“BEFORE THERE WAS BILLY COLLINS & TED KOOSER, THERE WAS EDGAR GUEST” –RON SILLIMAN

 

Billy Collins: hated by the Olson-ites.

Ron Silliman knows that Billy Collins does not write like this:

And I can live my life on earth
Contented to the end,
If but a few shall know my worth
And proudly call me friend.

–Edgar Guest (1881–1959)

Every poet knows Billy Collins is nothing like Edgar Guest.

Silliman’s remark is nothing but a rankle: he and his friends are not popular, and he fears they never will be popular.   How sad, then, that Ron feels it necessary to equate a witty, free-verse writer like Billy Collins with a hack doggerelist who happened to be popular for a time.

Dorothy Parker (another popular poet like Collins) wrote of Edgar Guest:

I’d rather flunk my Wasserman test
Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest

We ought to pause here and ask a simple question: what is the popular?

The answer is simple: the popular is neither good nor bad in itself, though all want it; the popular may be vain—but it is also human.

A popular poet, as instanced by Edgar Guest, may not be original or intricate or profound and it’s true that popularity and sentimentality go hand in hand.

But if Silliman and his friends are to ever have the popularity Billy Collins enjoys, and that they so obviously want, they will need to reach out to the public.  The public is sentimental—sentimentality is the stuff of which the  public’s interest in poetry is made.  There are levels of sentimentality, of course, but the trick for the poet is to be sentimental artistically, or artful sentimentally.  The sentimental is human and the human is popular and none of this can be avoided, not even in the hearts of the Language Poets. 

Did Charles Bernstein have Edgar Guest in mind when he coined the term ‘official verse culture?’ Does Bernstein feel personally oppressed by the aesthetic failure of doggerel? Is there an official culture of doggerel? 

When Gerald Stern asked Bernstein to “name names” at a 1984 poetry conference in Alabama, Bernstein was rather tongue-tied; when pressed to name names of poets who belonged to this official verse culture of Bernstein’s, he could only name one poet: T.S. Eliot. The reasons we might entertain for such a choice are obviously complex, but Bernstein has wanted critics to be included as poets; include the theoretical, not just the pretty, is the real issue, quite obviously, for Bernstein.

But sentiment, the key to the public, to popularity, can certainly co-exist with intellectuality and theory. That’s what the genius is able to do. That defines the artistic genius.  If you asked the Language Poets to point to specific elements in their poetry that cannot be popular, would they be able to point to such elements? And if they couldn’t, the question then must be asked, ‘Why aren’t they popular?’

If the public expects certain attributes in their poetry, should the Language Poets refuse them? I shouldn’t be speaking of the Language Poets as a group, since they don’t compose as a group, except to include them in that large group of poets who have no popular poems.

It will not do to pretend that sentiment can be avoided (in poetry it can’t), or to pretend sentiment cannot be avoided except when one is making jokes at its expense—one will never be popular if one persists in either of these two approaches. Sentiment is the clay, and how it is shaped makes all the difference; but when one attempts to deny the clay itself, one will inevitably be obscure. Without sentiment, you lie under sediment.

It is not that Guest or Collins are more sentimental than the poetry of the Language poets, than the poetry of Silliman and Bernstein and Armantrout; Billy Collins shapes sentiment into more interesting shapes than the Language Poets do, and thus Collins enjoys and deserves more popularity. If repeated successes in publishing and award-giving finally push the Language poets, all pushing 70 now, onto a threshold of potential popularity, the only thing that will push them over the threshold into real popularity will be a sincere appeal to the public and its sentimental nature.  There is no other way. If the other elements in the Language poetry agenda are crucial to mankind’s well-being, all the more reason for that poetry to be popular and reach as many people as possible.

No excuses, such as I am not Edgar Guest, are allowed.  

Silliman and his Language Poet friends are a self-enclosed tribe whose secret handshake is: ‘do not write like Edgar Guest.’  They learned this from their forerunners, the Modernists. Successful, these poets all, in killing the ant, Edgar Guest, but meanwhile the real dragon, Obscurity, wounds them. The Olson-ites are pleased to have killed all the villagers of Guest-town and they are looking for thanks and applause, but the villagers of Guest-town are all who might have loved them, and now they are dead.

Silliman and his friends oppose themselves to the “Quietists.”

But they are so quiet themselves.

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184 Comments

  1. March 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I like a lot of “Quietists” (Charles Wright & Robert Hass to name a couple) and I have a great deal of difficulty reading Silliman’s work, but… that doesn’t prevent me from finding Billy Collins work to be cloying and insincere.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    March 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Coffee,

    You raise an interesting question: when is poetry “insincere?”

    I tend to find obscure poetry to be insincere, not poetry which is accessible like Collins, only because hiding and insincerity go hand in hand, don’t they?

    Tom

    • March 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      My frustration with Collins and my interpretation of him as “insincere” springs from a perception of him trying to have it both ways.

      Case in point: Collins cultivates a plainspoken, aw shucks image. He portrays himself being against a kind of obscure, academic poetry. Then he goes and titles a collection “Picnic, Lightning,” a reference to “Lolita” (the death of Lolita’s mother) – a dense, arch, hyperliterary novel; in short the opposite of the image Collins tries to portray. To me, this comes across as Collins sending a secret message to literary theorists and academics, telling them: “You know all that stuff I tell the masses – see, I don’t really mean it. I’m one of you!”

      While not a huge fan, in this respect, I find, for example Tony Hoagland to be more sincere (if not more politics, as regards the recent dust up, which I am not commenting on) than Collins.

      As to your point about obscure poetry, I would hold up Rilke. A poet who plays with obscurity, but whose questioning drips with sincerity. Or Anne Carson’s last book, “Nox.” Dense, difficult, obscure – but can you question that her attempt to understand her brother, who passed away after years with little to no communication, are absolutely sincere? Having lost a brother myself, I certainly found it to be sincere, however obscure it usually was.

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

        Coffee,

        Do you think the expression of personal grief automatically makes one sincere? So if Collins wrote a poem out of grief, it would then be sincere? Or not? Is one always sincere, or just in particular poems?

        I find your imposition of the categories ‘aw shucks’ and ‘dense, arch, hyperliterary’ insincere. Why is Collins ‘aw shucks?’ I think Collins is ‘dense, arch and hyperliterary.’ I don’t think Collins needs to be sly to belong to the ‘academics.’ He does belong to them and he deserves to belong to them.

        Our difference of opinion, then, I think, has a lot to do with how you and I (and others) formulate various categories, (cynically, or not) and this action is prior to how we ‘feel’ about this or that. (I assume sincerity has a lot to do with feeling, but I’m not sure.)

        Tom

  3. Kevin said,

    March 25, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I attended Anne Carson’s keynote address: The Untranslatable (In All of Us), that openined this year’s Poetry Now festival in Dun Laoghaire.

    She took a four letter word from Homer, that, in the original Greek, the poet doesn’t translate, MOLY, and … urghm, just found it, or rather, the basis of her talk last night, that she has expanded; a piece titled Variations on the Right to Remain Silent.

  4. Kevin said,

    March 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Oops, I meant to say, I attended her talk, last night. It was interesting, listening to her. She had interesting ideas, very eloquently expressed, a bit nerdy in her appearance, the cliche classicist and instrumental academic whose wordplay abounds with startling and original combinations, like a dancer in language arranging off-kilter syntactic sailings and investigations righting themselves, outfacing the seemingly illogical whateverness inherent in the space around she takes the stuffing out of, presenting us with a brief stay in the white space around the public discourse of this thing untranslatable.

    Joan of Arc appeared, with Rembrandt, Holderlin and Francis Bacon, in the course of her lecture, that began with her articulating ‘two kinds of silence that trouble a translator: physical silence and metaphysical silence.’

    The one quote (from Joan of Arc), I wanted to remember, but forgot, was something about light coming into the equation of speech. The word ‘light’ was defintely one of the seven or so that make up this startling, yet forgotten piece of speech from The Maid of Orléans, spoken to her inquisitors in reply to one of their questions, that, Carson contextualized, as being part of a process to frame the narrative of this Catholic saint, in what our resident intellectual from England speaking dense semiotic babble of the most progressive kind, whatisiname, Spar, no, no not Spar but the other chap who comes and grunts cleverly here – one of the few who do keep up appearances, the man, what is his name, young guy, c’mon, help me out here, please ….whatever, anyway, flying along and just saying, urghm, yeah, what Whatsisname might call Carson rocking.

  5. Bill Carpenter said,

    March 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Language poem with sentiment from yours truly:

    Epitaph

    light
    the
    see
    ever
    will
    it
    if
    doubt
    I

    somewhere
    box
    a
    in
    stashed
    probably
    it’s

    ago
    long
    poem
    language
    a
    wrote
    I

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm

      Bill,

      Bravo!

      Tom

    • Noochinator said,

      March 25, 2011 at 11:04 pm

      Pass the wine and fill the cup—
      It’s buried head down and toesies up.

  6. March 25, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Tom. my remark about Carson’s sincerity in Nox had nothing to do with Collins. it was a direct response to your statement, “I tend to find obscure poetry to be insincere.” I was giving an example of obscure poetry that is sincere. Though, frankly, most poetry inspired by real grief will be sincere, though that does not make most such poetry good.

    I do admire you ability to consider Collins to be “dense, arch and hyperliterary” in the manner of Vladimir Nabokov and “accessible.” I find most dense, arch and hyperliterary writing not to be accessible, in the typical sense of the word. Of course, they can be accessed, but only with great effort, but, if the writing is truly good, the effort will be rewarded.

    Unless by calling Collins “accessible,” you just mean “able to accessed (or understood),” in which case, the term accessible could be as readily applied to Pound’s Cantos as to Collins. After all, both can accessed or understood. But that is clearly not what you meant. When you first called Collins accessible, you meant more easily understood (in contrast to the Language Poets, who are less easy to be understood).

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      Coffee,

      Lolita is an accessible story, isn’t it?

      Is the digging worth what you find? That’s the real test.

      Chess is a difficult game, but the rules are relatively simple. There are thousands of skill layers in chess, yet every chess player agrees on the rules.

      Literature is not the same as chess, obviously, but I’d bet there are more gradations of skill in chess than in poetry.

      I haven’t read Carson’s box poem for her brother. If I found it obscure, would it still be a sincere poem because of its subject matter? Certainly if someone was giving a eulogy and being intentionally obscure, we might call that insincere. I suppose it depends on the audience. If half the audience were puzzled by references to the deceased, such a eulogy would not be respectful, would not be sincere.

      Collins has a wide audience. Does that mean he can’t make gestures to academics, too? I guess I’m still not sure why you think this makes Collins insincere.

      This discussion is already getting very complicated based on a few simple ideas…academics do not have a monopoly on complexity and density. They have a certain leisure to travel in that direction, but that doesn’t make them sole owners of profundity…

      Tom

      • March 26, 2011 at 12:45 am

        Fair enough. I’ve enjoyed our dialogue (though I still don’t like Billy Collins’ poetry – but I will also confess to having never been able to appreciate Silliman’s poetry in practice, though I’ve only tried reading “Tjanting.”)

  7. Mark said,

    March 26, 2011 at 11:01 am

    This whole post is so absurd… Just strawman after strawman.

    “[Silliman] and his friends are not popular, and he fears they never will be popular” – what other fears does Ron Silliman have? Spiders? Balloons? Clowns? (don’t scoff, that white makeup is friggin’ terrifying!)…

    “But if Silliman and his friends are to ever have the popularity Billy Collins enjoys, and that they so obviously want, they will need to reach out to the public” – how do you know what they “so obviously want”? Maybe they think he sucks because he does, in fact, suck…

    It reminds me of the arguments I heard when I was a teenage punk-rock-afficianado: “If they’re so good why don’t they have hit singles? If they’re so good why don’t they have any platinum records?”… Ugh.

    Obviously there’s very little interest in popularity on the part of the “Language Poets” – have attempts been made by any of them to write popular verse? I’m not aware of any.

    Comments like “If the public expects certain attributes in their poetry, should the Language Poets refuse them?” just come off as silly. Of course they should refuse! Why wouldn’t they? Poetry readers in “the public” probably account for less than a percent of the total population – it’s ridiculous to expect every working poet on this continent to bend to some antiquated notion of what a couple thousand people (maybe less?) like.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 26, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Mark,

      Do you really think it’s so black and white? Here we have people who want a lot of people to read them and over here, people who don’t want anyone to read them…

      Or, this punk band doesn’t want as many listeners as the Beatles because… of course all bands want lots of listeners/all poets want lots of readers!

      Do you think an artist consciously decides: “OK, I only want to appeal to 1% of readers?” This idea—which is essentially what you are saying—is what’s absurd.

      If tomorrow Silliman had 10 million more readers, he wouldn’t be happy?
      Of course he’d be happy. And secondly: that he doesn’t have a lot of readers is not something he consciously courts; how could that be? Yet, there are those who wear their obscurity like a badge of honor or accomplishment—but why? Why is NOT being understood by large groups of people an accomplishment? It’s not an accomplishment: it’s mere after-the-fact sour-grapes. Silliman doesn’t have a lot of readers because he’s too smart—this is the unspoken defense. Well, it’s bollocks. If he were smart, he’d have more readers, because if the importance of what he’s saying is keeping away readers, then it’s not important!, and if it IS important, he must want more readers.

      Scientific inventions benefit mankind; poetry and music are obviously different, though they do serve mankind as well; unless one is arrogant enough to say their poetry is science, the best thing a poet can want, ever, is more readers. Perhaps Silliman believes his poetry is science, meant to be understood only by fellow scientists, but there is nothing about science, per se, which is more difficult to understand than any other human expression or endeavor, so even when it comes to science, ‘my poetry is science’ is not an excuse (and I don’t think Silliman is a scientist).

      There is another factor to be considered: one can have fame as a poet but not have a lot readers: No one actually reads Pound’s ‘Cantos’ but Pound is famous. Surely Silliman and his friends wouldn’t mind that kind of fame? Who cares if you are read, if the world pronounces you a genius? Ashbery has a lot of acclaim and he gets published, though his fame really isn’t based on any sort of cultural recognition of what he’s actually saying in his work, and no one can say for sure whether an Ashbery poem benefits mankind or not (probably not).

      I have a very fat anthology in front of me: “From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990″ which includes Spicer and Scalapino and Ashbery and Zukovsky and Ginsberg and Olson and O’hara and Guest and Niedecker and Armantrout and Bernstein and Silliman, and there’s plenty of attempts in here of writing “popular verse.” This “new” poetry has everything “old” poetry has: jokes, laments, images, metaphors, stories, plus a great deal of incoherency. This is the only thing which makes it significantly “new:” incoherency. But these poets are clearly trying to be ‘famous’ and trying to be thought of as ‘genius poets’ and trying to write ‘popular verse.’ Absolutely they are trying to do so.

      From this anthology which Silliman occupies: Duncan’s “My Mother Would Be A Falconress,” James Sherry’s “She’ll Be Comin’ Round” and Bob Perlelman’s “Money” and Reznikoff’s “By the Well of Living and Seeing” and Niedecker’s “Fancy Another Day Gone” and Guest’s “A Way Of Being” and Heijinian’s “A Mask Of Anger” and Michael Davidson’s “The Landing of Rochambeau,” Michael Palmer’s “Dearest Reader” and “How Much Longer Will I Be Able To Inhabit The Divine Sepulcher” by Ashbery, just to name a few, are clearly minor attempts to be major, and examples of attemtps by Silliman’s friends to be popular, or, at least be famous and beloved as the author of “Finnegan’s Wake.”

      Sweet fame, where I shall abide, in the fond blue tinged by white, with all my friends…

      Tom

      • Mark said,

        March 26, 2011 at 11:45 pm

        Tom,

        Herr Coffee Philosopher addressed what needed to be addressed fantastically – though I wouldn’t have mentioned Dickens… I’ve always found the guy to be a tough, boring slog (no offence, CP :D) – but I’ll just respond to a couple of specific points.

        Full disclosure: I’m not the biggest Silliman fan (haven’t had time to read much of his stuff, though I do like Bernstein quite a bit). I still think I’d have a pretty easy time accusing you of black and white thinking here. You’re putting word in my mouth almost as arbitrarily and unconvincingly as you’re doing to Ol’ Ronny.

        “‘OK, I only want to appeal to 1% of readers?’” is not “essentially what [I am] saying” – what I’m suggesting that there is a gradation among poets of the last 70 (or so) years with regards to how much they care about popularity. This is not to say that Bernstein and Silliman don’t care at all and this is not to say that Billy Collins cares too much – just that there are levels of interest in such things.

        These are artists not a PR dept.! The implication that they approach writing in terms of market analysis and demographics is so obviously crazy that it shouldn’t even have to be negated. If they had any dreams of popularity, they wouldn’t have gotten into an artform that pretty much no one has any interest in whatsoever.

        I think this really comes down to how one views the role of poet and verse in society. You mentioned Spicer and Ginsberg (I like both, fwiw) and they represent nicely the two poles of this (I think). Ginsberg – who is far more successful, in terms of artistry (and in terms of units sold, to put it into terms you can understand) than Billy Collins… I don’t think any Hollywood hearthrobs are planning to put on a skull-cap and play Mr Collins any time soon :) – viewed poetry as a force which could effect change. Spicer said outright (in one of the Vancouver Lectures which I don’t have on me right now) that poetry had no transformative power and was there only to eke out truth from language and be read by people who wanted to read it. Truth has never, in my lifetime, been popular. You call this poetry “incoherent” – I don’t think of life in 21st C. North America as being particularly coherent: why shouldn’t poetry reflect this?

        Given the state of verse in this country (where the reality is that pretty much no one reads it) Spicer’s position seems much more reasonable to me and increasingly the dominant attitude among poets. That your list of ‘attempts at popular verse’ had ACTUAL Language poets (Perelman and Heijinian) in the vast minority with regards to their forebears (Ashbery, Duncan, Guest and Reznikoff are not, in anyone’s estimation, Language poets) speaks to this trend towards accepting unpopularity and moving on anyway.

        Poetry is a place where you can dance like no one’s watching and that’s what makes it fantastic. If Ron Silliman wants to experiment and keep sentiment out of the proceedings then he can damn well do so and if Collins and Kooser want to keep it in then that’s cool too. (I was mostly joking when I said earlier that Collins “sucks”… though I don’t care for him)

        I would suggest, strictly big picture, that the difference in readership between a big-name Language poet like Charles Bernstein and a big-name “not-Language” poet like Billy Collins is negligible. Maybe a couple thousand people. Why would Bernstein care?

        As far as Silliman’s “unspoken defense”- sigh – maybe you’re just reading it wrong, what with it being unspoken and all? Obviously any writer would want a large readership but I’ve seen no attempts by Silliman to cultivate such a thing – I guess that means he has other concerns. I’ve read back through this blog since my first comment and you just come off like a guy with an axe to grind. What that probably means is that me writing this is futile – you’re just going to walk away with the same “the-things-I-like-are-good-and-the-things-I-don’t-like-are-bad” mentality you came in with.

        Insistence on sentiment is what convinces people that verse ought to be relegated to teenage girls on myspace, pop songs and the pages of O magazine. I think this cheapens poetry. Admittedly, sometimes my eyes glaze over when I turn a page in a Bernstein collection and it just looks like an arbitrary list of words but these attempts to deconstructs sentiment and personality make Bernstein’s use of personal sentiment (I’m thinking of “Those Were the Daze” here) far more powerful than some “I-I-Me-Me-My-My” poem. Constancy cheapens – I’d rather sing for my supper…

        Actually maybe that’s a useful analogy. The kid who works to buy his first car is going to feel better about himself than the kid whose parents buy it for him. “Difficult” poetry makes you do the work, popular American verse just gives it to you. I think that’s the relationship between Collins, Kooser and Edgar Guest that Silliman was getting at – less about the actual form and more about the content and the driving force behind it.

      • Mark said,

        March 26, 2011 at 11:53 pm

        Also: “If he were smart, he’d have more readers” means Stephen King is the smartest prose writer on the planet – I don’t agree with this.

        and what was that business about “science” in reference to?… seemed to come out of left field.

  8. March 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I know I said I was done, but… I’m with Mark. The original post was not about fame (particularly the kind that Pound or Ashberry have, which Collins, to my mind, clearly does not have – though neither does Silliman).

    It was about popularity and sales.

    And to continue Mark’s point – yes, the Language Poets would probably like more readers. And no, no writer is happy with just 1% of possible readers. But, there are many writers who are not willing to compromise their artistic vision to get more than 1%, and I think we can safely say that many experimental poets fall into this category.

    I do not say that this refusal to compromise makes them good. We all knew the incorruptible, avant-garde would-be artist in high school or college whose work was utter crap. And Charles Dickens made many compromises to reach a popular audience, but still created genius.

    I don’t think art of any kind is best measured by popularity (though I am not saying it can never be used to help measure it). The failure of Van Gogh to sell paintings while alive was not a good reason to declare him “not a very good artist.” Nor should we take Katy Perry’s record sales as a reason to declare that this new millenium has decided that her music has surpassed Mozart in genius.

  9. Nooch/Poem & Link support said,

    March 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    The spelling mistakes below
    Methinks were intended
    By the poet, Mr. Duncan,
    So “sic” they’re here rendered:

    My Mother Would Be a Falconress

    My mother would be a falconress,
    And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
    would fly to bring back
    from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,
    where I dream in my little hood with many bells
    jangling when I’d turn my head.

    My mother would be a falconress,
    and she sends me as far as her will goes.
    She lets me ride to the end of her curb
    where I fall back in anguish.
    I dread that she will cast me away,
    for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

    She would bring down the little birds.
    And I would bring down the little birds.
    When will she let me bring down the little birds,
    pierced from their flight with their necks broken,
    their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

    I tread my mother’s wrist and would draw blood.
    Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
    I have gone back into my hooded silence,
    talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

    For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me,
    sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
    She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist.
    She uses a barb that brings me to cower.
    She sends me abroad to try my wings
    and I come back to her. I would bring down
    the little birds to her
    I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

    I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood,
    and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying.
    She draws a limit to my flight.
    Never beyond my sight, she says.
    She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
    She rewards me with meat for my dinner.
    But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

    Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me,
    always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
    at her wrist, and her riding
    to the great falcon hunt, and me
    flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart
    to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet,
    straining, and then released for the flight.

    My mother would be a falconress,
    and I her gerfalcon raised at her will,
    from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own
    pride, as if her pride
    knew no limits, as if her mind
    sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

    Ah, but high, high in the air I flew.
    And far, far beyond the curb of her will,
    were the blue hills where the falcons nest.
    And then I saw west to the dying sun—
    it seemd my human soul went down in flames.

    I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,
    until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
    far, far beyond the curb of her will

    to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where the falcons nest
    I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.
    I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,
    sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,
    striking out from the blood to be free of her.

    My mother would be a falconress,
    and even now, years after this,
    when the wounds I left her had surely heald,
    and the woman is dead,
    her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart
    were broken, it is stilld

    I would be a falcon and go free.
    I tread her wrist and wear the hood,
    talking to myself, and would draw blood.

    Robert Duncan

    http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/duncan/falcon.htm

  10. Poem support said,

    March 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    The Unruly Child

    There is a company called Marathon Oil, mother,
    Very far away and very big and, again, very
    Desirable. Who isn’t? Back connecting pure dots,
    Fleecy intelligence lapped in explanatory sound
    The faces make difficult.

    Learn the language.
    That beautiful tongue-in-cheek hostage situation:
    My mind, up close, in pjs, and I use it.
    Wanting to fuck an abstraction nine times in a row,
    Continuous melismata, don’t stop, don’t stop, no name, no picture.

    There is a series of solids, mother,
    Called people, who rise to the transparent obtainable
    Solo windows, mornings, afternoons,
    And there are military operations called
    Operation Patio, Operation Menu.

    It is the individuals who finally get the feel of the tenses.
    So that it may snow, has to snow on the muddy corpse.
    There is a boundary, mother, very far away and very
    Continuous, broken, to interrogate civilians, the self,
    The text, networks of viewers found wanting a new way
    To cook chicken, why not?, to kill while falling asleep.
    There is the one language not called money, and the other not called explosions.

    Bob Perelman

    • Noochness said,

      March 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      Evoking a mental state in which
      Attention can’t be held?
      Perhaps this is our zeitgeist’s psyche,
      Collared, tagged and belled.

      • Quote support said,

        March 27, 2011 at 10:48 am

        Alexander Pope on Nahum Tate:

        “And he who now to Sense, and now to Nonsense leaning,
        Means not, but blunders round about a Meaning,
        And he whose Fustian’s so sublimely bad,
        It is not Poetry, but Prose run mad:
        All these my modest Satire bade translate,
        And own’d that nine such Poets made a TATE.”

  11. March 27, 2011 at 12:52 am

    It is much more difficult to write about things that are hard to understand with simple words than it is to write about simple things with words that are hard to understand.

  12. thomasbrady said,

    March 27, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Coffee & Mark,

    First, Gary puts it well.

    Second, Mark, your metaphor about the ‘kid working to buy his first car v. the kid who is given a car’ is revealing. So you think reading incoherent poetry is like ‘working a job and feeling good about yourself’ and enjoying coherent poetry is like ‘being spoiled and given something for free’ Wow, what a delusional and hair-shirt view of reality! No wonder you have the opinions you do!

    The problem with rejecting sentiment and saying it belongs to teen girls on myspace and to Katie Perry songs is that such a rejection is a shallow, cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face rejection, since sentiment is universal and human; such a rejection is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Charles Bernstein would never say he doesn’t want his poetry to be enjoyed by 13 year old girls, what an arrogant thing to say! These categories that you and Coffee are implicitly and explicitly setting up are bankrupt. I’m not saying there isn’t a tendency for 13 year old girls and 44 year old poets to have different behaviors and interests, but poetry isn’t about tendencies, it’s about universals.

    For instance, Coffee says, “there are many writers who are not willing to compromise their artistic vision to get more than 1%” …now, who are these people who would put themselves in this rarefied 1%? What an arrogant lot! Can you imagine these people? Who are they? I say let’s throw mudballs at them—if they really exist, if this 1% is really a genuine group of individuals.

    And Coffee also says these poets who appeal to this 1% of the population are “experimental poets.” And Mark, you ask me why I bring in “science?” How can you ignore the ‘scientific’ element? What do you think is the whole implicit underpinning to the Language Poets (and many modern poets) and their “experiments?” It’s science! Or, at least, an assumption of science. Bacon wrote “The Advancement of Learning.” Disagree with Bacon, or not, but at least Bacon did not hide his ‘wisdom’ in incoherency. Incoherency may be hiding ‘wisdom.’ Let’s articluate the wisdom just once, shall we?, since we don’t see anything but incoherency.

    Coffee, you say my original article was only about “popularity and sales” but it was not. I was quite explicit when I wrote: “the popular is neither good nor bad in itself.” You want to pin me down to the false position that “sales is everything.” I never said that.

    And Mark, Collins far out-sells Bernstein. But again, this is not finally about ‘sales.’ If one gets a textbook deal, for instance, it can look like one is ‘selling’ briskly, when it’s really something quite different. The issue is obviously complex. Complexity is a natural state. As Gary said, it’s easy to be complex.

    I’m all for ‘live and let live.’ Let poets conduct obscure ‘experiments’ if they wish. I’m not stopping them.

    But remember what triggered my piece: Silliman trying to equate Collins with Edgar Guest. To me, this strategy of Silliman’s says it all.

    Tom

    • March 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      Actually, I don’t think any commenters mentioned sentimentality. I did mention Katy Perry, but as an example of popularity, not sentimentality.

      I don’t think anyone has said they object to a sentimental poem, when well written (which would include many of Shakespeare’s sonnets).

    • Mark said,

      March 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm

      Tom,

      Apologies. My last response wasn’t very clear… I’m going to try one more time.

      When I said: “Poetry readers in ‘the public’ probably account for less than a percent of the total population” I was actually being really, really optimistic. Wikipedia lists a 2008 estimate of the population of North America at 528,720,588. I’m going to arbitrarily round that up to 550 mill. to make things easy. Even if a really great book of poetry was released tomorrow, something you and I could both agree on (I like a lot of the stuff you like, for the record, I’m not opposed to any one style and I don’t think poetry HAS to be experimental or anything like that) – even if it was released tomorrow it probably wouldn’t sell more than 5.5 million copies (1%). Really phenomenal sales for a book of poetry would probably be around 55,000 copies (right? I’m guessing here) – a percent of a percent.

      In a way, I guess, I AM saying that a conscious decision is being made by poets to say: “OK, I only want to appeal to 1% of readers” – Bernstein and Collins have both accepted this: if either of them had any desire to reach an audience wider than a percent of a percent they’d have become screenwriters or directors or something. For better or for worse, no one reads poetry. That’s why these arguments seem so silly to me – the stakes are nonexistant. Your idea about “potential popularity” mean going from 0.5% of a percent to 1% of a percent. No wonder Bernstein, Silliman et al have no interest in courting “popularity.”

      Bernstein might not say he doesn’t want his poetry read by 13 year old girls but he certainly doesn’t care if they read it. Why would he?

      With regards to “sentiment” you’ve purposefully misread me. I said outright that Bernstein uses personal sentiment unironically. I never suggested “rejecting sentiment” nor did I say “it belongs to teen girls on myspace and to Katie Perry songs.” Come on, son. You’re not even trying now.

      When you said “sentiment is the clay” I took you to mean that poetry always must be based on sentiment. I would (and do) find poetry of this nature to be cloying, sappy and absolutely devoid of meaning. This is the idea of poetry held by 13 year old girls and it results in a cheapening of poetry by reducing its breadth. Maybe I misread you there, though. I was just suggesting that making sentiment one tool in a well-stocked toolbox gives sentiment weight and heft that a purely sentimental poet couldn’t manage.

      If I did misread you then a comment like this doesn’t help your case: “It will not do to pretend that sentiment can be avoided (in poetry it can’t), or to pretend sentiment cannot be avoided except when one is making jokes at its expense.” This is so clearly a strawman that it shouldn’t even have to be pointed out. Bernstein and Silliman both use personal sentiment unironically. So does Rae Armantrout. No one is “pretending” that “sentiment can be avoided.” This is just plainly a bad argument on your part. The difference is that these poets don’t use it ALL THE TIME. Why does writing have to be one-sided?

      As to coherent v. incoherent poetry. I think it’s not nearly so simple as you’re making it out to be. You’ve defined the terms here and done so in a very self-serving way which makes this argument difficult for me to enter into but I’m going to try anyway.

      Reading Shakespeare and Chaucer is NOT EASY. I don’t mean because of the language but because of the ideas. Intellectual work on the part of the reader is required to make these pieces cohere – they are complex structures of satire, sentiment, humour and everything else that makes poetry wonderful. If you read the Canterbury Tales without doing any background reading you might totally misread the knight because you wouldn’t know that the battles he lists were regarded in Chaucer’s time as horrible blunders. Writers like Olson or Pound (who you think of as “incoherent”) require the same amount of extra work.

      If you think you can ‘get’ the Canterbury Tales on a single reading then you’re fooling yourself. I can read a Billy Collins poem once and move on – that’s why it’s useless to me. Reading Chaucer or Shakespeare is hand-down more rewarding than reading Billy Collins – I’m sure you’d agree.

      Having numerous conflicting levels of meaning so as to point to something truthful is what the Canterbury Tales are all about. I would argue that your “incoherent” poets are doing the same thing – though not as well. It’s not a hair-shirt for me – the poles aren’t between coherent and incoherent poetry but rather: easy and difficult.

      I still love and am often moved by easy, “coherent” poetry. None of this is to say that one is “better” than the other. They’re just different.

      The tone of this post isn’t really one of “live and let live” – you’re saying outright that Language Poets need change their working methods and giving no reason why they would do so (since “potential popularity” is such a ridiculous notion here). That’s why it’s so absurd.

  13. thomasbrady said,

    March 28, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Mark,

    Sure, re: poetry’s popularity: ‘vanity, vanity, vanity,’ ‘what fools these mortals be,’ etc.

    Poets want to be read. If there’s 550 million people in your sample, that’s a big potential audience. Remember, we’re talking about ambition and desire and hope, here. You take that out the equation, and what ‘s left? Silliman threw Collins an elbow underneath the basket: he compared Collins to Edgar Guest. I’m calling Silliman on it. Simple.

    Shakespeare did not set out to be difficult. LIfe is perplexing, but if Shakespeare’s a good poet, he won’t add to that perplexity; he’ll clear some of the perplexity away. Shakespeare is difficult because 1) he lived 400 years ago in a different culture from ours 2) he wrote for the stage, not the page 3) he had to avoid state censorship 4) he was a wordsmith, and therefore to understand him you need a relatively good vocabulary, but Shakespeare was not intentionally obscure, nor, in any real understanding of the term, is he obscure, and when he is, then here even the great Shakespeare occasionally errs. Shakespeare is not incoherent, like much of the poetry of the Zukovsky/Olson school. By trying to group Collins with Edgar Guest, Silliman is obviously trying to bank on this snobby, faddish idea that accessibility is inferior.

    This argument is really more than about particular poets and how famous they are; it is about ideas and how much influence they have; it is about taste and reputation in the largest sense. Tiny cliques, even single individuals, have gone on to have tremendous influence, and this can’t simply be measured by book sales.

    Do Silliman and Bernstein wish they had more readers? Yes, they do.

    Is all coherent poetry sentimental? Yes it is.

    Science is not sentimental. But, again, I don’t think Silliman and Bernstein are scientists.

    I’m just stating simple facts.

    Tom

  14. March 28, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Tom said:

    “Is all coherent poetry sentimental? Yes it is.”

    This statement is just flat wrong.

    E.g.: the following poem may be challenging to some without a background in philosophy, but the words are simple and coherent and the point is clear. There is nothing sentimental about it.

    Evolution
    (Intelligent Design)

    Overwhelming diversity, constant multiplicity,
    extending still complexity, an existential mystery.
    Yet the polarizing entities are questioning reality:
    an accident of Being or a Being’s creativity?
    Inexplicable Cosmology, quantum relativity,
    omnipotent Holy monarchy or irrelevant necessity?

    A frog jumps and ripples ring the pond.
    A leaf floats up and down upon it.

    Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Gary,

      I am aware that “sentimental” has a pejorative meaning in poetry; I’m not quite using it in that way—but almost.

      Words like “mystery” and “questioning” in the poem above participate in feeling and sentiment. Without a dose of ‘sentimentality’ neither this poem, nor any poem, would please us; and with no sentimentality…well, it wouldn’t be a poem. I will concede that some poems are less sentimental than others; however, the poem which resists sentimentality the best is always the one which makes gestures in its direction.

      Tom

    • Johnny Milkshake said,

      January 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Gary,

      Dear God man this poem is horrible. You need to go get drunk, have an unprotected romp with a hooker, burn your scrotum with cigarette butts before you even think about typing anything else & even then there are no guarantees.

      Hugs & Kisses,

      Johnny

      • Johnny Milkshake said,

        January 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm

        I forgot the & between hooker and burn. Forgive me

  15. Mark said,

    March 28, 2011 at 1:49 am

    Tom,

    This is why internet discussions break down and are not worth entering into. You’re entrenched in your ideological position and just repeating the same tired nonsense. You’re not even willing to modify your terminology to something less dismissive so as to engender discussion. As such, you’ve set this up, from the very beginning, to prevent debate. It’s become a soapbox for your own views. That’s fine. You’re allowed. I thought this blog was designed for something else, though.

    I disagree with your “simple facts” – you’ve provided no evidence for them (besides what I can take only to be your “gut feelings” which is a pretty silly way to enter into a discussion)

    “Do Silliman and Bernstein wish they had more readers? Yes, they do”
    Beyond the tired truism that poets want readers, this has no merit. Your constant attempts to climb into Ron Silliman’s head and speak on his behalf are bordering on creepy at this point (you know his fears, his wishes, and his secret desires… what else does Ron Silliman wish for besides readers? Given the author photo on his blog maybe some rogaine and a nautilis, but you’re the expert…).

    You’ve been unable to give a single example of either one attempting to widen his respective audience. You seem to be under the misconception that poetry has the potential to reach a wide audience. A poet trying to reach an audience greater than 0.01% of society is not ambitious, he’s outright stupid. Silliman and Bernstein are not stupid. I can’t imagine that Billy Collins is deluded to the point of imagining that he’s going to reach more than, say, 50,000 people either.

    If you want to reach lots of people you don’t get into poetry, you write a movie script. Hell, there are blogs that have more readers than Billy Collins.

    As to: “Is all coherent poetry sentimental? Yes it is”
    I think it was unreasonable for you to focus on Shakespeare when the example I gave focused on Chaucer – but fair enough. I think Chaucer, at his best, is not very sentimental. Is Chaucer incoherent?

    I also don’t find Olson, Pound, HD, Duncan, et al to be incoherent – like Chaucer, they require work but reward active reading in a way that is categorically opposed to how Billy Collins rewards passive reading. I think this was Silliman’s point to which you were responding… that Collins and Guest write for the same KIND of reader, not that they write the same kind of poetry (I suspect you already knew that, though)

    “if Shakespeare’s a good poet, he won’t add to that perplexity; he’ll clear some of the perplexity away.” I’d argue that by addressing complexity in complex terms what you call the “Olson/Zukofsky school” (odd, since Olson and Zukofsky hated each other) have cleared some of the perplexity away for me personally. It’s cool if you don’t like them – they’re certainly not for everyone – but insisting on them being incoherent is a conversation-ender, as I’m sure you knew going into this. It’s unhelpful to the point of dickishness. They’re incoherent unless you’re willing to put in the work and understand them… I’m not suggesting that you (or anyone) should bother reading them, just suggesting it as a possibility.

    You’ve set up such stringent rules for poetry that I don’t even know how to respond. Is your argument really: verse must be sentimental at all times or it is incoherent? I honestly can’t imagine someone holding that position. I’ll take incoherence over the unremitting onslaught of sentiment you’re advocating any day.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Mark,

      OK, we’re at loggerheads, I admit; but that doesn’t mean I haven’t found your feedback useful.

      You seem to be avoiding the elephant in the room: why do you think Silliman compared Billy Collins to Edgar Guest? Was that fair?

      I agree with you: The charge of incoherency is kind of a ‘conversation stopper.’ But perhaps that’s exactly why these poets are (so often) incoherent: they don’t want conversation. They want to be called geniuses by a flock of followers. Silliman picking on Collins seems silly to you because in the grand scheme of things, both poets have almost no audience in terms of the 550 million residents of North America. But even the most ambitious don’t aim for 550 million, do they? You are taking the wind out of the sails of the whole discussion by putting the bar too high. How many filmmakers have the sort of fame that you are talking about? Even film stars come and go; even film stars have millions to whom they are unknown. So what’s your point? That fame is meaningless? Well, yea, sure…it sort of is…if you really want to get all cosmic about it…but, here’s the point: people simply are not motivated by the kinds of speculations you are making; Silliman resenting Collins is real and your pie-in-the-sky calculations will neither make this resentment disappear, nor are your calculations anything but…off-putting and boring. Are you seriously saying that if all poets alive today wanted large audiences, they should become filmmakers? What percentage of filmmakers are famous? Do you have any idea what being a famous filmmaker entails? My whole point is vanquished by you because there are 550 million people in North America? You are the one producing sludge and non-argument here. You are like those incoherent poets who don’t want an argument, who just want to be admired by students and professors and friends, whether it’s 550 milion or 550, who cares? How many millions do you need before a discussion of notoriety and poetic reputation becomes relevant? Your position is absurd: Be a filmmaker! What does this have to do with Silliman equating Collins with Edgar Guest???

      The 18th century Wit Jane Collier wrote: “‘Tis not the benefit that may arise to the few from any invention, but its general utility, which ought to make such invention of universal estimation.”

      One might accuse our Jane of merely uttering a truism: that which benefits the few will never achieve “universal estimation,” and that which benefits the many, will, quite naturally.

      But poetry, however, is nothing but talk; so it is possible for a certain “universal estimation” to accompany poets who benefit us not at all. Just like financiers can grow rich by money buying and selling money. A poet is famous because he is talked about and he is talked about because…he is talked about. The question is: how does talk clear away the clouds of talk to get at what is truly beneficial? The Language Poets are certainly talked about. But under the talk—what is there? More talk, certainly, but under that talk—is there anything of art, of substance, of learning, of pedagogy, of grammar, of philosophy, of beauty, of morale, of merit, of benefit? I suspect it is all talk and it has no general utility whatsoever, and Silliman, aware of this (because he isn’t stupid) gives the game away by exposing his animus towards Collins. Talk will take on a life of its own and do quite remarkable things if the talkers are vexing and ambitious enough.

      All of this interests me, Mark, and it is for no other reason that I pursue it.

      Talk is slippery, talk is kind, talk is poetry and talk has no mind.

      Tom

  16. March 28, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Tom, you must deeply regret having opened up this can of worms (though I have been as guilty as any of turning this into a can of worms).

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      Deeply regret??

      Oh Coffee, you know me not!

      By the way, I stopped drinking coffee 3 weeks ago, and that was my last vice.

      I can worm, so why shouldn’t I worm?

      Mr. Silliman opened a can of worms—by comparing Billy Collins to Edgar Guest. I want to see how he worms his way out of that one. He can’t.

      Tom

      • Johnny Milkshake said,

        January 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm

        Tom,

        Just happened along this thread & thought I’d give my 4 cents: Both Silliman and Collins suck. Vapid, banal, unreadable.

        “If a person is stupid, we excuse him by saying that he cannot help it; but if we attempted to excuse in precisely the same way the person who is bad, we should be laughed at.” –Schopenhauer

        Love,

        Johnny

        • thomasbrady said,

          January 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm

          Milkshake,

          Love the Schopenhauer quote, and that point is well-taken; we make fools of ourselves to even point out what is stupid, because then we become stupid in the very pointing out of what is stupid, and since stupidity has its own reasons for being stupid, stupidity will always trump any reason we have to make against it. This is what Schopenhauer is saying and it is pessimistic—as we would expect from that philosopher, almost to sweetness: the honey of contemplative sorrow.

          But isn’t there an important difference between Collins and Silliman?

          It seems to me that Collins presents a happy stupidity, whereas Silliman presents merely an artificial stupidity, and so I prefer Collins.

          There is stupidity, and then there is jargon—the jargon of the tribe, which may be stupid, but is a little different than mere stupidity: jargon can be even more stupid than plain stupidity.

          Tom

          • Johnny Milkshake said,

            January 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm

            Hi Tom,

            Your first paragraph is completely unintelligible sir. I mean, at least by me. It was fun though, like trying to read Sartre drunk. [I recommend against ever doing that by the by.]

            (A brief aside: It’s fascinating that you’re able to distinguish between different types of stupidity, I’d never thought of that.)

            Okay so here we go…if both of the aforementioned hacks are stupid, why would wouldn’t you want to read someone who’s not? It’s like saying you prefer the smell of cow patties to that of dog turds.

            There are plenty of plain-spoken poets who don’t write sissified pansy and unreal verse. I can give you recommendations if you like.

            XOX,

            Johnny

            • thomasbrady said,

              January 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm

              Johnny,

              Yes, please give a few examples: I’m sure, in your mind, they will be excellent without qualification, for you seem to have no sense of the world’s gradation—so far you fail to see there are different kinds of bad or different kinds of stupid, (the essence of philosophy!) or that there are any reasons behind bad or stupid, which is probably why my take on Schopenhauer went right over your self-assured head. But yes, please give me examples.

              Tom

              • Johnny Milkshake said,

                January 16, 2012 at 11:45 pm

                Hi Tom,

                I’ll be happy to provide you with examples, just as soon as I address the above and re-visit your “take” on Schopenhauer.
                To conclude that I’ve “no sense of…gradation” because of what I said is premature, as a) I was being a smart-ass and b) you’re attempting to make good on a huge claim from a small singular premise which is weak. It’s also a logical fallacy called hasty generalization.

                Your claim that “the essence of [P]hilosophy” is being able to differentiate between “different kinds of stupid” is wrong. Even if you meant to distinguish between, in a broader context, different kinds of things, you’d be hard-pressed to find any experienced thinker even remotely willing to agree with your definition.

                Insofar as your interpretation on Schopenhauer goes, I didn’t find it unintelligible because it was over my head, but rather because it was convoluted, obtuse and incorrect. Saying that “we make fools of ourselves to even point out what is stupid” makes no sense. Neither does your claim that “stupidity has its own reasons for being stupid.” According to Wikipedia  “Stupidity is a lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, wit or sense.” One of the definitions Merriam Webster gives of the word stupid is “lacking intelligence or reason.” That said I don’t know how you can say stupidity “trumps” reason. Someone who is stupid is unable to reason, incapable. I find it laughable and frankly ridiculous that you would claim that reason can be overcome so to speak by imbecility. (I suppose you could argue that stupidity can withstand reason, which I’ll happily agree to. But even that is something more akin to a willful ignorance or obstinacy.)

                From Carlo M. Cipolla’s The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity:  “A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme…[y]ou have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy…the stupid person’s actions do not conform to the rules of rationality.” So no Tom, stupidity does not have “reasons” nor does it trump reason. It cannot because stupidity is bereft of both of these qualities/characteristics.

                Schopenhauer seems to be saying that even the stupid man is responsible for his actions, that his behavior cannot be excused even if lack of intelligence is innate. And he may admittedly be saying something else given the original context of the passage, but he is most certainly not saying what you are, as your explanation has no bearing on the statement whatever. I’m not even going to address your statement about jargon as they’re obviously no need at this point.

                 Poets with plain language who don’t suck: James Wright, Robert Bly, Frank Stanford, Charles Bukowski, Tom Andrews, Jim Harrison. Not necessarily plain language but also highly recommended: Rimbaud, Celan, Lorca, Jimenez, Georg Trakl, Neruda, Artaud, Rilke, Tomas Tranströmer, Malcolm Lowry, Ted Hughes, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Martin Vest, Charles Potts, Klipschutz, Sakutarō Hagiwara, Gilbert Sorrentino. That ought to give you a good beginning.

                Kisses,

                Johnny

                • Sausage Factory said,

                  January 17, 2012 at 1:59 am

                  Celan and Rilke are ‘plain-spoken’ poets? Bukowski’s loutish stupidity is any better than Silliman’s techo-primitive faux-naif smarm or Billy Collins Hallmark pandering?

                  Oi.

                  • Johnny Milkshake said,

                    January 17, 2012 at 3:08 am

                    Hi Moron,

                    Had you read the whole goddamn thing prior to seeing the names Celan and Rilke you’d’ve seen the words “not necessarily plain language” followed by “but also highly recommended.”

                    Buk’s work speaks for itself, but since he’s no longer here to defend himself, how ’bout I come by your place and stick my tater-pie in your pooper? I’ll write a nice poem about it. (You can even spit on it prior to the act to ease initial entry.)

                    Congrats: You’ve just been had by Mister Milkshake.

                    • Johnny Milkshake said,

                      January 17, 2012 at 3:27 am

                      P.S. Any more of you faux-poet tards want to get owned, be my guest. I’ll gladly humiliate you in turn. Go listen to some Antaeus, get all worked up, turn blue in the face and ball your fists. Have at it bitches. I’m a demigod and it’s the beginning of my weekend besides.

                    • Sausage Factory said,

                      January 17, 2012 at 3:58 am

                      It’s just a little sad that catching someone’s minor mistake in a comment field is such a great victory for you.

                      The great victories of abusive, misogynist drunks are not so great to me. Good luck.

                    • Kirk said,

                      January 17, 2012 at 7:10 am

                      Congratulations, this is one of the ugliest, and most ignorant comments I’ve seen anywhere in a long while.

                      One can only imagine the kind of ham-handed garbage a johnny milkshake must produce.

                    • Johnny Milkshake said,

                      January 25, 2012 at 4:06 am

                      Hey boys,

                      Not sure if you did this intentionally or not, But I can’t reply to either of your comments, there’s no button. So I’m not entirely sure whether this is a puss move or a flaw on this dandy little thread. (Giving you the benefit of the doubt.) It wasn’t a great victory, but you really ought to read carefully Cap’n Vienna Sausage: it makes you look bad. And Kirky boy, if you’re going to call me out please back it up…You see fellas, I not only read Kant and Nietzsche, et al., but it just so happens that I like to fistfight too. I’m a well rounded and relatively educated fuck, so something a little more substantial would be greatly appreciated.

                      Kisses,

                      Johnny Sockitoome

        • David said,

          January 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm

          Both Silliman and Collins suck. Vapid, banal, unreadable.

          Collins is no Shelley, but I think that the above adjectives apply far more to Silliman than to Collins.

          From “Revelator”
          By Ron Silliman

          Words torn, unseen, unseemly, scene
          some far suburb’s mall lot
          Summer’s theme: this year’s humid
          —to sweat is to know—
          pen squeezed too tight yields
          ink as blood or pus
          so the phrase scraped, removed
          offending thine eye: “Outsource Bush”
          Against which, insource what? Who
          will do it? Most terrible
          predicate—high above mountains snow-capped
          even in August in-flight motion
          picture Eternal Sunshine of the
          Spotless Mind infuriates many No
          action, no funny, plot too
          dense to follow, unless (unless!)
          mind’s eye gives attention First
          blackbird signals many (synecdoche)
          Bumble bee wonders am I
          his flower? One hour shopping
          & the vandal’s fled—him
          we’ll know not, never confront
          so recall the next day
          that anger directed at complexity
          as we deplaned in Seattle
          old battle never won, never
          gonna—sit now still beside
          Dungeness River to spot quail
          hopping about this untrimmed garden
          as dog walkers circle back
          jet trails in dawn sky
          thread cloud wisps, shadows sharp
          in the mountains

          “Today”
          By Billy Collins

          If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
          so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

          that it made you want to throw
          open all the windows in the house

          and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
          indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

          a day when the cool brick paths
          and the garden bursting with peonies

          seemed so etched in sunlight
          that you felt like taking

          a hammer to the glass paperweight
          on the living room end table,

          releasing the inhabitants
          from their snow-covered cottage

          so they could walk out,
          holding hands and squinting

          into this larger dome of blue and white,
          well, today is just that kind of day.

          • David said,

            January 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm

            I would indeed go so far as to describe Collins’ poem as Beautiful. Not great, perhaps, but Beautiful. The latter is what we’re after in Poetry.

            Silliman’s “work” (I dare not call it a “poem”) is ugly, verbal litter, each disconnected word fit to be collected on the end of a pointed stick and deposited in a big plastic bag.

            • Johnny Milkshake said,

              January 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm

              Hi David,

              No I agree 100%: Silliman licks sweaty beans, no argument there.

              But Collins is supremely boring. The above is neither great or beautiful.There is no conflict, no tension, no weight: nothing that makes this any different than a poem penned by some angst ridden 13 year old menstruating emo girl.

              I hope I have opened your eyes.

              Johnny

              • thomasbrady said,

                January 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm

                13 year old girls are the glory of the universe. A beautiful day is the glory of the universe. Billy’s on the right thing. Silliman is caught up in some political gripe he read in a newspaper or a magazine; Silliman is too proud to come right out and say what he means. Worse, Silliman doesn’t want to please his reader, because Silliman’s too proud of his sophisticated knowledge—which he got from a newspaper. Collins is not burdened by Silliman’s pride—that’s why Collins is better, and why Collins sells and Silliman does not.

                • Johnny Milkshake said,

                  January 17, 2012 at 12:21 am

                  Glory of the universe? Really? My God man are you on the drugs?
                  I care nothing for Silliman or his ilk. Really, there’s no need to bring him up again.

                  Sales have nothing whatever to do with whether or not a poet, or anyone or thing for that matter is good. Just because the Big-Mac outsells sushi doesn’t necessarily mean that the former by way of popularity is better than the latter. This is argumentum ad populum. Even though the number of people who buy and/or like Collins are greater than the number who like or buy let’s say, Franz Wright, doesn’t mean that Collins is a better poet. In fact, I would argue as a general rule of thumb that the more people like a thing, the poorer the quality. Of course Britney Spears is more popular amongst the masses, but who in his right mind is going to say that she’s greater or more talented than Bach? She will be forgotten in time, just as Collins will be forgotten.

                  Poetry, according to Heidegger, is bringing forward the “unconcealedness of what is.” He writes “[p]rojective saying is Poetry: the saying of world and earth, the saying of the arena of their conflict and thus the place of all nearness and remoteness of the gods.” Donald Hall: “There is no great poem in our language which is simply happy…[e]nergy arises from a conflict…painful poems are best: conflict makes energy and resolves our suffering into ambivalent living tissue.”

                  And Robert By says “the poetry we have had in this country is a poetry without…revolutionary feeling.” Bly describes a poet who “adopts a genial, joshing tone, indicating that what he is saying doesn’t seem to be of any importance, even to him.”

                  Collins is such a poet. He avoids both conflict and seriousness and in so doing comes across as a mediocre and slightly witty performer with little substance.

                  Now go burn his trash books and pick up a copy of Love Is A Dog From Hell.

  17. Mark said,

    March 29, 2011 at 12:11 am

    (I’m sorry this is so long. Everyone please feel free to TL:DR if you’d like.)

    Tom,

    I appreciate where you’re coming from and your civil tone here. I’m not about to slag Billy Collins but if Silliman wants to that’s fine with me. I already suggested above that Silliman’s problem with Collins was that he doesn’t challenge his readers in the way that great literature traditionally has. Certainly not every poet has to and I’m not even going so far as to suggest that Silliman’s work accomplishes this… I just don’t have a problem with one poet publicly disliking another poet’s work. If it’s unfair to compare Collins to Guest then maybe it would be more apt to compare Collins to Michael Crichton or Stephen King. Fair or not, I think that’s the point Silliman is trying to make.

    My point about the small number of readers of poetry (less than 1% of 1%) was not to be all “cosmic” and zen or anything but rather to respond to your claims that Silliman wants popularity and that the Language Poets are trying to get an important message out to people – which is ridiculous.

    When I was a little kid I wanted to be in the NHL. I realized pretty quickly that such a thing was never going to happen. I still watch hockey and I’m still interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff but I no longer want to play professionally. Why would I want something I’ve already accepted I can’t have? Poets aren’t writing to get the message to the masses as you suggested. They accepted a miniscule audience the second they decided to become poets.

    I think, given how miniscule the stakes are, maybe you go too far in calling it “resentment,” but: Is Ron Silliman slagging on Billy Collins like one protozoa in a mud puddle slagging another? Probably. And is that lame of him? Eh, I guess maybe a little. I just think that people like Collins keep poetry from moving forward by insisting on stasis and an antiquated view of poetry as purely sentimental. Narrative poems are not necessarily sentimental and our literary tradition has many of them, many of which are wonderful. I want to see poetry in the 21st century be as big as possible! I want it to include everything we ever liked about poetry – for me that’s more than sentiment.

    I’m no Hegelian but I’m pretty sure after the Antithesis you don’t go back to the Thesis. LangPo has sort of hit a wall (maybe it hit a wall 15 years ago…). At this point it DOES lack an “and-then-what” – but the answer isn’t to just go backwards and the answer isn’t to write off Language Poetry across the board.

    I actually agree with you, Tom, when you say: “Is the digging worth what you find? That’s the real test.”

    The thing is, you clearly haven’t done the digging. When you say, in another article, “Olson’s Maximus poems and his whole existence, was explicitly about saving/preserving the small is beautiful, local identity of Gloucester” – what you’re exposing is that you haven’t read The Maximus Poems because the Gloucester stuff gets scaled way back in the second volume and is almost gone by the third (Olson’s most ardent scholar, Ralph Maud, talks about the Maximus Poems as moving from “polis to cosmos” through the 1960’s).

    If I got partway into a novel and said “this isn’t for me” that would be fine (happened with Gravity’s Rainbow last summer – though I might try that one again). I just wouldn’t comment on the novel as a whole having only read the first couple chapters. If I did I would probably sound like an idiot or a jackass to anyone who had read and understood the book in question (and rightly so). Do you see where I’m going with this?

    I’m not suggesting you should read the Maximus Poems. If they’re not for you, that’s cool. What’s problematic is the leap you make from I-don’t-like-this to it’s-not-good (or from I-don’t-understand-this to this-is-incoherent). Surely you can see that, though. No one is going to be offended when you stand up and proclaim, to the tens of people that frequent online poetry blogs, “I hate the poetry of Ron Silliman!” Your discussion of Language Poetry in the previous post is actually really well-thought-out and something I’d be inclined, at least in part, to agree with.

    You go a step further than that because you like stirring the pot – which isn’t even the worst thing, necessarily – but if you’re going to comment on a work in a public forum you should probably have read it. More than having just read it, you should probably have done the digging too.

    Knee-jerk bullshit is easy, worthwhile literature (the English lit that really stands out, from Chaucer on) requires work and thought.

    I guess this is why the business of pitting poets against each other, which I thought was sort of fun at first, is beginning to seem distasteful. Like a bunch of Beethoven fans attacking Schoenberg for being cacophonous noise without ever having made any effort to understand 12-tone method.

    Different isn’t bad and no artistic movement is, in and of itself, bad either. Good work is available in every poetic tradition if you’re willing to look for it. To me, something new would be better than a refurbished version of something old.

  18. Mark said,

    March 29, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Oh, and in response to your discussion about poets and popularity…

    You said: “Silliman resenting Collins is real and your pie-in-the-sky calculations will neither make this resentment disappear, nor are your calculations anything but…off-putting and boring. Are you seriously saying that if all poets alive today wanted large audiences, they should become filmmakers?”

    I don’t think Silliman “resenting” Collins IS real. Just like you make the supposition that Silliman resents Collins for being popular, I make the supposition that Silliman dislikes Collins for being assbackwards and tedious. I don’t know that either is correct but my point about the unpopularity of poets in relation to popular artforms was to suggest that it’s the latter, not the former. In a world where being popular is a impossibility – then resenting someone’s popularity seems less likely than just thinking that they suck.

    When I don’t like Lady Gaga, is it because she’s popular or because she’s terrible? Her fans and boosters would say the former but you and I know better.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Mark,

      I still think you are short-changing Silliman and the Language Poets by saying they don’t want to be heard, they don’t want to get their message out there, they don’t hope that one day their fame and message will expand. Very famous people and influential ideas started out small.

      I grant that perhaps you’re right: Silliman and his friends don’t care for fame or an audience or being influential; they know they will never be popular (and perhaps they know that secretly they really don’t have anything to say) and they are just happy being tiny fish with their other tiny fish friends in a little puddle. You may be right.

      You also are short-changing Billy Collins. If one were teaching a class of college freshmen: Olson on one hand, or Collins, on the other, which poet do you think would bring more discussion and insight and joy to those students and that professor? This assumption here is that Olson would create all kinds of interest and insight and reward academic work, but Collins would melt before any analysis like candy. And this is dead wrong. It does not follow that because something is difficult to understand that it contains more meaning or more truth or more interest.
      I can’t emphasize this enough.

      Finally, Collins is nothing like Edgar Guest, and the sentimental is not one thing. Incoherency is one thing.

      Tom

      • Mark said,

        March 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        Re: “It does not follow that because something is difficult to understand that it contains more meaning or more truth or more interest.”

        I never suggested this even for a second.
        Though I don’t know that either Olson or Collins would bring much “joy” to many of the bonehead college freshmen I’ve been acquainted with :)

        Despite the lame little jabs (“perhaps they know that secretly they really don’t have anything to say” – or perhaps they’re all aliens!… so many perhaps’s!) I’ve appreciated this discussion. I still refute your use of the word incoherency and I would still agree with Silliman that in terms of artistry (though not in terms of form) Collins IS a modern version of Edgar Guest… but it’s been eye-opening and interesting, nonetheless, for whatever that’s worth.

        Cheers,
        Mark

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm

        Very glad you could visit with us, Mark.

        Appreciate your comments.

        Always,

        Tom

  19. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 29, 2011 at 5:31 am

    No, Mark, I think most fans would say Lady Gaga is good because she’s so terrible — which is. of course, why she’s so compulsively worth watching. And she knows that too, which is her genius — indeed, she’d go and wreck it for sure if she felt she was just Woebegone Lake good, or good! like Oprah!

    Lady Gaga’s not sentimental but ambiguous, perverse, in your face against you and with you at the same time — a bit like, I’d venture to say, a poet!

    Sentimentality, on the other hand, is just one-stroke emotion.

    ~

    Dismissing anything as simply “bad” or “crappy” is critical short-hand for the knee-jerk morality that wants everybody to join in and just say “NO.” The offending object isn’t worth closer attention — grossly inadequate, it says, obviously altogether beyond the pale (what a metaphor!).

    When applied to a work of art, Le Sacre du Printemps, for example, to Jacob Epstein’s Père Lachaise monument to Oscar Wilde, to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ulysees, or even to the miniscule Red Wheelbarrow, the judgement is a sure sign of insularity, insecurity, and prejudice. The sentimental critic wants above all to draw you in on his or her side — because that’s what sentimentality does, doesn’t it — draws you in like a valentine card, a faithful dog, a gun-sight on a political map or your own team’s anthem or logo?

    It’s a common sentimental trick to refer to what you hate by code: Barack Obama becomes socialism, William James nitrous oxide. Etc.

    ~

    Every losing poem in this second March Madness tournament has been dismissed with a simple-minded, one-note smear, i.e. with a sentimental no-brainer.

    And the victors ditto (do you ever find out why anybody “won?”).

    ~

    Tom is a fast writer with an inexhaustible store of facts about poets and their relationships to one another and the institutions they attended, but he never gives a poem a chance to speak up on its own, to live, dance, or deliver. Like a paparazzo, Tom is drawn to the night-scene of poetry, to the limousines in the early hours and the glitter, and takes all sorts of risks to get that one shot behind the Hollywood bushes that will state as a fact what you all crave to see in your dreams, his indiscretions, her nipples.

    Christopher

  20. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 29, 2011 at 5:44 am

    [sorry about the mess-up at the end]

    It’s a common sentimental trick to refer to what you hate by code: Barack Obama becomes socialism, William James nitrous oxide. Etc.

    ~

    Every losing poem in this second March Madness tournament has been dismissed with a simple-minded, one-note smear, i.e. with a sentimental no-brainer.

    The victors ditto.

    ~

    Tom is a fast writer with an inexhaustible store of facts about poets and their relationships to one another and the institutions they attended, but he never gives a poem a chance to speak up on its own, to live, dance, or deliver. Like a paparazzo, Tom is drawn to the night-scene of poetry, to the limousines in the early hours and the glitter, and takes all sorts of risks to get that one shot behind the Hollywood bushes that will state as a fact what you all crave to see in your dreams, his indiscretions, her nipples.

    Christopher

  21. Mark said,

    March 29, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Christopher,

    Re: Lady Gaga – let’s not get carried away here :)
    Maybe I should have said Katy Perry instead. She was mentioned upthread and no one is going to defend her artistic integrity… not even ironically.

    My point was simply that ‘you’re just jealous of my success’ has long been the excuse of shills and inartistic hacks. I’m sure Katy Perry thinks we’re all just jealous of her wealth and fame when it’s very possible that some of us find her to be a fame-whore and a joke. The whole notion has become a cliche and Tom’s using it doesn’t make sense.

    If I may simplify the argument, Tom’s saying that Silliman resents Collins because he’s jealous of his popularity. I wasn’t totally clear at first (hopefully I am now) but I tried to point out that the idea of being jealous of popularity in poetry is a ridiculous notion. The modern poet throws any notion of popularity out the window the second they sign up. Tom says that Silliman “fears [Langpo] never will be popular” and “obviously wants” “the popularity Billy Collins enjoys” but couldn’t give a single example of Silliman attempting to be popular or courting popularity. Only some inapplicable nonsense about an “unspoken defence”…

    Without some sort of sci-fi mind-reading device (or unless Tom secretly IS Ron Silliman… what a masterstroke of internet trolling that would be!) Tom has no idea what Ron Silliman wants or wishes. This leaves us with two options…

    I would suggest that accusing someone who clearly has no interest in popularity with being jealous of someone’s popularity is horribly convoluted when the alternative (that Silliman compared Collins to a hack because he thinks, rightly, that Collins is a hack) is so elegant in its simplicity. The choice seems obvious to me.

  22. thomasbrady said,

    March 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Mark,

    Not a stretch to say that a poet who works the circuit in po-biz and belongs to an Obscure School and sneeringly compares an accessible poet significantly more popular than himself to a turn-of-the-century doggerelist is acting out of resentment…or something. I’m just a reporter here, I’m not reading anyone’s mind…that’s absurd.

    “clearly no interest in popularity….” With this remark I would humbly submit that you are reading minds…

    Agree that Perry is a manufactured no-talent and if you took off her makeup she wouldn’t even be pretty. Gaga? meh. not impressed, either.

    Certainly it would be silly to say that any poet who wants to be read is delusional, which seems to be what you’re saying, and you also seem to be saying that if one wants to be popular one should instead be like Katy Perry, which is also delusional.

    Tom

  23. Mark said,

    March 30, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Re: “I’m just a reporter” – Let’s not get carried away here.

    Now, I’m not trying to read minds just responding to the facts as I see them: Ron Silliman writes an unpopular form of literature (poetry) and has made no attempts to appeal to a wider cross-section of readers – therefore, I suspect he has no specific interest in popularity. You can read it a different way if you’d like. My way makes more sense, though.

    As for being delusional, I think it’s also common sense that if one wants to have their message heard by many people that one ought to get into a popular artform (though one does not have to “be like Katy Perry,” necessarily – her message seems to be: “I want to be famous”). Pop music is more likely to be heard than poetry… More people can recite the lyrics to any given Beatles song than can recite even the first couple lines of “Ode to a Nightingale”. It’s indisputable that, as of this moment, the Beatles are more widely “read” than any poet. Pop music doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. It’s just easy to produce horrible shit than it is to make something good within its confines. Same goes for poetry.

    I think you’re imagining me taking this point one step further than I actually am. I’m not suggesting that poets today aren’t vain, petty, power-hungry or whatever other adjectives you’re aiming to paint them with (the ones I’ve met have all been fine but I’m not exactly a mover-and/or-shaker in the poetry scene). I’m just suggesting that concerns specifically towards “popularity” are probably less pervasive than you’re implying.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 30, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Mark,

      Some people can’t sing or play an instrument, so they write poetry, but they still could hunger after fame. Do you actually think fame-hunger is the only criterion that determines every artistic career?

      Your speculations tend to drift too far from earth. Here’s how it works. Silliman gets in with a group of friends who write a particular kind of experimental poetry and they pursue this earnestly for various reasons (it gets them teaching jobs, they’re honestly bored with accessible poetry, they can’t write good accessible poetry, whatever) and so Silliman and his friends are identified with a certain ‘movement’ which opens a few doors, gets a few professorships, some publications, etc and this is done because it leads to some success, and neither Silliman nor any of his friends are consciously thinking, “I only want this much recognition and no more,” they are just doing what they love. But because they are now so identified with a particular experimental brand of poetry, they can’t reverse fields late in their careers and become known for accessible poetry; it’s too late, and such a move earlier in their careers would have been perceived as a sell-out by their friends. Anyway, so it’s a combination of intention and accident. Just recently his friend Armantrout wins a big prize, Bernstein’s many years in academia also pay off as his book is published by FSG, and some attention comes in…have you read Silliman’s blog today? You should check it out…Anyway, so now…in 10 or 20 years, when no one will remember who Katy Perry is, Silliman and friends might just make enough of an impact in academia that they get into textbooks taught widely at universities all over the U.S. and perhaps the world. In the long run, then, Silliman and his friends may just achieve more fame than you seem to realize. The human heart is perhaps less divorced from ambition than you think, and ambition perhaps takes many more forms than is dreamed of in your philosophy. I don’t see why you keep insisting on thess simplistic categories of fame and ambition, and why I need to point these things out, but…there you are.

      Tom

  24. Mark said,

    March 30, 2011 at 4:00 am

    There are moments, Tom, where it looks like you’re willing to make this an actual discussion and then you slip back into inanity like this. Honestly, all I was really hoping for was an admission on your part that your initial argument was merely speculating and that since neither of our speculations could be proved they could coexist (negative capability and whatnot, right?) – instead you resorted to a condescending “Here’s how it works” and continued your crazy speculation anew. You made a point; I disagree with it. Is that the end of the discussion? Since you’ve provided no evidence to support any of your points, I guess so.

    The internet is full of half-baked theorists, crackpots with axes to grind and people who purporting to be experts on things they’re completely unfamiliar with (on certain topics you touch upon all three). All these people are trying to tell others “how it works.” You’ve offered me no reason to think that you know what you’re talking about here. All you’ve offered here is your own narrow-minded opinions and not a single quote, fact or bit of circumstantial evidence. This whole blog is a testament to the sort of specious logic that parades opinion as fact.

    I responded to this post in the first place because it was a badly formed argument that resorted exclusively to unfounded supposition (the strawmen arguments I pointed out earlier were never commented on by you and were swept under the rug). Am I supposed to believe you anyway? “Gee, Tom, those points you made that didn’t make any sense (and were based on things you imagine to be the case but can’t prove) have really convinced me!” – this level of discourse is untenable and useless… even on the internet.

    Here’s what I’ve learned: you have a very narrow, sub-19th Century view of poetry (one so narrow as to exclude a major work like the Canterbury Tales – a point you never addressed, btw) and you haven’t made any effort to understand the “Olson/Zukofsky school” (or “do the digging” as you put it) but still feel the need to make crass generalizations about the poets personally and about poems you haven’t even read all the way through (i.e. your non-reading of the Maximus Poems, another point you didn’t address). If you publicly try and write something off without having even tried to read it, someone is bound to call you on it. Responding to this post probably wasn’t the best place for me to try and do so, but is this collection of passive-agressive jabs, ignored points and hard-headedness really the best response you can muster?

    Poems have to be sentimental to be coherent? Come on. If Shakespeares work often isn’t sentimental then you say he errs – I say he probably was unsentimental on purpose because truth is often harsh and unsentimental. If you want to suggest that you know more about poetry than Shakespeare, fine, but that’s a pretty big step to take and I think you personally are full of shit when you take it. It’s another big supposition on your part to assume that Shakespeare didn’t mean to be unsentimental, that he just slipped up.

    I’m left wondering about the process you took to learn “how it works”? Were you hanging out with Ron Silliman and he expressed to you how he wishes his poetry was widely read and that he is jealous of Billy Collins and that he can’t wait to die so he can be anthologized and remembered? Or are you just making stuff up that you think might be true? Maybe you’re right (though I suspect otherwise).

    Billy Collins is a hack. He’s beach-reading for people who don’t give a shit about poetry. There’s where the connection to Guest begins and ends. On this point, it’s simple. Not drifting too far from earth in the least. You can construct some complex web of jealousy and secret bitterness but I totally disagree and no amount of your fact-free soapboxing is going to convince me. If Silliman is already convinced he’s going to be famous after he’s dead then why would he be jealous and resentful of Billy Collins now? You can’t have it both ways, Tom.

    If you have a point to make then make it. If your point is that you don’t like Ron Silliman that’s fine, I’m not a huge fan of his either… but, like I said before, your attempts to climb into the guy’s head are creepy and probably say more about you than they do about Ol’ Ron. I think you may be the only one reading this blog who doesn’t realize that, though.

    It’s really a shame. You’re clearly a good writer and are clearly knowledgable about certain areas of the English poetic tradition. The time will come, maybe sooner than people think, where the ideas of 19th century formal poetry will start impacting upon modern academic poetry in a forward moving way – this blog could help make that change if you quit all the knee-jerk bullshit. Maybe you tried to make positive changes in the past and nothing happened, maybe that’s left you jaded (maybe you SHOULD be jaded, I don’t know) – but I would love to see this blog become a force for good rather than a spigot of gossip and bullshit.

    I suspect this will be my last post (please forgive the length)
    Cheers to Tom, Coffee, Christopher, et al
    Mark

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 30, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      Mark,

      You really let loose with a lot of spleen here.

      This is empty and condescending.

      “There are moments, Tom, where it looks like you’re willing to make this an actual discussion and then you slip back into inanity like this. Honestly, all I was really hoping for was an admission on your part that your initial argument was merely speculating and that since neither of our speculations could be proved they could coexist (negative capability and whatnot, right?) – instead you resorted to a condescending “Here’s how it works” and continued your crazy speculation anew.”

      You say “inanity like this” and then point to no specifics.

      “Billy Collins is a hack.”

      Sorry, this won’t do. You sounded reasonable in previous comments, but now you are no longer in a proper state of mind to carry on this discussion.

      You lost the argument to me and you’re angry: this is all your comment says to me.

      Sorry, but Scarriet fines those who get out of hand like this.

      You will be fined $1.89 for this comment.

      Tom

      • Noochness said,

        March 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

        You’re putting the horse
        After the carts—
        M.F.A. don’t stand for
        Master of Fined Arts!

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm

        When frothing and condescension become the intent
        It’s time for a little bit of punishment.
        Likewise, incoherent poets ought to pay
        To be read—there’s only so many hours in a day.

      • Anonymous said,

        March 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm

        Tom,

        I can afford $1.89. Put it on my tab along with this post if you’d like…

        Let me assure you that my last comment was far more sleep-deprivedness than vitriol. If I could edit posts here I’d fix up a lot of that sloppy syntax but I stand by most everything I said.

        I have almost no interest in “winning” or “losing” – I didn’t come into this thinking I was going to “win,” trust me – all I wanted was to push a discussion forward. If calling Billy Collins a hack is empty then I’ll retract it – I still think he’s the Stephen King of poetry and that his work is mostly read by people who don’t really read poetry (just like Stephen King is read by people who don’t really care about literature). If my argument is empty then what of substance have you brought to the precedings?

        The problem with internet discussions is that it’s easy to ignore points (especially when one has a tendency to ramble as I do). The three points I mentioned in the last post that you’ve ignored throughout this thread still stand for me.

        1) are you suggesting that your initial argument was based on “facts” (as you said earlier)? I think they’re based on strawman arguments and speculation. Do you disagree with that? If so, why?
        2) will you stand for a purely sentimental view of poetry when that excludes Chaucer and any number of narrative poems (not to mention Shakespeare… are you still suggesting that you know so much as to exclude works by the Bard for not meeting your definitions of what poetry is or is not?)?
        3) How do you justify disregarding the Maximus Poems without having read them? (I’m not even suggesting that Olson is a particularly successful poet, just that you shouldn’t comment on things until you’ve approached them with an open-mind and tried to understand them)

        I’d also like to know what insight you have on “how it works”. Is it because you used to post on an internet site about the poetry business?

        Your over-arching comments on works you are only partly familiar with make me think you’re not as well-read as you like to let on (though I’ll concede you’re probably more well-read than I am…). One of the most tedious things about internet discussion is that it’s easy – and even useful at times – to play the expert. However, no one expects your area of expertise to include all the written works of the Western world. I certainly don’t expect you to like everything or even respect the motivations of any given artist. I’m suggesting that it’s a much stronger point to say that you dislike something and haven’t found any value in it – to say that you started a book and couldn’t finish – then it is to write something off without having read it.

        Are you a published poet? Is this where your knowledge of “how it works” come from? Maybe some personal anecdote would open this discussion and let people who disagree with you see where you’re coming from (because I honestly have no idea). As it is, you just seem bitter. I hope I’m not reading you wrong but I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from my thinking. Do you feel that LangPo and poetry of the Olson/Zukofsky line takes publishing dollars away from more deserved poets? Is this, ultimately, your problem? You may aspire to “live and let live” but your writing doesn’t bear this out.

        I’m not trying to come onto your turf and tell you how run your show. I was serious when I said that if you dropped the knee-jerk silliness that this blog could be a force for good and for change. I’m not looking to change anyone’s mind, though, just trying to have a real discussion. If you want to win, then kudos – you’re the Charlie Sheen of the internet poetry blog. I don’t think it’s very useful.

        I’d posit that rather than being “angry” that I “lost,” I’m just disappointed to see a potentially interesting debate be side-tracked in favour of strawman speculation and you playing the role of Ron Silliman’s analyst. I’m definitely partly to blame for derailment but I’m happy to try and get this back on track. Should we try to do that or should I just move on?

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm

        Mark,

        You’re still standing. Usually guests who come here and go toe-to-toe with me fade after a few punches.

        I don’t see what Chaucer has to do with anything. He’s difficult because he writes in Middle English. He’s sentimental, moral, humorous, just like Billy Collins. Chaucer is much closer to Billy Collins than he is to Olson or Zukovsky.

        You didn’t respond to the content of this at all, just got offended by “this is how it works” and so you probably saw red (even though I wasn’t trying to sound like a know-it-all):

        “Here’s how it works. Silliman gets in with a group of friends who write a particular kind of experimental poetry and they pursue this earnestly for various reasons (it gets them teaching jobs, they’re honestly bored with accessible poetry, they can’t write good accessible poetry, whatever) and so Silliman and his friends are identified with a certain ‘movement’ which opens a few doors, gets a few professorships, some publications, etc and this is done because it leads to some success, and neither Silliman nor any of his friends are consciously thinking, “I only want this much recognition and no more,” they are just doing what they love. But because they are now so identified with a particular experimental brand of poetry, they can’t reverse fields late in their careers and become known for accessible poetry; it’s too late, and such a move earlier in their careers would have been perceived as a sell-out by their friends. Anyway, so it’s a combination of intention and accident. Just recently his friend Armantrout wins a big prize, Bernstein’s many years in academia also pay off as his book is published by FSG, and some attention comes in…have you read Silliman’s blog today? You should check it out…Anyway, so now…in 10 or 20 years, when no one will remember who Katy Perry is, Silliman and friends might just make enough of an impact in academia that they get into textbooks taught widely at universities all over the U.S. and perhaps the world. In the long run, then, Silliman and his friends may just achieve more fame than you seem to realize.”

        Now, you say, If Silliman knows he’s going to have lasting fame, why would he resent Collins, etc. Well first, Briggs answered some of this, but also, Silliman doesn’t know he’ll have lasting fame, he has doubts, huge doubts, so there is uncertainty on his part, on all our parts, and that’s why there’s anxiety and elbowing and insults…Silliman resenting Collins is like a guy with a one-acre home resenting his neighbor with a two-acre home–it only interested me because I enjoy the machinations of literary crticism and pedagogical issues with culture and poetry and because maybe I’m driven by anxiety and uncertainty, too, sure. Collins sells, in terms of pure quantity, far more than Armantrout, Bernstein, and Silliman and Silliman is aware of this; everyone is. Edgar Guest writes nothing like Billy Collins. Accessible poets are all different. Incoherency is all the same.

        Once a Bernstein or an Armantrout or a Silliman ventures into the territory of accessibility and sentimentality, to that degree, they will be read and understood and enjoyed. More accessible, more readers. More incoherent, less readers. But it’s up to Bernstein and Armantrout and Silliman to decide how they are going to be accessible: like Edgar Guest? Like Billy Collins? Or in some other way. Accessibility is only the first step (though an important one). It is very doubtful they will be as good as Collins is, because he’s one in a million. Now one could say, ‘Wait just a minute, there, Armantrout and Bernstein and Silliman ARE accessible!’ OK, then, if they are accessible, do they bring more to the table than Billy Collins does? But let’s put that question aside for the time being as perhaps impossible to answer, because here’s the real issue: By saying that Collins is like Edgar Guest, Silliman (and damnit, he did say this and this is what started me off) is making the grossly heretical assumption that accessibility is all the same, when, in fact, accessibility makes it possible (as incoherency does not) to be different. Collins is radically different from Edgar Guest. We strike a blow for incoherency if we say otherwise. Silliman ‘revealed his hand’ with his accusation. For lesser talents do hide behind incoherency. They absolutely do—for no other reason than because they can. This does not mean accessibility guarantees greatness, but that it does not, does not change my argument one bit.

        Tom

  25. Briggs Seekins said,

    March 30, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t think Silliman is slurring Collins out of jealousy, exactly. It’s the same kind of dynamic as his absurdly vague positing of the “School of Quietude.” He’s, like, a major capo for the langpo syndicate (are they still langpo’s, anymore, though? It seems like now they are just “experimental”). When your entire meal ticket is based on being part of the radical, experimental, on-the-edge clique, you have to make sure that people remember the “mainstream” stiffs that you are reacting against. Else they just kind of wonder why your poems don’t make any sense.

    Also, there is also a grab for historical lineage going on here. If you are going to be the rightful heirs to the experimental tradition, you have to make sure that the poets who might write something that could end up getting read on the Writer’s Almanac (although Keillor has read Ashbury on that thing, so there you go) are safely dismissed as the modern day equivilents of the sort of popular doggeralists which no longer actually even exist.

    I don’t like Billy Collins very much. He excels at a sort of gentle, reasssuring satire which generally makes me gnash my teeth in response. He is highly skilled, though, as a writer. Can the same be said for any of the langpo crowd? I mean, I really don’t know. There work just isn’t participating in those kind of value judgements–it’s more interested in somehow cracking philosophical puzzles related to meaning itself. Or something.

    Collins is one of the very few contemporary poets who I have ever found on the shelves of people who make no claims at all of being poets or critics. I agree with Tom that in a first year college English class, the students would have a much more productive time discussing his poems, but if you did the same experiment with an upper level course in crit theory, where the kids were just getting the hang of speaking in jargon and projecting knee-jerk academc leftist bigotries, you can be quite certain that they would be slurping all over the Silliman and sneering at the Collins like it was an insurance salesman. The entire ascendency of the langpo/experimental/unintelligible school of theory driven poetics is attributable to the fact that the vast majority of poets since the second World War have been trained within English Departments. What became dominantly fashionable within the Departments in the 1980’s was bound to extend into the creative writing programs eventually.

  26. Briggs Seekins said,

    March 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    I think it is unfair to compare either Silliman or Collins to Lady Gagfest/Kate Perry/insert-generic-pop-music-whore-here. Whatever anyone thinks of either poets’ work, neither one is actively attempting to poison the culture with cheap, vulgar sensatonalism.

  27. Mark said,

    March 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    That last anonymous post was me… I’m away from my home PC and forgot to fill in the blanks.

    I actually think both of Briggs posts are good and he touches on something that I think is an interesting area of discussion.

    What is, what will be and what should be the relationship between poets and the academy? Bernstein and Collins are both fairly widely read and both still have to supplement their incomes with teaching jobs… This sort of thing sours me on Collins, somewhat. That he appeals to “gentle, reasssuring satire” (which has mass appeal) while still playing the tenure game. It seems somehow disingenuous.

    If the academy is the breeding ground for poetry then clearly poetry is going to be filled with lit-geeks (probably always has been but they’re a dying breed these days). If those lit-geeks get a charge out of lit theory (I’m not even a poet and I still love me some theory) then won’t it inevitably impact upon their writings as it does with LangPo? What can be done to move forward in spite of this?

  28. Mark said,

    March 30, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Tom,

    Maybe now we’re getting somewhere. I’ll say in advance that I’m not trying to “change your argument” – I’d much rather have this discussion with someone I disagree with, so long as things can be kept civil (and I mean both of us here :D ). I still think that your initial argument was built far too much on assumptions and that the leaps you made were too far to be proved. Plus, poets have always been a catty bunch – nothing new there.

    I bring up Chaucer because I disagree with you that he is “sentimental” and even that he is necessarily “moral.” Canterbury Tales is difficult because it’s difficult – the Middle English doesn’t help – but the web of conflicting ideas is not as easily unraveled as you’re suggesting. Chaucer is, at times, purposefully obscure. The reasons why (social climbing and whatnot) interest me far less than the way it is constructed and the effect it produces. This is what Robert Duncan explicitly sets out to do (though I don’t think Chaucer specifically was a big influence on RD – he’s aiming more at Shakespeare and the dramatic, I think).

    The Canterbury Tales, more than perhaps any work in the English language, is not about the way the writer writes (Chaucer outright deconstructs himself – then offers a retraction which seems really sarcastic, but is it? I don’t know) but about the way the reader reads. I think this is what the business from Olson on about deconstructing the role of the speaker (the “I”) has in mind. Has this idea led to a lot of terrible, unreadable, solipsistic verse (even by Olson himself)? Oh, god yes. But the Olson/Zukofsky school shouldn’t be written off so quickly (especially by those who haven’t read them).

    What’s more, Chaucer comes at the reader with every tool at his disposal – allegory, adaptation (bordering on perjury – a kind of “found poem” perhaps?), disparate forms of verse, prose… he even uses boredom (Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Topas is obviously boring on purpose, at least I think so) to achieve his ends. In this respect I think he’s VERY different from Billy Collins, who from what I’ve read of him, only has one speed. The modernist lineage is trying to do the same as Chaucer, I suspect (successfully or unsuccessfully). The world is complex and different approaches are needed and can coexist. You have a problem with simplicity posing as complexity – I have a problem with simplicity championed in lieu of complexity. I know there’s a middle ground where both of us can meet but this point remains.

    A person could, even after becoming ‘fluent’ in Middle English, spend years working on Chaucer and still be left with questions. Can you say the same for Billy Collins? Chances are if you can find something that smells like sentiment in Chaucer, that another reader can find you an example of that sentiment being attacked or used ironically. I pose that Chaucer is not just unsentimental but ANTI-sentimental.

    ~

    I’ll still fight against the dichotomy you’ve set up (accessible vs. incoherent – is there no grey area?) and disagree with you that “Accessible poets are all different. Incoherency is all the same.” – it’s too bad we’re online, so we can’t do this, but I submit that in a blindfold-taste-test it would be incredibly easy for a well-schooled reader of your “incoherent” poetry to tell the difference between Olson/Pound/Zukofsky, Blaser/Duncan/Spicer, or (yes, even) Armantrout/Bernstein/Silliman. When each poet is at his or her respective best they sound nothing alike (and everyone produces SOME bad, derivative work on the way to making something good (see Endymion for proof of this) the promise of which may take decades to achieve – on his deathbed Olson, after 20 years of writing, said he was still 10 years away).

    I suspect it might even be easier to discern the 20th century cats than it would be doing the same test done with Byron/Keats/Shelley. Painting 100 years of a poetic tradition featuring many disparate poets (all of whom had many disparate concerns) as monochromous is far too easy to be worthwhile.

    More to the point, I think Bernstein has, in the last 10 years, become really accessible while still not giving up his roots in language. People may have stopped reading LangPo in in the 90’s but poets keep progressing. I think you’ve written him off and would have too many preconceptions to notice, but I still think this to be the case. I’m interested in a way of moving THROUGH LangPo to something more accessible but I don’t see just completely disregarding it as an option.

  29. thomasbrady said,

    March 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Mark,

    Thanks for staying with me.

    No, there is no gray area re: accessibility v. incoherence.

    I think we’ll move along better now if we post examples of the poetry.

    Tom

  30. March 31, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Poetry

    I never read poetry; can’t stand the stuff
    and who could blame me?
    The bad ones make me gnash my teeth
    and the good ones only shame me.

    Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  31. Mark said,

    March 31, 2011 at 12:33 am

    “Thanks for staying with me.”

    Don’t speak too soon here Tom, you may have lost me now.
    I find this extreme black and white thinking tedious and absolutely useless (both in literature and in real life)…
    It’s worse because you refuse to define your terms (easy to win an argument when you won’t explain what you’re saying or why). Are you using “incoherent” to mean disjointed?

    I shouldn’t have to do this for you, so I’m going to half-ass it and go to wiktionary. Since the wiktionary definition of incoherent is “not coherent” here’s the definition of “coherent” that seems like what you’re talking about:

    2.Orderly, logical and consistent.

    I’m going to nix consistent because that’s sort of a tricky one (what’s a “consistent” poem? One that’s good all the way through?), so when you say incoherent do you mean NOT orderly and NOT logical?
    Maybe you could make the case for that with regards specifically to LangPo but I don’t think that applies to all of the poets you’ve deemed incoherent. Perhaps you just need me to explain them to you. I’d be happy to help you out.

    Granted the role of logic around the turn of the 20th is somewhat different than the Victorians – Olson famously takes Keats as modifying the Hegelian dialectic and uses that as a starting point – but it’s not anti-logic in ANY respect. As to “orderly,” many of the Cantos have obvious beginnings, middles and ends. So do many of the Maximus Poems.

    For “accessible,” wiktionary has a couple… do you mean, “5.Easily understood”? That’s the only one that seems to apply. So are you using “incoherent” to mean “difficult to understand”? That’s how I’ve assumed you’ve been using it but even then there would be gradations. Maybe instead of your demeaing, self-serving “incoherent/accessible” polarization we could make the terms “easily understood” and “not easily understood”. I’d be on board for that but I think what you’ve been trying to imply (or what I’ve inferred) is that “accessible” poems are understandable and “incoherent” poems are un-understandable and have nothing to them. Obviously that’s not the case – lots of people understand your “incoherent” poetry, it’s just that you personally don’t (or haven’t tried to).

    Eliot’s Wasteland is EXTREMELY accessible – I read it and understood it in high school – but it’s no less disjointed than the early Cantos (in fact, I’d argue Wasteland is pretty slap-dash in its construction); Pound’s translations and H.D.’s early imagist work are also very accessible along with being logical and orderly. So is Howl. These are just easy examples off the top of my head – all of them first-year stuff – all easily understood works of the early-mid modernist tradition.

    I submit that many works you call “incoherent” actually cohere easily.

    …but if you’re unwilling to even LOOK for grey area or own up to the shortcomings of your initial argument and the arguments that followed (which I’ve pointed out throughout this thread, even using bullet-points, and you’ve managed to avoid commenting on) then you will have become merely an ideologue and there’s no use trying to have an intellectual discussion with such a person. Where do you see verse going? Has it already attained perfection and is now destined to keep swirling the drain while you bitch and moan about it? What are you doing to move it forward other than complaining and disregarding any criticisms levelled against you?

    I hope I’m mistaken in all this but, if I’m not, then I will have to doff my cap here.

    Cheers all,
    Mark

  32. Mark said,

    March 31, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Oh, and my questions from earlier weren’t rhetorical, either… I was hoping for responses from you, Tom. Here they are again, modified slightly for length.

    “1) are you suggesting that your initial arguments were based on “facts” (as you said earlier)? I think they’re based on strawman arguments and speculation. Do you disagree with that? If so, why?
    2) will you stand for a purely sentimental view of poetry when that excludes Chaucer and any number of narrative poems?
    3) How do you justify disregarding the Maximus Poems as incoherent without having read them?”

    I’m finding it really hard to imagine your position as anything but advocating stagnancy of form and style here, Tom, when such things are impossible and (I would think) unwanted. It’s not as if there’s any shortage of great works in our past – I’d rather read Keats over and over than read some modern hack put on a disingenuous air of romanticism and try to write like him. Or worse try to produce a modern version of Romanticism – yuck.

    Poetry and the arts inevitably move forward as we move forward, no? The thing is how to make them the best they can be as they march on… I hope.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 31, 2011 at 8:18 am

      Mark,

      You are asking me a lot of complex questions which will quickly put us out to sea.

      May I clarify? Silliman has read no Billy Collins and no Edgar Guest, obviously, or else he wouldn’t have compared the two poets. If Silliman has read no Collins and no Mr. Guest, why does someone having read only some of Mr. Olson put you into such a state? Silliman’s house is on fire, but I’ve only burned some toast, yet you send the fire brigade over to me. (The villagers are suspicious.)

      Secondly, per your dictionary definition of ‘incoherent…’ Again, you are making things more complicated than necessary. Let me repeat the principle even more simply: Incoherent equals one. Accessibility equals two, or more. Now, you could pretend not to understand the meaning of ‘one’ by going to the dictionary, pulling down its bulk, turning the heavy pages until you find a definition and then shouting, “A-ha! Dollar bill!” This is what you mean!” But, no, that’s not what I mean. Here’s what I mean: Incoherence is one. It has no differentiation. There is no way into it. It defies us at every turn. If you say, “Buckle,” it laughs; if you say, “Buckle” again, it nods two times, scratches its head and recites the Declaration of Independence—backwards. If you say, ‘why’ it says ‘no,’ if you say, ‘why’ again, it says, ‘yes,’ and if you ask it to sit down, it will stick out its belly and tell you the birthdays of Herman Melville and e.e. cummings.

      Incoherence is one, and you running to the dictionary will not make it two (or more).

      Here’s why ‘civility,’ which everyone demands of on-line conversation is bad: it allows all sorts of ridiculous nonsense to be written and if we object to the nonsense, even politely, we are ridden to death with the moniker ‘uncivil.’ You haven’t understood even the simplest idea of what I’ve said, and yet you have the nerve to present a great list of questions and demands: “are you suggesting your initial arguments were based on ‘facts?'” etc etc

      You are lost in the woods of Alice-in-Wonderland-ville with your friends E.E. Cummings-Olson and Rae Silli-stein. There are many trees in this wood. But they are invisible. Like your argument.

      Am I being ‘sentimental’ enough for you? I hope so. As sentimental as Chaucer, no doubt.

      Am I understood? As much as I love you?

      Now may we stop mousing around, and may we please follow my suggestion and show the poetry?

      Let the Madness begin.

      Tom

  33. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 31, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Well put, Mark.

    “What are you doing to move it forward other than complaining and disregarding any criticisms levelled against you?”

    “Poetry and the arts inevitably move forward as we move forward, no? The thing is how to make them the best they can be as they march on… I hope.

    So why are you so ornery, Tom?

    Why are you devoting your whole life to this pseudo-critical charade, and losing so many willing friends in the process? Why do you limit, even belittle, your own powers — and they’re considerable, for sure?

    Why are you so obsessed with mocking what you know and love best?

    ~

    I quit when Scarriet got buried in your huffing and puffing and blowing any house down built after Emerson.

    It’s not just that I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t figure out where to look!

    Christopher

  34. Mark said,

    March 31, 2011 at 9:32 am

    “You haven’t understood even the simplest idea of what I’ve said, and yet you have the nerve to present a great list of questions and demands”

    Oh your delicate sensibilities! What nerve! What a great and imposing list those three simple questions make! However will you answer the demanding question: “were those things you said facts or speculations?” Doubtless it’s a brain-teaser for the ages. And then to go so far as to ask your opinion of where poetry is heading? And on a poetry blog at that! It’s too great a demand to even consider…

    I submit that I understand you and you understand me perfectly. You’re dodging, Tom. It doesn’t become you. In the time it took you to choke out that laboured and pathetic metaphor about the meaning of incoherent you could have actually responded, I’m a bit sad you didn’t.

    As to Silliman – I’ve already suggested that you’re reading the comment too narrowly. Clearly the comment was not about the structure of verse but the type. Collins is easy, gentle poetry for bland middle-aged readers in the early 21st century readers just as Guest was easy and gentle for the bland and middle-aged in the early 20th. Cormac McCarthy doesn’t read like Melville but the two clearly share a lineage. I’ve already said that’s what I think. If Ron Silliman wants to read Collins and then make an offhanded catty barb which will get blown out of proportion by someone on the internet purposely misreading it, fine (that you haven’t addressed this point the two times I’ve made it just assures me that you’re aware of all this). I happen to agree with Silliman but that’s beside the point.

    You slagging of the Maximus Poems is not really related to this. I said earlier that this thread wasn’t the best place to raise certain points but I thought it best to lay my cards out in one place. I can go to where you actually made the comment and bump that thread if you’d prefer. There are lots of posts here based on unsupportable claims and your own fecund imagination – I think I’d get tired of the game before I got very far. A strawman argument is a strawman argument. That you won’t address my point only solidifies to me that you knew this going in.

    SHOULD I bump the thread where you made that comment? Then you wouldn’t have the safety-blanket of “well Silliman did it too” to hide under. Still, despite your reductio ad absurdum (another dodge Tom, sigh, is that all you’ve got?), it really was a simple enough question.

    Your notion that the definitions of words should just be obvious is weak and your dancing around the issue fools no one. Any serious debate starts with a definition of terms. Especially when you’re using “incoherent” to describe work that is inherently not incoherent by any definition of the word. It’s 1 as opposed to 2? What’s say we ditch the “gut feelings” and use words to mean what they actually mean?

    If “incoherent” poems have no way in, then Pound is de facto not “incoherent” – there are many ways to read Pound (as many as there are for Edmund Spenser) and his meaing is always clear. I’m not an avid reader of Pound but he makes his points clearly (awful as they may be sometimes) and can be read easily with minimal effort. Now, what I’m REALLY getting from all this is that “incoherent” and “accessible” are just stand-ins for “poems I like” and “poems I don’t like” and that it’s easier for you to write things off if you can call them “incoherent”. I guess I understand that, by doing so you don’t need to spend time with anything more difficult than Billy Collins. Good poetry requires work though – my complete Keats has 165 pages of notes, 6 appendices and a dictionary of classical names. How “accessible” is that? Less accessible than Billy Collins, certainly. Oh, but there are no grey areas, right? It’s all black and white for you.

    My “arguments” are “invisible”? Really, Tom? Quit dodging and fess up. The questions stand. If you don’t answer them I’ll have to assume that you’re yella.

    I think we’ve both been civil throughout the course of this thread. You’re the one who uttered the safe-word first with your fake fine. I have no interest in turning this into a shoving match – I’m just asking you a couple questions… is me saying “I was hoping for responses from you, Tom” too demanding? What a delicate daffodil you are.

    I would pose that the “ridiculous nonsense” here starts and ends with your initial post where you purport to make facts out of your own imagined bullshit. That’s what I said in my first response and that’s what I’m saying now. Thoughts?

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Mark,

      You tend to use twenty words when one will do (you’re going to exhaust yourself, and then quit our site forever) but here you explicitly demonstrate that, like Silliman, you’ve never read, or do not understand, Collins:

      “Collins is easy, gentle poetry for bland middle-aged readers in the early 21st century readers just as Guest was easy and gentle for the bland and middle-aged in the early 20th.”

      Re: Collins, you are merely repeating an easy falsehood.

      Collins is very often dark, nuanced, and philosophical. That’s why he appeals to so many educated readers.

      Most of your rhetoric is spent making empty gestures against me, but meanwhile the whole gist of the discussion escapes you.

      Re: the incoherent. I’m not saying there are no gray areas. Life is shot through with gray areas. All I’m saying is that in exploring this philosophical issue, at least initially, it is best that we put gray areas aside. The incoherent is one. The accessible is two (or more). Do you even understand the implications of this?

      Tom

      • Mark said,

        March 31, 2011 at 6:48 pm

        Another dodge.

        “You tend to use twenty words when one will do (you’re going to exhaust yourself, and then quit our site forever)”

        Agreed (this has always been the case for me) but what’s really exhausting is when you ask someone 1-4 simple questions and they avoid answering them in favour of heavy-handed rhetoric (my rhetoric may be heavy-handed but I’ve addressed every concern you’ve raised with me in a timely manner :) )

        Re: Collins. I’ve not read his whole oeuvre, if that’s what you’re implying. That’s why I retracted calling him a hack. It was unfair of me to say so even though the sampling of his work that I have read reeks of hackery. I’m not too proud to step back and admit when my claims become unsupportable. You on the other hand…

        “Gentle” I took from Briggs – but, in everything I’ve read by Collins it applies. Even the darkness is limp-wristed in Billy Collins.

        “Most of your rhetoric is spent making empty gestures against me, but meanwhile the whole gist of the discussion escapes you.”

        It’s not so much that this discussion escapes me, just that I disagree with the points you’ve predicated it on (which is what I said from the very beginning and what you’ve spent the last couple days refusing to address).

        You still haven’t answered my questions, Tom. If I thought you were yella before, just imagine what I think now.
        If I reposted my concerns in the About Scarriet page would they have a better chance of being addressed without all this pathetic shucking and/or jiving?

      • Mark said,

        March 31, 2011 at 6:53 pm

        btw

        “you’re going to exhaust yourself, and then quit our site forever”

        Was this your plan from the very beginning? To avoid responding to the concerns I’ve raised long enough that I’d get tired of trying and go away? Is that the level of discourse this blog seeks to foster?

        Are you trying to rope-a-dope me, Tom? I may be a dope but I assure you, sir, I am rarely roped…

  35. Nooch & Poem/Link support said,

    March 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    The Maximus Poems,
    My pulse is racing!
    May the shade of Charles
    Forgive the spacing:

    The Librarian

    The landscape (the landscape!) again: Gloucester,
    the shore one of me is (duplicates), and from which
    (from offshore, I, Maximus) am removed, observe.

    In this night I moved on the territory with combinations
    (new mixtures) of old and known personages: the leader,
    my father, in an old guise, here selling books and manuscripts.

    My thought was, as I looked in the window of his shop,
    there should be materials here for Maximus, when, then,
    I saw he was the young musician has been there (been before me)

    before. It turned out it wasn’t a shop, it was a loft (wharf-
    house) in which, as he walked me around, a year ago
    came back (I had been there before, with my wife and son,

    I didn’t remember, he presented me insinuations via
    himself and his girl) both of whom I had known for years.
    But never in Gloucester. I had moved them in, to my country.

    His previous appearance had been in my parents’ bedroom where I
    found him intimate with my former wife: this boy
    was the the Librarian of Gloucester, Massachusetts!

    Black space
    old fish-house.
    Motions
    of ghosts.
    I,
    dogging
    his steps.
    He
    (not my father,
    by name himself
    with his face
    twisted
    at birth)
    possessed of knowledge
    pretentious
    giving me
    what in the instance
    I knew better of.

    But the somber
    place, the flooring
    crude like a wharf’s
    and a barn’s
    space

    I was struck by the fact I was in Gloucester, and that my daughter
    was there—that I would see her! She was over the Cut. I
    hadn’t even connected her with my being there, that she was

    here. That she was there (in the Promised Land—the Cut!
    But there was this business, of poets, that all my Jews
    were in the fish-house too, that the Librarian had made a party

    I was to read. They were. There were many of them, slumped
    around. It was not for me. I was outside. It was the Fort.
    The Fort was in East Gloucester—old Gorton’s Wharf, where the Library

    was. It was a region of coal houses, bins. In one a gang
    was beating someone to death, in a corner of the labyrinth
    of fences. I could see their arms and shoulders whacking

    down. But not the victim. I got out of there. But cops
    tailed me along the Fort beach toward the Tavern

    The places still
    half-dark, mud,
    coal dust.

    There is no light
    east
    of the Bridge

    Only on the headland
    toward the harbor
    from Cressy’s

    have I seen it (once
    when my daughter ran
    out on a spit of sand

    isn’t even there.) Where
    is Bristow? when does I-A
    get me home? I am caught

    in Gloucester. (What’s buried
    behind Lufkin’s
    Diner? Who is

    Frank Moore?

    Charles Olson

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=241038

    • Mark said,

      March 31, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      Not to nit-pick here but this isn’t actually one of the Maximus Poems… The references to it in the first couple stanzas are just references.

      Still it’s a good one. Ol’ Son at his most accessible – clear narrative and even a bit of personal sentiment ( :O )

      I think Chas’ll look the other way on the spacing for you Nooch… but don’t let it happen again!

      • Nooch said,

        March 31, 2011 at 10:51 pm

        Ah, not a Maximus,
        Thanks, that’s good to know—
        Yah, WordPress comment spacing’s
        A bloody bad show.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 31, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks for posting some poetry, Nooch.

      The above Charles Olson poem, “The Librarian,” is…sentimental. It reminds me of Our Town or Spoon River.

      To quote Silliman: Before there was Leslie Scalapino there was Charles Olson. Before there was Charles Olson there was Edgar Lee Masters.

      As for spacing: used sparingly, it can be charming. To persist in it, however, and have it sprawl over the page, is low-brow, if not imbecilic.

      Tom

      • Mark said,

        March 31, 2011 at 7:05 pm

        Is there a scene in Our Town where the protagonist watches a man with a shifting face fuck his wife? I must have caught the abridged version.

        No one ever said Olson wasn’t sentimental though. Olson is perhaps the most Romantic of his peers (he says outright in his prose works that his literary forebears are Melville and Keats) obviously differences are there to be discerned between the modernists of any period. So can we be done with your crass generalizations now? (Yes, I know, Silliman made one FIRST and you’re ever so mad about it… And you haven’t done anything to blow it out of proportion or twist his words. That guy’s a real dick! Etc. – such tedium.)

        Granted, you don’t have to like the poem (I like it but it’s not the one I would have chosen – Olson usually deals with the explicitly Jungian stuff more tactfully), but given its obvious logic and clear narrative I guess we can both agree that it’s not incoherent. Neither in the actual sense of the word nor in the sad, imaginary sense you’ve constructed (the poem, at no point, says “Buckle” – Olson isn’t a surrealist). Charles Olson: Coherent Poet. I’m glad we cleared that up.

        Also, Re: “To quote Silliman…”
        This isn’t a quote, it’s maybe a paraphrase at best – have the standards of writing on this blog become so lax that you’ve forgotten what words mean… oh… nevermind.

  36. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    “His previous appearance had been in my parents’ bedroom where I
    found him intimate with my former wife”

    The above quote is very different from “watches a man…fuck his wife.”

    For someone interested in poetry, you are not very nuanced. Kind of like Silliman comparing Collins to Edgar Guest. “such tedium” Why “tedious?” It’s you who are making it “tedious” by resisting it to such a degree…

    So all comparisons between Spoon River Anthology and Our Town vanish because of your objection? You have much too much faith in yourself.

    I’m glad you agree with me. Olson is coherent in a traditional manner, and according to you (and Silliman), well then, Olson must be like Edgar Guest and Billy Collins, right?

    Tom

  37. Mark said,

    April 2, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Two days, two posts on the main page, and still nothing of substance here from Thomas Graves…
    My questions stand but we get just another dodge:

    ~

    I’ll be the bigger man now, Tom, and address your concerns even though you won’t address mine:

    The tedium I was referring to was your tedious refusal to respond, directly or indirectly, to genuine issues and concerns levelled against you. I’ve mated you at A8 and you’re sitting there trying to move your pawn to G4. That will not do, Tom, not even by the pathetic standards of Scarriet. Why won’t you stand behind what you’ve written? Grow a spine and man up, son.

    To your first point, I was just using hyperbole. Perhaps you’re mad that I’m stepping on your toes here? I will concede that you are the master of hyperbole and that this blog consists of nothing but… I just thought I’d try it out. I can see the appeal!*

    That said, I’ve never read “Our Town” – my comment wasn’t really an “objection”, per se, but then what you said wasn’t really a “comparison”. Your comment was drive-by generality designed to get my ire up (didn’t work, btw) – is that all you’re capable of, Tom? I’d ask what SPECIFICALLY reminds you of Masters and I’d ask that you back up your claims but I know that’s a lot more work than you’re used to doing…
    Oh, is that too demanding for Tom “Delicate Daffodil” Graves?

    If you’d like to discuss Olson’s poem further I’d suggest that this is not the place for it. I’d be happy to do a write-up on “The Librarian” if you’d make it a main post on the main page of Scarriet. It would be nice if something on this blog was written by someone who actually knew what they were talking about… Someone who had actually done the “digging”. I’d even force myself to keep it brief! Definitely under 2500 words… Probably…

    Now, Olson IS like Collins and Guest AND Silliman in that they all write poetry and that their poetry can be understood by readers – you’re the one who insisted Ronny and big Chuck were “incoherent” – I would argue that this is where the comparison stops but we both know you have no interest in an actual debate. We both know that all your points crumble under even the slightest critique. Quit trying to shift your sympathies after the fact – this whole exchange is documented and we all know what you said.

    You obviously need to learn that generalizations – though helpful to those starting off in poetry – inevitably break down under scrutiny. Have you not been reading poetry very long? Your writing is all generalization and I’m willing to help you make it better by providing the scrutiny. What a lucky duck you are!

    Your sad, much bandied-about, claim that the Modernists hate the Romantics is one such example of your highly selective reading habits and patently uninformed views on literature. Far from “hatred”, Yeats and HD announced to anyone who would listen that they were following the lead of Blake and Shelley. Most second-wave modernists I can think of (Olson, Black Mountain and the SF Renaissance among them) were even more explicit about their debt to the Romantics. Maybe some individual modernists disliked some individual romantics but to create an arch-narrative is beneath even you, Tom. Laughably so. I’m reading Robert Duncan’s HD Book right now and he is well-read enough to make all the connections you’re too lazy to look for and too careless to make; believe me, they render your lame little ‘modernists-hated-romantics’ point totally moot.

    It’s such a strange trip to go from the prodigious, far-reaching intellect of Robert Duncan to your sad, narrow-minded little failure of a blog.

    ~

    Now, despite this last little detour I haven’t forgotten my initial concerns. Your attempts to goad me into getting off course have failed. My questions stand, your inability and unwillingness to even begin discussing them speaks volumes. I’ll post them again if you’re having trouble finding them.

    I understand you’ve “lost the argument to me and you’re angry” (what a boon this victory is for me, I’m putting this on my CV!) but that’s ok. It’s been fun watching you squirm and grasp at straws!

    I think I’m going to write up an account of your crushing defeat and post it on the About Scarriet page on Monday when I have some free time. Thoughts?

    Mark

    *(and, to be fair, my off-hand response to your non-point was still far less hyperbolic than your own writing is given to be: “fuck” and “be intimate with” can be used synonymously within impolite company – I know you’re a bit shaky on the meanings of words so maybe you didn’t know that…

    Is English your first language, Tom? That WOULD explain your misuse of the word “incoherent”…)

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 2, 2011 at 11:26 am

      Mark,

      You deserve some credit for at least staying in the ring with Thomas Brady. Silliman or Bernstein will make public complaints of ‘quietists’ and ‘official verse culture’ but they won’t actually get in the ring and fight anybody; they’re too ambitious for academic plaudits and serene credentials. To them, I’m just a mud-stained pig who likes to wrestle; they are old and respected; they will end their careers adored in places like The New York Review (not mixing it up in the ‘letters’ section, but officialized in the main pages) so I’m happy to let them fade away; the debate is deeply philosophical and historical and not about them.

      Silliman’s sneer that Billy Collins is just another Edgar Guest symbolizes more than all of Silliman’ diary-writing and all of Bernstein’s found-poetry-punning signify put together. 100 years from now, the former will be remembered, the latter, not.

      That’s why I’m glad, Mark, you are here, and speaking so strenuously for that camp. Stuff like this is really entertaining:

      “…your tedious refusal to respond, directly or indirectly, to genuine issues and concerns levelled against you. I’ve mated you at A8 and you’re sitting there trying to move your pawn to G4. That will not do, Tom, not even by the pathetic standards of Scarriet. Why won’t you stand behind what you’ve written? Grow a spine and man up, son.”

      And throwing in a comparison to Bush out of left-field; that’s just the sort of thing Silliman or Bernstein might do. Nice job, Mark.

      I’m also glad you’ve stayed around long enough to demonstrate for us that Olson has no magical, avant powers; he’s just another schlub like Billy Collins and Edgar Lee Masters using sentiment to move us; take away the smoke-and-mirrors-avant-magic, the loony ‘breath & field’ theories and that’s all he is: a sentimentalist, and let him be judged and read that way: I couldn’t be happier that we’ve reached that point with your help. Thanks! Billy Collins will out-sell Olson; I just hope that doesn’t get anyone upset.

      It also seems by your latest comment you’ve been reading more of Scarriet, the posts from previous months, and I’m very pleased, because whenever I visit old posts—that I’ve forgotten I’ve written— I’m always pleased, too. Writing is a wonderful thing: the record that stays for all to see; it is miraculous, isn’t it? Sure, it seems to have increased your ire, but that only gives me pleasure, too. If you want to write more about that Duncan book on Pound’s girlfriend, that would be splendid; please do share!

      Tom

  38. Mark said,

    April 2, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Also,

    Nooch,

    Well played!

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 2, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Nooch is wonderful and Scarriet owes a great debt to him; in fact, Nooch is emerging as THE spirit of Scarriet: witty, playful, irreverent, curious. I’m a carnival barker by comparison.

    • Noochness said,

      April 2, 2011 at 11:00 am

      They call me the doppelganger
      Of Scarriet—which I don’t think true, man;
      Or they call me its Julia Moore,
      When I’m really its Alfred E. Neuman.

  39. Mark said,

    April 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Tom,

    Predictions for the future from someone who can’t even figure out the past? I’m not interested.

    You should feel pleased, Tom, but not too pleased. I broke my leg a couple weeks ago and have more free time than I know what to do with. You’re like Glen Beck or a grisly car accident, I shouldn’t watch but I’m compelled to look (you make the same sort of arguments Glen Beck does, maybe that’s it).

    Do you really wonder why Silliman or Bernstein won’t come and have a discussion with you? Christopher hit the nail on the head when he called you a paparrazo. Do Brad and Angelina have coffee with the people who stalk them outside the supermarket? Why would they bother? You’ve proven time and again that you have nothing to say about poetry. Just empty complaints and arguments you refuse (or are unable) to back up. You talk a big game, but I haven’t seen anything insightful behind the bluster… and I’ve been looking!

    That’s why this isn’t a fight. It’s you dancing and pretending not to care while your arguments get picked apart piece by piece. You’re a good dancer, stick with that, fighting’s not for delicate types like you.

    The Bush thing was just a happy accident really. I typed “dodging coward” into youtube and it was the first thing to show up. I was hoping for something funnier but if the shoe fits throw it. I think we should look at it more like a found poem. I know how much you like those.

    Now, this is the sort of thing that makes you sound like a joke: “Olson has no magical, avant powers” – no one is suggesting he does have “magical, avant powers”. It’s a non-argument. Strawman bullshit. You’re arguing with your own imagination, Tommy, just like in the Silliman/Collins post. What’s worse, you’ve abandoned what was your fundamental position at the start of this debate and won’t cop to it. You’ve done everything in your power to divert the flow of this discussion away from the really fundamental questions but you should just realize that I’m here to help, Tom. Don’t worry. We’re going to get you through this. We’re going to make a man out of you. Even if it takes until my cast comes off (at which point I will probably stop bothering… but that’s weeks away… can you keep up this avoidance dance until then?)

    I won’t say more on the HD Book until I’m done. It would be stupid to say too much about a book that I haven’t read all the way through. I’d have to be a real jackass to do so… So far so good though.

    So, given that you’re too scared to enter into an actual discussion with me, can I take your last post as an admission of defeat? That’s certainly how it read to me.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 2, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      Mark,

      What am I “dodging?” Not admitting you are right (what of substance have you said?) and I am wrong is a “dodge?” Anyway, get better soon, will ya?

      Tommy

  40. April 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    I have to admit that this is the best internet poetry debate I’ve read since the old Silliman/Harriet days. Since I consider Tom to be a friend of mine it grieves me that he is basically getting his ass kicked here.

    The only thing I don’t understand is why ‘Mark’ has no surname. Why would someone as educated and literate as Mark appears to be be unwilling to share his actual name with us?

    GBF

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 3, 2011 at 3:56 am

      He didn’t kick my ass, Gary. He checkmated me. Because Billy Collins is just like Edgar Guest. Mark proved it, with many examples.

  41. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 3, 2011 at 1:32 am

    .
    Thomas Brady said,
    April 2, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Mark,

    You deserve some credit for at least staying in the ring with Thomas Brady.

    You mean like Louis Theroux going back to do another documentary on the Phelps family only to be told that he’s not only Pontius Pilate but that that was God’s plan all along?
    .

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said,
    April 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    I have to admit that this is the best internet poetry debate I’ve read since the old Silliman/Harriet days.

    I assume your tongue is in your cheek, Gary, as this is the only debate that has taken place on Scarriet since before the last March Madness series got screened over a year ago!

    Unless you call Nooch a debate.

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said,
    April 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    The only thing I don’t understand is why ‘Mark’ has no surname. Why would someone as educated and literate as Mark appears to be be unwilling to share his actual name with us?

    GBF

    You mean ‘Thomas Brady’ here, surely. “Why would someone as educated and literate as ‘Tom Brady’ appears to be be unwilling to share his actual name with us?”

    Pursue that a bit, Gary, and you’ll figure out why most of the old Scarriet regulars, including yourself, so rarely join the debate on Scarriet any more.

    Also perhaps why you didn’t complain about the mish-mash he made of your poems when he posted them — to draw you into the site. I suspect you knew full well there was nobody there behind the screen on Scarriet — or at least not the person the Scarriet light-show would want you to believe.

    I too regarded Tom as a friend until I realized nobody was there when he talked about poetry. His true calling is sport, of course, and until he accepts that he will continue to lose friends who take poetry seriously.

    Christopher

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 3, 2011 at 3:52 am

      Or too seriously.

      • Wfkammann said,

        April 3, 2011 at 4:27 am

        Or not too seriously.

    • Nooch said,

      April 3, 2011 at 10:19 am

      For CW

      Methinks you missed your calling
      (You’d do it with such pep):
      Helping the suicidal
      To take that final step.

  42. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 3, 2011 at 4:19 am

    .

    Too seriously? You mean, like this?

    Bob Tonucci said,
    March 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Wow, Sharon Olds sounds like a fun date! You go, girl!

    Reply

    thomasbrady said,
    March 12, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    The end of that poem is pretty cool, isn’t it?

    ………………………..I see my
    ………………………..brothers and sisters swimming by the silver
    ………………………..millions, I say to them Stay here— for the
    ………………………..children of this father it is the better life;
    ………………………..but they cannot hear me. Blind, deaf,
    ………………………..armless, brainless, they plunge forward,
    ………………………..driven, desperate to enter the other, to
    ………………………..die in her wake, sometimes we are without desire—
    ………………………..five, ten, twenty seconds of
    ………………………..pure calm, as if each one of us is whole.”

    “Blind, deaf, armless” desire. The whole trope is almost embarrassing, isn’t it? The poem that knocked it out of the tourney was about desire, too, but a different approach.

    Reply

    Bob Tonucci said,
    March 13, 2010 at 1:05 am

    The “silver millions” are the spermatazoa, no? She says to them “Stay here- for the children of this father it is the better life” — meaning it’s better if they don’t fertilize an egg and become born, but they don’t listen, they plunge forward, half a league onward, armless and brainless, desperate to enter the other — and then afterwards: seconds of pure calm, a sense of wholeness…. Wow, I need a cigarette….

    Reply

    Christopher Woodman said,
    March 13, 2010 at 5:13 am

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, Bob. Do you really want to say this? Is this really all there is for you in this poem, just cum in your face?

    You must be so bored in real life. You must spend a lot of time on the internet.

    And oh yes, our Smoking Room’s here.

    Reply

    Bob Tonucci said,
    March 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

    OK, Mr. Woodman, I’ll stay out of your yard, bye.

    Christopher

  43. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 3, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Mark,
    This junky little debate is nothing new, and indeed, I’m a bit ashamed of myself that I still can’t let it go. It’s just that I invested so much of myself in the first 3 trimesters of Scarriet, I’m furious the child of our efforts should have been so messily (and unnecessarily!) aborted. For there’s nothing to say when poetry’s all March Madness brou ha — you just have to turn off the set and go for a walk.

    To show you how thoroughly we went over this ground, here’s what I said to Bob right after he threatened to quit.

    http://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/top-seeds-upset-in-west/#comment-1224

    “It’s not that your reading was wrong, Bob, or dirty, or inappropriate for poetry, it’s that it was yet another reductio ad absurdum – as my “cum in your face” image was also, but quite deliberately. Mine was meant as a parody of yours, and I apologize if it hurt your feelings.

    “I feel I owe you an explanation, so I’ll try.

    ~

    “Images in poetry mean many things all at once, and the problem is that if you seize on the lowest common denominator right at the start you often end up with the lowest common denominator, period. You end up all on one note.

    “Sharon Olds’ poem is much more fun as well as much, much deeper if you resist the tendency to say it’s just anatomical. A woman’s body is the universe as well, after all, as that terrible apparition in Dorothea Lasky’s poem, “Tornado” is equally God’s face — a face which is, after all, pretty abusive!

    “And can you get that, Bob, or Tom? Why God’s face is abusive?

    “Life touches us in inappropriate places and we’re wounded — and when we’re wounded we’re on our way to grace. [You might want to click here for some images we discussed earlier in this context.]

    “A bit like that, though poetry is a much better way of saying it, the risks of such a statement being taken literally are so grave

    “And, of course, even metaphorically it’s a tough one, but the riddle lies behind most of the ancient myths about rape and incest. I don’t really like saying that so baldly, because it’s a topic for poetry, not prose!

    ~

    “I remember teaching Jane Austen to a class of 17 year olds in Brooklyn many years ago, and one smart-alec in the class started reading every scene as sexual — which is easy, because it is sexual as well, of course, as most things are, sex being one of the most accurate and profound human images of God, and vise-versa. The problem was that after the smart-alec had planted that seed the whole class tapped into it, and we read Jane Austen as a sex text for the rest of the semester.

    “We had a good time but, needless to say, we missed a lot!

    ~

    “Here’s the problem. We can be so pleased with the idea that all literature is just about one thing, sex or politics or gender or the text itself, that we go on with that one thing as if it were the whole kaboodle — like those high-school kids in Brooklyn. That makes it difficult to go much further, and the whole enterprise stalls in one position.

    “The hard part is to hold more than one reality in mind at once. Read Sharon Olds’ poem, “Wellspring,” once again and see if you can do it — it’s a whole lot richer!

    Christopher”

    • Nooch & Poem support said,

      April 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      The long winter’s over, from
      Lairs blinking they emerge—
      Rested to sound their “S-s-s”
      (i.e., Scarriet springtime surge).

      ~

      I’d prefer to ignore CW,
      For of laissez-faire I’m fond—
      But if he takes a swipe at me,
      I’m o-bli-ged to respond.

      ~

      Sartre was surely correct
      That hell is other people—
      Luckily for us, though, heaven
      Is other other people.

      ~

      One year later,
      The routine is so old—
      The same weary song-and-dance,
      As Dame Margaret foretold:

      Owl and Pussycat, Some Years Later

      So here we are again, my dear,
      on the same shore we set out from
      years ago, when we were promising,
      but minus — now — a lot of hair,
      or fur or feathers, whatever.
      I like the bifocals. They make you look
      even more like an owl than you are.
      I suppose we’ve both come far. But

      how far are we truly, from where we started,
      under the fresh-laid moon, when we plotted
      to astound? When we thought
      something of meaning could still be done
      by singing, or won, like trophies.
      I took the fence, you the treetops, where we
      hooted and yowled our carnivorous
      fervid hearts out, and see,
      we did get prizes: there they are,
      a scroll, a gold watch, and a kissoff
      handshake from the stand-in
      for the Muse, who couldn’t come herself,
      but sent regrets. Now we can say

      flattering things about each other
      on dust jackets. Whatever
      made us think we could change the world?
      Us and our clever punct-
      uation marks. A machine-gun, now —

      that would be different. No more unct-
      uous adjectives. Cut straight to the verb.
      Ars longa, mors brevissima. The life
      of poetry breeds the lust
      for action, of the most ordinary
      sort. Whacking the heads off dandelions,
      or bats or bureaucrats,
      smashing car windows. Though

      at least we’ve been tolerated,
      or even celebrated — which meant
      a brief caper in the transient glare
      of the sawdust limelight,
      and your face used later for fishwrap —
      but most of the time ignored
      by this crowd that has finally admitted
      to itself it doesn’t give
      much of a fart for art,
      and would rather see a good evisceration
      any day. You might as well have been
      a dentist, as your father hoped. You

      want attention, still? Take your clothes off
      at a rush-hour stoplight, howl obscenities,
      or shoot someone. You’ll get
      your name in the paper, maybe,
      for what it’s worth. In any case

      where do we both get off?
      Is this small talent we have prized
      so much, and rubbed like silver
      spoons, until it shone
      at least as brightly as neon, really
      so much better than the ability
      to win the sausage-eating contest,
      or juggle six plates at once?
      What’s the use anyway
      of calling the dead back, moving stones,
      or making animals cry? I

      think of you, loping along at night
      to the convenience store, to buy your pint
      of milk, your six medium eggs,
      your head stuffed full of consonants
      like lovely pebbles
      you picked up on some lustrous beach
      you can’t remember — my feather-
      headed fool, what have you got
      in your almost-empty pockets
      that would lure even the lowliest mugger?
      Who needs your handful
      of glimmering air, your foxfire, your few
      underwater crystal tricks
      that work only in moonlight?
      Noon hits them and they fall apart,
      old bones and earth, old teeth, a bundleful
      of shadow. Sometimes, I know, the almost-holy
      whiteness rotted in our skulls spreads out
      like thistles in a vacant lot, a hot powdery
      flare-up, which is not a halo
      and will return at intervals
      if we’re grateful or else lucky, and
      will end by fusing our neurons. Yet

      singing’s a belief
      we can’t give up.
      Anything can become a saint
      if you pray to it enough —
      spaceship, teacup, wolf —
      and what we want is intercession,
      that iridescent ribbon
      that once held song to object.
      We feel everything hovering
      on the verge of becoming itself:
      the tree is almost a tree, the dog
      pissing against it won’t be a dog
      unless we notice it
      and call it by its name: “Here, dog.”
      And so we stand on balconies and rocky
      hilltops, and caterwaul our best,
      and the world flickers
      in and out of being,
      and we think it needs our permission. We

      shouldn’t flatter ourselves: really
      it’s the other way around. We’re at
      the mercy of any stray
      rabid mongrel or thrown stone or cancerous
      ray, or our own
      bodies: we were born with mortality’s
      hook in us, and year by year it drags us
      where we’re going: down. But

      surely there is still
      a job to be done by us, at least
      time to be passed; for instance, we could
      celebrate inner beauty. Gardens.
      Love and desire. Lust. Children. Social justice
      of various kinds. Include fear and war.
      Describe what it is to be tired. Now
      we’re getting there. But this is much
      too pessimistic! Hey, we’ve got
      each other, and a roof, and regular
      breakfasts! Cream and mice! For

      our sort, elsewhere, it’s often worse:
      a heaved boot, poisoned meat, or dragged
      by the wings or tail off to some wall
      or trench and forced to kneel
      and have your brains blown out, splattering all over
      that Nature we folks are so keen on —
      in the company of a million others,
      let it be said —
      and in the name of what? What noun?
      What god or state? The world becomes
      one huge deep vowel of horror,
      while behind those mildewed flags, the slogans
      that always rhyme with dead,
      sit a few old guys making money. So

      honestly. Who wants to hear it?
      Last time I did that number, honey,
      the audience was squirrels.
      But I don’t need to tell you.
      The worst is, now we’re respectable.
      We’re in anthologies. We’re taught in schools,
      with cleaned-up biographies and skewed photos.
      We’re part of the mug show now.
      In ten years, you’ll be on a stamp,
      where anyone at all can lick you. Ah

      well, my dear, our leaky cardboard
      gondola has brought us this far,
      us and our paper guitar.
      No longer semi-immortal, but moulting owl
      and arthritic pussycat, we row
      out past the last protecting
      sandbar, towards the salty
      open sea, the dogs’-head gate,
      and after that, oblivion.
      But sing on, sing
      on, someone may still be listening
      besides me. The fish for instance.
      Anyway, my dearest one,
      we still have the moon.

      Margaret Atwood

  44. thomasbrady said,

    April 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I care not for those who turn poetry into a morbid fetish of professorial pretence.

    Perspective, my friends, perspective.

    Poetry and song are moral guides to life, not life itself, and thus brevity is not only the soul of wit, but of song, for life’s too short for poetry to be excessively long; turn poetry into what it is not, and you will eat ashes, and lose a healthy humor and perspective and lose that harmony and sweetness which is song’s moral strength and whole reason for being.

    If something is incoherent, it is all the same to those who don’t understand it, all one—and therefore nothing; but once accessible, variety is then possible and there are many kinds, but chiefly two: the direct and the suggestive; the direct is usually more popular, like a country western song that tells an easily understood story of heartache and woe, but the suggestive has its glory also, but note well that the suggestive always requires a musical element, otherwise it becomes merely puzzling, appealing to bookworms and those made bitter by over-study, a grudge nursed in years of sour pedantry.

    How many millions of young people come to school looking for poetry and turn away from the ugly pedantry it’s become? The souls of millions are at stake. School curricula replicates itself from school to school until all’s the same: the New Critics killed the Romantics and the second wave of modernists, beatnik/black mountain, with their sickly influence riding atop the New Critics’ acadamic success are mere maggots in the New Critics’ wake, worms eating the corpse of the eagles who went before. The insidious term ‘new’ (we’re hit over the head with it, over and over) is but moderns messing with haiku. Pound tweaked English translations of Chinese poetry and changed literature forever? Uh…nope.

    Look outside your window if you want to see innovation. Don’t look for it in books of incoherent poetry! Or in fiction that’s a soapbox for shallow, hateful, divisive politics.

    But it’s a little industry unto itself, Ezra Pound, Inc., and it will have its day for a few more years, and then, more obscurity, and finally one last gasp of furious pedantry, and then, death. Poetry will never be free of ambitious cliques of poetasters, but eventually time will rid us of the Ezra Pounds and the Robert Lowells of the world, like spoiled children playing at poetry, the dunces with their friends in the press, the dunces who give interviews and talks and chatter on; celebrity will be replaced once again by the rigor of a Poe: incoherency dead, accessibility, direct and suggestive, enriching democracy and the pursuit of shadowy pleasure.

    One can have these opinions and yet have time to enjoy individual poems from any era, as Scarriet aptly demonstrates; individual poems can be eaten with pleasure even while plans for a better orchard are advanced. An eye for the worm does not mean one has no tongue for the apple.

  45. Mark said,

    April 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Tom,

    You underestimate my ability to multi-task. I can easily kick your ass AND play chess at the same time!

    Gary,

    I didn’t include my surname because I honestly expected this to be a one-shot kind of deal. I didn’t intend for it to turn into anything.

    I feel, for a variety of reasons, that it would be counterproductive to this discussion to “out” myself now. Suffice to say, I’m not a poet or an academic, just a poetry enthusiast with a strong distaste for the reductive rhetoric of narrowmindedness. I’ll happily reveal my true identity (hehe) as soon as Tom commits himself to raising the editorial standard of Scarriet (which is sub-tabloid, at the moment).

    Drop me an e-mail at “sunken(underscore)city(at)hotmail(dot)com” if you’re curious to know what’s what.

    Nooch,

    If it’s Scarriet’s low
    Writing standard a-walking
    To the suicide edge
    Then Christoph, KEEP TALKING!

    (See, I told you I wasn’t a poet… :D )

    To all,

    I have something due on monday that I really need to finish up. All Scarriet and no work make Mark a dead man! I’ll be back with more measured, well-thought-out responses soon. Tom’s lame attempt to save face with a more moderate version of his previous stance will have to hold until I can come dismantle it.

    Cheers,
    Mark

    • Nooch said,

      April 3, 2011 at 11:26 pm

      Scarriet will never
      Commit hari-kari—
      For its ‘scar’ issues forth
      Life into this world scary.

      Nor will it perish
      From a cancerous tumor,
      So long as its challengers
      Have your sense of humor!

  46. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 4, 2011 at 4:42 am

    Tom writes just above:

    “If something is incoherent, it is all the same to those who don’t understand it, all one—and therefore nothing.”

    This is Tom’s main argument — if a poem is difficult it’s “pretentious,” “professorial,” and “elitist.” Real people dare to say that, he insists, and he means real people like himself, Thomas Graves, and of course people like Bob Tonucci, people who are simple, straightforward, gainfully employed outside of academia, honest, truthful, Red Sox or Redskins supporters, and light-hearted. That means not professors or professional critics, needless to say — that spade’s clearly a spade, he says.

    Because what’s difficult is “nothing,” and even if it appears to be hard it just melts away like ice when you dare to call it’s bluff.

    Hamlet would have been so reassured!!!

    Because Hamlet’s argument is 50% the same, of course, but then only 50% — and that’s the real rub in everything about love, hate, belief, despair and being human. Because the ice may just resolve itself into a dew, true, but then again maybe it won’t. Like the monster in the bedroom at night or the radiation in Japan, or the sacred — i.e. maybe it’s God and maybe it’s not!

    ~

    Here’s Tom making the same point on the thread called “An Aperitif for the Feast of Saint Valentine” just over a year ago.

    And here too is a poem about which I don’t mind saying at all — “inaccessible,” “incoherent.” On the other hand, who doesn’t know the sensation, of the lover, of Icarus, of the inconsequence of the Fall?

    Indeed, it’s so idiot clear it’s embarrassing!

    Christopher

    • Nooch said,

      April 4, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Thanks for the words that I consider kind—
      I expected guns deployed—
      Although I would be more accurately described
      As “ungainfully employed.”

  47. thomasbrady said,

    April 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    “he means real people like himself…”

    Oh, sure, the real
    Has tremendous appeal,
    But Woodman’s zeal
    Will make you kneel.

    And it’s Ravens and Giants, right, Nooch?

    • Nooch said,

      April 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      I do enjoy watching sports when they are on—
      I recently rooted for tennis diva Bartoli (Marion).
      Sports can elucidate a kind of moral fable—
      But I don’t shell out even one penny for cable.

      Yes, the Ravens, who seem gangsters under duress—
      It’s said they’ll acquire formerly jailed Plaxico Burress.

      Yes, I watched last year the Giants on my telly,
      And enjoyed Scar’yet’s linking of Lincecum and Shelley:

      http://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/is-tim-lincecum-baseballs-shelley/

  48. Jason Ryberg said,

    April 4, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Berstein, Silliman and Co. (whose works I occasionally enjoy) are proving themselves to be the squeaky wheel that needs/passive-aggressively wants to be “greased.” If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be squeaking so loud, they’d be content with the (not insignificant) little world they’ve managed to carve out (and rule many years now) for themselves. Of all the injustices and issues available to us on the big 24/7/365 buffet, too much attention being paid to the “wrong poets” maybe rates as what, the croutons? As John Goodman said in “O Brother Where Art Thou” (just before bashing Clooney over the head with a branch), “It’s all about the money, boys!”

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 5, 2011 at 2:20 am

      Jason,

      This issue involves the musical/poetical/moral soul of millions. It does matter.

      But who would have known: Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Byron, Keats and Millay are ‘quietists,’ and university professors Bernstein and Armantrout are the sound that will save us.

      Tom

      • Mark said,

        April 5, 2011 at 2:30 am

        “Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Byron Keats and MIllay are ‘quietists,’”

        Yeah, but Chaucer’s “incoherent” and he still manages to be pretty awesome.

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm

        Mark,

        What’s your point with Chaucer? Once you get over the language difficulty, because he wrote in middle english, he’s a damn good story-teller.

        Tom

  49. Mark said,

    April 5, 2011 at 2:01 am

    I’m tired so this isn’t a real response… just two quick points:

    Nooch (I feel weird addressing someone I’ve never met as “Nooch” but these are the times in which we live… :) ),

    Re: Hari-Kari – Just so we’re clear, I don’t want Scarriet to go away or anything nor do I think it’s unsalvageable. If I thought it was dead in the water I wouldn’t have bothered rowing out this far.

    I get the impression that Scarriet was started with good intentions and that the standards have just slipped over the years (as will inevitably happen). I was serious when I said I wanted to see Scarriet get better and be a force for good.

    Tom,

    I’ve read some of your diatribes against the Silliman’s School of Quietude, this is why it’s so funny to me that your Incoherent Poets are even more vague, poorly-defined and arbitrarily chosen. The only commonality I see between the poets you list as incoherent is that they’re all poets you personally don’t like (by which I mean poets-you-haven’t-bothered-to-read). If you’re going to make overarching, sweeping statements then people are going to call you on them at which point you’re going to have to do better than that weak 1 & 2 nonsense. You can’t have it both ways.

    You’re responding to Silliman’s meaninglessness with an even greater degree of meaninglessness (your catch-all term covers over 100 years and includes poets who sound, think and act nothing alike – I don’t think Silliman’s does).

    If RS has to define School of Quietude shouldn’t you have to define “Incoherent” in a concrete way? I think we both know you can’t. “Incoherent,” as you’re using it, is just a term you’re using to write things off without reading them. Even if you find it a convenient placeholder, it signifies less than nothing in an actual discussion (which I keep hoping this is going to turn into).

    Broadly speaking, this is the problem with Scarriet as I see it. You respond to bad arguments with even worse arguments. You see a strawman and you erect a strawgiant. If you want to be seen as a viable alternative, you have to be better than the people you’re railing against. Raise your standards, son.

    I’ll be back to respond directly to a couple points you made soon… In the meantime, how about answering those three questions I had that you’ve been avoiding answering for the last few days?

    Cheers,
    Mark

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      Mark,

      Thanks for sticking around, and I appreciate your feedback.

      I do think it’s a little simplistic and unfair to keep repeating this carp that I’m unread.

      Do you want Scarriet to do a line-by-line reading of Zukofsky’s “A?” We’d lose all our readers.

      Do I tell Silliman to read all the works of Billy Collins? No, I’d be a silly ass if I did. Two gentlemen can have a literary discussion without resorting to this.

      Tom

      • Excerpt/Link support said,

        April 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm

        Whole
        Quiet
        Visible and invisible
        Waterfront
        Of the fantastic island
        To the North
        That but for a little green
        Is entirely buildings
        And pavement
        Holding such sights
        As a café front
        Composed of a mortared
        Giant champagne glass
        Overflowing a coruscation
        Of rocks;
        All such instants
        Watched over
        By the Empire State

        — from “A” by Louis Zukofsky

        http://www.flashpointmag.com/fitzjjzk.htm

  50. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 5, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Dear Mark,
    I greatly admire your persistence in replying to Tom’s sweeping inanities with cogent arguments, and as a result have taken the liberty of drawing your attention to the numerous times I tried to do the same myself. Any late visitor can scroll back over this thread for the specific references I provide, including the actual URLs.

    Exhausting, but there we are.

    And of course I have a vested interest as I was the co-editor of Scarriet, and my own work got buried under Tom’s tons and tons of detritus. He and Bob Tonucci simply took over the site in March 2010, blitzing it with irrelevant poems and literary-critical fluff — straw-men, you call them, red-herrings, one might also say, self-serving distortions and mis-readings, blatant slips and glides that make the mind boggle and wee wee.

    The hard part for me was the gradual realization that this is just what Tom wants — Scarriet as a platform for his own self-gratification. Which is why there is virtually no exchange of views on Scarriet anymore. It just isn’t worth commenting on ideas which are put up not to be discussed but to wave red capes and then vanish behind heavy wood partitions like the banderilleros at the beginning of the bull-fight. One is always waiting for the moment of truth but the matador never puts in an appearance, and the bull turns out to be just a contraption on wheels in Tom’s backyard for practice!

    Christopher

    • Nooch said,

      April 5, 2011 at 10:40 am

      “He and Bob Tonucci simply took over the site in March 2010…”

      I’ve never had control of the site,
      Can’t even change my own comments—
      And believe me, I would sorely love
      To go back and edit those varmints.

      You gave up control of the site
      To Brady who’d once been your pal —
      You’d determined there was no way
      To arrange an entente cordiale.

      This is old news and boring,
      But I had to respond
      When I saw my name once again
      Dragged through the pond.

  51. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 5, 2011 at 5:36 am

    I just read a wonderful article by Gary Wills in the April 7th to 27th NYRB called “Superficial & Sublime?” — one of the most devastating put-downs of a Straw Man argument I ‘ve ever read.

    Here’s a bit of it:

    “So how can one make intelligent choices? Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly [the authors of the book under review, “All Things Shining” — one of them the Chairman of the philosophy department at Harvard!] call modern nihilism “the idea that there is no reason to prefer any answer to any other.” They propose what they think is a wise and accepting superficiality. By not trying to get to the bottom of things, one can get glimpses of the sacred from the surface of what they call “whoosh” moments—from the presence of charismatic persons to the shared excitement of a sports event. This last elation is sacred and unifying: So how can one make intelligent choices?

    There is no essential difference, really, in how it feels to rise as one in joy to sing the praises of the Lord, or to rise as one in joy to sing the praises of the Hail Mary pass, the Immaculate Reception, the Angels, the Saints, the Friars, or the Demon Deacons.

    Got that last one?

    Because Gary Wills didn’t either (and of course I didn’t, which is what you’d expect). The Demon Deacons are the Wake Forest football team!

    Christopher

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Christopher,

      Thanks for the link to that review. I agree with Wills. That book does sound ridiculous.

      But then what do you expect from Harvard? Their Arts and Humanities Department has been a joke for decades.

      Tom

  52. Mark said,

    April 5, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Christopher,

    I’ve checked out your links (though it’s not exactly hard to find evidence of Tom making an ass of himself… pretty much every time he trots out his tired, antiquated rants on the “New Critics” you know it’s going to be funny!)

    I feel I’ve overused the word “strawman” in this thread but sometimes there’s just no other word for it. Red herring is good, wee wee is, perhaps, even better (though I’m still partial to just calling it plain old “bullshit”).

    Still, this is why we have to patiently demand that Tom stands behind what he writes. We have to do this until our leg heals and we’re not totally bored all the time (I am, of course, using the royal “we” here)

    Tom refuses to stand behind what he writes and then declares himself victor when the person challenging him gets exasperbated, stops caring and leaves. This will not do. Remember that Tom responded to Jason’s comment in less than 3 hours but when I politely pose three direct, simple questions they go unanswered for 6 days. If Scarriet is to get better we must all hold his feet to the fire and “not let this unchecked aggression stand” (if we’re quoting from John Goodman roles in Coen Brothers movies, let’s at least pick one from a film that doesn’t suck :D )

    Part of me feels bad for Tom. He’s set whatever he imagines to be at stake far higher than it needs to be. His constant references to the “millions” of people who read poetry evince this delusion (it’s unfortunate that no one reads poetry but it’s undeniably true). I sense a lot of bitterness from him. I still admire his passion, though – if he learned how to formulate an argument he might really have something!

    Best,
    Mark

    PS – I like the Red Wheelbarrow too. Williams directly takes up the mantle of true Romanticism from Keats and Melville where beauty is truth and the truth is the absolute condition of present things as they strike the eye of the man who fears them not. All of Tom’s silly “Williams knew Pound and Pound knew Yeats and Yeats slammed Keats one time (even though he admitted great fondness for both Blake and Shelley) therefore all the Modernists hated all the Romantics” arguments can’t hold a candle!

  53. Poem support said,

    April 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Billy Collins Endorses Nikki

    At a party last night I saw
    A forty-something teacher and poet,
    Handsome, loofahed, barbered, LL Beaned,
    Listening politely as a pretty woman
    Enthusiastically recounted Nikki Giovanni’s scathing comments
    Dissing Condoleeza Rice:
    how Rosa Parks’s casket must have moved away
    from Rice’s touch,
    how is the best that Rice can do now,
    her a Birmingham girl who knew
    the families of those little girls,
    is carry water for George W. Bush?

    There was the kind of pause
    That lasts a beat too long until the poet said
    “Oh, yes, I agree,
    and I agree across the board with everything she said,”
    and shifted his weight
    from one tassled-loafered foot to the other,
    “but if it were me, I’d have to consider that I
    have got to get invited back.”

    In our local silence
    He scooped some crab dip
    On a cracker, and put it on his plate beside
    The chunk of Brie.
    We followed his gaze around the room,
    And saw a redoubt of foundation staffers,
    And his eyes,
    gently crinkled at their corners with his smile,
    Shone like two shiny nickles.
    He turned his back on us
    And walked toward them.

    Marcus Bales

  54. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Dear Bob,
    I know you’ve never been an editor, and have never suggested you were. But you did post up to 9 poems a day in March 2010, pushing all the ‘recent comments’ off the list so that visitors were unable to follow the debate (you’ve got 8 up right now!). Tom asked you in public not to post poems so frequently, and you reduced your contribution to the detritus piling up by maybe a third — down from 9 to 6. That left just just 3 spaces for debaters in the formatting at the time.

    Oh, and only once did you ever join the debate itself– c.f. above under ‘Sharon Olds.’

    In addition you were repeatedly asked by the regular contributors not only not to post so often but not to post irrelevant material (see here, and here, and here ). Unfortunately, you never seemed to grasp the distinction.

    And you still don’t — if a poet is mentioned by name anywhere in a post or a discussion you reach in the Google grab-bag and bring out a handful by the same moniker whatever they say.

    You now call it ‘Poem Support.’ I’d say it’s more poem suppository as it flushes cogency right out of the system!

    Christopher

    • Nooch said,

      April 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      I will fight no more forever—
      I can no longer carry it—
      It’s distracting me from glorifying
      Poems and poets at Scarriet!

  55. Mark said,

    April 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    I feel like this thread has suffered too much lateral movement (for which I am probably partly to blame alongside Tom’s cowardly avoidance) and dredged up too much old drama.

    There are some points I would like to address (Tom made some worse-than-usual nonpoints that I never got a chance to speak on) but it would be hard for me to organize an argument at this point. As such, I’ll be taking Tom to task on this thread: http://scarriet.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/final-contest-of-round-one-bukowski-takes-on-muske/

    I assure you all, his arguments are just as poorly rendered and all the points I have made still remain.

    However, if Tom decides to grow a spine and answer the three simple questions that he’s been avoiding for a whole week now I’ll be happy to re-engage this thread… I’ll post them again, just in case he forgot but I’ll be asking the same questions of Tom in the next thread, so stay tuned!

    “Mark said (a friggin’ WEEK AGO!):

    1) are you suggesting that your initial argument was based on “facts” (as you said earlier)? I think they’re based on strawman arguments and speculation. Do you disagree with that? If so, why?
    2) will you stand for a purely sentimental view of poetry when that excludes Chaucer and any number of narrative poems (not to mention Shakespeare… are you still suggesting that you know so much as to exclude works by the Bard for not meeting your definitions of what poetry is or is not?)?
    3) How do you justify disregarding the Maximus Poems without having read them? (I’m not even suggesting that Olson is a particularly successful poet, just that you shouldn’t comment on things until you’ve approached them with an open-mind and tried to understand them)”

    Man up, Tom
    If you refuse to answer questions you shouldn’t get to ask any

    Mark

  56. Wfkammann said,

    April 6, 2011 at 3:21 am

    The thought that there is something to adjust: a simple recalibration, just “maning up” or answering a few simple questions… No, no there’s no there there. You can’t substitute chutzpah for a rudimentary literary education. Catch Tom’s translation of Heine and you’ll see the bottom line.

  57. Mark said,

    April 22, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Tom,
    I fixed your article for you. Maybe this should go on the main page tomorrow:

    ~

    Every poet knows Thomas Graves knows nothing about poetry.

    Thomas Graves attacking Ron Silliman is nothing but a rankle: Tom is not popular, and he fears he never will be popular.

    Mark (another Scarriet poster like Graves) wrote of Tom’s argument:

    This whole post is so absurd…
    Just strawman after strawman.

    We ought to pause here and ask a simple question: why does Tom make up things and try to pass them off as facts?

    The answer is simple: because he’s a lazy hack.

    A poet who is far more popular than Graves, as instanced by Ron Silliman, may not have the thoughts and fears that Tom reports him to have and it’s true that Tom’s bad writing and his gossip-mongering go hand in hand.

    But if Thomas Graves is to ever have the popularity he so obviously want, he will need to stop writing such lazy, unfounded drivel. The public is smart enough to see through Tom’s rouse — good writing is the stuff of which the public’s interest is founded.

    If the public expects Thomas Graves to support his arguments and be more than a gossip columnist, should Scarriet refuse them? I shouldn’t be speaking of Scarriet as a group, since Tom has alienated everyone he’s ever worked with here, except to include Thomas Graves in that large group of poets who have no popular poems.

    It will not do to pretend that facts can be avoided (though on Scarriet they usually are), or to pretend a real answer to a pertinent question cannot be made except when one is making jokes at its expense. Tom will never be popular. A well-supported hypothesis is the clay, and how it is shaped makes all the difference; but when one attempts to deny the clay itself, one will inevitably be a bullshit artist and a gossip. Without facts you must resort to lies as Tom does.

    No excuses, such as “I don’t know what you mean when you say burden of proof”, are allowed.

    Scarriet is like a self-enclosed one-man tribe whose secret handshake is: ‘always use strawman arguments.’ He learned this because no one ever bothered to tell him that strawman arguments are bullshit and they don’t hold up. Meanwhile the real dragon, Bad writing, wounds him. Tom is pleased to have killed any debate with his cowardly tactics and petty whining.

    Thomas Graves opposes himself to Ron Silliman.

    But when you ask him a question he becomes so quiet himself.

    • Mark said,

      April 23, 2011 at 1:12 am

      I should add that I know what Tom thinks and fears because

      I’M IN HIS HEAD!!!
      That’s why I can speak on his behalf like this.
      :D

  58. Score Support said,

    April 23, 2011 at 2:25 am

    thomasbrady said,
    March 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    “Mark,

    “You’re still standing. Usually guests who come here and go toe-to-toe with me fade after a few punches.”

    then

    Mark said,
    March 31, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    “btw

    You say to me, ‘You’re going to exhaust yourself, and then quit our site forever.’

    “Was this your plan from the very beginning? To avoid responding to the concerns I’ve raised long enough that I’d get tired of trying and go away? Is that the level of discourse this blog seeks to foster?

    Are you trying to rope-a-dope me, Tom? I may be a dope but I assure you, sir, I am rarely roped…”

    .
    April 23, 2011

    ROUND TWO:

  59. Score Support said,

    April 23, 2011 at 2:32 am

    NOTE TO THE FIGHT PROMOTER

    We Refs are fed up with the BOLD font. You may have thought that it would obscure the intricacies of the fight, and make the audience less attentive. But it’s not funny anymore — indeed, it’s fucking insulting.

    PLEASE TELL TOM BRADY TO GET IN THERE AND FIX IT, AND IF HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO TO APPROACH WORDPRESS FOR SOME HELP.

    Score Support

    • Mark said,

      April 23, 2011 at 4:27 am

      This post was just for fun… I really do think it should make the main page. My argument is at least as solid as any other Scarriet argument I’ve ever seen.

      Really, I just wanted to bump this thread so that anyone following along with the About Scarriet thread could see that Tom was lying without having to dig too much.

      Round 2 is in the About Scarriet thread, Des. Tom is very much on the ropes. Enjoy

      Mark

    • Mark said,

      April 23, 2011 at 4:57 am

      Though I misspelled “ruse” which is bothering me a bit…

      I’d ask Tom to fix it for me but – even though Tom edits his own posts after the fact – I’m sure he wouldn’t do that…
      Plus I’d probably end up having to look it up on wiktionary for him and tell him what it means.

      Mark

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm

        Mark and Woodman want fixing…

        and Hieronymo’s mad againe…

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

      BOLD it will be.

      Sorry, Score Support.

      I think you’ll be Okay… (sheesh)

      • Mark said,

        April 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm

        But did you like the improvements I made to your article?

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm

        Improvements to my article?

        I just re-read my article, and it’s really quite a nice article, and it makes all my arguments for me.

        I almost regret my debate with you, Mawk, because you haven’t penetrated the fortress of my original argument at all. Your whole attack boils down to ‘how do you knooooow Silliman is jealous?’ I rather wonder now why I wasted my time with you on this particular issue.

        Our other debate: did the Leading Modernist Figures hate the Romantics had much more substance. I was leading 2-0 when you quit and began your silly campaign of asking that series of ‘have you stopped beating your wife? questions.

        You deserve credit for hanging in there with me, however. I respect a fighter, even as I pummel him, as I’ve pummeled you.

      • Mark said,

        April 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm

        “that series of ‘have you stopped beating your wife? questions.”

        I honestly don’t know what this means. It sounds like a dodge. A reductio ad absurdum so as to make the questions I’m asking you somehow invalid.

        It’s not working, son.

        The questions I’m asking are predicated on specific things you’ve specifically said. Should you be unaccountable for what you say?

  60. April 23, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Dear Tom,

    I think I may have inadvertently distorted this thread myself by failing to close the html code for BOLD in an earlier comment. Needless to say, I’m no longer an editor at Scarriet and assumed someone who is, like you, would go to thread and fix it.

    Here’s how I used to do it for you before you took over.

    1.) Go to “BEFORE THERE WAS BILLY COLLINS & TED KOOSER, THERE WAS EDGAR GUEST” –RON SILLIMAN”

    2.) Click on “edit” beside Comment #19.

    3.) Find the sentence: “It’s a common sentimental trick to refer to what you hate by code: Barack Obama becomes socialism, William James nitrous oxide. Etc.”

    4.) In edit mode it will show the html code-word “strong” as well, and you must modify that code by adding a slash before “strong” following the word “socialism” — like this /strong. That will close the Bold font in that comment — which otherwise remains open and bleeds on and on.

    O course, you must retain the arrows around “strong” so that WordPress will read it as html.

    That should restore the rest of the thread.

    If it doesn’t, go to WordPress Help.

    Please.

    Christopher

    • April 23, 2011 at 5:29 am

      Please add just one “/” before the “strong” that follows the word “socialism.”

      Just that one.

      Thanks.

      C.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm

      Ride, boldly, ride, if you seek for eldorado!

  61. Mark said,

    April 29, 2011 at 2:44 am

    I just looked up Edgar Guest on Wikipedia and found this excerpt from his work:

    It don’t make a difference how rich ye get t’ be’
    How much yer chairs and tables cost, how great the luxury;
    It ain’t home t’ ye, though it be the palace of a king,
    Until somehow yer soul is sort o’ wrapped round everything.

    Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born an’ then…
    Right there ye’ve got t’ bring em up t’ women good, an’ men;
    Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
    Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ living in it.”

    –Excerpt from “Home,” by Edgar Guest (1916)

    This is EXACTLY the sort of thing Billy Collins writes. This is EXACTLY the sort of “philosophy” Billy Collins relies on. If someone rendered this in Free Verse it would be indistinguishable from Collins.

    Mark

    • Mark said,

      April 29, 2011 at 2:49 am

      No wonder you didn’t bother comparing Collins to Guest, Tom. I thought it was just you being lazy but it turns out they’re the same guy!

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      Mock,

      You found ‘a theme,’ a broad, universal one, in a poem by Edgar Guest.

      This theme is universal, and thus probably exists in thousands, millions of poems.

      You then proclaim “this is exactly the sort of thing Billy Collins writes.”

      This is sheer stupidity. If ONLY Collins and Guest use this theme, then they are unique, since here is a universal theme used ONLY by Guest and Collins.

      If, on the other hand, millions of poems touch on this theme, Guest and Collins are NOT uniquely paired in this regard.

      Which is it, Mock?

      Sorry, you’ll have to do better than this if you are to rescue Silliman from the silliness of his remark.

      Tom

      • Mark said,

        April 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

        Oh

        So you CAN find this thread. You told me you cited multiple facts in the comments section – could you maybe post them for me? I can’t find them…

        Maybe you could copy-paste the link to this thread in the About Scarriet thread too…

        Mark

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 30, 2011 at 1:13 pm

        Now Mock has become a traffic cop and a boss! Now this is the Mock I like! A bossy mock who is a real man! LOL

        Mock…flat on his back: “I won! I won!” LOL

      • Mark said,

        April 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm

        I still don’t think asking you politely to do something that benefits us both is the same as being “bossy” or “a traffic cop.” Could you explain the logic you’ve used to arrive at this point. It was never my intention to boss you around. I’ve been asking politely for weeks.

        If you want to “fight” (LOL) then debate me. I’ve laid out the debate as clearly as I can.

        Mark

  62. April 29, 2011 at 3:14 am

    Actually, the Guest poem isn’t bad, especially considering the time in which it was written.

    Remember, every hackneyed cliché we now use was at one time an original thought. You can measure the contemporary against the past, but you can’t measure the past against the contemporary. What is now commonly known and obvious is a result of what was at one time new.

    • Mark said,

      April 29, 2011 at 3:30 am

      Gary,

      I actually agree with you. My point wasn’t to laugh at Guest.

      I’m inclined to think, from what I’ve read, that Billy Collins isn’t that bad a writer – just that he’s isn’t that good a poet.

      My point was simply that the lineage from the type of poetry expressed in that excerpt from Guest to the type of poetry I associate with Billy Collins is not that hard to discern.

      Mark

    • April 29, 2011 at 3:32 am

      To elaborate: criticizing the style and wording of a poem from 100 hundred years ago, which was composed in the linguistic and cultural circumstances of the time, is equivalent to criticizing our great-great grandparents for letting all that horse shit accumulate on the streets when all they had to do was jump in their Prius and drive into town.

  63. April 29, 2011 at 3:36 am

    Hey…my post was next! Quit cutting in line!
    :-)

    • Mark said,

      April 29, 2011 at 3:48 am

      You snooze you lose, Fitzgerald!

      But yeah, I agree. I’m not criticizing it. I’m saying what I’ve read by Billy Collins is a modern version of it.

      Admittedly, it’s not my cup o’ tea but I don’t think a statement that the two poets share a lineage can be summarily dismissed without any analysis.

      Mark

  64. April 29, 2011 at 4:03 am

    I’m not a fan of Collins or Guest, so I’ve got nothing to argue about here, damn it! I’m just going to go have another beer until you guys come up with something interesting.

  65. Mark said,

    April 29, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Balls in Tom’s court now…

    I think I might go pour myself another 2 fingers of Beam and do the same.

    • Mark said,

      April 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      B-U-M-P

      • Mark said,

        April 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm

        Fallen off the recent comments so…

        BUMP

  66. Mark said,

    April 30, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Mark said,
    April 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Fallen off the recent comments so…

    BUMP

  67. thomasbrady said,

    January 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Johnny,

    As Plato shows, most poetry and art is stupid (by the definition you provided) because it doesn’t use reason, but rather unreliable imitation and Emotion. The Socratic tradition of “knowing ignorance” is based on the idea that positive knowledge is impossible; that we can only know various types of stupidity: Ion, Phaedrus, etc. Surely you are not ignorant of this? You began by saying Silliman and Collins are stupid and implied I was stupid to waste my time on them, using Schopenhauer to support your case, by quoting that philosopher saying anyone who excuses the stupid “would be laughed at,” which you take to mean: the stupid should never be excused for being stupid. Which is all very well: please excuse my attempt to philosophize over your banality (and Schopenhauer’s). But now we’re back to the nub of the matter: defining stupid as it pertains to the poets in question. All you’ve done, Milk, is say that stupid is stupid; thanks for your examples; you’ve provided a list of names—and an adjective. But thanks for playing.

    Tom

    • Johnny Milkshake said,

      January 18, 2012 at 3:07 am

      Tommy Boy,

      I’m disappointed to discover what I’d already suspected: you’re a small minded poorly reasoned shit. Oh and how I was hoping for a bonafide fucking rebuttal!!! You’ve addressed none of my points not to mention having misinterpreted them. (And have also completely misunderstood both Plato and Socrates. I studied ancient Greek as an undergrad actually how ’bout that now oh yes.)

      Congrats on your mild mental retardation. Your poetry sucks ass.

      We need to get you laid pronto. Since I’m quite doubtful we’ll find any attractive women willing to sleep with you (get rid of the turtleneck or whatever-the-fuck-it-is for god’s sake), I guess I’ll have to bust your cherry personally. Do clean your poop shoot before we get started. I’m not at all a fan of fecal-coliform bacteria.

      Puckered Brown Licks To Ya,

      Johnny a.k.a. Recktum Rimbaud

  68. David said,

    January 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    “There is no great poem in our language which is simply happy…[e]nergy arises from a conflict…painful poems are best …

    Verily, verily. Poe has said essentially the same:

    Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation — and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

    It is this very dictum of Poe that has prompted me to undertake a translation of the Latin hymn Stabat Mater Dolorosa. Yet is it fair to characterize Collins’ poems as “simply happy”? I haven’t read enough of his work to say for sure, but I hesitate to make such a sweeping judgment on the basis of what I’ve read so far. By the same token, the conventional wisdom has misread Poe himself as essentially dark and morose.

    • Johnny Milkshake said,

      January 18, 2012 at 3:19 am

      Yeah I saw your work. Google fucking translator?!?!?!? How about learning the language? That’s exactly what I did. Get some damned flashcards bastard! Amo, amas, amat. I took Latin for two fucking excruciating years. Nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative. Quit being fucking lazy!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I don’t give a shit about happy, the point I was making is that there’s no goddamn tension in the lines!! His shit is weak as fuck. Doesn’t anyone who posts here own a set of brains?

      • David said,

        January 18, 2012 at 5:20 am

        You’re absolutely right, Johnny. I’m lazy and my “translation” is a piece of shit. That project is aborted and should never have been conceived. I kid you not. It’s done. But enough about me. If your tater pie is so big and hard, why don’t you slap it on the table? Show us your own poetry, if you’re such a literary demigod.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 18, 2012 at 11:07 am

        “tension????????” That old, hackneyed term??? “Tension??” LOL

        You’re a lightweight, quickly descending to crass insult.

        You poor slob.

        Again, thanks for playing.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 18, 2012 at 11:16 am

        Johnny Milkshake prefers the goo goo ga ga translator.

  69. thomasbrady said,

    January 18, 2012 at 1:35 am

    No, Collins’ poems are not “simply happy.”

    Collins is attacked for one reason and one reason only: he sells better than other poets.

    Because he is accessible and because he sells, his critics assume that because their poetry, or the poetry they like, is not popular, there must be something wrong with Collins.

    It is true that popularity should never be considered a sole proof of worth, but it should always give us pause and we should wonder at—rather than simply reject—what is popular, no matter how snobby we happen to be feeling.

    Milkshake used an example of McDonald’s v. sushi, but first, sushi is popular, and second, McDonald’s is popular for a very good reason: it’s a cheap and tasty way to get protein.

    Pop phenomenons are only ‘popular’ for a short time; real popularity implies a certain staying power, but bad things that are popular, even these have (hidden) reasons why they are popular; and trends or fads are certainly popular for a reason—there is a higher reason for why fads must be popular,and then fade.

    Popularity should never be simply dismissed as a criterion of worth, and certainly a poet—who wants to be read—should always earn praise for being popular. Those who fault Collins will always say, “I’m not condeming him becasue he’s popular,” but, in fact, they are. His popularity should make us look at closer at why he is so. Theft is popular, yet it is bad—yet the reason why theft is popular has nothing to do with its badness, but rather its goodness—to those who steal.

    Finally, we shouldn’t confuse content which is happy with that which makes us happy. It is a truism that the end of all existence is happiness.

    • allthatisthecase said,

      January 18, 2012 at 2:39 am

      Your bit about theft is very vague. Recuperation, for instance, is not particularly ‘good’. There is a vast difference in the poor stealing bread and the rich stealing from the poor, which is a shameful act.

      If you sincerely think that the only reason Collins is attacked is because he moves a lot of units there’s really no hope for you.

      • Johnny Milkshake said,

        January 18, 2012 at 3:24 am

        Got that from the Tractatus did you? You must be allergic to retards like I am.

    • Johnny Milkshake said,

      January 18, 2012 at 3:25 am

      You masturbate a lot, don’t you?

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 18, 2012 at 11:09 am

        All over you.

  70. Johnny Milkshake said,

    January 18, 2012 at 3:27 am

    P.s. Don’t beat it raw Tom, it can be painful.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 18, 2012 at 11:09 am

      poor soul. is your brain painful?

    • Johnny Moneyshot said,

      January 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

      Milkshake you intellectually retarded piece of bull excrement; Tenderly by Angela Sundstrom opens with the line

      “Fuck me now in pale-fire
      parking garages, against
      U-haul trucks and trellised
      fences that tread-mark skin,
      against Victorian lampposts
      that lull with their flicker,”

      … and continues in the same blah-blah-blah vein for another ten or so lines. You can read it on the Best American Poetry blog here.

      Notice the critical ‘conversation’ in the comment section; how dull and tepid it is. What you cannot read, because the Editor removed it soon after I wrote and posted it; is a response from you johnsomeone@hotmail.com, Milkshake:

      Jerking off in darkness a man on the Brownstone stoop
      pale algid cum pockmarked face dim backlane side-walker

      lured by lullabies advertizing trade beneath a streetlamp
      in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn & the Bronx Joan of Arc

      Rembrandt, Holderlin & Bacon

      Forgot the pod and watching whales in Oregan
      Forgot the pious & fraudulent smile, the baloney

      Theoretical semiotic babble of the most progressive kind

      geodic feet cystaline between thighs pistoning upward
      thunderous in storm upside down, profundity

      in the backseat of a Buick jerking off a Jersey john,
      prisioned by Leviathan leg-tide-board & skin-slick

      luna-like seal sparking from midnight til dawn
      flicker tread-fence come mark the garage fires

      unemployed online junkie with two thousand internet
      friends, U-haul truck lot blowing that rubber dick,

      jerk-off, God you are really getting on my tits

      “Fuck me now in pale-fire
      parking garages, against
      U-haul trucks and trellised
      fences that tread-mark skin,
      against Victorian lampposts
      that lull with their flicker”.

      Johnny Milkshake, it’s you isn’t it, the fuck-me doggerelist pretending ye nae fule de ro nae nonny.

      Fuck you Johnny Milkshake, Anonymous, and incredibly jealous editor of some underperforming rag in which no poetry apart that on life-support appears, because you cannot abide the idea of Johhny Moneyshot coming all over your shit. Twitch.

  71. thomasbrady said,

    January 18, 2012 at 11:15 am

    “there’s no goddamn tension in his lines!” —Johnny Milkshake

    LOL

  72. David said,

    January 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Good responses, Tom. You’ve given me courage to continue my humble project. If it’s shit, it’s shit. It’s a labor of love and I’ll trundle on. Here are a few more stanzas, Latin followed by my Google-assisted versions:

    Stabat Mater dolorosa
    iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
    dum pendebat Filius.

    Mother stands fast in agony,
    Choking sobs by the hanging tree,
    Where loving Son dangles dead.

    Cuius animam gementem,
    contristatam et dolentem
    pertransivit gladius.

    From her core there comes a groan
    of anguish, a most piteous moan,
    as by a blade her soul is bled.

    O quam tristis et afflicta
    fuit illa benedicta,
    mater Unigeniti!

    O siege of sorrow and affliction
    On this house of benediction,
    O blessed Mother of the One!

    Quae maerebat et dolebat,
    pia Mater, dum videbat
    nati poenas inclyti.

    Mary twisted inside and out,
    This Mother, holy and devout,
    Seeing the torture of her noble Son:

    Quis est homo qui non fleret,
    matrem Christi si videret
    in tanto supplicio?

    Being human, won’t you cry
    Seeing Mother of Christ most high
    Bent low by punishment so bitter?

    Quis non posset contristari
    Christi Matrem contemplari
    dolentem cum Filio?

    Would you feel no human feeling
    Seeing Lord Christ’s Mother reeling,
    His pain’s sharp echo burrowing in her?

  73. PK Hunter said,

    August 13, 2012 at 4:39 am

    I absolutely love Billy Collins. He’s not a pretentious “oh so deep” type of poem writer. FInally someone, like J Richardson, whom I can understand, and whose turns of phrase are clever, meaningful, accessible. Whoever said in the comments that Collins is “insincere” has no clue what he’s talking about, sorry. More than 85% of poetry being published today is idiotic, dense, and insincere.

    Anyway, I was led to this page by Google while searching for “poets like Billy Collins”. Any ideas or pointers?

  74. thomasbrady said,

    August 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Stephen Dunn resembles Billy Collins,too.

    There’s a whole host of poets who have a certain resemblance to Collins: the witty James Tate school.

    Collins is not always good, but of the whole crop he’s probably the best, and I’m not sure why so many readers resent Collins’ whimsical, self-effacing trope that sneaks up on the sublime in a homey way. It’s genius, and he’s very good at it.

  75. marcusbales said,

    August 15, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    George Bilgere http://www.georgebilgere.com/

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Wow, you’re right, Bales. How come I’ve never heard of this guy? I can see why Garrison Keillor loves him. I can see how Bilgere would offend both those who love Tennyson and those who love WC Williams. This poem by Bilgere is a Billy Collins homerun:

      Unwise Purchases

      They sit around the house
      Not doing much of anything: the boxed set
      Of the complete works of Verdi, unopened.
      The complete Proust, unread:
      The French-cut silk shirts
      Which hang like expensive ghosts in the closet
      And make me look exactly
      Like the kind of middle-aged man
      Who would wear a French-cut silk shirt:
      The reflector telescope I thought would unlock
      The mysteries of the heavens
      But which I only used once or twice
      To try to find something heavenly
      In the window of the high-rise down the road,
      And which now stares disconsolately at the ceiling
      When it could be examining the Crab Nebula:
      The 30-day course in Spanish
      Whose text I never opened,
      Whose dozen cassette tapes remain unplayed,
      Save for Tape One, where I never learned
      Whether the suave American
      Conversing with a sultry-sounding desk clerk
      At a Madrid hotel about the possibility
      Of obtaining a room,
      Actually managed to check in.
      I like to think
      That one thing led to another between them
      And that by Tape Six or so
      They’re happily married
      And raising a bilingual child in Seville or Terra Haute.
      But I’ll never know.
      Suddenly I realize
      I have constructed the perfect home
      For a sexy, Spanish-speaking astronomer
      Who reads Proust while listening to Italian arias,
      And I wonder if somewhere in this teeming city
      There lives a woman with, say,
      A fencing foil gathering dust in the corner
      Near her unused easel, a rainbow of oil paints
      Drying in their tubes
      On the table where the violin
      She bought on a whim
      Lies entombed in the permanent darkness
      Of its locked case
      Next to the abandoned chess set,
      A woman who has always dreamed of becoming
      The kind of woman the man I’ve always dreamed of becoming
      Has always dreamed of meeting,
      And while the two of them discuss star clusters
      And Cézanne, while they fence delicately
      In Castilian Spanish to the strains of Rigoletto,
      She and I will stand in the steamy kitchen,
      Fixing up a little risotto,
      Enjoying a modest cabernet,
      While talking over a day so ordinary
      As to seem miraculous.

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