dan argues convincingly that Bruce’s lower level work is often at such a level that its quality often exceeds or equals acclaimed great poems by famous poets.

For example, Dan Schneider compares an acclaimed William Carlos Williams poem to one of Bruce Ario’s less-than-great poems:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Dan writes:

Williams’ poem is a de facto note left in the refrigerator to his wife or someone else, and it is basically prose broken into 3 stanzas of 4 lines each. Enjambment is rather hell mell and the breaks do not add to the poem. The only poetic tack used- other than no punctuation- is that the poem’s title is also its de facto first line. Bruce’s publishable ario does much more:

A Hint Of Happiness

This morning, on the way to work,
Amidst the tired

With openness,
And very gaily,

A woman passenger
Told the bus driver
Some joke… some anecdote,

And my face warmed with a smile.

Pushy New-York-Dan now and then orders: “Repeat after me: Bruce Ario was a great poet!”

“Why…this is a book about Po-e-try,” you might shriek, clutching your chest.

I, and likely Dan, reply, “Yes! And this is no put-you-to-sleep Po-e-try class!”

The book is the story of Bruce Ario and analysis of his poetry with a good taste of Dan Schneider poetics. Dan has given himself to the arts, the written word in particular. Dan’s knowledge of poetry in English is not captured by words like extensive or impressive. Dan both seems to have read it all and retained it all. He assesses others’ work from a highly developed perspective, based on an objective framework and the subjective (read, subconscious) guidance that follows from such devotion.

I recommend “The Minneapolis Poet, Bruce Ario.” Think of it as an introduction to the large, rich world of poetry outside the dusty literary canon. Dan’s work, his poetry, essays, film reviews and more is online, on YouTube, on Amazon, is easy to find. Also explore the wealth of his large website, Cosmoetica.

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