Reply to Lynn Emanuel’s “The World Outside: A Letter to Baudelaire About Walter Benjamin” (or “I, Too, Have Worshipped the ‘Sticky Navels of Hash Pipes’”)

by John Repp

Dear Lynn—

I adore writing letters & have stopped bemoaning others’
indifference to the form because I harbor an absurd

conviction that that means more letter-pleasure
for me. Yours in American Poetry Review got me bopping

to that Damn-but-Lynn-Emanuel-can-write! beat to which
I’ve bopped since 1984. This is flattery, I admit,

but it’s sincere flattery of the work & not the corporeal
Lynn Emanuel doing her Lynn Emanuel stuff day & night

& it’s authentic feeling, too. Though I’ve never read
Baudelaire or Benjamin, I’ve read capsule biographies

of each & own a City Lights edition of Baudelaire’s
prose poems & have leafed several times

through handsome editions of the Arcades Project.
The biographies have led me to conclude I share

Baudelaire’s devotion to hashish though I haven’t
tasted it since 1976, give or take a few years,

but from what I hear, hashish isn’t what it used to be,
it’s better, if “better” can be construed as touch pipe

to lips & your name & body vanish. At a bar in San Diego,
surrounded by conferees I just had to meet,

I heard “Benjamin” pronounced (& soon bellowed
or shrieked as shots of tequila kept disappearing)

Benyameen with the false bonhomie only new
& therefore desperate PhDs can muster

with such conviction. It took ten Benyameens
for me to abjure Benjamin forever

though even with two tequilas & ten pounds
of boredom in my belly in a city with almost

too much history & soul, I remembered
abjuring Rilke for twenty years because every

aspiring poet I met the first year I aspired
to the laurel wreath swooned (yes, swooned)

over Rilke, which for the swooners meant
Robert Bly’s translations. Buzzed & bored

near Tijuana, I rued my abjuration anew,
having lost twenty years of transport

to pique. Before I began this letter, I tugged
the City Lights Baudelaire from the shelf

& leafed through it. As soon as I finish Alan Dugan’s
collected poems & the latest James Ellroy

(my nominee for Most Necessary American Writer)
& Kay Ryan’s new book & Lewis Hyde’s

& the dharma letters of Seung Sahn,
(which till last week I hadn’t seen since 1999),

I’ll see what’s what with Baudelaire. Soon, I’ll borrow
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

because the title sparks delighted memories
of The Poetics of Space, which you insisted we read

all those years ago. I understood maybe 20% of it,
but loved it just the same.


John Repp grew up along the Blackwater Branch of the Maurice River in southern New Jersey and has lived for many years in Erie, Pennsylvania. His most recent collections of poetry are the chapbooks Madeleine Wolfe—A Sequence (Seven Kitchens Press) and Cold-Running Current (Alice Greene & Co.), both published in 2019.

Artwork by: Alexander Andrews