EFFICIENCY

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Efficiency, the lauded, is no one’s friend.

If work’s efficient, your employment must end.

Quick robots are making humans obsolete.

I put my humanity, humbly, at your feet.

Where is my use? Where is my pride?

A machine? A poet? Can you decide?

Love is pleasure—the highest efficiency

Makes you happy in a robot’s arms, miles from me—

Out of work, alone, slowly revising poetry.

The news of the layoff came in a flash, from above;

I had no real choice—as in poetry, or fate, or love.

 

 

 

 

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MAY THIS POEM NOT KNOW

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May this poem not know what I’m saying.

For the best poets are just playing.

May this poem not know my mind.

For the best poets are unkind.

May this poem never pause or think

What I’m mixing into this drink,

What in the reader’s blood will flow—

Before the poem has a chance to know.

Yes, I loved you—but it was all in fun.

It’s a sensual poem. Are you done?

ASK ME

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Why would a poet ask for anything?

Like the philosopher, he disturbs

By questioning.

He wants reviews, blurbs,

Public praise, letters of introduction.

He’s empty. He doesn’t own a thing.

The poet is constantly needy,

And needy with honesty.

The poets feels a lascivious heart

Is not as bad as slander.

Do you think a poet has anything?

Do you think truth has anything to give?

A poet is the last one to tell you how to live.

Sit on a hard seat, and listen to him gas.

He’s no ordinary lunatic;

He wants you also to be an ass,

As you celebrate poetry,

And give stuff to him.

This makes you civilized.

O, the ice cold glass!

Before you drink, kiss the rim!

You, too, can be prized,

By writing things on him.

Hey, try poems yourself, stylized

In a way which makes them extra short.

Almost say. Be a modern heir.

He’ll give you a glowing report.

Look for it in that great big pile of papers there.

 

PERFECTION WAITS

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Perfection waits,

In the word, heaven,

Or perhaps somewhere else,

And look, it is almost here,

In the morning’s white-turning-to-blue sky,

With the intersection, the streets, clear

Of traffic at last, the holiday tourism gone by,

Since all obey the calendar,

Like one cell in your body telling you to die.

Everybody listens when the time arrives,

But you missed the signal, thank God.

Here you are, waiting by the stream.

I was afraid you would find my request much too odd.

Perfection is more than a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAREWELL ALWAYS

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To those we love, it is farewell always.

Those we hate, do not get, from us, a goodbye,

But like those we love, they, too, may give us a wave, when they die.

If rivals receive fearsome displays,

The nothing the hated receive, is more unkind.

Yet the calm we affect

For those we deeply love and respect

May make us seem careless and blind.

We are in this fix and we cannot get out—

We hate with such certainty, and love with such doubt,

That sometimes we find—

In the morning, after the battle,

Everything cold and still—

One we loved with our senses poisoning our mind.

The body hates the mind—

Which tells it where to go.

And death is only bad because of the ones we love, you know.

THERE IS ONLY ONE LINDA

There is only one Linda,

And Linda wants it so.

Linda will always be Linda

As far as Linda will go.

The first time I saw Linda,

I didn’t know Linda was her name.

But Linda came out of her mouth

And that’s when Linda came.

My eyes fixed on Linda

And Linda registered fast.

Her name flew quickly after:

Linda, a memory to last.

Perhaps the leaves she held,

Bunched in her lovely hand,

Will keep the memory,

As I in my memory understand.

She belonged to Linda,

And seemed to want to be Linda,

As I later thought,

When I reflected on meeting Linda

By chance—not sought.

Not seeking Linda, or anyone at all,

I had sauntered up to her.

Sometimes these things occur!

She was indifferent then,

Indifferent now. But when

She complained that even men

Were using her name, Linda,

I wondered what possible agenda

Could there be?

Linda! Tell me.

But Linda remained aloof,

And sad, like any owner,

Turned away, as I cried,

There is only one Linda.

And I have proof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOVE MAKES BEAUTY IMPOSSIBLE

I love beauty more than love, and she

Was able, after a while, to see,

Because she was beautiful, this truth about me.

Everything to me gradually became ugly:

The farms we visited, rural places

With ponds and moss, faces

Of other women, sunsets, the sky,

The bees. Music needed her sigh

Before I could listen. Beauty flew

Away from everything. Finally, I knew

Only what she was, what she could see.

Her love took beauty away from me.

Beauty was hers, and love made this so.

Her beauty the only beauty possible to know.

But she knew this was wrong.

She didn’t want her beauty to be all of my song.

She was uncomfortable with her beauty’s report.

She thought her legs were too short.

She didn’t want her beauty filling my head—

So all other beauty to me was dead.

She knew beauty lives throughout

The world; of course she began to doubt

My love for her; it was only beauty

I loved—her, the only beauty, was insanity.

She could not be the only beauty for me.

And now that she’s gone, a door

Opens: Beauty I’ve never noticed before.

But beauty only makes me sad

Because of her—her, who I had.

 

 

 

 

MISANTHROPY [THE ESSAY]

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And love all human kind” —Shelley

Misanthropy is the greatest evil.

Misanthropy’s siren song is difficult to resist.

Misanthropy will make us love—by hating someone else, by hating others.

Misanthropy insinuates itself even into love.

Misanthropy takes many forms, and is the great seductive pull against all that is necessary for life.

The poor depend on small favors from people to survive, and vast millions of urban poor have no escape from the worst aspects of the human race—most of the world’s poor either put up with people to some degree—or they perish.

Great persons emerge from peopled poverty armed with the greatest weapon: a deep love and understanding of mankind.

Misanthropy is the basis of insanity, false rhetoric, slander, crime, and all sorts of human misery.

The rich can select who they associate with, and boss around the rest.

This is why the wealthy lifestyle is so attractive—it allows us to keep needy and annoying people at a distance, but the danger to those who escape the gravity of having to deal with people is that the rich devolve into hateful misanthropy, and end up seeing people as objects.

The rich, at the top of the food chain, fall prey to hatred of those below them. They loathe sprawling humanity—and the buying and selling which caters to humanity’s wants and needs.

This is why wealthy elites hate “capitalism”—which, when we clear away the endless, complex, professorial, socialist, theorizing about it—is just buying and selling.

Pro-capitalists cannot be “elites”—no matter how large their bank accounts. You may be rich, but if you are a businessman, you will always be seen as an uneducated buffoon.  You will never be fawned over in Vanity Fair. You will never be loved by the Windsors. You will never be a senator from Massachusetts or New York. You will not belong to secret societies—unless you are a secret traitor to the capitalist cause.

This is why the elite believes contraception is preventative health care. Less people is considered healthy. After all, in their hearts, all elites feel it is the poor and the ignorant who tend to have more children. Women in poverty who are in the trenches having children and peopling the world live the most painful life imaginable.

Misanthropy belongs to money, and it isn’t stupid; it’s quite logical—which is precisely why its evil is so seductive.

Actually, misanthropy, for all its “logic,” is finally more stupid than stupid, as evil always ultimately is.

“Less people” drives up prices,—college tuition, food, fuel, everything we need—because there are less people paying to keep elitist institutions afloat—institutions whose very message boils down to “less people is better.”

The fashionable Left is educated dumb.

The working class Right, because it is less misanthropic, is even dumber.

But there is no Left or Right.

There’s only top and bottom.

The “right” is near the bottom—those Trumpers, those members of the working class, who vaguely, in an uneducated manner, or under-educated manner, object to elitist manners and logic.

“Left” and “Wealthy Elites” (some call it “Deep State,” some call it Kennedys—or any family seeking to be the new American “royals”) have become the same thing.

Human devolution is always a top/bottom event, not a left/right one (and here, ironically, the Left is correct! but the Left—again, an irony!—is now the “top.”)

Why does the ‘no debate’ philosophy of radical, doom-oriented, environmentalism—misanthropic at its core—spring from wealthy elites?

Isn’t the answer obvious?

Why is liberalism, which favors, in all its edicts, less people on the planet, the essential religion of the richest of the rich?

Isn’t the answer obvious?

It is the siren call of misanthropy—which seeks to free itself  from the torture of living.

Ah, living! The “fever called living” as Poe called it: all the painful, human-centered burdens of life: raising children, exploiting and controlling vast, indifferent nature, the complex and laborious tasks of engineers and businessmen and blue collar workers. And then, in addition, the ‘car salesman’ support of this painful, traditional life with morale-boosting religion—human consciousness giving itself up to something ‘higher.’

And what is this ‘higher’ entity, finally?  This God that the secular Left sneers at?

What is God, really, after all the symbolism is wiped away?

Nature, fecundity, and growth.  Stupid capitalism. What people do.

That’s what it is.

God, a fancy which defies settled, logical, misanthropy, is the opposite of the savvy, scientific, leftist “less people is better.”

“Less people is better” is the modern, leftist, elite mantra.

And the opposition’s mantra, only vaguely understood by the working class members of the anti-Left (anti-Top): “More (and the efficiency and ingenuity necessary so more can thrive) is better.”

Misanthropy seeks escape from “more people is better” pain.

Misanthropy seeks peace, extreme pleasure, future-less hedonism, the ease of limited feeding from natural sources—so much easier than the complex needs of an ever-increasing, “more people is better,” human society.

It is easy to see misanthropy as a good.

Misanthropy is the desire to be alone with the beloved.

To exist in perfection apart from the competing, striving, teeming world.

Misanthropy is the poet, the lover, and the sage.

But, alas, false gods, these.

Misanthropes are smart. The cheerful are stupid. So the elites say.

Misanthropy is extremely seductive—and has a myriad of songwriters and flute players.

Necessity, which is at the heart of labor and comfort for masses of sprawling, buying-and-selling, waste-discarding, polluting humanity, is the most powerful enemy of misanthropy—the phenomenal advance and expansion of human society since its primitive recorded beginnings is proof that misanthropy is the temptation, but not the rule. Misanthropy is the solipsism from which we eventually wake.

But why necessity?  Why is expansion, why is more—the growth witnessed throughout history, since humans were hunter-gatherers—necessary?

Death.

Death makes wild, reckless, cunning, persistent, growing, stupid, capitalist, breeding, life, necessary.

The sorrow of death has one cure. More life.

Crushing sorrow has one cure. More of whatever is good. Never less of whatever is good.

Good always demands there be more of itself.

More is not always good.

But good is always more.

The only antidote to death is life—life, whose essence is to ever increase, in order to safely defy the eternal pull of gravity, entropy, and death.

The highly educated, avant-garde, misanthrope lives in constant fear, as ever-naive, ever-productive, ever-needy humanity—whether the Mozart, or the simpleton—crowd in.

The misanthrope is certain: cunning, sleepless humanity, irresponsibility breeding and increasing, is evil, and this evil can only be remedied by the misanthrope’s “quality of life.” And this “quality” always demands the faucet of humans to some degree be shut off—the “quality” of the misanthrope inevitably means one thing and one thing only: “less people.” Not less pain. Not less bullshit. Less people.

The misanthrope fancies there is no God—in exact ratio to how much he fancies he is God. The misanthrope is certain he knows happiness—in people individually, and in humanity as a whole—and the misanthrope is certain that 50 million people have a better chance at happiness than 100 million people. Not in some cases. But in all cases.

The misanthrope is obsessed with “quality,” and “quality” always translates, for the misanthrope, to “less people.”

The misanthrope asks, why shouldn’t “Nature-and-how-people-live-in-it” define human behavior, rather than “ever-expanding-human-happiness?”

The misanthrope, being a misanthrope, doesn’t want to hear the answer.

All “human behavior,” and all “how should humans behave?” questions include “Nature” by implication, and “happiness” and “expanding happiness” is the only human motivation which can possibly exist. And what is the very essence of “Nature?” It grows.

The misanthrope, in his less-is-better dream, in his desire for the immured, and the peaceful, and the self-ordered, lives in constant, anxious, tortured, indignant, superior, elitist, dread.

In person, he may not be misanthropic at all.

His learning makes him so.

 

HOW CAN I CALCULATE YOUR WORTH?

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How can I calculate your worth?

Diamonds, gold, oil, are tucked inside the earth—

To the penny we calculate their worth.

And the calculation of getting them.

Are you worth more than a gem?

Are you as rare? I got you for a smile,

And you make it infinitely clear

I cannot trade you. You’re here.

Let me be in your quiet company for awhile,

And never estimate your worth

By things we wrestle from the earth.

You’re common, and came to me with ease.

You weep; you say “thank you” and “please.”

So why are you more valuable than gold—

Which everyone wants, and which never gets old?

 

WRITING RETREAT

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Virtue grows to become vice, until it shrinks again, back to virtue.

Vice grows in stature, is virtue, and if it keeps growing, becomes vice again.

The dials of morals constantly adjust.

Vice and virtue are not absolutes.

This wildly fluctuating truth often escapes morally determined individuals—who contribute more to vice as virtuous individuals, than those, who bent on vice, accidentally discover they have done a good thing.

True condemnation must be reserved for those (usually leaders in a position to impact society) who grasp the dynamic described above, and, masking themselves in virtue, fan virtuous behavior into a conflagration of vice.

Love, for instance, is a virtue— until it becomes so predominant that it leads to hurtful promiscuity.

Selfishness is a vice, but growing into a healthy independence of spirit, turns to virtue.

Moral transformations are unpredictable, and even unruly—continually challenging our moral intelligence.

The usefulness of the Program Era—where mere students of literature were converted into students who write literature themselves—has devolved from virtue to vice.

We have gone from: “I would like to become a writer.”

To: (whiny voice) “Look what I wrote!”

Millions who fancy themselves poets (that is, every reader of poetry today) are now purveyors of harm—the virtue of curiosity for what it might be like to be a good writer, has expanded into the vice of certainty that one is a good writer.

The virtue of literature as a bridge to understanding, sympathy, and knowledge has been replaced by the vice of literature as personal soap box. The people have turned into an ignorant mob. Democracy guided by law has grown into a clamor of self-interest.

Not only do the poets ignore any writing which is better than their own—no, the situation is far, worse—they positively resent writing which is better than their own, since they fear it will usurp them and their mantra, “Look what I wrote!”

Talk about the bad chasing out the good.

Vice (for the moment) is rampaging like a flood, through all channels of poetry, to a profound degree, and the Creative Writing Industry is to blame.

In the rush to be someone, no one knows anything.  Like what a good poem is.

Quadrivium has been pushed out by trivium.

The swords and spears of rhetoric, grammar, and logic have crushed what used to be the feminine charms of poetry’s soul: geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy.

The virtue of literature—a beautiful device for subtle yet expansive communication within a nation of educated readers—has become the vice of literature—a megaphone for anyone with a loud voice, a sore bum and a big ego.

But this could change, and quickly.

Present vice need not be destroyed and conquered, only diminished—into a virtue.

The clamor will tire of itself, and reduce itself into a voice.

Mine.

And you will hear.

 

 

 

NOVEMBER 2017. THE SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

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1) Sushmita Gupta— When the waves lashed and the clouds loomed and I was alone.

2) Diane Seuss— I could do it. I could walk into the sea!

3) Rachel  McKibbens— as you lie still within the soft forgotten witch of your body

4) Daipayan Nair— The maker of a house carries its hardness.

5) Eminem— The best part about me is I am not you.

6) Sharon Olds—  I had not put it into words yet, the worst thing

7) Natasha Trethewey— two small trout we could not keep.

8) Billy Collins— The name of the author is the first to go

9) Terrance Hayes— but there are tracks of your syntax about the land

10) Robert Pinsky— The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

11) Bob Dylan— How does it feel?

12) Dan Sociu— the quakes moving/ for nothing, under uninhabited regions. (trans. Ana-Maria Tone)

13) Ben Mazer— Mother then/I am your son/The King.

14) Denise Duhamel— Ken wants to feel Barbie’s toes between his lips

15) Molly Fisk—  Then someone you love. And then you.

16) Sherman Alexie— They were common people who believed only in the thumb and the foot.

17) Jorie Graham— the infinite finding itself strange among the many

18) Charles Simic— Have you found a seat in your room/For every one of your wayward selves?

19) Louise Glück— In her heart, she wants them to go away.

20) Richard Howard— inspired by some wag’s verbose variations on the theme of semi-porn bric-a-brac

21) Donald Hall— so that she could smell the snowy air.

22) Stephen Cole— For the knowing heart the known heart cannot know.

23) Laura Kasischke— as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.

24) Mary Ruefle— the dead borrow so little from the past.

25) Tony Hoagland— Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

26) Kevin Young— a freshman, I threw/a Prince party, re-screwed/ the lights red & blue

27) Maxine Beneba Clarke— penny lane/on the Beatles trail/all the locals say and they nod/as if for sure they know/our tourist game

28) Carolyn Forché— What you have heard is true.

29) Mary Jo Bang— A plane lit down and left her there.

30) Dan Beachy-Quick— Drab bird unseen in the dark dark’s underbrush

31) Carl Dennis— Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.

32) Christian Wiman—  Do you remember the rude nudists?

33) Stanley Plumly— I clapped my hands just for the company.

34) Major Jackson— All seeing is an act of war.

35) Gary B. Fitzgerald— A life is gone and, hard as rock, diamonds glow in jet black skies.

36) Mary Angela Douglas—  the larks cry out and not with music

37) A.E. Stallings— From the weeds of the drowned.

38) Joe Green—  the teacup is filled with the eyelashes of owls

39) Dorianne Laux—  It’s tough being a guy, having to be gruff and buff

40) Collin Yost— I’ll love you when you’re mad at me

41) Rupi Kaur— Don’t tell me my women aren’t as beautiful as the ones in your country

42) Wendy Cope— The planet goes on being round.

43) Warsan Shire— when the men come, set yourself on fire.

44) Savannah Brown— Hi, I’m a slut. What?!

45) Brenna Twohy— My anxiety is a camera that shows everyone I love as bones

46) Lily Myers— My mother wanes while my father waxes

47) Imani Cezanne— Addiction is seeking comfort in that which is destroying you.

48) Ada Limón— What’s left of the woods is closing in.

49) Olivia Gatewood— resting bitch face, they call you

50) Vincent Toro—  This island like a basket/of laundry 

51) Koraly Dimitriadis— the day I moved out, I took my wedding dress to mum’s house

52) Nayuka Gorrie— I lose it and find it and lose it again.

53) Hera Lindsay Bird— Keats is dead so fuck me from behind

54) Marie Howe— Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?

55) Valerie Macon— You are the boss of your canvas

56) Patricia Lockwood—  OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

57) Danielle Georges—  O poorest country, this is not your name.

58) Frank Bidart—  In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead.

59) Eileen Myles— I write behind your back.

60) Leila Chatti— Are you also dreaming? Do you still worship me, now that I’m here?

61) Claudia Rankine—  After the initial presidential election results come in, I stop watching the news.

62) Anne Carson—  I can hear little clicks inside my dream.

63) William Logan—  the pastel salons require/the formalities of skin

64) Marilyn Chin—  lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency.

65) George Bilgere—  The mysteries/from the public library, due

66) Robin Coste Lewis—  what’s greyed/In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.

67) Daniel Borzutzky—  hieroglyphics painted on the/walls of financiers who accumulate capital through the/unjustified sexual behavior of adulterous/women

68) Maggie Smith—  Any decent realtor,/walking you through a real shithole, chirps on/about good bones

69) Kim Addonnizio—  a man who was going to be that vulnerable,/that easy and impossible to hurt.

70) Kay Ryan—  If it please God,/let less happen.

71) Dana Gioia—  there is no silence but when danger comes.

72) Megan Fernandez— The bullet is a simple, adolescent heartache.

73) Kushal Poddar— My mom, a wheelchair since two thousand and one

74) Sascha Aurora Akhtar— I ate/But I am/Hungrier than before

75) Jennifer Reeser— your coldness and my idealism/alone for all this time have kept us true.

76) Linda Ashok—  a sudden gust of Kalbaisakhi/changed the conversation.

77) Ramsha Ashraf— tremble and tremble and tremble/With every kiss

78) Amber Tamblyn— If it had been Hillary Clinton, this would’ve never happened to Harvey Weinstein.

79) Ruth Awad— Nothing grows from me except the dead

80) Merryn Juliette— I will love her all insane

81) Nathan Woods— The best poems swell the lungs.

82) Nahid Arjouni— My headscarf will shudder if you speak with anyone. (trans. Shohreh Laici)

83) Philip Nikolayev— the fool moon/couldn’t stand the iambic pentameter any longer

84) Saira Shah Halim— The rains left behind a petrichor of shared verses

85) Jay Z— I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.

86) Nalini Priyadarshni— mostly bookish, as sinfulness should be

87) Mark Doty— Into Eden came the ticks, princes of this world, heat-seeking, tiny

88) Paige Lewis— I’m making love easy for everyone.

89) Mary Oliver—  You don’t have to be good.

90) Lyn Hejinian— to change this nerdy life upon row upon row upon row

91) Afaa Weaver— I stand here where I was born,/ and the masks wait for me.

92) Alex Dimitrov— What is under the earth followed them home.

93) Ben Lerner— jumpsuits, they have changed/painting

94) Wendy Videlock— the owl devours/ the hour,/ and disregards/ the rest

95) Joie Bose— I own that you from that night in November

96) Amy Gerstler— Pardon my/frontal offensive, dear chum.

97) Nathaniel Mackey—  Some new Atlantis known as Lower/Ninth we took leave of next

98) W.S. Merwin— into a world he thought was a thing of the past

99) Juan Felipe Herrera— Where is our exile? Who has taken it?

100) Charles Bernstein—  Think about it, Mr./Fanelli.

SOME ARRANGE THEIR LIVES THIS WAY

Some arrange their lives this way,

So it ends with sitting, exhausted, thinking of nothing.

There’s a worse way to end: bitter, blaming others,

Moving a lot, blaming others. We’re always blaming others.

So it’s not bad to surrender, I suppose, utterly defeated,

When love is inextinguishable and goes on forever

For this one person, though it didn’t work.

Blame ruins everything, even love.

Why do you want fiction, or poetry,

When you can have the real truth here?

Despair and love combine to make she and I last.

She, alone, and I, alone, just as we were in the past.

 

THE THREE TRUTHS

There are three truths. The first: society is polite

And what is right for them, for you must be right.

This is the truth of laws and what is published and said.

This is language and morality and all that needs to be read.

This is value, in the building and the gem,

These are the rules, and it’s your loss if you don’t understand them.

But there are two more truths, and these apply to you.

Your appetite, your wishes, whatever outside of society you desire to do.

And your truth, unlike society’s, is not one truth, but two.

Democratic society’s one truth applies

To all—but not to the individual; otherwise the self dies.

Those you meet who are dense, cowardly, obedient, and have no soul

Are brittle keepers of correctness; they have no art; they are apes who play a role.

Worse are those who avoid rules, and believe “I am the measure of all.”

Eccentric, controlling, crazy, their goal is to make you crawl.

But self-knowledge and understanding is the Code of Three,

The truth of laws—plus the the double truth of the self—and that would be me.

I love my country, then myself, and then myself expressed in poetry.

I love others as members, like myself, of lawful society,

Secondly, I strive for self-knowledge: what, in my soul do I want?

Thirdly, the truth of you—if I want to love you, but I can’t.

Loving and knowing the society of rules

Is necessary—but this is not the love of individuals—

The passion of sex and jealousy and psychology and murder,

Desire which kills, enslaves, eats, bites, hates law and order,

The emptying impulse, which also fills.

But even the murderer is a victim of rules and laws.

Strict obedience lives in the lion’s claws.

Poetry has one truth: the truth of you: what do you want?

The genius breaks rules for you.  But you can’t.

Escaping truth, you wandered into the shade.

You thought to escape poetry, but found out how it is made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN LOVE WAS A MOOD

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When love was a mood,

At times it was happy, at times it was rude,

At times it was crude,

When love was a mood.

When love was a thought,

I sold remorse and remorse I bought,

And sometimes we fought,

When love was a thought.

When love was a word,

It was near another and became absurd,

Or was true, but hardly heard,

When love was a word.

When love was a spell,

I wondered and pondered so it made me unwell;

I, in awe, she in her shell,

When love was a spell.

When love was a tune

It circled the moon

And we knew the distance would catch us soon,

When love was a tune.

But when love was you,

It was then I knew

Nothing was true,

When love was you.

 

 

 

THE GREAT LOVE

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The great love is always assumed to be wrong.

“I don’t want to be right,” says the passionate song.

The great love is never between two

People. “I’ll never find another you”

Is what we think, but this is true

Only because something is wrong.

The world is filled with passionate hearts,

But a heart must die before it starts.

Everyone knows inside what is right;

Intricate seeing requires some light,

But morality lives in the dead of night;

Morality guides us every day.

It is who we are. Morality never goes away.

And morality and the heart are the same,

Justice and truth, our life and our name.

The great love, as we suppose, is wrong.

It wonders at the moon. It crawls along.

It is not a decision made by the mind.

It thrills and dissembles. It is not kind.

I heard its sad, inhuman song,

Beautiful and right, ugly and wrong,

Which sounded in the squeaking of a train,

In a voice, desperate because of the rain,

A voice annoyed because of the wind,

A brittle smile refusing to give in,

A secret whisper, a pain, expressed,

Which found no comfort upon my breast.

A despair, which none could see,

Killing her will, poured over me.

A song shared with no one around

Was more than a song. It was ours. A sound.

We saw things others couldn’t see.

She looked with bewilderment at me.

Our love, waking and dying—

Was a fear of a truth, betrayed by lying—

So that our truth, only our truth,

Was the one and only proof,

That something exists which is unique,

A loneliness, terrifying and weak,

Because it moves apart

From every good and perfect heart.

 

ALLITERATION: A BRIEF ESSAY ON POETRY

Image result for ozymandias

A poem is just an interesting person saying interesting things.

I don’t read Heine and Shakespeare and Keats for phrases of pretty alliteration.

The poets today describe Shelley’s statue—and then tell you what it means.

The image at the end of Ozymandias is not an image, per se; Shelley is saying something.

All purely imagist poetry is nothing but pathetic fallacy, or, if not, then it is pure impressionistic poetry, comprised of images only—which more properly belongs to painting and the eye.

Be a Japanese painter, if this is the kind of poetry you are interested in.

Critics complain of “statement poetry,” as if poetry were not the simple desire to say something—which is all it is.

Shakespeare is great because of what he says—as he adds in his art.

Like rhyme, which is avoided because it becomes sing-songy, if one doesn’t know how to do it, poets avoid statements, or speech, because they are deficient there, too. They have nothing to say.

When Shakespeare, the master, asks “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” he is not making that silly mistake of trying to describe a summer’s day. No poem could.

Keats, in his sonnet, “The House of Mourning,” professes the same sentiment when he rebukes Wordsworth for writing a sonnet “on Dover.”

There Dover sits, Keats is saying, and a poem about Dover is bound to fail, precisely because poets do not exist to say anything about Dover. That task is for a painter, a photographer, or a travel essayist. Nothing at all against Dover.

There are those who think song lyrics have rhyme and therefore poems should not rhyme. And they reason themselves into a corner, unfortunately: if any attempt at sound as a tool is eschewed, what is left?  Describing what we see—but pure seeing cannot be done with poetry.

We’ve seen trees, and therefore, when trees show up in a poem, we think we see them in the poem.

We don’t.

The poet has not, and never will, make us see, with certainty, trees.

The poet, every time, is saying something about trees.

But critics and readers who are sure that poetry is not someone saying something (having convinced themselves that poetry is far more subtle and attenuated) rejoice in the idea that no reader will agree with another—you do not see the same “trees” I see; correct, but instead of seeing this ambiguity as a bad thing, the ‘poetry as seeing’ error is compounded, as poetry of precise and accessible speech is rejected, and a far more insidious error arises—the one which celebrates ambiguity as a good.

Either way, the poet will go about describing Dover, naively thinking Dover (not actually depicted) really is presented—or: implicitly finding the “poetry” in the very fact that there are a million Dovers.

I have heard, countless times, readers celebrate a poem for meaning a different thing to every person, as if this obvious shortcoming were somehow a virtue. They know poetry cannot be seen. And, for this reason, are sure it cannot be understood, either.

Now poetry can see a little bit, but only in the service of poems like “Ozymandias” or “Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?”

These poems do not attempt to describe Dover. Yet every citizen of Dover, if they can read, will read these two poems—and agree on what they say.

 

 

HALLOWEEN

The black cat explained the history

Of wardrobe, whisker, claw, and the clues

He kept dropping became

Obvious enough after awhile.

The rubber Frankenstein reminded no one

Of Mary Shelley. It was useless

To talk of origins. Vampires

Want to suck your blood

And don’t give it another thought.

It’s dark. You’re drunk.

No, really. Don’t think about it.

The witch made some good points.

Her partner, the guy dressed as a gentleman, made some good points, too.

That costume is sexy.

I wonder if it’s true?

 

LIFE IS A FOUNTAIN

Life is a fountain. To escape the mucky earth of graves

We build towers and houses and beds.

The rationalizing and intellectualizing and facebooking,

The bubble of mainstream conspiracy which keeps us aloft

Glitters, and we are crazy and wrong.

Soiled soil, who soiled you?

Few attend the poetry reading. The poet

Is slightly more psychotic than the audience.

“Introverts don’t like to explain things. Accept

Their silence.” The term “introvert”

Becomes another word for creep. Cover-up is all.

Let’s keep the shit under wraps, and pretend

Our political side is good, just because it’s best,

Or let’s send the shit flying everywhere.

Factually speaking, I don’t know whether the facts

Of the conspiracy are true, or not;

These hammy journalists don’t know either.

Partial information is quickly printed, and you decide

Whether you want to appear as the type of person

Who tends to believe in poetry, or not.

We ride the fountain. Facts don’t like facts.

We keep talking and explaining, vainly,

Going with our gut, our eyes, our wants.

Officials do things, and this becomes fact,

Even though the premise may be wildly off.

Even romance and children fail to be profound.

We even sound like a fountain.

Error keeps talking as the earth

Waits, the path—see it?—leading to a dark hole in the ground.

 

 

 

 

WHEN BEAUTY TRIES TO LOVE, WE LAUGH

Image result for first cigarette in painting

When beauty tries to love, we laugh.

The porn actress’s biggest gaffe

Had been innocent; she vocalized a love for a person

Who hated her—which led to her ruin.

She took revenge on eyes of flesh

By putting her beauty before the camera.

Venus looks good, naked, in bright light.

But look at her angry face as she pursues pleasure

Which is of no substance, and has no measure.

Films with tense, obvious beginnings, but no end,

The false paradise of the addict’s dreary end.

Your first cigarette, your first staying up all night,

All leading to “Are you alright?” when you’re not alright.

That’s why modesty stays out of sight,

Abstaining eyes which always remember.

Eternal love! False pledge!

Look at her smiling, out there on the ledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY IS A JOKE

Poetry is a joke.

This was well established long ago

When the first clown took the stage

And the fighting stopped temporarily

And laughter was given to old age,

Laughter by poets sad and old.

Poetry is a joke. The jokes were bold.

Poetry is a joke.

This was well established long ago

When tragedy sang the pain of war,

And actors first made their sad gestures

In amphitheaters stony and roomy

For audiences gloomy, but war still went on.

Poetry is a joke.

When lyric replaced the epic

A young and beautiful person spoke,

And, to the elders amusement, dared to complain

That the young and beautiful can also feel pain,

And feel it even more acutely.

Poetry is a joke.

When letters to lovers

Were analyzed by professors

And put away in books

And words were separated from music

And all to themselves words were read mutely.

Poetry is a joke.

There’s nothing I can say—

My love is greater than the Milky Way—

To make my true love stay.

Poetry is a joke.

Ladies. And gentlemen.

I’m sorry I spoke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HURT, HURT

Image result for bloody battle in renaissance painting

Hurt, hurt, as much as you can,

Hurt and flirt, and torture the man,

All of you women, hurt men like mad,

So I don’t feel so alone and sad,

So I won’t feel the horrible pain

Of the dying soldier who dies in vain.

Let me see pain everywhere,

To ease my wretched care.

I won’t feel alone in my crying

If other hearts admit they are dying.

The loveliest melodies sing of wrong

But I won’t be lovely in this song.

This song screams for battle,

For love to kill lovers like cattle.

For blood, and blood in the dirt,

Wars where millions are hurt,

And where the dagger hides in the shirt.

Women were invented by men,

To breed, work, and when

Their flesh is dined upon,

God—who used a virgin to make a son,

As gentle as new leaves,

Cut by bullets, when a battle heaves

Blood upwards, towards the sky—

Causes me to bleed and cry.

 

 

YOU DON’T KNOW

Image result for moon in renaissance painting

You don’t know. How could you know?

We never know what another knows.

The thing we don’t know is what the other knows.

We know the rest. The light, everywhere light goes,

The darkness, and how the darkness leaps and throws

Shadows, and everything else the movement of a shadow shows.

But we never know what the other knows.

I don’t know what she knows.

I only hope the wanting to know sweetly shows.

The music. And anything else that glows.

I want to love her and I want to know.

If only love did not quickly come and go,

And ignorance were not a prerequisite to know!

Do I complain of what must be so?

Does she have to know I know she doesn’t know?

 

 

 

 

LOVE WITHOUT WORK

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My limbs are tired. The flesh I prefer is the eye.

Heaven’s in it. It’s almost an effort to sigh.

I lie around, enjoying beauty,

The kind that’s always been there.

Another ordinary day has offered sun and air.

I don’t try too hard. I wrote her a letter.

The words didn’t make a sound. But they made it better.

I strike the match and its flame

Lights the cigarette. I will never be the same.

 

LOVE IS A BURDEN

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Love was a silly dare.

Because it involved care.

When my lover began to not care,

She embraced it. Love is so much care

That we love it when love is no longer there.

She runs from me. I am care.

That was love, but that was where

The burden was, the heavy burden of love and care.

The memory of that bright affair

Is all we have, in our dark care.

And so that was my doom.

She got up and walked into another room

And saw how easy it was

To surrender to joy that involves no love.

Love is a burden because it is care,

And when the burden fades away,

We see why love doesn’t like to stay.

When old age starts not to care

And feels the burden of life fade,

It feels the attraction of the shade,

And then love leaves love,

And happily we see good move;

Good goes, which caused us pain,

And we lie opiated, and let all things fade,

Too lazy to be good, or explain.

She smiles—but feels so much hurt,

Poems are her only means to flirt,

Short, wise poems on the Internet,

To those she hasn’t kissed yet,

And never will, because far away

Her readers sit—and love, it may

Want things, but the burden of love can never stay.

The child grows old, and poems will say

The burden, love, will fly away

Like anything that wisely goes

Before it sees the dying of the rose,

Before it sees the dying of the king,

Who cared too much for everything.

You loved me, but there was too much care.

Love was just a silly dare,

Though I was bold, and you were fair,

As fair as the fairest flower—

Which burdened the ephemeral eye for an hour.

 

 

 

AND IF YOU DREAM

Image result for Woman dreaming in renaissance painting

And if you dream, they call it procrastination,

Which is bad, they say. You lose all, wasting time.

Yet think of all the good I did, putting off

The adventures that could kill me. I would have died of a cough

Had I been ambitious about smoking, a habit I adore,

But I was lazy. I paused. I was too late to open the store;

For then there would be customers. Like an extra pet

Who pees in defense against the other one. Affection will cause you trouble yet.

All my plans backfired when I was scheming.

The best thing that happened to me

Happened when I was looking away dreamily.

I’ve saved myself many times from love, by dreaming.

I’m glad I slept. Otherwise I would have met you,

Who would have broke my heart—dreaming was the better thing to do.

Here’s a list (on your phone) of every attraction

You possess. (A long list.) That’s why I took no action.

 

SHE PICKED ME OUT, A GENTLE SOUL, TO LOVE

She picked me out, a gentle soul, to love—

Finding a different man within—

To love rivers, slow, feeding deer and dove,

To love placid phrases and the easy grin—

Not a fighter and a rival, obsessed with her, and sin.

How could such a bashful guy, casual, and thin,

Be a mountain range of monsters within?

Did I own castles, and a fast plane?

No, I was an ordinary lingerer by inlet, weed, and lane.

I was perfect in my feeling under an urban sky,

Kissing her in a municipal park, as the ignorant walked by.

She wanted to control what, and when, she would see

Me, who honored her wishes, obediently.

Alert to her looks, and safe with the usual advice,

She knew I was a poet.  She thought poets were nice.

She didn’t like gifts. A poem costs less than a rose.

Bad poets are nice. But I wasn’t one of those.

I was a poet ready for mountain and sea,

Cleaning up the universe, for her and me.

I was a good poet. And those don’t come cheap.

Nice is nice, and I was nice. But my love made her weep.

I made her emotional. I looked at her, within.

I found sardonic pettiness, which couldn’t let me win.

She writhed and groaned under my spell

And convinced herself she was imprisoned in hell.

But she was the demon, and it was her light

Making the cave ghastly, ghastly her own eyesight.

She struggled, love’s captive, to be free.

She made that old accusation: jealousy.

But I wasn’t jealous. I was more than that.

A poet wants no rivals. I knocked them all flat.

I was more than a river, feeding deer and dove.

But she won in the end, for a poet has to love.

 

 

PUNISHMENT IS INTERESTING

Punishment is interesting.

Who gets to punish? You, or the fates?

“Getting what you deserve” fascinates.

Love is when we say, “you deserve me,”

And then we put our lover through hell,

Because we know nothing will ever go well,

And punishment happens every day;

Is that what life is? Punishment?

The worst kind is when, without a word, the one you love goes away.

The best kind?  Kissing, and then, too, there’s nothing you need to say.

Punishment is love when punishment involves two.

Death is the great ignore. Death is goodbye I don’t care about you.

Don’t die. Punish me every day. Be silent and strange.

But suffer where I can see you. Stay in range.

 

 

DAIPAYAN NAIR

Image result for moby dick the great whale in painting

What has happened to contemporary literature?

When did it become so overly serious, so full of itself?

What is literature supposed to do?

Literature is supposed to show us life, if not here, than over there, as it is.

OK, fine. Kill me and torture me, but with an enjoyable read.

Our modern era revels in the Weltschmertz novel—fiction written from an autobiographical ditch of despair, allowing readers to thrill at an existence more heart-breaking and miserable than their own.

Schadenfreude sells.

Literature, whether it is American literature or literature from somewhere else, has one use:

Drop the reader into a silo of pain—a place (real, fantastic) or a time (if it’s historical fiction) so terrifying, we are overjoyed, when we finish the book, to return to our boring, mundane existence.

The only difference between the more modest torture devices of contemporary literature and the gigantic, cumbersome classics such as Moby Dick or Ulysses, is that we don’t finish these epics—but we say we did.

The famous authors we read—Faulkner, Orwell, Huxley, O’Connor, Golding, Greene, Fitzgerald, McCarthy, Burgess, Bradbury, Miller, Waugh, Hemingway, Bowles, Rhys, Styron, London, Conrad, Kesey, Pynchon, Bellow—if we finish their books—blind, maim, confuse, madden, burn, demoralize, crush, enslave, confound, and kill us.

Henry James? He just bores us.

Why do we let them do this?

Do mystery or fantasy genres make us any happier?

No. They torture and murder us, too.

It’s all quite grim.

Modern literature. A maw. Of insanity and torture.

Look at any list of the “The 100 Best Novels.”

Check the list. Where are the great comic novels?

Where is the literature which lifts us above this dreary life?

Where is the genius of insight and humor?

Garrison Keillor recently got into some hot water, because Keillor wrote in the Washington Post that humorless, bleak, Kazuo Ishiguro should not have received the Nobel Prize for Literature—it’s because we let the grim Swedes pick the prize, Keillor half-jokingly opined.

Keillor must be shocked at how much genuine hate and scorn he received for his recent essay—for simply voicing his opinion, in a witty manner.

This is what we’ve come to.

Where have you gone, Oscar Wilde?

Or, Dorothy Parker?

Does every book, esteemed, or popular, need to feature hacked limbs?  Or clouds of confusion and depression?

Does every book need to be about how we’re trapped, and there’s no way out?

It only gets worse when we turn to modern poetry.

Expecting a rhyme to make us happy?  Guess, again.

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

This is from America’s currently most critically esteemed, contemporary poet.

And the prison walls of the harried soul close in.

So we go back to novels.  At least there, we have an arc, a story, and not just snippets of doom—as we are brutally killed and demoralized.

What a joy, then, to read the shrewd, brilliant, philosophical, poems of Daipayan Nair.

Nair says his “real muse” is “my own ‘distorted’ mind,” and though he belongs to the Neruda/Whitman school of poetry, this, we think, is the proper way to approach writing: don’t be afraid of your own distorted mind.

His childhood in northeast India had “fairy tale lullabies,” but “school and growing up” put him “survivor” mode, and then, finished with school, according to Nair:

The birth of poetry in me was more like a ‘rebellion,’ though I started with penning lyrical, romantic verses. One can say

Falling in love is
Like following a trend

Understanding love
Is kissing a rebellion

The excellence of the epigram is nowhere better exhibited today than in the writings of Daipayan Nair:

She doesn’t
Speak much

It gives me
One pair of lips
Two eyes
And an entire face
To talk to

~

How I will die
depends on the life
After my death

~

Time is a spoiled child.

~

The maker of a house carries its hardness.

~

Poetry is a poet trying to fathom his poet.

~

Let’s be silent
With each other tonight,
As our words
Have found better routes.
They take to the air,
Fly at luxurious speeds,
Landing exactly where they
Want to.

When I hear a voice
I only walk towards
The terminal.

~

Beauty, as helpless
As its beautiful posture
Reflected on a ten story window,
The walls of which
Are on fire.

~

Let’s die together.
What use is your cover
When it has
Nothing to cover

Everything
Sucked in my grave.

~

The future of a soul
As formless
As its disintegrating
Present.

~

It is not that Daipayan Nair’s writing refuses to deal with death and mayhem.

It does.

We are not here to praise the sunny colors of poetry which can be described as overly optimistic.

Some accuse Billy Collins of this, but there is an edge, an irony, beneath the surface, in Billy Collins—but this is a debate for another place and time.

The point is this.

Daipayan Nair does not belong to the sunny optimism school.

You have darkness.

And either the author is part of that darkness.

Or carries a light.

Some readers want mayhem, (or political indignation only) and need to see characters crushed by real cement and bricks. Killed by real despair.

With Daipayan Nair, the wit is what buries us.

It is the philosophy, not the sad life, which makes the writing important.

And which deserves a closer look.

Let us see again, that list of great writers.

Daipayan Nair deserves to be on it.

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I WISH I WERE SAD

Image result for half moon

I wish I were sad, sadder than I’ve ever been before,

So my heart—which is sad—could respond to these waves dying on the shore—

With a slow, somnolent, monotonous sound—

Befitting a slow symphony beginning,

O fated feeling! Sorrow wins! Sorrow will always be winning!

In half-sorrow, I stand, and watch the waves, without turning around,

Listening to their mournful, burrowing sound,

The water, dark, but the waves, hectic, and white,

As they hit the sand, the air, gray, with the coming night,

Unable to move in my sorrow, I’m aware

How I’ve always wanted to be sad, so I might dare

To be crazy and still for hours, to observe

The unfolding light in every cloud’s curve,

Nothing unfathomable, but all known

Eventually, as I look at sea and sky, alone.

But impatiently, I always feel the urge to move,

Moving on to the next thing, the only thing we love.

But besides the poet, who wants to be sad? No one.

Humiliating darkness covers the moon. I should befriend the sun.

Science has always saved me

From cold self-pity by the sea.

I once thought the moon’s phases were from the earth’s shadow.

But we see the phases, not because earth’s shadow throws

Darkness on the moon.

The moon is seen by where the moon goes

In relation to the sun, and where the observing earth is.

Night on the moon is like earth’s, not from a planet’s shadow.

My lover’s moods, or how, or if, she loves, is not a shadow of me.

Earth and moon must be dark or light, and the position of all three—

Dark moon, dark earth, and sun—determines what we see.

Love is not her or me,

It is not the earth shadowing the moon.

Love is the sun, the only light, and only love can tell if love arrives soon.

I can be sad—you made me sad—I can write poems, and crazily stare at the sea,

But also let reason—optimistically guessing the unknown—be the light for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POEM WITH AN IMAGE BY SHELLEY

Image result for the little devil in renaissance painting

What is life? Making toilets clean. This is what we do,

And the veneer of vanity becomes thicker

As we move up the totem, standing on this task.

Cleaning solves the old, and discovers the new.

Vain poet, the beauty you praise is not even a flicker;

There’s nothing moral or formal to know—do not ask

Useless questions. A testament,

A love, a landscape painting, a music, a law,

Exist impermanently, a paean to clean,

And if each offends, because secretly we know nothing’s permanent,

We say it’s personal taste, or poor method, but every flaw

Is ours. Vanity makes us blind and mean

To life’s true nature; the swift janitor

Is judge, poet, builder. Clean is all we are.

Smooth, uncluttered, this face in stone.

His majesty’s monument in the wilderness all alone.

 

 

 

 

 

BEAUTY TRAVELS AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT

Image result for drapery in renaissance painting

A festival’s autumn, slanting sun

Found beauty, and there was more than one

Among the young women, walking,

In comfortable clothes, makeup, not much talking.

When light shines in a beautiful woman’s eye

One sees the deepest part of woman’s beauty

And what we have always guessed appears to be right:

Beauty travels at the speed of light.

Beauty and desire have speed,

But love has a greater need:

No matter how swift the beams,

Love needs to be wise, and slow, and draped in dreams.

 

 

WE ARE BUT A SUM TOTAL OF OUR LOSSES—A POEM BY SAIRA SHAH HALIM

Saira Shah Halim is an educator, communications consultant, activist, and poet.

WE ARE BUT A SUM TOTAL OF OUR LOSSES

And they live in us like little monsters, trying to break free, the sum total of our losses.
No, you never really move on!
Times of gullibility, when you were duped.
The friends who let you down.
Times of incredulity, when it all melted.
Times when you crossed oceans for people who wouldn’t jump puddles for you.
The bullies you took on, in life’s naivety—it was all there when you took it all on your chin then.
The ones who left us too soon, the buds of February, it doesn’t heal; you learn to live with the idea of seeing them on the other side…
And you wear it all on your face; the rawness has a character now, more determined than before;
The monsters you dealt with then seem like a ‘cheesy story,’ thanks to years of resilience training.
You are fighting different monsters now; it’s been awhile since you discussed people; it’s not even about events and social niceties anymore;
It’s about strong stands and the whole hog, and you know that you will survive it with a little help from your friends.
And you watch everything in slow motion seated in the front seat of a grand opera; and you smile at life’s benign design.
You had rehearsed and played it all in your head, a number of times; and now you are on the stage after the umpteenth rehearsal,
No more fumbling, no awkwardness, it’s your time now to break a leg…
The ‘despondency’ monster has left, he left his friend ‘melancholia’ behind…
The emptiness monster looked weary, too; he left behind his ‘perspective’ jacket…
The camera is still rolling, and the curtain is not down yet.

Saira Shah Halim

Kolkata

India

There is a debate, currently, about what poetry is supposed to do; “emotional labor,” the term which is on everyone’s lips nowadays, threatens to become poetry itself.

“Emotional labor” began as a definition of intangible, positive, workplace behavior—largely a matter of keeping inappropriate emotions in check. Don’t call your boss, or a customer, a jerk. Be polite. It’s the traditional, patriarchal success mantra: control your emotions. Be rational. Don’t be emotional. It goes back to Socrates, the wisest of all philosophers. The more emotional, the weaker. All of us, in our hearts, know this is true. When we’re emotional, we can’t do anything. We don’t trust ourselves. Aristotle had a slightly different take than Socrates; emotions were good in art—because it helps us purge them—but emotions are still bad.

Saira Shah Halim is a successful woman who lives in India. Her poem is comforting. It does emotional labor. Her poem looks at life, and deeply at all kinds of emotional aspects of life, without complaining.

American feminists have taken the term “emotional labor” and run with it in a different direction: emotions are good, and women do all the important emotional labor, by being emotional, on account of being women. Emotions are work, and women are not appreciated for all the emotional work they do. But is the feminist position really so different? No. Emotions are a burden, finally. The feminists agree with Socrates: emotions are bad. Emotions are work. Labor.

A good balance between thinking and feeling is what we all want. Women can be rational. Men can be emotional. Gender clichés have no place in a complex, dangerous world.

We all experience the “loss” and the “monsters” in Saira Shah Halim’s poem.

Saira Shah Halim’s poem is both smart and emotional. And this is what poetry, and life, should be.

—Scarriet editors, Salem MA, USA

INSANITY IS CONTAGIOUS

Image result for insane in renaissance painting

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad” –P. Larkin

A good immune system will stop any germ,

But the mind has an interest where the body does not;

The body grows from egg and sperm,

But the mind alters the ethereal plot

Of what it is; the mind lives with other minds,

And every thought another thinks or does

Is what we are; the life my heart finds

Is you; I am what another was,

In a book’s distant past, or what

Your poem says, or you, or mine,

And all the thinking on the plot

Is reason after a bottle of wine,

The wet earth rising to greet us,

Voices resounding in a green dance,

Sense making sense of the crisis,

The soft, floating network our only chance.

I’ve noticed, in the few meetings we’ve had,

Since our love is no longer ours,

I trigger you really bad

And I am silent like the stars.

 

 

LOVE IS A LUXURY

Image result for harvey weinstein

Love is a luxury few can afford,

The greatest drug to take when you are bored,

Love is a death in the middle of your life,

The secret you keep from your friends and your wife.

Can you afford sleepless nights?

A mountain of sorrow and slights?

Call it a luxury, don’t call it mad,

Call it the greatest happiness possible when you are sad.

Call it kissing, don’t call it speech.

There’s nothing to say. When you reach

This height of luxury and cannot afford more,

Kiss her again and call her a whore.

Why is there insult? Because love is not polite.

It’s not reason. It’s not day. It’s night.

There are some things we cannot buy,

Though marriage and prostitution will try.

But love? Who can possibly purchase this?

It’s not a look, or a sudden kiss,

It’s death itself in the middle of life,

The secret you keep from friends and wife.

 

 

 

I WAS THE POET

Image result for female poets

He was unprepared for what I did.

Though deeply in love with him, I shut the door.

He thought my love was the occasion to kid,

And so I made sure we wouldn’t speak anymore.

His rank dragged him into more affection,

And he scorned me when rank was there.

His rank, not my love, gave him direction,

And I understood the nature of his care.

I heard what I needed to hear, and saw what I needed to see.

This was not politics of girl and boy,

But justice, and how the life will be.

I was the poet; mine, the height and pith.

Without respect, love is a toy,

And the soul will not be toyed with.

THE AUTUMN CROWN

Image result for autumn crown renaissance painting

The autumn crown is worn by many,

Discarded riches hiding a monarchy

Once young. Yet, even then, you found

Blind worshipers don’t stick around.

To acquire a certain amount of gold

This amount of soul must be sold,

And a feeling in your heart will be ignored,

Because your strategy was: acting bored.

You needed attention more than the rest,

And so indifference is what you feigned the best,

Because, sometimes, replaceable as we are,

We build ourselves into a rare star,

One which shines highest and apart;

And this is not done with love, but art.

You calculated the attraction

For gain, by another’s action,

Who moved towards you so fast,

You were startled, and a revery of your past

Brought you into a world of tears,

As you wept for those missing years

When all was fresh and new,

And I removed the crown from you.

 

 

 

 

 

PLAGIARISM WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE

Repeat what others say, if you want to get ahead,

Use “political” and “social” and “religious” and “marginalized”

But never say, “I think.”  You’ll be fucking dead.

The queen has secrets, and they are no business of yours.

Say “minorities” and “progress.” Don’t say, “the queen fucks whores.”

The same things keep repeating, and you will not really

Say anything original. Affect the scholarly. Don’t be touchy-feely.

Say what you are supposed to say. Say what is approved.

Repeat what the repeated have said. Otherwise you won’t be loved.

Don’t repeat what I say, if you want to get ahead.

Be as mainstream as possible, or you’ll be fucking dead.

Plagiarism defines all bad writing, which, to be honest, is nearly all of it.

The minute you try to be a writer, you’ll just be copying shit.

The greatest plagiarist is Nature, and that means

You don’t have to do anything. You can just rest in those quiet scenes.

 

 

NAHID ARJOUNI TRANSLATED BY SHOHREH LAICI

Nahid Arjouni is an Iranian-Kurd poet and Scarriet is proud to publish the following four poems of hers— for the first time in English.

A Lock of My Hair

Snip a lock of my hair.
Take it with you.
Doors will open,
when you arrive in any town.
My headscarf will shudder,
if you speak with anyone.
I will be very jealous
if any woman falls in love with you.
That’s how
I spread around the stations of the world.

Being a Buck

I must have been a buck.
I could have attacked humans in cars, buses, homes,
I could have escaped to the highest mountains, where no one could find me.
I could have crossed the edge of the abyss,
into passageways no one could see.
I could have been a buck that had no place to sleep,
the buck that sleeps with a woman who never sleeps in a bed,
I could have been a buck for the woman who still thinks
there is no way but being a buck.

How Many Times…

How many times can we dress our dead?
How many times can we shout in the streets, among the crowds?
How many times can we hide our faces from invisible cameras?
How many times can we take pictures of spouting blood?
How long can we be alive?
Every day, every moment,
One of us dies,
One of us drinks poison,
One of us, afraid of being lost,
Afraid of drinking poison,
Afraid of vanishing in a cell no one can find—
How many times can we
How many times
How many
How
….

Inheritance

We inherit naivete in our home.
My father plays the piano and believes
“Music rescues the world.”

My brother writes letters to the war,
“Hey bastards, wrap it up, can’t you see how many were killed?”

And
I think
“Poetry rescues the middle east.”

 

Translator Shohreh Laici lives in Tehran

POLITE HATE

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Since they civilized me, it has been my fate

To sleep between the covers of polite hate.

There is such a bed and there is such a life.

There is such a trap. And there is such a wife.

To sit uncomfortably and hear poetry read

By a graduate student damaged in the head.

To be smiled at by poets smoking pot

And by a lover who loves, but would rather not.

To listen long to some damn advice

Old, useless, but very nice.

To be held up in traffic slow and slowing,

To listen to a conversation and wonder where it’s going.

To think through problems and see

Solutions are in the force of the personality.

To wait quietly for the beautiful song to begin

And the interruption makes it begin again.

To examine closely the application of the paint

In the museum, and I faint.

To make them unhappy because I am late

And nothing breathes. And we wait.

The tickets are bought. I’m touring the estate.

She’s not here. I lift the ticket and check the date.

I never meant to do this. It’s not me.

But I did it. I wanted it. Gradually.

WHEN EVERY LINE IS BEAUTIFUL

Image result for statue of a goddess

When every line is beautiful,

And love honestly expressed,

Only then may the poet rest

And forget the beauty of her naked breast.

But the sleep the poet earns

Is brief; the sleepless poet learns

Honesty will never be expressed

Which gives the lover of beauty rest,

For love looks, and does not hear,

Even should poetry flow directly into the beloved’s ear.

The poet writes for himself alone.

There is no expression known

That ends the need for beauty’s praise.

The poet must praise for the rest of his days.

Once, I told her, and she understood.

“Oh my God, you are beautiful!” It didn’t do any good.

 

MOTHERWORT

Image result for motherwort

Dreaming in the garden, I lie

Between rows of flowers,

Ashamed before those with keen, scientific noses

Who know the names of flowers.

All I recognize are roses.

Motherwort is not contained

By gardens; it doesn’t grow

Where I usually go.

Or maybe this mint-like leaf,

By the path in my daily walk, is the plant they say can cure my grief.

Perhaps at my feet, where I wait

For my train, is the solution to my fate,

A cure for one who has been a victim of flowers

Which I lie among, in a melancholy state, for hours.

Since the medical properties

Of motherwort dissolve in teas,

Let me take a drink

And I’ll tell you what I think.

For the experiment to succeed

I will go on a fast—except for this herbal weed.

If it makes me glad, then, I suppose,

I will eat the plant, motherwort, and forget the rose,

And be oblivious to every pretty reason why

She, in the garden, made me cry.

 

THE IDEAL CAFÉ

The ideal café allows me to write

Quietly in the morning, and stealthily at night.

The ideal café feeds me caffeine

Which makes my mind muscular and lean.

In the ideal café, Eric Satie drops

From the speakers, and if a baby cries, the crying stops.

In the ideal café, slender girls from France

Pour the dark roast, and give me the occasional glance.

In the ideal café, the simple plate from my finished bagel can stay

For hours, and no one comes and takes it away.

In the ideal café, no one comes in

Calling my name, to argue Republicans, riots, or feminism.

In the ideal café, voices and faces

Are not voices or faces my face notices.

In the ideal café, I can see where Hawthorne wrote

Tales of castles, of ladies dancing, by cypress and moat—

Just across the broad boulevard which runs by the sea

Where the ideal café, low-slung, sits modestly.

In the ideal cafě, I can be

Barely visible, and the barely visible serves me.

In the ideal cafě, thoughts which could disturb me

Tip toe in as poetry.

In the ideal café, no one whose face, or habits, I hate

Stretches out, with a companion, mocking her fate,

And then they argue, and then talk lower, and kiss. And stay,

More in love than ever. Not in my café.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A POEM DESCRIBES NOTHING

Image result for bird on a branch in renaissance painting

A poem describes nothing. My words

Fool you. A poem is my reaction to the thing,

Not the thing. There are no birds

Who fly from branch to branch and sing.

If you want to be fooled, I certainly cannot say

You are wrong, but everything you believe here will die—

A poem is false, and a false display,

Shadows impossible to verify,

Even if what the poet is feeling is true;

A poet describes a feeling for a feeling you cannot see—

Not only is the thing invisible, the feeling can’t be seen by you

And that makes you, the reader, blind.

Why is this truth of poetry almost never told?

Since poetry isn’t history it can only be abstractly mean, or kind,

And those who are truly mean, or kind, don’t care. A poem is cold.

A poem describes nothing. And to try

Is only an insane attempt to pull off an elaborate lie,

A lie which lies about a lie which is lying,

And a bit of empathy is felt because the poetry is trying,

And that’s the best empathy can do.

People need to stop saying a poem is true.

Once, sure, you happily read

My poem. When you loved me. Well that’s what you said.

 

TO SEE HER SUFFER

Image result for abstract painting woman in black dress

To see my love suffer

Is more pleasurable than when I loved her.

There is no greater pleasure

In love, than to see one who made you suffer, suffer,

For lovers always doubt, and love can be feigned,

As easily as lovers in books are named.

She loved me and then she changed her mind,

And intentional or not, I felt it as unkind,

And now when I see her, miserable and sad,

Love, that doubted, now makes me glad,

Because pleasure in love is what we share,

And the more the pleasure, the more the love was rare.

And we, that now, in suffering, remain,

Are proof we did not love in vain.

It proves there existed mutual feeling;

The love which gave love is the same love stealing

Love, the same love, the same care,

Whether she loved truly, or was aware

Of love, when she was with me here now that she is there.

 

NOT FOR YOU

Image result for portrait of a woman in painting

Not for you, her, or the scented belief
Which carries a memory to you on a burning leaf,
Not for you, this faint chaos of smoke escaping gravity,
Not for you, the meaning attempting to escape the poetry,
Not for you, the gloom. Or this perfume.
Not for you, the vanishing memory of her room.
A memory never insinuated an odor so well.
Not for you, the love, or the look which admits it cannot tell.

Not for you, the scent, even as the scent invades
You as it did when she loved you. If memory after memory fades
Into oblivion, until a scent brings the best one back,
Not for you, this one, which now you know, but which you lack.

Not for you, the one you want,
Although this memory will haunt
Your soul inside your mind inside your heart,
Repeating the inevitable end, the inevitable start.
The crashing of the waves, and the sea, ended
When she found a love in all love blended,
Expressed suddenly and briefly, to you, in a cry
Which ran through the air and died in the ear, as all sounds die.

 

 

I LOVED YOU SO I DIDN’T NEED TO LOVE ANYBODY ELSE

Image result for cafe in abstract painting

So here I am, the great lover, confessing to be a fraud.

Not that I didn’t love you. I did. But why?

I loved you so I didn’t need to love anybody else.

I was tired of smiling at the people next door.

Every time I do a favor, I end up doing more.

I’m a nice person. I am nice and I always help.

I loved you so I didn’t need to love anybody else.

To focus on love—not just admire a bunch of things—

Is what genius is, the selfish diva who we hate—until she sings.

The more in love, the more selfish I seemed?

That was real. It wasn’t just something you dreamed.

I was writing my novel, my poetry collection;

Loving you focused me, and gave me direction.

I needed focus. That’s it. I didn’t need any help.

The true romantic puzzles us—how can they be so hot?

Selfishness—the focused laser burning continually on the self-same spot.

The world reduced to—you. Putting a great deal of things together.

I loved you so I didn’t need to love anybody else.

There’s millions of moments in a day.

Pleasure is found at the end of a stick,

Not scattered throughout the universe.

One is best. It’s sad to see millions of moments just floating away.

 

HELLO TO ASHBERY, THEN

John Ashbery. His fame began with Japan.

Twentieth Century Modernism rebelled against the quaint 19th century anthology—poems on Friendship, Nature, Love, etc.

This rebellion was largely a failure.

A poem on love, for instance, at least forces the poet to be somewhat coherent and philosophical. Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Shelley, Pushkin, Goethe, Whitman, had philosophy.

The Modernists had no philosophy; they were simply against the quaint, fireside anthology (the public) and sank into incoherence.

Williams and Pound’s Imagism was a blatant ripoff of haiku.

“Make It New” was just something they said.

“No ideas but in things” is, unfortunately, something they did.

Show me a “thing” in poetry—the Moderns anti-philosophical position was explicit—and tiresome.

Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton were a far cry from haiku.

Haiku is a philosophical approach, and Criticsm takes philosophical poetry as its starting point, and makes its poetry philosophy. The philosophical turned into poetry—wisdom sweetened, as it were.

Keats has both: wisdom, as well as sweetness, which appeals to the public.

Modernism has no philosophy, and the Program Era, which the Modernists created, makes ‘new writing’ the holy grail.

But ‘new writing’ has no philosophy except ‘don’t sound like Keats.’

What the shallow, theoretical, sensation-cultivating Modernsists did not get: poetry is not an abstraction.

Poetry of the Keats-Shadow is more real than ‘poetry’ of the ‘new writing’ of no philosophy.

The love poem in the old anthology has more.

Modernism went bankrupt in its ‘new writing.’

The Keats professor was replaced by the Creative Writing professor.

The former is disinterested. The latter is not.

It is no accident then, that creative writing professor John Ashbery, (1927–2017) master of the anti-anthology poem, with its educated-sounding, sly, incoherence, is the most critically celebrated poet of the Creative Writing Era.

There isn’t one anthology piece of Ashbery’s poetry you can point out, and that’s the point. You can dip into Ashbery anywhere; Ashbery has no beginning and no end. He is without philosophy, and this is the philosophy. (This makes him critic-proof, which is also sort of the point.) It is pure impressionism. One person gets to do this, and one person, alone. He will be put into anthologies; critics will find him to be philosophical, after all. This is the very definition of the Literary Lion—he didn’t write to fit, but you, his disciples, will make him fit. He didn’t write for a house, but you will give him a house. Just watch: He will be included in all the categories of every quaint anthology (for they do still exist) that comes down the pike: Ashbery on Love, Ashbery on Friendship, Ashbery on Nature. Guaranteed.

I’m not here to impugn Ashbery, or predict his demise. He has escaped oblivion, by reflecting his times.

Entering Harvard in the early 1950s, the gay Ashbery got known by the known. Submitting his manuscript to the Yale Younger Prize contest, the screening committee, who didn’t know who he was, rejected his poems. But W.H. Auden’s lover, Chester Kallman, interceded on Ashbery’s behalf, and judge Auden kick started Ashbery’s career.

More importantly, Ashbery kept on doing, for his whole career, what he knew he had to do—write “So much depends on a red wheel barrow” over and over again—until most of us understand.

The New Criticsm is the critical philosophy which made Ashbery. The New Criticsm says poetry cannot be paraphrased; a poem cannot be about Love or Friendship or Nature.

Shakespeare never wrote about himself—which is why there is controversy on who “Shakespeare” is.

The rather private Auden, in an essay on Shakespeare, envied Shakespeare’s anonymity.

Ashbery never wrote a confessional poem.

We don’t know a thing about Ashbery from his poetry, and this fact gives Ashbery a certain “classical” weight.

Ashbery, for his entire 70-year long career, stuck to New Critical logic—a good poem cannot be paraphrased, so you can’t (even if you wanted to) say explicit things about who you actually are in a poem. So why bother?

Modernism didn’t just happen—it was specifically formulated by a handful of men in the early 20th century.

It was the East defeating the West.

Literally.

World War One was important, but it did not usher in Modernism. Another war did. Japan shocked the world when it defeated Russia in the 1905 War, and haiku (impressionist by principle) became a rage in the West that very year; Pound and Willimas climbed on the trend; the insanity of the Great War finished off the validity of the West in intellectuals’ minds forever, and the seeds of chaotic Modernism were sown.

It took the New Critic John Crowe Ransom to make it all sound rational in the 1930s. In “Poets Without Laurels” (Ransom knew modern poets were intentionally writing to not win laurels) Ransom described Modernism as a division-of-labor practice across the disciplines: Modern aesthetics, Ransom said, ditched the old-fashioned, popular, unity of beauty and morals—and focused its revolution on beauty alone. His example was Stevens’ “Sea Surface Full of Clouds,”—a poem of pure impressionism.

In Ransom’s words, no more lemonade—consisting of lemon (morals) in a rather obvious and appealing mixture with sugar (beauty).

The new analogy in poetry for Ransom: salt; again, a mixture (sodium and chlorine), but one in which the ingredients are lost, or hidden, in the mix.

No more morals, no more beauty, no more obvious (didactic) hybrids.

No more poems about love.

Just—poems.

Ashbery is the natural outcome.

Ashbery is the fulfillment of Modernsim, the persistent manifestation of: Impressionist and Abstract Painting of France (late 19th century), Haiku (1905), Pound’s Imagism (1913), Williams’ Wheel Barrow (1922), Eliot’s Wasteland (1922), Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) Ransom’s essay (1937), Auden anointing Ashbery with the Yale Younger (1956)—a prize awarded earlier to Iowa Creative Writing maven Paul Engle—by a New Critic clique judge.

Ashbery is gone, but he will be coming in a quaint anthology soon, to a bookstore near you.

Look at the table of contents; you’ll find him, and in more than one of those sections titled, Friendship, Nature, Love.

Lemonade, anyone?

 

 

I CAN’T SPEAK OF THIS

I can’t speak of this

Here, or anywhere.

It will ruin my poem, as it ruined my poems published before;

It is for my understanding alone.

To concede you are wrong when you are wrong is sometimes wrong,

And you can make it right only in a conversation with yourself.

Wrong is wrong—poems, the public

Meausure wrong by you. Stay out of its eye.

To be seen is to die.

A lover is in the world, and I would have to write about the world, too.

Our love was love when no one knew.

 

 

 

THE MUSE NEEDS TO HATE YOU

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The Muse who hates you is the best inspiration.

Poems are work, they want to explain

How love is best, love that vacation

From real work—that work unsung, done to attain

Poetic worth, laboring for the demanding Muse.

The Muse who loves you is the one you cannot use.

This is why great poetry comes from the past

When monster Muses refused to let the poets rest.

The pagan Muse fought for every advantage,

The glittering eyes of cruelty

Denoting desperate, beautiful beauty,

Beauty of strenuousness and rage,

Any preoccupation with children, infernal,

The mother Muse mocking men who sought the Muse maternal.

When the Christian era came,

The chaste Muse brought the poets fame.

But in today’s irreligious age, chastity might as well be hate.

I love the Muse who loves me, who doesn’t make me wait.

You permit me to write as you sit right there,

My writing fingers entangled in the tangles of your very hair.

Then my poetry dies in the depth of your kisses and your care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEVER TELL YOUR LOVER

Image result for forest in renaissance painting

Never tell your lover you love love.

She will think her eyes

Must compete with a whole forest of sighs,

Each sigh betokening music.

She will think her one face

Must be compared to a human race

Of faces—when you tell your lover you love love.

She will think her mind

Must exist in differences gently, or be unkind,

And she will have to stand blindly

As the world sighs upon you kindly,

And each sigh of the forest, perpetual,

Will bring, each morning, a new nuptial.

She will know the spring, with its silver floods,

Will laugh beside her dark moods,

If you tell her you love love.

She will think the flood of sighs that pours

Over you, compares with how she adores.

She will think her own sighs

Will be compared to all—and comparisons never die.

For her, sighs will turn to roars.

Her face, she thinks, must lie

Beside a world of faces: even yours.

 

 

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