BEYOND ALL THIS

Beyond all this
Perfect lovers kiss,
where no revenge exists,
nor reason for revenge,
nor those flaws,
which harden into laws,
As we look around, never knowing
whether the one we love
—do we love them?—
is coming or going.

Beyond all this…!
Had we such imagination,
All would be bliss!
Had I but seen!
How could I look and look and miss
That perfect kiss
Beyond all this?

 

RELIGION IS MORE SCIENTIFIC THAN SCIENCE

There is no free will.

The past cannot be altered. The past is where we live; what we call “the present” slips (even at this moment) into the past too quickly for “the present” (where free will might be possible) to really exist; the future does not yet exist, so no free will is possible there, either.

Human consciousness sits in a cinema–watching history unfold as from a single spool— the single spool (the movie) the unique and singular ‘what is.’  As various as the world seems to be, it is but one thing happening one way, and we have no free will to change it. The “movie” represents nature, physical existence, all we cannot change, but can only watch; the planets, the stars, nature, the animals: the physical universe existing in time, all these things are “in” the movie, as well as our physical selves.

We cannot leap into an actual film we happen to be watching—for as real as it seems to us, it is only a record; it belongs to the past and we have no way to change what is happening in the film. Life works the same way; just as we cannot join the cast of a movie we are watching, in the same way we are helpless to change life: free will is an illusion, and this has been demonstrated conclusively by the simple fact that we live in the past.

If we accept there is no free will, the remarkable claim of this essay’s title will be easily understood.

The only difference between a Christian and a secularist at this point, is that the Christian believes that whoever made the film is good—that whatever or whoever is responsible for the spool of existence unfolding before our souls—who sit helplessly in the theater—cares.

Human knowledge is too limited to know anything of the filmmaker—and this is a scientific fact; all we can do is speculate that the spool-maker is indifferent to our fate—or not.

The former view—the universe is indifferent—is generally thought to be scientific, the latter, religious; but actually both comprise guessing about what is completely unknown; from our helpless position in the theater, watching the record of pure physical existence unfold as what-has-already-happened, we have no way of determining the nature of the spool-maker: for we ‘live’ in the absolute past of the spool; the spool-maker’s nature is beyond our reach—and science causes us to recognize this. So a benevolent film projector is as good a guess as any. This scientific guess is at the heart of Christianity. The Christ story and all the scriptures fall apart without this initial premise: The Creator is good.

The Christ story is most significant for belonging to the past; it cannot be altered, and here it lies in the same realm as life, which also belongs to the past. The Christ story is like a film within a film; like life, it is beyond free will; it exists in the past, like our childhood.

The Christ story does not have to be “real;” the Christ story is simply the figurative expression of a past which is also beyond our free will but which has one perceptual difference from the spool of physical existence—it is governed by the premise that the spool is made by something or someone who loves us. Since we have no way of knowing the nature of the spool-maker, the scientific guess can only be expressed in a figurative manner—by a story belonging to the absolute past: nothing about religious stories escape the absolute past. Christ is past tense, just as life is.

Understanding the radical nature of the pastness of the past—and how this aspect of our existence prevents any thing approaching free will to exist—allows us to see how scientific religion actually is, since without any free will, science is far less important than supposed.

Without free will, science as we commonly understand it cannot exist, since science implies changing our environment for the better. Science exists as science in the present, but religion exists in the present as superstition; but if the present does not exist, the past favors religion and causes science as a willed phenomenon to disappear, since the all-existing past cannot contain any human will, it being only a record, a film experienced by our souls sitting passively in a theater, falsely believing the unspooling of ‘reality ‘ to be something in our control.

Our position as a theater audience with no free will is a scientific hypothesis, and therefore a speculation that the spool maker is good and that we have no free will—the religious view—is actually highly scientific, if but a highly scientific guess, since a guess is all science is allowed (scientifically) to have, when it comes to the origins and absolute nature of the universe.

Now it may be argued that even if we accept fate as our fate, and that even if we admit that life ‘just happens’ and there is, in fact, no free will, this does not mean that science cannot positively effect change—look at the advances in medicine, just to take one example. Ignorance withers away under the lynx-eye of science, and since science has improved man’s lot in specific ways, we must assume science participates in free will.

But now, in the simplest manner possible, we must say what science is: the first “scientist” simply noticed something by accident, and this is all science really is, especially inductive, trial-and-error, Baconian science, which overthrew the Dark Ages model of Aristotle’s deductive, ‘lawful,’ fixed-star science.

A prehistoric caveman notices a rock precariously balanced on the top of a cliff and speculates it will fall on him; had he not accidentally seen this, he would have been crushed by the rock—is this free will? No, it is simply the physical universe fatefully unfolding.

Science is nothing more than an accidental seeing.

Later, one man happens to see a mosquito bite another man, and like the caveman and the precariously perched rock, a future event is predicted, medicine advances, science triumphs; yet science, as we can see, is just fate allowing us to notice certain things purely by accident—think of how all scientific discoveries in history are by rule, accidents, from the apple falling on Newton’s head to the various botched experiments in labs which lead to new understanding; these are not figurative tales; accident is really how science proceeds; and now the truth of science, of what science really is, flashes upon our souls; there is nothing scientific about science at all—it is happy accident, and nothing more.

Science has nothing to do with free will.

The Space Race wasn’t science; it was war—Russia and the U. S. racing to develop missiles and rockets; the moon merely higher ground, a tactical position in a rivalry.

Did the moon rocks brought back (many, many years ago, now) by the Apollo astronauts contain the key to understanding the universe? No. Science is no closer to understanding the universe. It is a truism that the more we learn, the less we know; the more science learns about the true nature of the universe, the less science knows about the true nature of the universe.

Science is an accidental seeing which, if the scientist is very lucky, leads to some practical, perhaps even temporary, result. This is not to say that science is not vital and beneficial: but philosophically, science is far more mundane than the lay person realizes; the best of science belongs to trial-and-error, and the greatest scientific advances are due to persistence, thinking, sweat—but mostly accident.

So here we are, without free will, sitting in the “cinema” and watching “life” (the film) go by.  We have no control of what is happening in the movie (the world, life , the universe) though occasionally we have the illusion that free will exists. Science, which owes its successes to accident, to mere after-the-fact observation, is no help for the soul which sits helplessly in the cinema and longs to control its fate.

We watch ourselves, helplessly. We do the wrong thing, even though we tell ourselves over and over again not to do it. Our life—how strange!—belongs to someone else.

Every crisis in life is a crisis of free will—we are shocked to discover that what we specifically told ourselves not to do we have gone and done, and we have done so, tragically, because deep in our hearts we long for free will, and this is the only way it can be experienced: we did what we shouldn’t have done— we did it, even though we were not supposed to do it; the act itself may or may not itself be of great importance, but what matters is that our act seems, in our soul, even if unconsciously, to partake of free will.

Love is of primary importance here, because when we are really in love, and not just gas-bagging about it, or just playing at it, we are utterly helpless and acutely aware of how we cannot do anything about the movie we are watching: we cannot make the person we are madly in love with, love us, and when they say it is over, for any number of reasons stated or unstated, we can only watch helplessly “the film” which breaks our hearts: the love now belongs to the past—and this fact makes us aware of life’s awful problem: ‘life happens’ and there’s nothing we can do about it, even as it causes us intense pain.  The pain is mostly due to the fact that we cannot do anything about it; we are brought to understand that we—who we really are, our souls—merely sit helplessly in a cinema watching all that is bodily and physical and material march forward, irregardless of what we might think or feel. Love gone wrong brings us face to face with our lack of free will, a fact we never want to face, because if we understand it too well, our motivation to live will disappear, and we will numbly ‘go through the motions,’ moving through life as a mere shell, hiding as best we can our nightmare emptiness from everyone.

The life of the scientist—results hinging on ‘accident,’ is no help to us, because this is the very thing that is breaking our heart, now that love has been lost: reducing our sacred love to an ‘accident’ is a concept which breaks our already broken heart.

And yet, this is one way to heal: the love we loved was an accident and maybe an accident will happen again. And further, our lover who left us has no free will, either; they did not really reject us, for they belong to mere accident, too. And so, from the idea that the best life can be is an accident; by this rather haphazard notion, we are comforted.

The accidental nature of science is its triumph, its happiness, its ebullience, its optimistic seeking-power, its joy.  Perceiving accident as the soul of science would seem to demean it; but in fact this is not the case. We do not intend to demean science. Not at all.

Religion, however, is more imaginative, less accidental, and closer to what we think of as true scientific thinking.

Religion scorns the accidental nature of scientific inquiry, and here we see the chief difference between science and religion. They are oil and water. They do not mix.

Yet free will belongs to neither.

The choice is between the accidental and the changeless.

The changeless is the sacred fact religion seeks; the accidental, the necessary realm of practical science.

Whatever belongs to the past is changeless, and this is why sacred religion always belongs to a changeless past: the Christ story would not be sacred if we changed it all the time; it is the fixed past of Christianity, or any religion, which is the key to its sacred nature.

Love will help illustrate the difference:

Truly and madly in love, we want that love forever.  We seek, religiously, the changeless.

Out of love and broken-hearted, we seek something else: hope in the accidental.

Desperately in and out of love, seeking to understand everything, we are religious.

Patient and calmly happy, ignorant of love’s slings, we are scientific.

 

A HOLIDAY POEM

A certain amount of leisure
Defines a real man,
Not doing something—even though he can.

Despair is on the face of every middle aged woman I see,
Or a kind of triumphant anger
Staring from her baggy eyes defiantly;

She works hard, and her beer belly man works hard
Doing stuff for the house and yard,
But don’t get that shit near me.

Despair lives in the weary face of every middle aged person I see.
A forty-something woman told me her cell was shutting down
For the holidays; she needed time for herself; looking in her face,
I saw the worry and the years eating her beauty
So that even her smile looked like a frown—
It was horrible. And this is not an isolated case.

The only thing I could think was: keep this shit away from me.
I want no part of mortality, its triviality and its oblivion,
And its little bouts of superficial happiness,
And its ignorance and its whining and its complaint.

There will never be an interesting thought in your head.
I want nothing to do with this.
I will kiss my slender reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Then I will write a poem.
Then I will faint.
Then picture me, if you can, asleep in my beautiful bed.

 

 

I TALK TO HER IN DREAMS

 

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I talk to her in dreams.
She dislikes me in real life, it seems.
So I talk to her in dreams.

She looks real to me—and just as lovely—in dreams
And in those dreams she talks to me—
About what? A painter has nothing to see
Until they begin to paint—
And I am no lover until I faint—

So I can’t remember what she is saying:
It isn’t something definite, like what a radio happens to be playing;
She’s a victim of expertise; I don’t know what she really feels;
In life I never understood what she was saying;

Her struggle of mind meant little to me,
Since I was entirely enamored of her beauty—

(This is sadly how it is—
The man dies of beauty, the woman dies of kids)

So what was she saying in that dream last night?
It doesn’t matter. You know it doesn’t matter,
Even if you are one of those who think, and write;
It will never matter what she said to me in that delirious dream last night,
Only that she said something, and I was there
In the dream, and she was beautiful and fair,
Cruel time—which cannot touch my dreams!—had not taken that away,
And she was speaking to me: me, who never cared what she had to say.

Even a beautiful mouth has a tendency to speak
English, when it should be speaking Greek;
Ancient Greek, without modern expertise:
She will know life has one end: to please.

But in English she will talk of some fancy modern American film where every actor is untrue,
Saying who are you talking about I am not really making this particular point to you.

 

 

 

 

 

OUR LOVE RESEMBLES LAZARUS

Our love resembles Lazarus.
Despite what fate has done to us,
Our love comes back from the dead!
You can say yes if when you said, ‘no,’
You only said ‘no’ in your head.

Our love resembles Lazarus.
Love was dead
Without breath or bread.
Now it lives again in us.

Our love resembles Lazarus.
We say, “I hate you! We’re through!”
But I love when we do,
Because that’s when we kiss even more.
Lazarus picks himself off the floor
And love becomes famous, and goes on tour,
And sells more kisses than ever before.

 

 

WHAT DO WE EAT?

What do we eat when we eat someone’s kisses?
What do we drink when we drink someone’s soul?
Why does love always leave us in pieces?
Why can’t two halves ever equal a whole?

The man wants to come home to what is his.
The woman wants some other thing.
The man wants to sing to you, to you.
The woman just wants to sing.

There is nothing a lover hates more than a friend.
One wants passion to start. One wants passion to end.
Desire defines itself in its many ends
Which must be re-started.

We find safety in useful friends;
Excitement leaves us broken-hearted.

When I kissed her, I had to kiss her again;
Kissing makes us confront the end
Of pleasure, again and again;
Too tired from desire,
We end up loving the understanding friend.

The greatest lover is the greatest mirror.
If you love yourself, you and your lover will be one,
But if you hate yourself, you will see yourself—and run.

The abortion came at six o’clock.
What had been life became a rock.
Life had gotten in the way
Of the ex-mother’s pleasant thoughts
She longed to have, if she could have just one pleasant day.

Being a woman is hard on her.
She hates it when you look at her
And quickly look away.

But what she really hates is what you want.
To look at her all day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WORK OF HUNTERS IS ANOTHER THING

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

“To please the yelping dogs” ends a thought, begins an iambic pentameter line, but doesn’t finish that line, as the poet’s argument resumes in the middle: “the gaps, I mean.”

In Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall;” the poet describes the gaps in the wall which occur, strangely, because of freezing (“frozen ground-swell”) —what is ‘frozen’ moves.

The lines, as a whole, in Frost’s poem, move languidly, argumentatively, conversationally, (“The gaps, I mean”)—in case you didn’t get it, this is what I mean; the poem, flying in the face of the canon, dares to be informal, informality as slack as a poem may get: obscurity is too slack.

“I mean” is the opposite of obscurity, the poet not ashamed to add words to make himself understood better. But in pentameter!

Charm, even of the most insouciant kind, like everything else, requires context, and the canon nicely provides it. That’s what the Tradition is for: to make things more interesting as we play handball against it, not to glumly tower above us.

Pure difficulty, pure obscurity, is never charming.

I pray, before I go to bed each night, that contemporary poets understand this.

And so here is the great crossroads of Modern Poetry in this great Frost poem of the early 20th century; two types of slackness, two roads:

The informal, which bends a few rules.

And the obscure, which breaks them all.

One leads to pleasant informality, to modern charm; the other to stupid oblivion, to slack shit.

“To please the yelping dogs” is a phrase that stays in our memory and we think for a simple and mysterious reason: to us it represents that sensual, animal life which pleases those who don’t care for poetry. “Yelping dogs” perfectly describes a life without refinement, without soul, without philosophy, without poetry. Frost uses the phrase in his poem to indicate what he does not mean.

Most people are satisfied with the “yelping dog” life, and that is all they need. Everyone needs some “yelping dog” life, but those who enjoy nothing else should not stray anywhere near poetry; they will hate its simplicity, and they will spoil it. For “yelping dog” may apply to poetry, as it may apply to everything else: an eager, noisy, social, chaotic, spirited, life can, and will, invade everything, even the so-called fine arts; it can overrun them; few are able to resist the “yelping dog” life, which is why genius and truly great art is rare. How, for instance, did the wonderful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay get trampled? Why is “yelping” poetry, rather than beautiful poetry, critically embraced today?

Dana Gioia, reviewing Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems, wrote: “Keillor’s tone is obviously designed to rile anyone who holds the conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath (and the conventionally low one of Millay).”

Think on it! The “conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath and the conventionally low one of Millay.”

This critical ranking is true, and it happened in a few years—Millay tumbled from her perch in the 1930s.

Except for “Daddy,”—the rhyme-song of wife-anguish which emerged from Plath as she suicidally removed herself from the world of John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the magazine of proper Modernism (be as dull and obscure as you possibly can)—the poems of Plath and Moore do not amount to very much, while Millay’s poems rock the house down (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Where and Why; Dirge Without Music; And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust; I Being Born A Woman and Distressed; If I Should Learn In Some Quite Casual Way); Moore and Plath present difficulty for its own sake.

Reading Marianne Moore’s poetry (“all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however…”) is like peering without understanding at the complexity of a car’s engine; reading Millay’s verse is like driving that car.

So how did this happen? How did Moore and Plath gain ascendance over Millay? It had to take a lot of “yelping dog” distraction. Moore belonged to the well-connected Dial clique of Pound, Williams, Cummings, and Eliot; Plath panted after their ascendency; Millay was rudely pushed aside by that same clique, Hugh “The Pound Era” Kenner, and a few others, providing the critical hammer blows to Millay’s reputation. The point is, it only took one well-connected clique to take Millay down, because the majority of her countrymen only cared for the “yelping dog” life. The poetry garden really has but a few gardeners (critics who set the tone).

Millay is like a supersonic jet plane—it has the potential to take a lot of people on wonderful rides, but not if it is grounded. The battle for poetry will always take place among the few, because the “yelping dogs” are so distracting, and make sure that it is only the few that care enough and focus enough on poetry to truly decide poetry’s fate. Most are simply not refined enough to fight this fight. But the fight must be fought, since poetry is a door to that which truly refines the soul.

How is the soul refined? By love, of course.

And what does poetry have to do with love?

Nothing.

Which is precisely why it takes a remarkable soul to effect the marriage; most do not see the marriage as necessary; they are like those who take for granted that light and heat permeate glass—never thinking what this common phenomenon means.

The holy marriage of poetry and love, with Beauty the priest who joins them, is a radiant truth that civilizes humanity, but tumbles into obscurity and critical censure with barely a sigh, for love is socially embarrassing, and poetry, embarrassing as well, especially in the world of the yelping dog.

Only a superhuman effort can make such a marriage accepted; the poet has to court the world, not merely describe it, and this effort makes or breaks the would-be poet. Millay wrote of love, Moore, bric-a-brac. In the fashion of the hour, bric-a-brac, while the dogs yelp, is enough for the professors’ seduction, and in the Program era, ushered in by Ransom and Moore’s Dial clique, the bric-a-brac poetry professor became all-important.

One can still see contemporary poetry critics making half-hearted, half-conscious, desultory gestures in love’s direction: for instance, see Dan Chiasson’s recent review in the New Yorker of the latest book of poems by Alaska poet Olena Kalytiak Davis, which thrills to the 51 year old poet’s “sexual power” and “romance,” going so far as to say, “authentic pining in poetry, though hard to come by, is probably necessary for any poet who wishes to become a classic.”

Here is Chiasson kind of getting it, but don’t hold your breath for a Millay revival happening any time soon.  (A few poets today following Millay confuse the vulgarity for the art.)

So many are seduced by the Marianne Moore bric-a-brac school, not because they love bric-a-brac, necessarily, but because they think ‘crunchy poetry’ will leave behind the embarrassments of heart-breaking love, and allow poetry to talk about more things, to cover more ground and more moods, pushing into areas usually confined to the political essay or the long novel. Frost, gabbing casually forever.

But the bric-a-brac wish is in vain.

Like the legendary Faust, the poet tempted by verbose worldly riches—by poetry that attempts what prose is better fitted to do—leaves behind Millay and dies beneath the heavy objects of a modern bric-a-brac poetry only the very few are canny enough to know was a terrible danger, a foolish gambit, from the start.

Even as they know of the terrible danger of love—and the pining poetry, fainting for all mankind, which dies in its arms.

 

 

YOU CAN’T HANDLE RACISM, YOU CAN’T HANDLE LOVE

She will go back to her husband
If you say the wrong thing.
If you say the wrong thing (will you? will you?)
You’ll get a slap in the face.
Don’t talk about her husband (pride is all),
Don’t talk about race.

Poetry says the wrong thing
In just the right way.
A good poet can talk racism all day.
A good poet can make the universe all about her and him.

The whole world is racism.
The whole world is wrong.
Will she be going back
If he sings that song?

 

 

THE ONLY UNCERTAIN THING IS THE HEART OF THE ONE WE LOVE

The only thing we really want
Is to feel what one we love is feeling
Tenderly and earnestly,
And with more conviction
Than we feel; it can be real. It can be fiction.
But let the other feel with more conviction.

My daughter told me why
An animated movie can make her cry
While a real tragedy in the news
Leaves her unmoved.
“Because in the movie I get the whole story,” she said;
“But a real shooting which leaves someone dead
Is always a partial story,” and suddenly
I understood the glory of artistic unity
And how the reality of its illusion is cruel:
It pushes all partial pleas into a hole.

Only the complete completely informs the soul.
Complete! Complete! The complete whole!
The other must feel with more conviction—
Since it is impossible for loving to equal being loved.
Nothing moves us more than when we are loved:
Being selected is better than selecting.
We would rather be chosen than choose—
Being picked makes us miraculous and not some piece of idle news.

When tragedy strikes me, I will turn away
From the public view. Until then, see me cry at the play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“GIRL, YOU GOT TO LOVE YOUR MAN”—WHEN HE’S ALMOST DEAD

Happy Birthday, Lizard King. Jim Morrison turns 71 this week.

We’ve come to realize that there’s nothing a woman hates more than an arrogant know-it-all. Guys can banter back and forth about ‘expert’ opinion, no matter what the subject, and even bond with each other while doing so.

Women, however, immediately grow suspicious of “experts” in the flesh. Women tend to be defensive about their intellectual clout to start with, and when ‘expert opinion’ is thrust upon them by their friends, they grow impatient very quickly.

To make up for this, however, women tend to grovel before “experts” validated by other “experts;” women, no matter how brash and cynical they are to their friends, cannot resist authority speaking from the pulpit of social acceptance: Mainstream Entertainment, Media, Publishing, Politics, and Institutions toy effortlessly with their souls and minds.

If they’ve seen it in a mainstream, well-reviewed movie with a major star, or two, or have read it in a mainstream book, or seen it in any sort of widely desseminated context, a woman is certain it is true, and whoever attempts to contradict it in person is simply an asshole.

There will always be these two levels of human life: the personal one, in which non-experts make decisions and choices about everything under the sun: how to perform every imaginable task, how much credence to give absolutely everything, the proper way to speak, to hate, to love, to laugh, to judge, and do dishes, and then the public one, in which every area is owned and contained by experts and professionals: no decisions here; this is where existence plays out in its inevitable manner.

Both realms, it is understood, are complicated and ephemeral and ever-changing, but for many, especially the constantly irritated woman, these realms are enormously different.

One, the private realm without expert-police, where you and I live our daily lives, is where the know-it-all wriggles free of all higher authority, sometimes in triumph, sometimes in humiliation, censorship, rebuke, and shame, as the humble and obedient watch either indifferently, or in pain, or in shame, or in horror.

The other, the public realm, is where the mainstream expert-police prosper, passing judgment smoothly and from on high. This is where the obedient sagely nod their heads, buying into the higher expert-wisdom—even if it makes as much sense as a homeless person rant on the back of a bus.

Some feel that all opinion, all knowledge, all wisdom, should come to us from the public expert-realm, and that mere private citizens, people in our orbit, our family and friends, may cite expert-sources, but they may not produce, intuit, or proffer any original ideas of their own; nor may friends cite experts too thoroughly—in such a way that makes them appear to be a “know-it-all.”

The key word here is “appear,” for all opinion lives in the world of appearances, and ‘being smart,’ when it comes to words—and opinions formed by words—is purely a matter of appearance—and this is true whether the opinion is offered by a non-expert friend speaking to us privately, or a “true” expert in the field speaking to millions.

The annoyance with a ‘know-it-all’ friend stems not from doubting the opinion itself, but from the work necessary to determine whether the opinion is true, or not. The far-away expert cannot help us during the private conversation and we are no help to ourselves—and this is why we grow annoyed; our own inability to discern the true worth of the opinion (without an expert’s help) is the true source of our annoyance.

Private annoyance with our friends’ private opinions occurs all the time, and is considered normal, and is even thought to be a good thing: that know-it-all got what they deserved!

But the annoyance felt is actually a terrible thing.

It hurts people, hurts the nation, harms social relations, interferes with happiness, promotes incivility, hurts democracy, and tramples free thought and intelligent conversation.

All of us are aware of this fact: Experts in the same field hold opposite views of the same thing.

A private (non-expert) opinion, precisely because it is private and immediate and non-expert, precisely because it lives in the realm of practical, tangible, personal experience, and precisely because it is forced to discern between two or more conflicting expert opinions, should be regarded as important and sacred, for such an opinion, no matter how clumsily conveyed, is finally more valuable, and more deserving of respect, than one expert’s frozen, recorded, subsidized, and removed opinion, no matter how mainstream and publicly embraced that expert’s opinion appears to be.

The feminist woman—because naturally and justifiably alive to fears of being thought inferior to men, and being taken advantage of by men—unfortunately takes a strong role in perpetuating this evil, never missing a chance to challenge and crush every private opinion a man has; and so baffling, attenuated, ethereal, removed, and impractical expert-ism, the kind which divides and silences and provides extreme power to insanity and hate, reigns over our republic with the help of throngs of otherwise good and intelligent women.

Jim Morrison, at 27 years of age, was such an alcoholic and drug-infused mess, that, despite his phenomenal success as a rock star, couldn’t perform at concerts, had no social standing, had no home, no family, no friends; the only girl he loved, Pam Courson, was shacked up with someone else (a Frenchman in Paris—where Jim hurried off to, to die) wrote in his last song lyrics, “Girl, you got to love your man. Take him by the hand. Make him understand.”

In his final agony of fashionable decadence, decay and helplessness, Morrison (d. 1971) expressed the social ill that afflicts so many today in the wake of the feminist, 1960s pied-piper, revolution: The woman is expected to make the man understand, to take him by the hand, and love him.

But women don’t love helpless men, men without self-respect, men without any ideas or will of their own; or if they do, they regret it.

The process, going on for generations now, becomes a vicious, self-fulfilling prophecy: those who think for themselves in private are punished by expert-ism (which feeds an increasingly ugly, crass public arena) which, despite the glory of its expert-ism, is just as false and misguided as that harsh rebuke in private by those who should support, not punish and harm, the attempt by private citizens to express their own thoughts earnestly, and freely.

We need to really listen to each other—and doubt the experts—as we pay attention to all opinion.

 

WHAT DOES THE HISTORY OF POETRY LOOK LIKE?

Thomas Eliot set the old poetry world in order, by george, he did!

T.S. Eliot was correct to remind us that the Tradition—Works in Time that We Read Now—evolves constantly as a whole by every present addition, is a unique living creature, and is not simply a chronological collection, to be ‘got at’ in a haphazard (even if the ‘getting’ is rigorously chronological) manner; Eliot’s formula only works if we see the Tradition as a whole—not that we can really see it ‘all at once,’ because, of course, it is too big for that—which we grasp in its essence (characterized by its best examples going back to its hazy but finite beginning) as that which simultaneously enriches our present efforts as poets and is enriched by our present efforts. As Eliot points out—but it goes without saying—this is a major task: first, to read and be aquatinted with the Tradition, and then to be good enough to effectively add to it. And nothing less than this is required if we take ourselves seriously as poets.

Two temptations face those who would somehow fight free of the Tradition.

It is tempting to say, here’s me, the poet, and here’s the world, and that’s enough; and the Tradition—which is over here, well, we can take it and toss it in the sea. Eliot, after all, was a conservative wretch, and making the Tradition, with all its weighty past, essential, was just his way of preventing change. We can toss the Tradition in the sea, but it will just emerge again; the Tradition is the Sea; the Tradition includes the very desire to erase itself, all for the sake of change; the temptation to destroy Tradition lives and breathes in the Tradition itself; as Eliot so pointedly observed, the past is what we are; Eliot’s is not a piece of advice—it is the primary literary fact. We are not standing on the shoulders of giants; we are the shoulders, and thus, the giants.

Another temptation is to treat more recent works in the Tradition as more essential, because they are closer to us in time. This is to fall into the chronological error: more recent works are assumed—within Eliot’s very definition—to be participating in Eliot’s formula: adding and altering the past with their novelty; but new works don’t succeed on their own; they only succeed in altering the Tradition—chronology does not exist in some worldly sense; we might read a 16th century work and the Whole Tradition grows a new limb for us; to bite off what is nearest to us in time is merely the world’s chronology, not the Tradition’s, nor ours. We are learning the Tradition, not where it “fits” in the world; to fit the Tradition “into” world, even as we regard it with scholarly and historical respect, is to drift dangerously into the error of the First Temptation, above. The Tradition is not what we know; it is how we know, and we learn it to know both it and ourselves simultaneously—once we try and observe it objectively from afar, we are lost in that profound error of the egotistical scholar and the manic, irresponsible poet, publishing in a newspaper: the news, not poetry.

The progress of the Tradition and Us in Time is not a smooth or simple one. If this were so, it would be a lot harder to grasp. It is only possible to grasp the Tradition at all, precisely because it includes those authors who are of such primary importance that they obliterate, eclipse, swallow, subsume, assimilate, join, conquer, raze, and eat thousands of lesser scribblers, including the most advanced minds of our time: Shakespeare, for instance; once your professor has finished showing you what he or she knows of Shakespeare, is eaten by Shakespeare, and Shakespeare now belongs to you, and Shakespeare of the Tradition now belongs, in a living, and ever changing sense, to you.

The Program Era is naturally a bit wary of the Tradition, for the Creative Writing Industry is driven by a more immediate and practical concern—training the student, for a price, to be a writer—and it naturally seeks a shortcut past the giant, devouring Tradition—which the Creative Writing student—the old “English Major,”—has neither the time, nor the inclination, to read.

There is also the matter of present politics—politics as it exists and is practiced in the present (“Current Events”)—not literally ‘present politics,’ the practice of reading, as much as possible, present works, regarding their recent existence as more important because more recent—which we already covered in the Second temptation, above, but those recent politics that puff themselves up with great importance, which of course has the advantage of appealing to contemporaneous minds embroiled in all sorts of specific moral issues of the day; but the danger is: in as much as these issues come to the foreground, poetry fades into the background, where it apparently still exists for those whose moral indignation is fed by an outside source without poetic qualities. The dynamic is a slippery and subtle one, but is sufficiently lawful to kill poetry completely. A moral skin, a moral appearance, hides the emptiness.

Poetry does not live in the abstract; it lives in poetry: “Ode On A Grecian Urn.”

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Poetry is not abstract. Even “the abstract” is not abstract. The abstract, by definition, is the boiled down essence of the forms, motions, shapes, speeds, accelerations, masses and vectors of the universe.

Useful abstraction aids the true understanding, which like Eliot’s Tradition, does not advance by accumulation of facts—which can make us dumber, loading us down with the mere puzzling plurality of the useless (the dull, wooly idiocy of the modernist gizmo school)—but rather by the shedding of facts, and so by careful elimination, the necessary necessarily enlightens the necessary.

The larger world, perceived by the mature person, has a use attached to every fact, and uses further attached to uses, in various and hierarchical ways. The best is not shied away from; transcendent inventions and breakthroughs are eagerly seized upon; poems are not treated as the learned expression of a scientist, nor as a scientific attempt at abstraction (the great error of Modernism) but rather as a great counter-expression to science and learning: otherwise the poem would drive the Tradition and not be driven by it; the poem and Tradition would not be distinct, and they must be, for either to properly exist; we study the Tradition, but not the poem—whose property is beauty, which can never be ‘got at’ by study. To miss this distinction is to miss everything.

We look at Keats’ Ode through the lens of the Tradition, and this is how we understand its greatness.

The person who does not find exquisite pleasure in reading Keats’ Ode certainly lacks those qualities that we look for not only in a poet, but in a human being; but this is not the same thing as reading the Ode through the lens of the Tradition, which we perform only in the aftermath of its beauty devouring us. The poets who attempt to reverse this process, by writing a Tradition-worthy poem before they experience the pleasure necessary to write a pleasurable poem, are barred from the glory which we find in Keats’ Ode.

The phrase “what maidens loth?” in the context of Keats’ Ode—the urn stands for the world in Keats’ poem, laid out before us, in mystery, in beautiful miniature (find another poem which replicates all existence as well)—contains a great deal: maidens pursued, maidens who resist this pursuit, the question, “what maidens?” as the misty yet clear world of the urn is gazed at, manifests greatness by saying a lot with a little.

The objective excellence belongs to the poem of the Tradition, but not to the poem—even though we feel what is objectively excellent as we experience the poem’s beauty.

Keats, feeling pure sentimental love (which the Moderns in their sophistication revile and ridicule and curse) dares to confront a great black hole of existence: maidens and the essence of maidenhood—which flashes at us quickly in the amoral, rolling-eye ecstasy of Keats’ ur-landscape, which offers sacrifice, rape, and love, and the stopping of a kiss (desire) which therefore preserves the lover’s beauty—the stoppage, ironically, driving the urn’s immortal journey through time; enabling the urn (and the poem!) to outlive us and our apparently more active life:—it is we who are stopped, while the poem/urn is that which, in an ironic reversal, moves, just as the delirious, metrical wonder that is Keats’ poem pitches forward with its music, and, in loving it, we move backward to read it again, our admiration turning the poem into an object of admiration that nonetheless constantly moves, imitating the ever-still, ever-moving universe, both beautiful/tragic in its stillness and beautiful/tragic in its moving. Did Keats consider all this before he wrote his poem? Obviously not; but surely the poet in him quickly fixed on the urn-idea for a poem; genius grasping and teasing out the many in an essential thing.

The simpleton, who sits passively in front of a film while it unpacks its frozen pictures to describe its story, finds it impossible to conceive how a poem merely sitting on a page could produce more insight and pleasure than a movie (with popcorn). Poor simpleton! The simpleton belongs to the world, not to the world and God. If we cannot appreciate a Keats poem and the Tradition, we are just like that simpleton, who may indeed feel as much pleasure as us, and in that sense, be as worthy. We cannot judge a simpleton or a poem; we bring about judgment (as we are doing here) only as we think with the self-consciousness of the Tradition.

 

I BEGAN MY NOVEL

I began my novel.
I had nothing, really, to tell;
My life is not one for the ages;

My story, I decided, would cover ten years.
But after I wrote ten pages
I broke down in tears.
Oh! what good is the past?
The reflections from all these years,
If I am in the present,
Drowning in present tears?

IT’S NOT FINISHED YET, I SAID

When the muse looked in on me,
I suppose she was just being kind,
But I don’t like to see
Anyone reading my mind.

When the muse looked in on me,
My poem was almost done.
The purple clouds nearly covering
The marvelous, setting sun.

She smiled at the clouds,
She smiled at the sun.
Then she looked at me as if to ask,
Are you sure you’re almost done?

Is the sunset the way you want it?
Because I’ll change everything, for free.
It was something about the way she said it.
The poet wasn’t me.

NO BOOBS! VANITY FAIR, DECEMBER 2014, PART TWO

 

In the “Vanities” page of December’s issue, Diana Bang, a 33 year old unknown actress, is photographed in a white Gucci dress—she’s appearing in a new film with Seth Rogan and James Franco.

Also “Vanities” features this: “What your preferred greeting style says about you: Handshake, Hug, Kiss On the Cheek, Kiss on the Lips, Biting.” Of course no one prefers to do these things: custom is most of it, and secondly, it matters with whom, but it’s a whole lot more interesting if the focus—the essence of every Buzzfeed quiz—is on what “you” prefer. The “noted examples” add a touch of history: Handshake: Grant and Lee. Biting: Hughes and Plath. You at the center, with the famous all around. Intoxicating.

You are either famous, or contemplating the famous: what we know is not for any purpose; our knowledge merely shoots upward, like a rocket, into the atmosphere of fame and greatness, to never return. Or, if it does, it falls in our lap as a Gucci handbag.

“Fanfair and Fairground:” promotes envy in miniature: a half a dozen pages filled with holiday gift ideas in tiny photos (with prices) and nothing too small and inexpensive or too large and expensive is excluded: things the classy rich give to one another in a swirl of cigarette smoke and pine needle scent while sitting on big pillows on the veranda: oh we don’t know, we can hardly imagine it, we are not rich; but why should we indulge in this mockery and this envy? It is not fitting. These things are clever and beautiful; we should be pleased that the world has the time and knowledge to make these things; and the middle class can afford some of this.

It is difficult to fight off envy as we eye gift after gift we will never give or receive; it makes us ill to think of how much we will never have, of how many lovely things inhabit the world, of how impossible it is to grasp all that is good; it is why, we assume, that people reading these types of magazines always skim them, turning pages quickly and impatiently; to stop and truly examine, we would be overwhelmed. We would be stung by how really meager our existence is. Vanity Fair, thou hast shown me for who I am; thou hast blinded me; I am brought to my knees. Return me to my plain existence; don’t make me buy things I cannot afford. Don’t make me vain in vain.

New books!

Of such interest!

Tempting us with a title and one descriptive line! (Book review not needed!)

Biographies of the rich and famous!

Who are they, really?

Find out!

Find out!

Coffee table books!

This:

“David Rockwell revels in the emotional side of architecture…”

Oh God!

Stop!

The “emotional side of architecture!”

“…architecture, in the idea that buildings and parks, restaurants and hotels, museums and theaters, exist to stimulate our imaginations and, in the end, to make us happy. In What If...? The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell (Metropolis), he shows us how architecture—whether applied to a JetBlue terminal or a Nobu—is not so different from a stage set: it’s the special effects that make it work. Rockwell—whose firm is celebrating its 30th anniversary—is so good that he makes you wonder why everyone doesn’t admit that the secret ingredient of design is fantasy.”

Fantasy!

Why didn’t we think of that!

“Fanfair: Hot Type” gives way to “Fanfair: Private Lives,” even more horrifying:

“Growing up surrounded by beauty—between a farm in Scotland and Christmases with their grandparents (the previous Duke of Devonshire and his wife, ‘Debo’) at the 297-room family seat, Chatsworth—sisters Isabel and Stella Tennant have turned to gilding the objects around them.”

Well, of course they have!

“In 2012, supermodel Stella happened to notice some sample panels with gilded lines on weathered mahogany propped up in her sister’s kitchen and wanted to make them into a lamp. ‘Before I knew it, she’d had oak bases made by a local carpenter,’ recalls Isabel, who studied decorative arts before becoming a gilder.”

Are you getting this? “Supermodel.” “Weathered mahogany.” “Before I knew it.” People of action. People who do things. Supermodels and weathered mahogany. Kill me. Now.

On the same page is “Heaven in a Handbag:” “The design came from Belgian Shoes, says Hayden Lasher of her eponymous handbag line. Like the classic slippers—brought to the States by her great-great-uncle Henri Bendel in 1956—Lasher’s bags are handmade in one style, offered in different colors, and embellished with the iconic Belgian bow.”

Diminished by a “Belgian bow.” Why am I living? Why do I go on living? Why?

“Fanfair: Hot Gifts:” “From haute roller skates [$1,200] and electric cars [$28,000] to African-made bags and Darth Vader toasters, an eclectic array of gifts for everyone on your holiday list…”

I’m in hell! A hell of gifts!

“Fairground” celebrates “the inaugural Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, sponsored by Discovery Communications and presented in association with the Aspen Institute.” There is a full page photo: “Elon Musk arrived in his Model S Tesla before speaking…at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco, where the packed house included media moguls…and a myriad of innovative thinkers…” And pictures follow of famous and old smart and beautiful & young smart people.

We are mad with envy. This is worse than perfect pictures of still-young Angelina Jolie—her stare on the cover which says “you will never be as happy as me,”—who has no boobs.

It’s these royal farms in Scotland, these gift ideas, these gatherings of the innovative and the famous which finally brings us to our knees—we are made even more miserable because it makes us miserable—we accuse ourselves in an endless downward spiral of ineptitude and guilt because of the endless gilders and gifts and supermodels and dukes.

We continue to scan the ads:

Banana Republic: b&w photos of sweaters, rough wood.

Van Cleef & Arpels: flower diamond & ruby earrings. Why show off the earlobe? We don’t understand earrings. We just don’t.

Feria: L’Oreal Paris: hair color—“Red To Dye For”

Ralph Lauren: Polo Red. Scent needs to be subtle. Red? No. 

Those who wear too much cologne or perfume are more offensive than smokers. There are laws against smoking.

Giorgio Armani: A large pair of sunglasses which makes a woman look like an insect. Congratulations.

Longines: Kate Winslet with horse and watch: “Elegance is an attitude” It helps the attitude to have makeup crew and horse. Nice to know that Kate can tell you what time it is.

Lancôme: La vie est belle “The Fragrance of Happiness.” Julia Roberts and her famous smile, looking over her shoulder. That tiny mole underneath her eye! Like an old friend.

There are no breasts in the entire magazine. Women are either flat, or the models’ breasts are concealed. What does this mean?  Is it that Modern Life is anti-woman? Or is ‘no boobs’ considered dignified and respectable? Is the ‘no boobs’ position pro-woman?

All those famous Modern Artists (Warhol, Johns, etc) in the 1982 Odeon restaurant photo: males. The updated photo in VF with women: not one woman is famous. Is it that women love beauty and generosity—therefore they will never dominate the clever, scheming, severe line, hard-edge, intellectualized world of Modern (conceptual) art?

Next to a Cartier ad, Graydon Carter, in his “Editor’s Letter,” compares Jeff Bezos of Amazon to the mean Mr. Potter in Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

A funny interview with Amy Poehler at the end of the magazine: “What is the trait you most deplore in others? People who can’t read my mind.” Oh, if only we could.

In its “The 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll,” VF reveals that Democrats believe “someone who is greedy” is “more likely to be successful,” while Republicans believe “someone who is selfless” is “more likely to be successful.” Honor reigns.

A spotlight on the actor playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Hollywood’s Selma reveals he is British! Hip hip hurray!

“The Publishing Dispute That Absolutely No One Is Talking About” is about an English magazine for old people who Americans have never heard of—a funny and sophisticated one that embraces the idea that the end is near, instead of sugar-coating it (as Americans tend to do).

“The World’s Most Driven Uber Customer” sizes up Uber, the phone app for wheels (when a taxi can’t be found) which is worth millions—and one thinks, why didn’t I think of that and how did these guys make millions so quickly with such an obvious idea, starting out with nearly nothing—but is never quite explained: how the rich get rich remaining elusive to the rest of us, even though it is made to look easy (it is about who you know, isn’t it?) in the insouciant style of Vanity Fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VANITY FAIR: NAUGHTY AND CLASSY

image

Thomas Brady with the December 2014 issue of Vanity Fair: nothing shall escape him.

Let us read the issue cover to cover. Scarriet will confront art culture as it lives in a literary fashion magazine, the giant, distinguished, even historic, glossy, Vanity Fair, which has the good manners to visit its subscribers once a month and look exactly like Elle and Vogue. We picked this particular December 2014, 212 page issue (including ads) very much at random; also we need something to do as we sit in our cafe across the street and drink coffee and write poems. Anyway, the New England Patriots are cheating again; we have no desire to watch football.

Vanity Fair is a great glimpse of the zeitgeist: it is pictorial, smart and extremely well-connected to billionaire wealth; serious, yet whimsical; it sucks up to the famous in a friendly way, yet has a certain combative, independent swagger one would expect from  billionaires. It dwells in the rarefied air of the politically non-partisan, though it does aspire to be politically correct—because when you’re that rich, you need to at least appear earnest and moral.

But Scarriet readers need to know the history; ignorance on this point is not trifling; there have been other, older magazines called Vanity Fair, but this one belongs to the Conde Nast empire, a publishing empire, a fashion empire, a society pages empire, whose spirit can be encompassed in the following way: the ostentatious, modern art-collecting, immoral rich feeding their habit of feeling better about themselves by making the moral middle class as jealous of them (the rich) as possible. One could put it more simply, as a friend did, calling Vanity Fair a “status symbol.”  But Vanity Fair is, in fact, more than “status” and more than “symbol.”

Vanity Fair, along with Women’s Wear Daily, Glamour, GQ, Allure, Vogue, House and Garden, Architectural Digest, Golf World, Details, Conde Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, Self, Teen Vogue, The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and hundreds of U.S. newspapers, is a monopolizing publishing empire whose first acquisitions were Vogue and Dress—quickly renamed Vanity Fair, by a German immigrant, Conde Nast, (a Georgetown U. classmate of Robert Collier) who had successfully increased the advertising revenue of Collier’s—a muckraking, leftwing, sophisticated journal—as its advertising director.

Enter the real-life model for Jay Gatsby: Frank Crowinshield, a Boston Brahmin life-long bachelor, social elite hobnobber, and modern art collector, editor of Vanity Fair from 1914 to 1935. Crowinshield, whose family tree includes the DuPont family, published Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein, and was the first editor to publish reproductions of Matisse and Picasso, as well as the work of erotic artist Clara Tice, the “Queen of Greenwich Village” in 1915, after her run-in with the Vice Squad. Frank also ran with the Modernist circle of wealthy modern art collector Walter Arensberg, which included Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg’s socialist, nudist camp, poet father; as well as the Algonquin Roundtable of Robert Benchley and morbid wit Dorothy Parker.

In other words, FC ran with everybody. He was a founding trustee of MOMA. Crowinshield’s niece married Harvard football star and businessman Frederick Bradlee, whose son, Ben Bradlee, became the famous editor of the liberal newspaper Washington Post, which toppled a conservative president. A 2004 issue of Vanity Fair revealed the identity of Deep Throat.

The Vanity Fair party began during the Modernist/connected super-rich/European royalty’s genocide of World War One and ended in 1935, during the Great Depression, as Vanity Fair folded, and hid in the arms of Vogue.

In the meantime, the Newhouse Empire, presently worth billions, now called Advance Publications, Inc., bought Conde Nast. Advance publishes Vanity Fair and its European editions. This octopus is huge.  When you own Vogue, Teen Vogue, House and Garden, the Discovery Channel, and the New Yorker, you own the elite brainy literary fashionable politically correct mind of the United States. You are golden and you make more golden.

Si Newhouse, Advance Publications Chairman and CEO, who owned the obscenely priced Jackson Pollock No. 5 drip painting, relaunched Vanity Fair in 1983. VF’s current editor, Graydon Carter, succeeded Tina Brown in 1992. Brown edited the New Yorker (VF’s only glossy culture rival) from ’92 to ’98 and in 2000 was appointed a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). So don’t fuck with her.

Vanity Affair is known for its 1991 Leibovitz cover of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore, a 1996 expose of the tobacco industry, a 2006 photo shoot of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter who up until then had been “hidden,” and other glorious promotions of fine art and fine literature, such as “scoop” interviews with Jennifer Aniston (after her divorce from Brad Pitt) and Martha Stewart (after her release from prison.) You get the picture. Media firepower.

THE COVER: closeup face of Angelina Jolie—non-smile smile and icy blue eyes which resemble two planet earths perched in almond-shaped beauty—with the words:

PERFECTLY AWESOME! ANGELINA JOLIE Visiting War Zones, Directing an Oscar Contender, and Life as Mrs. Pitt —by Janine Di Giovanni photos by Mario Testino p.152.

In other words, she is Angelina Jolie and you’re not. Wouldn’t you like to experience life as Mrs. Pitt as you visit War Zones and direct Oscar contender films?  Of course you would! Actually, you wouldn’t be able to handle that in a million years, and that’s the point, too.

At the bottom of Vanity Fair‘s cover is:

Also, Photos That Should Never Be Taken —by James Walcott

Walcott writes of the Selfie, which is of you, and which cannot compete with the cover portrait of Jolie. Obviously.

At the top:

ANJELICA & JACK: HER NEW MEMOIR! [as if powerful Jolie shaming you weren’t enough…Anjelica Huston!]

also:

Van Gogh: Suicide or MURDER?

How to save a 100,000 ton DROWNING SHIP

The World’s most DRIVEN UBER Customer

The PUBLISHING Dispute That Absolutely Everybody Is Talking About

The PUBLISHING Dispute That Absolutely Nobody Is Talking About

So that’s Vanity Fair’s December 2014 cover (dominant color, white). And now we dive headfirst into its inside pages.

A barrage of ads hit one first (and I always look for the ones that can make me smell good):

RALPH LAUREN fold-out ad: The Ricky Bag (alligator). How big is the bag? 2 pics of it, but by itself. The simple black style emphasized. Gold lock right in the middle of the bag sends unspoken message to proles: gold protects; you have no gold to protect. B&W photo of Ralph and wife, black tie tux, black pants suit, she rides a horse in the other full page pull out photo, gold button jacket, jeans ; elegance w/ hint of working class ‘real.’

ESTEE LAUDER

“Rare Discovery, Rare Luxury. Introducing Re-Nutriv. Diamond Dual Infusion. Energize the 100 million skin cells on your face.” Black background. Silvery gold bottle w/ liquid curtain stream.

GUCCI

Snake skin knee boots on young, flat-chested model, lips slightly open, fragile yet surly expression, upward gaze, bare shoulder, long bare arm, one leg bent awkwardly horizontal on wicker chair.

DIOR

Small handbag, vague urban landscape at night, ‘string’ headlights, model in simple gray cloth coat, hair pulled back, lips slightly open, heavy eye makeup, faint lipstick; sense of night-vision, on-the-go, in-a-hurry, head-turned, straight-on gaze, almost as if coolly facing a night stalker.

LANCOME

“New Collection. L’Absolu Rouge” Black model reclining above scattered, fat pink and red rose blossoms, mouth half-open to show teeth, almost as if talking, diamond stud earrings, very red lipstick, lipstick in foreground with phallic shapes.

PRADA

3 teenage girls, expressionless, full lips, mouths closed, standing stiffly looking straight at viewer, in ancient-looking, grassy park, broken wall in background, similar outfits, 2 wearing pants, 1 dress, stitched-outline collars, pockets, straight, masculine wear.

TIFFANY & CO. New York Since 1837 (4 pages)

Model small in snowy, NYC Central Park cartoon-landscape, short red high-heel boots, short gray coat, running to large cold ring perched on little stone bridge

Night, winter, 5th ave, 23rd street, cartoon-landscape, man pulling sled with 2 large rings and young boy and girl.

CELINE

White handbag with model’s arms, hands in handles, black raincoat, can’t see model’s face; opposite, close up of severe, blue-eyed, mannish woman.

OMEGA

Soft-focus, white atmosphere, Nicole Kidman reclining, lips closed, slight haughty smile, gold band, white watch face.

GUESS

2 young models, Chinese and blonde, full lips, hair back, but blowing in wind, in high-grass, sloping, meadow, samurai-like outfits, warriors advancing down hill, bare arms, legs, necks.

VANITYFAIRAGENDA.COM

“Follow: see & hear, eat & drink, events, shop, video, offers”

CLINIQUE

White electric scrubbing brush machine with bow. “The gift of great skin just got better. Meet our new skin changer.”

CHANEL Fine Jewelry

Close -up side view of Grace Kelly-looking model in white feather boa with slim diamond-encrusted crown. “White gold and diamonds. Plume de Chanel”

CLINIQUE

Photo of fine face powder pouring. “90 seconds to flawless. With Clinique, pretty is easy. Foundations, Concealers, Powders. So you look perfect in any light.”

GREY GOOSE

Out of focus, outdoor urban, soft, bluish. “World’s best tasting vodka. Give the gift.”

MICHAEL KORS Only at Macy’s, Macys.com, MichaelKors.com

“The new men’s fragrance for the ultimate jet setter.” Mountain lake, woman in white bikini facing lake away from viewer, wet, straight hair, man looking at viewer, blue eyes, smallish under thick brows, hair combed straight up, Shakespeare-mouth, 5 day red-blonde mustache/beard, white shirt, one nipple showing, sunglasses in hand, wearing watch.

L’INSTANT CHANEL

Front-on B&W shot of Asian woman in black turtleneck, long fingers on face. Watch with black face, diamonds on border, gold band.

COACH New York

B &W photo, young model, full lips, blue eye, fur collar coat, leather handbag, flower design, under her arm, hair covering face, facing page, closer shot of bag.

J’ADORE Dior

Gold color background color scheme, Charlize Theron, bare back yellow dress, lips slightly open, looking in distance across viewer, phallic bottle in foreground.

BVLGARI

Diamond encrusted watch, model w/ shades, gold purse, smiling, bare arms crossed, no hair on arms.

CLARISONIC

“We promise to transform your skin.” Large close-up smiling face, electric scrubbing brush.

Now that our skin is clear, and we have our watch, handbag, boots and lipstick on, it’s time for:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Photo slices “From Left: Russell Brand (page 188): Angelina Jolie (page 152); Anjelica Houston (page 192).”

FEATURES

“152 Woman of the Year. Director, globe-trotting humanitarian, Oscar-winning actress, newlywed, mother of six,and now an honorary Dame—how does Angelina Jolie do it?”

“160 VF Portrait: Salman Khan. Starting w/ a video tutorial for his niece…Salman has led a revolution in learning.”

“162 The War of the Words. One of the world’s largest publishers, Hachette, is battling Amazon over e-book revenues.”

“168 Collage Education. Spotlight on Jean-Charles de Ravenel, whose collages, now on view in L.A., create deeply personal histories.

“170 New Girl at the Kit Kat Club. Spotlight on Emma Stone, fulfilling a childhood dream as Cabaret’s latest Sally Bowles.”

“172 NCIS: Provence. Attacked for questioning the legend of Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide in their 2011 biography of the artist, two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors present new evidence, enlisting a leading forensic expert in a case for murder.

Woman of the Year: How does Angelina Jolie do it? We assume she gets a little help. The article reveals that Jolie is a member of the highly exclusive Council on Foreign Relations, with guys like Kissinger, David Rockefeller, and U.S. Presidents. First you belong to Skull and Bones, then you become a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Or your dad makes Midnight Cowboy.  It’s no wonder then, given her membership in the New World Order, the VF article respectfully reveals nothing: no gossip, no flaws, just some boilerplate about Jolie attending U.N. Refugee meetings, working on a film about Bosnian Muslims (during the time President Clinton bombed Belgrade), and her latest, Unbroken, about a WWII Pacific Theater POW, who was her Hollywood neighbor. Jolie looks great in the photos in a cheekbone/lips/blue-eyes beaming with confident stare sort of way, though the pictures do not personally attract us; she is still young—has not hit her mid-40s yet, when inevitably the woman’s youthful blush finally dies, in a flurry of covers, foundations, and powders, U.N. or no U.N.

VF Portrait: The piece on Salman Khan, serendipitous founder of the on-line Khan Academy, a learning tool for kids, has less than a page of text and wastes the talents of Annie Leibowitz (just a photo of a nerd in front of a desk) but helpful, perhaps; we didn’t know about this free website.

The War of the Words: The “e-book pricing” story involves “the future of publishing, maybe of culture.” This is surely an exaggeration, but this reads like a fair and balanced piece, succinctly outlining the battle for book readers’ souls between Amazon and the Big Five Publishers, with best-selling authors siding with the publishers, and smaller, self-publishing authors with Amazon—who benefited from a recent Justice Department anti-monopoly lawsuit against the Big Publishers. But isn’t Amazon the monopoly, here? the article asks. Anyway, it all seems to hinge on Amazon having the right to sell e-books for $9.99 and, less, if they so desire—with the Big Five wanting to charge $14.99. Apple is a de facto ally of the Big Five as it competes (with partial success so far) in the e-trade with Amazon. We can’t help but side with Amazon; we have little sympathy for Monopoly Publishers and their overrated big name authors and high prices. We worked in a bookstore years ago, and recall how major publishers discontinued inexpensive paperbacks (a few bucks a pop) and introduced Trade Paperbacks instead—for 15 bucks.  VF has done well to give us a fair and clear view of this fight, which author Keith Gessen characterizes as West coast/new capitalism vs. East Coast/old wealth.

Collage Education: This is a “spotlight,” with only a quarter page of text and a photo of the artist (French) in his studio in the Bahamas. It reeks of self-congratulatory Modernism: the ubiquitous, aristocratic movement still going strong, in which any fragment or smudge after World War One by someone with a French name is  considered the most profound and socially relevant gesture in the history of humanity. Excuse the yawn; we must quote the first paragraph in its entirety:

“It is rather unusual today to come across an artist today who uses the old technique of collage in a new creative way—the first collages were created by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in France in the early 20th century. Jean-Charles de Ravenel, the subject of an exhibition this month at Hollyhock, in Los Angeles, is one such artist, a titled Frenchman who lives in and works out of a studio which literally drips down from a seaside villa on an island in the Bahamas. He has not forgotten that collage found its roots in the European Dada movement as a reaction to the First World War. The method allowed artists such as Hannah Hoch to challenge sexist and racial codes in turbulent Weimar Germany, and the American artists such as Man Ray to solarize photomontage portraiture in the 1930s. Even the great Matisse produced staggeringly beautiful, colorful cutout works during the last creative period of his life (currently on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.)”

The Modernist art movement was aristocratic and fascist; it is disingenuous to pretend every Art-inflected Modernist heroically opposed the worst elements of humanity in the 20th century as seen in the terror of the first two World Wars—which is inevitably the rhetoric we get whenever those artsy-fartsy artists and their wealthy friends are described. But the Modern Art Investment Scheme is the fertile soil from which VF grew—so we’ll always get this corrupt type of cheerleading in every page of the Conde Nast Empire, even as VF, with its wealthy independence, manages to get things right in other areas.

There is a highly prevalent, nutty idea that the Modernist loosening of morals between the wars acted as some kind of hindrance to fascism. No. It fed it. Speaking of which, we have the next VF spotlight, the newest Sally Bowles of naughty Cabaret, Emma Stone. The Kit Kat Club. Enemy of fascism? Hardly. A joyous full color picture of scantily clad cast members at the bar is included with a couple of paragraphs of text, revisiting Christopher Isherwood’s Nazi Berlin inspired 1930s invention.

NCIS: Provence: Van Gogh’s murder story doesn’t produce anything new—the book’s authors revisit their 5 year old thesis (a decent and plausible one) which speculates Van Gogh was shot by a young cowboy bully who hung out with the artist at the time of Van Gogh’s death—a bullet to the abdomen. What is interesting is how the ‘death by suicide’ story accidentally found its way into the popular imagination, helped by a popular biography and a Hollywood film, and is clung to by scholars simply out of habit, with peevish belligerence. The murder of Poe story is far more complex and important, but Poe will never get a fair hearing in any Conde Nast publication (Poe was recently vilified in The New Yorker; it’s a small world) since Poe’s artistic-unity high standards were precisely what the ragtag, found poem, low-brow disguised as high-brow Modernism of Vanity Fair and its sister publications rebelled against.

More ads:

TORY BURCH

A model who looks like Naomi Watts, in a navy turtleneck sweater, with a happy smile of dreamy anticipation (life is good) for Tory Burch My First Fragrance. The square bottle with its orange case sits unobtrusively in the lower right; on the lower left, Tory Burch’s signature.

ROLEX

The crown logo. 2 pages with a couple of pictures—one a close up—of “Cellini The Classical Watch by Rolex'” white, lined watch face, with 2 dials, very confusing. We never understood all the fuss about watches. Perhaps some are impressed with utility plus design plus beauty. We say, “meh.” Beautiful wrists are spoiled by watches. They are about as interesting to us as the pillbox hat. We suppose they keep the Swiss out of trouble.

“Continued from page 44″ TABLE OF CONTENTS

“177 The Devil and Dr. Kildare Spotlight on the revival of David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones, starring Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter, and Bill Pullman.”

“178 Salvage Beast by William Langewieshe Marine salvage master Nick Sloane has seen it all—ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground—and his rescue operations are the stuff of high-seas legend.”

“185 Do Tell, Maestro Spotlight on the charismatic Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, as he takes Rossini’s William Tell on tour.”

“186 Prima Galleristas Spotlight on 14 top female art dealers, gathered to re-create a famous (nearly all-male) portrait. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.”

“188 Russell Brand, Seriously by David Kamp Since his BBC Newsnight interview went viral last year, Russell Brand—yes, the comedian, skirt chaser, and recovering addict—has emerged as a political firebrand. With his book Revolution, Brand aims to turn his audience into a movement.”

“192 The Big Fabulous by Anjelica Huston In an adaptation from the second volume of her memoirs, the author recalls her 1973 move from New York to L.A., where the 21-year-old model fell in love with Jack Nicholson, lost her larger-than-life director father, and became the actress she wanted to be.”

VANITIES

“99 Bang-Up Job The meaning of greeting.”

FANFAIR & FAIRGROUND

“103 31 Days in the Life of the Culture Slim Aaron’s snowy mountain scene. My Desk: Ridley Scott. Hot Type. Private Lives: Stella and Isabela Tennant’s sisterly collaboration; Hayden Lasher’s ladylike bags with a Belgian twist. Punch Hutton’s Holiday Gift Guide. A bounty of festive beauty.”

The Devil and Dr. Kildare: Off Broadway with Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter, and Bill Pullman in Rabe’s Tony-award winning play about a Vietnam vet. The VF 2 column Spotlight mentions that Chamberlain, 80, came out of the closet in a 2004 memoir. Chamberlain, “America’s original TV heartthrob,” is quoted, “pretending to be someone else for many, many years…is a terrible way to live.” Pretending for a living and pretending in your life, too. Must make you crazy. Chamberlain, looking damn good for 80, wears Calvin Klein in the B&W photo. Hunter, with her arm on Chamberlain’s shoulder, poses with a twisted torso in a dress by Zac Posen.

Salvage Beast: This long article states the amazing: “With 100,000 large merchant ships in the water at any time, scores sink, burn, break apart,run aground, or explode each year—often with toxic consequences. It is Captain Nick Sloane’s job to board troubled vessels and salvage what he can.” This is one of those stories too large for popular consumption; it is too vast, too weighty, too complex, for  easy good guy/bad guy political takes; it is a story one meets in The National Geographic: one gazes in wonder at the photos for a few seconds, and then never hears about the story again—precisely because it is too big for anyone—liberal or conservative—to deal with. Political correctness cannot get near it: pirates, environmentalism, insurance fraud, manly rescue heroics, shipping of vast amounts of cargo for the world’s welfare fight for attention, and all fail: one just looks on in wonder, perhaps lingering on the part about saving oil-soaked penguins, and then moves on. Merchant shipping may one day be on our radar, like Big Tobacco or Global Warming, when the Left can pinpoint simple wrong and soft, lily-white lawyers can make easy money.  VF is watching out for you.

Do Tell, Maestro:  “A rare thing happened this past August during the Mostly Mozart festival, at Lincoln Center. At the first of two performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, led by Gianandrea Noseda, the music director of Tealtro Regio Torino, the audience broke into loud, spontaneous applause after every movement.” Good for you, Noseda, who “raised the money to tour” Rossini’s “rarely heard William Tell.” Bravo to this half-page spotlight.

Prima Galleristas: A 2 page photo by Leibovitz of : “14 of today’s influential women gallerists. The photo is not exhaustive—the universe of important women dealers is now too large for one photograph—but a re-creation of an image by Hans Namuth at Manhattan’s Odeon restaurant in 1982. That photo (which you can see on page 206) was a record of the moment’s most powerful art-world figures, nearly all of them men.”  The count, for the record, of the so-called forward-looking (but in fact, reactionary) Modern Art 1982 snapshot? 18 men to 1 woman. Modernism: a Men’s Club playing a simple crass joke on the public. It is still going on, but it’s nice to know there’s some women gallerists out there now, keeping Modernism’s art joke alive. Peggy Guggenheim will always be a Guggenheim.

Russell Brand, Seriously: “British comedian Russell Brand—the ex-junkie bad boy famous for his debauchery, his brief marriage to Katy Perry, and his tight leather trousers—would seem like the last man to emerge as a legit political thinker and voice for the disposed.” We disagree. Debauchery and politics go hand in hand. “I’m not voting,” Brand told the BBC, “out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now, and which has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system.” Generations. Imagine that. Actually, Republicans are saying this, too. The only thing mildly interesting about this quote is that Democrats, libertarians, liberals, communists, and Tea Party Republicans would all agree with it. And if you need to get one thing about VF, it is this: escape the Blue State/Red State nonsense and you are on the way to becoming a true aristocrat, a true citizen of the world. In the high stakes world of VF, it is always personal, never, in the boring, trivial American sense, political—who cares whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican (how boring and middlebrow!). For instance: “Brand was, until August, in a serious relationship with a wealthy woman: namely, Jemima Khan, the daughter of the late billionaire corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith (and, as it happens, VF’s European editor-at-large). Khan is an associate editor of the liberal magazine New Statesman, and it was her recruitment of Brand to guest-edit an issue that precipitated his notorious appearance on Newsnight.” So here’s what it’s is all about: “Brand is quite something to experience in person.” If you are a boring person, it doesn’t matter what the fuck your political opinions are.  We love this quote from Brand, which is a true we’re-too-rich-to-care VF quote: “We all get excited by the Blairs, Obamas, and Clintons, with their well-rehearsed gestures and photo-op affability, but when push comes to shove, we’re dealing with cunts.” Blimey.

The Big Fabulous: We just can’t get interested in Anjelica Huston’s vague, perfunctory recounting of her non-relationship relationship with Jack Nicholson, the L.A. Laker fan whom she had no children with, and met in 1973. A lot of photos.

And so ends Scarriet’s part 1 look at December 2014 Vanity Fair.

IS SHE NECESSARY?

Is she necessary because of her kisses?
Or for that beauty which this beauty otherwise misses?
That beauty is hers, hers the beauty that she
Lavishes when her eyes float and she kisses me
And her breasts come out, which I love to kiss—indecently.

And this beauty that loves her beauty is mine
That longs for all beauty but would much rather on her beauty decline.

Sadness in a song is lovely, but in a person something divine,
For when I heard on the street, Cry Baby, Cry, its sad melody
Invoked by a street guitar, I thought this pleasure
Is similar to being with her
And so the secret came to me
Of why I loved her who is now gone;

It was the sadness in her soul, and this old song
Helped me to realize how love is both a pleasure and a wrong,
As sadness struggles to be happy
And cannot be happy in the melody of a melodious song.

She is necessary. And who can blame her that she
Eventually found this—and me—to be wrong?

 

I FOUGHT IN THE WAR OF LOVE

I fought in the war of love
With a thousand others fighting.
The movie set was a dream,
From the fluttering flags of the ships to the red lapping waters.
(The ships were tipping, and as they burned, had trouble righting)
I studied Western Love and the Mediterranean.
I struggled to keep up with history in vain,
To keep up with books. Research was a drain.
She was sweet, had a sense of humor,
But saw everything in the context of dying.

As always happens when you love,
I always vaguely had the feeling she was lying.

I kept telling myself: don’t provoke;
Burn; enjoy it until it ends.

Now I write a poem for every
Reminder the executioner sends.

THE POET DOES WHATEVER HE WANTS

The poet does whatever he wants,
In the soul the soul-things flaunts,
In the soul a little song he sings
Which he loves because you love these things.
The secret is that a little song
Is what the whole song is, no matter how long,
That the lengthy and the forbidden
Is only interesting because it’s hidden.
If you bring it out in the light of day
The poet laughs at it because it has nothing to say.
Go with the poet, who does whatever he wants.
He laughs, he ridicules, he taunts,
And if you are the target, don’t be sad,
The poet loves you and doesn’t want you to be sad.

ONE HUNDRED GREATEST FOLK SONGS (PERFORMANCES) OF ALL TIME

pete-seeger

Pete Seeger: Song owes more to him than anyone else.

It is fitting this Scarriet List of Greatest Folk Songs should appear in the wake of Pete Seeger’s passing (January 27, 2014). Folk music (who has done more for it than Pete Seeger?) occupies a stronger place on the other side than any other kind of art: the dead, the ignored, the forsaken, live heroically in the music of people like Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, and Bob Dylan.

All 100 songs listed here can be heard on the web—this is democratic, and Pete would approve, though he would encourage lovers of music to play, not just listen, and the simple playing: the singing, the strumming of chords on a simple instrument, is what allows anyone to enter simply into this heroic world of folk, and make its music, its words and feelings, its story-telling, morals, myth, poetry, and truth their own.

We should say right from the start that this list is a typical Scarriet project, stamped by our now famous anti-bullshit animus. We delight in smashing common wisdom on our way to the truth: truth naturally begins with opinion, even stupid opinion, as it makes its glorious way forward; minds held by stupid opinion are the greatest obstacle to truth, and moving them is rare, for to move them is usually to offend them, and no one wants to offend— and this is the reason truth hides. Sometimes it is wise for the truth to hide, for offending someone can be unforgivable, and may undo more than it mends. But truth starts with opinion and we start with the opinion of this List.

It is our opinion that good folk music has nothing to do with the trappings commonly associated with folk music: the horribly scratchy fiddle, the whiny hillbilly vocals, and all those “genuine” quirks that get in the way of real expressiveness and smoothness and emotion. We simply do not abide these traditional “folk” qualities, for they are not necessary, and chase modern audiences away from the true glory of the art: poignancy, an underrated sense of humor, melody, elevated dramatic feeling, the nobly human uncannily expressed in an orderly and devotional display of simplicity and sincerity.

Pete Seeger brought two important things to the art: 1. an actor’s sensibility and 2. clarity.

We cannot emphasize the latter virtue enough, for nothing has spoiled folk music—as it is popularly known, than a certain muddy and whiny quality—which Seeger demolished: listen to Pete Seeger’s recordings and hear the beautiful simplicity and clarity of the song’s forward movement, the melodic precision, the lovingly articulated coherence of story-message, the unobtrusive, never fussy, and yet dramatically insistent banjo or guitar, the never over-emoted emotional quality, the balance of all the elements, all the while respecting the intangible roughness and depth of the song itself. A child can appreciate these songs, even before knowing all the adult facts of the lyrics.

Seeger never hung around in a song too long, showing off licks or lyrics or mannerisms, trying the patience of the listener—important in a genre which features ballads of sometimes great length and the almighty guitar.

Seeger always kept two things in the foreground: the listener and the song. This paid enormous dividends; Seeger had a tremendous underground influence on the renaissance of melodic, clear-as-a-bell-chiming, sweetly emotional, 60s popular music.

One might put it crudely and simply this way: Pete played hillbilly music without trying to sound hillbilly. Pete was a self-conscious outsider: he approached Appalachian music, black people’s music, poor people’s music, gospel music, world music, whatever you want to call folk music, from a Collector’s point of view; Pete Seeger came from a wealthy, well-connected, accomplished family, approaching the work of poorer families from an archeological point of view, and his privileged position easily could have damned him had he been less naturally talented and less astute. But he “got it,” and he “owned it” (his song-writing just one of the ways he showed it) and did it with taste, kindness and élan—and the rest is history.

Pete Seeger was not precisely original. But that’s what Folk Music is about.

This is also what Folk Music is about:

Cares about history.

Great songs written by Nobody (anonymous).

Hides inside Rock/pop/ jazz.

Songs that make you hunch forward and listen (not background music).

Many voices/versions/styles of the same song.

Story and feeling over style.

THE LIST

1. Barb’ry Ellen –John Jacob Niles.   The Ballad of Barbara Allen (Anonymous) as lo-fi Wagnerian opera.

2. When I Lay Down To Die –Josh White.  Threatens to turn into a jazz or a blues standard, but plaintively refuses.

3. Danville Girl –Pete Seeger.  This is what Country, Jazz, Rap, Rock, and Classical can’t quite do: poetry nonchalantly humanized.

4. The Whistling Gypsy Rover –Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.  Irish exuberance. Joy with almost nothing.

5. House of the Rising Sun –The Animals. Just so we know: the best of rock music comes from folk music.

6. Goodnight Irene –Leadbelly.  Folk music is the poignant attempt to fix life’s wrongs with a few chords.

7. When First Unto This Country –The New Lost City Ramblers.  The Beatles conquered the world with hooks like this.

8. St. John’s River — Erik Darling. Unspeakably poignant and clear in guitar and voice.

9. The Three Ravens –Alfred Deller. A counter-tenor for the ages, a slain knight, loyal beasts, an immortal tune.

10. Turn, Turn, Turn –Pete Seeger.  Wisdom and song, why not?

11. Deportees –Cisco Houston.  Social commentary never had a smoother voice.

12. Ananias –St. Buffy Marie.  This Native American woman has one passionate and powerful voice.

13. Rags and Old Iron –Nina Simone  An old man selling old scraps and she makes it immortal. How’s that?

14. 500 Miles –Joan Baez.  This whole list could just be her.

15. Pretty Polly –The Byrds.  Doesn’t end well for Polly, presumably because she is pretty and is dating someone named Willy.

16. Down on Penny’s Farm –Bently Boys.  “Hard times in the country, down on Penny’s farm.” Very melodic hard times.

17. Pretty Peggy-O –Bob Dylan.  From 1962, before he was an icon, and he’s really having fun. One of his best recordings.

18.  East Virginia –Pete Seeger.  Compare this version with Buell Kazee’s (a master) and you can hear why Pete Seeger is so good.

19. Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies –Pete Seeger.  Such a beautiful song and sung with a melancholy swiftness.

20. She Moved Through the Fair –Anne Briggs.  A slow folk masterpiece where the voice and the lyrics do it all.

21. King of the Road –Roger Miller.  This might not be real folk music to some, but I think the sheep can stray a little bit.

22. T for Texas. –Jimmie Rodgers.  The ‘Singing Brakeman’ was a TV star.  “I shot ol’ Thelma, just to see her jump and fall.”

23. The Wind And The Rain (from Twelfth Night)  — Alfred Deller.  Lovely, haunting.

24. Old John Hardy –Clarence Ashley.  One of the first “hillbilly” 1920s recording artists. Set the standard for Pete Seeger.

25. All the Pretty Little Horses  –Odetta.  The ultimate lullaby.

26. This Land Is Your Land  –The Weavers.  Woody Guthrie’s national anthem.

27. The Titanic  –Pete Seeger.  The best version of this great song. “It was sad when that great ship went down.”

28. Little Mattie Groves  –John Jacob Niles.  A long ballad sung by the master with the strange voice.

29. Wagoner’s Lad  –Joan Baez.  Mournful and melancholy, just like we like it.

30. How Can I Keep From Singing?  –Pete Seeger.  One of those ‘throw your head back and righteously sing’ songs that Pete does so well.

31. It Ain’t Me Babe  –Bob Dylan.  Dylan was a folk music sponge—as all the best are.

32. John Henry  –Big Bill Broonzy.  And of course Pete Seeger’s version is great, too.

33. Midnight Special  –Creedence Clearwater Revival.  A rock group that rocked folk.

34. Darling Corey  –Pete Seeger.  A perfect rendition of a perfect song.

35. Scarborough Fair  –Simon and Garfunkle.  Folk rock masters sing a folk classic.

36. Handsome Molly  –Mick Jagger.  If your heart is broke, keep movin’!

37. He Got Better Things For You  –Bessie Johnson’s Memphis Sanctified Singers.  A rousing gospel number. Where would folk be without gospel?

38. Bells of Rhymney  –John Denver.  Church bells in Welsh mining towns imitated by a 12 string guitar.  Pete Seeger wrote it.

39. Go Way From My Window –John Jacob Niles.   “You were the one I really did love best.” Bitter-sweet song.

40. Sitting On Top of the World. –Doc Watson.  A wonderful happy-sad song.

41. True Religion  –Erik Darling.  From the album of the same name which is one of the best folk records ever made.

42. Abolitionist Hymn  –Hermes Nye. The greatest Civil War Ballad balladeer.

43. When Johnny Comes Marching Home  –Nana Mouskouri.  A lovely melancholy version.

44. Blow The Man Down –Woody Guthrie.  Not too many good recordings by WG.

45. Santa Anna –Hermes Nye.  A pretty song about the Mexican General.

46. The Cutty Wren –Ian Campbell Group. One of the greatest British ballads.

47. Amazing Grace  –Judy Collins.  Classic song and singer.  Her 1966 “In My Life” album is underrated masterpiece.

48. The Ballad of the Green Berets  –Barry Sadler.  Five weeks at no. 1 in 1966. Tune borrowed from another folk song.

49. Sixteen Tons  –Tennessee Ernie Ford  “And what do you get?”

50. Shenandoah  –Pete Seeger. Just a timelessly great song.

51. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?  –Joan Baez    Pete Seeger based it on a Russian folk song.

52. Green Fields  –The Brothers Four  Languidly beautiful.

53. And I Love Her  –The Beatles  Paul’s glorious contribution to the genre.

54. O Mistress Mine Where Are You Roaming   –James Griffett The great sub-genre of Shakespeare tunes.

55. Eve Of Destruction. –Barry McGuire  Folk music always had something to say.

56. I Started A Joke  –Bee Gees.  They were folk crooners first and foremost.

57. If I Had A Hammer  –Peter Paul and Mary  They covered Seeger and Dylan.

58. Puff the Magic Dragon  –Peter Paul and Mary  Great harmonies and they wrote songs, too.

59. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue  –Bob Dylan  Dylan sings this to Donovan in “Don’t Look Back.”

60. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away  –The Beatles  John’s glorious contribution to the genre.

61. I’ll Never Find Another You  –The Seekers  Powerful song.

62. Tom Dooley  –Kingston Trio  “Hang your head, Tom Dooley, hang your head and cry. You killed poor Laura Foster, you know you’re bound to die.”  Morality.

63. Man Of  Constant Sorrow  –Bob Dylan. Another early 1962 gem of the folk genre.

64. All My Trials  –Joan Baez  This lullaby originally came from the Bahamas.

65. Rock Island Line  –Leadbelly “Oh the rock island line is the line to ride.”

66. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream  –Pete Seeger  Composed by Ed McCurdy. Official anthem of the Peace Corps.

67. When The Saints Go Marching In  –The Weavers.  A rousing song by a group that could do rousing.

68. Lady Jane  –Rolling Stones.  A ‘fake’ old folk song?  Perhaps. But a good one.

69. Going To California  –Led Zeppelin  Underneath it all, this was a folk group.

70. Catch The Wind  –Donovan. The English Dylan has made a lot of great music.

71. Ramblin’ Boy  –Tom Paxton  A very sweet song.

72. Little Boxes  –Malvina Reynolds.  “And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.”

73. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down  –The Band.  Poignant anti-war number.

74. Alice’s Restaurant  –Arlo Guthrie. A long work by Woody’s son.

75. Suzanne  –Leonard Cohen. His singing is not for everyone, but that’s folk music for you. Singing in the shower music.

76. Angeles  –Elliott Smith.  He said he wasn’t a folk singer. He was. His album Either/Or is a must-own.

77. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald  –Gordon Lightfoot. A folk radio hit.

78. If I Were A Carpenter  –Tim Hardin. Drugs. Died at 39 after getting lost in the 70s.

79. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine  –The Weavers.  Jimmie Rodgers version is good, too.

80. Mr. Bojangles  –Jerry Jeff Walker.  Many a folkie wished they had written this.

81. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright  –Bob Dylan. He could do protest. And love.

82. At Seventeen  –Janis Ian.  The 70s began in folk and ended in disco.

83. Hallelujah  –Leonard Cohen.  He produces iconic songs over decades.

84. Bridge Over Troubled Waters  –Simon and Garfunkle

85. Old Man  –Neil Young  A great folk voice and sensibility.

86. Big Yellow Taxi  –Joni Mitchell.  Her sweet grumble with the world.

87. City of New Orleans  –Willie Nelson.  Great lyrics. True American song.

88. We Shall Overcome  –Pete Seeger. Folk music as moral greatness.

89. Just Like A Woman  –Bob Dylan.  He had a great bedroom style, too.

90. You’re Lost Little Girl  –The Doors. Had a certain William Blake folk sensibility.

91. Crossroads  –Robert Johnson. Blues is folk at the crossroads.

92. To Love Somebody  –The Bee Gees. Written for Otis Redding right before he died.

93. One  –Johnny Cash. The ultimate unplugged voice.

94. Your Cheatin’ Heart –Hank Williams. Folk cheats with country.

95. That’s Alright Mama –Elvis Presley.  He was a folkie at heart, too.

96. Hello In There   –John Prine.  The saddest song ever?

97. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda  –Eric Bogle.  Cry in your beer, laddie.

98. When This Cruel War Is Over  –Hermes Nye  A gentleman singer with a gift for melody.

99. She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain  –Pete Seeger.  He did a lot of children’s music. Which perhaps says a lot.

100. The Golden Vanity  –Pete Seeger  Great song. Great story.

THE LAST STAR

The morning sky’s cloudy variety,
The horizon’s depth of yellow
With a mass of lights and darks nearer and slowly moving,
A painting filling the window,
Is the sacred work of the last star,
Beauty too close to be too far.

I took my trip around the universe
To make all past trips
Seem but a prelude
To an orbit which never says goodbye,
And found a light lighting a last star,
Beauty too close to be too far.

With the beautiful sequence
Of flowers and green streams of leaves
In dark woods too shadowy
For vanity to spot itself in dappled paths,
I put myself in the power of a last star,
Beauty too close to be too far.

Unlikely beauty! With hair
Half-covering the face with eyes
Almost too nice for a mouth surprised
By lips of a faint luxury,
A lamp turned slightly down within—
As if she and star were kin!
A light glowing like a last star:
Beauty too close to be too far.

 

 

IF YOU ANTICIPATE THIS: A PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY

Not everything is possible with love,
But passion definitely gives you a shove.
You may have been competitive and agitated before,
But love has made you compare yourself to others a little more.
Since you thought about that stranger and what he seems to be,
I’m not sure you can still be in love with me—
He hasn’t thought of you, or maybe in his mind
I am the poet and you are not his kind.

UNTRUE

You loved me loving your love
Which loved love but not me,
A song without meaning sung melodiously,
A bird singing but not to the other bird—
Love speaking beautifully without meaning a single word.

Yes, we did the loving
Since I loved you loving love, too.
Awful deception!
Such love! But neither one of us to the other one was true!

We loved love and were loved for that;
Our love could love our love without loving me or you,
And that was our fate—
Passionate love, longing love, but forever to ourselves untrue.

 

 

FAG HAGS, COCK TEASES, AND RICHARD WAGNER

Richard Wagner. We need infinite patience for love—and Wagner’s exquisite music.

Civilization exists because people grow old—otherwise there would be no civilization at all.

A beautiful woman growing old and losing her looks is the source of all Tragedy.

Nietzsche had the insane idea that Dionysian music was the birth of Tragedy.

We think our Idea makes more sense.  We speak, of course, of “real,” Tragedy, not mere tragedy (misfortune).

In fact, high-brow, middle-brow, and low-brow can be defined precisely this way: how each one of them ages.

High-brow, as we might expect, ages gracefully. The high-brows have the best defense against the curse, using elegance and learning and wit and art to fight the good fight.

Middle-brow women have a lesser (but strong) defense: feminism.

The only problem with feminism is that its anti-aging strategy is much too self-evident: impugn the (young) beautiful woman and the desire she elicits in order to make older women seem more reasonable and satisfied. This is why feminism is a middle-brow phenomenon: feminism’s strategy is embarrassingly obvious to the high-brow sensibility, but too subtle for the low-brows—who simply don’t understand why it should exist: a man is either chivalrous and attractive, or not—feminism to the low-brow is superfluous.

As for the low-brows, everyone knows the low-brows age horribly, usually in an orgy of boozing and tobacco.

Why is ‘a lovely woman growing old’ the subject of trashy B movies, and not fine art?

Because part of the strategy of growing old is not mentioning it—only middle-brow Hollywood fare starring Betty Davis and Joan Crawford would have the bad taste to revel in the horrible idea, which is better left hidden from sight. This is why Hollywood succumbed to middle-brow and even low-brow kitsch: it dared to treat the Great Tragic Subject directly.

High-brow artists like Wagner and Shakespeare understood that one never treats the Great Tragic Source directly; it is better to hide the True Tragedy (a woman growing old) behind things like the folly of young lovers and adultery.

Comedy (Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor) which presents foolish old lovers is merely the flip side of Tragedy.

The death of beautiful young lovers is beautifully Tragic, and Tragic in a beautiful way because it avoids beauty growing old. The true subject is hidden, but is there, nonetheless, as the impatience of young lovers is simply the understanding that old age is not far off.

The pride of the aging woman is not to be toyed with, and this pride is the key ingredient in Tragedy. It is this understanding which informs high-brow taste and makes high-brow taste the exquisite set of tacit understandings that it is.

In Love in the Western World, Rougemont’s wonderfully subtle treatment of the Tristan and Iseult myth makes it clear that these famous lovers were not simply two attractive people who had the hots for each other—chastity, selfishness, and lack of desire were in the mix, too (as well as a love-potion, royal intrigue, and misunderstandings).  The true object of the two lovers, according to Love in the Western World, was Death.

Death is a valuable idea because it covers up the real truth: why is death welcome? The author of Love in the Western World, a high-brow and scholarly treatment of love, does not say, and does not ask—instinctively in the name of good taste. Death is the default alternative once aging becomes too advanced. Aging is the real Enemy, the real essence of Tragedy, not Death. Once age destroys beauty, death simply becomes preferable—death is never the goal.

Time is directly related to aging, as death is not, for death does not need time, but aging does. It is aging which is real, not death. Time and its sister, Space, are the two aspects of the universe which we experience most directly; the end of time or space (infinity) we do not experience: our death is never real to us. Our aging is.

Feminism, the middle-brow strategy of middle-aged dignity, has taken such a beating from high-brow and low-brow elements in the last 50 years that a new strategy has recently replaced it. Economic difficulty adds a twist—middle-brows either fear, or actually fall, from middle-class status, or aspire to a wealthier status, and so are forced to face other sensibilities. Feminism doesn’t ‘look happy’ among other sensibilities; but the gay lifestyle, because it implicitly involves sex (sexual orientation is how we describe it, after all) has more je ne sais quoi. So we witness the middle-aged woman, fighting against age, not necessarily renouncing her feminism, but announcing she is gay.

Feelings of scornful revenge against the aging beauty (especially if she is a cock-tease) primarily comes from unhappy men. A gay woman, then, escapes this indignity, by running into the arms of female sexuality (or at least female cuddling and affection which excludes short-sighted, greedy male desire).

There is roughly the same nuance to the gay strategy—women running to women to escape the indignity of aging in the eyes of men—as the feminist strategy, making it a mostly middle-brow lifestyle choice.

To make sure the world knows, we often hear the term “openly gay” used to describe the middle-brow individual today. “Openly gay” does not mean the individual has sex in public. Well, how would we know what they really are, otherwise? Of course “openly gay” sex in public would not be civilized. “Openly gay” has a certain implicitly built-in, hidden aspect in a ‘good taste’ sort of way (an aspiration towards the high-brow without quite reaching it is always implicit in every middle-brow strategy). The unseemly, low-brow ‘male gaze’ longs to witness the sex act; the gay, middle-brow, middle-aged woman does not have to answer questions about what happens in the bedroom, anymore than anyone else does, and so the dignity of the strategy is preserved. Low-brow breeding (children) is the only thing which really gives the game away. Children and youthful beauty are the two things which traditionally are not hidden away, the way, let’s say, being gay, can be hidden in its entirety.

To renounce sex is not a bad way to age with a little more dignity. There is nothing more undignified than old-looking people ostentatiously going after sex—even if they get it—for no one believes old-person sex defies the horror of old age. If it doesn’t work as pornography it doesn’t work as immortality.

Baudelaire’s complaint against Nature was Nature’s lack of sympathy for the old; civilization, according to the French poet, keeps the aged alive, while Nature lets them die. But here is more talk of death, when the real agony is getting old itself; we strategize tastefully by making death the issue, and it is no surprise that this is a chief strategy of poets, who belong to high-brow realms of Taste more than other vocations. Did Petrarch let Laura grow old? Did Dante let Beatrice get old? Of course not. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (printed privately) ushers in modernity more than any other work, for the “breeding” portion of this book fearlessly references wrinkling and old age, a poetic, high-brow, Good Taste taboo. The aging trope in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is such an offensive taboo, that it hides for many what the whole book is about, and up to the present day, critics still interpret the Sonnets as a courting manual, auto-biographical confession, or advice to a royal person, (it is not these things) and cannot admit what it really is: a self-consciously age and death-defying boast by a guy (immortal poet) who was starting to look old.

If you are starting to look old, only civilization can save you. An aging population is a kind one, (it has less street crime) but the trouble is, if breeding does not pick up again, the aging population is threatened with extinction. The dignity of homosexuality—all the various strategies of renouncing sex, from the fag hag to the monk to ‘love the planet/squelch the humans’ “liberal” politics—once fertility returns as a civilized necessity, reverts back to an indignity.

In the necessity to re-populate, young beauty is sacrificed to breeding (low-brow) and is renounced as a subject of art (high-brow). The poem turns to cooler subjects: urns with lovers who cannot kiss but remain forever fair. Loveliness that lasts forever is a lofty ideal advanced in the face of the young beautiful mother who quickly ages as she populates a depleted realm. In this case, the aging of a beautiful woman serves a purpose, at least.

The poet of the Sonnets would say to the woman: if you don’t produce children, you will get old and ugly, anyway.

Which gets an imperious slap in the face.

A slap exhibiting the pride which hides beneath all Tragedy and is at the heart of all Civilization.

A slap exhibiting the pride which is crushed daily—by Nature.

 

 

 

 

 

THE AVANT-GARDE IS LOOKING FOR A NEW (BLACK) BOYFRIEND

Cathy Park Hong: “Fuck the avant-garde.”  But does she really mean it?

For its whole existence, Scarriet has hammered away at Modernism—and its Avant-garde identity—as nothing but a meaningless, one-dimensional joke (the found poem, basically) tossed at the public by reactionary, rich, white guys in order to make it ‘cool’ to stifle truly creative efforts accessible to the public at large.

The controversy surrounding Scarriet’s claim lies in this one simple fact: the Avant-garde (Ron Silliman, et al) identifies itself as politically Left.

In Leftist circles of the Avant-garde, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are championed for their poetry, not their politics.

We might call this Pound/Eliot phenomenon the Art-Split: Bad Poet/Good Poetry.

By accepting this “Split,” the reactionary, white, male, Avant-garde is given license to dress in Left-wing clothing.

You have to believe, of course, that Pound’s poetry is important and good, and that Hugh ” The Pound Era” Kenner’s trashing of Edna Millay, for instance, was a good and noble effort to debunk old-fashioned “quietist” poetry, and not chauvinist, jealous bullying.

Leftist Ron Silliman has no taste for Edna Millay, and the “Split” allows this to appear perfectly normal.

The embarrassing and obvious truth: 1. accessibility to the public at large is democratic, 2. befuddling the masses is reactionary, gets a yawn, too—because of the “Split.”

The reason the “Split” works as an excuse is that it appeals to both Left and Right intellectuals: the greatest ‘am I an intellectual?’ test is if one is able to grasp (and embrace) the idea that a person can be bad but still write good poetry.

We do not believe this is true; we believe the opposite: one cannot be a bad person and write good poetry. If the poet is a truly bad person, the “good” poetry was most likely stolen, or written before the soul of the poet became  rotten.

And this is why Modernists hate the Romantics—because the Romantics were poetic individuals, while the Modernists (because of skyscrapers and aeroplanes and women getting the vote and other lame excuses) were not.

The “Split,” the source of so much modernist mischief, is a red herring.  The almighty “Split” even makes one think Ezra Pound must be a good poet: one must believe this is so to have intellectual, avant-garde creds—simply for the reason that for so long now, the “Split” has ruled over Letters.  The wretched, sophistical, school-boy “And then went down to the ship,/ Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and/ we set up mast and sail on that swart ship/” is somehow good because Pound is bad.  And because it is wretched, it is avant-garde, and because it is avant-garde, it is wretched, and therefore better than, “What lips my lips have kissed and where and why.”  This is how those who think themselves very good judges of poetry convince themselves that Ezra Pound is a great poet.  Yes, it is truly frightening.

Despite the “Split,” rumblings about the reactionary nature of the Avant-garde were bound to start, as Scarriet does influence the culture it observes.

Witness the explosion of Left indignation in the latest Lana Turner Journal as the “Split”-fooled Left vaguely catches on.

We have Kent Johnson, an imaginative and brilliant man, in “No Avant-Garde: Notes Toward A Left  Front of the Arts,” reduced to the most pitiful, quixotic Old Leftism it is possible to imagine. In his essay, he imagines splendidly well, and he knows a great deal, but he’s very bitter, obviously, as the ugly truth—the Avant-garde is, and has always been, reactionary—sinks in.

We have Joshua Clover, in “The Genealogical Avant-Garde,” complaining in the same vein.

The current avant-gardes in contemporary Anglophone poetry make their claims largely by reference to previous avant-gardes.

The genealogical avant-garde is defined by a single contradiction. It has no choice but to affirm the very cultural continuity which it must also claim to oppose.

The “Split” is always rationalized.

The “Split” in this case, however, is not Bad Poet/Good Poetry, and in some ways it is far less problematic.

The “Split” now imploding due to common sense is: Bad Mainstream/Good Avant-garde.

The Avant-garde, as the intellectuals finally understand it, is the Mainstream—and thus, bad.  Had they been able to see, 100 years ago, the nature of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, F. O. Matthiessen, and their New Critic allies, they would not have taken so long to understand the clever reactionary agenda.

But now they are finally getting it.

Cathy Park Hong (writing in Lana Turner no. 7) definitely wants a new boyfriend.  And it ‘aint Ron Silliman.

To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.

Poets of color have always been expected to sit quietly in the backbenches of both mainstream and avant-garde poetry. We’ve been trotted out in the most mindless forms of tokenism for anthologies and conferences, because to have all white faces would be downright embarrassing. For instance, Donald Allen’s classic 1959 and even updated 1982 anthology New American Poetry, which Marjorie Perloff has proclaimed “the anthology of avant-garde poetry,” includes a grand tally of one minority poet: Leroi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka. Tokenism at its most elegant.

Mainstream poetry is rather pernicious in awarding quietist minority poets who assuage quasi-white liberal guilt rather than challenge it. They prefer their poets to praise rather than excoriate, to write sanitized, easily understood personal lyrics on family and ancestry rather than make sweeping institutional critiques. But the avant-gardists prefer their poets of color to be quietest as well, paying attention to poems where race—through subject and form—is incidental, preferably invisible, or at the very least, buried. Even if racial identity recurs as a motif throughout the works of poets like John Yau, critics and curators of experimental poetry are quick to downplay it or ignore it altogether. I recall that in graduate school my peers would give me backhanded compliments by saying my poetry was of interest because it “wasn’t just about race.” Such an attitude is found in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith’s anthology, “Against Expression,” when they included excerpts from M. NourbeSe Philip’s brilliant “Zong!,” which explores the late 18th century British court case where 150 slaves were thrown overboard so the slave ship’s captain could collect the insurance money. The book is a constraint-based tour-de-force that only uses words found in the original one-page legal document.  Here is how Dworkin and Goldsmith characterize Zong: “the ethical inadequacies of that legal document . . . do not prevent their détournement in the service of experimental writing.” God forbid that maudlin and heavy-handed subjects like slavery and mass slaughter overwhelm the form!

The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be “post-identity” and can casually slip in and out of identities like a video game avatar, when there are those who are consistently harassed, surveilled, profiled, or deported for whom they are.

Even today, avant-garde’s most vocal, self-aggrandizing stars continue to be white and even today these stars like Kenneth Goldsmith spout the expired snake oil that poetry should be “against expression” and “post-identity.”

From legendary haunts like Cabaret Voltaire to San Remo and Cedar Tavern, avant-garde schools have fetishized community to mythologize their own genesis. But when I hear certain poets extolling the values of their community today, my reaction is not so different from how I feel a self-conscious, prickling discomfort that there is a boundary drawn between us. Attend a reading at St. Marks Poetry Project or the launch of an online magazine in a Lower East Side gallery and notice that community is still a packed room of white hipsters.

Avant-garde poetry’s attitudes towards race have been no different than that of mainstream institutions.

The encounter with poetry needs to change constantly via the internet, via activism and performance, so that poetry can continue to be a site of agitation, where the audience is not a receptacle of conditioned responses but is unsettled and provoked into participatory response. But will these poets ever be accepted as the new avant-garde? The avant-garde has become petrified, enamored by its own past, and therefore forever insular and forever looking backwards. Fuck the avant-garde. We must hew our own path.

Yes, “fuck the avant-garde.”  But we might just add that it is the avant-garde that has always been the problem; in this case, the tail wags the dog.

The New Critics (ex-I’ll Take My Stand Old South reactionary agrarianists) got an “in” when they launched their textbook, Understanding Poetry in the late 30s—it praised Pound and attacked Poe.

Popular poets like Edgar Poe and Edna St. Vincent Millay were the Mainstream “good” ambushed by the clique of Eliot, Pound and the New Critics.

How blithely and unthinkingly Cathy Park Hong takes up the “quietist” definition of the avant-garde (and ostentatiously Left) Silliman.

Unfortunately, they will get fooled again.

 

 

 

 

 

INEVITABLY, I FIGHT AGAINST THE INEVITABLE

If you want to create a certain mood,
Strike the following keys.
Use this rhythm and you will never be misunderstood.
The blues are actually angry. The melancholy taint is just a tease.
I’m tired of that smell the homeless have
Which sometimes invades the cafe I love.
Or the perfume worn by everyone
Reminding me of one I loved.
The most beautiful star, they say,
Appears to lovers as they fall asleep at break of day.
When I dared to argue
With you—no longer scared of you—
I found you had nothing to say.

PHILIP NIKOLAYEV AND THE POETRY OF PERSONAL RELIGION

Radical individualism is the only dignity there is.

There are only two types of people: the conformist and the non-conformist—the drudge and the peacock—the square and the hip—the cowardly prig and the brave sensualist—the dullard and the dandy—the meddler and the artist—the ones who don’t get it, or don’t quite get it, and the ones who do.

The true artist, the truly different, the truly sublime, the smartly beautiful, the enlightened ones—these are all radical individualists, or those who deeply accept and understand and support the radical individualist; all the rest are merely drudges who fret about ‘the good of society’ in a prying, jealous, overbearing sort of way, as they overcompensate for the fact that as individuals, they lack that spark which the first group has.

This is the Ur-division in Life and Society, the template and atmosphere, the body and thought of all social and political activity, as various obstacles present themselves to the journeying soul longing ‘to get it,’ ‘to be accepted,’ and ‘to be loved.’

Not love or be happy, for this straightforward activity betrays right from the start, an ignorance of the division—which is more important than anything else. This is the great instinctual ‘leap of faith’ that the potentially ‘cool’ person, the radical individualist, must choose as their life’s philosophy or their life’s religion.

It is why people socially do things. It is everything. It makes people vote in a certain way, pick certain friends and activities, and think the thoughts they think. The loss of pure love and pure happiness is merely the cost for obedience to this powerful division which is at the heart of social ‘understanding.’

The cool is defined against the not-cool; here is where individualism itself begins, because to choose otherwise (from the very start of the soul’s journey) is to sink hopelessly into the morass of dullness and jealousy and side with the shallow, meddling, superficial drags, who worry passively, or actively into existence, all sorts of jealous rules to make a dully, oppressively and lemming-like society acceptable and functioning as a society—which by definition has a duty to curb the charismatic and pleasure-seeking individual.

It does not matter if this division is factually true or not; psychologically and linguistically it is true; factually it has no real existence except as it is manifested socially—and this, as they say in the old country, suffices. We dress and shout and dance the way we do—for this division.

At one time the charismatic individual was an ideal ruler to lead society; but with the complex, advanced evolution of society, the charismatic individual instead rules in quite the other way now: against an orderly society, against society itself—as the radical individualist.

Philip Nikolayev is largely self-made and extremely talented: has advanced degrees, is multilingual, an influential editor (Fulcrum), read in other countries, has a family which includes a wife-poet! is a published poet himself— there is no way he cannot feel himself to belong to the elitism of the radical individual—he truly is one.

Why shouldn’t he advocate, then, for the poetry of personal religion?

A successful artist talks to us as his own priest, not in the language of priests—this is no surprise.

The individual qua individual is threatened by nothing—those who do not speak the language of the individual, but who participate in the language of the tribe, of society, and those rules which govern society and make society possible, cannot possibly harm the individualist, protected by that personal religion of his own making. The individual can enter an orthodox church and enjoy its sights and sounds, visit cities and countries and observe customs and manners, and he can write freely on anything which he finds to be significant; as long as rules do not censor him, he is free.

But who is interested in reading the individualist?

Other individualists, with a view for affirmation?

Or the anti-individualist, with a motive to find fault and censor?

The audience is one of two kinds, then: the friend or the bureaucratic foe, more indifferent, in most cases, especially in the United States, than foe.

The trouble here is that it is not enough to write and publish—criticism, audience reaction, being read, and truly responded to, are crucial for the writer.

Am I really being read, the poet wonders, or just flattered?

The other individualists don’t care what you write in the following very real sense: you are simply incapable of offending them— which may be good for friendship, but is fatal to literature, since it guarantees the absence of Criticism, which is necessary to literature.

Meanwhile, the other audience (society) is indifferent critically for a separate reason—they don’t speak the language of the individualist.

There is no friction or spark in either response—the poem slides easily down the throat of the individualist and falls indifferently at the feet of  the drudge. This is not to say other individualists may not enjoy what you produce; they may acquiesce and fully comprehend and joy in recognizing what is communicated—but there is no criticism, no interesting response. As much as the individualist enjoys the uniqueness of what you produce, the drudge will be unable—as drudge—to recognize the value of the unique communication, trained as they are only to recognize good and bad recipes for society, so no helpful response comes from that quarter, either.

This is the pitfall of the poetry of personal religion—not because of what it is, but because of its failure to actually live outside its unique origins.

The non-conformist offends the conformist—but only on the conformist’s terms, only where the conformist lives. If non-conformity does not offend, it fails in its task; it is eaten alive by this failure—for this is what non-conformity implicitly lives to do: offend those drudges who are asleep, non-artistic, or cruel.

There is still hope, however, for the radical individualist: there is a third audience between the sympathetic friend and the indifferent other: the rival poet, who is neither friend nor foe, but a combination of both.

What directs all poets to profitable activity is the rival—here the poet knows what to do, how to excel, and is guided in very specific ways to be successful.

Every famous poet succeeded against a rival and only understood how to be interesting in the context of what the blessed rival was doing. Popularity, as literary historians concede, is mostly earned by writers who enjoy success for a brief time and then are forgotten. The literary canon is full of poets who were neither popular with wide audiences, nor lifted up by friends, but made their mark in ‘rival poet’ contexts.

With the rival, the (helpful, motivating) question can truly be asked as it cannot be asked elsewhere: am I cool? Am I one of the chosen?

One must ask this question to oneself as a poet: am I good?  To oneself, as a matter of course, but it also needs to be asked by others.  Friends in your clique won’t give you an answer; they will only flatter you. And the others, those uncool, non-artists, the conformists, who don’t care for poetry and would rather focus on society and its ills?  They will most likely tell you, poetry isn’t good, or it’s silly; they are incapable, even if they cared, to tell you if you are a good poet, or not.

This is where the rival comes in. The rival knows poetry like you do, but won’t flatter you, will fight you, in fact, and this is where greatness and fame is made, in this nexus of rivals.

The greatest poet of them all—Shakespeare—wrote specifically about this in his Sonnets.

The greatest Romantic poets Shelley, Keats, and Byron all attacked the Alpha Romantic of the Day, Wordsworth: mocked him, called him disappointing, ridiculed him, said he was obscure, pulled his beard.

Poe, America’s Shakespeare, attacked Wordsworth a little later in the same spirit, and turned every well-know writer of his day into a rival: chiefly Longfellow and Emerson.

Our Canon today has been shaped by these battles: and we the living unconsciously and naively pick sides in what we think is a reasonable, peaceful spirit.

Had Pound not got his Imagism ass kicked by Amy Lowell, he would have remained mired in triviality.

T.S. Eliot—whose grandfather knew  Emerson—attacked both the Romantics and Poe (for this latter, vicious attack, see “From Poe to  Valery” 1949).

The most famous rivalry of all: Homer and Plato.

We don’t have the time to elucidate these rivalries here, but most readers will be familiar with them—though many readers, even those who consider themselves avant-garde, admittedly don’t read poetry or literature this way (they are blissfully naive and do not figure into this discussion—let them remain naive).

Who is Philip Nikolayev’s rival?

Has he any?

Poetically, no.   Because Nikolayev is too good in a pure, self-deprecating, completely witty and skilled sort of way.

Also, Nikolayev has no avant-garde rivals because he writes “for the ages,” a quaint idea these days, no doubt.

There is a certain pure excellence in Nikolayev’s work which cannot be rivaled.  Philip Nikolayev is that good.

This is not to say that any small example of a writer’s work will not show the division discussed above.

Take this wonderful poem of Nikolayev’s, which can be found on The Poetry Foundation site:

Hotel

Time to recount the sparrows of the air
Seated alone on an elected stair,
I stare as they appear and disappear.

Tonight the deck supports tremendous quiet,
Although the twilight is itself a riot.
I’m glad I’m staying here, not at the Hyatt.

My pen, eye, notes, watch, whiskey glass and hell
All hang together comfortably well.
Pain is my favorite resort hotel.

 

The poet is an individualist, a non-conformist: therefore, he is not staying at “the Hyatt.”  But Hyatt is a rhyme; the individualist, self-deprecating stance is seasoned by wit.

Nikolayev uses lyric wit to rise above the division.  He is aware of it and playfully and wittily fights against it, which makes him a better poet for that reason alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE INTEGRATION OF POETRY AND LIFE

The integration of poetry and life may be the most important question of all.

Interesting aspects of life, beautiful, useless glimpses of life—is this poetry? And the rest of it, life, as useful, as lived, or as the subject of philosophy or science, is this the life which is not poetry? Is this division valid?

Or is poetry a sub-category of philosophy in the division above, poetry not a “glimpse” of something “interesting and useless,” but rather a unique and useful branch of life understanding itself (philosophy)?

Or is this division not valid at all, since both sides are made of life, and poetry is something separate and apart?

And does poetry exist apart specifically in a world of words, interesting as a word-product, without any necessary connection to life?

And here we say “necessary,” because poetry may certainly use words which naturally signify life (because this is what words do) but in terms of what poetry is, it does not matter what is signified.

Yes. This is what poetry is: a word product without any necessary connection or reflection of life.

This is what Byron meant when he said:

“Poetry is nothing more than a certain dignity which life tries to take away.”

This is what Shelley meant when he said:

“A poet would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which participate in neither.”

According to Shelley, poetry reflects the future: life which does not exist yet, and words have the unique ability to reflect life which is not life, what we sometimes refer to as the imagination.

The imaginative gardener can take what already exists: flowers and plants, and put together a garden which has never existed, portraying a unique dreamscape of beauty which is of this world, using the materials of this world, yet imaginatively invokes, and is, the future—a transformation of nature by poetic vision.

In so much as the gardener does this, the gardener is a poet. And in this way, anyone who transforms the material world is a poet. Note that we say transform, not merely reflect, or imitate—which is the traditional Aristotelian definition of poetry.

Aristotle’s definition is tepid, and Plato feared poetry precisely because his vision of it was greater, Plato deeply understanding poetry’s ability to not merely imitate, but transform. In fact, poetry fails at imitation (as Plato zealously pointed out) but poetry does something even more significant (and wonderful and dangerous): it creates the future, for good or ill.

Aristotle’s reasoning is so: poetry imitates good and bad people and it is perfectly reasonable and even good to do this, for how can we know the good if we don’t portray the bad? And out of this reasonable imitation springs the “freedom” to make art, and the justification for all destructive human freedom and license—since in Aristotle’s vision, the imitation of life is at the heart of all human making.

Aristotle’s famous qualification that poetry is more philosophical that history because poetry shows ‘what could be’ rather than ‘what is’ (as history does) is a monkey wrench; history and philosophy are both concerned (or should be concerned) with the truth; poetry is radically different; to give poetry (false) philosophical properties only furthers poetry’s (false) license to depict all sorts of bad things in the name of poetry’s freedom. The vision of Plato (which dares to radically critique poetry) is vastly different.

The wise know Aristotle’s oft-repeated and ubiquitous formula is wrong; the wise know that the whole Aristotelian project, adopted by the intellectual rabble of every cynical era, is misguided; and if we pay attention to visionaries like Plato and Shelley, to visionaries of the Renaissance and Romanticism, we will see that poetry’s power lies in making a new Good, not simply imitating whatever life happens to toss our way, or worse, abetting badness by cynically celebrating (with the cheering mob) its imitation in poetry, art, spectacle, learned books, etc.

As Poe points out, poetry is concerned with Taste, not Truth; and this quality, relegated wrongly to embellishment and triviality in our era, is a world of profound influence; Taste lives on the border of Truth, its province is Beauty, fed by Truth which is nearby, but Taste is grasped or understood by the instantaneous transmission of the Good (what we feel in our gut) which sidesteps the usual academic authorities—which is why academia balks at any consideration of Taste in cynical eras. “Give us the ugly truth,” scream the poets in cynical eras, “Beauty and Taste are old-fashioned and effete!”

Poets who cynically reject Poe’s poetry tend to also ignore Poe’s profound accomplishments in prose—for it is the whole of Poe’s project, seen and understood in its entirety, which proves the importance of qualities properly distributed and arranged across the whole range of reality’s projection in the transforming mind of the genius who serves humanity.

In our example of the gardener who profoundly transforms nature using her own materials, we find the poet, who is one step potentially more profound than the gardener, only because words can take and re-transform life in a manner potentially more significant than recombining the already existing beauty of flowers and plants.

Here is why 99% of poetry and its talk these days fails—poets and critics today assume a relationship, or an integration of life and poetry in which the two appear to serve each other, but do not: over here is some topic of life, interesting as a separate topic in a manner not connected to poetry whatsoever, and then over here we have the “poet” or the “poetry” and lo and behold! the two are yanked together in a manner which ostensibly brings more interest to both— but because the yanking together is utterly superficial, the interest is actually mitigated, and even dissolves, as the yanking exemplifies unconsciously a false idea of poetry. Poetry is, in the simplest sense, putting A next to B to create C, yes, but this alone is not enough, and this formula, when persisted in, quickly wears out its welcome. Arrangement requires a poetic purpose: the creation of a new Good, and without this purpose driving the project, the combining gesture is unfortunately a hollow gesture, and, problematically, not understood as such by the ignorant who merely go through the motions of  what they assume is poetic activity. Because they are gassing on about some interesting aspect of life, the ignorant think that it will be all the more interesting because of its mere proximity to po-biz. It is like when someone introduces their poem with a long story and then the poem is read, and we wish they had stopped with the story. This is the state of poetry today.

The true poet has ‘no story’ to introduce his poem—for the integration is in the poem, and when, in error, it is displayed as ‘story’ followed by ‘poem,’ it represents the unnecessary split which signals the falsity and the error, persisted in by those who naively think ‘story and poem’ is twice as good as ‘poem.’

We might be accused of this error: we earlier said Poe is understood in the entirety of his productions; so we appreciate his poems in light of his prose. No. The poem of Poe exists for its own sake, and succeeds on its own, without the help of anything else ‘to make it interesting,’ and this is precisely how we are defining poetry. The crowding in upon poetry of all these other matters ‘to make it interesting’ is the very thing which kills poetry, and it is done because of the Aristotle project which sees poetry imitating, and thus sharing its existence, with our place in the world at present, and also having a philosophical aspect which, in the same way, makes it necessary that poetry share the stage with all sorts of interests which are really beside the point, and hopelessly dilute the poetic enterprise.

Poetry is not a vehicle to make life more interesting. There are those who constantly seek to make life more interesting and these are those who are not poets and will never understand poetry and generally do not appreciate good taste. They are bored by the placidly beautiful, even though an appreciation of the placidly beautiful is the secret to heaven on earth.

The riot is even now at our doors; the useless activity which seeks the interesting and tramples on taste.

Life is coming for us.

Take my hand, poet.

Let us quietly flee.

 

 

THE POEM I CANNOT WRITE

 

The poem I cannot write
Sits on a shelf in the middle of the night,
The subject, you,
Hidden from every reader’s point of view—
Who still may see you by a little light
Even as the midnight rainstorm covers you.

The poem I cannot write
Has a long and lovely body, but poor eyesight,
Is made of misty words,
Huddled on a wire that none use, like birds,
Huddled—babies, too—in the spring, like birds,
Huddled in winter—grown—like huddled
Things of rare moment—
Of which those poems, which were truly poems, lent
Extra qualities of beauty pertaining
To rainstorms unwritten
(I handed you a note—were you smitten?)
Because in every poem you were in, it was raining.

When, at last, you come into my sight,
The rain having almost destroyed the night,
Sun of gold and light!
You will be,
Like my poetry,
The poem I cannot write.

THE ONE I LOVE IS THE ONE WHO DOES NOT MOVE

 

The one I love is the one who does not move.
This lovely statue does not need to walk.
Death came and now I know the meaning of love.
This face is lovely. What use for it to talk?
A long, long time love is in the tomb.
Love has been dead a long, long time.
Love needs nothing but a small room.
There is no sincerity. There is only rhyme.
I will be honest with you about what is here.
Once this is read, the silence begins.
Hell is not pleasant—it’s the place where no one sins.

 

 

HEY LAO TZU, WHAT THE FUCK IS PHILOSOPHY?

We want to talk about philosophy from a practical standpoint, as a useful way of living, which people personally adopt without being able to talk about it.

When it comes to wisdom, there are three approaches:

First, there is the academic approach, where you have to write a paper and support your argument and defend your thesis with approved and authorized arguments which have been approved and authorized by someone else. The teacher, or professor, exists merely to make sure that authorization gets its due; the process is finally one in which the argument defended is not the student’s argument, but someone else’s argument, an argument which has already been approved. The game is: approving what has already been approved; and the result is: very little thinking takes place at all.

The academic approach is nearly always unsatisfying; it exists for teachers, not students, and the rigor involved only serves to frustrate those looking for a philosophy which is lived, and not just talked about. Paper-writing in school almost always chases people away to search for other avenues of wisdom.

The philosophy involved here may not be called religion, but this is what practical philosophy, even philosophy which explicitly rejects authoritarian religion, is. Philosophy exists, and it exists for 99 people out of a 100, as religion, as a way to behave for maximum advantage. Academics, naturally feeling themselves scientifically superior to anything merely practical (or, God forbid, “religious!”) in a common sort of way, demand a certain authority and rigor which kills the whole spirit of philosophy (and all its religious guises), ruining the process from the very start.

The second approach is the highly practical, or hedonist approach, the “religion” mostly taken up by the young, unattached male, which is no-philosophy or no-religion, a highly efficient approach that allows them to temporarily “believe” in whatever religion or ancient Chinese philosophy may be deeply or superficially held by the current female they are trying to seduce. This second approach has no authority or rigor at all, but more than makes up for this lack by being infinitely more practical than the first (academic) approach. Having been to college, or currently in college, academic “wisdom” may be quoted here and there to impress, but this is all simply part of the hedonistic goal of the second approach, which merely uses whatever is available to get what it wants from the female, who most likely has rejected the first ( academic) approach, as well, as being much too impractical. (And even the female who received an ‘A’ in philosophy did so only to please the professor.)

And this leads us to the third approach, mostly chosen by the earnest young female, searching for a “good philosophy” which shows them, hopefully with just a few quotes from Lao Tzu, to behave for maximum advantage in a world full of persistent, no-philosophy, male seducers, odious authoritarian religions, and corporate, Nature-destroying, cynicism.

The first approach, academic philosophy, has no practical use for anyone (except for those earning a living in academia) and can be fairly said not to exist at all. The second approach, the no-philosophy approach, has, by its very description, no real philosophical or religious existence, either—though its impact on the real world is significant and profound, and helps create the necessity of the third approach.

The third approach, then, is where philosophy, by default, really exists and is really practiced. This philosophy exists under the radar; it is not taken seriously, perhaps, because it is believed and lived most strenuously by women in an almost secretive and informal manner, manifested most intensely to lovers and potential partners. The third approach has been around long enough—since about the time when Christianity began to lose its pervasive hold on American morals—so that its philosophy has informed the last few generations: children learn it from their mothers, and, increasingly, from their fathers, and we can see it in Disney movies most visibly, films which feature talking animals and children who love animals, films which heroically attack Nature-destroying corporate cynicism, love of animals being a chief attribute of this pervasive, third-approach philosophy.

Whether it is Ayn Rand or Lao Tzu, every young woman who is not a cheerleader, and thinks for herself just a little bit, arms herself with a practical, anti-authoritarian philosophy, to fend off mean parents, mainstream religion, and no-philosophy, ravenous guys, and also to give herself a certain intellectual dignity in the face of the ravenous guy who affects a certain intelligence about philosophical matters.

This is a good thing; a young woman (or a young man, too; there are exceptions) should have a practical philosophy to navigate the perils of a cynical world.

But the good thing is almost a bad thing if the third approach philosophy is merely pragmatic. Fake wisdom is often worse than no wisdom at all, for nothing deceives quite like fake wisdom.

Here is the problem with the pragmatic: we have already seen how pragmatic the second approach is; the most pragmatic philosophy is the no-philosophy of the second approach, which can be any philosophy it wants, depending on its victim. The pragmatic philosophy of the third approach will always lose out, in terms of pragmatism, to the second approach. This will inevitably cause a great deal of emotional and mental and spiritual distress in the follower of the third approach; their “wisdom” only works for them up to a certain point, and they will find themselves constantly betraying their principles to a point where they begin to doubt they have a philosophy or set of beliefs at all, even as they tenaciously cling to their philosophy in a vague, self-doubting sort of manner.

We will look specifically at the most common principles of the third approach, a philosophy, which we have already pointed out, exists as an antidote to the super-cynical second approach in order to protect the person and the dignity and the sanity of the young woman making her way in the world. It will quickly be seen, however, that no “practical wisdom” can defend itself against the super-cynical Second Approach of “no-wisdom,” for the “no-wisdom”of the seducing guy is the ultimate pragmatism. And the young woman who chooses the Third Approach is vaguely aware of this, but finally succumbs to cynicism herself.

The Socratic philosophy is the only true antidote to the second approach, for Socrates recommends argument, not a set of wise quotations, as defense: the only true philosophy reacts to world-seductions by making the seductions themselves the true content of its philosophy as it carefully analyzes these seductions and gives them their due, and ascertains what they ultimately entail, without embracing or rejecting them at first. In this sense, the Socratic philosophy is like the second approach, keeping itself free to adapt in real time to whatever comes its way, and not trapping itself in a set of “wise sayings,” which can always be turned inside out and upside down by anyone who is moderately clever.

Here, for instance, is the “wisdom” of Lao Tzu, which millions learn in the form of “wise sayings” and which millions of women religiously use to keep themselves safe from the ravenous horrors of the cynical and selfish world:

Silence is a source of Great Strength.

Stop thinking and end your problems.

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others.

Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need approval.

Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.

There is a common thread to all these quotes, and their “wisdom” is such that one can see why those who desperately need to resist the seductive no-philosophy of the Second Approach would find this attractive. As we can see, it is precisely this kind of philosophy which we mentioned above: a way to behave for maximum advantage, a philosophy which is closer to a practical religion: but recall what we said about a philosophy that is practical—it will always be defeated pragmatically by the Second Approach, which is free to be as practical as it needs to be, which holds all the free-ranging, pragmatic cards, since it invests in no preconceived, fixed wisdom at all.

What we notice about the “wisdom” of Lao Tzu is that it encourages its followers to be silent, to invest in no argument at all; that is, this philosophy argues for a kind of no-philosophy (just like the seductive Second Approach!) Lao Tzu, in speaking to the woman who needs to protect herself against the take-no-prisoners, say-anything-to-win, super-pragmatic Second Approach, counsels that one should just shut up, keep silent, don’t argue, don’t think, don’t try to convince, don’t seek approval—in other words, it resembles the myth of the maiden who flees Apollo and turns into a tree. Protect yourself from the false seducer by becoming a rock.

But is this bit of pragmatism possible? Can one really survive in this world by not caring what others think? By not seeking anyone’s approval? By not thinking? Is this good advice? It is perhaps good advice when facing down an enemy with sugared words, but even here, will shutting one’s ears and closing off one’s thoughts really work?

Lao Tzu is counseling the woman (or the man) to avoid argument altogether. Lao Tzu is saying: use ignorance as your fortress. Make people think you are smart by never uttering a word. Roll yourself up into a ball and shut out the world. This may work at times, but always? Is this “wisdom,” then? No, it is fake wisdom. It is foolishness, really, and it only appeals because it partially mimics the no-philosophy of the second approach seducer. Lao Tzu’s “wisdom” fails, for only the courageously free Socratic argument can determine the good from the bad, when it comes to speech and its entire nexus of motivations. Non-verbal judgment and ‘thinking without thinking’ are valid approaches, but with Lao Tzu and the wisdom of the Tao, we see a complete withdrawal from social activity and argument recommended—and this cannot possibly help anyone as a philosophical lifestyle. The wu wei of Lao Tzu is a counter-intuitive, anti-philosophical attempt to mimic second approach wisdom—which will always be the ultimate rebellion against the (academic) first approach.

Here is more “wisdom” from Lao Tzu lest we be accused of being unfair:

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes— don’t resist them. Let things flow naturally forward.”

So all change should be accepted? Even bad changes? What does this mean exactly: “Let things flow…?” If this “flow” is natural in the sense that it is fundamental to the universe and inevitable, then one couldn’t stop it even if one wanted to, and if the “flow” can be stopped for some reason, wouldn’t one want to stop a “flow” that does harm? And if it does no harm, who would want to stop it, anyway? Is Lao Tzu saying that we should not act to change our environment at all? Is this practical? And if he is not saying this, what is he saying?

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

Again, this is basically saying the same thing: accept everything. Be “simple” is fine advice, but it is much easier to say “be simple” than to actually “return to the source of being,” which may or may not be “simple” for us, depending on how we experience “being” when we are with our kids at the shopping mall. “Be patient,” says the wise philosopher, with your “enemies,” even, we presume, as they are killing your friends. “Compassion” towards oneself is a good thing, we assume, and the same as being compassionate towards others, except those who are not compassionate towards us—our enemies, to whom, just like our friends, we show “patience,” and not “compassion.” It all gets very confusing after a while, when trying to piece together the nice qualities of wisdom.

Is it good to be reminded to be nice to oneself? No doubt it is. Or, to be told to show your enemies a certain amount of patience?  Or to be reminded to keep things simple? Of course it is. But aren’t these truisms, platitudes which grow on trees? And do they apply at all times? Can one really use ‘sayings’ such as these to figure out practical problems? I’m going to be “compassionate” towards myself and have this piece of cake. Wait. Or should I be “compassionate” towards myself by not having this piece of cake. Which is it? Wisdom that can mean anything is, in fact, nothing.

Lao Tzu is no-wisdom. It is the second approach. We may as well admit it. It is nothing but a Trojan Horse, a “philosophy” of the fox for use by the chickens.

There. We’ve said it. The horrible truth is revealed.  A “simple truth,” and “compassionate,” and we don’t care what anyone thinks, and we think nothing of it, and we give no thought to anything at all, as we move, like immense wisdom always does, with its accompanying shadows, into silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I SAW YOU LOOK AWAY


 

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
Even as we erotically kiss,
We whisper the dear name of someone who we miss.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
We kiss the flower and stem,
We cry to the root—yet we are thinking of them.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
We are never unholy or sad—
Our thoughts are good-–though the world is bad.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
The flowers are flowers, indeed!
Vines are dreams and we, merely the seed.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
Why, I wonder, did you look away?
Death lasted a moment; now must it last all day?

 

PUBLIC, PRIVATE, PRIVATE, PUBLIC

image

The famous Thomas Brady of Scarriet in a private moment

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Who wouldn’t choose private over public?

One would have to be insane to prefer the public.

Monday morning is public.  Friday night is private.

The public is what finds us out and makes us do things.  In private, we do whatever we want. 

We are forced to act a certain way in public.  In private we can be ourselves.

Here is what is so dreary and ugly about poetry: poetry is all about making something public.

Why in the world would we want to do this?  Why would we want to take Friday night and move it over to Monday morning?

Poetry makes the private public—but for what reason?  To spend all that time and effort getting published?  What kind of fool would do this?

The public is the necessary place where work gets done. To “make a living,” we go to the public, but we go to the public wearily, warily, unhappily.

Even those who win the public’s affection “just want to be alone.”  Fall into the clutches of the public, lose your privacy, and watch what happens.  You go insane, is what happens.  The public is where we go to die.

Those who “want to be liked” take the first foolhardy steps towards their doom. Because “being liked” is usually achieved in the public eye.

Even famous poets rejoice in privacy.  As W.H. Auden put it in his well-known introduction to the Signet Classic edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

All of us like to discover the secrets of our neighbors, particularly the ugly ones.  What today passes for scholarly research is an activity no different from that of reading somebody’s private correspondence when he is out of the room.  Most genuine artists would prefer that no biography be written. Shakespeare is in the singularly fortunate position of being, to all intents and purposes, anonymous.

Even the joy of knowing “ugly secrets” is a private affair.

And yet it’s the public judgment which deems them “ugly.”  Privacy enjoys things in a completely judgment-free zone.

The trick is to protect the private space with a good public wall, or fence.

Auden’s poetry did not reveal his private feelings at all.  The poet, Auden, because he was a good poet, was simply making a public display to keep the public happy and out of his life.

Without further ado, let us ask: Does the public give us any joy at all?

If so much happens in public, if so much matters in public, can we really say it is a miserable, unhappy realm?

How can the infinitely important and consequential (public actions and responses) cause so much unhappiness?

Let us try and find some things which are public and also good.

First, we should ask the obvious: is one possible without the other?

We mentioned Auden, celebrating the private, yet known as a public figure by his public poetry.

Do we all need a public edifice in order to enjoy our private space?

And what is it, exactly that we do, and who exactly are we, in that private place behind our public wall?

We are not just saying you can’t have Friday night without Monday morning—that’s pretty obvious; we are asking more than that: we are asking: what is this privacy that we seek, exactly? And is this privacy something we seek, or something we are?

Can we have a private bedroom without first having a public house on a public street in a public city? Can we build a place to hide (a house) without work done in public to earn that house? Okay, more obvious stuff: we all have to pay the (public) piper; get dirty to enjoy our cleanliness. An interesting reversal of metaphor here? For isn’t private dirty and public clean?

But this apparent metaphoric reversal points to the very thing we are trying to do: fight through the obvious truth, the platitude, the truism, of the private space hiding behind the public wall, to ask: what exactly are these things? Public? Private?

So far we established without much effort, that private is good, public, bad; the private pleasurable, the public, odious, the private, true and genuine, the public, false and tedious.

But let us ask a few more questions and see if this is the actual state of things.

Is the beauty of the sky public or private? Public, certainly; we would not enjoy the beauty of a sunset if the sunset existed privately. The sky, then, is public. Yet all all of us experience the sky in whatever way we choose. We all experience the sky—this very public thing—privately.

Now this is interesting. For all of us to experience the sky privately it is necessary for the sky to be public.

Now what if we were to insist that all private experiences belong to this category: the public experienced privately?

What if we made this radical assertion: What we think is private is really public.

The private is merely a piece of the public—the public is the actual; the private is nothing more than a piece broken off?

The public is the whole thing (the whole sky, the whole universe) or, in terms of time, the eternal—what lasts is the only thing that is true, according to The Big Boys: Socrates, Shakespeare, etc. And thus the private, which we just got done lauding, is only a crumb, a morsel of what is true.

For a small (mortal) mouth, a morsel is perfectly suitable, but here’s the startling truth which is now insinuating itself into this essay: the private is nothing in itself—it is only the public cut down to a practical size.

We flee to our room to dwell in a private place, but we seek that privacy in vain. We cannot escape the eye of God—and another name for God is—the public.

The room we seek is our tomb, the privacy we seek, nothing.

We run to the public restroom for a little privacy; but how much more privacy if we were home in our own bathroom! If we had a thousand bathrooms, would we have more privacy? No! We just need one! Privacy cannot be quantified— it is like the point in geometry. A thousand bathrooms is a public fact, not a private one. (There is no private fact. Privacy is an infinite number of ideal, immaterial points, geometrically speaking.)

Privacy cannot be physically measured—meanwhile ‘the public’ is measurement itself—since privacy has no material existence; privacy is the One Person in the One Private Place—an Ideal, an impossibility, a part torn off from the One Public in vain, for Reality in its true state will not be torn off or broken.

We would have more privacy in our bathroom at home than in a public one; but perhaps not—what if our husband were home and knocked on the bathroom door, and wanted to come in? Or what if we had no husband and lived alone? Alone is the ultimate private existence, and yet the one state we all fear the most: for to be truly alone is to be buried alive; privacy in its true state is death.

The idea of the private is just that: an idea, and has no real existence: every thought coursing through that head of yours belongs to the public; your body is public, your whole existence is public in a manner you can barely comprehend, and so far as you don’t comprehend, you are absolutely ignorant—and this ignorance is nothing more than your pitiful (because nonexistent) privacy.

You have remained too long in the darkness.

Party like it’s Monday morning.

You have nothing to hide, because the hidden is nothing.

Not speaking, you speak.

LOVE IS CURIOSITY

We desire to know the truth about love:
The plans made below, the nebula above,
The intricate windings of our lover’s heart,
The way to make it last, the way to make it start,
The life and the lust and the looseness of love.
But there’s nothing to know and nothing to see:
Love is only curiosity.

Lost, uncertain, and full of care,
Beauty caused you to stop there,
And now you ponder what might be here—
Somehow beautiful, somehow austere,
Somehow fearful, but a beautiful fear,
And you stop. Wonder. Lust. Stare.
But there’s nothing to ponder. There’s nothing to see.
Love is only curiosity.

Beauty, and the passion for it,
Is not the lover’s destiny,
The artist will feel it and adore it,
And cover it in poetry,
And looking at a sunset, or the most beautiful things,
Or hearing a song, or smelling the vine which clings
Gives us calm and happiness; beauty is ours
Simply when we look at flowers or stars.
No, love is when we can’t let it be.
And this is from curiosity.

Routine kills the madness of love.
Routine doesn’t kill the beauty above,
For stars never lose their beauty for me,
But love! Love needs curiosity.

Did she really love you?
I thought she was furious!
Oh she was angry, but she was also—curious.

 

 

NOW BE QUIET

Aduska, who has long hair on her arms,
And a face, intricate and fine,
Has vindicated the poet in me,
But I cannot write a line.

I want to love Aduska,
To kiss the soul in her face,
To kiss sweet Aduska in a sweet and hidden place.

I want to love Aduska, but things interfere—
Things which have nothing to do with love, but are here!

I want to love Aduska, but she’s gone to other things—
Love willingly waits; and when love is waiting, sings,
Or waits without a sound—
If that’s what Aduska wants—
As I sometimes found.

POETRY TOOK MY SONG AWAY

I always loved my song,
I always let it play.
Then rumination came along.
Poetry took my song away.

I walked along, singing,
I sang because I knew how.
Then one day you came along.
I watch my song in silence now.

I wasn’t one to mind
That my song had one thing to say.
Now I wander from point to point to point.
Poetry took my song away.

Poetry has a passion
For songs and more than song.
The singer’s but a picture, now
And the picture seems wrong.

I always loved my song.
My song had only this to say:
Songs without love are wrong.
Poetry took my song away.

 

BEN MAZER READING AT THE GROLIER

Ben Mazer: Neo-Romantic genius.  When will he be critic-anointed?

The previous evening we had caught Sir Christopher Ricks at Boston University.

We enjoyed Ben Mazer reading his poems at the Grolier Bookstore in Harvard Square more. (9/26/14)

Ricks presented a talk on T.S. Eliot and World War One—fine topic! Corrupt, war-mongering Modernism, blood dripping everywhere.

But Ricks wrapped himself in the mummy cloths of New Criticism: we got trivial close-readings of a few obscure poems and the snoring of undergraduates.

History was put in an eye-dropper: “a poem,” Ricks opined, is not necessarily about a major event, like World War One; the War could be about the poem.

Now this was rather nice, actually, but this was not Ricks’ main thesis; it was served up nonchalantly during the questions at the end, to make the dogs run after meat, perhaps so Ricks could slip more easily away, and leave us amazed and wanting more.  The idea wasn’t meant to be analyzed—perhaps because on real inspection it simply falls apart?  Perfect, this idea, for the New Critics and the Moderns: look away from their odious views, look away from their hideous lives, read their poems as the reality.  Oh brother.

But Mazer did his doctoral study with Ricks, and Mazer is a poet (not a seedy Modern; an innocent Romantic playing with the Modern) who can make the world seem to be about his poem.  As a philosophy, the fact of this may fail, but in the hands of Mazer’s seeming, it works.

So Ricks and Mazer seem (who really can tell?) to have been a good fit; no pressure for Mazer to get rid of New Criticism’s fog: Mr. Mazer is now one of the best poets in the country—perhaps the best—at the type of poem which pins you to the ground with its language and yet can comfort you with its mesmerizing, suggestive, hazy, uncanny, poignant, sweet, expansive anxiety. Mazer achieves that ‘stupefying intelligence,’ that pleasant drowning quality in his poetry—it disarms the sternest intellectuals and burns novices to the core. He is a Quietist with tricks.

The first poem Mazer read (“Cirque D’etoiles” defeated Derek Walcott in a by now famous Scarriet March Madness Tournament) quickly established for the audience at the Grolier that here was a living Romantic.  In the 1960s, there were pop singers like Robin Gibb and Donovan who made us think of the Romantic poets; but poetry has never managed to unearth the uncanny magic of a Keats, a Shelley, a Coleridge, a Byron.  Poetry that conveys intense emotion—naked, unguarded emotion, in addition to an almost witty, 18th century poetic swagger, awash in a certain atmospheric excess, unashamed of its emotion because it owns a certain quasi-original something else:

CIRQUE D’ETOILES

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

Is this really clever illusion or is it real?  Ben Mazer’s lasting poetic reputation will depend on how much he is able, in the coming years, to convince us it is real—as he struggles towards a new Formalism—a hateful term which we use here only for a momentary and crude illustration.

On this evening at the Grolier, Mazer also read some of his sonnets from “The King,” and then new poems (which we can’t reproduce here, unfortunately), one of which featured a lovely refrain, but still in the mad swirl of Mazer’s style; and yet it seemed to us a new oldness was there; a poem really striving to stick in the mind as poems used to do, and comfortable, as well, in its metaphysical aspirations. We asked him to read it again, during the questions, and he graciously complied.

Mazer fielded questions from the audience afterwards profoundly; it stirred the audience; it even caused awe.

The elders in the audience asked about the rhymes; Mazer blew them away when he said simply of his poetry, “It all rhymes. It’s all rhyme.”  He said this as a poet, not a critic, and after hearing him read his poetry, and hearing his remark—an off-the-cuff, almost exasperated tone, with a certain happy irritation—we (the whole audience, I think) got it.  It’s all rhyme.  And he added, “A great critic told me, there are no rules.”

Another question: can you…explain…for us…please….the “mystery” of the “tension” which vibrates in your poetry?  Where lies this “tension?” the gentleman asked.

Mazer, reluctantly, it seemed, came up with this on the spot: “The tension is the meaning of the poet/poem versus the meaning of the world.”

We liked it.

If Christopher Ricks has helped to create this monster, this Mazer, who can make us wonder, (a younger Mazer studied with the late Seamus Heaney) it recommends Sir Ricks to us more than anything else Ricks may have done.

SEX, SEX, SEX!

http://media1.s-nbcnews.com/i/streams/2013/August/130801/6C8486411-130801-adamphoto-hmed-0205p-files.jpg

We do not intend to annoy our readers in exploiting the topic of sex: this is not a cute attempt to get attention, nor an indulgence in bad taste, or worst, plain lust.

Perhaps we could have written, “Gender! Gender! Gender!” or “Gay! Gay! Gay!” but sex, with all due respect, is the issue, and the issue here is how we pretend sex is not the issue.

Take Gay Marriage, for instance.  What is the difference between a gay person and straight person?

There is no difference—except one: how they have sex.

Gay issues, then, are sex issues.  Sex is not a component of gay issues; gay issues are 100% sex issues. For there is no other difference between straight and gay, and to imply any other difference would be to prejudice the gay person.  (And also, prejudice the straight person.  But we can leave this aside.  Or perhaps we can’t?)

We need not indulge in speculation such as: is a person of a certain sexual orientation that sexual orientation when they are not being sexual? We need not ask this question, for the axiom remains, and it remains untouched: the one difference between gay and straight, as these terms are universally defined in a non-prejudicial manner, is: how each type has sex.

Give me the right to have sex the way I want to have sex.

This is the formula (there is no other) for all matters pertaining to gay rights.

We have no right to imply anything else, for anything else would automatically prejudice the gay person as being different in other ways—the very definition of prejudice.

We have no right, for instance, to imply that one of the criteria is love, for this would open the door to prejudice: anything but sex differences as a reason given for the difference between gay and straight is not permitted, if we are to avoid prejudicial judgment.

We would never want to stigmatize the gay person as someone incapable of loving people of another gender or of another sexual orientation.

Gay is sex, not love, for the axiom is plain: the difference between gay and straight is how they have sex, not how they love, for if we came anywhere near this formula, this would be to equate sex and love, and further, to equate sex and love in the behavior of the gay person, which would be highly prejudicial against the gay person.

This is precisely the same mechanism as the following: it would be highly insulting to insist that any man and woman who are married are only married for one reason, and one reason alone: the sex. Imagine the countless middle-aged and elderly married couples who were seen as being in a married relationship for this sole reason.  Cries of indignation and shame would come from all quarters, and rightfully so.

Love, and all the shades of affection which make people wish to be with each other, or to do good for each other, is not, in any one’s mind, tied to sex alone, or even tied to sex at all.  Anyone attempting this definition would be laughed out of town.  How, then, can we take the previously established sole difference, by non-prejudicial definition, between a gay and a straight person: how they have sex, and add love into the definition of that definitional difference between gay and straight, in which sex becomes how we define love?  We cannot.

All gay issues, then, are about sex, and come down to the following, which we repeat from above: Give me the right to have sex the way I want to have sex.

All social freedoms come with the caveat that our freedom does not take away another’s…”the pursuit of happiness,” for instance, does not mean: “take away another’s happiness.”

So, Give me the right to have sex the way I want to have sex implies mutual and not coercive sex.

Matching up gays, by definition, has one criterion, and one criterion only: matching up sex partners. If this sounds crude, it is only because we have backward and old-fashioned and prejudicial notions of gays and sex.

Here some might argue that once we have established the group, “gay,” matching up now involves qualities non-sexual; love and friendship, for instance. Yet if we see an old rich person and a young beautiful person in a marriage, the marriage still exists only for the established definition of the group in question: in this case, “gay.” Wealth and beauty are in the mix—but they do not change the sole definition of the group, which is “gay,” for beauty and wealth exist entirely independently of “gay.”

Rights are either universal—“happiness”—or they pertain to a group—“gay marriage.”

Since we have defined this particular group—which we must do, if we are to give the group rights, in a non-prejudicial way, ‘gay marriage’ is really ‘sex marriage’—marriage for sex.

By definition, it cannot be anything else.

And if ‘gay marriage’ is ‘sex marriage,’ it follows that ‘straight marriage’ is ‘sex marriage,’ too.

In a free society, sex rights make perfect sense.

Yet now we are back to offending all those married couples!

Is it true that social offense flies in the face of logic?

What can we do about that?

Shouldn’t it make sense that if a wife, or a husband, wants to have sex with someone other than their spouse, this should be a right, in exactly the same way that gay or straight marriage is a right?

The whole issue is ‘sex rights’ and nothing else.  To introduce anything else: property, money, love, or morality is to introduce old-fashioned considerations which distort the truth of the matter.

If this outrages our sense of decorum, it is only because of prejudice and backwards thinking.

If we sentimentalize the issue, we introduce prejudice and distortion not only to gay rights—which are solely about sex—but to marriage between gays or marriage between straights, so defined: the two terms, gay and straight creating, by definition, the existence of the other, since to choose a gay partner must involve not choosing a straight partner.

But if the issue is sex, as we have established, and ‘sex rights’ the natural outcome of the whole matter, what does this say about the ‘sanctity’ of marriage?  Is there a sanctity of marriage, and if there is not, what is marriage? If marriage is a sex contract, but sex rights transcend staying with one person, don’t we have to rethink everything?  Doesn’t everything fall apart?

We have attempted to show—to articulate in words—the underlying logic which drives certain unspoken prejudices—expressed, or felt, or manifested, as squeamishness or disgust: feelings—manifested by social offense flying in the face of logic—which have far more lasting impact on society than words.

In this brief Scarriet essay, we have exploded the meaning of significant terms: Sex, marriage, gay, and we don’t think any related issue can be looked at quite the same way, again.

Is it any wonder that Scarriet is swiftly becoming the most important cultural site of its kind?

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY WITHOUT BEAUTY IS VANITY

The first thing a rapper always does
Is tell you he uses all these words because
Words are full of shit and it is “ME
Who is the power and the glory.
And the next thing you know he is on Hannity.
Poetry Without Beauty is Vanity.

Now you have these poets with their MFAs
Who mix John Donne with their Willie Mays
And scoff at wearing the poet’s crown
As they do cocaine at a bar downtown
And pretty feminists toy with their sanity.
Poetry Without Beauty is Vanity.

The avant-gardes are ugly and old,
Modernists, yet not modernists, I am told.
They write poems on the kitchen sink
Without irony, or ironically, or so they think.
They race to trendiness ahead of me.
Poetry Without Beauty is Vanity.

 

 

THE BEGINNING OF A POEM IS A SONG

I only had to look at you,
I didn’t need to look very long.
There isn’t much love has to do.
The beginning of a poem is a song.

Make a list of things
A song must do before it sings
If you need to be precise,
Or maybe we could kiss;
That, too, would be nice.

I could write some poems
Astute, verbose and dense,
Or maybe write a song
Because emotion is immense.

Because love is always going
And life isn’t very long,
I’m almost afraid to speak.
The beginning of a poem is a song.

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST JAZZ VOCAL STANDARDS THAT WORK AS POEMS

When poetry was killed off in the first half of the 20th century by the tendentious artlessness of Modernism, did it go somewhere?

Yes. It went into popular music.

It went here:

Somewhere there’s music.
How faint the tune.
Somewhere there’s heaven.
How high the moon.

Somewhere there’s music.
It’s where you are.
Somewhere there’s heaven.
How near, how far.

The darkest night will shine,
If you come to me soon.
Until you will, how still my heart—
How high the moon.

Lyrics by Nancy Hamilton

The sultry romance of poetry, sentimental as it might be, just happens to be a significant template for poetry, the art.

Let us admit, at once, that this kind of poetry is perhaps the worst kind of poetry possible, whenever it fails, and it fails often.

This is perhaps why many conclude—in error—that poetry of romance is of a lesser quality than other kinds of poetry, an error which has been perpetuated by a certain tribe of academics.

The error comes from not examining the reason for this kind of poetry’s rather vast failure, which is twofold:

First, since sentimental love poetry is by far the most well-known and practiced of the templates, there will inevitably be a great number of failures, providing countless wretched examples for those looking to dismiss this kind of poetry as poetry.

Second, it is easy to fail in rather spectacular and embarrassing fashion when writing love poetry precisely because of the significance of the template itself.  The template lives in a place where all poetry lives—skill at meter, versification, sentiment, irony, universality, unity, richness, and originality will naturally aid the poet attempting love poetry, and, it also lives where we all live; because it lives close to the heart, to the social embarrassment, and drama, and ubiquitous nature of love and romance, writing this kind of poetry will have a greater risk of failure, since readers are passionately familiar with the tropes involved.

This does not mean, however, that this kind of poetry is inferior in any way to other types of poetry, and it may be superior, in fact, no matter what academics may say, and which is why, perhaps, it tends to be more popular—which should never be a strike against anything good.

Take a song like “Autumn Leaves.” One could almost say it’s inevitable that a song like this exist in the ‘jazz standard’ category, given the mood, subject and sentiment of the ‘jazz standard’ love song. Now the critic must ask: should such inevitability be held against “Autumn Leaves?” Or should we honor it for the very reason that its existence seems destined? We must know the category intimately to appreciate the example. The category is a simple one (not inferior for that reason) and consists of six sub-categories.

1. The Beloved Receives Heavenly Praise —All The Things You Are

2. Praise Without Quality (ironic, indirect) —My Funny Valentine

3. Love Gone Wrong (Revenge) —Cry Me A River

4. Love Gone Wrong (Resigned) —Autumn Leaves

5. Introspective (Narrator talks with their heart) —My Foolish Heart

6. Love Against the World (Time, Fortune, Necessity) —When Sunny Gets Blue

The whole category of the jazz standard is simple, but already we see some complexity. “Autumn Leaves” invokes, with its natural fact, the fourth sub-category—sad resignation of lost love—as we might expect; the leaves of “red and gold” falling past the window of the bereaved lover join other things in the mind: “summer kisses, the sunburnt hands I used to hold” and the dying leaves are then used with the idea of time, already invoked by “summer” (before the leaves fell) with: “but I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.” This is rather brilliant. It is one thing to come up with autumn leaves as an image for the sad resignation of lost love, another to use the image economically and in a way that feels inevitable. The drawback to these songs working as poetry: extreme brevity within a simple and well understood context—is precisely that which allows us to see the challenge overcome if we are alive to both the challenge and the traditional actuality of the love lyric itself, so that instead of dismissing it for that reason, we instead appreciate what is, in fact, a poetic challenge, an extremely difficult one, to be poetically met and overcome.

The brevity of the effect in these songs is such that the title practically writes the song. The immediate is almost everything.

The jazz song usually has a lot of minor keys and notes (brilliantly used to multiple effects of course) with the general tendency to heaviness, intricate mellowness, and melancholy, so we would expect a lot of ‘love gone wrong’ and sad songs, and that’s what we do indeed have. This musical fact will of course impact the lyric. This general sadness is probably why jazz is not nearly as popular as other genres—but its poetry, as we attempt to isolate it, has its own, and under-appreciated, excellence, and the sad also happens to be a richer field for poetic loveliness.

As for jazz’s “sophisticated” reputation; the term is empty; there is nothing smarter about jazz; the ‘maudlin refined into beauty’ perhaps best sums it up; it cannot substitute long for the best of classical music, and the worst of it is horribly chained and pretentious.

Its reputation for being “sophisticated” may be due to the fact that jazz contains very little story-telling, and here is where jazz distinguishes itself from Folk and Country, its hayseed cousins. Frank Sinatra self-consciously introduced the slight exception, “It Was A Very Good Year,” which almost tells a story, as a “pretty folk song.” One can’t imagine Sinatra singing one of those endless folk ballads like “Frankie and  Johnny”—even though this song is on some ‘jazz standard’ lists. ‘True art’ has a certain reticence; the jazz femme fatale doesn’t say very much; as “Yesterday” puts it: “Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.” The best heartaches are beyond analysis.

In fact, anyone who makes a list like this one has probably had their heart broken, has it associated with a song, which, for that reason, will not be on the list, the ultimate reticence of heart-broken cool. So if you notice a song you think should be on the list below and it is not, be comforted. The song is playing somewhere—and breaking a heart.

 

1. SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW “That’s where you’ll find me.” Poignantly ideal.

2. YESTERDAY Formally perfect.

3. SMILE Best and saddest advice.

4. AUTUMN LEAVES  “I see your lips, the summer kisses, but I miss you most of all when…”

5. STORMY MONDAY “Tuesday’s just as bad.”

6. MOON RIVER “waiting round the bend”

7. ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE “when all the things you are, are mine.”

8. THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU “Your eyes in stars above…my love.”

9. MY FUNNY VALENTINE “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable”

10. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME “stars fading but I linger on”

11. DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE “couldn’t bear it without you…”

12. MOONGLOW “way up in the blue…”

13. IT HAD TO BE YOU “even be glad, just to be sad, thinking of you.”

14. ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL “half a love never appealed to me”

15. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE “and the difference is you.”

16. SPEAK LOW “speak love to me and soon”

17. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN ” be sure your umbrella is upside down”

18. AS TIME GOES BY “hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate”

19. SUMMERTIME  beautiful impressionism.

20. I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN “until I smile at you.”

21. STARS FELL ON ALABAMA “we lived our little drama, we kissed in a field of white…”

22. I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU “to want a love that can’t be true…”

23. HOW HIGH THE MOON “somewhere there’s music…”

24. CONQUEST “the hunter became the huntress”

25. SINGING IN THE RAIN “I’m laughing at clouds”

26. I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO “little trolley cars climb halfway to the stars”

27. PRELUDE TO A KISS “that was my heart trying to compose a prelude…”

28. STRANGER IN PARADISE “if I stand starry-eyed…”

29. ALL OF ME “you took the part that once was my heart so why not take all of me?”

30. AINT MISBEHAVING “I’m home about eight, just me and my radio”

31. THE NEARNESS OF YOU “it’s not the moon that excites me…it’s just the nearness of you…”

32. UNFORGETTABLE “That’s why, darling, it’s incredible…”

33. THE MAN I LOVE “One day he’ll come along”

34. IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR “soft summer nights, we’d hide from the lights on the village green…”

35. QUIET NIGHTS AND QUIET STARS  “quiet thoughts and quiet dreams, quiet walks by quiet streams…”

36. WHO’S SORRY NOW? “Who’s heart is aching for breaking each vow”

37. I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU Well of course not if that’s your attitude!

38. THE LADY IS A TRAMP A unique way to admire.

39. THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA “she looks straight ahead not at me”

40. WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I? “Who never fell in love” Sammy Davis Jr. nailed this.

41. WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR “makes no difference who you are…”

42. SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember…”

43. ALFIE “what’s it all about?”

44. MONA LISA “they just lie there and they die there…”

45. HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS “a shining star upon the highest bow…”

46. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FOOL “a sad and a long lonely day…”

47. STARDUST “You wander down the lane and far away…”

48. WHEN I FALL IN LOVE “the moment I can feel that you feel that way, too…”

49. SEPTEMBER SONG “When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame…”

50. FOOLS RUSH IN “but wise men never fall in love, so how are they to know?”

51. YOU’D BETTER GO NOW “I like you much, too much…”

52. JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings…”

53. BLUE MOON “I saw you standing alone…”

54. YOU BELONG TO ME “Fly the ocean in a silver plane, see the jungle when it’s wet with rain…”

55. I GOT IT BAD “and that ain’t good.”

56. IF I HAD YOU “I could start my life anew”

57. A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON “my imagination will thrive upon that kiss…”

58. WALK ON BY “and I start to cry…”

59. I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU “every stop that we made…And when I pulled down the shade…”

60. WHEN SUNNY GETS BLUE “Hurry new love, hurry here…”

61. THE GOOD LIFE “kiss the good life goodbye.”

62. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? “I remember when I was a little girl…”

63. STORMY WEATHER “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky…”

64. TWILIGHT TIME “heavenly shades of night are falling…”

65. I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN “I have tried so not to give in…”

66. EMBRACEABLE YOU  “you irreplaceable you…”

67. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT “won’t you tell me how?”

68. HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY “Where is that worn out wish that I threw aside…”

69. GEORGIA ON MY MIND “No peace I find, just an old sweet song…”

70. FOR ALL WE KNOW “Tomorrow may never come…”

71. MACK THE KNIFE “and he keeps it out of sight…”

72. I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING “I can make the rain go…”

73. CRY ME A RIVER “I cried a river over you.”

74. IF YOU GO AWAY  If you go away on this summer day…”

75. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? “East and west of your life…”

76. MY FOOLISH HEART “it’s love this time, it’s love, my foolish heart.”

77. ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE “What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in, why it’s almost…”

78. LET’S DO IT  “even educated fleas do it…”

79. AINT SHE SWEET  “now I ask you very confidentially…”

80. LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF  “potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto…”

81. FLY ME TO THE MOON “let me find out what love is like on Jupiter and Mars…”

82. TILL THERE WAS YOU “There were bells on a hill, but I never heard them ringing…”

83. A STRANGER ON EARTH “The day’s gonna come when I prove my worth and I won’t be a stranger…”

84. I’LL BE SEEING YOU “I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing you”

85. TROUBLE IN MIND “the sun’s going to shine through my back door one day”

86. ROMANCE IN THE DARK “we’ll find romance in the dark…”

87. SOMETHING Sinatra said this Beatle (Harrison) song was the best.

88. ON A CLEAR DAY “rise and look around you…”

89. THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY Made for Judy Garland.

90. IT’S ALL IN THE GAME “Many a tear has to fall…”

91. WHY SHOULD I CARE  “Will she wake up knowing you’re still there? And why should I care?”

92. LOVE IS HERE TO STAY “the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay…”

93. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU “Don’t count stars or you might stumble…”

94. I SURRENDER DEAR “We played the game of stay away…”

95. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS “Until you’ve faced each dawn with sleepless eyes…”

96. COME RAIN OR COME SHINE “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you”

97. LAURA “The laugh that floats on a summer night…”

98. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS “And I know what time it is now”

99. DO NOTHING TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME “if you should take the word of others you’ve heard”

100. THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME “the way we danced till 3″

 

 

 

I STILL DO (NEW SCARRIET POEM)

Is that all you have?
A selfish soul unable to love?
Is that all you’ve got?
Indignantly making me into something I’m not?

Romance can be made,
Like writing a poem or a play:
Come sit with me beneath this shade,
Kiss me, and tell me what you did today.

Romance can be made of lies,
Or romance can be true;
I don’t know what you’re feeling,
But I really did love you.
And because I love to write romance,
I still do.

IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR…POETRY’S HOT 100!!!!!

 

1. Valerie Macon—Credentialing 1, Poetry 0

2. Patricia Lockwood—“Rape Joke” first viral-era poem to go viral?

3. Paul Lewis—Poe scholar brings Poe statue to Boston: The Jingle Man Returneth

4. Marjorie Perloff—Every era needs its Uber-Critic

5. Charles Wright—New Poet Laureate

6. Camille Paglia—Zeitgeist, Firebrand, Sexual Ethics, Gadfly.

7. James Franco—Can Hollywood make poetry cool again?

8. David LehmanBest American Poetry best anthology gathering-place.

9. Richard Blanco—interviewed in Vogue

10. Garrison Keillor—King of Quietism

11. Kenny Goldsmith—We understand some people take him seriously

12. Marilyn Chin—New book, Hard Love Province (Norton)

13. Amy King—Lesbians trying to take over the world!

14. Charles Bernstein—Papers going to Yale

15. Tao Lin—Alt-Lit unravels

16. William Logan—Every era needs the Kick ass Review

17. George Bilgere—Imperial is new; only poet who can out-Collins Collins.

18. Stephen Burt—Harvard’s frenzy of sweet political correctness.

19. Josh Baines—rips apart Alt-Lit on Vice.com

20. Don Share—Steering Poetry Foundation Mother Ship

21. Ron Silliman—Guiding Avant-garde ships through Quietism’s shallows

22. Ben Mazer—Neo-Romantic publishes Collected Ransom, the South’s T.S. Eliot

23. Frank Bidart—Punk Rock Robert Lowell

24. Paul Muldoon—Drives the New Yorker

25. Philip Nikolayev—Bringing back Fulcrum

26. Vanessa Place—Museum performer

27. Casey Rocheteau —Wins a home in Detroit for being a poet!

28. Natasha Trethewey—Bids farewell to the Laureateship

29. Billy Collins—Ashbery with meaning

30. Terrence Hayes—Wins MacArthur

31. Harold Bloom—Anxiety of Flatulence?

32. Mary Oliver—Nature poetry sells?

33. David OrrNew York Times Book Review column

34. Adam Kirsch-New Republic critic

35. Susan Wheeler—“narrative glamour” -John Ashbery

36. Andrew Motion—President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England

37. Khaled Matawa—2014 MacArthur Winner

38. Richard Howard—James Merrill lives!

39. John Ashbery—Old Man Obscurity.

40. Eileen Myles—“always hungry”

41. Mark Doty—Brother of Sharon Olds

42. Rae Armantrout—Silliman is a fan

43. Al Filreis—MOOCS!

44. Anne Carson—“inscrutable brilliance” –NY Times

45. Michael Robbins—The Second Sex (Penguin)

46. C.D. Wright—from the Ozarks

47. Lisa RobertsonChicago Review gave her a special issue

48. Claudia Rankine—Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

49. CAConradPhilip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) is his new book

50. Ariana Reines—“To be a memory to men”

51. Kim Adonizzio—“I want that red dress bad”

52. Frederick Seidel—Nominated for Pulitzer in Poetry

53. Kay Ryan—U.S. Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010

54. Edward HirschThe Living Fire, new and selected

55. Christian Wiman–ex-Poetry editor

56. Cornelius Eady—Nominated for a Pulitzer in Drama

57. Bin Ramke—Georgia Foetry Scandal

58. Jorie Graham—Collected Poems coming this winter

59. Erin Belieu—VIDA vision

60. Forrest Gander—anthropological

61. Amjad Nasser—run in w/Homeland Security

62. Ann Lauterbach—her poetry “goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time” -John Ashbery

63. Rita Dove—editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

64. Sharon Olds—Mark Doty’s sister

65.  Carol Ann Duffy—High powered, story-telling, Brit

66. Robert Archambeau—Rhyme is returning

67. Monica Handme and Nina, Alice James Books

68. Margo Berdeshersky—“understands how eros is a form of intelligence” -Sven Birkerts

69. Shelagh Patterson—“succeeds in forcing students to become critical thinkers” from Rate My Professors

70. Jennifer Bartlett—“this will all be over soon”

71. Lynne Thompson—“Vivaldi versus Jay-Z”

72. Allison Hedge Coke—Editor of Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas

73. Dan Chiasson—Poet and critic who teaches at Wellesley

74. Martin Espada—Teaches poetry at Amherst

75. Gina Myers—“Love Poem To Someone I Do Not Love”

76. Jen Bervin—Poet and visual artist

77. Mary RuefleTrances of the Blast, latest book

78. Mary Hickman—“This is for Ida who doesn’t like poetry but likes this poem”

79. Catherine Wagner—professor of English at Miami University in Ohio

80. Victoria Chang—PEN winner

81. Matthew KlaneYes! Poetry & Performance Series

82. Adam Golaski-Film Forum Press

83. Mathea Harvey—Contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB

84. Amanda Ackerman—UNFO

85. James Tate—Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, 1967

86. Jenny BoullyThe Book of Beginnings and Endings

87. Joyelle McSweeney—professor at Notre Dame

88. William Kulik—the lively prose poem

89. Tamiko Beyer—Raised in Tokyo, lives in Cambridge, MA

90. Julia Bloch-–teaches creative writing at Penn

91. Brent Cunningham—co-founded Hooke Press

92. Richard Wilbur—Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 & 1989

93. Patrick James DunaganRumpus reviewer

94. Matthew Zapruder—Wave Editor

95. David Kirby—“The Kirb” teaches in Florida, uses humor in poetry

96. Alan Cordle—Foetry.com founder

97. Lyn HejinianThe Book of a Thousand Eyes

98. Cole Swensen—Translates from the French

99. Aaron Kunin—Teaches Milton at Pomona

100. Dana WardThis Can’t Be Life

 

 

 

VALERIE MACON!! A SCARRIET EXCLUSIVE

Valerie Macon is the best poet from North Carolina.

Let us look at the poems, shall we?  (Valerie Macon’s poems are below.)

The haughty indignation of the Credentialing Complex speaks well for itself, we suppose, and why shouldn’t those obsessed with credentials be haughty? It’s the wine that grape makes. And the naturally intoxicated poets should pity them, if nothing else, and wish them well. After all, the Credentialing Complex does so much work which has nothing to do with poetry, slaving in the world of academic adornments, perfecting the art of pleasing in a personal manner under the guidance of nuanced rules of conduct, stapling, taking out staples, tapping out, early and late, their e-calendars! All so the solid infrastructure of poetry might live! And not “melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.” Shouldn’t Credentialing holler if the ripe, hidden fruit is too easily plucked? Why of course. Credentialing, weary and wise from its labor, is subtle enough to know that the poetry of poetry is not the real point. Subtle masters of haughtiness! In the North Carolina case, Credentialing only had to speak: action was swiftly taken.

Oh but let us look at the poems, shall we?

It will do us good for once.

We shall not hound the good people of North Carolina with tales of poetic martyrdom, or rebuke North Carolinians for allowing one of their own, a poet—a poet of the people, no less—to be hounded from office by what must have been good intentions.

Just for curiosity’s sake, let us look at the poems.

It shouldn’t hurt a bit.

We hope all will forgive, as well, the intrusion of the Critical Faculty into the affair, as much as we revere and respect the good work done by the Credentialing Complex. The Critical Faculty will be excused, we hope, even by the haughty of North Carolina, for making the poems of Valerie Macon its business. We hope the Credentialing Complex will not be offended.

Valerie Macon—pardon us as we speak of her poems—trusts the image to tell the story; the significant detail is at the heart of what is significantly said, and this practice is a significant part of poetry; and Macon, casting her “cold eye” on objects and events, succeeds on this level to such an extent, that we would go so far as to say that it places Valerie Macon in a position of not insignificant excellence on this point, enabling us to assert, with confidence, our very favorable opinion of her.

Her poem, “That’s Good Eatin,” is visceral, literally, and we, as readers, become the squeamish audience—thanks to Macon’s sure description—to an earthy, 12 year old character, drawn as well as anything in Wordsworth; for this portrait alone Macon has made herself immortal. Anyone who reads poetry, or struggles to write it, will appreciate Macon’s command of lucid, economical description. The final image in this poem—“neat stack of pink filets”—is a little too pat—she trusts the image (and the statement it makes) a little too much, and yet, given the image, perhaps this is her point; yet the “point” fails for us precisely because it is too boldly made; but this is really a minor fault, given the overall skill of Macon’s cold eye.

That’s Good Eatin’

He seizes the gasping catfish,
stabs a screwdriver between its glazed eyes,
impales it to a tree stump.

He’s twelve, dusted with dirt,
baked bronze, cutoffs crusted
with stink bait and worm blood.

I’ve already skinned five foxes,
two deer, and a field of rabbits!

A circle of wide-eyed disciples
squat around him.
He starts to strip off the skin—
but the silver jacket hangs tough,
and the fish thrashes under his blade.
The cohorts cower.

It’s dead, that’s just its nerves,

he lectures; wipes his brow
with a gut-slicked hand.

Shimmering entrails gush out.
But for the sake of the squeamish
he crams them back in;
then the lungs blow a big milky bubble.

Boy and catfish struggle fist and knife
until at last the fish surrenders its flesh
into a neat stack of pink filets.

We see, in her other poems below, her reliance on the cold fact paying even greater and more subtle dividends.

Take “Morning News” and the effectiveness of “But flames…” with the list of personal items, and then “No immediate word on what caused the blaze the reporter tags.”

Or “Taking Up Serpents” and its powerful ending: “relieving him of his earthly ministry.”

Or “Soup Kitchen,” with its drama sympathetically rendered, finishing with the understated “I try to concentrate on my beef stew.”

Or “Blank Canvas Arts 210 8 AM” and the marvelously spondaic last line, “coats fat over lean with a bright brush.”

We challenge anyone to find better poetry, that which succeeds as well at the type of poetry it is attempting to perfect, as that which we see here from Valerie Macon, who was briefly, too briefly, the legitimate Poet Laureate of North Carolina—the best, we believe, it has ever had.

Morning News

A family displaced after fire broke out
in their Horsetooth Holler home overnight
a reporter chants.

In video clip, neighbors plucked
from dreams stand in bunches, mumble
into microphones how they’ll pull together
for this decent family, see them through.

But flames already licked up
the mouse-and-cheese platter
fresh from yesterday’s flee market;
bread and butter pickles,
tomatoes and jams put up,
labeled and lined in the pantry;
the finished cross quilt, colors
like the fall garden out back;
photos of Zack his first day of school,
Ben in his lucky fishing hat
stuck on the refrigerator;
the Lego tower waiting its next story;
the miniature rose in the yard
that struggled to continue
after the first hard frost.

No immediate word on what caused the blaze
the reporter tags.

———————

Soup Kitchen

Just the smell of hot food begins to thaw
the cold that’s creeped into my bones.
The dinin’ room only holds twenty; the rest
of us stand in the waitin’ area where
some Sundays there’s church donuts.

Bein’ a small woman, I keep to myself ‘cause
a lot of the regulars are kind’a rough.
One day this big guy they call Leroy was walkin’
‘round tellin’ everyone how hungry he was,
complainin’ the line wasn’t movin’ fast enough.
He made the mistake of rummagin’ through
the bags of this bent old lady with a blank stare.
Stole her candy bar. She caught ‘im, flipped out.
Bit ‘im hard on the hand, drew blood.

In the dinin’ room, manners ‘r in short supply.
Me, I never rest my elbows on the table, always
put my napkin on my lap, chew with my mouth shut,
and mind my own business. But this skinny guy
with a comb-over called Gus uses an ungodly
amount of dressin’, makes his salad look like soup;
puts hot sauce on his oatmeal cookie.
I try to concentrate on my beef stew.

————————

Staying Clean

You’ll spot them in a supermarket,
the homeless, bowed over
a scummy sink, wiping down
with hand wash and paper
towel course as cow’s tongue;
or stealing a hose shower
behind a moonlit garden shed.
Tonight, under a kinship of stars,
a fallen fellow squats
in the fountain at Lemon Park,
face in a lather. Humming,
he tugs his razor over bristled
cheeks, bends his chin to the blade,
splashes his face with the plumes
of water that dance around him.
Nearby, his clothes wait
stretched across a park bench,
washed up and wrung out.

——————————–

Taking up Serpents

His dad and his grandpa before him

handled snakes—timber rattlers,

copperheads, cottonmouths, adders—

survived vicious bites, no doctor.

Preacher, himself, had nine previous

bites, then, the tenth, his finger fell off.

Suffered through it with not so much as

an aspirin, instead let it rot hard and black

as a piece of coal, expose bone before it broke off.

Wife still keeps the stub in a glass jar.

She says handling a serpent is the best

feeling she’s ever had, higher than any high,

unexplainable happiness, joy in your soul.

This night in a remote church building,

Preacher stomps and bellows a fiery rant,

band pumps up the fever, congregation shouts,

dances, spins with collective adrenaline.

He reaches into a box takes up a rattler

drapes it around his neck, swings it tenderly

back and forth above his head, his face ecstasy.

Hallelujahs rise, cymbals rattle.

Viper bobs and weaves, coils in the reverend’s

grip then strikes like the snap of a whip,

bleeds death into the meat of his hand,

this time, relieving him of his earthly ministry.

——————–

Soul Food

There’s something spiritual
in symmetry—
Row after row
of verdant sprouts
grow in one accord,
pulsing with new life
like saints planted
on Sunday morning pews,
crops in ruler-straight lines
stitched on chiseled ridges
of fragrant brown earth,
like the handiwork
of a Baptist quilting circle.

Soon, poking and pushing
up with the rhythm
of a needle through
the underside of a frame,
the beggar weed
and the bittercress;
as prolific as the
small uniform stitches
in a finished work,
the stink bug
and the armyworm.

At the edge of the field
the farmer swings his plow
in an ark, precise
as a slice of harvest moon
worked into a new quilt.

————————–

Blank Canvas
Arts 210, 8 AM

Professor arrives,
tumbled-out-of-bed hair gray
nappy paint-flecked sweater
he calls his old friend, whiffs
of linament and turpentine.

You are the boss of your canvas,

he counsels, sketches the basics
of human anatomy—egg head,
two-cone torso, legs half the figure.

Love the white expanse before you,

strokes the linen with burnt sienna
thinned to melted butter.
Oil is a forgiving medium.
It allows time and layers
to figure it out,

defines the hard edges, darkens
the shadows, lightens the lights.

So paint boldly my friends!

coats fat over lean with a bright brush.

——————————-

After Valentines Day

On a polished walnut vanity a dozen
roses stand on firm long stems,
bunched in pear-shaped crystal
adorned in glossy foliage,
cheeks flushed fresh pink,
perfume sweeter than
dark chocolate truffles.

Too soon—
it seems like only days pass—
huddled in Waterford Irish lace
they slump over canes,
bow their wizened heads
form dowager’s humps.
Additives depleted, their water
turns foam and sour milk.

ELEGY: TO _____

“Pity the World” —Shakespeare

“Love interprets and conveys messages to the gods from us and to us from the gods, preventing the universe from falling into two separate halves.”
—Plato

 

I

Take me with you, Melissa,
To that place you went—
Heaven is not an accident;
Heaven is where the angels belong
In light everlasting and song.

Take me with you, Melissa,
To that place you go—
We know what we hate,
Do we love what we know?
Do we love the place we all shall go?

Do we know, Melissa, that God has more worth
Than hate and all that crawls on the earth?
Do we know the love that resides with you—
Gone, gone, but still true?

Do I know where I am
If I don’t know where you are?
I love, but I get no nearer to the star.
Where are you, Melissa? Are you near or far?

I ask these questions, in ignorance, on earth.
I don’t know God, or God’s worth.
I am sad and limited and ignorant.
Take me with you, Melissa,
To the place you went—
Everything but love is an accident.

II

She is working late again.
The stars hang over the office,
Kind in their distance.

She is working late this evening
On an email that came from far.
We will carouse and we will drowse
But she is working late again
On an email that was written in a car,
In haste, on a cell phone.

Sometimes work brings us together
And sometimes we work alone
She is working late, in the company of a star,
On an email written on a phone
By a student’s parent in a car.

A credit was earned in another state
And that is why she is working late.
There is a freedom in working late
When the stars don’t see you home
But settle down beside you in the quiet of the evening
Where the computer glows
And the clock, broken by love, hardly goes.
Why does the lady work late?
For God and country and love?
Is it for the firm, for the education found
On the football field, on the cement ground?

You are working late this evening, lady!
Home is calling you.
The children and the grandchildren, too.
Everyone is worried now, and the cell phone
And the emails have that urgent tone
That we have known all our lives
When we lie awake at night and no matter who is there, we feel alone.
Work late, work late, my lady, work late, work late, my lady,
There was an email written from a cell phone
To you. She needed something. A flame beside her.

The committee has decided she will work late this evening,
That she will work for free
That she will work tonight on what pertains to you and me.

The director approves whatever loves;
Whoever loves, loves the lady,
Who now wears her love in regions shady
In regions known only by a star,
Dim star of God!
In the shadows we see our dearest lady.

III

When I am weary
And the world seems weary, too,
I think of the loveliness and lastingness of you.
You bring me the wisdom to love all things, even death.

When my days are weary
And the world is weary, and no happiness is able to stir,
And all things seem far away, and nothing seems able to last—
I think of the beauty and lastingness of her—
Who is here—not in the past.

The loving and the beautiful will last.
Forever is forever, and conquers the past.

The lady lives. For she was giving.
The lady is—continually living.

IV

In the Italy in heaven where the lady now goes
Each river and stream with our tears flows—
Each of our tears, heavy with sorrow, drops,
On the Italian mountaintops
And freshens the Italian valleys.

The mountains, the sunlight and the greenery
Delight the lady in heaven, for our tears feed the scenery.

We are weeping.
She hears us not: Look! She thinks, This path needs sweeping.
We sit in darkness, our eyes, red.
She walks an Italian street, enchanted.
Then, when heaven opens for us (at last,)
She will thank us for each tear we shed in the past.

On her little street, surrounded by flowers,
Where after she first left us, she stood for hours,
By a tiny stream in her Italian heaven,
The lady will announce to us, with a smile like the sun:
Come to me! My friends! The tears are done!

 

 

 

WILDE AND BAUDELAIRE TANGLE FOR THE LAST FINAL FOUR SPOT!

 

WILDE:

All art is immoral. For emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life, and of that practical organization of life that we call society. Society, which is the beginning and basis of morals, exists simply for the concentration of human energy, and in order to ensure its own continuance and healthy stability it demands, and no doubt rightly demands, of each of its citizens that she should contribute some form of productive labor to the common weal, and toil and travail that the day’s work must be done. Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The beautiful sterile emotions that art excites in us are hateful in its eyes, and so completely are people dominated by the tyranny of this dreadful social ideal that they are always coming shamelessly up to one at Private Views and other places that are open to the general public, and saying in a loud, stentorian voice, “What are you doing?” whereas “What are you thinking?” is the only question that any single civilized being should ever be allowed to whisper to another. They mean well, no doubt, these honest, beaming folk. Perhaps that is the reason why they are so excessively tedious. But someone should teach them that while, in the opinion of society, contemplation is the gravest sin of which any citizen can be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture it is the proper occupation of man.

It is far more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy, also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of the medieval days.

It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits and ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.

BAUDELAIRE:

If I speak of love in connection with dandyism, this is because love is the natural occupation of the idle. The dandy does not, however, regard love as a special target to be aimed at. If I have spoken of money, this is because money is indispensable to those who make a cult of their emotions; but the dandy does not aspire to money as to something essential; this crude passion he leaves to vulgar mortals; he would be perfectly content with a limitless credit at the bank. Dandyism does not even consist, as many thoughtless people seem to believe, in an immoderate taste for the toilet and material elegance. For the perfect dandy these things are no more than symbols of his aristocratic superiority of mind. Furthermore to his eyes, which are in love with distinction above all things, the perfection of his toilet will consist in absolute simplicity, which is the best way, in fact, of achieving the desired quality. What then is this passion, which, becoming doctrine, has produced such a school of tyrants? what this unofficial institution which has formed so haughty and exclusive a sect? It is first and foremost the burning need to create for oneself a personal originality, bounded only by the limits of the properties. It is a kind of cult of the self which can nevertheless survive the pursuit of a happiness to be found in someone else—in woman, for example; which can even survive all that goes by in the name of illusions. It is the joy of astonishing others, and the proud satisfaction of never oneself being astonished. A dandy may be blasé, he may even suffer; but in this case, he will smile like the Spartan boy under the fox’s tooth.

Dandyism is the last spark of heroism amid decadence; and the type of dandy discovered by our traveler in North America does nothing to invalidate this idea; for how can we be sure that those tribes which we call ‘savage’ may not in fact be the disjecta membra of great extinct civilizations? Dandyism is a sunset; like the declining daystar, it is glorious, without heat and full of melancholy. But alas, the rising tide of democracy, which invades and levels everything, is daily overwhelming these last representatives of human pride and pouring floods of oblivion upon the footprints of these stupendous warriors.

Wilde and Baudelaire!  Connoisseurs of the decadent! Pronounce the sweet success of the manque!  Hold in your hands the flower of bad poetry!

The Modern flips the Classical: all that is holy, energetic and good for the latter is sterile and stiff and empty for the former.

The flip is all that matters.  The elements themselves do not matter. The new mood is all.

I once loved all that you were. Time passed. I became bored. Now I hate all that you were. Ah, the history of art!

The Modern bracket had to come to this. Wilde. Baudelaire. My twin!  My double! — Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

You are me.  And I hate you.  For the dandy must resent not only “the rising tide of democracy” but the rival dandy, as well.  Easy to identify, as Baudelaire does, a tribesman across the sea as a dandy: no chance they will rival you.

Wilde and Baudelaire both define the dandy beautifully—and of course the dandy is timeless, not merely modern—but we finally trust Wilde a little more.  Baudelaire slips, we believe, with his dying-ember praise of “warriors.”  Wilde wins by simply refusing to stir.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

 

BIRTHDAY POEM FOR MY SON

 

A teen playing video games, watching TV, spoiled by his mom.
Here’s where patience comes in. Not the same patience as
When he was a baby and had that fever,
Or when he was loaded into the ambulance as a boy, with that terrible cough.
I prayed he would be okay and told God I would do anything please make him okay.
He doesn’t drive a car yet. He’s a nice boy—okay, a little spoiled—but he doesn’t worry me
The way I worried about him when he was young.
As a child he was joy itself, beaming.
Now my brown-haired boy’s a teen, with jokes and secrets.
What do I need patience for, now?  Am I waiting for him to become a man?
I remember always saying to myself, Children are not yours.
You “have” them, but they belong to themselves, to everyone.
Don’t get possessive.  Don’t worry too much about them.  They’ll be okay.

Edgar Poe had no children. He lived when babies were lost all the time—
Let Ralph Waldo Emerson tell you about that horror;
But no, stern Ralph said little;
Perhaps the less said about it the better.

I won’t lie.  I wanted my son to evince athletic skill, and when he dragged his feet
On the soccer field, it was sad to me, as when classical music
Not only bores him, it makes him sad and depressed. I would listen
To my father’s classical records with sweetness and awe. What is continuing
Here? What does he love that I love?  I find Pokemon inane.
He knows his way around a computer in a way that makes me look like an idiot.
He doesn’t want to go outside with me.  There’s no outdoor playground now
That interests him. I know there are things about life which I don’t know.
That I will never know. That I think I should know.  Should I know them?
What are they? A cake? Candles? Happy birthday?
Here’s to now.  Sweet now. And the future.  The sweet future.
Happy birthday, my dearest son.

THE GREAT TRAGEDY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE

The great tragedy of human existence:
To fight is easier than to love.
Deny them, deny them is the least resistance.
Downward is the reason for above.

And now there is nothing more to say—
Obligation has killed desire.
I wish every guest would go away.
The seller, too, must be sold to the buyer.

The sweet sensual time we had
Was not from love, but from war.
Sweetly we hated; good rejoiced in bad.
“Don’t do it!” Oh then we must do it all the more.

J.L. AUSTIN AND EDMUND WILSON IN POST-MODERN BRACKET SEEK TO ADVANCE TO THE FINAL FOUR

J.L. Austin: Can this Englishman advance past Princeton’s Edmund Wilson to the  Final Four?

WILSON:

The old nineteenth-century criticism of Ruskin, Renan, Taine, Sainte-Beauve, was closely allied to history, and novel writing, and was also the vehicle for all sorts of ideas about the purpose and destiny of human life in general. The criticism of our own day examines literature, art, ideas, and specimens of human society in the past with a detached scientific interest or a detached aesthetic which seems in either case to lead nowhere. A critic like Herbert Read makes dull discriminations between different kinds of literature; a critic like Albert Thibaudet discovers dull resemblances between the ideas of philosophers and poets; a critic like I.A. Richards writes about poetry from the point of view of a scientist studying the psychological reactions of readers; and such a critic as Clive Bell writes about painting so exclusively and cloyingly  from the point of view of the varying degrees of pleasure to be derived from the pictures of different painters that we would willingly have Ruskin and his sermonizing back. And even Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey have this in common with Clive Bell that they seem to feel they have done enough when they have distinguished the kind of pleasure to be derived from one kind of book, the kind of interest to be felt in one kind of personality, from the kind to be found in another. One is supposed to have read everything and enjoyed everything and to understand exactly the reasons for one’s enjoyment, but not to enjoy anything excessively nor to raise an issue of one kind of thing against another. Each of the essays of Strachey or Mrs. Woolf, so compact yet so beautifully rounded out, is completely self-contained and does not lead to anything beyond itself; and finally, for all their brilliance, we begin to find them tiresome.

AUSTIN:

The more you think about truth and falsity the more you find that very few statements that we ever utter are just true or just false. Usually there is the question are they fair or are they not fair, are they adequate or not adequate, are they exaggerated or not exaggerated? Are they too rough, or are they perfectly precise, accurate, and so on? ‘True’ and ‘false’ are just general labels for a whole dimension of different appraisals which have something or other to do with the relation between what we say and the facts. If, then, we loosen up our ideas of truth and falsity we shall see that statements, when assessed in relation to the facts, are not so very different after all from pieces of advice, warnings, verdicts, and so on.

We see then that stating something is performing an act just as much as is giving an order or giving a warning; and we see, on the other hand, that, when we give an order or a warning or a piece of advice, there is a question about how this is related to fact which is not perhaps so very different from the kind of question that arises when we discuss how a statement is related to fact.  Well, this seems to mean in its original form our distinction between the performative and the statement is considerably weakened, and indeed breaks down. I will just make a suggestion as to how to handle this matter. We need to go very much farther back, to consider all the ways and senses in which saying anything at all is doing this or that—because of course it is always doing a good many different things. And one thing that emerges when we do do this is that, beside the question that has been very much studied in the past as to what a certain utterance means, there is a further question distinct from this as to what was the force, as we may call it, of the utterance. We may be quite clear what ‘Shut the door’ means, but not yet at all clear on the further point as to whether as uttered at a certain time it was an order, an entreaty or whatnot. What we need besides the old doctrine about meanings is a new doctrine about all the possible forces of utterances, towards the discovery of which our proposed list of explicit performative verbs would be a very great help; and then, going on from there, an investigation of the various terms of appraisal that we use in discussing speech-acts of this, that, or the other precise kind—orders, warnings, and the like.

The notions that we have considered then, are the performative, the infelicity, the explicit performative, and lastly, rather hurriedly, the notion of the forces of utterances. I dare say that all this seems a little unremunerative, and I suppose it ought to be remunerative. At least, though, I think that if we pay attention to these matters we can clear up some mistakes in philosophy; and after all philosophy is used as a scapegoat, it parades mistakes which are really the mistakes of everybody. We might even clear up some mistakes in grammar, which perhaps is a little more respectable.

And is it complicated? Well, it is complicated a bit; but life and truth and things do tend to be complicated. It’s not things , it’s philosophers that are simple. You will have heard it said, I expect, that over-simplification is the occupational disease of philosophers, and in a way one might agree with that. But for a sneaking suspicion that it’s their occupation.

Here we have two classic different types of Criticism: Austin (b. 1911) is asking what we are really doing when we say things, while Wilson (b. 1895) is asking what did those people over there say that gave us, or did not give us pleasure? The one is a philosopher, the other a critic.

Both these approaches do share a belief that meaning exists behind, not in, the text. We know what “shut the door” means, says Austin, but does it mean, “shut the door, or else!” or “oh I beg you, please, please shut the door”? Language, according to Austin, is the door, but there is something besides language which is coming through the door to potentially help us, or do us harm. The performative reality of ‘shut the door’ is precisely what fiction and poetry convey, by dramatizing expression.

So in that sense, a critic of literature like Wilson is following Austin’s philosophy by judging dramatic expression—literature.

Would Austin agree that literature is a “speech-act?” If so, it is interesting how Austin attempts to go beyond speech to something more real—and then runs smack into fiction. And does not literature make warnings and give advice?

On the other hand, a book could never order us to “shut the door.” But by replicating actions and showing intelligence, literature has that performative “force” which Austin is trying to get us to understand is always involved in even ordinary language.  Not just what an utterance means, Austin says, but its force. The question of charisma and force of personality arises; some individuals have forceful personalities even as they may not be big in stature or smart; but somehow their word is law. Then we have law itself, and its force.

There are complex forces of which words are merest shadows, and words’ attempt to describe the sun only enhances their shadowy nature. Between the thing and its representation there is something far more important: “I pronounce you man and wife” has a meaning, but more importantly, it is a performance, and it is with the performative that we escape the inexplicable sun and its shadow, “sun.”

Telling someone what to do is where language is clearest, and means the most.

Wilson prefers the 19th century novel of “life” to the exquisite vagueness of the modern literature; he thinks the novel is where the classical epic lives, not in contemporary poetry.

Austin seeks the performative “life” behind the meaning of language; Wilson, the “life” behind literature.

As Austin says, “it’s not things, it’s philosophers that are simple.” Wilson and Austin are really quite simple in what they say. Wilson and Austin are both asking us to read vertically, not horizontally—deeply more than widely. They are not New Critics. They are Old Critics. Throwbacks. They believe life is more important than speech.

Since philosophy of the kind Austin practices is mainly instinctual and steeped in common sense, in the long run it is probably less useful than Wilson’s, which is historical and more particular, and in many ways doing the same thing: criticism analyzing literature is like philosophy analyzing language—since it is finally what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ (Is this person good, or bad? What do they want? How are they trying to get it?) which is the object of our search, and there will never be one way to do this kind of search, given the complexity of human nature and human action.

WINNER: WILSON

COLERIDGE AND POE: TO THE FINAL FOUR ONLY ONE CAN GO

COLERIDGE:

What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images, thoughts, and emotions of the poet’s own mind.

The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgment ever awake, and steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry.

“Doubtless,” as Sir John Davies observes of the soul (and his words may with slight alteration be applied, and even more appropriately, to the poetic imagination):

Doubtless this could not be, but that she turns
Bodies to spirit by sublimation strange,
As fire converts to fire the things it burns,
As we our food into our nature change.

From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
Which to her proper nature she transforms,
To bear them light on her celestial wings.

Thus doth she, when from individual states
She doth abstract the universal kinds;
Which then re-clothed in divers names and fates
Steal access through our senses to our minds.

Finally, Good Sense is the Body of poetic genius, Fancy its Drapery, Motion its Life, and Imagination the Soul that is everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.

“The man that hath not music in his soul” can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery; affecting incidents; just thoughts; interesting personal or domestic feelings; and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem; may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talents and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the particular means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that “poeta nascitur non fit.”

 

POE:

Against the subtleties which would make poetry a study—not a passion—it becomes the metaphysician to reason—but the poet to protest. Yet Wordsworth and Coleridge are men in years; the one imbued in contemplation from his childhood, the other a giant in intellect and learning. The diffidence, then, with which I venture to dispute their authority, would be overwhelming, did I not feel, from the bottom of my heart, that learning has little to do with the imagination—intellect with the passions—or age with poetry.  “Trifles, like straws, upon the surface flow/He who would search for pearls must dive below,” are lines which have done much mischief. As regards the greater truths, men oftener err by seeking them at the bottom than at the top; the depth lies in the huge abysses where wisdom is sought—not in the palpable places where she is found. The ancients were not always right in hiding the goddess in a well: witness the light which Bacon has thrown upon philosophy; witness the principle of our divine faith—that moral mechanism by which the simplicity of a child may overbalance the wisdom of a man.

We see an instance of Coleridge’s liability to err, in his Biographia Literaria—professedly his literary life and opinions, but, in fact, a treatise de omni scibili et quibusdam aliis. He goes wrong by reason of his very profundity, and of his error we have a natural type in the contemplation of a star. He who regards it directly and intensely sees, it is true, the star, but it is the star without a ray—while he who surveys it less inquisitively is conscious of all for which the star is useful to us below—its brilliancy and its beauty.

Of Coleridge I cannot speak but with reverence. His towering intellect! his gigantic power! He is one more evidence of the fact “que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu’elles avancent, mais non pas en ce qu’elles nient.” He has imprisoned his own conceptions by the barrier he has erected against those of others. It is lamentable to think that such a mind should be buried in metaphysics, and, like the Nyctanthes, waste its perfume upon the night alone. In reading his poetry, I tremble—like one who stands upon a volcano, conscious, from the very darkness bursting from the crater, of the fire and the light that are weltering below.

Because, in poetry, there is no end of lines of apparently incomprehensible music, Coleridge thought proper to invent his nonsensical system of what he calls “scanning by accents,”—as if “scanning by accents” were anything more than a phrase. Whenever “Christabel” is really not rough, it can be as readily scanned by the true laws (not the suppositious rules) of verse, as can the simplest pentameter of Pope; and where it is rough these same laws will enable anyone of common sense to show why it is rough and to point out, instantaneously, the remedy for the roughness.

A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false in rhythm—unmusical. B, however, reads it to A, and A is at once struck with the perfection of the rhythm, and wonders at his dullness in not “catching” it before. Henceforward he admits the line to be musical. B, triumphant, asserts that, to be sure, the line is musical—for it is the work of Coleridge—and that it is A who is not; the fault being in A’s false reading. Now here A is right and B wrong. That rhythm is erroneous , (at some point or other more or less obvious,) which any ordinary reader can, without design, read improperly. It is the business of the poet so to construct his line that the intention must be caught at once.

Is it not clear that, by tripping here and mouthing there, any sequence of words may be twisted into any species of rhythm? But are we thence to deduce that all sequences of words are rhythmical in a rational understanding of the term?—for this is the deduction, precisely to which the reductio ad absurdum will, in the end, bring all the propositions of Coleridge. Out of one hundred readers of “Christabel,” fifty will be able to make nothing of its rhythm, while forty-nine of the remaining fifty will, with some ado, fancy they comprehend it, after the fourth or fifth perusal. The one out of the whole hundred who shall both comprehend and admire it at first sight—must be an unaccountably clever person—and I am by far too modest to assume, for a moment, that that very clever person is myself.

And here the two titans, Poe and Coleridge, battle to win the Romantic Bracket and go to the Final Four—in the 2014 Scarriet March Madness Tournament of Literary Philosophy.  Plato, defeating Dante, has already made it to the Final Four; Wilde and Baudelaire, Austin and Wilson compete for the other two spots.

Coleridge is profound.

Poe laughs at Coleridge’s profundity.

Coleridge is clever by what he says: “The poet diffuses and fuses…” etc.

Poe is clever, not by what he says, but by what he points out—see his lesson: “A reads and re-reads a certain line, and pronounces it false…”

With Coleridge, we have: Before you use language, be sure you are very good at it.

With Poe, we have: Before you use language, don’t trust it.

With Coleridge, we have: the Poem is the Poet and the Poet is the whole world!

With Poe, we have: the Poem is rhythmic law.

Coleridge uses metaphor.

Poe uses sarcasm.

Coleridge hears.

Poe sees.

WINNER: POE

 

 

SHELLEY KNEW THAT LOVE IS MEAN AND VILE

Shelley knew that love is mean and vile

Because we must select one among the many.

This is how love must be, if there is to be any.

You have one—but the many attracts you all the while.

Beauty lives in many eyes,

But all that is many falls into the many and dies.

Shelley knew that love is mean and vile

So he wrote poetry for awhile.

 

 

 

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