HENRY GOULD TRIES TO UNDERSTAND AMERICAN POETRY—AND THE MAZE THAT IS MAZER

Ben Mazer.  Don’t let his demeanor fool you.  He’s funnier than Ashbery.

In a review of Ben Mazer’s Poems (Pen and Anvil Press, 2010) and John Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems (Canarium Press, 2010), Henry Gould begins:

If there is, or could be, a center of American poetry — a suspect, much-derided supposition — then John Ashbery, needless to say, lives at or near it. Ashbery: presiding spirit, native genius! That courtly gent, whose arctic blue eyes, disappointed mouth, and eagle beak, convened for the camera, curiously resemble portraits of T.S. Eliot in old age. Ashbery’s parasol-like plumage spreads a kindly shade over more recent laboring; his generous blurbs brighten the back pages of scores of advancing young upstarts. The work of two of the most promising, Ben Mazer and John Beer, reveal a substantial debt to their mentor — combined with the influence of an earlier poet, lurking behind both as he does behind Ashbery: that is, yes, Eliot, old Possum himself.

Gould is correct: Eliot and Ashbery are the templates of all modern poetry; one hardly has to talk about anyone else.  Sure, one could discuss 19th century French poetry, or Elizabethan verse, or yammer on about Whitman, or go off on some insane Poundian tangent, or scream, What about women poets?   Or, talk about the modern or post-modern age.  Cars!  World War One!  Movies!  Airplanes!  TV!  The bomb!  The pill!  Parody! The internet!  But what would be the point?  E. and A. already contain these things.  Eliot has already been where you are going—in the past, and in the future.  Your one advantage over Eliot, reader, is the present—but if only we could find it.  I’m afraid we must make do with the “arctic blue eyes” and the “disappointed mouth” and the “eagle beak” of E. and A. for another century, or two.

Let’s be real simple for a moment: Shakespeare wrote about life; Keats wrote about feelings for life; since the grammaphone replaced Keats and the movies replaced Shakespeare, poets have nowhere to go but into parody, beginning with Eliot’s “a patient etherized upon a table” and “I grow old/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” and, finishing with Ashbery’s parody of parody.  Gould:

John Beer and Ben Mazer together diagram a paired dissociative offshoot from Eliot and Ashbery. Beer’s poetic stance radiates bitter, self-canceling ratiocination, whereas Mazer’s stance represents unaccountable, free-floating emotion. Beer mimes a sardonic, midwestern Baudelaire, while Mazer seems primed with Keatsian negative capability.

Beer and Mazer are offshoots; one is “bitter” and the other “unaccountable.”  Parody is not always so—Shakespeare was a parodist of Dante—but in minor poets, “bitter” or “unaccountable” are the two forms the imitation inevitably takes.  Mr. Beer and Mr. Mazer are not gardens, or even plants, but tendrils growing from a larger plant—in the garden of American Poetry where Gould, the reviewer, is an even-tempered and faithful gardener.

Gould seems more interested in Mazer.  If this passage from Beer (indeed, ‘small beer’) which Gould quotes is any indication of Beer’s ability, we can see why:

With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
I can smell the different perfumes,
The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France,
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth
And rain, the blood-rose living in its smell…

This is pure trash—far below Eliot.  Eliot never wrote milk-and-water phrases full of throw-away words, like: “With the smell of…”, “I can smell the different…”, “The smell whereof shall breed a plague…”  Beer is not even in Mazer’s league, much less Eliot’s, and we need not discuss Beer further.

Gould on Mazer is good:

In a jackhammer world that glorifies the transparent, the obvious, the literal, and polemical above all, the practice of this patient mode of symbolic representation is a lonely battle. Mazer reveals his discouragement: or rather, he mimes discouragement and near-despair. His heroes are sacred victims, like Hart Crane and Weldon Kees; he has an affinity for the disaffected Ashbery, to whom I believe he alludes obliquely (I could be mistaken) in these comically-botched lines (from an ambivalent fan letter?) in “Death and Minstrelsy”:

Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.

Gould doesn’t know Mazer as I know him—Gould writes that Mazermimes discouragement and near-despair,” but Mazer’s “near-despair” is genuine; there is no miming; Mazer is certainly capable of mimicry, but Mazer really does mourn Hart Crane as a tragic, long-lost brother, and there’s nothing fake about it.  Otherwise in the passage just quoted above, Gould gets Mazer down cold.  I agree with Gould—those lines he quotes from Mazer have Ashbery written all over them, and I will add that 1) Mazer is perhaps the only living poet who can do Ashbery as well as, or even better than, Ashbery, 2) the “moderate admirer” lines are screamingly, achingly funny, 3) Mazer was not being intentionally funny when he wrote those lines—in fact, he probably wrote the lines out of indignation and hurt, since Mazer genuinely loves most contemporary poets (he is not hyper-critical, in  the least—in fact, his spirit is quite the opposite) which 4) goes to show that Mazer’s genius does have a puzzling aspect that catches Gould somewhat off-guard.

Gould is one of the best critics writing today: sharp, witty, worldly.  He is a tad too much in love with own cleverness, though; he struggles admirably against his own tendency towards self-conscious hipsterism.  He is not quite as good as Logan, even though he’s much more likeable.  Logan, however, would never be tempted to write of Ashbery this way:

Ashbery emerged in the 1950s, in tandem with the ascent of U.S. hegemony on the world stage. This was an America moving toward historical apex: a coalescence of technological-ideological certitude and might, in an atmosphere fraught nevertheless with extreme stress (think Dachau; Hiroshima; Cold War). In the poetry realm, it was a golden age of criticism. The New Critics, impelled by the same Faustian drives which haunted the culture at large, saw in the figure of Eliot a model, above all, of masterful knowledge and control. Eliot’s aphorism, that “the only method is to be very intelligent”, was inverted to suggest that intelligence was, indeed, a method — the method — and the project was to methodize it further: an intellectual instauration. The well-made poem, that autotelic object, was offered as a model of perfection: of feeling perfectly objectified in art; of beauty technically refined in verse. There was something in these formulae reminiscent of the smug certainties of the Restoration, of a Dryden “smoothing out” the rough-hewn lines of Shakespeare. It was the rationalism of a time wrung dry by civil strife, more comfortable with mild truisms than with debate. Method and craft produced the polished poem, just as American know-how built the superhighway system.

Ashbery, according to Gould, is a poet who “emerged in the 1950s,” along with the might of the post-war United States, and the “Some Trees” poet is finally likened (by way of the New Critics and Eliot) to the “American know-how [that] built the superhighway system.”  The superhighway system is the efficient working thing of the New Critics, who “saw in the figure of Eliot a model;” — “intelligence” was Eliot’s ultimate guide to complex, functioning modernity, with Ashbery the road, and Eliot, the pylon.

Gould’s view is superficial and too contemporary, a sign of po-biz’s continual shrinking understanding of history.  The New Critics did not find Eliot—they were an extension of him; Eliot’s early essays were the blueprint of New Criticism, and Eliot, in turn, was influenced by the James family: Henry James advocated intelligence as the ultimate aesthetic measure (a formula, finally, of empty-headed snobbery and entitlement) long before Eliot, and William James (who taught Gertrude Stein) had transformed Harvard into a modernist citadel with his nitrous oxide pragmatism before Eliot arrived there.  W.H. Auden was writing Ashbery poems of wry obscurity in the late 1920s. Paul Engle, with his Yale Younger, his Masters Degree of his own poetry, and his Rhodes scholarship, launched the Creative Writing Program era with the help of the Rhodes Scholar New Critics, Tate, Ransom, Warren, and Brooks; Pound’s euro-frenzy and Williams‘ wheel barrow would land safely in American universities, and Englishmen like Ford Madox Ford and Auden would cross the Atlantic to teach writing in America, the latter famously delivering the Yale Younger to Ashbery.  Our MFA students today have only a Wiki-knowledge of New Criticism (if that)—they know the head, but not the feet, of the business.

Ignorant of the motives and actions of these men—first Fugitives, then racist Southern Agrarians, then New Critics, and then Creative Writing mavens, we end up saying impossibly quaint and silly things like “Ashbery emerged in the 1950s” and he resembles a “superhighway system.”   The New Critics (with Paul Engle) were far more important for what they did on a practical basis than for what they thought.  We don’t need the metaphor of a superhighway system when we have the reality of a super writing program system.

With history’s oxygen dwindling in the MFA classroom, the trapped poets with their Wiki-knowledge produce increasingly light-headed nonsense, “miming” as Gould puts it, the  “discouragement or near-despair” of an existence which fosters the inevitable human tragedies of drunken, Creative Writing profs who litter the 20th century, like Berryman, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Roethke, and Ted Hughes, or, rather,”comically-botched” lines:

Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.

Mazer is an intuitive and emotional poet, not an intellectual one—which is why these lines are funny; funny in a good way.

Post-modern poetry doesn’t think.  It reacts. 

(One day we will begin to see that Ashbery’s work does not spring from mirth, so much as guilt, sadness, paranoia, myopia, and depression.)

Sincere passion, made by a Byron or a Shelley or a Tennyson, is out.  And so is their music.  Mazer, in his fleeting Ashbery moods, is the best we’ve got now.

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39 Comments

  1. Henry Gould said,

    January 31, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I think you misread one passage of the review. I wrote that the technical perfectionism of NC’s – who took the notion of “method” from their partial misreading of Eliot – was “Faustian”, & paralleled the engineering of the 50′s superhighway system. It was to this trend that I said Ashbery provides a sharp break and CONTRAST. I never identified Ashbery with the “superhighway” trend – much the reverse.

    But otherwise, thank you for your careful reading of my essay….

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm

      Thanks for correcting me, Henry. Since you had Eliot standing behind and influencing Ashbery, I assumed Ashbery was part of that “1950s/superhighway/New Criticism” schematic. Ashbery was picked by Auden in the 1950s, but Ashbery really came into his own in the 1970s, when he won all those major awards—by the 1970s, “Earth Day” was in, and “Superhighway System” very much out. (The Southern Agrarians would have approved of “Earth Day,” if not the New Critics) Tom

      • Henry Gould said,

        January 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        Yes, thanks Tom. In fact the whole essay pivots on the idea that Eliot & Ashbery represent something (poetic) in the “mind of the West” which RESISTS “instrumental reason”, technocracy, etc. Poetry’s deep “main stream.”

        As for Ashbery’s date of “emergence” : well, this is but a minor quibble, but I’d say he emerged when Auden anointed him a Yale Younger Poet, in the early 50s.

  2. Zachary Bos said,

    January 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    There’s much to appreciate here; many thanks.

  3. David said,

    January 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Tom,

    Off topic, you recently mentioned on John Gallaher’s blog that you’re gleaning insights into Shelley’s poetry from a close reading of his atheistic philosophy. I’d like to hear more of what you have to say on that subject. Perhaps you can elaborate in a separate post?

    David

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      David,

      Yes, maybe I will..

      I’m an agnostic: maybe-there’s- a-God-and-a-heaven-who-knows? la de da —but Shelley is so single-minded and fanatical (and convincing!) in his atheism that he makes me—not religious—uncomfortable, and yet I admire the singularity and tenacity of his reasoning. And I can’t help but believe—I feel—that his poetry is precisely as it is because of the way he asserts himself philosophically; I’m not quite sure if what really matters is the way he asserts his beliefs—not what those beliefs are:—maybe they are, for Shelley, (or for those who reason like him) almost the same?

      Tom

  4. jrb said,

    January 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    I keep my countenance,
    I remain self-posessed
    Except when a street-piano, mechanical and tired
    Reiterates some worn-out common song
    With the smell of hyacinths across the garden (“Portrait of a Lady”)

    I know how the man feels. JB

  5. Mark said,

    January 31, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Mazer gets drunk and smokes a lot a poet and says “I’m the greatest poet that ever lived!” over and over. True Story.

    He really is wonderful poet, and quite handsome as well. He looks generally contemptuous, but are his eyes surgical blue? How great of a poet *is* he?

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      I smoke poet, too!

      And yes Mark I agree he’s a wonderful, wonderful poet…

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 1, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      Bar room Brits?

  6. M said,

    January 31, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Um, Beer is, of course, quoting Eliot when he writes “with the smell of hyacinths across the garden.” So I suppose TSE did write one milk-&-water phrase?

  7. thomasbrady said,

    February 1, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Compare these two passages—the second is the real thing. The fact that they share a line only points up the superiority of the one over the other. “With the smell of…I can smell the…the smell whereof..” is what I was objecting to, not the single line, “With the smell of hyacinths across the garden.”

    With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
    I can smell the different perfumes,
    The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France,
    And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth
    And rain, the blood-rose living in its smell…

    I keep my countenance,
    I remain self-posessed
    Except when a street-piano, mechanical and tired
    Reiterates some worn-out common song
    With the smell of hyacinths across the garden

  8. Eliot Gould said,

    February 1, 2012 at 2:28 am

  9. February 1, 2012 at 3:42 am

    The broken link above the John Holt youtube, I was testing to see if Soundcloud files would appear as youtubes do, but as you can see there is no recording of me reading pages 60 something from Anthony Cronin’s 1976 memoir Dead as Doornails, in which he brings to the page reality in a most memorable and vivid display.

    The bit you would have heard should my attempt at making Soundcloud files appear here have been successful, is a recounting of his time with Behan in 1954 Paris at the end of their short-lived Grand Tour.

    During the course of the day, however, Brendan came up with another of his startlingly original ideas, almost comparable to the foreign legion, or the political sanctuary, or the Foreign Legion.

    We would hitch-hike to Rouen, from which port the boats owned by the Irish shipping company sailed regularly. On one of these we would stow away. When the ship was irrevocably at sea we would reveal ourselves, appeal to the racial compassion of all concerned and, having successfully elicited it, arrive in Ireland of the welcomes hail, fresh and hearty after a salubrious sea voyage.

  10. February 1, 2012 at 4:00 am

    ‘Once more I fell in with the plan of the master. Whatever the degredations attached to stowing away, and I fancied there would be more than Brendan in his enthusiasm bargained for, we had very little alternative. Whilst we discussed the matter Brendan suggested that he might get money for the journey to Rouen from a lady writer with whom he had become acquainted during his first visit to Paris. Is it possible that it was Simone de Beauvoir, or is it only the imagination of retrospect that suggests that to me?

  11. February 1, 2012 at 5:05 am

  12. David said,

    February 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

    Believable.

    I can smell the different perfumes,
    The smell whereof shall breed a plague in France,

    Not so much.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      David,

      Shelley’s poetry for me is pure musicianship. To play great music, you have to be very physical. Any musican knows how physical the playing of music is.

      I think Shelley’s atheism provided that uncompromising physical component of his poetry’s mental life, so that it allows Shelley to express himself powerfully in a purely musical manner; it is in his music that he finds that beauty which literarlly ‘saves’ him as an unbeliever, and his morality (ever-present) flows not through ‘ought’ or ‘must’ but in his very expression, since his sensuality is not amoral but philosophical in the highest sense.

      Tom

  13. David said,

    February 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Tom,

    I agree concerning the pure musicality of Shelley’s verse. However, I don’t quite understand how an intellectual stance (whether it be atheism or Catholicism) provides a physical component to poetry. Is it perhaps the spiritual conviction (not necessarily the specific content of that conviction) that lends “muscle” to the music?

    David

  14. David said,

    February 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Wagner comes to mind. His philosophy is abhorrent to me, yet his music moves me like no other.

  15. David said,

    February 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Tom,

    What do you think of Geoffrey Hill? I had never heard of him until today. He’s made news by chastising Britain’s Poet Laurette for likening poetry to texting. Loved that. Looked him up on Poetry Foundation. I’m liking him.

    David

    Picture of a Nativity
    By Geoffrey Hill

    Sea-preserved, heaped with sea-spoils,
    Ribs, keels, coral sores,
    Detached faces, ephemeral oils,
    Discharged on the world’s outer shores,

    A dumb child-king
    Arrives at his right place; rests,
    Undisturbed, among slack serpents; beasts
    With claws flesh-buttered. In the gathering

    Of bestial and common hardship
    Artistic men appear to worship
    And fall down; to recognize
    Familiar tokens; believe their own eyes.

    Above the marvel, each rigid head,
    Angels, their unnatural wings displayed,
    Freeze into an attitude
    Recalling the dead.

  16. David said,

    February 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Back to my comment about Wagner. There is no doubt that Wagner poured his racist, anti-Christian philosophy into his musical compositions, yet what pours forth out of the performance of those compositions is not Wagner’s philosophy (thank God), but Wagner’s MUSIC. Something similar can be said, I think, about the way that Shelley poured his passionate (and misguided) atheism into the music of his finest poetry.

  17. Des said,

    February 2, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Sir Geoffrey Hill’s poetic heartbeat at the innermost Machevelian center of contemporary English verse, drew the light of speculative public attention to itself with his third collection, at the age of thirty-seven, Mercian Hymns (1971).

    At this point he had been teaching English literature at Leeds university in the upper-middle North of England, at the centre of Britain, for seventeen long and enjoyably rewarding, intellectual and emotional years. Hill himself was born in Bromsgrove and, from the age of six, was reared in nearby Fairfax, both in Worcestershire, a county in the heart of middle England.

    Previously, in the Dark Ages, Hill’s home ground had been part of what was then Mercia, one of the five kingdoms of England in the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy period that lasted for five hundred years from the withdrawal of the Romans in the late third century, to the Norman Conquest of what became, after 1066: England.

    On this one collection Hill’s contemporary reputation rests. Its name is all one need to know of Hill to be aware of the title on which his greatness resides. He’d been toiling away at a lectern in the provincial headquarters of intellectual Leeds Yorkshire life for 17 years, prior to his third collection hitting a chord with the critical reviewing section of a mainstream in the media poetry collectives and support centers for to have it within a capacity to make more famous the thing for which young Geoffrey’s verses first gained warm and stunning approval.

    Across the board. From the very well educated religion and English graduates in whose church Sir Geoffrey was first schooled in the art of civilization, to less fortunate, uneducated colleagues in the English speaking citizenry sharing paired the enfolding half-part to half-part bit of jiggery pokery and hocus pocus, voodoo twaddle and the logical positivism mystically mined, thinking (again) this morning, what few past hours slowly slurping Polish lager back and wondering how to shove in this song, by a singer I heard for the first time the other morning after switching on Colbert Nation and seeing Newt bear his special brand of human kindness, truth, transparency and intellectual benevolence, being well rounded, full of ideas and expressing them such that a professor emeritus of American religion, literature and history, combine to form a co-director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University, the most distinguished poet of your generation, June 2012 s/he was elected Professor of Poetry in the University of Media Solutions Inc, a small corporation available for grudge-work, black-ops, deniable missions, domestic and international terror expert assembling the foundations, mining, digging in the exploratory exercise of thought one had before arriving at the decision to run.

    I am considered to be among the finest liars currently alive and decieving you all in English, because that’s the kinda newt I like, a tadpole prince turning America around, burning the worst of the abusers and extending the opportunity of lunar relocation for the good and greatness of this pround and loving land I am willing to lie for.

  18. thomasbrady said,

    February 2, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Geoffrey Hill is so boring and banal to my taste I suspect his reputation is all a Monty Python joke or something…

    My favorite Mazer poem (speaking of writing like Eliot and Ashbery) is “Divine Rights,” which can be found in Fulcrum 5.

    Just a terrific poem: strange, haunting, funny, a parody, yet not a parody…

    “Divine Rights” gets my vote.

  19. Des said,

    February 2, 2012 at 3:15 am

    It’s a pity more people don’t worship the same stuff Sir Geoffrey’s incredibly immense mind does. Custodian of Albion lore, a meddler peddling onward and upward to the comedic central no fuck zone druidically hinting at a skeleton hidden within the purest Arthurian system of knowing, supporting a poetic residential taste, discernment and preference, opining on what’s unknowable and wholly academic . The breath left Sir Geoffrey’s bag of wind and wound itself around the uppermost bough on which a laurel crown draped elegance and graceful, proprtionate and eloquent, four quadrants on the qualitative sweep across what face clock divinity and time creates, spiritual prowess of the all anonymous best in the all albion live poetry championships scheduled to happen soon, when the titans are released Tatras stomach and Gades freezes over for Tuatha and Gannymeadian medway belts of sheer unstoppable southern esturay english accents asking of their hosts: What Time by the River is Mine, (Ken Dodd) Knotty Ash’s finest comic and most successful door-to-ddor salesperson, his heritage and church of first worship a coal delivery business from which Dodd strode as boldly as possible, into the wood of our urban world where everything for sale is surreality itself. Dodd knows that. He is England’s finest stand-up, An octogenarian comic whose been in professional titterment since the start of the second world war.

    His shows are legendary for their length. He jokes about having to lock the audience in and listen to him. The famous story about Dodd is how stagemanagers had to, literally, turn the house lights on and tell the few left listening, to go home because it’s 3 O’Clock in the morning and Dodd had just done a six hour epic show, extemporzing a good four hours over his alloted time.

    There’s a fascinating profile of Dodd in which he recounts his working method, that began in the notebooks he carried around to record the purchases on his door-to-door rounds; and from them flowered a legendary seventy years practice in the comic art; attaining nobility through being who he is.

  20. Ken Dodd said,

    February 2, 2012 at 4:09 am

    ‘The first five seconds, the first two seconds are very important, when you come on, ha ha by jove!, and they say, well he can’t do us any harm can he?

    And so it’s this idea, you’ve gotta make freinds of your audience right away, and then they trust you with their minds. And then you can more or less start then by tickling their minds, juggling with concepts; then you really turn them upside down, inside out, so that when they come out of the theatre they really feel as if they’ve been through some kind of an emotional wringer. It is, it’s very theraputic.

    When I turned professional; then I’d been a salesman up till then, and I thought what am I selling? Well I’m selling jokes, I’m selling laughter, what is a laugh? So I started going round libraries and reading all the books I could on humor, all the philosophers and psychologists and showmen. Aristotle said all humor was based on ugliness and distortion, that humor was like a buckled mill wheel, er Freud said that er, humor was, er, economy of psychic energy; but as I’ve said before, the trouble with Freud is that he never played second house Friday night at Glasgow Empire.

    ~

    The more you study humor, there are probably about between twelve and fifteen formulas for humor, and their are reasons, psychological reasons why a human being, who is the only animal, by the way, that does laugh, I mean animals don’t laugh. When was the last time you heard a tom cat saying by jove, that was a good un? Dogs wag their tales and er, monkeys do terrible things cos they’re bald both ends.

    Er, I think of it in terms of trying to sort of will them into seeing it my way. Seeing this particular object or this subject from another angle. I mean, why shouldn’t your legs talk to each other, in bed? Why shouldn’t your legs get lonely, encased in the dark all day? Why shouldn’t you have a mouth on the top of your head?

    So you can eat a bacon sandwich on your way to work

    …walking with brolly and baseball cap, in a time far off and range now bowler pitching balls and blundering

    I like to give good value. I like the laughs to come. And of course there’s a roll-up on er, a roll-up technique… I always wanted to be different, you see I never wanted to be the same as anybody else, I was gonna be, originally I was gonna be the comic that never told a gag. I dunno how, I think what I meant was I wanted to be a clown. Even as a kid I used to do things differently. I used to walk backwards to school. It was only down the road. I’ve got a big lump on the back of my head to prove it, when the lampost was in the way. I always wanted to do something different.

    I did a bit of acting, er, Shakespeare. I had my own show at the Royal Court in Liverpool and er, a man called Anthony Tucky from the Playhouse, sent for me one day and aid would you be interested in doing a play; I said oh, er Hobson’s Choice perhaps? I think I’d fit in there. Erm, no, he said Shakespeare. Oh I said, yes, one of the clowns? He said no, not the clowns, he said Malvolio in Twelfth Night,

    You’ll be adlibbing all over the pace, you’ll never learn the lines.

    What do you think I am, an idiot? Just because I play the fool on the stage, you know it comes as a bit of a shock to you that people will imagine that you walk round going by jove missus. Of course I can discipline myself.’

  21. thomasbrady said,

    February 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Des,

    You put on a good show.

    Ken Dodd is a pleasant, funny chap. LIke him, and like the way he explains humor.

    Geoffrey Hill —”Greatest living…”custodian of albion lore…” oh…poppycock. You can ‘ave ‘im!

    Tom

  22. David said,

    February 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I have no experience with Ashbery’s poems, so cannot comment on any likeness to Mazer, but I think that this one by Mazer is lovely:

    Epilogue

    It is youth that understands old age
    and your repulsion is but a projection
    an image of the loathing you obtain.
    I’ve seen the fall come in and think I shall
    follow each leaf that winds about the house
    to where you stutter, the end of the tether
    where grace walks through the bridal foliage
    and no one could mistake you for another.
    After that, they are only leaves to burn.
    And when the flowers burst upon the rain
    the roofs shall keep their solemn gentle witness
    far from the young men who travel far
    to fill their noses with the autumn air.
    Daybreak is decent as awakening.
    And love is gentle, though he is no scholar.
    What if I filled my notebook with his words
    sketched suddenly with no least hesitation
    would she return to him when it came fall
    or would she sink into a bitter winter
    not even counting the blossoms that are gone.
    How many times the autumn rain recurs
    to wind about the river in the evening
    or fall like one great ocean in the dawn.
    No matter, he has had enough of her
    and leaves his youth in hope of something better.
    A drop expresses all the flooding water,
    the wind instills the trees with sentiment,
    and no one, no one can reverse the patter
    of the darkness that’s enclosed within.
    It stares across the city in the dawn
    and cannot wake these shrouds of memory.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 2, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks, David, I think that poem is lovely, too. (Is there a comma after ‘projection’ in line two?)

      Better than Ashbery…more beautifully coherent…

      Oh, and eat your heart out, Geoffrey Hillbilly…

  23. Ken Dodd said,

    February 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    no one, no one can reverse the patter
    of the darkness that’s enclosed within.
    It stares across the city in the dawn
    and cannot wake these shrouds of memory.

    It is not old age that understands youth,
    your projection, but a repulsion
    of the loathing you obtain, the image
    I’ve seen of fallen thought that you shall
    follow, each leaf that winds about the house
    to where you stutter, the end of the tether
    where grace walks through the bridal foliage
    and no one could mistake you for another.

    no one, no one beside the agent foreclosing on a ragged beat poet growing old.

    Nobody. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen to anybody
    besides the forelorn rags of growing old

    After that, they are only leaves to burn.

    In Iowa I know by now that children must be crying
    in the land where they let the children cry

    And when the flowers burst upon the rain
    the roofs shall keep their solemn gentle witness
    far from the young men who travel far
    to fill their noses with the autumn air.

    And tonight the stars’ll be out, and don;t you know that God is pooh-bear

    Daybreak is decent as awakening.

    the ev’nin’ star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler
    dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night

    And love is gentle, though he is no scholar
    ‘that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers’.
    .
    What if I filled my notebook with his words
    ‘cup the peaks and fold the final shore in’
    sketch suddenly with no least hesitation
    ‘and nobody, nobody knows what’s gonna happen…’

    would she return to him when it came fall
    or sink into bitter winter not even counting the blossoms
    that are gone.

    How many autumns before rain returns
    to create rivers that run dry without it

    disappear

    in the evening
    or fall like one great ocean at dawn
    ‘a ragged moth-eaten overcoat he brought specially
    for the freezing temperatures of the East.’

    No matter instills a spirit enough of her and leaves this
    youth in hope of something better. A dropping of 2012

    Super PAC attack ads expressing inelegantly, the wind
    flooding hate insipired America the Brave lying for uncle

    Sam’s sentiment and shared sense of what it means
    Mozzer a dour Manc troubador singing his English heart
    out Mazer mate making things up as you go along.

    What ‘she’ is it in your poem above that I have speculatively explored as a first step in deciding whether or not to adopt a poetical position favourable to the person in your Epilogue speaking of ‘she’ who is, one can only assume, by the overt grammatical meaning subdued in the narrative syntactic whateverness of whatever it is being communicated

  24. David said,

    February 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    (Is there a comma after ‘projection’ in line two?)

    I wondered the same thing. There’s no comma in the version posted here:

    http://therumpus.net/2010/04/national-poetry-month-day-13-epilogue-by-ben-mazer/

    I haven’t been able to find another version online.

  25. thomasbrady said,

    February 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    “Picture of a Nativity
    By Geoffrey Hill

    Sea-preserved, heaped with sea-spoils,
    Ribs, keels, coral sores,
    Detached faces, ephemeral oils,
    Discharged on the world’s outer shores,

    A dumb child-king
    Arrives at his right place; rests,
    Undisturbed, among slack serpents; beasts
    With claws flesh-buttered. In the gathering

    Of bestial and common hardship
    Artistic men appear to worship
    And fall down; to recognize
    Familiar tokens; believe their own eyes.

    Above the marvel, each rigid head,
    Angels, their unnatural wings displayed,
    Freeze into an attitude
    Recalling the dead.”

    David, what are you seeing/hearing/feeling here? I only discern limp verse with a hint of pretense. If there’s anything interesting in the imagery, the dullness of the rhythm counteracts the pleasure. We’ve come so far from Shelley… (sigh)

  26. David said,

    February 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Tom,

    The impression that Hill left on me was fleeting, has flown. As I said, I had never heard of him before yesterday. It was a passing enthusiasm — this happens as I jump from poet to poet, making up for lost time. Mazer, on the other hand, who left a somewhat dull first impression, has rewarded re-reading.

    Speaking of Shelley, I’m keen to hear your reaction to my “theory” about the influence of philosophy on poetry and music. I’m not sure if it makes sense, but it’s helping me in my approach to Shelley.

    David

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm

        Thank you, R.

        Geoffrey Hill is taking the pretentious “difficulty” road against Duffy, the same one built by the pedantic New Critics about 75 years ago.
        Ransom, Tate, Brooks—and Robert Penn Warren was especially dogged member of this school.

        This crap needs to be exposed and taken down.

        You’ve given me an idea for a post.

        Thanks!

        Tom

        • David said,

          February 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm

          Tom,

          It was that very article that led to my brief enthusiasm for Hill last week. I thought (and still think) that Hill was right to take issue with Duffy’s texting-is-poetry foolishness, but I also recall that a red light went off in my head when he praised “difficult” poetry.

          David

        • R said,

          February 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

          Have at it, Tommy.

          I’d not the “moral courage” to write as either of them.

          R


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