EVEN ROBERT BURNS GETS BLATHERED ON HARRIET


…………….Peter Greene…………….Kent Johnson

@Kent: The thing that confuses me is the way most poetry blogs contain…little poetry. Here at Harriet, that’s normal – this is not a ‘personal’ poetry blog but a discussion room and (for me) education centre. But on the blogs of so many poets…no pomes. Are the things so hard to come by? Valuable, yes, but a poet is wealthy with the things, notebooks running empty, mystery scrawls everywhere. More poems on poetry blogs today!
PG

POSTED BY: PETER GREENE ON JANUARY 27, 2010 AT 11:10 AM

Did it ever occur to anyone on Onan:Harriet that there were other poems out there beside the ones that bloggers write themselves? Has anyone noticed the Robert Burns that just got posted by Travis, for example — who is obviously still sensitive to our criticism here at Scarriet that,  since we left, nobody at Harriet talks about poetry anymore, just about themselves?

Check out the 3 Comments on that thread for a shock on that, how they ignore the poetry to show off what they know/don’t know about Salinger. Even Holden Caulfield could have done better!

And can you imagine what Thomas Brady would have had to say, Burns being one of his favorite poets? Or Christopher Woodman on how to pronounce the scots, his children having been to a one-room school house in the hills up above Dumfries? Their dialect became so broad he couldn’t understand them in the kitchen after they had walked home from school, he says, two miles in the gloaming. His daughter Sophia even won 1st prize in the annual Robert Burns Poetry Contest — she recited the master’s poetry by heart even better than the shepherd children, who still spoke the dialect.

Eskdalemuir 1969, he says. The end of the world.

But then that’s precisely why Christopher Woodman got banned, for talking that way. Hi-jacking, Travis would have called it had Christopher come in on his Robert Burns thread. Making it relevant, we would say, empowering the poetry to speak for itself, not for the brown-nosed poetaster.

And we say good point in your sage comment, Kent Johnson. You know your Burns even if you’re deaf to his poetry and have no interest whatever in the best move Travis Nichols ever made. Indeed, you’ve condemned yet another Harriet thread to oblivion in your comment — set the mood for more cynical blather.

Who would dare to talk about poetry under such an asthmatic shadow?

~

In another way, all the comments on Poetry & Gender (Part 1): Why Don’t More Women do Blog-Oriented Writing? are under the shadow of Annie Finch’s truly expansive threads on Harriet last summer (Muse Goddess, Why I am a Woman Poet, and Women’s Work, those three in particular) all on the same topic, and which sparked some real participation, some of it so fiery it had to be deleted. And not because of unacceptable language or content either, but because of the fascinating glimpses the comments gave into various conflicts behind the U.K. poetry scene, Harriet was reaching out that far back then!

Frankly, we agree with those deletions — the deleted comments were too raw, the authors not ready yet for hanging out such linen. Indeed, some of the deletions were of comments by quite well-known U.K. female poetry figures who were letting too much hair down, and needed protection — from themselves!

Sensitive editing we’d say that time, Travis, and we feel sure that Annie Finch herself must have been consulted.

Was Annie Finch consulted when you deleted Christopher Woodman over and over again, Travis, and finally banned him altogether for talking about poetry in a manner you and your friends found threatening?

Did you learn anything at all from the Burns either? Do you have any feeling for what it might have been like for Holden Caulfield to be banned from his school, and why he might have brought that particular poem out into the real world with him?

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7 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    January 31, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Harriet drops another ball.

    Thom Donovan didn’t get the J.D. Salinger reference. Doh!

    Last year on January 25 was Burns’ 250th birthday, so 2009 should have been marked by a lot of Burns observance, since Burns is a great and popular poet.

    Poe’s 200th birthday (Jan. 19) made it a crowded field. If you want to see interesting material on Poe recently you’ll have to read…Scarriet.

    Kent Johnson’s ‘thought-police’ slur on Burns is completely ignorant.

    Kent Johnson called me a racist simply because I posted in Spanish on Harriet last summer.

    Now Bobby Burns and I have something in common: both of us have been libeled by the same pretentious douchebag.

  2. Annie Finch said,

    January 31, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Hi All,

    Just for the record, all comments on Harriet blogposts go directly to the moderators at the Poetry Foundation, and the poster of the original blogpost never sees them, or has any idea which comments are being posted and which are not being posted, until they are actually posted.

    I was also excited to see the Burns poem there, and I hope you will all go to Harriet and write about it!! I intend to…

    best wishes to all,
    Annie

  3. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 1, 2010 at 4:56 am

    I never doubted that for a moment, Annie. Forgive me if you felt I was suggesting you had covered something up or manipulated the record, because I know you would never do that.

    The deletions I was referring to were on your “Women’s Work: the Poetic Justice Forum” thread, and involved the heated exchanges between Desmond Swords and some U.K. feminist poets and critics, and simply EVERYBODY said too much including him. The thread went completely wild for awhile, and a whole lot of reputations were going up in smoke. Desmond was self-destructing with the whole U.K. feminist scene spiraling out of control in his kamikaze wake.

    Not that he cared — indeed, part of the problem was that he obviously loved every moment of it. Because he certainly did draw anger, indeed rage out of the women, and they said a whole lot of things that were obviously a bit shaky about women and poetry in the U.K, and when some other saner voices started rolling out statistics to prove them wrong it was headed for armageddon. The good women involved looked bad, I’m afraid — and then fortunately, poof, the incriminating parts got deleted.

    We all have those moments — and there’s always a time for everything, even for editorial deletions!

    What I said is that I hoped you’d been consulted. It was the right decision — and the thread continued and developed all the same. And though in the end the thread accomplished very little as the women involved never returned, it was nonetheless part of that steep learning curve that gender issues tend to be on.

    But were you consulted when Desmond Swords himself got banned from Harriet, Annie? I doubt it. Indeed, you were part of the dialogue in which our unruly druid was finding his feet in our midst, a wild landing and perhaps the high point of the thread.

    It was months later that he got the axe — along with me and Tom.

    Were you consulted on that, or were Martin Earl, Eileen Myles or Joel Brouwer?

    I know you weren’t, dear friend. But it does cause me discomfort that not one Harriet regular has ever mentioned it, and that the one link to our presence on Scarriet got deleted within a few hours — it was posted by W.F.Kammann just before John Oliver Simon’s reference to its disappearance in Spanish.

    That never aroused any interest either.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    February 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Hello Annie,

    Thanks for your invite to Harriet.

    I thought you were aware that the editors of Scarriet were banned from Harriet. You were with us that sumptuous summer… Our banning was the literary event of 2009. September 1st, 2009 was a dark day for Letters, but it was good that it came, as you can see. (I hope you’ve looked around our little site.) Scarriet shall see to it that Letters does not become degraded.

    Oh, and we’re moderator-free.

    Good seeing you,

    Thomas

  5. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 3, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Annie,
    Sumptuous summer indeed — and how could we have lost it? What did it benefit anyone anywhere to chop at the roots of that sumptuous tree and let it crash into such a degraded slumber? An ‘Avatar’ image, and perhaps overly dramatic, but in my experience as a writer I have rarely experienced so much hope in the transforming power of poetry as I felt on Blog:Harriet last summer. And look at it now?

    It meant a great deal to Tom and myself that you would like us to come to Harriet and join you in writing about Robert Burns. So I thought about it, hard, and 24 hours ago I swallowed my pride and submitted this:

    Submitted to Blog:Harriet, “That’s the Only Thing I’d Like To Be,” Feb 2nd, 2010, 9.52am

    As I’m sure many of you know, we at Scarriet have been commenting on this particular Harriet thread in some detail — both Thomas Brady and I love Robert Burns, and in addition I have some personal connections with Dumfries and specifically with Burns’ dialect. (I discuss some of that on the blog.)

    The new dimension here is that everybody seems to have their particular relationship to Robert Burns, which is a measure of his genius. Kent Johnson, who features in the Scarriet discussion, is interested in Burns’ political indiscretions. Stephen Sturgeon, on the other hand, doesn’t want the poet to upstage the short story writer, so he insists Travis has put up the poem “just because Salinger died.” Annie Finch, on the other hand, wants the poem to be a celebration of female sexuality, and congratulates Jenny for going out at night to meet her lover with a clear conscience — and James Stott expands on that, with some excellent examples.

    What interests me is how the poem has so moved this wounded boy, Holden Caulfield, and presumably J.D.Salinger, his author, that the boy/man has changed the poem from being a minor classic for the classroom into a monumental riddle for our whole culture. Yet he’s a prep school boy, and I want to know how many of us have had that experience? How many of us have been sent away to boarding school at 11 or 12, been made to wear a jacket and a tie every day, to sit up straight beside the master’s wife at the dining hall table, and read stuff we really didn’t understand or care for, and speak in that awful preppy back-throat drawl which is the cover-up prep school boys adopt who want to hide the fact their voices haven’t really changed yet, and prove they’re not really afraid.

    And why doesn’t this matter?

    These are simple questions, but they’re deep and involve us all. I wonder if we couldn’t take off our hats, put aside our expertise and axes for awhile, and talk about this poem, Holden Caulfield and J.D.Salinger — as if they mattered.

    “I know it’s crazy,” says Holden, “but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

    So what is it in this little poem that’s so important to us?

    Christopher

    I waited 12 hours and still it hadn’t appeared, so I submitted it again and received the following message: “Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!” So it did go through but obviously stumbled on somebody’s desk at the office.

    It’s now 24 hours later, and still it seems not to be able to find a place at the Poetry Foundation table.

    On September 29th you said this to me in a note, and I don’t think you’ll mind if I quote it: “Harriet has great usefulness as an open discussion forum. I hope that everything works out so that anyone who wants to contribute to discussion there will be able to do so.”

    Maybe it will, indeed I hope it will, but it obviously hasn’t yet.

    Christopher

  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    February 4, 2010 at 4:10 am

    Now it’s another 24+ hours later, and no progress.

    Perhaps I misunderstood you, Annie. Perhaps you didn’t mean me to actually try. Indeed, I’m not sure what you did mean, because I find your subsequent silence baffling — just as I do Franz Wright’s.

    Tom is convinced Franz was just plain dumping on me, and I refused to accept that there could have been such a negative and small-minded motive behind his intervention. Unfortunately, Franz’s subsequent silence would seem to support Tom’s position, i.e. that Franz couldn’t care less.

    Sad — on every count, for poets, for poetry. What does the Pulitzer Prize mean when a recipient can be in real life so mean and so callous? Good dialogue is for all seasons, surely, not just for fair weather. Franz Wright would appear to be just interested in appearances, and I guess I’ve got to go back and re-evaluate my whole take on his work.

    Christopher

  7. thomasbrady said,

    February 5, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Christopher,

    We don’t know Franz, but what if his actions here do reflect who he is, and, in any case, what if he really is a jerk? Could we see it in the poetry?

    Let’s give it a try. Let’s assume he is a jerk, and take a look at one of his best poems, a poem selected by BAP 2006, written during the year Franz was awarded his Pulitzer. How many ways is he a jerk? Let us, hypothetically, count the ways…

    A Happy Thought

    Assuming this is the last day of my life [1.self-pitying]
    (Which might mean it is almost the first) [2. pedantic]
    I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright. [3. unreasonable]

    Prepare for what’s known here as death; [4. preachy]
    have no fear of that strange word forever. [5. hyperbolic]
    Even I can see there’s nothing there [6. argumentative]

    to be afraid of: having already been [7. flaky]
    to forever I’m unable to recall [8. ignorant]
    anything that scared me there, or hurt. [8. childish]

    What frightened me, apparently, and hurt [9. self-obsessed]
    was being born. But I got over that [10. sermonizing]
    with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine, [11. gullible]

    it will be the same deal, lonesomer, maybe, [12. bewildered]
    but surely no more shocking or prolonged— [13. didactic]
    It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright. [14. passive]

    OK, that’s one of his better poems pointing out 14 ways in which he is a jerk. Now, if poetry reveals our humanity and part of being human is being a jerk, then this is not necessarily finding fault with the poem, or with the poet, or with Franz. Perhaps this exercise signifies the poem is not very good, finally, and Franz is fine, or, instead, that the poem is good, but Franz is a jerk, or, that Franz was being a jerk as a poet in order to humanize the poem.

    If there’s some insecurity involved here: am I a jerk? etc then perhaps we can see the motivation of language poetry in which the poet hides behind mere wordplay and what is essentially crass punning, in order not to expose any human qualities we might detect in the poet.

    Franz might be a hero to some, then, in spite of, or even because of, the fact that he is, in the most profound sense, a jerk.

    Thomas


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