IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU DON’T

Steel Works (2020) Painting by Jake Sheader | Saatchi Art

It is important that you don’t exclude water

from your imaginative domain.

You cannot go back. And your citizens will be in pain.

Once you have decided clouds in poetry

cannot be tolerated, they will not be;

the overwhelming interest in art is always:

what can we remove to more easily make the landscape seem more real?

And strength is important. A manifesto says

for the sake of its followers, “use the finest steel”

and that’s it: chapbooks will flourish; modern

times, like trains, full of calendars, will come;

this is comfortable; hurry into the interim;

smiles flash; finish playing the steel drum.

You’ll be surprised at how many sounds are possible!

Who said a cacophony

couldn’t celebrate a poetry?

But a warning: once you decide on a course,

the canals will forever be dry.

Keats will simply perish. And you cannot say goodbye.

THE FIRST MODERN JOURNALIST OF MISINFORMATION WAS EDGAR ALLAN POE. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE GREATEST HOAXER EVER.

Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 Balloon Hoax tale and actual newspaper story (Poe’s revenge for an earlier 1835 moon hoax plagiarized from an earlier Poe tale) embarrassed the very newspapers who would later cover up the author’s 1849 murder—a murder exposed by Scarriet.

The small band of murderers included employees of the Baltimore Sun, Messrs Jsph Snodgrass and Jsph Walker (a couple of Joe’s). They had assistance from Poe’s own cousin, Neilson. The Balloon Hoax triumph by Poe was published, as a new book on Poe tells us, in that very newspaper, the Sun, to the embarrassment of its employees. The new book is The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science. It is by John Tresch and was published in 2021 by FSG.

The new work on Poe is extremely welcome—but it’s not about Poe’s death.

Scarriet has covered Poe’s probable murder elsewhere—correspondence exists in which Poe confessed to Snodgrass—a few years prior to Poe’s mysterious death—his utter hatred for Neilson. Every Poe biographer simply (and blindly) calls Snodgrass and Neilson Poe’s “friends.” None has been curious how Poe’s death coincided with Snodgrass and Neilson Poe appearing at the scene with the convenient note from Walker saying, “Oh, hey, Mr. Snodgrass: Poe—near death—is asking specifically for you!” In a staggering example of collective naivety, with the evidence staring them in the face, every Poe scholar and biographer has missed this essence of America’s greatest literary mystery and tragedy.

One of the conspirators was Horace Greeley, the corrupt and insane editor of the New York Tribune who hired the lunatic and famous poetry anthologist Rufus Griswold to damn Poe with a creepy obituary signed “Ludwig” hours after Poe’s hurried and secret burial by Neilson and Snodgrass. (Horace Greeley, as a presidential candidate, would go on to win the state of Maryland where Poe was murdered—in the part of Baltimore where Lincoln was disguised as an old woman by Pinkerton 10 years later; Greeley ran against Ulysses S. Grant. You can’t make this stuff up. Greeley, for political reasons, and Griswold, more for personal and literary reasons, were Poe’s sworn enemies.)

Poe had hoaxed and misinformed his way to the greatest insult in literary history. Newspaper owners were princes and Poe had beaten them at their own game.

But Poe was probably the most scientific author who ever wrote fiction. His essay on the universe—Eureka—influenced Einstein. Poe was interested in mysteries and hoaxes—because he loved science.

Poe’s literary style was a combination of realism and fantasy for an express purpose.

The fantasy and reality of Poe himself has been mixed up for a very long time—and it’s high time America gets the story right.

THE SOPHISTICATED

HD wallpaper: Zalgiris, battlefields, Battle of Grunwald, classic art, Jan  Matejko | Wallpaper Flare
The sophisticated are not afraid
of anything---except others who are not afraid of anything.
The sophisticated form clubs and cabals.
They have long meetings
until meetings are no longer necessary. 

The sophisticated understand belief is hard-wired
and cannot be avoided.
Some populations are fearless
due to credulous, optimistic beliefs
and these populations must be targeted for destruction and panic.

The nearly sophisticated lack an understanding of belief;
they believe things without knowing it.
The nearly sophisticated run interference
for the sophisticated, 
sowing doubt and panic
in the optimistic populations.

Optimistic belief has always confounded the world.
The sophisticated understand belief itself is atomistic reality.
The truly sophisticated do not confute belief,
but invent new beliefs
for their shock troops,
the nearly sophisticated.

Poet, let us hope and be naive---
admitting, in order to love,
the optimism we must believe.




THE BOOMER DRIFTS INTO LECTURE

336-VELASQUEZ (Attribué) - Soldat mort - A Dead Soldier | Perspective art,  17th century paintings, Painting

How does the physics of our life

squeeze us into our life?

How do we unravel so we know?

Why do the trivial intricacies

appeal to us so?

We don’t want to die

though in every corner of the sky,

in every ditch,

is the suffering, the ignorance, the lie.

My gilded poems prove completely false

and the one I loved wants a divorce.

A green world for the browns is the path—

and now the whites do not laugh.

The mixture is yet strong;

most are kind; most of us do get along.

The first to bet on dumping oil

makes that move alone. Predictions toil.

Elites make the lumpen boil.

I grew on a mountain of wealth—

past generations of entertainment and health!

The 1950s were a beneficial breeze.

When we were children, evil slowly got started.

Now the CIA makes sure we are broken-hearted.

My ancestors smashed the world,

producing leisure and apologetic poems—

better than your passive-income ones.

I’m afraid the new rules will not be

good for you. As for your poetry…

OUR ONE ESCAPE

Brixton rioting flares again as police move in – archive, 1981 | Race | The  Guardian

Don’t go, April, now that you
Are to warm sun and cool winds inclined—
Yet I know you will.
You’re measured by days
And cannot stop for my sad mind
Or linger here because I praise.

You are measured by what is lost:
All the years that are no more
And other Aprils gone. So if now
Winter’s nothing is your being,
It’s best I leave my thoughts of you,
Loyal only to time fleeing.
Who wants to be left behind?

Our one escape from pain
Is winter passing,
Not April, or this terrible going in the mind—
Winter is always coming and April
Hurries towards us, blind.

BREAKING: GOOD POEM PUBLISHED ON THE INTERNET

ABC13 Anchor Ilona Carson signs off from news desk on Friday's Eyewitness  News at 4 - ABC13 Houston
Without warning, a good poem
dropped on the internet. It was right there
to read for free. Rumors of this happening
had been going around the internet for years:
a good poem would simply show up,
sans credentials, and no one
would be able to prevent this from happening.
Language poets and the Modern Language Association 
and distinguished academic publishers remained silent on
whether the poem could be good if such a thing were to happen.
"Professors need to eat" was overheard in New York City,
a towering metropolis, but reaction
was generally muted. The swamp
contained a river meandering.
The froth on the beer died.
I spoke into the microphone very fast. 
A rumor had it that Rosalinda cried. 

ALL REVOLUTIONS IN LOVE

Moral Questions

All revolutions in love were literary—

until the sexual revolution (sex being a strong

element of love) broke the mold—

cinema, the Great War, the automobile,

and later in the century, birth control.

Irreverent poetry has no soul.

What other people do

unfortunately affects you.

You cannot love if love is not where

morality is. It hides, instead, behind your hair.

Utterly transformed, Beatrice is now some girl.

The old graces and rules are dashed

upon the electric steps. Nothing is cashed.

We have joined the loose brigade;

comforts and winks are written

everywhere; only what’s in vogue displayed.

Each poetry wars against the other;

I’m not able to do this anymore.

My agenda’s lyric

is a drink thrown in the muse’s face:

Not banned poetry—only unfinished.

Beatrice walking at a slightly faster pace.

HOW DIFFERENT WAR IS

Allied bombing of Germany during the second world war | Second world war |  The Guardian

In the 19th century, citizens would have lunch

and watch a battle. Now, in war, citizens

are for lunch. I cannot stomach tales

of 20th century war. As an idle citizen, fragile,

old, and full of doom, even a game of chess

makes me shudder. I feel sorry for children

and dogs. O take me to the flower show.

Return, Victorian poems and sentimentality!

Polite poem, it was always you! The word

should be the soldier; fight with language;

with all your cunning and sincerity tell a tale:

The 20th century is when it all began to fail.

TORTUROUS PARADOX

Socrates' Critique of 21st-Century Neuroscience - Scientific American Blog  Network

“The woke are asleep” —somebody

Believing intelligent design

would seem to make one conspiracy-stupid and naive.

But we are intelligent, or not, based on what we believe.

The atheist uses intelligence to find non-intelligence,

which is brilliant, no doubt.

Intelligence within finds the opposite without.

The world made itself, by chance—

things knocked about for billions of years;

we evolved from rocks into sensitive beings

vibrating stories of laughter and tears.

A rock can’t do that. Why is there a debate?

A miracle is a miracle, whether on-time or late.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say

Existence started before there was “yesterday;”

we cannot know how it started; I saw

the universe by the universe’s law

which exists together with the universe—or not.

We either have nothing—or more than we have got.

Both priest and scientist, it seems to me,

can easily agree;

they both need to go back—to philosophy.

Once, many years ago, I heard Socrates—and for a moment understood—

the secret to wisdom is the word, “good.”

THE REAL EXPERIENCE

A Midsummer Night's Dream' Review: Gwendoline Christie Stars - Variety
The real experience is walled off
from all other experience 
so it can be a real experience.
The paradox of this enters our minds slowly: is being walled off
what makes something real?
When the United States was alone,
how did it make us feel?

I am still living on that real experience 
when I was isolated with you.
We weren't supposed to be isolated
so we didn't know what to do. 

Invite the revelers, experience 
the dance danced by everyone.
Why doesn't this feel real?
I experience the trumpet and the drum.

Up in the secret loft,
where the music is heard softly below,
I ponder the real experience 
I had with someone else
ages and ages ago. 

OK YES THE CRAZY SHAPED ME

Reading International — Fred Harris

OK yes the crazy shaped me;

dad was not only jealous of mom,

but of each male child;

this bound him to family and made the safe

argumentative and wild.

I was obedient to my parents’ wishes

but I didn’t know what those wishes were; the family

had its own reason for existing; “The butter, dear!

Bacon and eggs! Dad is dad, He’ll remain here.”

I shyly went off to college, guessing all the time,

worried, comforted by plays and rhyme.

I was obedient but had dagger thoughts.

Disobedience was for losers. I obeyed

but for a larger purpose. Everything was delayed.

I watched others make a fast buck;

they knew what they wanted; this made them dull;

I was aloof; hesitating gave me intelligence,

if not material luck.

I was tortured by the inability to know

but I trusted philosophy. I took my reading slow;

(awesome, illuminating, dialogues of Plato!)

neither spiritual, nor materialistic, I was odd;

I kept converting to my own method of converting;

the only way I knew how to wrestle with God

was to send angry letters to first mom, then dad;

Philosophy cured the maudlin; finally, I was only sad.

At Iowa, in front of friends—Karla said I was showing off

(I was always drinking beers, always had a cough)

when I said I heard “I want my mother” in the melody

of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

It took me a long time to settle down;

a bookstore job, then a job over at the college;

serious, yet joking finally about it all

is the best way to soften the fall;

I had scares and heartbreaks, enough

to be grateful, to get that experience

they say we all need.

The truly simple things are still true;

that’s what i think. But will they always be true?

I don’t know, really. I better ask you.

REMEMBERING HER AFTER YEARS

Winter trees without leaves | Stock image | Colourbox
The skeletal beauty of winter
is more beautiful than spring.
Sticks stick out of the water. 
The cloudy harbor is remembering 
things dead in spring.
Winter, warm and quiet by the shore,
wishes to remember something more.
Is it me remembering you---what to remember about you?---
or the whole thing remembering the whole thing?
Vegetation growing on the harbor floor
doesn't notice the season changing.
Reflections of far things
in the gently undulating water
surprise, like melody, my eyes.
I listen to the quiet scene
and myself speaking (awed, speaking to myself)
as if the landscape (naked trees) were an ear.
Rain is warming, in gray lengths, winter.
If this is New England at the end of December
I don't believe there's anything to fear.
Seagulls cry and feed on the low tide.
The exposed land of rocks and snails
allows me to walk closer to the other shore;
I don't need to remember anything more
unless my poem would grow heavy
with what I saw; details always their own law.
After all, you live on the other side of this bay;
what do you think they and I might say?


A SERIES OF NAPS

Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television –  NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale

Today on TV, life seems especially

shiny, odd, and creepy

but the scratchy, doggy, suitcase life

goes on; we take a nap, life

changes; moving, what do we do

with all these books? How can we

afford to live here? Which in the news is true?

You need to take control.

It was always finally about you.

Bad things pile up at the end of life;

bad decisions now assert themselves,

or maybe you chose the safe route

and you’re okay? Not likely. Lives

gather up reckoning inside every mind;

we’re all sad. Life is a series of naps.

I hear the noise: man versus woman, east versus west;

life is a series of naps

and the last nap is the best.

THERE IS ALWAYS A PROBLEM

Swatting shots, talking trash, befriending strangers: Why I miss pickup  basketball like nothing else

If you feel the truth and live it

there will always be someone

who will make you explain

so you feel stupid or insane.

You were secure in your honesty

and it even brought you joy,

but along comes an honest anarchist

presenting forbidden chaos:

“what do think of your “truth,” now, truth-boy?”

And yet you can always fix the problem,

shooting accurately, with abandon, as it gets dark

in an unlikely performance in a pick-up game:

“swish, swish, swish! I’ll show you who’s insane”

and from there to opening night

where you’re playing the Professor in Ionesco

(“The Lesson”) and emotionally you triumph;

these things shape you, make your truth insane,

the poet you are, the one who doesn’t need to explain.

IF YOUR POEM IS BAD YOU CAN SAY IT WAS A JOKE

Ben Lerner on August 9 - Hugo House

“The book that needs to be written next is the The Hatred of Poets.” —Kent Johnson, reviewing Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry.

If your poem is bad you can say it was a joke.

If no one gets the joke, then it becomes

a poem again, since few understand a poem

which is a poem that still might be a joke.

Poets make big names for themselves

with this trick alone. You know who you are.

Credulity, the blank sky. You, the big star.

SEX WITH MANY

Gary Cooper - - Biography

“hey tom. guess who else sent me a poem?”

Sex with many is the actual or implied state

which wrecks us. Jealous frenzy beats wildly

in the calmest breast. Gary Cooper was stabbed

and shot; fortunately the ladies missed.

When have the jealous ever been able to resist

the sneering provocation, no matter how good

the love? Hemingway said ‘Coop’ was perfect,

and what exactly does that mean. It means cheating

and sex with many is the idol of this world,

stirring all behavior; don’t you know why death

and its sexless partners were dancing for you

on the religious stage?

My poem can fix things. Look how

it sends the solemn music to you now.

LOOKING BACK AT SCARRIET 2021

I’ve edited Scarriet since September 2009, when Alan Cordle, who I met on the poetry-contest-exposing website Foetry, created Blog Scarriet as an alternative to the Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet—which banned poets (yours truly included) from Harriet’s Comments for being “off-topic” (whatever that means; digression is a sign of intelligence in my book) and soon thereafter Blog Harriet (Poetry magazine’s online site) erased Comments as a feature altogether. Poets like Eileen Myles and Annie Finch were regulars on the Harriet Comments; it was a lively good time, I thought, but management didn’t see it that way, which is fine; Harriet managed to birth Scarriet (indirectly).

Poetry and its politics boils down to one question: Is this a good poem?

Alan Cordle’s question on Foetry.com was narrower: did you take contest fees to publish the winner’s book and was that winner your friend? I did not personally expose anyone; I was just an online participant on Foetry because I was curious about Alan’s quest, which seemed to me a sincere attempt to correct a wrong. Today I still believe this.

I broadened the investigation (watering it down to something more intellectual and benign) to Is This A Good Poem? This question is the ruling spirit of Scarriet. I understood, during my unofficial Foetry membership, that poets are allowed to be friends and help each other. This will always happen, and why not? But what ultimately matters is that the best poems are praised (no matter who writes them, or what manifesto is attached to them) and the worst poems are noticed as such.

This gives rise to a sweet philosophical complexity: how do we know what a good poem is? Who are you as a critic (and a person) to make this judgment? Are you, the judge, able to write a good poem? Who are the famous poets who write bad poems? Who are neglected poets who write good poems? What inhibits us from being honest about this?

Anyway, that’s me and Scarriet in a nutshell.

The poet Ben Mazer is a friend of mine. I have written a book on Ben Mazer—which praises his poetry. I defend him as a writer of good poetry, and the friendship matters less in the ratio of how well I defend him as a poet—and how good he actually is compared to poets not on my radar.

Ben was hanging out with the poet Charles Bernstein last year and Ben said, “Charles doesn’t like you.” This flattered me, as I hadn’t realized a poet of some note knew of me or Scarriet. There’s never any excuse to be a jerk—I have been, at times, in the past, in an effort to have strong, honest, opinions—and make a name for myself.

I’ll take this moment to apologize to anyone I may have offended.

I judge (dead and living) poets in the Scarriet March Madness “contests.” A few of these poets I know, but how good they are, and how I am able to articulate how good they are, is on display for all to see, though how well I know this or that poet, is not always known. Those who know me, know I have very few poet pals, and I try very hard not to get close to bad poets. 😆 I met Marilyn Chin as a friend (not a close friend) a long time ago at Iowa before her career took off. I know Philip Nikolayev because I know Ben. I’m a shy person; my life is not full of friendships with poets—not even close. I think this helps me as Scarriet editor. (Yes you’ll notice Mazer and Chin showing up often, but some things can’t be helped, and I honestly believe they are both really good). I also met Dan Sociu in Romania in 2016, and I do think he’s a good poet. If an unpublished poet is good, I will say so. Discovering truly good poets takes a great deal of time and work—I wish I could do more in this area, but no one alive can single-handedly offer this kind of justice to the Poetry world.

I apologize for this laborious introduction; I wanted to look back at 2021:

January “Winter Threw Its Shadow Over the River of My Years” (1/30) is perhaps the best poem of this month because of its poetic cohesion; a poem can have a great idea, but unity is all. A Jeopardy poem, a CIA poem, a NFL rigging poem (life as “rigged” courts self-pity, but Scarriet siezes on the theme a lot) a love-revenge poem (another common theme) but again, interesting topics don’t make a poem good—but (I don’t think I’m wrong) an accessible idea (no matter how simple) is necessary. “Bored” (1/4) is one of the best of the month, and “My Iranian Girlfriends” (1/3) is subtle and witty.

February “I Can Confirm” (2/1) sounds like Blake, which no Scarriet poem tends to sound like. “In The Evenings” (2/9) is richly poignant, probably the best Scarriet poem of early 2021. Scarriet Poetry Hot 100! (2/15) is always exciting. Amanda Gorman is no. 1, Cate Marvin no. 2 (“Republican Party Is Evil” poets really talk like this), followed by Louise Gluck (Nobel), Joy Harjo (3rd term laureate), Don Mee Choi (National Book Award), Jericho Brown (Pulitzer), Noor Hindi (“Fuck Yr Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying”), Naomi Shihab Nye (Emma Thompson reads her poem “Kindness” on Instagram to 2.3 million views), Wayne Miller (wrote article on talking about poetry online at Lithub) and William Logan (the critic/poet) rounding out the top 10. Also on the Top 100 list, the wonderful fugitive poets Mary Angela Douglas and Stephen Cole—I discovered them not too long ago online. As an experiment, a letter to my dad is published as a poem (2/21). “Now That The Poem Is Over” (2/22) works well.

March “This Poem Can Only Speak For This Poem” (3/7) , “Happy Marriage” (3/11), and “The Object” (3/26) (on musical fame), are the best poems. March Madness—the topic is Pop Music—(3/20) runs through early April, with interesting essays on your favorite artists and bands as they compete with each other. Nina Simone and Led Zeppelin are among those who go far. The tourney includes Spanky and Our Gang (“Sunday Will Never Be The Same”), as well as Dylan, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra.

April Many good poems this month as spring 2021 inspires love poems—not maudlin but suave and biting. Failed love poems unfortunately plague Scarriet, but in certain months real wit, rather than bitterness, accompanies the love. This month seems to be one of them. A Brief History of U.S. Poetry revised (4/30). Check out this post! Scarriet literary history at its best.

May continues with lots of good poems. “When You See Me You Insult Me” (5/25) is a classic Scarriet love poem (who hurt you so badly, Scarriet poet?) and the first of many great literary essays arrives on 5/31—a look at the critic Harold Rosenberg, who hadn’t really been on Scarriet’s radar previously.

June Poems of high quality continue. Book announcement of Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism by Thomas Graves (6/26).

July I read “Weather Poem” by Dan Sociu (7/5). Another audio feature—2 of my songs on YouTube (low-fi) (7/8) Self-indulgent, perhaps; I’ve composed many pop songs never given professional treatment for one reason or another. “Man, Those Decades In American Poetry Went By Fast” (7/11) Another historical re-posting. Finally, an essay: “The Four Quartets Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha” (7/19) in which an overrated work is just one of the things looked at.

August Some of the poems which begin to appear are slightly revised poems written long ago. Three reviews appear this month: The poems of Ruth Lepson (8/1), poems of 14 Younger Poets published by Art and Letters press (8/18) and poems of Daniel Riffenburgh (8/22). Many definitely prefer Scarriet’s prose to its poetry.

September A rather odd article in which the timelines of Delmore Schwartz and Giuseppe Verdi are compared and some observations on the partially neglected poet Schwartz are made. (9/12) An article on Tom Brady and NFL stats (9/26) Scarriet has a very opinionated, love-hate, relationship to sports. Old original poems continue to see the light of day.

October A great month for prose (and poems of decent quality continue) as Scarriet seems to be enjoying one of its best years. “One Hundred Years of Pulitzers” is a revealing historical survey (10/18). “The Poem Defined” (10/21) is a fine essay. Another Poetry Hot 100 (10/27) features the unstoppable Kent Johnson as no.1. The month ends with the scintilating “100 Greatest Poems by Women” (10/31).

November has more Scarriet essays. “Trickle Down Verse” (11/8). “The Good” (11/10). “The Textbook Which Changed Everything: Understanding Poetry” (11/19). In the autumn of 2021, Kent Johnson and his avant friends on FB goaded me into defending my core principles and beliefs. Thanks, Kent! Also this month, you can hear me recite Poe’s “For Annie” on video on my phone, one evening alone in my house, holding my copy of Library America Poe gifted to me by Hilton Kramer many years ago. (11/16)

December The year ends with an essay on Ezra Pound’s The Spirit of Romance, as I attempt to come to grips with this figure who was the subject of a Kent Johnson inspired online debate, “Can a bad person write good poetry?” (12/11) Poems on ‘poetry politics’ (inspired by Kent Johnson and friends) and politics—similar in theme to poems from January 2021, close out the month.

Happy New Year.

Thomas Graves (aka Thomas Brady and Scarriet Editors) Salem, MA 1/1/2022

SURVIVAL OF THE UNFITTEST

Mark Rylance Starring as 'The BFG' for Steven Spielberg | Movie News | SBS  Movies

“Survival of the Fittest” is a phrase I hate;

dog eat dog darwinism leading to nazism

and war. I sang folk songs for years,

“Gonna Study War No More!” Benign

and happy; I did not write one line

of poetry, but I wrote it with grateful tears,

and my poetry was the fittest possible;

but survival wasn’t the point;

Keep the ugly to show us the beautiful,

let everyone live, let everyone share the stage;

don’t remove anyone in a jealous rage.

The “survival” part is the part that’s bad;

“fittest” is good, but “survival” implies death.

I’m for “fittest,” but not “survival of the fittest.”

And equally, “survival of the unfittest”

is pernicious and wrong, and yet

nazis, behind a veil of false benevolence,

use “survival of the unfittest” to usurp power

in the victim market. Illogical, poison flower!

They seem different, nice. But we realize they, too,

are nazis—but too late!

Survival of the unfittest. Unfortunate fate!

You see this. Don’t you?

THE RIGGED GAME

In Pictures: See the Tunnels Beneath Rome's Colosseum, Where Gladiators  Prepared for Battle, Open to the Public for the First Time
American culture and politics is the rigged game.
We find out too late: leaders we loved or hated were the same.
Americans like to believe losers are to blame.
We are. We lost a rigged game.
The guy is gone who rigged the game;
his grandchildren, on top; it will always be the same.
No person or institution is to blame.
They got away; they're free. And that's the game.
She's cooking dinner. "Who won the game?"
She doesn't understand. He needs someone to blame.
He wants to explain it to her, but he cannot.
Neither he, nor his wife, nor his children, understand the plot.
Be thankful for everything we've got.
A beast who would tear apart the world is tame.
Genius already knows the result. On your death-bed you'll see it:
even love was a rigged game.


NOW LET ME RETURN

Lichen Crust on Desert Rocks - DesertUSA
You make love 
to Wittgenstein, Tokyo and lichen
in your blurbs for New Directions;
the anxiety of flux is happy
to spill on your carpet;
impregnated by Cat Stevens
and Syd Barrett,
the uncanny reigns in your mouth.
Now let me return to my poetry,
trusting in many things:
Language. A line which simply sings.
I know the old forms are fallen
and the new
runs in dark alleys on the other side of you.
That's all bullshit, you know.
The old forms are grass.
They move in the wind. They grow.

THIS MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE

My poems are a translated love;
you can feel the lover. This
was written by someone 
who knows how to kiss.

Byron, old poems, are safely dead;
Rosalinda, I know, I know;
analyze a prose poem, instead;
frowning, not loving; new;
written for anyone, not you. 
Today the poem is workshoppped 
professionally;
everything's complete;
the teacher has been paid.

This, however, feels like it was tossed
on the internet to get the poet laid.
How yucky. This line
is sticky; it smells like red wine.

Give me the nerd, the university,
the book, glossy and blurbed.
The New York Times reviewed.
That's how it's done.
The museum. The nice watch. 
The Abstract Nude. 

ROMANTIC

Sexual intercourse and romance never align.

Coffee is consumed with hope,

satiety, with wine.

Pleasures multiply and soon

soiled and plain seems the cold moon.

She was wise to make me wait.

Romance is mysterious and late.

Even the poem is marred

when romance dies;

literature may be taught, in theory—

it lives truly in the lover’s eyes.

Everything explains everything—

we isolate poems in vain.

Without humor we were forced to sing.

Dully I escaped her exciting pain.

I DON’T WANT TO ARGUE WITH YOU

I don’t want to argue with you.

Since the argument of the world began

It’s always been short by one man.

No job is quite complete.

Every love triumphant at first, ends in defeat.

Enthusiasm rooted in symbolism

is at the heart of civilized activity.

Dogs driven by hunger. Or poetry.

There is no in-between.

In the mist—the ghost of that one man was seen

and witnesses testify one by one

getting to the bottom of a conversation

dialect by dialect, which the arias push further on.

I don’t want to argue with you.

This poem is prepared to censor you, too.

But there we are, in the circle,

outside the stage door,

long after the show is over, talking.

CHRISTMAS POEM

Christmas in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

I will not go over how Plato

attempted to prove the existence of the soul.

You are enamored of the body

and this is not a philosophical poem.

I’m a philosopher, but I know

poems travel by way of music.

If I believe—with Plato—in the immortality

of the soul, poetry still belongs to poetry.

Less always comes from greater

and greater always comes from less—

opposites. Life always comes from death.

You die, but you live forever. I’m terribly happy

thinking of this. Blame emotional poetry.

I can speak now of a single tree.

Elaborate symbol of creation. Verses grouped by two or three.

In my philosophy is love you will receive

by what they want or I want, or what you cannot bring yourself to believe.

IF I MIGHT GIVE A LITTLE ADVICE WITH MY POEM

John Milton | Biography, Poems, Paradise Lost, Quotes, & Facts | Britannica

Advice has never worked in a poem

unless the advice is profound; they

also serve who only stand and wait;

Milton, and other great poets, advise

profitably in their poetry, but me?

Angry in politics. My muse advises:

Tom, keep your angry mouth shut.

Tom, do you really think if everyone

believed what you believe, society

would run smoothly and things

would never break or die?

Tom, Tom, Tom, don’t witness horror

or you’ll be the horror yourself. Fix

things when they break. Don’t let the sad

push you towards despair.

Think of the woman who was kind to you.

Her red, flowing hair.

THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE POEM

1490s in poetry - Wikipedia

This should have been the poem

where I sincerely renounced all poetry—

saying goodbye to Shelley in hell,

who I failed to write like—

numerous brazen gods hated him too well.

I was stuck in my admiration

of this paper-thin product calculated to be

anything I wanted. How could I kiss

extravagantly

when I was bursting with self-consciousness?

Why did I choose to be clever and lonely?

What the hell? How is it to be

Flogging the present with poetry?

Oh my God, I should have obeyed.

The past never comes to the present

like desire, which comes to it too fast.

Why did I choose to be selfish and afraid?

I should have studied prophecy,

not leaned on this. This alleviates nothing.

Nothing alleviates my poetry.

I should have been good. I knew how.

This should have been the poem.

This one. Which you are reading now.

TO BE FABULOUS

The Autumn Leaves of the Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free) 1019339833  | Shutterstock

To be fabulous is to have

sly and abstract ethics.

The muse wants to get

all Wordsworth on me as I notice

no matter where I go nature

uniquely wins me over. Trees

never get boring outside a window

no matter where I stay. This

is why Wordsworth doesn’t matter.

Sure, nature wins. But that’s precisely

why poems praising nature are inane.

You need the problem of the sun

to invade the poem. That’s why it’s done.

WHAT HAPPENED WITH YOU COULD HAVE HAPPENED WITH SOMEBODY ELSE

Stream Original soundtrack to the Painting "Nighthawks by Edward Hopper" by  nella | Listen online for free on SoundCloud

This idea came to me out of nowhere tonight—

as when one notices a sound, a light

which reveals in a certain way a room;

it has nothing to do with anything;

but it frightened me more than anything else:

What happened with you could have happened with somebody else.

She and I, like you and I, would have wondered why love

between us was allowed to happen:

not complicated, in many ways, not unusual,

but simply what people read about as love.

It’s what we know: two people

going through a wedding ceremony, or two

people having encounters in a book,

maybe one meeting, or not any, or few;

encounters which are encounters of thought;

for example, gloom covers the earth—dark gloom—

I want to know if you are the one I always sought.

I STAYED WITH YOU

American Pastoral at Gagosian

I stayed with you

but my poem was in-between.

You were as red as the heavens.

I reposed in green.

My own green happiness smiled,

my lakes had pleasant thoughts;

you saw my calm happiness

as I lay by your side.

You had but a limited time to thrill

with the sensuality—

the sunrise painted the hill

but the words were mine.

Over the music I heard your voice

excited by the wine.

In the morning, I took everything.

The poem made you jealous.

When I tried to sing,

You derided.

Conspiracy of thought! World divided!

THE LIST DOESNT KNOW

FedEx Truck Lettering Installation - All Pro Fleet Painting - YouTube

The FedEx trucks prowl the streets

delivering our Robert Lowell.

The poets ruined their lives

so their poems could make us whole.

In the lives of indoor cats time quietly stops

and inside her mind today a love she had for me drops.

Autumn afternoon. Long shadows.

It was as warm as summer today.

I was able to make a list of everything I love.

I can do that. I can still do that.

The list doesn’t know you’ve gone away.

WHEN I VERY MUCH WANTED TO LOVE

Lilac-Painting Paintings For Sale | Saatchi Art

When I very much wanted to love,

you presented yourself as a subject the most worth loving

by the highest standard I was then able to define

and the urgency was thankfully small;

we proceeded normally, without wine.

Smiles when I passed you in the hall,

a train of associations on the train

would lead to love,

but why did that love turn particularly insane?

It had its demands, but thanks to them,

pleasures of all types arose:

those of contemplation, even chastity,

as well as the earth of you filling my nose.

The lilacs in the park we touched together,

not afraid of the stinging bees;

they say the tide of good will drown the world,

everyone shall have one drowning world—

at last! you gave me one of these.

The good, they say, will cause a civil war,

so much so that the bad is its fault;

the good will never compromise,

so that even mostly good people rebel;

there it is, in the light, and here;

good will ruin everything; that’s why love

made me unwell.

EZRA POUND AND THE SPIRIT OF GOOD BEHAVIOR.

The Spirit of Romance | Ezra POUND

Ezra Pound in The Spirit of Romance, scholarly ruminations published in London when he was 25 by the cream of 1890s Fabian/Yeatsian literary society in 1910 informs us that the style of 19th century Romanticism in poetry (“spirit of romance”) can be found in classic ancient texts.

Well duh. Plato and the ancients, Provencal and Dante, fed Romanticism. We all know this. It’s a truism. Re-discovery of Plato, Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare defines Romanticism.

Everyone also knows Pound has a tendency to rant. Unlike his other jottings gathered into what might be called works of criticism, The Spirit of Romance is relatively sane. In this work he quotes a lot of medieval poetry (equal or surpassing in length his own commentary), declares Dante and Shakespeare top dogs of the poetry world, and questions the worth of Whitman, deriding the former’s optimism in comparison to Villon’s earthy pessimism—this rather mundane observation is as surly as Pound gets. He does voice an unsupported antipathy to Petrarch. So, the weirdness is there, even in this early work of criticism (his prose becomes increasingly crazy—albeit interesting—as he ages) The soon-to-be Vortex Master and Traitor is practicing to appear scholarly. People will do this occasionally in Letters. Even Pound.

I’m afraid it won’t be very entertaining to skewer Pound in The Spirit of Romance—where he somewhat behaves himself. Pound must have said to himself at a young age: “I may as well put together one respectable book of prose.” This was good for his future reputation: to have one sane book of prose to go with his early lyrics (good, if uneven) and his “Cantos” (very uneven).

In this work he does say odd things.

“The history of literary criticism is largely the history of a vain struggle to find a terminology which will define something.” Pound does not tell us who is writing (vainly) this “history of literary criticism.” It is Pound, perhaps.

“Certain qualities and certain furnishings are germane to all fine poetry; there is no need to call them either classic or romantic.”

Pound, here again, states the obvious. But a couple of pages later he contradicts himself:

“Speaking generally, the spells or equations of ‘classic’ art invoke the beauty of the normal, and spells of ‘romantic’ art are said to invoke the beauty of the unusual.”

Coleridge and Poe have already said all that needs to be said on classical balance and romantic strangeness.

Pound, however, being Pound, is quick to equate Romantic excess with the “barbaric.” Four pages later: “the barbaric and the Gothic mind alike delight in profusion” and here Pound adds a footnote: “Spanish point of honor, romanticism of 1830, Crime passionnel down to Sardou and the 90’s, all date from the barbarian invasion, African and oriental inflow on Mediterranean clarity.” No surprise that Pound, like his American predecessor, Emerson, (“English Traits”) learnedly indulges in a certain amount of poisonous cultural commentary, sticking it to large ethnic populations.

In this first chapter of his book, which focuses on The Golden Ass by Apuleius (b. 125 A.D.) Pound describes the childish “romantic” literature he despises: “The mood, the play is everything; the facts are nothing.” Perusing The Golden Ass, “you read, as a child who has listened to ghost stories goes into a dark room; it is no accurate information about historical things that you seek, it is the thrill which mere reality would never satisfy.”

In chapter two, Pound quotes the splendid poet Arnaut Daniel profusely; Pound’s enthusiasm for grownup medieval literature helps him build his case against the so-called child-like Romantics, Shakespeare, and fantastical, populist literature of all kinds—a daring critical gambit.

Mr. Pound, in the final analysis of his career, is half-a-scholar and half-a-poet; sane prose and popular fiction to flesh out his accomplishments may be lacking, but his principled devotion to literary “reality” makes him a lightning rod for learned-literature-no-one-reads, literature eventually happily subsidized by the government in the schools, thanks to Pound’s allies, the well-connected and well-funded New Critics.

Pound’s scholarly weight rests almost entirely on translation—this is problematic (leaving aside Pound’s issues generally) when it comes to popular poetry in English.

Here is Pound in chapter two:

“Daniel’s poetry is more likely to claim interest than a record of opinions about it. His canzone, which Dante cites among the models of most excellent construction, opens:

Sols sui qui sai lo sabrafan quem sorts
Al cor d’amor sofren per sobramar…

Only I know what over-anguish falls
Upon the love-worn heart through over-love…”

Edgar Poe elevated American letters in a number of ways; going back in time to examine other tongues and their translations was not one of them; Pound filled a niche precisely in this manner—which is why, perhaps, if you like Pound, you won’t like Poe (Harold Bloom’s formula—NYR 10/11/84—was: if you like Emerson, you won’t like Poe).

Poe aimed at the common reader—not scholars, and this choice shouldn’t be an issue for anyone, especially since the pedagogy of Poe had an educational motive. Poe famously said “poetry is a passion, not a study.” Pound shows a similar spirit when he says above in discussing Daniel, “…the poetry is more likely to claim interest than a record of opinions about it…” Ironically, Pound then presents a translation—which is not the poetry—it’s Daniel in English prose—as well as the original, which for the lay reader is not poetry, either, since it is in a foreign language. One of Ezra’s favorite tactics is to use foreign languages (in which he lacked fluency) to talk down to his readers: “It will be helpful to compare Shakespeare to French prose, and if you don’t know French…” Pound may earn points as a scholar, but the common reader loses out.

Modernism is defined by its internationalism—seen most, perhaps, in scholarly interest which naturally results in prose translation—which conveniently overlaps with its production of original poetry—in prose.

The translator inevitably fails at poetry—even as, per his meticulous scholarship, he wins at it, since translation is a failure to produce the genuine article; translation, by its very nature fails, because it is a record of content and form standing apart. The translation scholar perpetuates the very division all original poets dread: the failed poem, but manages to do so in a context of linguistic supremacy. Even the fluent translator is a victim of translation’s sword. As Pound himself says in chapter four, among a great deal of translated passages from El Cid: the “interest is archeological rather than artistic.”

Why was Pound so interested in love poetry from centuries ago? Similar sentiments expressed by poets in English from his own time—the 19th and 20th centuries—receive from him nothing but scorn. Amazingly, however, he says a couple of passing nice things about Shelley in The Spirit of Romance. Yes, I know. Who is this guy, Pound?

The sentimental can sometimes sound more poised translated into prose—especially to those, like Pound and William Logan, averse to the sentimental. Translation courts the technical and superficial, which naturally eats away at feeling; at one remove, sighs and tears are more excused, and may even be embraced in a scholar’s historical context. Arnaut Daniel is not really blubbering; it only seems that way in the translated English prose (or English verse, if the translator is more daring).

The common English-speaking reader finds in Frost or Poe accents they can fully grasp—nor can the high learning of translators match the common reader’s experience of Frost or Poe—whatever kind of translated poetry or terminology. Society—since most of its citizens are not scholars—requires populist poetry. Highbrows often forget this. Frost, not Pound; Poe, not Emerson, inspire the vast amount of readers. There’s no need to choose sides—but as we know, poets and scholars, especially the ambitious ones, are as turf-driven as any animal in the wild. Thus Henry James and T.S. Eliot called Poe “immature,” “primitive;” Emerson called Poe “the jingle man.”

The polite, patient grownup—or the inspired, excitable, child—both of these contribute to Letters; if Poe lifts up the middle-brow (or the low-brow), surely this is just as important as Pound tickling the fancy of the foreign language dilettante.

And if Poe appeals to the high-brow (and he certainly does) and also sells more books, it’s silly to begrudge that.

Poets and critics should put personal differences aside.

Society and poetry—it is no exaggeration to say—depend on it.

TOO EASILY RESOLVED

File:The-white-cat-1894.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Too easily resolved:

retirement, death,

document signed, pet cat loved,

symbol of simplicity: rose, flame, dove,

my poem, silent beast of words,

crying out the dove is the best of birds,

my poem, silly old prayer,

whether it’s uncanny, ecstatic, rare

doesn’t matter; you must care—

or not; you prefer videos and kisses,

and other sensual near-misses,

the cigarette, a voice rising in a room;

my poem, a little door invoking doom,

memory, or some neat thought:

can this be what you needed?

can this be what you sought?

TODAY I WILL DO MY USUAL CHORES AND ALSO WRITE A NOVEL

Historic Libraries in Paris | eParis

The reason I am writing a novel today

is because I didn’t write one yesterday.

Novelty is everything. You can do whatever

you say you will, and if you say it in a poem

it may be a puzzling joke. “I am

going to do it” may really mean I am not.

Poetry beats vows.

It’s up to the poem. The poem is king.

I feel that I could write a novel, but should I feel

writing a poem about writing a novel

is more important, watch out!

This poem may not tell you one interesting thing.


THE TROUBLE WITH BEING LOVED

Semper Augustus | Expensive flowers, Rare flowers, Flower phone wallpaper

The trouble with being loved,

is who you are, that is loved,

will always be destroyed by being loved.

I couldn’t see this when I loved,

but as I am being loved, I see

how good it is for my poetry.

My unhurried calm, my devotion

to important things, made you

want to swim in my ocean—

but this unique, private sea

is mine alone. You swimming here

isn’t the plan. Is that clear?

My ocean is placid and small.

It reflects. It isn’t for you at all.

I don’t like this poem’s insight.

I want love to work.

Nor am I immune. To be lovable

is to be an unhurried, privileged jerk.

I should love you, instead—

I want to love. All ideas are dead.

I TOOK FROM YOU AND NOW YOU LOVE ME

Unknown - "Still Life of Fruit", 18th Century Oil on Canvas, Spanish,  Period Gilt Frame at 1stDibs

I took from you and now you love me—

Gaining and losing, intertwined.

Life decays: a one-sided truth for the ages.

Spending is love defined.

I took your time and you understood, too,

never would I give it back to you.

Because of death, there is not a lot

of time to give

(and yet you must spend time to live)

and that is why you love. You do not

like that I took your time; but you gave

what isn’t yours to save;

you gave time to me and I gave time to you,

but all of it was lost.

Giving takes away, no gain is possible—

we will never be content or beautiful

until time itself remove

this selfish, dying, deluded, love.

NONE OF US KNOW

HD wallpaper: Stars during night time, starry sky, long exposure, evening  sky | Wallpaper Flare

None of us know anything.

The best we can do is win “Jeopardy,”

include, dutifully, footnotes,

polish and refine as we say what we think to say,

break the rule for the rule, obey.

The respected treatise on the stars forgot Psyche,

hiding from us

in one ancient constellation—

does it exist?—

a life-changing grin of gossip and love.

Would that ancient philosophy

have been aware today

in a small poem we could get this close

to actual wisdom? Would the philosopher,

peering past his tired white hair

have believed in his awful soul one part

of this claim? O black heart!

I know what I am—and still I ask:

does “it is what it is”

denote God, or no?

Is my height defined by the tall far, far below?

This poem. Slowly, Tom, climb down.

Join your friends, your mother! milling around

at night, among the statues. Go.

WE WISH

School of Minnows Painting by My Linh O Quinn

We are incomplete nature—

we belong to the sperm, not the fish.

A minnow only needs to grow.

We need to wish.

We can wish palpably;

I don’t need poetry

to imagine myself seeking love from you.

Readers of books are inferior

to those who don’t need to read them.

We have trouble admitting this is true.

I put things in the letter

only because I couldn’t come over and do it for you.

Now that I’m gone, you might as well read

what today I will never be able to do.

BECAUSE IT’S YOU

resika

for my mother

Now that this has happened

I’m at my most unreasonable yet.

I routinely think I know more than everyone;

I’m religious, romantic; I always believe

the world can’t be real.

Now that you are passing, and I grieve,

I know even more the truth of what I feel.

Death isn’t true—

no, it isn’t true.

I believe this—because it’s you.

We hear the news and do what we are expected to do.

But death isn’t true.

IT PROVES THAT

The Titan's Goblet, Thomas Cole (American, Lancashire 1801–1848 Catskill, New York), Oil on canvas, American

It proves that what is most expendable

in your poetry is beneficial to it.

It proves that now cannot

catch up to itself later.

It proves that you will never be happy again.

In what you are writing or what you are saying?

Now you go backwards when you go forward—

not dreaming on the bus, but almost that literally.

It was winter when she died and your tooth-

extraction then was unexpected, too.

You traveled by way of mundane roads

inland to a strange place (hospice)

where she was. A last goodbye is impossible.

You finished a race in the middle of the pack.

It was as if she were saying, you are not

special, you are not my boy, because

I am leaving you. Why didn’t they tell us?

Why didn’t they? Life is no longer life

when your mother dies.

EVERYONE NEEDS ROOM (WE’RE TIRED)

Pin on paintings

In this place where good is only known

by how it’s able to knock evil off its throne;

where the only way for good to cry

happy and exultant is for evil to die;

for good to have a chance to expose evil’s tricks,

evil must be allowed to get in its licks;

no matter how you personally feel about doom,

everyone needs room.

The world must be big enough to hold

love victorious when everyone is told

love will never win.

The only way to conquer sin

is to give evil time, the means, and the space

to engage large stars—and extra room, just in case

more evil (suffering) is required—

evil needs to hide and rest (it gets tired)—

look! the large stars are spots of light

and evil needs to come up with plans tonight

if we are to meet it on the plains this afternoon;

and all afternoons are needed now.

We need to figure out how

to keep ourselves awake

the entire night (shall we dream?) for our sake.

We need to keep reaching

those sick of our preaching

and reach those tired of our poetry which lets

beauty love innocence. Careful. Beauty forgets.

Good needs but a moment to speak.

Give evil eternity—it will get weak.

Evil has a desire

to fool us with a lithesome fire.

Give evil room

for its noise, so harmony may bloom,

quiet music reaching the ceiling where

space finally stops. We need to care

about evil. We need room

to finally find evil and take the time to show it to its doom.

We’ll reach the end at last

and be able to turn and admire the past.

Good must show evil how.

All afternoons are needed now.

LUCKY ENOUGH

Henry Wallis, Chatterton – Smarthistory

Poets are those lucky enough not to suffer;

if you think poetry is made of suffering,

do not believe it; I could not have written

had I not been protected—what I had written

could not have come to me in pain,

but only remembering that pain

on a sunny hill.

Dante, in exile, had his learning, still.

Losses, yes, caused me grief—

time’s eagle has been expert dismantling its kill,

but my winged thoughts sought rays of sun—

penetrating, slowly, slow-burning clouds

and flying, I was nervous, forgetting the grief

which looked much smaller far, far beneath

as I flew in the wind and gritted my teeth.

Dante in sorrow must have had a pleasant nook

from which to write. If you read his book,

it begins with hardship and sorrow—

but remember, my friends,

how the Comedia ends.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE…

The Beatles smiling Photo Print - Overstock - 25381046

“I’m in love for the first time, don’t you know it’s going to last?” –John Lennon

Sophisticated is always a little cruel.
Judgment gains top place—
Turning everyone it sees into a fool.
And yet, through these trials,
Success conquered judgment,
Sweat and doubt replaced by smiles.

The band-mates you deeply admire
call your newest song “corny:”
“Let’s give it more drums and less choir.”
Life was simple when you loved
deeply and deeply hated—
Now everything has to be sophisticated.

Your romance fell apart;
The sophisticated chewed a path into your heart.
You’ll show them. The next song you bring
leaves them speechless as you sing.

The sophisticated fall silent now.
But love them.
They taught you how.

A DREAM: HER LAST NAME WAS MUSIC

Yale Campus at Night in Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free) 23591080 |  Shutterstock

Her last name was Music
and she hit home runs.
I was fortunate to encounter
her often in my rooms.

I avoided the sing-songy
in her presence, but jokes opened doors.
The college had athletes.
It was the poets who tended to be bores.

I took her sporty nature in stride,
letting her know poetry was eating me up inside.

She had opinions on everything,
which I liked in a girl.
When intellectual disputes fused
I knew I couldn’t fail.

She told me open form in poetry
really meant tone-deaf.
I laughed. Was she for real?
I loved. I held my breath.

EVERYTHING HERE IS TOMORROW

My favorite sunset from a few years ago, reminded me so much of a Renaissance  painting ❤️: infp

For us, our day is almost done;

gravity will take us right to the ground;

watch the video without sound,

read the poem without end,

(that’s the poem we prefer)

the past is gone but it’s what I know.

Everything here is tomorrow.

When we were happy and together,

obsessed it wouldn’t last forever,

the obsession wasn’t good. We knew

it looked bad in our reflections, too.

We can’t get over that “now” doesn’t exist.

No, it wasn’t good to be obsessed—

but only passionately

can we fool ourselves into poetry.

How can I write poetry dryly, avoiding sorrow?

Everything here is tomorrow.

THE TEXTBOOK WHICH CHANGED IT ALL—UNDERSTANDING POETRY

Yale University Staff - YACOLF19 Understanding Poetry

“The subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly, may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertain to the mathematics” –The Rationale of Verse- EA Poe

If you are reading this, it is almost a certainty that your ideas on poetry have been directly or indirectly shaped by this book. If you have anything to do with American poetry, this brief essay is about you.

England produced some pretty good poets—Milton, Byron, Keats—at a time when Greek and Latin was the only literature taught in school. It wasn’t until Matthew Arnold’s advocacy in the late 19th century and the publication of the widely used school textbook Understanding Poetry (Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, 1938, 1950, 1960, 1976) in the United States, that anything like contemporary poetry actually entered school rooms. In the wake of this crude, hysterical, pistol-shootin’, Southern boy, bombastic, textbook, the most force-fed canon in the history of Letters since the King James bible, the poetry of Longfellow, Poe, Dunbar and Millay, which the public adored, was chased from the academy forever.

The only “professional” poetry, after the appearance of Understanding Poetry, was poetry stamped with the approval of the textbook’s authors and their friends.

The term, “professional,” as used by CIA funded John Crowe Ransom in his essays on what he termed “Criticism, Inc.” or “Criticism, Ltd.,” published at this time, was not meant to elevate the vocation of poetry in general, but to pave the way for a clique’s attempt to separate themselves out as the only authority.

It is a cliché by now to say that everything is political. I will show that the textbook Understanding Poetry was nothing but an embarrassing, slipshod, power grab by a connected bunch of radical cowboys. Understanding Poetry, a nicely-sewn hardcover from Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, is anti-historical, extremely judgmental, and illogical. Nothing about it is actually “professional.”

Understanding Poetry looks at only one poem by Edgar Poe—to mock it.

Here is what it says about “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem: “This poem has been very greatly admired by a large number of people. But it is a bad poem.”

Adelaide Anne Procter—one of only a few women selected for analysis by the authors (the book is at least 95% male)—is treated this way:

Even though the work of Adelaide Procter, who is known now only as the author of “The Lost Chord,” was once greatly admired by Charles Dickens, most modern readers of poetry would find this poem bad. Most readers who admire it probably do so because they approve of the pious sentiment expressed in it. Such readers go to poetry merely to have their own beliefs and feelings flattered…

The authors are anxious to create a schism in poetry.

The “Red Wheel Barrow” (which they unequivocally praise) contains nothing so obvious as a sentiment or an idea—therefore it is now, within the context of the textbook authors’ mandate, safe to like. It is the authors who sniff out a “pious sentiment” in Procter’s poem, “The Pigrims,” which as a poetry textbook subject, deserves to be treated as a poem. Procter’s poem uses a number of literary elements—rhythm, rhyme, imagery, and contrast in a perfectly competent manner. The problem the “professional” authors have with this poem is their problem: as New Critics, they cannot get beyond the simple fact that every poem under the sun will express either some kind of sentiment (which can be summarized or paraphrased) or none at all. The theme of “The Pilgrims” is: Do not despair: others with God-like stature have it worse than you. The textbook authors go on to call Procter’s poem, and anyone who might enjoy it, “stupid” because the poem, according to them, is not fresh or new.

The problem, however, is that the authors are raising the bar impossibly high. Some themes will always be popular. No completely original poem is possible—the imagination does not create; it must use old material. The complete absence of any sentiment or theme whatsoever, like we find in “The Red Wheel Barrow” or “In a Station of the Metro” (this little poem by Pound is lauded as “new and surprising”) is treated by Brooks/Warren as achieving a transcendence of sorts—nothing is preferable to something, due to the New Critics’ hostility to paraphrase. For Brooks/Warren, random imagery sans theme wins them over (especially when produced by a member of their clique) as “new” and “fresh.” Most everything else is cliché or doggerel.

Rhythm gets no close analysis from the authors, even though this element divides poetry from prose; they only express the opinion that too much of it is a bad thing (their reason for condemning “Ulalume”).

The poems they champion are those which are as close as possible to prose—and have no discernible sentiment—thus their keen interest in poems of mayhem and gore treated disinterestedly. The poetry of Poe these critics of poetry reject, while, ironically, embracing the popular trope of Poe’s fiction.

The authors bar most of the poetry canon and replace it with examples written by their friends. The safe filler of the book consists of misplaced canon-material tucked away into chapters in a way that fails to tease out what is most important about them. Poems of metrical excellence are put into chapters on “Tone” and “Descriptive Poems.”

We might conclude that by dismissing Adelaide Procter’s Christian poem, the authors felt too many Christians were reading too many bad Christian poems—one can surely understand this as a legitimate concern; the authors, however, don’t print good Christian poems in the canon by way of comparison; their sincerity extends only as far as scorning “pious sentiment” in a single poem and leaving it at that. Dante, Petrarch, and the entire “Divine Eros” tradition—and all romance, love or religious poetic traditions—are left out of the book altogether.

The question one expects a textbook to ask is: how should a poem best express a sentiment? A poetry textbook shouldn’t be involved in policing or curbing the sentiments themselves—especially those which are world historical and immensely popular. The authors, crusty, secular, and outspoken in the extreme, cannot help themselves. They plead for neutrality, as a matter of principle, but cheer for some sentiments over others throughout the book—and the problem is compounded by their failure to recognize that sentiment manifests itself in a host of unspoken ways. They seem to think poems are able to escape sentiment (which they generally believe is bad) simply by not being overtly sentimental. Thus they think depicting a red wheel barrow is not sentimental—which it horribly is. This particular error in taste infects nearly all of their judgments.

Curiously, they don’t even mention haiku—dare I assume it’s because they’re anxious to champion their friends Pound and Williams and their haiku-like poems, lavished with epithets “fresh” and “new?”

The book as a whole is not only filled with strange hit-and-miss assertions, it reeks of chummy provincialism. The advertising is deeply off—they call their text Understanding Poetry, not, as they should, Understanding the New American Poetry.

In their introduction, the authors, a couple of yahoos from the South (members of a Tennessee gang called the Fugitives, and later the New Critics) quote a Longfellow poem, and in the spirit of Poe, without mentioning the master, fault the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” as crudely didactic. These boys, Brooks and Warren, ain’t playin’ around.

“This poem seems to give a great deal of good advice.”

Imagine this said in a bar somewhere in the deep South after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Massachusetts has taken a seat and is looking around.

“But granting that the advice is good advice, [here Brooks and Warren look at each other and grin] we can still ask [they move closer to Longfellow] whether or not the poem is a good poem.”

After appearing on pg. 8 of this 584 page textbook (third edition) with this one poem, America’s favorite poet, Longfellow, is never seen again.

Edna Millay, Dorothy Parker, and all the women who dominated English and American poetry after Byron, out-selling the men during those decades, never quite appear in Understanding Poetry. Not so, H.D., Pound’s one-time girlfriend—she has two of her poems discussed. The Pound clique is carefully promoted, side by side, with the New Critic circle—the American wing of Pound’s Modernist operation.

“The poet is a man speaking to men.” Wordsworth, a tough son of a bitch who hiked a lot, states the central theme of the book’s introduction.

After the “message-hunting” of Longfellow readers is dismissed, the authors quickly deny the “emotion and sensation” school. The taste of an apple, or a good cry, is better in real life. Poetry can’t compete with these, the authors say. Fair enough, and so far within their introduction the authors are doing okay.

What about “fine sentiments in fine language?” Now we are in the realm of their fellow southerner, Poe. In a word, Beauty. Or as Brooks and Warren put it, “a poem as simply a bundle of melodious word-combinations and pretty pictures.”

The authors straighten their spines and lift up their chins.

No.

Brooks/Warren are sure of that. None of that pretty, elegant stuff.

The authors quote Hamlet: “whips and scorns of time…the law’s delay…To grunt and sweat under a weary life…”

For Brooks and Warren “grunt and sweat” demonstrates that “great” poetry doesn’t need to be pretty or elegant. This proves it.

No doubt the entire passage (Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be speech) taken as a whole, could be called an example of “fine sentiments in fine language,” even if some parts are not absolutely beautiful; certainly the Hamlet speech meets the standard of the sublime—which Poe would gladly substitute for beauty, as would all his Romantic brothers and sisters.

But the authors are adamant: Get the pansies out of here. Poetry ain’t got no part of the ‘greeable and we have shown that to everyone’s satisfaction!

Once they have acquainted their readers with the rude depictions and harsh emotions of “drama” in the hands of Master Grunt & Sweat Will Shakespeare, there is no turning back for these gentlemen from Tennessee. The die is cast. They fire their pistols not only into the ceiling but into the gas lamps—and burn down the tavern. Official Verse Culture is leveled—thanks to Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. A genuine American poetry (something resembling the prose poems of William Carlos Williams and the newspaper clipping rants of Whitman and Pound) will be erected in its place.

Poetry, per the violence of these professors, will do violence to the old order and every sensitive mind.

Brooks/Warren go on to assert: “The relationship of the elements in a poem is what is all important,” a truism, really—a piece of pedantry intended to soften their final conclusion:

Poetry isn’t poetry. According to the authors it’s “drama.” Woo hooo! Damn straight!

The summary to their introduction over the dead bodies of Beauty, Message, and Sensation, in their own words:

“But the fundamental points, namely, that poetry has a basis in common human interests, that the poet is a man speaking to men, and that every poem is at center, a little drama, must not be forgotten at the beginning of any attempt to study poetry.”

Admittedly, at first blush, this does sound pretty sensible. Poetry as dramatic speech. Even Dana Gioia, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, and lords Tennyson and Byron might agree.

The “drama” does have much to recommend it; however, the erosion of poetry begins with the assigning of elements to poetry—which exist and can be much better developed or made the object of applause—elsewhere. Can poetry compete with mediums or genres better equipped to envelop audiences in the dramatic—whether it’s videos of street fights on You Tube, popular music, TV, film, or Drama (theater) itself?

The introduction must be judged largely a failure. Yes, it does make sense that one cannot eat a poem like an apple, and a poem should belong to “common human interests” (as opposed to the interests of turtles) and speech does play a large role, obviously, in poetry.

And “drama,” if we stretch out the definition, (recall the authors praise the ‘Red Wheel Barrow’ at some length) can certainly vaguely denote the art.

But why exclude, as the authors do, emotion? Or “fine sentiments in fine language?”

Elsewhere in the book’s introduction, a close reading of Troilus and Cressida—naturally calling on Shakespeare as often as possible to prove their poetry-as-drama thesis—Brooks/Warren write:

“The images of the first five lines, as we have seen, are closely bound together to define a certain attitude.”

Notice how they are precisely imprecise. Defining poetry as “drama,”—and yet eschewing both emotion and what they call “beautiful statement of some high truth,”—they walk an insane tightrope of delicate inference: “images….which define a certain attitude” is how they manage to evade both strong feeling and truth— neither of which, apparently, is allowed.

But “drama” without “fine language or sentiment” is the trope they are going with.

Introducing the first chapter of the book, Narrative Poems, they begin in the following way—and notice the examples they provide:

“We have said that the ‘stuff of poetry’ is not something separate from the ordinary business of living, but itself inheres in that business. We hear someone say that a farm boy has suffered a fatal accident while cutting a block of wood with a buzz-saw; or we read in the newspaper that a woman has shot her sweetheart; or we remember that there was once an outlaw from Missouri named Jesse James who was killed by treachery.”

Poetry instruction as Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.

Imagine millions of HS and college students introduced to poetry defined this way.

Dante compared poetry to a love letter.

The Understanding Poetry authors want poetry to compete with murder stories in newspapers.

Good luck with that.

They are determined to rid poetry, once and for all, of “fine sentiments and fine language.”

These are some scary New Critic outlaws who have rolled into town!

Robert Frost, fresh with a host of Pulitzer prizes, is all too ready to assist them.

Understanding Poetry, for the first time in Academia, makes the swimming pool safe for living poets, as friends of the authors are welcomed into the canon of their textbook, provided with free towels and bathing suits. Come on in, Wheel Barrow! The water’s fine!

If you are Edward Arlington Robinson, Joyce Kilmer, Edna Millay, Edgar Poe, or any number of classic poets from outside England or New England, careful. There’s sharks.

Frost is a perfect guest: old, respectable, a genuinely good poet, and, most importantly, still alive. Living poets (even if they are mediocre) can now be read next to the dead greats. As long as they are fortunate enough to know the textbook authors. The living Robert Frost was iconic enough to make good cover for this move. Today we take such gambits very much for granted, since “the new” is now the pragmatic norm in poetry studies.

There are 6 Chapters in Understanding Poetry; the first one, as mentioned, is Narrative Poems, (murder ballads, mostly) followed by 2. Descriptive Poems, (the silliest kind of poetry is descriptive—strange this gets its own chapter) 3. Metrics, 4. Tone (this is where Ulalume is savaged), 5. Imagery (another word for Descriptive. By now it feels the chapter categories of Understanding Poetry lack a certain sense), and finally, 6. Theme: Statement and Idea.

The theme of Understanding Poetry itself: real life horror, articulated plainly and without sentiment, steps to the fore in the first chapter—Narrative Poems.

The first poem under observation is Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—” a poem I never wish to read again; the poem concerns a Vermont village boy’s buzz-saw accident in front of his sister as she calls him into supper; the boy dies that night in the hospital; the whole thing is described in a chillingly matter-of-fact manner, for the maximum horror-effect, apparently. Frost was experimenting with something—will simple description heighten the horror of a horrible event? Whether or not it succeeds as a poem, the authors only know it is the one they want to set the tone of their book.

The last four lines of “Out, Out—“, a poem of 35 lines:

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Whatever stoic virtue the poem has doesn’t save it. The poem is a monstrosity; but in their mission to define poetry as whatever lacks feeling, while cultivating general human interest with just the right combination of images, the authors consider this poem pure gold.

After “Out, Out—,” we get a bunch of anonymous murder ballads, in which the authors praise the ballad’s ability to condense a story—as it “shows” instead of “tells,” a great virtue, according to the authors, who forget they have defined poetry as “speech.” Poetry can only “show” by telling—the truism that it is better for poems to “show” is a nullity. To tell ironically is the closest a poem can come to “showing,” which it never actually does. Imagists fall into great error on this point.

The Narrative Poem chapter also includes 3 poems by A.E. Housman—the authors seem to prefer him to Longfellow because Housman is a secular Longfellow; “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” is a decent ballad, meeting the authors approval with plenty of tragedy, blood, and stoicism. “Hell Gate” by Housman has nothing to recommend it; the story is muddled and its music uninspired. The authors write, “We feel immediately that we are not dealing with salvation in the Christian sense.” Perhaps this is why they selected this mediocre poem? The third Housman poem, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” is praised because the authors recommend its cynical message (every soldier only fights for “pay;”). Longfellow is not allowed to articulate a theme, but apparently Housman is.

I’m not sure why the authors don’t include Poe’s ballad “Ulalume” in the “ballad” chapter; they confine themselves almost entirely to anonymous ballads, and when they briefly discuss “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” at the end of the chapter, they make the mistake of saying that Keats is “using the pretense of ballad simplicity,” as they assume that here we have a “modern poem” pretending to be an authentic ballad. Keats died in 1822. When do the authors think “Frankie and Johnny” was composed? The very essence of the subject seems to elude them.

A naval engagement from “Song of Myself” is the soaring highlight of Chapter One. There’s not much of a story told, but the authors enthuse over seemingly irrelevant “details,” and the following makes them especially happy:

“The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,/Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan…”

In the Afterwards to Chapter One the authors admit they have a problem:

“Indeed, it is not easy, except in regard to the use of verse, to make an absolute distinction between poetry and prose fiction.”

Poetry, they say, has “concentration,” “sharpness of selected detail,” “appeal to the imagination” and “intensity.”

These are too vague to mean very much.

What can be going through the minds of the students forced to read this textbook?

Chapter Two, Descriptive Poems, begins with an assault on a chestnut by Robert Browning, as the authors continue their scorched earth policy against “Official Verse Culture.” Actually, they do make an interesting observation: “mood” and “thought” are often the same. Whether Browning brought the authors into a temporary state of sanity, it is not certain. In the last comment on the Browning, the authors write: one critic felt this poem sucks. Do you agree? It’s OK. Browning will survive.

The Descriptive Poems chapter (Two) is a nod, after the “ballads” chapter (One) to poetry as a rather simple art form—resembling fiction, just more condensed.

Language does not interest our authors, nor aesthetics, nor the Socratic, nor epistemology, nor philosophies of composition, nor fancy v imagination, nor cultural or social content, nor anything beyond things like:

“A lively sense of the perceptible world with its sights, sounds, and smells, is fundamental to poetry.”

Chapter Two devolves into poems about the seasons; Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, and T.S. Eliot (“The Preludes”) go to kindergarten. Along the way, a couple of H.D. poems, Pound’s petals on a bough poem (lovingly discussed) and the following poem (quoted in full) by James Stephens, “The Main-Deep:”

The long rolling,
Steady-pouring,
Deep-trenched
Green billow;

The wide-topped,
Unbroken,
Green-glacid,
Slow-sliding,

Cold-flushing,
On—on—on—
Chill-rushing,
Hush-hushing,

Hush-hushing…

This poem fills the authors with wonder. They discuss it at length, quoting approvingly the line “Hush-hushing.” They consider the poem splendid—and write solemnly on it. The author was a close friend of Joyce.

By the time we reach page 119 and chapter 3 Metrics, it is no surprise that Brooks/Warren embrace T.S. Eliot’s strange assertion that prose scans—and therefore poetry and rhythmical language really don’t have much to do with each other.

“What is poetry?” we might ask at this point.

The authors only know what it is not. It is not iambic pentameter. The following, they say, is iambic pentameter, and this is not poetry:

A Mr. Wilkerson, a clergyman.

This pretty much sums up the metrics lesson of Chapter Three.

I’d like to end this look at Understanding Poetry with their take on Metrics, because I think their attitude towards formalism is where they do the most damage, but I’ll sum up Chapters Four, Five, and Six, first.

Chapter Four, “Tone,” is the chapter where we find things by E.E. Cummings and the textbook’s comedic poems (Ogden Nash); and this is where “Ulalume” is treated comically and slaughtered. After “Ulalume” is killed off, the authors reprint “Luke Havergal” by Edwin Arlington Robinson and “Voices” by Walter de La Mare with little comment, implying these two poems are failures as well, mostly because of their exaggerated rhythm, and then, accompanied by a great deal of earnest laudation, Brooks/Warren offer their colleague Jonh Crowe Ransom’s poem, “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” a poem which revels in a child’s death—describing her in its final (rhyming with “stopped”) line: “Lying so primly propped.”

The next poem is “After the Burial” by James Russell Lowell (the 19th century is generally not favored by the authors). The end of Lowell’s poem:

That little shoe in the corner,
So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
And argues your wisdom down.

Here’s what the authors say about Lowell’s poem: “Many readers have found this poem disturbing. They find it disturbing because, on one hand, they know that it was written as the expression of a deep personal grief, and on the other hand, they think it is a bad poem.”

Chapter Five (Imagery) is where they put Tennyson, Hart Crane, Marvell, Donne, Auden, and Dickinson—who seems to be the only woman poet the authors can stomach, besides H.D. and Marianne Moore—she was included in the final “Poems for Study” section—no commentary)—two women belonging to Pound’s clique.

Chapter Six—“Theme: Statement and Idea” features still another poem by Housman, George Meredith, Donne, and finishes up with heavy-hitters: 3 well-known poems by Frost, Gray’s “Elegy,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Blake’s “London,” Emerson’s “Brahma,” “The Force That Through the Green Fuse” by Dylan Thomas, Eliot’s “Prufrock,” (with a long, respectful, discussion), Melville, Jarrell, Yeats (and a long discussion), “Shine, Perishing Republic,” by Robinson Jeffers, “The Return” by John Peale Bishop (similar in theme to the Jeffers—no patriotic songs or poems in this book!) and finally “Kubla Kahn,” “Lycidas,” and “Nightingale” (a long discussion) and “Urn” by Keats.

Our New Critic authors do select some powerhouses of “Official Verse Culture,” (necessary if their textbook is to have any weight at all) but it’s clear their intention is to destroy it—by their omissions, their commentary, and the careful organization of their themed chapters. All in all, a very clever hit job. The book also had to make their friends, such as Ezra Pound, WC Williams, and John Crowe Ransom, very happy, indeed.

On page 151, a single line by the otherwise excluded Millay, in a onomatopoeia discussion in the Metrics chapter, is mocked by John Crowe Ransom. This must have given the boys in the office a good chuckle.

Millay’s line: “Comfort, softer than the feathers of its breast.”

Ransom: “Crumpets for the foster-fathers of the brats.”

The first purpose of Understanding Poetry is to prove the authors’ paramount notion—poetry is 95% prose meaning and 5% poetic effect. An interesting idea—like saying a person missing a face is still a person.

Their higher purpose seems to be to replace poetry of the working and middle classes and esteemed by professorial verse-expertise and inspired by a love of verse in general, with the “new” poetry written by their friends. This intent is perhaps more difficult to prove—though it coincides with the first purpose above—and reading this book, what is one to think?

“The Blindness of Samson” by Milton is quoted—the metrical variation of iambic and trochee in the first five lines is pointed out—but I still can’t help but laugh at the ‘buried alive’ (in blindness) theme—the authors, throughout the book, in their poetry selections, are uncommonly fixated on macabre fiction strategies of Poe—even as they reject Poe, the poet.

Brooks/Warren, in the Metrics chapter, fully quote another Milton poem, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont,” featuring “martyred blood” and “Mother and infant” tossed from cliffs—pointing out this poem has “precisely the same rhyme scheme” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”

Really? One has to wonder: are the authors critics or sadists?

They don’t discuss stanza forms—the pinnacle of verse mastery. They do, at least, because it is such a popular trope—thanks to poets like Shelley, Poe, and Alexander Pope—pay some attention to “sound and sense,” but why they feel compelled to compare a famous love poem with a massacre poem simply due to a similar rhyme scheme is just bizarre.

There is more torture of sorts when they discuss the metrics of Milton and Barrett in the following manner:

“To sum up, we may say that the relation of rhetorical pauses to the line pauses of a stanza provides a principle of vital vibration analogous to that provided by the relation of rhetorical accent to metrical accent.”

Got that?

There are different kinds of pauses.

Actually, no. Verse contains only one kind of pause. Speakers, yes, can interpret pauses as wildly as they choose—but this does not alter the verse as written.

“Vital vibration” sounds like something which might inspire the daft Charles Olson and the whole nutty avant school, which hears things in the ether– poetry to neither you nor I, but to them alone.

“After Long Silence” by Yeats (a rare modern who could pull off verse—Auden and Larkin the youngest poets who fit that mold) is reprinted, followed by two difficult sonnets of Shakespeare, Hardy, Ben Johnson,Cowper, Hopkins—not the greatest examples of metrical excellence, frankly, especially for a student exposed to the blurry pedagogy of the authors, but this is all in preparation, no doubt, for the final act of the Metrics chapter: a lengthy commentary on two free verse poems by William Carlos Williams. “By the road to the contagious hospital” and “The Red Wheel Barrow,” including a revisit of “Pear Tree” by H.D.

The authors’ conclusion is that “free verse” is, indeed “verse”—in every sense of the word.

Need I say more?

Thomas Graves, Salem MA

SOMETIMES WE FEAR DEATH

1,467 Lonely In A Crowd Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images -  iStock

Sometimes we fear death

and in our poems cry out—

buried deep in our imaginations,

imagining ourselves alone,

lonely and alone, these cries in poems

harmless because they’re poems.

But in life we are alone,

buried alive in life; these cries

are right in front of you; I only pretend

happiness. Nowhere near the grave,

I’m alone. Miserable. Just very brave.

Don’t bother with these poems of fear.

I’m terrified already. Right here.

FOR ANNIE BY EDGAR POE

The greatest poems work internally. Great poetry cannot be “performed” in the usual sense. There is something about the fine poem which cannot exist in the air where we live. Put music in the background, make your voice dramatic—and all that is lovely or interesting about the poem runs away. It gets worse with Poe recitations—the reader’s voice is either too matter-of-fact or seems silly by attempting to be scary. This is me in my living room talking into my phone. Pardon me, Edgar. I tried.

THERE IS PUSHKIN

Pushkin: The Writer Who Succumbed to His Own Plot | Russia |

There is Pushkin, a collection of bones:

A translation for you—by T.E. Smith-Jones.

It is rumored you and I had an affair.

We spoke. More than Pushkin’s poetry was there.

I cannot say what happened—only the bare bones:

Pushkin in the English of T.E. Smith-Jones.

All prose is the same, but in a variety of tones

verse evinces—life, life! Not only the bones

of translated Pushkin by T.E. Smith-Jones.

Can I tell you how we loved? I cannot.

My prose chased verse to a disappearing spot.

I tried to write a poem, but T.E. Smith-Jones

stands on the stairs in the dark and moans.

THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE GOOD

Dante's Inferno - Dark Wood - Gallery

Two beautiful people having sex

makes the old priest upset, even sad

but makes the old poet, William Butler Yeats, glad.

If you are going to be a poet, you’ve got to roll

with the beautiful and the good

in both body and soul.

Jealousy or hate

Might possibly be your fate.

The two are really in love; they kiss…

but we don’t need to see.

Mine is a dignified kind of poetry

Which nonetheless inquires

after all kinds of shadows and all kinds of fires.

A metaphor for life is: being lost in a dark wood

with no sign of the beautiful and the good.

But there are moments in poems like mine

when “Two beautiful people having sex” is a line

that gives you respite from the dark wood—

the obstacle, which in itself does no one any good.

You might complain I’m only trying to provoke—

But no. Do you think poetry is some kind of joke?

Ask yourself what kind of person you are.

Does the beautiful and the good appeal to you?

Does the star?

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