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: 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

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The famous Thomas Brady of Scarriet in a private moment

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

IN VAIN, IN VAIN!

In vain, in vain,
All this sunshine and this rain.
Children have no children here,
This greenery is a green disguise,
This fertility is merciless and sere,
Love not for the womb, but for the eyes.

In vain, in vain,
To sit beside you on the train;
There won’t be any meeting here.
Breeding’s forbidden,
Romance is killed by fear,
The reason for the future hidden.

In vain, in vain,
All this beauty made in pain;
Pain by too much thought made weak;
This beauty fails to dream or speak;
Beauty silent, hopes to stay
With hope alone, but alone silently fades away.

 

 

THE POEM THAT NO ONE READS

The poem that no one reads
Has been sitting here for hours,
Resting by the brook
With a few dried flowers.

The poem that no one reads
Has been sitting here, among
Songs that are never sung,
Even though the harmony of their notes
Would sound from lips’ loveliest throats
In manner of major and minor key,
Beautiful in a melody
Which everybody needs.

But placed before my eyes,
Eloquence sings and cries
From a previously hidden source:
The poem no one reads, of course.

THIS NOVEL HAS MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU NEED, OR: WE REVIEW A BOOK WITHOUT A NAME.

EDITORIAL

I’m reading a novel that a friend highly recommended—she “couldn’t put it down” and “it made her cry in the end”—a “New York Times Bestseller” published about five years ago, a “chick novel,” a “journey” of “hope” and “love” the blurb says. It is packed with information—not surprisingly—because it is “historical fiction,” with real times and places, informed by actual historical events.

The research the author has done cries out to be noticed; the young heroes, who later, are old, demand to be loved; the historically-laced bigotry demands to be hated. Oh such demands.

I am still trying to understand what it is that makes so many people—who would never be considered literary, who never read poems, who never analyze anything, who don’t read philosophy, or literary criticism, who couldn’t articulate a literary or philosophical idea if their life depended on it, and who don’t know history at all—consume with relish literary/historical productions of  several hundred pages. Why do people spend so much time reading what is neither wise, nor strange, nor beautiful? The writing of a typical “best-selling” novel is plain, verbose, and matter-of-fact (always necessary for historical, realistic, and best-selling fiction) and takes perhaps weeks to resolve itself.  Why the hell do people read novels?

I am reading this novel, and plan to finish this novel, because I love my friend; I am on…page 120, almost half way through! I began the book two days ago. I’ve had to force myself to keep going, more than once; I find the experience, to be frank, terribly boring, as if forced to listen to a long-winded friend: Get to the point! What’s your point? Why do I need to know all this information?

I will admit three things: First, I know a little more about a certain time and place than I did previously. Second, when I was wakeful last night, reading 10 pages was a wonderful soporific. Third, reading a book recommended by a friend which, through, language, presents a coherent “world” of “a life,” past and present, calms me, and makes me less inclined to get drunk, or watch TV, or indulge in lonely, self-pitying thoughts. Admittedly, this is socially important.

Socially, very important.

Novels are sleeping pills. Calming drugs.  That’s what they really are, in terms of practical use.  It’s very similar to having a pet.  You ask your cat when you arrive home, “what did you do today, pumpkin?”  The cat doesn’t say, but you know the cat did something and you imagine what it was.  Similarly, we ask the novel we happen to be reading, “what were you doing today?”  The novel doesn’t answer, but someone (the author of the novel) has imagined it for you. And this inevitably involves the manners and habits of other people.  We are interested in other people, especially if we don’t really have to bother with them. This, too, is highly attractive.

I think all three of these are related: humans like to share information, participate in something larger than themselves, and feel calm and relaxed.

We are endlessly curious, like ants on an ant hill who, with wavering antennae, are bred with a need to know everything about their surroundings, and humans extend this to an extreme degree, curious about other times and places and things which have nothing—or perhaps because of language—seemingly everything—to do with themselves.

And this is why people read novels.

But I don’t like novels.  How many can one read, before one gets sick of them?  I can’t imagine becoming addicted to them, as so many people are.

I like beauty, and hate to be enslaved by curiosity, and trapped in an informational nexus of clichéd ideas and mere information for information’s sake.

I hate the ant-existence. I have no patience for ants, with their little antennae moving about, who read novels.

I prefer one sly smile to a million words.

I’d rather look at a beautiful face than hear a conversation.

I don’t need any other reason; I hate modern art because it’s—ugly.  I hate novels because the writing is—ugly, even as it’s evoking a tender sentiment.  I don’t care what you think. Give me beauty or give me nothing.

Call me misanthropic, if you wish. You will have to get to know me better to find out that I am not. Nor would I make you choose between humanity and me. I know I am part of humanity. I know I am an ant, too. I only hope you will show me a little patience as I write what must seem to you a misanthropic rant.

And I know what you, the self-righteous, are thinking. I know exactly what you think of me. And this is why I am so bored with you—and “New York Times Bestseller” novels.

I am not made of language. I am made of flesh. And I love poetry because it has flesh—which weak, matter-of-fact, informational prose does not. I want to live and die by what I really am: flesh.

But if I make a plea for poetry instead, I must admit that poetry has none of the practical and social attributes the novel has; poetry demands more; it does not comfort, at least for any length of time. Poets are weird, simply because they do not write novels—which do have all these practical comforts. Poets are too lazy to finish a novel. Poetry takes one away from real life into weirdness.  The poem hasn’t a chance against the novel. If a poem were a sweet little song, that would be one thing; it might be added to a reader’s menu: a little desert after dinner.  But poetry is too proud to be an after-dinner mint.  Unfortunately it wants to be more. The poem wants to call into question novel and history and cat and house and sleep.  Bad poem.  You should know your place.

It really was the novel that killed poetry.

Update: I have finished the novel my friend recommended. 

I liked the book.  It portrayed a lost love, lost to many years, and reading the book, I participated in this loss, triggered by historical events of war and prejudice and, fed by the romantic events and travails of youth and love and circumstance; historical events (was the history the food, or the sauce?) fed my mood-altered curiosity, too.

I experienced the appeal of the historical/romantic novel in all its unfolding glory: the early pages of “hard work” becomes a platform from which the invasion is launched, as the characters and their lives resolve themselves in the ongoing story—whose length allows nostalgia to seem “real” in terms of the work itself. A pretty neat trick is played. Young, chaste, innocent love is prevented from flowering, and the reader’s captured heart, sweetly indignant, races to the end of the book to see if there will be justice, or despair. We compare our bitter, and incomplete, and long life to the  model of similar aspirations; time–time–time is the fuel in which we, and the novel, burns.

By a ratio, similar, I would guess, to a falling object’s acceleration, I found myself reading more quickly and enjoying the book more with each chapter: I enjoyed the third quarter of the book twice as much as the first half of the book; I enjoyed the final quarter of the book four times as much as the third quarter of the book. There is something about getting near the end, and then reaching the end, of a novel, which gives the reader a pleasure aside from the book itself, a pleasure which is difficult to pinpoint, but which perhaps makes the reading of novels addictive.   Call it the ‘Falling Syndrome.’

The pleasure of looking at a painting—those old paintings which tell a story in a glance—is immediate; how different, the slow progress of reading a novel!  The effect is the same: a story is conveyed.  But with a novel, a thread is placed in our hand; we work our way through the maze until we get to the final room, where the Minotaur bellows, and the echoes, in the mazy distance, as we approach—clutching our winding thread—thrills.

The novel is a thread of sentiment; the matter of the novel is less important than the illusion that we are traveling in a little boat, with those we half-know, to our doom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARJORIE PERLOFF, ADAM KIRSCH, AND PHILIP NIKOLAYEV AT THE GROLIER

The Hong Kong.  Is there where Concrete Poetry finally met its end?

So the trouble with the contemporary poetry scene is it lacks focus, while at the same time a single thought throws its shadow over all: why don’t non-poets read poetry anymore?

We should focus on the single thought, since surely it is telling us something, while none of us are able to focus.

This demands an analysis, not haphazard, but of exactly what we seek: popularity.  Our scientific investigation needs to ask precisely: what causes/what has caused strangers to read poetry?

Do we know this? Can we list reasons?

The first reason which usually comes up in discussion is: poetry has more competition from other media, from other forms of communication and entertainment than ever, but what we notice immediately is first, this is a reason people don’t read poetry; we must be careful to list reasons why strangers do read poetry. And secondly, poetry will always have competition: any activity that doesn’t involve reading poetry, and this is a rabbit hole we need to avoid, rather than blame other media. Let us dismiss this “reason” at once.

Before we list the reasons why a poem is of interest to a roomful of strangers, we should define what we mean by stranger: Two friends are having a conversation in a public place and a stranger advances upon them, eager to join the conversation. The resistance to this intrusion indicates the issue involved; work needs to be done to effect intercourse between strangers—and this work needs to be done with poetry as the medium; the poetic might not be doing the work, but the poem must nonetheless be at the center of the process.

When talking of popularity or fame, we mean a lasting impact upon a number of people, not a furtive reading of a poem on a sudden in the presence of a couple of strangers—why should humanity at large want to know your poem? This is the important question, that single question which dogs every poet and critic today.

You write of a street in your poem—strangers, being strangers, will not be interested in your street, unless there is something very special about your street—and then it becomes interesting because it is a street, not your street—the street, of course, is not poetry and we should not confuse the two;—describing their street would interest them, but you cannot do that, because you don’t know them or their street—for they are strangers. We have exhausted all the options, then, and a poem about a street cannot then, be popular. Imitate discourse between friends having a conversation about the streets where they happen to live and you will not produce a popular poem: you cannot know their streets; your street is not interesting if it is not theirs, and “a street,” if it have a special interesting feature does not require this feature to be conveyed by anything we might call poetry. Here is the challenge.

How do we write a popular poem, then?

There are questions—such as what is a poem?—that seem to have no answer because of the scope of the question. But if we eschew detail and use the scope of the question to our advantage, we can define the definition as one which excludes all that pertains to the definition itself, so that if the question remain unanswered as it pertains to anything, we can assume whatever this is, it is not a poem, and we can be satisfied that leaving all these objects aside that instill themselves before us as they are, whatever escapes the definition’s “not,” is then, poetry, as much as it satisfies our general idea informed by those elusive predicates which combine to portray what we believe (without knowing) is the essence of our search. Poetry is the essence of an essence, the former “essence” the result of our searching (as failure) and the latter what we mean by the question (whose conscious act of questioning is, by that act, a “success”).

To define poetry simply: Poetry is language which elevates any subject—now, this definition apparently rejects the subject as vital, and would seem to include form or language only-always troubling to those who want poetry to be “important” and not simply about “style;” it is a definition too narrow and Victorian for our modernist pride. But the pride of the modernist is the ignorance of chronology, which peoples the 20th century with amazing things—things which inevitably bury not only poetry but any inquiry about it:—we are left with pedantry, half-theory and laughter.

To “elevate a subject” is not an action which ignores the subject; quite the contrary—there are subjects which will not be elevated and poetry is necessarily involved in best selecting the best subjects to elevate.

Further, poetry is not a text, but an action, for “to elevate” is an action—and so “subject” has a triplicate identity in the poem as

1. A generic vehicle: “any subject to be elevated”

2. A selective vehicle: “any subject worthy to be elevated”

3. A specific action: the “elevation” as subject

It is not only about style or form.

To return to the original subject: Here are reasons for a poem being interesting to strangers:

1. Mastery of that speech which elevates subjects worthy to be elevated in such a manner that strangers are convinced that that speech is poetry—of an excellent sort. Combined, of course, with all the usual notices which brings this poetry to their attention.

2. The textbook taught in the university for prisoner-strangers, i.e. Students

3. Legal issues which make news—Obscenity Trials, Freedom of Speech… Baudelaire, Joyce, Ginsberg

4. The poet famous or notorious as a person—Plath, suicide; Keats, young death

To return to our two friends having a conversation (emotion plus fact expressed) in a public space—cafe, bar, or restaurant—What notice from “a stranger” would they allow and even relish invading their private space that would have some kind of impact?

What if the TV flashed a news headline: Lana Turner Has Collapsed?

And with this, it is time to review our evening with Philip Nikolayev, Adam Kirsch, and Marjorie Perloff—the latter, best known, but all brilliant, well-known critics in poetry circles today.

These illustrious personages of the poetry world, in a panel at the Grolier bookshop in Harvard Square, pondered these ideas in public, perhaps in a more sophisticated manner than we are evincing here, but “sophistication” by now has become the poetry world’s undoing, and Perloff, et al, were refreshingly blunt and plain in their attempts to repair the present and point to the future.

The lack of focus in poetry today propelled the usual anxiety, expressed by the panel, and Scarriet crowned it with a question about popularity and fame, that evening at the Grolier, which launched in our mind the essay you are reading now.

As an example of “lack of focus,” Kirsch despaired that poets don’t seek “greatness” any longer; Perloff said no critic agrees on who the important poets of our time are, in contrast, for instance, to the wide concensus on the Eliot/Pound/Williams/Stevens/Crane/Moore  modernist canon; Nikolayev scorned the tendency to forget “the perfection of the art” while focusing endlessly on the nuances of “poetics.” Some specific likes and dislikes were expressed: Kirsch (yea) and Perloff (nay) disagreed on the worth of Derek Walcott; Perloff confessed she found Elizabeth Bishop’s output too small to mark her as terribly important.

I had the good fortune to speak with Perloff after the panel presentation, and found, to my delight, a lively intelligence combined with common sense, even a love of the hoary, informing her person; she is not the avant-garde besotted figure she is reputed to be. She agreed with our judgement that Ron Silliman is far too narrow in his approach to poetry, and that a Coleridge revival would be a good thing. And Auden, the young don’t read Auden anymore, she said. This was refreshing, indeed.

In my question at the Grolier, a rant more than a question,(what do you expect from Scarriet?) but which nevertheless elicited some positive response, I briefly made the often-argued Scarriet point that Modernism/New Criticism/CreativeWriting as a joint venture relied on Reasons 2 and 3 above while eliminating 1 and 4; it is hard to argue this in 15 seconds; Perloff agreed with me the Modernists hated the Romantics but felt it was merely a rhetorical flourish in a forward-looking movement. But Eliot was a skilled versifier in the lyric Romantic tradition even as he publicly reviled Poe and the Romantics—and it was this Critical gesture, widely followed as the 20th century proceeded, far more than Eliot’s skilled yet tiny poetic output, as small as Bishop’s, even if we include that one oddball/dead end poem, “The Waste Land,” which has led to the current waste land of poetry today which Perloff, Kirsch, Nikolayev, and others decry.

Nikolayev responded to my question with the common sense ‘how can popularity be a standard when so much that is popular is bad?’ I pointed out that Poe, in “The Philosophy of Composition” (which if you read you don’t need an MFA) mentions the standard sought for “The Raven” is both critical and popular; critics are still needed, even as popularity is seen as a good; and to stay focused on our goal we mustn’t give in to the false notion that popularity in itself is somehow bad (a similar error is to assume “difficulty” is a good) for we mean ‘the popular is good’ in the simplest manner possible, as in ‘sunshine is popular’ or ‘love is popular’ even as we, of course, need critics to remind us to use sunscreen, or philosophy and manners to temper the lust of our love.

Perloff, in her response to the Scarriet question of whether it might not be useful to focus not so much on poetry but poetry which appeals to strangers (Kirsch: “today only poets read poets”—imagine if only football players watched football) was pleasantly open to fame as a criterion; she had made O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and “Lana Turner Has Collapsed” the focus of her talk: “Lunch Poems sells briskly,” Perloff said.

At the Chinese restaurant around the corner from the Grolier, I was between Nikolayev and Perloff, and after some preliminary talk of the Digital Humanities, an industry useful but philosophically overrated according to the nimble tongued Perloff, (exceedingly youthful for someone in her 80s) we got down to a discussion, powered by the questioning of Perloff by a healthily skeptical Nikolayev, which was right up Scarriet’s alley: Concrete Poetry. Perloff has the highest respect for it, but for Scarriet, it represents all that is overrated and crippling in the ‘white spaces’ fame of the mediocre modernist William Carlos Williams, who attempted to be a rhyming Romantic in his early work, and failed, and whose final worth was inflated by the influential New Critic’s textbook, Understanding Poetry.

What follows is an argument against Concrete Poetry formulated with the help of the discussion at the Hong Kong:

It is the critic’s duty not to confuse concrete existence with the art itself; if a performer has a bad cold and performs a piece of music differently as a result, this has nothing to do with the music as the composer has written it; if an orchestra plays the same piece of music, first printed in blue, and then printed in black ink, and performs the latter more vigorously, this has nothing to do with the music, nor does it alter music’s temporal nature. Poetry is a temporal art, as well—not partly temporal, not 99% temporal, but 100% temporal—duration manifests its beginning, middle, and end; poetry has no existence, no beginning, middle, and end without duration. White spaces on the page do not matter in terms of poetry’s temporal nature—despite the white spaces’ concrete existence. The white spaces do not belong to a poem in any significant or meaningful way, just as musical notes printed in blue or black ink do not contribute to music.

Temporality, it may be argued, springs from written (concrete) words in poetry and written (concrete) notes in music, so that in the very temporality exists the concrete: words and notes as they appear on a page—true. However, the manifestation of duration, in each case, is the resultcolor strikes our eye; painting has no temporal existence, even though it takes a certain time for the eye to traverse a painting; the painting qua painting does not exist as a temporal object, despite the fact that different viewers spend different amounts of time looking at various aspects of a painting. These “looking” differences equal a “concrete fact,” but this “fact” has nothing to do with the painting’s spatial existence—the duration of the viewer’s looking and the painting itself are indifferent to each other, just as the look of a poem and its temporal existence as an art form are separated, distinct and absolutely indifferent to each other.

A person—with a speech impediment—reads aloud a poem—and can do so in as much as it is a poem and not a picture. The same poem is then read aloud by Sir Laurence Olivier. This concrete experiment is absolutely null and void as it pertains to the poem as composed by the poet.

Further, let us assume there is a certain amount of white space, a very specific shape of white space, on the page. How is the white space “heard” in the person-with-the-speech-impediment’s reading? Or in Olivier’s reading? It is not. How could it be? How could a person with a speech impediment “misread” white space?

Or, take a poem which a critic dislikes. If one added, or subtracted, white space, and white space alone, to that poem, it would be absurd to say this act could make the critic now like the poem.

Or let us say the critic hears Olivier read the poem aloud. It is possible that if the performance is outstanding, the critic might enjoy the poem upon hearing it: but this change would be effected entirely by Olivier’s temporal performance.

It could not possibly have anything to do with Olivier “reading” the white spaces of the poem—which, in this experiment, of course, in both instances: the poem first disliked, and then liked because of Olivier’s reading, we keep the same.

At one point, over the spicy shrimp, Philip Nikolayev asked Marjorie Perloff to name the first Concrete Poet. An unfair question, perhaps? She couldn’t. The first Concrete Poet was a publisher, I imagine.

But we’ll discuss this another time.

That is, if Lana Turner ever gets up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TO GET AWAY FROM RELIGION

To get away from religion,
I did what I pleased today.
I greeted the sun—which owns light and its dome of blue—
As if it were a cloud, or a dying thought of you—drifting away.

My morning was a yawning blank.
There was no one who needed me, and no one to thank.
No altar, temple, or undertow
To people belief or fill a church with one sometimes as kind as you,

There was no candle for my cave, no chanting music graced my den;
No buildings were built, no slaves were made
To build canopies of comfort and shade;
Sweetly alone, I watched my loneliness well.

There were no reminders or alarms;
No fruits or candies, no gauzy charms;
The hours did not feel like hours and there was no bell.

No meal was cooked, no plates set in rows.
Noon never came, with trumpet or horn.
There were no friends, nor friends of foes;
No voices. No praise. No scorn.

No face of saint was judged too pale,
Or lacking the right artistic touch,
No harrowing stories of bloodshed or whale,
No heroes, no descendants of such-and-such,
Disturbed the peace of my contemplative sleep.
No mourners with candles entered the evening to weep.

I didn’t have to worry about my dress,
Or what sandals surrounded my toes,
Or the best thorns for my crown,
For when had we ever considered those?

You walked naked in the naked day
For you belonged to me naked, in the naked night.
For the naked in this naked world, loneliness is right.
Take the lily from my brow, for I just burn it up,
Take away my incense, my icon, my carved and painted cup.
I’m devoted to myself. The sun. The sun has not come up.

 

 

 

DANTE VERSUS PLATO!

This battle between Plato and Dante is not merely a war between Greece and Rome.  Because we are speaking of Plato and Dante, this contest takes place in heaven.  The laws, which govern there, are simple, but perhaps strange to the uninitiated, and so Scarriet will be a guide, for we have an understanding of these secrets, which nonetheless dwell in every eye.

That Dante was moved beyond all else by Beatrice is well known. To know how Dante’s philosophy is manifest we need only read the following poem simply, and in steps, and  not allow our amazement to dim, or contort, our knowing.

Love that makes men gentle and how that love is conveyed is Dante’s theme in the poem, or Canzone,  below.

Since Dante’s poem conveys love, and how love is conveyed is the subject, the subject of the poem is partly the poem, only for this reason.  As a mortal individual, Dante realizes he cannot express love as it should be expressed, so he elicits help not only from Beatrice, but from gentle ladies who keep her company.  The “courteous man” in the last stanza is not plural, like “ladies” for reason of modesty; Dante is not interested in a Broadway number, pairing up men with ladies; his subject is more simple serious and august than that, though Dante wishes to acknowledge that men can be gentle, like ladies.

The poem is Dante’s messenger, and we see in the Diotima section quoted from Plato’s Symposium father down, the same crucial theme:

“To interpret and convey messages to the gods from men and to men from the gods. Being of an intermediate nature, a spirit bridges the gap between them, and prevents the universe from falling into two separate halves. God does not deal directly with man; it is by means of spirits that all the intercourse and communication of gods with men, both in waking life and in sleep, is carried on.”

The universe, Plato warns, will fall “into two separate halves,” mortal distinct from immortal, if spirits of an “intermediate nature” do not “bridge the gap.”

Everything in the universe is attached, but there are highs and lows, bright and dark, good and evil, because for the universe to exist, there must be divine will and space for that divine will.

If the space is real, and if the divine (the spark, the life, the spirit, etc) is real, the divinity will not fill equally that space; the glory of God is not everywhere, just as light shines more in some places than others. If that is the one thing we take away from Dante and Plato in this contest, that will be enough.

So with Dante and Plato, there is not a fiendish desire to invent, as much as a desire to describe the (moral) task that needs to be done; and this is the realm of poetry, a humble, yet important one, and that is what makes these aesthetic thinkers classical and conservative, as opposed to modern and progressive.

Plato’s insight is important: Love is not beautiful; Love is that which desires beauty. Beatrice is not love, but the rare thing which rarefies love or desire; the poem is the “bridge,” the transaction of love; and so the poem is not beautiful, but its object is beauty, and is beautiful only as much as its object is beauty (so intention and subject are as crucial as form or design).  Dante’s poem is the love between Beatrice and Dante; a love which is a bridge, a desire, a transaction, both message and messenger, so object, person, and action are one—the poem both belongs to, and is, this holy task.

According to Plato, what Love “wins he always loses,” and we see this is true of Dante, who “loses” Beatrice, because heaven lacks her, heaven’s “only defect,” as Dante says. Movement is crucial in Dante’s  universe, and makes all things happen: Where is Beatrice?  Will her greeting travel from her to me?  Will my poem travel from me to her? How are the stars arranged? How does sin and mortality move and fit in the world of souls?  Everything is about placement, the obsession of the ancients: poetry and astronomy and love are the same.

DANTE:

Ladies Who Have Knowledge Of Love,

I wish to speak with you about my lady,
not because I think to end her praises,
but speaking so that I can ease my mind.
I say that thinking of her worth,
Amor makes me feel such sweetness,
that if I did not then lose courage,
speaking, I would make all men in love.
And I would not speak so highly,
that I succumb to vile timidity:
but treat of the state of gentleness,
in respect of her, lightly, with you,
loving ladies and young ladies,
that is not to be spoken of to others.

An angel sings in the divine mind
and says: ‘Lord, in the world is seen
a miracle in action that proceeds
from a spirit that shines up here.’
The heavens that have no other defect
but lack of her, pray to their Lord,
and every saint cries out mercy.
Pity alone takes our part,
so that God speaks of her, and means my lady:
‘My Delights, now suffer it in peace
that at my pleasure she, your hope, remains
there, where one is who waits to lose her,
and will say in the Inferno: “Ill-born ones,
I have seen the hope of the blessed.”’

My lady is desired by highest Heaven:
now I would have you know of her virtue.
I say, you who would appear a gentle lady
go with her, since when she goes by
Love strikes a chill in evil hearts,
so that all their thoughts freeze and perish:
and any man who suffers to stay and see her
becomes a noble soul, or else he dies.
And when she finds any who might be worthy
to look at her, he proves her virtue,
which comes to him, given, in greeting
and if he is humble, erases all offense.
Still greater grace God has granted her
since he cannot end badly who speaks with her.

Amor says of her: ‘This mortal thing,
how can it be so pure and adorned?’
Then he looks at her and swears to himself
that God’s intent was to make something rare.
She has the color of pearl, in form such as
is fitting to a lady, not in excess:
she is the greatest good nature can create:
beauty is proven by her example.
From her eyes, as she moves them,
issue spirits ablaze with love,
which pierce the eyes of those who gaze on her then,
and pass within so each one finds the heart:
you will see Love pictured in her face,
there where no man may fixedly gaze.

Canzone, I know that you will go speaking
to many ladies, when I have sent you onwards.
Now I have made you, since I have raised you
to be Love’s daughter, young and simple,
to those I have sent you, say, praying:
‘Show me the way to go, since I am sent
to her of whom the praise is my adornment.’
And if you do not wish to go in vain,
do not rest where there are evil people:
try, if you can so do, to be revealed
only to ladies or some courteous man,
who will lead you there by the quickest way.
You will find Amor will be with her:
recommend me to him as you should.

 

PLATO:

Diotima Explains Love To Socrates

 

Is Love ugly and bad?

Don’t say such things; do you think that anything that is not beautiful is necessarily ugly?

Of course I do.

And that anything that is not wisdom is ignorance? Don’t you know there is a state of mind half-way between wisdom and ignorance?

What do you mean?

Having true convictions without being able to give reasons for them.  So do not maintain that what is not beautiful is ugly, and what is not good is bad.

What can Love be then? A mortal?

Far from it.

Well, what?

He is half-way between mortal and immortal.  He is a great spirit, Socrates; everything that is of the nature of a spirit is half-god and half-man.

And what is the function of such a being?

To interpret and convey messages to the gods from men and to men from the gods. Being of an intermediate nature, a spirit bridges the gap between them, and prevents the universe from falling into two separate halves. God does not deal directly with man; it is by means of spirits that all the intercourse and communication of gods with men, both in waking life and in sleep, is carried on.  Spirits are many in number and of many kinds, and one of them is Love.

Who are his parents?

Poverty, thinking to alleviate her wretched condition by bearing a child to Invention, lay with him and conceived Love.  Love was begotten on Aphrodite’s birthday and became her follower and servant. He is always poor, and, far from being sensitive and beautiful, as most people imagine, he is hard and weather-beaten, shoeless and homeless, always sleeping out for want of a bed.  He schemes to get for himself whatever is beautiful and good; he is bold and forward and strenuous, always devising tricks like a cunning huntsman. What he wins he always loses, and is neither rich nor poor, neither wise nor ignorant.

 

 WINNER: PLATO

Socrates is going to the Final Four.

 

 

 

 

YOU GET ME

Slender beauty who hides in the baskets and the tea,
The gypsy who hungers, and Ursula, who writes poetry
Are better at making signs than taking advice,
For they do not understand: you get me.

This is not the most attractive thing about being nice,
Which, if understood, is how we build up our pride—
Being attractive amounts to letting the other decide.
What is best at being insanely lovely
Is how the sad world is led inside;
The leaf and flower are waiting: you get me.

They want each choice to be right.
They will have me, they think, tonight.
They will be the moon—there are many,
Or a day, or a thought—there are many.
If the world needed children, it would let me.
But no, darling; you get me.

 

WILDE AND FREUD MIX IT UP IN MODERN BRACKET

Can Oscar Wilde move on to the Elite Eight?

Oscar Wilde’s “Critic As Artist” (1891) predates Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” (1899, English translations soon followed) and comparing two key passages from these works suggests a similar world-spirit.

Wilde:

The difference between objective and subjective work is one of external form merely. It is accidental, not essential. All artistic creation is absolutely subjective. The very landscape that Corot looked at was, as he said himself, but a mood of his own mind; and those great figures of Greek or English drama that appear to us to possess an actual existence of their own, apart from the poets who shaped and fashioned them, are, in their ultimate analysis, simply the poets themselves, not as they thought they were, but as they thought they were not; and by such thinking came in strange manner, though but for a moment, really so to be. For out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation what in the creator was not. In fact, I would say that the more objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guilderstern in the white streets of London, or seen the serving men of rival houses bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. They were elements of his nature to which he gave visible form, impulses that stirred so strongly within him that he had, as it were, perforce, to suffer them to realize their energy, not on the lower plane of actual life, where they would have been trammelled and constrained and so made imperfect, but on that imaginative plane of art where love can indeed find in death its rich fulfillment, where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras, and wrestle in a new made grave, and make a guilty king drink his own hurt, and see one’s father’s spirit, beneath the glimpses of the moon, stalking in complete steel from misty wall to wall. Action, being limited, would have left Shakespeare unsatisfied and unexpressed; and, just as it is because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything, so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature and temperament far more completely than do those strange and exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Hello. Is this not a precise metaphor for psychoanalysis?  “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”  Free association “covers” conscious, rational speech, allowing the speaker to speak from somewhere else in their soul. Wilde’s belief in subjectivity brings him right to the doorstep of Freudian psychology—before Freud. But more than that, Wilde reaches a passionate level of truth which turns his Criticism into poetry. The Creative Faculty of Shakespeare is not merely described by Wilde; he briefly inhabits it: “where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras…” We feel that Wilde is confessing what few dare: the poet who writes profoundly of murder does indeed entertain murderous thoughts as much, or more, than any actual murderer. The unconscious is real, but more so in the poet; poetry, or rather Criticism, invented psychology; it is no accident that Freud appears in the wake of the Romantics—who rediscovered Plato and Shakespeare—and in the Zeitgeist throes of Poe and Wilde.

Here’s the Freud passage:

Another of the great creations of tragic , Shakespeare’s Hamlet, has its roots in the same soil as Oedipus Rex. But the changed treatment of the same material reveals the whole difference in the mental life of these two widely separated epochs of civilization: the secular advance of repression in the emotional life of mankind. In the Oedipus the child’s wishful phantasy that underlies it is brought into the open and realized as it would be in a dream. In Hamlet it remains repressed; and—just as in the case of a neurosis—we only learn of its existence from its inhibiting consequences. Strangely enough, the overwhelming effect produced by the more modern tragedy has turned out to be compatible with the fact that people have remained completely in the dark as to the hero’s character. The play is built up on Hamlet’s hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations and an immense variety of attempts at interpreting them have failed to produce a result. According to the view which was originated by Goethe and is still the prevailing one today, Hamlet represents the type of man whose power of direct action is paralyzed by an excessive development of his intellect. The plot of the drama shows us, however, that Hamlet is far from being represented as a person incapable of taking any action. We see him doing so on two occasions: first in a sudden outburst of temper, when he runs his sword through the eavesdropper behind the arras, and secondly in a premeditated and even crafty fashion, when, with all the callousness of a Renaissance prince, he sends the two courtiers to the death that had been planned for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him in fulfilling the task set him by his father’s ghost? The answer , once again, is that it is the peculiar nature of the task. Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized.

The real person—which is the highest and most important reality—is the chief topic for Wilde and Freud. By failing to act as a murderer, Shakespeare, nonetheless feeling within himself the reason and passion of murder, creates an “objective” document—the play, Hamlet, and the actions and speech of the character, Hamlet—which is, according to Wilde, a wholly subjective creation of the real person, Shakespeare. Reality, according to Wilde’s Romantic, artist-centered view, is a projection of a person’s soul, of Shakespeare’s soul: the passiveness of Hamlet is not the important thing, for Shakespeare has Hamlet wrestle in a new made grave and stab a royal official to death as he confronts his mother; and Freud agrees. Both Freud and Wilde reject the conventional wisdom that Hamlet doesn’t act—Hamlet very much does act, in a play that is an expression, not of history or convention or tradition or theme or playwright-method or language, but Shakespeare’s unique soul.

Freud, however, raises the stakes to a scientific level, whereas Wilde is content to let the unique art product be a sufficient reason for itself; the art creates criticism because criticism created the art in the first place; criticism for Wilde is not adversarial or analytic but creative; the objective is really subjective.

Freud, the doctor, is, as the critic, much different; Freud asserts that Hamlet refuses to kill his usurping uncle, the new king, because Shakespeare, like all men, has a repressed desire to murder his father and marry his mother.

Freud’s assertion is two-fold: the universal desire of patricide/mother-love with the repression of this desire: the repression creates a crucial objective/subjective split: but since the objective truth lurks within the repressed person, Freud’s “scientific” truth runs smack into Wilde’s literary one: the “objective truth” of Hamlet comes straight out of Shakespeare’s “subjective” soul. And this “subjective” soul, which meditates on murder so intensely that a famous play is the result, is by its very reason of meditating powerfully on murder, “repressed” in its nature and manner.

Wilde, then, can be said to prefigure Freud, for Wilde’s assertion, that objectivity is really subjectivity, intimates “repression” as that which necessitates Wilde’s assertion in the first place.

Freud posits “repression” or objectivity lurking in subjectivity as his thesis—it is the same as Wilde’s, generally. Freud, however, makes a wider assertion that objective reality itself is hiding another reality, beyond the subjective behavior of men, and therefore a certain kind of subjective behavior is determined by an objective truth in a universal (scientific) manner.

Two things must be said at this point, in favor of Wilde.  Freud’s Oedipal idea is subjectively Freud’s, firstly, and secondly, Freud’s Oedipal “truth,” which maintains that the objective is really subjective which is really objective is nothing but an endless binary sequence that demolishes, as it seeks to establish, the ‘subjective hiding the objective’ duality: Hamlet is Shakespeare’s subjective creation. This is a circular truism which spins due to the subjective/objective aspect of reality in the first place: the critic/doctor/psychoanalyst/scientist/lover/audience seeks “the truth” (objectivity) in a state of curious ignorance (subjectivity). Shakespeare plays his audience; Freud, in turn, plays Shakespeare, but Freud, like everyone else, is stuck in Shakespeare’s audience. The truth of the character Hamlet—why did he behave the way he did?—can never be known. The truth of Oedipus can likewise never be known, since the “repressed” loop of its subjectivity-becoming-objective is a “play” which blocks any attempt by an audience member to objectify it in a scientific manner.

According to Freud, Hamlet could not kill his uncle because he “knew” that he, Hamlet, was guilty in the same manner his uncle was, due to Hamlet’s own repressed desire to murder his father and sleep with his mother. And this, according to Freud’s startling critical analysis, is why Shakespeare, the author, portrayed Hamlet as he did. Freud ‘s “objective truth” necessarily travels through Shakespeare’s “subjective truth.” Hamlet cannot kill himself, or his subjectivity cannot kill his objectivity. So Freud repeats Wilde’s idea that the objective is really subjective, but Freud is attempting to “direct” the Subjective Shakespeare, which the very dynamic of ‘subjective versus objective’ as it has been examined here forbids him to do.

Where is the evidence that Shakespeare/Hamlet wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother? There is none. Hamlet expresses admiration for his father and disdain for his uncle before his mother; Hamlet champions his father, which is the very opposite of the Oedipal impulse. Freud’s analysis is subjective, then, and so for Wilde, becomes a kind of objective truth, if we follow his own reasoning. So we can almost say that Freud’s thesis is bunk, but it thrives in the atmosphere of Wilde’s half-agreement.

As an example, let us say the door to the men’s room in a restaurant somehow becomes shut, although the room is unoccupied, during restaurant hours. For a certain time, the assumption will be that the rest room is occupied. The objective truth is that the restroom is unoccupied. The (group) subjective perception is that the restroom is occupied. As long as men slip into the women’s restroom and a line does not form in front of the men’s room, the discovery of the locked men’s room door hides the truth; the closed door, whose message is “occupied” is hiding the truth: unoccupied. Hamlet does not attempt to enter the men’s room because he thinks it is occupied. The reason is very simple. It is because the door is shut. Hamlet does not attempt to kill his uncle. The door is shut on his attempt. The reason for Hamlet’s inaction and the fact of his inaction become one: the hidden or repressed fact of a closed door. Freud has found a trope as simple and profound as a closed door. But like the simple error which spread among the male patrons of the restaurant and became an “objective truth”, Freud’s theory caught on with its simple explanation, which turns out to be an error just as simple, and thus prone to be believed.

The restroom is not occupied. Hamlet’s hesitation in murdering his uncle is not due to Freud’s Oedipal theory.

The restroom is not occupied. Wilde opens the door and finds the objective truth. Now it is occupied. And you may not enter.

WINNER: WILDE

 

 

ALL THE POET DOES

All the poet does— to keep steady and calm—
Is convert the many words of worlds to one world’s few—
Even as his wants increase—for he must,
In the vision of his passion, remain dedicated to you.

You are larger than worlds, better than words,
In the eyes of the one dedicated to you.
You are human. You are better than the birds.
And the poet dedicated to you? By the laws of praise,

You are better than all his dedications, too.
The poem falls short, always,
As all the moments and all the efforts do.
But look how everything is saved!
The poem lives because the poem thinks to mention you.

 

 

 

JOHN CROWE RANSOM TAKES ON BAUDELAIRE IN THE MODERN BRACKET

Ransom was the Southern American T.S. Eliot. He battles ‘the Father,’ Baudelaire.

Charles Baudelaire and John Crowe Ransom are icons of Modernism.

Ransom, the New Critic, defined Modernism explicitly, brilliantly, in his little known essay, “Poets Without Laurels, which he published in 1938. Baudelaire, closer to the origins of it, but just as self-consciously, in his Art criticism, defined Modernism, too.

Temperamentally, Ransom and Baudelaire are quite different: Baudelaire is the dandified Modernsist-rebel, Ransom, the stuffy Modernist-matter-of-fact. The arc of Modernism from Baudelaire to Ransom is highly instructive, though: the Modernist “rebel” of the 19th century is erased by Modernity’s 20th century “victory;” Baudelaire’s cry of “Join the Artificial Revolution!” is a tad redundant when it rings out in the 20th century surrounded by skyscrapers, airplanes, and TVs.

Baudelaire rebelled against nature: “Woe to him who, like Louis XV [died 1774] carries his degeneracy to the point of no longer having a taste for anything but nature unadorned.” The 18th century—which featured Pope saying Art is nothing but the Greeks and Nature, and which prepared the way for Romanticism’s humble embrace of the same—found itself attacked by Baudelaire:

We know that when [Louis XV's mistress] wished to avoid receiving the king, she made a point of putting on rouge. It was quite enough, it was her way of closing the door. It was in fact by beautifying herself that she used to frighten away her royal disciple of nature.

But when we reach the 20th century, it is no longer possible to be a rebel by hating nature—for nature had been overthrown. Rousseau and his Nature worship becomes the hero of protest; Warhol’s Brillo Boxes are sarcastic, ironic: a joke at the expense of Baudelaire’s sacred artificiality. Post-modernism freed us from Modernism’s Futuristic and Artificial Pride by laughing at it—but unfortunately, or not, Modernism has had the last laugh: artificiality, like it or not, has won. Louis XV and Al Gore are both seen to love nature artificially, and what seems more artificial to us now than Alexander Pope? Cosmetics are all the rage, and nature poets are wise more than they are natural, just as natural and organic diet gurus are wise; American poetry, whether it is rap, Slam, Ashbery, or Collins, could not be more artificial or more removed from nature poetry: even Mary Oliver is wise rather than natural; we kill trees to publish books on saving trees. Baudelaire is an anti-Nature prophet, then, more than he is a rebel: he looked around at the teeming cities, the material improvements, the women making themselves lovely and available with their cosmetics and their freedom, and thought: here is the Future. As Baudelaire put it in his essay, “In Praise of Cosmetics:”

Nature teaches us nothing. I admit that she compels man to sleep, to eat, to drink, and to arm himself as well as he may against the inclemencies of the weather; but it is she too who incites man to murder his brother, to eat him, to lock him up and torture him; for no sooner do we take leave of the domain of needs and necessities to enter that of pleasures and luxury than we see that Nature can counsel nothing but crime. It is this infallible Mother Nature who has created patricide and cannibalism, and a thousand other abominations that both shame and modesty prevent us from naming. On the other hand it is philosophy (I speak of good philosophy) and religion which command us to look after our parents when they are poor and infirm. Nature, being none other than the voice of our self-interest, would have us slaughter them.

A prophet, indeed; for Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot were primitives who followed nature; they had no philosophy or religion. Philosophy and religion are means to fend off nature’s ultimate, all-encompassing self-interestedness—and find pleasure and sanity in a more subtle and piecemeal and laissez faire sort of way. Good philosophy listens to a host of small voices, and ignores the big ones. Communists and fascists are not philosophers and religious fanatics are not religious. Communists, fascists, and religious fanatics listen to the big voices. You would never find any of them speaking as Baudelaire does here:

Woman is quite within her rights, indeed she is even accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural; she has to astonish and charm us; as an idol, she is obliged to adorn herself in order to be adored. Thus she has to lay all the arts under contribution for the means of lifting herself above Nature, the better to conquer hearts and rivet attention. It matters but little that the artifice and trickery are known to all, so long as their success is assured and their effect always irresistible. By reflecting in this way the philosopher-artist will find it easy to justify all the practices adopted by women at all times to consolidate and as it were to make divine their fragile beauty.

Whether this is sexist rot or women’s liberation brilliantly and empathetically imparted, we are sure this is not how the Ayatollahs or the Communists or the Nazis talk: it is a beautiful antidote to that. It is a small voice worth listening to.

Ransom, in his description of Modernsim, is equally trivial and modest; Modernism, as Ransom sees it, is simply a practical method in which expertise is fragmented to handle things compartmentally. This might not be ideal. But Ransom essentially agrees with Baudelaire; he is talking in the same way. Ransom sees Modernism as that which rejects nature and big schemes and listens to the individual and his or her small voice, even if this produces a certain amount of alienation and dullness. We’ll quote the beginning of Ransom’s essay, “Poets Without Laurels,”; note how Ransom uses fanaticism’s “red banner” jokingly and ironically. Ransom begins with poetry; he then moves into Modernism as it applies to all aspects of life:

The poets I refer to in the title are the “moderns:” those whom a small company of adept readers enjoys, perhaps enormously, but the general public detests; those in whose hands poetry as a living art has lost its public support.

Consequently I do not refer to such poets as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost, who are evidently influenced by modernism without caring to “go modern” in the sense of joining the revolution; which is very much as if they had stopped at a mild or parlor variety of socialism, when all about them the brave, or at least the doctrinaire, were marching under the red banner. Probably they are wise in their time; they have laurels deservedly and wear them gracefully. But they do not define the issue which I wish to discuss. And still less do I refer to poets like E.A Robin. son, Sturge Moore, and John Masefield, who are even less modern; though I have no intention of questioning their laurels either. I refer to poets with no laurels.

I do not wish to seem to hold the public responsible for their condition, as if it had suddenly become phlegmatic, cruel, and philistine. The poets have certainly for their part conducted themselves peculiarly. They could not have estranged the public more completely if they had tried; and smart fellows as they are, they know very well what they have been doing, and what they are still stubborn in doing, and what the consequences are.

For they have failed more and more flagrantly, more and more deliberately, to identify themselves with the public interests, as if expressly to renounce the kind affections which poets had courted for centuries.

Poets used to be bards and patriots, priests and prophets, keepers of the public conscience, and, naturally, men of public importance. Society crowned them with wreaths of laurel, according to the tradition which comes to us from the Greeks and is perpetuated by official custom in England—and in Oklahoma. Generally the favor must have been gratefully received. But modern poets are of another breed. It is as if all at once they had lost their prudence as well as their piety, and formed a compact to unclasp the chaplet from their brows, inflicting upon themselves the humility of delaureation, and retiring from public responsibility and honors. It is this phenomenon which has thrown critical theory into confusion.

Sir Philip Sidney made the orthodox defense of poetry on the ground of the poet’s service to patriotism and virtue.

“He doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, a will entice any man to enter into it”

And what was the technique of enticement?

“With a tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner”

The poets, therefore, told entrancing tales, which had morals. But the fact was, also, that the poets were not always content to win to virtue by indirection, or enticement, but were prepared to preach with almost no disguise, and to become sententious and repetitious, and the literature which they created is crowded with precise maxims for the moralists. There it stands on the shelves now. Sometimes the so-called poet has been only a moralist with a poetic manner. And all the poets famous in our tradition, or very nearly all, have been poets of a powerful moral cast.

 

Ransom is trying to hide his bias in talking about the old poets; he is trying very hard not to show his hand—which is full of “moderns.” He succeeds, we think; I doubt even one in a hundred readers would be able to detect in Ransom’s carefully worded rhetoric his flagrant hatred of the old poet, together with his deep prejudice in favor of the “modern” poet.

First of all, who is Ransom talking about when he says, “the poets…were prepared to preach with almost no disguise?” The “poets famous in our tradition” are precisely those who transcend mere moralizing; further, Ransom writes of “precise maxims for the moralists” as if morality did not belong to him and you and me, but thrived in a shadowy group of inquisitorial persons to which the old poets like Sidney were slaves: “the moralists.” Who are these “moralists?” They are nobodies. They are the unnamed invention of Mr. Ransom, who intends to snatch autonomy away from the old poets and make them seem mere servants—as opposed to the “moderns,” who happen—who just happen—to be ambitious poets who are friends of the critic and poet Mr. Ransom. (Ransom examines “modern” poems by Mr. Stevens—”pure” and Mr. Tate —”obscure” in “Poets Without Laurels.”) Poe explicitly wrote on disguising one’s morals; did Poe, one of the “poets famous in our tradition” as referenced by Ransom, write only to invent “precise maxims for the moralists?” Or Baudelaire? Did Baudelaire busy himself in making “precise maxims for the moralists?” Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning? Did they all throw their souls into the task of making “precise maxims for the moralists?” Really, Mr. Ransom?

We felt it was only fair to expose, for our Scarriet readers, the grubby truth underlying Ransom’s effort, which we nevertheless consider brilliant (if crooked and corrupt) in its gloss on Modernism. Again, to pick up Ransom where he left us:

So I shall try a preliminary definition of the poet’s traditional function on behalf of society: he proposed to make virtue delicious. He compounded a moral effect with an aesthetic effect. The total effect was not a pure one, but it was rich, and relished highly. The name of the moral effect was goodness; the name of the aesthetic effect was beauty. Perhaps these did not have to coexist, but the planners of society saw to it that they should; they called upon the artists to reinforce morality with charm. The artists obliged.

Note how Ransom slyly implies the “planners of society” are telling Shakespeare and Poe what to do. But no one would call the New Critics, who worked with the U.S. Government as Education officials (poetry textbook writers) or Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, or any of the “moderns,” those laurel-less renegades, “planners of society.” Ransom, the non-planner, continues:

When they had done so , the public did not think of attempting to distinguish in its experience as reader the glow which was aesthetic from the glow which was moral. Most persons probably could not have done this; many persons cannot do it today. There is yet no general recognition of the possibility that an aesthetic effect may exist by itself, independent of morality or any other useful set of ideas. But the modern poet is intensely concerned with this possibility, and he has disclaimed social responsibility in order to secure this pure aesthetic effect. He cares nothing, professionally, about morals, or God, or native land. He has performed a work of dissociation and purified his art.

There are distinct styles of “modernity,” but I think their net results, psychologically, are about the same. I have in mind what might be called the “pure” style and what might be called the “obscure” style.

A good “pure” poem is Wallace Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds…”

Poetry of this sort, as it was practiced by some French poets of the nineteenth century, and as it is practiced by many British and American poets now, has been called pure poetry, and the name is accurate. It is nothing but poetry; it is poetry for poetry’s sake, and you cannot get a moral out of it. But it was expected it would never win the public at large. …

As an example of “obscure” poetry, I cite Allen Tate’s “Death of Little Boys.” …

Tate has an important subject, and his poem is a human document, with a contagious fury about it: Stevens, pursuing purity, does not care to risk such a subject. But Tate, as if conscious that he is close to moralizing and sententiousness, builds up deliberately, I imagine, an effect of obscurity; for example, he does not care to explain the private meaning of his windowpane and his Norwegian cliff; or else, by some feat, he permits these bright features to belong to his total image without permitting them to reveal any precise meaning, either for himself or for his reader. …

Pure or obscure, the modern poet manages not to slip into the old-fashioned moral-beautiful compound. …

Personally, I prefer the rich obscure poetry to the thin pure poetry. The deaths of little boys are more exciting than the sea surfaces. It may be that the public preference, however, is otherwise. The public is inclined simply to ignore the pure poetry, because it lacks practical usefulness; but, to hate the obscure poetry, because it looks important enough to attend to, and yet never yields up any specific fruit. Society, through its spokesmen the dozens of social-minded critics, who talk about the necessity of “communication,” is now raging with indignation, or it may be with scorn, against the obscure poetry which this particular generation of poets has deposited. Nevertheless, both types of poetry, obscure as well as pure, aim at poetic autonomy; that is, speaking roughly, at purity.

Modern poetry in this respect is like modern painting. European painting used to be nearly as social thing as poetry. It illustrated the sacred themes prescribed by the priests, whether popularly (Raphael) or esoterically and symbolically (Michelangelo)… But more or less suddenly it asserted its independence. So we find Cezanne, painting so many times and so lovingly his foolish little bowl of fruits. …

Apostate, illaureate, and doomed to outlawry the modern poet may be. I have the feeling that modernism is an unfortunate road for them to have taken. But it was an inevitable one. …

Poets have had to become modern because the age is modern. Its modernism envelops them like a sea, or an air. Nothing in their thought can escape it.

Modern poetry is pure poetry. The motive behind it cannot be substantially different from the motive behind the other modern activities, which is certainly the driving force of all our modernism. What is its name? “Purism” would be exact, except  that it does not have the zealous and contriving sound we want. “Puritanism” will describe this motive…

The development of modern civilization has been a grand progression in which Puritanism has invaded first one field and then another.

The first field was perhaps religion. The religious impulse used to join to itself and dominate and hold together nearly all the fields of human experience; politics, science, art, and even industry, and by all means moral conduct. But Puritanism came in the form of the Protestant Reformation and separated religion from all its partners. Perhaps the most important of these separations was that which lopped off from religion the aesthetic properties…the ceremonial became idolatry. …

Next, or perhaps at the same time, Puritanism applied itself to morality. Broad as the reach of morality may be, it is distinct enough as an experience to be capable of purification. We may say that its destiny was to become what we know as sociology, a body of positivistic science. …

Then Puritanism worked upon politics. … Progress in this direction meant constitutionalism, parliamentarianism, republicanism. The population, not being composed exclusively of politicians, is inclined to delegate statecraft to those who profess it. …

It was but one step that Puritanism had to go from there into the world of business, where the material sciences are systematically applied. The rise of the modern business world is a development attendant upon the freedom which it has enjoyed; upon business for business’s sake, or pure business, or “laissez faire,” with such unconditioned principles as efficiency, technological improvement, and maximum productivity. …

All these exclusions and specializations, and many more, have been making modern life what it is. …

Poets are now under the influence of a perfectly arbitrary theory which I have called Puritanism. They pursue A, an aesthetic element thought always to have the same taste and to be the one thing desirable for poets. They will not permit the presence near it of M, the moral element, because that will produce the lemonade MA, and they do not approve of lemonade. In lemonade the A gets weakened and neutralized by the M. …

Now some poetry, so-called, is not even lemonade, for the ingredients have not been mixed, much less compounded. Lumps of morality and image lie side by side, and are tasted in succession. T.S. Eliot thinks that this has been the character of a great deal of English poetry since the age of Dryden. … It is decidedly one of the causes of that revulsion of feeling on the part of the modern poet which drives him away from the poetic tradition.

And that is Ransom’s Modernist gambit, justifying Modern Poetry’s “independence” from “morality” on the historical “fact” that modern life is now more “pure” than ancient life. But does Ransom’s analogy work? Is a lobbyist-influenced politician in a modern democratic society more “pure” than a Feudal lord, or king? Is the poetry of Allen Tate more “pure” than Shelley’s? Is efficiency and improvement and productivity in a specific area something which only arose in France in the 19th Century? Was it Modern Poetry’s destiny to gain a certain ascendency in the 20th century for the very same reason that drove Martin Luther to question the sincerity of the Catholic Church?

We think not. We strongly suspect that “Modernism” is nothing but a fancy word, and that John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot are nothing but Highbrow Car Salesmen. Purely so, of course.

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

 

 

 

 

COLERIDGE AND SHELLEY BATTLE FOR ELITE EIGHT SPOT!

Coleridge. Not a happy life. But a happy mind.

William Wordsworth is not a Romantic Poet. In his heart, Wordsworth is a Park Ranger. At least compared to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge can make even Shelley look like a cold philosopher.  A Wild and Desperate Love is at the heart of Coleridge’s Romanticism. Wordsworth trusts in Nature’s God, Shelley in the One, but Coleridge, the Heart-Riven Atheist, trembles before the Unknown:

Reality’s Dark Dream

I know ’tis but a dream, yet feel more anguish
Than if it were ’twere truth. It has been often so:
Must I die under it? Is no one near?
Will no one hear these stifled groans and wake me?

It is not that Coleridge was simply a World of Hurt; he was a thinking man, and always reflecting; Coleridge, the Poet, is Pain Spoiled by Too Much Thought. The “I know ’tis but a dream” above only manages to deepen the gruesome “reality.” Coleridge knows the darkness and escapes the darkness with thought in such a way that manages in its workings to bring more darkness on. And since Coleridge is a genius, the fault seems never to be Coleridge’s but the world’s, the bad luck of a great man proving to be more melancholy than any human flaw or philosophical belief.

Coleridge is the Hamlet of Hamlets, the “sole unbusy thing:”

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

from “Work Without Hope”

As for love, as the quintessential Romantic Poet, Coleridge believes it to be all. From the poem, “Love:”

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love
And feed his sacred Flame.

“Sacred.” Of course. The orgy of the Romantic is always sacred, and this paradox is at the heart of that type of poetry’s beauty and wonder; to feel the sternly Modernist tainted and cynical profanation of Romanticism is to know truly what Romanticism is.

To be Romantic is to adore the Past in such a manner that one can, like Coleridge, reproduce Homer’s hexameter, but tragically, only in moments:

Strongly it bears us along in swelling and limitless billows,
Nothing before and nothing behind but the sky and the ocean.

The Romantic cannot be Classically heroic; the sad attempts break apart into the fragments of dream, and in the failure, a rich lyric beauty is born, as if the body of a strong animal were tenderized, cooked, and eaten. Appetite is born of ruin. Modernism, the mere cold leftovers of the sacred feast.

Coleridge was more optimistic when he was younger: he was capable, for instance, of this simple, stunning observation, as he writes of his infant son in “Frost at Midnight:”

But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! He shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

There you have it: Coleridge, bursting with faith and paternal care, with the magnificent ” by giving make it ask.”

In one of those strange accidents of history, Coleridge was friends with the steadier but less talented Wordsworth—calling him in “To William Wordsworth,” “Friend of the Wise! and Teacher of the Good!” Although Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge, compared to Mr. W., had superior minds, tougher hearts, were better verse writers, and were more in the spirit of Romanticism, the contrast of the hard-luck and dissipated Coleridge, and the early deaths of the other three, came to make Wordsworth seem, in the eyes of certain dull but well appointed critics (Matthew Arnold was one) the greater poet, and this peculiar state of things still exists today. Wordsworth’s best known poem, “Tintern Abbey,” is not even read correctly (the famous theme of the lost joys of childhood is nowhere in the poem. *Scarriet has written on this elsewhere)

The cold-hearted Modern, T.S. Eliot, he of the icicle breath, the various Orthodox trappings, strangely mixed with ingenious vulgarity and wise-acre irreverence, cut down the Romantics and elevated Donne and the Metaphysical School—(the term “metaphysical school” is actually Samuel Johnson’s.) The Romantics will have their revenge, sooner or later, and Coleridge will smite Donne. Speaking of which, here is Coleridge on Donne:

With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme’s sturdy cripple, fancy’s maze and clue,
Wit’s forge and fire-blast, meaning’s press and screw.

Here, Coleridge, the Romantic, has dashed off what dances with Donne and Eliot, and looks ahead to Plath.

Shelley was simply the most optimistic poet who ever lived:

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wreaks of a dissolving dream.
A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus sings again,
And loves, and weeps, and dies.
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.
Oh write no more the tale of Troy,
If earth Death’s scroll must be!
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
Which dawns upon the free:
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
Another Athens shall arise
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendor of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven give.
Saturn and Love their long repose
Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.
Oh, cease! Must hate and death return?
Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
Of bitter prophecy.
The world is weary of the past,
Oh, might it die or rest at last!

Shelley is almost too correct in his feelings of triumph, in his magnificent versification. We feel more sympathetic for the homely heart and playful mind of Coleridge today.

WINNER: COLERIDGE

Samuel Taylor Coleridge advances to the Elite Eight!!!

 

 

 

 

WHAT IF MY POETRY IS WRONG?

My poetry wants you to love me
And maybe this is wrong.
There is always a story
Underneath the song.

They say there is a crime
Behind every care,
They say that hidden blood
Is on all we eat and wear.

Unchanging love
Changes love that went before.
Fewer words mark the poem—
The story’s always more.

It’s nobody’s business
What this poem says to you,
With its effort to be pretty,
And its secret for the Jew.

DANTE AND POPE BATTLE FOR CLASSICAL BRACKET FINAL

All poets are beautiful.  Is Alexander Pope not beautiful?

POPE:

It would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly passed on poems. A critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error?

This seems strange: Pope, author of “The Confederacy of Dunces,” himself a poet best known for using his poetry to criticize and excoriate lesser poets, who took sweet delight in crushing denser wits with his superior wit, in this piece of prose, defends poets against harsh criticism. What? Was Pope really soft? In any case, no Critics from the 18th century are even known today, even as one as mighty as Pope seems to fear them. The critics are all forgotten.

But Pope was prophetic: civilization means that poetry is not only read, it is discussed and criticized: but finally the poets prove too thin-skinned, and resolve “not to own themselves in any error,” which is precisely what happened with modern poetry: its desultory prose style simply cannot be measured as faulty; the loose address of an Ashbery is simply beyond criticism. So is every one happy? Would Pope, who rhymes, be?

Next, Pope puts his finger on another modern ailment: poetry is essentially trivial:

I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed; poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.

Finally, Pope makes further modern remarks regarding the poet in society—the genius does not appear out of the blue; they must grow up to an audience; but how? Most likely even the genius—in the early stages of their career, especially—will be shot down, envied, and hated. Is Pope merely feeling sorry for himself? Critical reception is made of flawed and envious humans, and the best thing the genius can hope for is “self-amusement.” So we are back to “idle men in closets.” We are surprised to find Pope, in his prose, to be self-pitying, sensitive, and quaintly tragic. Pope was the first Romantic. He was Byron’s favorite poet, after all.

What we call a genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself—if his genius be ever so great, he cannot discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be mistaken. The only method he has is appealing to the judgments of others. The reputation of a writer generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.  A good poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with fear of being ridiculous. If praise be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so good, as ill-will does him harm. The largest part of mankind, of ordinary or indifferent capacities, will hate, or suspect him. Whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are some advantages accruing from a genius to poetry: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone, the privilege of being admitted into the best company…

DANTE:

The author of the Comedia, here in a prose section of his earlier, Beatrice-besotted Vita Nuova, speaks of several apparently unrelated things at once: the poet describing love as if it were a person, the use of high and low speech as it relates to rhyme and love, and how these uses should be understood in a prose manner.

Dante quotes examples in classical poetry (mostly figures of speech) to defend his own practice in his “little book” (the Vita Nuova) of personifying love.

The dramatizing license is all well and good, but Dante also makes the fascinating point that poets began to write in the common tongue (as opposed to literary Latin) in wooing (less educated) females, and that rhyme is best used for love. How does one get one’s head around this radical, grounded, democratic, proto-Romantic notion?

For Dante, poetry and love overlap in a corporeal manner in three ways: personification, rhyme, and wooing, the first belonging to rhetoric, the second, to music, and the third, practical romance. The whole thing is delightfully religious in a mysterious, trinitarian sort of way: Personified love, Christ, the son; Rhyme, the Holy Spirit; and Wooing, the Creative Love of God. Or, on a more pagan religious level, personified love can be any messenger; rhyme, the trappings of religion’s austere/populist articulation; and wooing, the conversion of the poor.

It might be that a person might object, one worthy of raising an objection, and their objection might be this, that I speak of Love as though it were a thing in itself, and not only an intelligent subject, but a bodily substance: which, demonstrably, is false: since Love is not in itself a substance, but an accident of substance.

And that I speak of him as if he were corporeal, moreover as though he were a man, is apparent from these three things I say of him. I say that I saw him approaching: and since to approach implies local movement, and local movement per se, following the Philosopher, exists only in a body, it is apparent that I make Love corporeal.

I also say of him that he smiles, and that he speaks: things which properly belong to man, and especially laughter: and therefore it is apparent that I make him human. To make this clear, in a way that is good for the present matter, it should first be understood that in ancient times there was no poetry of Love in the common tongue, but there was Love poetry by certain poets in the Latin tongue: amongst us, I say, and perhaps it happened amongst other peoples, and still happens, as in Greece, only literary, not vernacular poets treated of these things.

Not many years have passed since the first of these vernacular poets appeared: since to speak in rhyme in the common tongue is much the same as to speak in Latin verse, paying due regard to metre. And a sign that it is only a short time is that, if we choose to search in the language of oc [vulgar Latin S. France] and that of si, [vulgar Latin Italy] we will not find anything earlier than a hundred and fifty years ago.

And the reason why several crude rhymesters were famous for knowing how to write is that they were almost the first to write in the language of si. And the first who began to write as a poet of the common tongue was moved to do so because he wished to make his words understandable by a lady to whom verse in Latin was hard to understand. And this argues against those who rhyme on other matters than love, because it is a fact that this mode of speaking was first invented in order to speak of love.

From this it follows that since greater license is given to poets than prose writers, and since those who speak in rhyme are no other than the vernacular poets, it is apt and reasonable that greater license should be granted to them to speak than to other speakers in the common tongue: so that if any figure of speech or rhetorical flourish is conceded to the poets, it is conceded to the rhymesters. So if we see that the poets have spoken of inanimate things as if they had sense and reason, and made them talk to each other, and not just with real but with imaginary things, having things which do not exist speak, and many accidental things speak, as if they were substantial and human, it is fitting for writers of rhymes to do the same, but not without reason, and with a reason that can later be shown in prose.

That the poets have spoken like this is can be evidenced by Virgil, who says that Juno, who was an enemy of the Trojans, spoke to Aeolus, god of the winds, in the first book of the Aeneid: ‘Aeole, namque tibi: Aeolus, it was you’, and that the god replied to her with: Tuus, o regina, quid optes, explorare labor: mihi jussa capessere fas est: It is for you, o queen, to decide what our labours are to achieve: it is my duty to carry out your orders’. In the same poet he makes an inanimate thing (Apollo’s oracle) talk with animate things, in the third book of the Aeneid, with: ‘Dardanidae duri: You rough Trojans’.

In Lucan an animate thing talks with an inanimate thing, with: ‘Multum. Roma, tamen debes civilibus armis: Rome, you have greatly benefited from the civil wars.’

In Horace a man speaks to his own learning as if to another person: and not only are they Horace’s words, but he gives them as if quoting the style of goodly Homer, in his Poetics saying: ‘Dic mihi, Musa, virum: Tell me, Muse, about the man.’

In Ovid, Love speaks as if it were a person, at the start of his book titled De Remediis Amoris: Of the Remedies for Love, where he says: ‘Bella mihi, video, bella parantur, ait: Some fine things I see, some fine things are being prepared, he said.’

These examples should serve to as explanation to anyone who has objections concerning any part of my little book. And in case any ignorant person should assume too much, I will add that the poets did not write in this mode without good reason, nor should those who compose in rhyme, if they cannot justify what they are saying, since it would be shameful if someone composing in rhyme put in a figure of speech or a rhetorical flourish, and then, being asked, could not rid his words of such ornamentation so as to show the true meaning. My best friend and I know many who compose rhymes in this foolish manner.

 

Pope, the great poet, already, in the 18th century, as a philosopher, has that Modernist smell of trivializing apology about him. Not so Dante, who is an ardent, mysterious flame burning on the candle of the Muse.

WINNER: DANTE

Dante will face Plato in the Classical Final for a spot in the Final Four!

ALAS! ALACK!

If there are twenty as beautiful as you,
Let me love them, and be twenty times untrue—
And be untrue to each of their charms,
Forty times untrue with their beautiful arms—

And as I kiss each beautiful back,
Their breasts cry, “alas, alack,”
Or as I sigh at the top of their head,
Their feet demand I love them instead;

I’ll be untrue in every eye,
Which envies the other, although nearby;
But there are none as beautiful as you.
I love the many. I am not untrue:

I love your thoughts, what your thoughts do,
Your wants, your needs; I love you, you, you.

 

 

 

 

 

HAS ADDISON A CHANCE AGAINST PLATO?

Addison brought the charm to philosophy and philosophy to the life, in essays speaking from the bowels of the British Empire. Philosophy and poetry, like brains and passion, combine to civilize everything under the sun, in fields where exchange and commerce were once all. Is Addison describing here earth, or heaven?

There is no place in the town which I so much love to frequent as the Royal Exchange. It gives me great satisfaction, and, in some measure, gratifies my vanity, as I am an Englishman, to see so rich an assembly of countrymen and foreigners consulting together upon the private business of mankind, and making this metropolis a kind of emporium for the whole world. Agents in the trading world are what ambassadors are in the politic world; they negotiate affairs, conclude treaties, and maintain a good correspondence between those wealthy societies of men that are divided from one another by seas and oceans, or live on the different extremities of a continent. I have often been pleased to hear disputes adjusted between an inhabitant of Japan and an alderman of London, or to see a subject of the great Mogul of Delhi entering into a league with one of the Czar of Muscovy. I am infinitely delighted in mixing with these several ministers of commerce, as they are distinguished by their different walks and different languages; sometimes I am jostled among a body of Armenians; sometimes I am lost in a crowd of Jews; and sometimes make one in a group of Dutchmen. I am a Dane, Swede, or Frenchman at different times; or rather fancy myself like the old philosopher, who upon being asked what countryman he was, replied, that he was a citizen of the world.

This grand scene of business gives me an infinite variety of solid and substantial entertainments. As I am a great lover of mankind, my heart naturally overflows with pleasure at the sight of a prosperous and happy multitude, insomuch that at many public solemnities I cannot forbear expressing my joy with tears that have stolen down my cheeks. I am wonderfully delighted to see such a body of men thriving in their own private fortunes, and at the same time promoting the public stock; or in other words, raising estates for their own families, bringing into their country whatever is wanting, and carrying out of it whatever is superfluous.

Nature seems to have taken a peculiar care to disseminate her blessings among the different regions of the world, with an eye to this mutual intercourse and traffic among mankind, that the natives of the several parts of the globe might have a kind of dependence upon one another, and be united together by their common interest. Almost every degree produces something peculiar to it. The food often grows in one country, and the sauce in another. The fruits of Portugal are corrected by the products of Barbadoes, the infusion of a China plant sweetened with the pith of an Indian cane. The Philippic Islands give a flavor to our European bowls. The single dress of a woman of quality is often the product of a hundred climates. The muff and the fan come together from the different ends of the earth. The scarf is sent from the torrid zone and the tippet from beneath the pole. The brocade petticoat rises out of the mines of Peru, and the diamond necklace out of the bowels of Indostan.

If we consider our own country in its natural prospect, without any of the benefits and adventures of commerce, what a barren uncomfortable spot of earth falls to our share! Natural historians tells us no fruit grows originally among us, besides hips and haws, acorns and pignuts, with other delicacies of the like nature; that our climate itself, and without the assistance of art, can make no further advances towards a plum than to a sloe, and carries an apple to no greater a perfection than a crab; that our melons, our peaches, our figs, our apricots, and cherries, are strangers among us, imported in different ages, and naturalized in our English gardens; and that they would all degenerate and fall away into the trash of our own country, if they were wholly neglected by the planter, and left to the mercy of our sun and soil. Nor has traffic more enriched our vegetable world, than it has improved the whole face of nature among us. Our ships are laden with the harvest of every climate, our tables are stored with spices, and oils, and wines; our rooms are filled with pyramids of China, and adorned with the workmanship of Japan; our morning’s draft comes to us from the remotest corners of the earth; we repair our bodies by the drugs of America, and repose ourselves under Indian canopies. My friend Sir Andrew calls the vineyards of France our gardens; the Spice Islands our hotbeds; the Persians our silk-weaver, and the Chinese our potters. Nature indeed furnishes us with the bare necessaries of life, but traffic gives us a great variety of what is useful, and at the same time supplies us with everything that is convenient and ornamental. Nor is it the least part of our happiness, that whilst we enjoy the remotest products of the north and south, we are free from those extremities of weather which give them birth; that our eyes are refreshed with the green fields of Britain, at the same time that our palates are feasted with fruits that rise between the tropics.

For these reasons there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, add wealth to the rich, and magnificence to the great. Our English merchant converts the tin of of his own country into gold, and exchanges his wool for rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture , and the inhabitants of the Frozen Zone are warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.

Addison, in this article from 1711, does not mention the slave trade. Is this a costly error? Does it the mar the beauty of his piece? Merchants are valuable, and, ironically, Salem, MA merchants during the American Revolution, operating as pirates (the Colonies had no navy and yet challenged a naval Empire) captured 450 British vessels; privateers from a little ‘witch town’ changed world history.

Now Plato:

Socrates: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer.

Brilliant! With one stroke, the great philosopher pins the journalist and advances to the Elite Eight!

 

WINNER: PLATO

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