FROM AROUND THE POETRY WEB, PART ONE

Gary Fitzgerald

Gary B. Fitzgerald: The life of  John Gallaher’s blog?

Is John Gallaher’s blog losing steam?  We thought so, until recently, but then a week ago John asked a general academic question of his readers and Gary B. Fitzgerald responded with one of his published and copyrighted poems.

The fun began right away.

Gary, would you mind not posting your own poems in these comment fields? It’s an incredibly annoying form of graffiti.

When censorship bubbles up from below, will it not be long before a censorial diktat arrives from above?

Gary wondered how poets could reject poetry.  He speculated that if John Ashbery posted one of his own poems on the comments thread to Gallaher’s blog, the hypocrites, instead of objecting, would bow and scrape.

But Gary got pummeled:

You may have noticed, Gary, that a lot of poets do post here, and they all show the common courtesy to refrain from using someone else’s blog discussion to post their own work.

You insist that your work is relevant to the discussion. People have been telling you for years they disagree. That’s all you need to know. It doesn’t matter that you’re deaf to the explanations, of which there have been dozens.

Perhaps the objector is right.  “Common courtesy” is goodness, morality, and common sense all wrapped up in one.  How can Gary not see that if everyone used Gallaher’s blog to post their work, discussions would suffer? 

Further, Gallaher expects visitors to participate in discussions of his articles on his blog; to use Gallaher’s blog to publish one’s work is at cross-purposes with the blog’s owner; thus Gary Fitzgerald posting his poetry on John Gallaher’s blog insults Gallaher. Why can’t Gary see this?  He can, evidently, but Gary’s need to see his poetry in print—and read by others—overcomes him.

But there’s another reason—which none may have considered but some perhaps implicitly understand—why Gary’s actions are offensive.  If, let’s say, Gary’s poems are pertinent to the discussion, this will offend most contemporary poets, who do not write poems of moral sagacity—which can be plugged into discussions willy-nilly; it would be like a rock station suddenly playing a piece of baroque classical music; it just wouldn’t fly, in purely social terms.

Gary is not aware of how not cool the poem of didactic usefulness is today.  This, we feel, is the great unspoken reason for the abuse heaped on Gary—for all the talk of the other reasons.

The poem of didactic use is a pariah in sophisticated circles, for deeply fundamental philosophical reasons that are counter-intuitive, and thus not understood by even the gaudy sophisticates themselves, never mind the mass of men.

Gary, of course, will respond indignantly that his poems are beautiful as well as instructive—in fact, that’s the whole point, that’s what makes them poetry, and thus his poems, he feels, have a God-like reason for existing, and their existence on a poetry blog are self-justifying. How can they not be? and especially when their instructive side is pertinent to any given discussion.  How does it insult anyone, Gallaher or his blog visitors, when beauty is added to relevance in any discussion? Gary is surely in the right and is being pilloried for reasons of mere jealousy and stupidity, for a “common courtesy” which is neither “common” nor “courteous.”

But—and this point is made strongly by John Crowe Ransom in his sterling but neglected essay, “Poets Without Laurels”—the modern temper is precisely that which rejects the joining of instruction and beauty, in the same way puritans reject the pomp of Catholicism. 

It is because Fitzgerald drapes his message in beautiful poetry that he offends.

Scarriet noted a couple of years ago that John Gallaher asked Fitzgerald to leave his blog—because Fitzgerald was unkind to the poetry of John Ashbery—which Fitzgerald has characterized as  “literary Rorschach Tests that some call poetry.”

Welcome to modernity, Gary B.

It is the poetry that offends the poets.

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

1. Rita Dove—Penguin editor reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYRB
2. Terrance Hayes—In Dove’s best-selling anthology, and young
3. Kevin Young—In Dove’s anthology, and young
4. Amiri Baraka—In Dove’s anthology
5. Billy Collins—in the anthology
6. John Ashbery—a long poem in the anthology
7. Dean Young—not in the anthology
8. Helen Vendler—hated the anthology
9. Alan CordleTime’s masked Person-of-the-Year = Foetry.com’s once-anonymous Occupy Poetry protestor?
10. Harold Bloom—you can bet he hates the anthology
11. Mary Oliver—in the anthology
12. William Logan—meanest and the funniest critic (a lesson here?)
13. Kay Ryan—our day’s e.e. cummings
14. John Barr—the Poetry Man and “the Man.”
15. Kent Johnson—O’Hara and Koch will never be the same?
16. Cole Swensen—welcome to Brown!
17. Tony Hoagland—tennis fan
18. David Lehman—fun lovin’ BAP gate-keeper
19. David Orr—the deft New York Times critic
20. Rae Armantrout—not in the anthology
21. Seamus Heaney—When Harvard eyes are smilin’
22. Dan Chiasson—new reviewer on the block
23. James Tate—guaranteed to amuse
24. Matthew Dickman—one of those bratty twins
25. Stephen Burt—the Crimson Lantern
26. Matthew Zapruder—aww, everybody loves Matthew!
27. Paul MuldoonNew Yorker Brit of goofy complexity
28. Sharon Olds—Our Lady of Slightly Uncomfortable Poetry
29. Derek Walcott—in the anthology, latest T.S. Eliot prize winner
30. Kenneth Goldsmith—recited traffic reports in the White House
31. Jorie Graham—more teaching, less judging?
32. Alice Oswald—I don’t need no stinkin’ T.S. Eliot Prize
33. Joy Harjo—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
34. Sandra Cisneros—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
35. Nikki Giovanni—for colored girls when po-biz is enuf
36. William Kulik—not in the anthology
37. Ron Silliman—no more comments on his blog, but in the anthology
38. Daisy Fried—setting the Poetry Foundation on fire
39. Eliot Weinberger—poetry, foetry, and politics
40. Carol Ann Duffy—has Tennyson’s job
41. Camille Dungy—runs in the Poetry Foundation forest…
42. Peter Gizzi—sensitive lyric poet of the hour…
43. Abigail Deutsch—stole from a Scarriet post and we’ll always love her for it…
44. Robert Archambeau—his Samizdat is one of the more visible blogs…
45. Michael Robbins—the next William Logan?
46. Carl Phillips—in the anthology
47. Charles NorthWhat It Is Like, New & Selected chosen as best of 2011 by David Orr
48. Marilyn Chin—went to Iowa, in the anthology
49. Marie Howe—a tougher version of Brock-Broido…
50. Dan Beachy-Quick—gotta love that name…
51. Marcus Bales—he’s got the Penguin blues.
52. Dana Gioia—he wants you to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so what r u waiting 4?
53. Garrison Keillor—the boil on the neck of August Kleinzahler
54. Alice Notley—Penguin’s Culture of One by this Paris-based author made a lot of 2011 lists
55. Mark McGurl—won Truman Capote Award for 2011’s The Program Era: Rise of Creative Writing
56. Daniel Nester—wrap your blog around my skin, yea-uh.
57. Yusef Komunyakaa—in the anthology
58. Adrienne Rich—in the anthology
59. Jeremy Bass— reviewed the anthology in the Nation
60. Anselm Berrigan—somebody’s kid
61. Travis Nichols—kicked us off Blog Harriet
62. Seth Abramson—poet and lawyer
63. Stephen Dunn—one of the best poets in the Iowa style
64. Philip Levine—Current laureate, poem recently in the New Yorker  Movin’ up!
65. Ben Mazer—Does anyone remember Landis Everson?
66. Reb Livingston—Her No Tells blog rocks the contemporary scene
67. Marjorie Perloff—strutting avant academic
68. John Gallaher—Kent Johnson can’t get enough punishment on Gallaher’s blog
69. Fred Viebahn—poet married to the Penguin anthologist
70. James Fenton—said after Penguin review hit, Dove should have “shut up”
71. Rodney Jones—BAP poem selected by Dove riffs on William Carlos Williams’ peccadilloes
72. Mark Doty—no. 28’s brother
73. Cate Marvin—VIDA and so much more
74. Richard Wilbur—still hasn’t run out of rhyme
75. W.S. Merwin—no punctuation, but no punk
76. Jim Behrle—the Adam Sandler of po-biz
77. Bin Ramke—still stinging from the Foetry hit
78. Thomas Sayer Ellis—not in the anthology
79. Henri Cole—poetry editor of the New Republic
80. Meghan O’Rourke—Behrle admires her work
81. Anne Waldman—the female Ginsberg?
82. Anis Shivani—get serious, poets! it’s time to change the world!
83. Robert Hass—Occupy story in Times op-ed
84. Lyn Hejinian—stuck inside a baby grand piano
85. Les Murray—greatest Australian poet ever?
86. Sherman Alexie—is this one of the 175 poets to remember? 
87. Geoffrey Hill—great respect doesn’t always mean good
88. Elizabeth Alexander—Frost got Kennedy, she got Obama
89. A.E. Stallings—A rhymer wins MacArthur!
90. Frank Bidart—in the anthology
91. Robert Pinsky—in the anthology
92. Carolyn Forche—in the anthology
93. Louise Gluck—not in the anthology
94. Keith Waldrop—his Hopwood Award paid her fare from Germany
95. Rosmarie Waldrop—her Hopwood helpled launch Burning Deck
96. C.D. Wright—born in the Ozark mountains
97. Forrest Gander—married to no. 96
98. Mark Strand—translator, surrealist
99. Margaret Atwood—the best Canadian poet of all time?
100. Gary B. Fitzgerald—the poet most likely to be remembered a million years from now

NARRATIVE, OR GOING TO THE GYM IN THE RAIN.

Kim Addonizio, interviewed by a former Workshop student Susan Browne, said the following:

I do believe in poems making a kind of sense—the sense of each part being necessary to the whole. But when a poet seems to be setting out to say something, and yet that “something” remains obscure even with a lot of investigation on the reader’s part, I end up as frustrated as you.

This got John Gallaher, the Ashbery fan, upset, and he reacted with a piece that begins like this:

As part of her line of questioning, Browne apparently wants Addonizio to talk about the “split” in American poetry. Is there “a” split? I think it’s probably more like a net of fissures. But over and over again, when I hear people talk about contemporary American poetry, they often talk about it as if it were these two creatures. One is a semi-autobiographical (or autobiographical-sounding, or pseudo-autobiographical) narrative/lyric that revolves around a realistic-feeling scene with an identifiable lone speaker going through some generally domestic task. The other side of the split is usually described as something like “energetic word play.” What bothers me most about this, is that the first category is centered around content, and the second, around an attitude toward language. That sets up the question of what we’re looking for when we go to poetry. We know examples that are usually trotted out for each. For the first category, we have Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins. For the second, we have John Ashbery, et al, and groups with names (LANGUAGE poets, Post-avant, experimental, etc).

The problem—well, one of the problems—with this is that it isn’t so cut and formed as that. Where does Dean Young fit, for example? Category A, we agree. But why? Where does Kay Ryan fit? Also A, but why? The lines are, in many ways, political. It’s like party affiliation. So lately I’ve read things by people trying to claim Rae Armantrout into Category A, from out of Category B, so that people can feel OK reading her work, I guess. Or something like that.

Gallaher will never forgive Dan Chiasson for his New Yorker piece on Rae Armantrout in 2010, in which Chiasson attempted to make Armantrout palatable to the masses by presenting her narrative/autobiographical side.  Chiasson is who Gallaher has in mind when Gallaher fulminates above, “lately I’ve read things by people trying to claim Rae Armantrout into Category A, from out of category B, so that people can feel OK…” 

This was no doubt triggered by my August 12 piece on Chiasson and The New Yorker—Gallaher’s rant against narrative by way of Kim Addonizio appeared on August 13.

Why do I call  Gallaher’s article on narrative a “rant?”  Gallaher, like most avants, is really a pretty simple fellow.  His thinking, no doubt, went like this: he read Scarriet’s skewering of Chiasson, not without a certain pleasure, but couldn’t help being reminded of Chiasson’s greater sin—one Gallaher himself had tirelessly pointed out—Chiasson’s attempt in the New Yorker to make avant star Armantrout into one of them—the poets who are narrative and accessible.  Nothing freaks out a fan of the avant-garde like the idea of one of their idols being eaten and digested by the insensate mainstream.  In a panic, Gallaher decided he had to turn the tables, and quickly whipped up an article of a narrative poet moving away from narrative—Kim Addonizio, a ‘column A’ poet, seeking to free herself from her chains.  When Gary B. Fitzgerald, who also visits Scarriet, showed up on Gallaher’s blog, to bash Ashbery, Gallaher snapped.  Gary B. was banned.  A piece on narrative begun in high anxiety had ended with a punishment.

Here is part of the interview excerpted by Gallaher, with his comments right afterwards.  You’ll see what I mean:

Addonizio: I just created a poem out of a revision exercise I gave my students. It’s from The Practice of Poetry. You cut up an old, failed poem and save just the good parts—little bits of intriguing language—and it usually turns out there aren’t very many good parts. My poem was originally titled “By Way of Apology.” I had a few phrases, one of which was “a pair of big, invisible hands.” Just for the hell of it, I made that the title, and got led into a very weird and fun piece. Another surprising one was generated by a writing exercise I found on the Internet that poet Josh Bell had given a group of students. It had all kinds of random requirements to follow. I love how, using chance, you still pull in the things you need to address. Some level of your brain puts it all together. And it’s more interesting to me, right now, than sitting down to tell a “this happened, and then that happened” kind of story. I love narrative, but the way I know how to write a narrative bores me, and I want to do something different. I want the drama to be lyric, and not narrative, if that makes any sense.

Browne: I want to hear more about that.

Addonizio: Take a poem like “November 11,” from Lucifer at the Starlite. As Orwell said, “The war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous.” That poem has narrative moments: a character drives to the gym and thinks about various deaths—first some closer to home, then it moves out into the war deaths, and slings back to a neighbor’s niece. So all that happens in the poem is that she runs on the treadmill. But of course it’s not about the gym. That’s the framework.

Browne: It’s interesting how you weave little bits of the narrative all the way through. If you didn’t have the narrative, I don’t think I’d be there. . . What about emotion, which seems so suspect in much contemporary poetry? I’m thinking of another poet—call him Poet X. His poems have interesting language play. Maybe, at the very end, they have a glimmer of heart. Then I say, OK, and go on to the next poem and a bunch of language pyrotechnics that are nicely done. Even though I have a pretty good vocabulary, I look up these words and learn some new ones, and the poem is over, and I feel nothing. So is it me? Maybe it’s me. And I don’t care how much Poet Y has been broiled over the non-narrative fire and turned into a brisket because of that—but I can’t wait for her next book to come out because I think I’m going to hear, as William Carlos Williams said, some human news.

+

Browne’s response is as interesting as Addonizio’s comment. It seems to me Browne is almost admonishing Addonizio to keep from straying too far from the narrative (the party line): The Narrative, the solid Category A platform. It’s quite an interesting moment. The poet, Addonizio, is expressing boredom with the party, wanting a little of that Category B mix-it-up attitude, and is being nudged back by her reader, Browne.

And why must there be this frame? This narrative frame of the person going to and then at the gym? Is it a counterpoint? Is it necessary? Life vs Death? What would the poem be like if it were to be just the stuff Addonizio seems to want to talk about (the piles of dead), rather than what she feels she needs to add? It’s a small moment, but telling, when it comes to our predispositions, our assumptions about what art needs. Browne is reminding Addonizio not to forget to add the frame. Why? Because if it weren’t there, Browne wouldn’t know how to follow it. But why does the narrative frame help? Why can’t the poem just be the web of accruing associations around the idea of death? Would it then be a Category B poem? Possibly. Might this be the line of distinction?

Gallaher celebrates a “moment” in catching out a narrative poet confessing that the personal narrative element in her poem is only a “framework,” and not the important element in her poem—what is important, evidently, are the journalistic “piles of dead”.  Gallaher is perfectly in his rights to ask: why do we need the narrative frame, if the “piles of dead” are the crucial item? 

But Gallaher is confusing means and end: as Addonizio explains to Browne in the interview, her poem is not just about ‘the deaths,’ but about the poet’s personal view of them as overwhelming—and therefore ‘going to the gym’ places the mundane activity of the overwhelmed narrator in the poem—and secondly, the rain is a metaphoric expression of the high death count (beyond the narrator’s grasp) and it’s an easy matter to have it rain while going to the gym.  

Here’s an excerpt from the Addonizio poem, “November 11″:

to say what killed him, his wife is fighting/with the Palestinians over his millions, the parking lot/ of the gym is filled with muddy puddles!/ I run 4.3 m.p.h. on the treadmill, and they’re dead/ in Baghdad and Fallujah, Mosul and Samarra and Latifiya –/ Nadia and Surayah, Nahla and Hoda and Noor,/their husbands and cousins and brothers –/ dead in their own neighborhoods! Imagine!/ Marine Staff Sgt. David G. Ries, 29, Clark, WA.: killed!/ Army Spc. Quoc Binh Tran, 26, Mission Viejo, CA: killed,/ Army Spc. Bryan L. Freeman, 31, Lumberton, NJ — same deal!

Gallaher’s hero, the Pulitzer-prize winning, Rae Armantrout, might write this poem sans narrative, and leave out the trip to the gym, and try to express the feeling of being overwhelmed by the deaths in a more concise manner, using exclamation points, a reference to puddles and rain, a shorter list of deaths; but if we agree the end of each poem is precisely the same, and the means is less narrative by Armantrout, more narrative by Addonizio, it really just becomes an issue of clarity in acheiving the end: the narrator is having these feelings, and damnit, she wants the reader to see the narrator on her way to the gym in the rain.  Addonizio said the poem was not about “the gym,” but she did not say the poem was not about her feelings or the rain present (to express the metaphor) as she went to the gym, or her thoughts interrupted by her mundane activity at the gym, and Armantrout, attempting to write the same poem, would fail or succeed on precisely this same issue: is it clear to the reader what I am saying? 

Gallaher, the clever avant, is missing the whole point, confusing “the gym” with the necessity of being clear, and he compounds his error by going off the deep end philosophically, by seeking a duality: narrative v. non-narrative, which simply does not exist.  The issue is merely one of clarity, and clarity should never be an issue, unless, like the avant, you are under the burden of some tremendous neurosis, and you neurotically strive to be unclear.

This issue is never whether or not there should be narrative, for narrative should always exist; the question is whether it is done well, or not, and in this particular case it is not done well; the self-serving, third-rate Addonizio poem is naturally vulnerable to attack by an avant critic like Gallaher, who has no trouble prying the hapless poem from its “frame,” in order to make a non-point.

Once you begin referring to your narrative or your plot, as merely a “frame,” the game is over, and transparently cretinous, avant-garde tricks, like “so much depends upon all those deaths in the news,” are probably the next step in your writing career.

The near-insanity of the avant sensibility is on full display in this comment on Gallaher’s article:

In poetry the only law is that of gravity, but here are a few things I’ve always thought about poetry, in no particular order:
The extraordinarily fertile and preternaturally lit-up imagination of a poet like Tate may need to be counterbalanced by a limiting force, either narrative or structure. (I may be echoing an essay by Gregory Orr.) Narrative seems to be the limiting force in the Tate poems most people like best. (I may prefer some of his old stuff that doesn’t work that way—poems circa Hints to Pilgrims. But I’m all over anything he writes.)
BUT. “Narrative does not dictate image; image dictates narrative.”—Charles Wright.
Eli is quite right about poetry as “the new metatropism.” Writing poetry is passivity not activity. You watch your thought grow like mould on cheese in the fridge. I is an other. You don’t write the poem; it writes you.
You should work FROM, not TOWARDS, words. Dylan Thomas said that a long time ago, but recently Elisa Gabbert said the same thing in connection with Bill Knott. Begin with words not ideas. Make poetry out of words not ideas; seek ideas for your words, not words for your ideas.—Valery? Mallarme?
“So many lousy poets/So few good ones/ What’s the problem?/No innate love of/Words, no sense of/How the thing said/Is in the words, how/The words are themselves/The thing said:…A word, that’s the poem”—James Schuyler. Mallarme said every word of “L’Azur” cost him several hours of searching. What Ted Berrigan cared about most was the startling pieces of language he overheard or read.
The language must be fresh. There must be delightfully strange combinations of words in almost every line. But the lines without startling contrasts have to be good, too. All the lines should sound cool by themselves. IT’S PERFECTLY FINE TO CHOP OUT A LOGICAL CONNECTION IF THAT’LL MAKE THE LINES SOUND COOLER. Fuck logic.
IF YOUTRY TO IMPOSE UNITY ON THE POEM, IT’LL FALL APART. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE CONNECTIONS; THEY’LL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. ORDER IS LIKE YOUR SHADOW: IF YOU PURSUE IT, IT’LL FLEE FROM YOU.
“A poem SHOULD remain mostly inscrutable.”—Ashbery
“What it’s about” is only one aspect of it. There are—or should be—equally important things going on. (I tend to worry about those other things and let “what it’s about” take care of itself.) “The pleasure one gets from reading poetry comes from something else than the idea or story in a poem, which is just a kind of armature for the poet to drape with many-colored rags.”–Ashbery
You don’t have to understand your poem in a way that enables you to explicate it.
There’s nothing wrong with confessional poetry but the name. Poets who expose their intimate thoughts in a painfully honest, uncensored way—e.g., Ginsberg—are doing a great thing.
Don’t sit on any arse poetica—raw or cooked, autobiographical or “energetic word play.” Keep your mind open and try the other side, like Addonizio. “Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.” –Emerson

The commenter, David Grove, just wants to be wild and free, and believes Charles Wright’s “image dictates narrative” and his own “a poem just grows like mould on cheese” How French!  That must be Mallarme talking…  And Ashbery’s “words, not ideas…” For Grove, “narrative” is a “restriction.”

It takes but a moment’s reflection to realize that narrative in the literary arts is not simply a “frame,” but a cause-and-effect network of vast importance and nuance.

Narrative is first and foremost, temporality. Avant poetry is feeble, by comparison, as it declines to use what might be called time’s flesh, and all subsequent imagery, harmony, melody, and thought-like music ranged upon that flesh’s movement reflects the movement of life itself; the speech of the statue, the glittering of the stream, the warming of the sigh, the deepening of the night, the steps of the traveler, the lifting of the bird, the singing of the dactyl, or the sigh-inducing advancement of the dance towards you; the lack of all this makes avant poetry a bland, or self-importantly clever, re-telling. 

Which makes avants like Gallaher feel empty.  And angry.

OUTRAGE!

John Gallaher: Another brick in the wall?

Gary B. Fitzgerald is a fine poet and a well-known figure in the on-line poetry world, opinionated, but never nasty.

Mr. Fitzgerald is self-published, which is what poets outside of academia tend to be, and if self-pity floats about him—he’s a “Quietist” who doesn’t sell—it is because he has something to say and wants people to listen: nothing pleases Gary B. more than “to be read,” and few, apparently, read him—and those tend to be readers of others’ blogs.  He’s a Romantic; a man of nature, of moral feeling, and books (he’s got a bunch out there).  He wants to start his own blog—which we think is a good idea.

We know it’s a small thing, a very small thing, and hardly worth the effort to report, except that it symbolizes something larger, which is why sometimes we concern ourselves with small things (oh, if we could ever get ourselves free of the ‘small things!’) but it seems that Gary, dear old Gary B. was banned recently from John Gallaher’s blog, for daring to have an opinion about John Ashbery.

Think on this, if you will: A poet is banned from a poetry blog for having an opinion about a poet.

One could argue that the chief problem in the world now is that people won’t let other people have opinions.

Poets behaving like spoiled children—why is this so prevalent?

KEEP ON REMEMBERING: 3 POEMS BY GARY B. FITZGERALD

 
Memorial Day
 
Rather, we should, than gather
in rainy cemeteries to remember,
have dances and dinners in halls
with the pictures of those we loved
now gone
hung upon the walls.
 
We should sing and laugh and make merry,
celebrate their living and the joy
they gave us in their lives
before their most courageous
sacrifice,
which is why, after all,  we have gathered
in this soggy graveyard.
 
 
Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald
 
 
 
      Natchez National Cemetery
 
 
Thin sticks of white stone standing
like soldiers in columns and rows
across a hundred horizontal green acres.
A wide plain of vertical markers spread
as far as the eye can see, like first snow
on fallow fields, bright and cold.
The ranks stand together at attention,
once all so different, now all the same,
each like the other but for the cut of a name,
the date of a death and a birth,
stabbed like the swords of the fallen
in the heart of the earth.
All so alone. All so dead.
 
Ironic, my brother, the soldier,
here standing and sleeping as well.
So different than any and better than most,
sang in the choir and prayed to the Host,
crossed himself twice for the Holy Ghost,
now immortalized here so exactly
by a pale, rectangular rock post,
like all of the others but for the cut of a name.
He also alone and so dead.
 
 
Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems. Gary B. Fitzgerald
 
 
 
 
                       Hardwood
 
 
I rise each day and find these trees
stand exactly where they did the day before,
stood unafraid in a darkened wood
through the cold and empty hours
to welcome in a new day’s pearly light.
But each day, it seems, I also find another
who has ventured past that unseen door,
has left us, we can only pray,
for something good and something more
and something less than standing through the night.
 
Proud these trees stood still when we returned
from the solemn procession and burial,
on a day of tears and a last goodbye, of dying flowers,
the lifting of a polished hardwood casket.
And though weary when returning from the funeral,
I take time tonight to walk beside the wood
and of these hardwood trees and life I ask it:
where stand and how grow until the day it’s I
who, dressed in hardwood, awaits a morning bright?
 
 
Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD-77 Poems. Gary B. Fitzgerald

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 11 BIRD POEMS BY GARY B. FITZGERALD

 

            Hope in Winter

 

Naked limbs now thin and empty
vein December’s gray,
skeletal branches reaching desperately
to the sky,
but one tree still thick with leaves
stands full against these ponderous clouds
as if defying winter and calling
even death a cruel joke.

Then the blackbirds all flew off
and an empty bone-bare tree
to dark victorious clouds was traded
for a puff of feathered smoke.

 

 

                Untitled For March

 

Even the most stubborn trees now budding,
all the holdouts that procrastinate,
like that arrogant little Red Oak
who never cares if he’s always late,
or that weepy, unwilling willow.
But now the turn of axis and the rains insist
that all cooperate and all lift leaf
and seed from winter’s pillow.

 

Despite their sullen reluctance
and the threat of spring-borne storm,
they gladly choose the fate of the reborn
and in so doing are rewarded, the chosen
of cardinal and crow.

 

So spring returns and all revives
but men still fight and lose their lives.
Even birds and trees can understand
what living means, have the sense to know
the difference between what suffers and dies,
and what will grow.

 

                   Mockingbird

 

I see God’s hand in amber clouds
with golden rays above blue seas,
in black stripes on orange fur.
I see His plan in flowering trees,
in mockingbirds and honey bees,
in every desperate cur.

 

Call me crazy…well, they do,
but I see His thoughts in cobras, too.
I see His will in crocodiles.
They see God in human beings
and Satan in the wild,
but I see the Devil in you and me
and in every human child.
The roots of Poison Ivy
always grow new vines.

I see that mockingbird on the fence over there
just winked his eye at me.

 

               

                     Tsunami

 

Rudely awakened! A noisy commotion.
Jolted from sleep by a feud of some sort!
I wake to an angry screaming of crows,
sounds like a thousand, all over the place.
I rise, close the window, make coffee,
turn on the news to drown them out
and in a droning, barely noticed routine
of report I learn of a different murder.
Not another poor man robbed of his life
for a car or a debt still unpaid,
not another poor child, neglected and scarred,
not this kind of killing relayed,
but a number instead of a face.
Not a Joe or Jose or Yusef, but a place,
a number in multiple thousands
of those who have recently left.

I see a dark tide of crows in the pasture
as though the trees were hung with black crepe.
I see hundreds of raucous and shouting
black birds, but their bivouac is brief.
Some go and some stay. Their visit is short
but if they all disappeared in an instant,
their clamor submerged by cold silence,
would I awaken to the weight of this day,
understand the scale of departure,
the suffering and grief and the death conveyed
in this, at first, barely noticed routine of report? 

 

 

                                 Trilogy

 

                                             1.

       This weedbrown, hidden twist of trunk
  writhing like a frozenwood snake from a rough
lichen-coated root in several directions branching
                  first into little clusters of
      buds and tiny silken wax leaves green like
     yellow roses and then extending to full nests
and even thick bushy stacks of leaves and blossoms
              white with a faded red line inside
          each petal glowing in groups of three
          and four from ancient branches hung
                       with spanish moss.
 
 
                                     2.

 

     A small brown bird with yellow edges on
His feathers and an orange beak lands and takes
       a black berry from inside a white flower.

 

                                        3.

 

                             The wind.

 

 

 

  

                   Poem

 

Flashing blur, a sudden whip;
spontaneous burst between trees
      so quickly, seem like lines
      of flecked many yellow brown
streak              not there…!
      A flock of finches leaves
for somewhere else.

 

                       Caracara

 

A rare bird in my pasture this April,
coal black, banded white and huge,
dwarfing the hawks and the egrets.
The Mexican Eagle. We watch in delight
as he gracefully descends, then laugh
as he hops along through the grass seeking
the prey that it yields.

 

Up from the south this spring, rarely seen;
not a place he often goes. Not a habit,
hunting in my fields.

 

But the pastures and prey become harder
to find as the fields themselves become prey,
fall to the streets and the roads and new houses,
the population and sprawl that devours
what used to be his for the taking.

 

He stayed for two weeks, frightening
plovers and crows. Been gone
for a week, now, or more. 

Oh look! There he is!
On the side of the road.
A thistle of black and white feathers
and some blood.

 

  

           Changes in Texas

 

A river of birds as dark and wide
as the Mississippi once separated
these blue skies, a flowing endless
stream of solid black and feather.
But these days the skies are threadbare,
pale and sparse, thin like old carpets.
Now birds pass over in a nearly dry creek,
blow by like a trickle of ashes.

Once flocks of Egrets, thick and swift,
returned each sunset to the nest,
surged like whitewater rapids through red hills,
washing over in waves of white wings.
Lately they’ve grown thinner, like a slurry
of pale water in a bare sandstone canyon.
A larger flood has dammed the river.

 

                 Geese

Look! There! Listen!
Look at the geese!
And so loud! What a racket!
There must be a million of them,
wave upon wave of wide V’s.
Look how low they are.
I think they’re going to land over there
in the cornfield.

Later, in the quiet before sunset,
I thought I saw the shadow of a hawk,
but then I heard the searching peal,
saw a single lost and lonely goose pass over
in a race against the dark,
looking for a cornfield.

 

 

         Happy New Year

 

Conflicting view, this serene
yet busy egret, tall and white
against the green, seeking
sustenance along the wooded
thick-set border of the pond.
So small against the further shore
and the noisy background
of the bulldozer in the trees now
tearing down his home.

Conflicting time, one to consider
the new year’s hope and promise,
the losses of the last one,
and the worlds that soon will fall
as the noise approaches.
We’ll mark them down with
the losses of the new one.

 

                             Ike

                  (Galveston, 2008)

 

The ire of Huracan,
god of the wind, screaming through the night,
a Kamikaze tantrum of blind anger, I,
cowering in the dark, have heard.

The devastation after,
debris and loss in the flooded street,
fractured trees and plans, splinters and shards,
wandering with wide eyes I’ve seen.

A destruction cruel,
complete. More than rows of broken homes,
but the shatter and scatter of weal and lives and dreams
by inhuman rage incurred.

Gentle breeze this morning, after.
Soft light.
I saw a hummingbird.

 

 

 

WOODSTOCK: GARY B. FITZGERALD WAS THERE, BITCHES!

Just another rock festival in the 60s.  Tore up the tickets.  Dummies.

Woodstock

At first, no one believes that I actually went to Woodstock.
It’s like I was at Gettysburg or Waterloo or something.
I’m beginning to feel like one of those poor old war Veterans
tottering along in a small town parade. But, hey, I say,
I was only seventeen and back in ’69, what, with the Fillmore,
San Francisco, Viet-Nam and the revolution and all, to us
it was just another concert. All the kids from school went.

But the memory never fades. It was really neat seeing
all those different weird people just like us, with bell bottoms
and long hair, who felt like us about music and the war,
about America. I remember all those old freaks and hippies
who came in painted busses from California with tambourines,
with feathers and beads and long gray beards.

But the spirit started long before the concert,
during that big traffic jam, all sitting on our cars.
We passed stuff up and down the line for miles,
shared everything. I had a big bottle of Mateus wine.
I had a swig of this and a puff of that but my bottle of
Mateus never came back. I really loved that wine, too.

So then, I always explained how expensive it was,
how I bought tickets for two for three-days
only to learn that I didn’t need them anymore…no gate!
Free concert! Far out! We all tore up our tickets.
The second day I lost my girlfriend. She tripped out
with some guy from L.A. and split. In teenage terms,
an expensive foray. I got home with no tickets,
no girl, no money, no Mateus but, certainly, no regrets.

Years later I learned that the tickets we had so gleefully destroyed
were now a collector’s item worth a small fortune.
A costly summer overall. But a pittance when compared
to the loss incurred in now knowing my distance from
that day, and in having to acknowledge that my beard
is also long and gray.

Copyright 2009 – Gary B. Fitzgerald

THE MANLY POETS

HOMER (War Correspondent)

JUVENAL (Satirist)

LI PO (Mountain recluse)

HAFIZ (Party Animal)

DANTE ALIGHIERI (Exile)

FRANK PETRARCA (Lover)

PHIL SIDNEY (Soldier, Spy)

BILL SHAKESPEARE (Screen Writer)

CHRIS MARLOWE (Killed in Bar)

JOHN MILTON (Government Official)

ALEX POPE (Gardener)

LORD BYRON (M.P.,seducer, funded Greek independence)

P.B. SHELLEY (Rogue, drowned sailing)

JOHN KEATS (Medical Student, dead at 26)

SAM COLERIDGE (Trading Co. Official, Opium Addict)

BILL WORDSWORTH (Hiker)

ED POE (Secret Code Writer, Horror Writer)

LORD TENNYSON (Tobacco & Whiskey Stinking)

ARTHUR RIMBAUD (Rock quarry foreman, weapons dealer)

FORD MADOX FORD (Womanizer, War Propaganda Office Director)

RICHARD ALDINGTON (Soldier)

PAUL ENGLE (Fundraiser)

EZRA POUND (Traitor)

JAMES DICKEY (World War Two Pilot)

BILLY COLLINS (Best-Selling Author)

GARY B. FITZGERALD (Self-published, talks shit on blogs)

HARRIET GOES DIRECT: DON’T JUST HIDE, DELETE!

Harriet has just lost its last shred of dignity. The recent Comment posted by W.F.Kammann on December 21st has been deleted.

All the Comment  said was that for a more balanced and in depth look you might want to check something else out, a piece of information Travis Nichols obviously felt was too disturbing for the Harriet readership.

We wonder how Gary B. Fitzgerald and Margo Berdeshevsky feel about this new move, both having expressed such relief at the decision to lift the Like/Dislike regime which had so spoiled Harriet for them  since September.

Do you feel this is better,  Gary and Margo? Do you feel relieved that the velvet glove has come off at last, and that there’s no more pretense at openness or respect for opposing views?

Can The Poetry Foundation not accept the fact that the real world is full of contrary opinions, not to speak of poetry? Will there be no more awkward discussions in the lab of  Travis Nichols’ new “experiment?” Is that the idea, to surrender all our differences as well as our hopes for a better world?

Dah Daa. Enter The New Thing!

DEAR AMBER, BE NOT “LAZY” OR “DUMB”

We loved your latest Hawaii/Benazir Bhuto dream essay, but we noticed you haven’t been participating in the conversations of other posts on Harriet.

It’s not enough to just send missives.

You need to be present.

That blog needs your help.

And you can help yourself by sharpening your intellectual teeth there.

I know there’s not much to choose from.   Harriet doesn’t have much going on.

Perhaps you feel intimidated.

Allow us to break down for you a recent Harriet post and comments.

A post by Kenneth Goldsmith quotes Christian Bok (it’s the one with the guy who looks like he’s got indigestion, holding a book in front of the mike, blue background).

Christian Bok is a Canadian professor who wrote a best-selling novel consisting of chapters which use only one vowel.   He read the dictionary five times before he wrote it.    That’s all you need to know about him, really.  Not particularly original, he’s one of those contemporary exotics doing wild experiments in the corner of some ancient fingernail.

Let’s look at the key portion of the lengthy Bok quotation in Goldsmith’s Harriet post.

We”ll look at it in two parts.

First part:

“I’m probably technically oriented and it seems to me that among the poets that I know, many are very lazy and very dumb. I always joke with my students that poetry couldn’t possibly be as hard as they think it is, because if it were as hard as they thought it was, poets wouldn’t do it. Really, they’re the laziest, stupidest people I know. They became poets in part because they were demoted to that job, right? You should never tell your students to write what they know because, of course, they know nothing: they’re poets! If they knew something, they’d be in that discipline actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever it is where they could excel.”

Don’t be freaked out by this, Amber. It’s pretty simple.

This is lifted right from the Greek philosopher Plato “If they [the poets] knew something, they’d be in that discipline and actually doing it: they’d be in history or physics or math or business or whatever…”

Plato’s argument is quite sound and the only decent refutation of Plato’s point of view comes in the form of poems—by poets who happened to be very much tinged with Platonism themselves: Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Shelley, and Keats–which is all that can be expected.

Your typical inferior poet, however, becomes upset when they hear Plato’s argument.  They’re not up to Plato’s challenge.

This is the first part of Bok’s quote you need to understand.

Here’s the second part (as quoted by Kenneth Goldsmith in his Harriet post) :

“I find this very distressing that the challenge of being a poet in effect to showcase something wondrous or uncanny, if not sublime, about the use of language itself, that we tend to think that because we’re conditioned to use language every day as part of a social contract, we should all be incipient poets, when in fact people have actually dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice in order to become adept at it and I think that craft and technique are part of that. If poetry weren’t informed by models of craft then nobody would need take a creative writing course. I joke with my students again that if it was simply a matter of saying, “You know you’ve written a good poem just because; you’ll know it was a good poem when it happens.” To me, that’s tantamount to telling your students that “You should just use the force, Luke” in order to write a poem. I don’t think it’s very helpful. But to be able to say “Here’s a series of rules of thumb that always work under all circumstances and if you adopt them slavishly, blindly, you can always be assured of writing something, producing something of merit.”

Again, this doesn’t require much thought.

Here Bok is making use of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle.   Aristotle didn’t ban the poets from his ideal “Republic” as Plato did.   Aristotle accepted poetry as something humans do, and focused on whether it is done well, or badly.

Aristotle would not have accepted the notion we are all poets, and Bok, when he mentions “people have dedicated years or decades of their lives to this kind of practice…” is implicitly agreeing with the philosopher.

Bok didn’t mention this, but I want to mention it to you:  Aristotle did pay heed to Plato’s objection that poetry makes us “soft” with fake emotionalism; Aristotle got around Plato’s objection by saying that poetry’s indulgence in emotionalism purges these emotions from us.  Aristotle managed to turn a drawback into a virtue.

But here is why Platonic poets tend to be the best: They take to heart Plato’s objection, rather than using Aristotle’s glib betrayal of it.

As soon as you start believing in Aristotle’s purging theory (Catharsis) you make a fatal error; you buy into the idea that poetry’s emotion is a separate thing from it, and then you essentially become a pedantic, doctrinaire kind of poet.

Anyway, the important point that Bok is making in the second part of the quote here is the Aristotelian one: there’s a proper way and form and method to making poetry.

As he did with the purging theory, Aristotle resorts to a doctrinaire pedantry in order to ‘get one past’  his master (Plato was Aristotle’s teacher).

This is important to understand, Amber.   You’ve got to go Greek, and you’ve got two choices, Plato’s truly challenging road, or Aristotle’s pedantic road.  Most people don’t go Greek at all and groan under both Plato and Aristotle.  But you can’t escape them, really.

You can see this in the reactions to Bok in the comments to Goldsmith’s post:

Carolyn, the first one to comment seriously, writes this, “I honor people’s attempts to express themselves in whatever manner suits them.”

Here is the typical modern response.   As you can see from her statement, and from what I told you above, she rejects Plato and Aristotle.  She has no Greek.  She is ignorantYou can ignore these people.  Better to be a pedant than to be someone who says ‘express yourself in whatever manner suits you.’ This point of view loses in philosophy what it gains in being nice.  It is a tempting vice, this point of view.  Avoid it at all costs.

Silem’s post #7 basically sums up the Plato and Aristotle positions and then repeats Bok’s mention of “the uncanny,” which is largely the basis of Romanticism: the “Sublime,”  produced when Platonism contradicts itself and produces poetry–a sly but positive phenomenon which I alluded to above.  As Longinus said in his famous treatise “On the Sublime” 3rd century, AD, the sublime is both “moral” and “fearful.”  The sublime is a contradictory idea–which is the secret of its religious power and appeal.

Comment #8 is by Henry Gould. We can sum up all his comments this way: Mumble.

Comment #9 is by Kent Johnson, who is poison.  Here’s a sample.  It should make you shudder:

“I strongly suspect that from the bourgeoning technical-hip formation represented by Bok and Mohammad (and both of them very brilliant, to be sure) a more elevated measure of professional status for the poetic vocation will come, via ever more sharply defined knowledge-sets and rigorously applied instrumental techniques.”

Ugh.

Gary Fitzgerald made a witty remark, but was buried by negative votes.

Conrad and ZZZZ had a brief dispute on what position the “avant garde” should take in relation to the mainstream.  Pedestrian stuff, really.  Not worth your while.

The remaining comments fizzle away into inconsequence.

Maybe Terreson will add something interesting.

(But we’d rather not encourage him.)

And there you have it,  Amber.    Harriet 101.   I hope this helps!

Another Interlude at the Bama Conference: Charlie Brown Teaches Poet Lessons.

A second Open Letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract Dislike votes on Harriet,

or even when an admirer gives him too much attention!

Charlie Brown_0001

~

Dear Gary,
If you want to know how your poems make the Harriet posters feel, or at least that portion of the Harriet posters who feel compelled to vote ‘Dislike’ for every poem you post, look at Charlie Brown. For Charlie Brown, of course, is a poet, and you can tell that by how strongly he feels about that little red-haired girl. Indeed, that’s the first requirement, to have strong feelings, and the second is to have the courage of your convictions and, of course, get those convictions into words. You have to say what you mean, in other words, and say it loud and clear — even if it means your commitment knocks the little red-haired girl right out of her desk and onto the floor!

Because, of course, that’s the curse of being a poet as well, that if you say it too loud and clear the whole world will laugh and point — which is why most true poets never quite manage to become adults.

And would this set-back discourage Charlie Brown?  You bet it would, and he’d go home and sit down in that big chair and hurt.

And would Charlie Brown not write another poem the next time, and even post it on Harriet again despite all those horrible sophisticates he knows are going to dump Red all over it?

You bet he would — and will.

And would Yvor Winters find himself in the same predicament, or Kenneth Goldsmith, Stephen Burt or Travis Nichols? Never — they’re too smart and know too much, and deal with all poetry affairs circumspectly. They also know the little red haired girl couldn’t care less, and they’re certainly not going to risk their reputations by foolishly writing a poem for her. Because like her they’re cynics, which makes them always safe — and, of course, superficial poets.

Christopher

THE STRANGE CASE OF GARY B. FITZGERALD, POET PREPOSTEROUS on HARRIET

An Interlude at the Bama Conference — performed outside the curtain.

A letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract so many Dislike votes on Harriet:

“Your poems are very pure, Gary — indeed they’re unique in that. Because you bring no artifice to them, no stunts, no tricks, no riddles, no performances, no arcana, no complexities of any sort, no contradictions, no obscure references, no quotes, no citations, no buried hints, no deep alchemical or esoteric or psychological knots, no sleights of hand, no fits of madness, no fluff or flarf or fiddling, no lists, no inner flights of foolery, indeed almost no imagery at all, no sacred symbols, confessions or paradoxes, no minimalist self-abnegations, and, most unusual of all, no pretense. Finally, although your poems are almost always philosophical you don’t need to know one thing about Wittgenstein or Rorty, A.J.Ayer, Lyotard or Lao Tzu to understand them.

“All you need is a.) to be a human being,  b.) to know how to read slowly and deeply, with a pure and open heart, and c.) be able to trust something in words without any irritable searching after something even more fashionable to compare it with, or something even wittier, negative or positive, to stump the poem completely.

” You simply don’t give the Harriet readers anything to get their perfect teeth into, Gary — in fact, you make them choke. You make them feel that all that expensive orthodontistry they got done at Iowa or Stanford wasn’t even worth the smile! Because you don’t give them any chat-fat to chew on, and if they actually did read one of your poems, which they don’t, they’d just feel angry, as if you’d tricked them. Because your poems are THE REAL THING in an unwrapped nutshell, and an on-line love-you/hate-you show like the new regime at Harriet can’t deal with poetry that’s humble and, most unnerving of all, doesn’t even try to make it new!

And if you read this as an insult, Gary, or any other poet, you don’t deserve the name or the blessings it could bring you.

Christopher

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118 other followers