reader?nOf course, there’s no reason tonbegin Poison Pen with the dedication tonJoan Rivers or to enter the pubHsher’snone-Hner contest and win $25.00 bynbest completing “Joan Rivers? Hernmemory is so bad that …” as advertisednon the dedication page. You canndip in and out of this novel as if it’s anpub crawl and come out just as groggynas if you’d gone start to finish. Or trynreading it backwards. This free-for-allnhas something to offend every sensibilitynand reminds me of those Russianndolls that open to reveal smaller dollsnthat open to reveal . . . Except thatnhere you’re never sure who or whatnwill come crawling out next. You maynenjoy Garrett’s dossier, published innfull in a 40-page letter to ChristienBrinkley, for instance. Or maybenSpeedy Gonzalez, who writes to LBJnfor a $50 loan while explaining that hisnfather voted for Johnson many hmes innevery election. Or T.J. Payne, a JohnnTowne nom de plume who correspondsnabout his sexual hang-ups and othernmatters with Dr. Timothy Leary:nSo, if you want to hustle a lotnof crazy drugs to dumb pimplynkids that don’t know any betternand couldn’t care less, as wellnas screwed up grownups whonwould otherwise just be mopingnaround with sad and unhappynexpressions on their faces, whynI say that is your business. Andnif you want to make a show ofnit with robes and gongs andnfunny-sounding music andnnutty movies and a lot ofndouble-talk, that’s all right withnme, too. If anybody complains,nyou can always cite historicalnprecedent. Remind the s.o.b.’snof the role played by thenMedicine Show in the days ofnthe American frontier.nQuite often Towne’s letters containnthreats, both veiled and overt, againstnthe “celebrities” they are addressed to,nand it is here that the point of Garrett’snlance touches the truth. While we arenwondering why we are laughing at thenegregious bad taste of many of thesenmissives, we are also realizing that thenrampant hype of our time, driven bynthe wheels of the Media, has created ansituation in which reality and illusionnare inseparable. Politicians, actresses,n”serious” practitioners of the arts, andnpop philosophers are all packaged fornpublic consumption in the same way;nthey are indistinguishable, equally believablenor unbelievable, and “what wenstill innocently call publicity is all thentruth that we have left.” Out of frustrationnand despair, Garrett hints, mayncome the murders of such idealizednfigures, and recent assassination attemptsnon our Presidents, successfulnand unsuccessful, may be merely thentip of the trend. Those who concur inntheir own canonizations may indeednLive Now and Pay Later.nEven such a backwater of neglect asnthe world of contemporary poetry,nwhere littie is to be gained in anynevent, has entered the Age of Hype, ifnreproductions of glossy author photosnin literary magazines and spuriousnclaims by certain poets to having oncenbeen professional athletes are any indication.nAmong my favorite insertionsnin Poison Pen are two long lists withnhelpful information like “AnthonynHecht is the Adolph Menjou of AmericannPoetry,” and “Dave Smith is thenRobert Penn Dickey of American Poetry.”nBut who is the Merv Griifin?nWho is the Dr. Joyce Brothers?nBrendan Galvin is the author ofnWinter Oysters (University of GeorgianPress).n”I Keek It, InVin It”nby Richard KostelanetznLess Than One: Selected Essays bynJoseph Brodsky, New York: Farrar,nStraus & Giroux; $25.00.nTwo decades ago, the general managersnof professional football teams discoverednthat the highly specializednjobs of placekicking could be done bynsometime soccer players, most of themnborn and raised abroad. The placekicker,nwe remember, is often callednupon to deliver a field goal whosenthree points, especially in the game’snconcluding moments, can tilt the finalnscore from one side to another. Thisnplacekicker would then be mobbed bynhis teammates; newspaper headlinesncould proclaim that he had “won thennngame,” discounting the performancenof the other players who did most ofnthe work. It was Alex Karras, then anstar tackle, now a television star, whoncharged that it was a degradation of angreat American game to allow playersnwho were only on the field a fewnseconds and who could hardly speaknEnglish, to scream, “I vin it, I keek it.”nThis bit of ancient history comes tonmind with Joseph Brodsky’s new booknof essays. Within less than 15 years innthis country, he has become the mostnsuccessful poet of his generationn(which is also mine). He took an earlynMacArthur Prize. In 1979 he becamenthe youngest poet in our NationalnInstitute of Arts and Letters. His newnbooks get reviewed on the front page ofnthe New York Times Book Review. Henreceived an honorary degree fromnYale. Etc., etc. Brodsky is a good poet,naccomplished in undistinguishednways, but somewhat obvious and bombastic.nHe is by no account better thanna hundred others his age, a generationnthat (at least in America) has producednan abundance of good poets, thoughnnone commonly recognized as great;nbut since a lot more worldly successnhas come his way, some examinationnis in order.nThe truth is that he is admired bynpeople who understand biography betternthan poetry, and the former isneasier to merchandise, especially innAmerica. The immigrant, especiallynfrom an Iron Curtain country, has anninstant autobiography unavailable tonthe native-born; and it would seemnthat the major purpose of this newnbook is to contribute to that self-mythnof the young Russian who learnednliterary English, translated some of it,nwas imprisoned for independent literarynactivities until he was kicked out ofnRussia and, at the Vienna airport,nrescued by a generous Americannprofessor-publisher who got him anMidwestern university teaching job fornthe fall. Soon afterwards, he befriendednnative literary powerhouses able tongive him not just encouragement butnsubstantial rewards.nIf Brodsky has actually written anynclassic poems, I cannot find them innthe English translations I have read.n(Much reportedly remains untranslated.)nI notice that his admirers here arenno more sure. While reviewers quotenpassages from individual poems as il-nFEBRUARY 1987 / 27n