IF YOU’RE JOHN KEATS YOU’RE NOT SAFE HERE

Keats by Tom Title

Keats Comment

Tom, Harriets, Everybody,

We’re also dying from the inability of poetry people in America today to believe in anything, to take a position like Keats did and then to cry out in disbelief and sorrow when nobody is moved or, much, much worse, there’s silence. Like the comments on the “Keats Lives” thread on Blog:Harriet — such wonderful material, crying out for commitment, and nobody in the whole community dares! Except our champion, Eileen Myles, of course, who despite all her toughness always wears her heart right on her sleeve. And I love that about her, and although I don’t always get excited by what excites her, I always get excited by what she stands for and the way she shows it!

Eileen BW

So what am I referring to specifically?  Eileen Myles most recent comment on Abigail Deutsch’s  “Keats Lives (for a while).” Wow!

Eileen on Keats

What I hear in this post is a huge cri du coeur, because Eileen is so fierce and articulate she can say anything, yet she’s not been posting real comments for weeks, and she used to be so involved. I think she just got fed up with all the adolescent posturing, the effete throwing up just a little in your mouth, the bon mots and the martinis. Because of all the Contributing Writers on Blog:Harriet, Eileen is, of course, the one who has attracted the most DISLIKE votes, can you imagine — indeed, there were a number of her comments that were actually shut down during the discussion on  “Post on the Post” (164 comments) and “Political Economy” (227 comments)!  On occasion you actually had to click on “click to show comment” to read Eileen Myles!

That was the worst of it, but I also think it was extremely inconsiderate to Eileen that some of the posters most engaged with her got shut down too, including Eliot Weinberger, Bill Knott, John, Kent Johnson, Dermot, Thomas Brady and myself, so that she had to “click to show comment” to read her own correspondence, so to speak. (The threads have been cleaned up radically since then, but many of you will remember the mess.)

Now that’s a huge embarassment for Harriet, to have an honored writer so mucked about with. It’s also a stain on The Poetry Foundation of America to let it happen, and I do hope the management is reading this (I’m happy to say we have a huge number of visitors on the site).

In fact, I count Eileen as an ally in our struggle against what’s happening on Harriet, and she’s a big hitter like Ireland’s Desmond Swords and the Red Sox’s Thomas Brady, and although I have no personal contact with her I feel sure she is following. And her little post, just 18 words, after all, cries out for a reply like the kind I would have written. Yes, had I still been on Harriet I would have written up such a storm in response, you have no idea. And that’s what would have annoyed Travis, Nick, Noah Freed and the other male regulars so much they would have howled for my banishment just like they did on Joel Brouwer’s  “Keep the Spot Sore” (then I was writing about ROBINSON JEFFERS!)

But of course, I wouldn’t have written up a storm against Harriet or Travis or the Like/Dislike thing, or anything like that. I mean, if I were still with you I would never have been banished, so I wouldn’t have needed to defend myself at all. I would be normal, in other words, I would be part of your community, one of your voices, Yes, I would still be older, and yes, still further away from any coffee shop or blackboard. What else? I would be unique in that I haven’t got a single invitation to a Poetry Reading or an Opening in my pocket diary, and don’t even own a pocket diary for that matter!

Out of respect for my friend Eileen I’ll put my face where my mouth is too:

Christopher2_2

And you still want to know what this guy would have said in response to Eileen’s little cri du coeur against tight-assed death in poetry? Read Abigail Deutsch’s original good article, read all those blurbs and the golden copy, look at the wonderful young actor in the photo and think of Jane Campion (!!!) — then read what Eileen says in just 18 words. And if you still feel blocked, go take a hot shower, stamp on your hat, eat something inorganic, do anything that makes you less tight-assed yourself!

After that, like Gary just go for it!

Christopher Woodman

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13 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2009 at 12:31 am

    “Bright Star,” Jane Campion’s newly released film on John Keats, is exeptionally good; it is tasteful, dramatically true, and difficult for me to review since I was blubbering through half of it, but still, how many biopics are really good? This one is really good–unfortunately, very sad–and will not get that many viewers; but is it possible that NO ONE on Harriet has anything to say about it?

    This does not surprise me, frankly, because Keats is one of these poets who seems to belong to a flowery, leather-bound world, and is a bit of an embarrassment to today’s professional poets, with their bright and shiny MFA degrees: ‘he’s one of those pale, rhyme-y, Romantics, right?’

    People who don’t like poetry will not like John Keats, because Keats IS poetry.

    In some future age, wars will happen for a good reason; they will be fought when those who like poetry make war against those who don’t, and when those who like poetry kill all those who don’t like poetry, paradise will reign on earth.

    Or, perhaps this war is happening; we just aren’t aware of it, yet. Keats fought this battle; he put his poetry into the world, and a small band of disciples made sure his poetry was not killed, even though malicious men in Scotland and London did try to kill it. The Roman Empire killed Christ, and the British Empire killed Keats (and his brother in poetry, Shelley, both dying in Italy, and having little affection for their native land and its aristocracy).

    Campion’s film brings home the idea that Keats had no prospects, no money, that he was adored by children and families and young, pure-hearted, women, and that his genius was moral and unpretentious. Keats’ poetry is of the heart, not of manifestos. ‘Bright Star’ does not feel like THE definitive Keats film, but it will most likely BE so for a very long time.

  2. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 27, 2009 at 2:54 am

    I haven’t seen the film, and I doubt I ever will living where and how I do. But in the days when I was still able to I loved the films of Jane Campion, and was so excited when I heard another one was coming out. “An Angel at My Table” made a huge impression on me, as did, of course, “The Piano.” And “Sweetie,” oh my!

    What intriques me about “Bright Star,” partly because I haven’t seen it, is just that, the title! Imagine having all those titles of Keats’ poems to choose from, imagine having all those lines and those letters, imagine having all those contemporary anecdotes, the reviews, and the criticism right up to the present. And Jane Campion went for “Bright Star!” Fascinating. And because I do so love and respect her I have no doubt that she’s right.

    So how recently have you looked at the poem? I hadn’t for quite awhile, and was very surprised to find on rereading it just how challenging it actually is, how like all of Keats it shows a mind of such extraordinary flexibility yet precision. And we have to be careful, because the imagery is so seductive and the phrases so memorable and, yes, have become so archetypal, we may forget actually to read what it says! Because the poem actually says something, and says something that any human being has the experience and capacity to know but which will take a Keats to nudge us into realizing we know it! And it has to do with being a woman for sure, which was undoubtedly what Jane Campion had in mind when she chose the title.

    So I’ll pin it up here on our board, and we can then all spend some time with it. After that we’ll be more ready to understand what, if we’re lucky, we’re going to see and feel in Jane Campion’s film:

    BRIGHT STAR

    Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
    Not in long splendour hung aloft the night
    And watching, with eternal lids apart,
    Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
    The moving waters at their priestlike task
    Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
    Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
    Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
    No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
    Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
    To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
    Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
    Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
    And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

    John Keats

  3. thomasbrady said,

    September 27, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Here’s something Keatsian: you cannot see the film, but the poem–you have that. (I can tell you it’s ‘only’ a film, but that would make you pant for it, but still I say, it’s only a film.)

    From the great adjective-subject opening, the ‘bright’ coupled with the ‘star’ (the theme of duality and cycle established immediately and simply) to the waters and the snow watched by the steadfast star, and then to the human intimacy of fall and swell as the ‘one-two rhythm’ of the poem becomes part of the poem’s very theme: the inorganic One changing into the human Two of ‘fall and swell’ and ‘tender taken breath’ and all resolved pitifully in the final line, with ‘so live ever’ matched gloriously but sadly with ‘swoon to death,’ here is poetic perfection, here is genius the ordinary fear and mock due to that fear.

    The excerpts of reviews of ‘Bright Star,’ which stands at the heart of the post on Harriet, on the film, features a certain snide and derisive contempt for the poet and Campion’s effort:

    Self-important scribbler….Keats is clearly a proto–rock star—driven, yet lovable, and always attuned to himself….Artfully tousled hair.” – J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

    “Tubercular young man…who spends his days sitting with a friend in a darkened room in his house in London or wandering Hampstead Heath in a seeming trance.” – David Denby, The New Yorker

    “A bit of a slacker, a little too quick to have his friends pay the bills while he gazes mopily into the distance.” – Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger

    “Struggling with money, bad reviews, and poor health….Pallid.” – Lou Lumenick, The New York Post

    “Pale, intense and faintly wasted.” – David Gritten, The Daily Telegraph

    “Penniless and crumpled.” – James Christopher, The Times

    “He broods; he coughs (signaling the tuberculosis that will soon kill him); he looks dreamily at flowers and trees and rocks.” – A.O. Scott, NY Times

    It should be said right off–and a pity Abigail Deutsch on Harriet did not say so–that these quotes are unfair and do NOT do justice to Keats or the film. Campion never errs in this way; one of the reason her film is masterful is precisely because she avoids the cliches which these hack reviewers feel it is their duty to trot out, anyway.

    Denby in ‘The New Yorker,’ like most of the reviewers, knows ‘Bright Star’ is a stunning, Oscar-worthy film, but can’t quite bring his jaded self to really appreciate it; for instance, he says the following:

    “Campion makes only one serious mistake: Whishaw recites the lines: “Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, /To feel for ever its soft fall and swell” when he is actually resting his head on Cornish’s breast.” –DD

    This scene works perfectly well. I was in a full theatre and didn’t hear a titter (excuse the pun). First, Keats, in the scene referred to, does not ‘recite’ the lines; he murmurs them. Second, he does not utter the whole poem, just a few lines from the middle, and it sounds like conversation. Third, the scene is tender and chaste and affectionate and sorrowful; her breast isn’t naked; if it had been a sexual scene, then yes, it would have probably struck some in the audience as unintentionally funny, or in poor taste, but this is not how the scene comes across, and it is unfortunate that Denby called this a “serious mistake.” The movie is flawless in its tasteful finish, a finish which Denby attempts to put his finger in, and spoil.

    There will always be those who will resent Keats, and his genius, and seek to spoil it in some way.

    Let them.

    Let them reveal themselves.

    Harriet, what say you?

    • noochinator said,

      October 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

      I thought Abbie Cornish stole the show as Fanny Brawne. She was also great alongside Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush in the Australian film Candy.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    September 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    The Keats post has now sunk from sight on the Harriet board.

    “Fled is that music…”

    Nothing, really, on the Harriet ‘Bright Star’ thread, since Gary posted those poems a full week ago.

    8 total comments–no discussion of the film.

    No challenge to the snarky film review excerpts posted by Abigail Deutsch.

    ‘Bright Star’ bombs on the Poetry Foundation Blog.

    Don’t worry, folks. We’ll keep discussing Keats and the Keats film here on Scarriet.

  5. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 29, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Yes, Tom, and I’d say the ideas behind FOETICS are truly liberating simply because they always do say, Don’t limit! In the context of Foetics, American poetry can lift itself up, shake out its fur, yawn, lick its chops, roll it’s beautiful eyes a bit, and have the whole wonderful, carefree life of a much-loved, beautiful, wild, irrepressible but infinitely responsive dog in a big family that loves it. And of course the dog loves it too!

    (A weird metaphor, but give it a chance and it actually does something!)

    Yes, poetry could once again become like beautiful music. I mean, can you imagine what it would be like to go to a concert conducted by Travis Nichols? or Kenneth Goldsmith? or Stephen Burt? Just imagine the faces of the audience, just imagine their self-absorbed feelings? And how many seats would be filled do you think, and by whom? Who would be in that audience, and how would they respond? And then imagine one of the great concerts of the Beatles (still thinking about Tom’s essay on the ‘Not A Radical Treatise’ thread!)!

    Poetry could become as significant and life-enriching as the Beatles. Imagine!

    A concert with Keats accompanied by lots of other composers, ancient and modern, who actually love music — a concert listened to by people who love music too, and actually listen to it in the car and at home!

    I loved your article, Abigail Deutsch, and am so sorry we never got to contribute to it. I also loved your article on ‘Genius’ — indeed I want poems that have the same relationshop with writers and readers as you show in the photo of the young woman with her prize winning wether!

    (Is that you? Or your sister?)

    Christopher Woodman

  6. thomasbrady said,

    September 29, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Some observe real objects and put these objects into poems.
    (This is imagism.)

    Some imagine objects and put these into poems.
    (This is fancy.)

    Keats imagined poems.

  7. thomasbrady said,

    October 2, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    It’s official.

    0 comments on Harriet discussing the film, “Bright Star” on John Keats.

    One of the best bio pics ever made on one of the world’s greatest and most beloved poets…

    Yea.

  8. December 22, 2009 at 4:15 am

    […] Campion’s gorgeous film, Bright Star, as noted here on Scarriet  [click here and here for our 2 articles], was hardly discussed on the Poetry Foundation’s Blog:Harriet  despite […]

  9. Mary Douglas said,

    October 10, 2014 at 12:28 am

    SPEAKING ENGLISH

    courting the fair lost wonder of the skies
    the ghosts of English poets stood out in the rain
    wondering what happened
    to the world edged all around in gold;

    edged all around in gold,
    who bartered what for what
    and keyed it all down
    so softly, by degrees, in the pearl smudged day

    we hardly noticed when the Word
    left glistening, alone
    as though it had never been
    spoken into green.

    let the fairy ferns bend down their fronds through
    these wrecked dells, now out-of-the-way
    and the musk roses sigh in the Borderlands-
    that even light dwindles, dividing itself
    into itself and praising nothing.

    O eglantine! O mild musk roses blowing…
    brief Tyrian clouds above the foaming cliffs
    were mine, but they swept by my childhood’s aching
    that denied-not real enough, was said.
    leaving me nothing more to say at school but
    to hobble on, ever-after with the

    clipped birds from my hocked fairytales
    small scissors sawed part-through
    I’ll never be
    real without them-

    who wants to be baked inside a very tasty gingerbread
    by the witchy experts
    stealing the names that color the soul – this has always been,
    oh my little little child

    pretending to grow wiser you’ll escape
    even further into the woods of gold and silver embossing-
    pure silence gathers stars
    and treasured there, you’re a better country without bitterness…
    this is the part of the story where you disappear, like a pearl
    in the pearl of mist or cloud still owned by God
    and safe from lies. it shall be so.

    till the day you can come back
    with all the light-rescinded years, the hollowed out rinds of suns
    and snows, the wayward sparrows glinting in the shadows not in vogue
    oh God what’s singing for
    or speaking-
    if it isn’t this:
    to brand on the wasted heart incessant amazement-
    to be leased by God-

    you’ll wake to wonder, too, so all- at-once to see
    each drowsing castle in familiar mists of rose :
    ever after, having been spoken-

    the small house in the clearing
    brimmed with Christmas lights,
    the bright fields sown
    of the full-throated music you did not disown-

    mary angela douglas 11-12 december 2011

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      Mary Angela Douglas, you are a wonderful poet.

      “who wants to be baked inside a very tasty gingerbread by the witchy experts” —as improbable as this trope is, it works.

      • Mary Douglas said,

        October 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm

        Thank you. Objectively speaking, and I can speak objectively about it somehow I think it works because it is true. They are trying to bake us into their own agenda from childhood, many childhood and other experts, to take the dreaminess out of the child, and more.

        It is worse now than it ever was. I don’t believe either in the Death of the Romantics. Especially Keats. His verse is as fresh and green and intertwined with deathless music now as it ever was.

        Who are these people that try to darken the Sun. Who willed that eclipse. It is so wonderful to know that you and others stood up for John Keats when Harriet did not.

        Raise high the flag of Scarriet and of beauty past, present, and future. It is our inheritance. Those who try to bury it are culpable and though they can be forgiven they cannot prevail.

        At least, I think so…

        Thank you for standing up for Beauty, Truth, Goodness.
        I love that Keats said “the poetry of Earth is never dead”.
        Scarriet (not Harriet) is striving to keep it alive.

        • thomasbrady said,

          October 10, 2014 at 7:36 pm

          Mary, thank you again. You ‘get it.’ Tom


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