FALLING INTO THE SURGERY

Lucretia

How can a beautiful poet be a misanthrope?

A poet is a surgeon to a patient on a table,

Removing a little piece of ignorance.

A poem is a knife to your ignorance,

The words, a surgery performed gladly,

Though I enter you, somberly and sadly.

When you laughed at the poetry

Of others today, you were not wrong,

But this will help you, this old song.

Every thing you think you know

Will be dissolved, before I go

And you will be different

When the operation’s done.

The shade of your being

Is a protection, which nonetheless

Blocks the seeing sun.

Once again, you will be able to see

The beautiful, which all once knew as poetry.

A beautiful poet will run

From the stupid conversations;

The poet sees beauty rapidly.

The misanthropic poet is beautiful

And runs from you and you and you.

The surgery’s over.  Sunlight travels the hills.

The old has made the poem new.

I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CARES

Description of the painting by Salvador Dali “Woman at the window” ❤️ -  Dali Salvador

I am the only one who cares.
I am the genius of caring.
I think how one care leads to more
And care is a towering network
Of numerous wires
Running thru everyone we know.
Love keeps me afloat—
But I worry, though.

THE INSTITUTION OF LOVE

Paintings of Love and Marriage in the Italian Renaissance | Essay | The  Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

There needs to be an institution of love

To make sure each and every lover is kind.

For love is all, if there is an all—

And no one knows another’s mind.

When the mind seethes,

The institution will make every desire met

In the mind’s space

When the soul isn’t certain of what we get,

Even as the lover is not a lover yet.

To calculate accurately the beautiful!

To make each love’s desire beautiful!

The waiting for love and love’s revenge

In earth’s atmosphere takes too long

Even with perfumes and candles and song.

For a certain type of deserving person,

Sublime love doesn’t win—

They are too modest, too sweet,

Or too afraid of sin.

A fantasy has spoken. The data’s in.

Considerations far beside the point

Have made other institutions museums—

Dull, doltish, inaccurate, out of joint.

Let love have an institution

So the harrowing madness of love can win!

Not just theirs. But ours!

The subtle ways love is defeated

Are more numerous than the stars.

Who knows what ridiculous fears

Kept you and I apart for years?

LOVE’S THE ENERGY THAT’S ALWAYS NEW

Image result for comic a man hurt

Love’s the energy that’s always new.

It’s always turning off.

That’s why no one is ever true.

I didn’t. And now I do.

The sun’s the same, the morning’s new.

Were you the one? Was it you?

We are the grain of sand that sees.

To worship, we need hands and knees.

We developed all this civilized shit

So with a certain grace and modesty we could do it.

Please avert your eyes.

Privacy and riches don’t like surprise.

Love needs a secret look.

We need a telephone book

In order to love.

If we can’t love, we are happy to starve.

What we once needed isn’t what we are.

I’ll show you—

I don’t need you. I don’t.

I’m the large grain of sand that won’t.

We are the sapling that runs away.

A whole world was lost yesterday.

But damn if it doesn’t come again

When seven syllables turn to ten,

Or nine—the feathers for a small wren

Is how I count down to a few.

I constantly expect there to be more.

I think I wrote this poem before.

Today, I thought, well, this is what I do—

I say dumb things. I lose things. I fall in love with you.

DOES MY MUSE

For Detail | Portrait painting, Face art, Beauty in art

Does my muse care about my life?
No, she doesn’t. “Tom,
Why don’t you write about your children or your wife?”
I do not, because schemes
Are not poetic. Dreams
Are what my muse desires.
Bad choices destroy you—
If you don’t admit you are wrong.
There are millions of excuses.
There is only one song.
Family is the most important thing
But I would be an idiot to sing
Of morals. The true
Fact of persons cannot be contained
In poems—perhaps in a diary, half-explained—
My muse has always whispered to me:
Real life is too complex for poetry.
A poem is a glimpse of a lover.
Metaphors capture misty
Truths, only. I’m thirsty.
This poem’s over.

THEY LIVE LONG ENOUGH

The Mysteries behind Caspar David Friedrich's “Wanderer above the ...

They live long enough to think they are gods,
And we who read their stories live long enough to think we are gods,
Because after we read their stories we walk away from their stories,
Leaving them back there,
As we stand in the doorway, thinking.

Though time keeps moving, sometimes we think time stands still—
When the forest and the air and the grass are still,
And we stand there for a moment, far outside the poem,
Which we left back there: a poem about the gods
Described as evening clouds towards the horizon sinking.

There is now a chance to stop,
To pretend we will stop moving.
We will stop moving and stop.
We will sink even as we think
As the clouds that were gods drop.

YOU

Sunrise & Sunset Paintings by Famous Artists | 1st Art Gallery

When I look back at life—
The one that is mine but slipping away:
I didn’t know what to do—
I didn’t know what to say.
I would write down later
The words I should have said.
O life of moments and words!
Moments remained in my head.
Big shadow stains the hill.
When I look back at my life:
I must talk to them. I must talk to them.
Insomniac at the window sill.
I didn’t know what to say.
I didn’t know what to do.
I am looking back at myself—
And looking forward to you.

A BOOK OF POEMS

Sunset from Dead Horse Beach Salem MA Photograph by Toby McGuire

A book of poems is like a novel
Which forgets itself from page to page.

This one was published in 1990—
The poet wrote it during the smirking age.

Young in his photo, with a hint of a smirk,
You can see where it ends. Study his work.

Marriage, a kid, 9/11, removed the smirk from his face.
His elegiac tone replaced the funny one.

Every sort of style mingles now. And yet
Contrasting moods always crash the poems we forget.

A light tone with a serious subject,
Or a light subject with a serious tone,

Is the literary way. The cheap
Manner in the shadows. Parking lot. Bone.

What is conservative? Rocks piled by the sea,
Lofty trees, children replacing the old.

Where is the book with a poem entitled
“I Have Been Crying Out For My Love?”

HAROLD ROSENBERG: THE RETURN OF ROMANTICISM AND CRITICISM

What Did Harold Rosenberg Do? An Introduction to the Champion of "Action  Painting" | Art for Sale | Artspace

The trouble with Criticism is that its whole business is to insert itself between a poem and its reader—a superfluous act; if the poem is good it doesn’t need the extra words of Criticism. The smell of a bad poem arises with the smell of Criticism. No wonder a thousand poets exist for every critic—and even then a critic is 9 times out of 10 a poet whose criticism is morale boosting notes to himself—a pure sideline activity.

When anyone discusses poetry, the same few critics are mentioned over and over—an indication of how unpopular critics are; in the whole history of Letters, five or six critics receive all the press:

Plato—because he had the audacity to ban the poets (too crazy, too emotional) from his Republic.


Aristotle—The Greek alternative to Plato. “Tragedy is good because it purges emotions.”


Samuel Johnson—Did us all a favor by faulting the “metaphysical poets,” saying of them “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.”


Wordsworth—Also did us peasants a favor by defining poetry as plain talk.


Poe—More fodder for the simple folk: “A long poem does not exist” and “the best subject for a poem is the death of a beautiful woman.”


T.S. Eliot—Returned poetry to the professors. Told us “poetry must be difficult” in an essay praising the metaphysical poets.

Despite the fact I have said Criticism is rare, that critics are usually poets first, and that people generally dislike or fear criticism, I will defend Criticism in this essay—only because I believe critically I have something to say.

This is all that matters.

Having something to say. Critically, that is.

Auden mocked poets who earnestly felt they “had something to say.”

Well. Of course.

Poets do need ideas, though. In poetry, it is not the idea, but how the idea gets put into the poem.

Somewhere along the way, based on wise remarks by those like Auden, and due to the hard, gem-like resistance of Modernism generally, ideas—as things to be stated, worked-up, and enjoyed—got tossed aside.

Never mind poems—Criticism is nothing but ideas.

Most young writers today who try their hand at “criticism” have no overriding ideas; they choose topics to write on—a poet’s lifestyle or some neat time period.

As I think Plato and Aristotle demonstrated, literary criticism belongs properly to philosophy—even if it’s “amateur” philosophy.

Criticism should remain above poetry and not play second fiddle to it—even if it plays its fiddle in a “professional” manner, like Helen Vendler or Marjorie Perloff, or God forbid, Harold Bloom (who carried on as if he were a pure Critic, but was not; his colleague at Yale, W. Jackson Bate, was far closer to true Criticism).

Critics need to debate other critics. Criticism needs to be a field on its own. It should not be a press agent for poetry. Just like an honest reviewer, critics should never befriend poets.

Enjoying a poem has nothing to do with Criticism. Enjoying a poem is an unconscious activity. Criticism is a conscious activity. And this is okay. We need to become accustomed to the fact that Criticism is its own art. This is difficult in our present day because we haven’t had Criticism practiced like an art form since Plato. So you see the task before us.

There have always been two sides to Criticism and we must decide, before we go any further, which side we are on.

The good side seeks to narrow and the bad side seeks to expand, poetry.

The realist, who wishes to expand poetry’s role, is naive.

We don’t usually associate realism with naivete, but let’s jump into today’s debate by yoking some heterogeneous ideas violently together.

John Crowe Ransom was a realist from Tennessee and Harold Rosenberg an idealist from New York.

Rosenberg is best known as an art critic, but he published a volume of his own poetry and Rosenberg’s philosophical approach (as opposed to a literary criticism approach) happens to put him in a place I can use to great advantage.

Let’s quote Ransom first, from the Preface to his distinguished, prize-winning, collection of essays, The World’s Body:

“First we should see what poetry properly is not, though it is what poetry has often declared to be.”

***

“The poetry I am disparaging is a heart’s-desire poetry. If another identification is needed, it is the poetry written by romantics, in a common sense of that term. It denies the real world by idealizing it: the act of a sick mind.”

This is quite an ideal kind of realism which I have found—Ransom was highly respected in his day, and New Criticism was very influential; it was the school of T.S. Eliot: “difficult,” savvy, worldly, smart.”

As opposed to poetry which “denies the real world,” Ransom states in his preface he is for the poetry that “only wants to realize the world, to see it better.”

“The kind of poetry which interests us is not the act of a child, or of that eternal youth which is in some women, but the act of an adult mind; and I will add, the act of a fallen mind, since ours too are fallen.”

Ransom’s language is really loose here—the rather modest expression: “only wants to realize the world, to see it better” could be construed as “idealization.” After all, to merely “see” the world carries with it an immense task (think of how much there is to “see”) but to “realize it,” to merely “see it better” implies narrowing (ideal) not expansion (real). Idealism (which selectively narrows its focus) can be a very realistic approach.

Any “realist” who opposes “idealism” (as Ransom is doing here) finally doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Later in this essay I am going to argue for an idealism free of all worldly elements involved in one’s response to art—sufficient to say that Ransom’s possible wavering between idealism and realism in terms of the world will finally make no difference in my equation. Anyway, “to realize the world, to see it better” is what the scientist barely succeeds at; surely Ransom cannot seriously believe this is a goal of art?

Well I warned you that you would need to pick a side.

A modest narrowing is our only choice when it comes to poetry.

The issue is simple—too simple for “fallen” Ransom to grasp, apparently.

Ransom argues (badly, vaguely, but nonetheless strenuously) for the opposite, for expansion, not narrowing—as he explicitly equates “idealizing” with “sickness.”

Ransom needs to believe the idealist is a sentimentalist. He doesn’t come out and say the sentimentalist is naturally an idealist—this would be to give sentimentalism a chance against being brutalized—which is not at all where Ransom, if one knows him, is coming from. We must therefore question Ransom this way: If one (realistically, practically) chooses what to focus on, why shouldn’t the selection be governed by happiness (the “heart”)? Should we select what we don’t want? (We understand Ransom does not necessarily mean “happiness” when he refers to what he calls “heart’s-desire” sentimentalism, but this is a quibble—to be sentimental is to either be happy or suffer because one wants to be happy.)

Ransom concedes elsewhere in no uncertain terms that for him, art is not science—art, for Ransom, fulfills a complimentary but completely different function. Strange, then, that he should juxtapose the hard, unforgiving laws of science with art which in his view has no child-like happiness or charm, but caters rather to an “adult” and “fallen” mind.

Harold Rosenberg will now set himself down on our side—in this instance, in the moment of my essay, a Wolfgang Mozart to Ransom’s Antonio Salieri.

Ransom is being a child when he rejects the child.

But let’s be clear.

In other places in his writing, generally, Ransom says absolutely brilliant things.

But we get to wisdom truly only thru someone’s ignorance. I saw a cooking show yesterday in which the chef praised the shaved broccoli stalk as the best part of the plant. Critics cannot be timid; they must prepare and ravish other critics. Just as a poet seizes on whatever inspiration happens to come along, critics should not let the hidden, tender parts of other critics go to waste—go for it!

To critics: when you find error in the reasoning of another, don’t be shy—this is how the meal is made.

There is profit, no doubt, in critics trailing after, and cleaning up after, poets; Ransom came into his own by love-hating Milton—his smashing first essay in The World’s Body—but if there is to be a revival of Criticism—which poetry needs almost more than a revival of Romanticism and the Child—critics ought to stir each other up—especially the few who exist, and especially those just coming onto the scene (we hope there are some rowdy ones)—if only to make the public aware that Criticism is not dead, that it’s able to hurt, and draw blood, and have real feelings.

Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism is perhaps a good start. The author of this essay is the author of this just-released book.

Of course my point is not all of Harold Rosenberg is superior to all of John Ransom—those incapable of Criticism might fret over what they imagine in horror is my unforgivable sin—as I impugn an idea or two of Mr. Ransom’s.

The following quotes are from Rosenberg’s essay, “Literary Form and Social Hallucination.” Rosenberg put in this essay his whole critical being, leaving nothing essential out. Writers do have highs and lows. Judge for yourself, but you ought to see immediately how Rosenberg brilliantly advances my argument—it is his argument, really; Rosenberg is in service to me, as much as I am deeply and forever in service to him:

“If, to the Greek, art subordinates the facts to the emotions, to the modern writer it subordinates both facts and emotions to art’s own ends.”

I don’t know any statement which sums up Ancient v. Modern quite so well—and John Crowe Ransom would concur. I don’t know of anyone who would not.

Rosenberg continues:

“…T.S. Eliot gives reasons why literature does not, and ought not, go to the limit in ‘tracing a certain fact.'”

Rosenberg had just quoted Dostoevsky: “The apparent impotence of art made me wonder about its usefulness. Indeed, trace a certain fact in actual life—one which at first glance is not even very vivid—and if only you are able and endowed with vision, you will perceive in it a depth such as you will not find in Shakespeare.” (italics mine)

With that Dostoevsky quotation in mind per Eliot, let’s return to Rosenberg:

“In a good poem, he [Eliot] says, there must be a ‘precise fitness of form and matter…which also means a balance between them.’ Like Dostoevsky, Eliot refers to Shakespeare, but he points out that in a Shakespearean song, ‘the form, the pattern movement, has a solemnity of its own, however light and gay the human emotion concerned, and a gaiety of its own, however serious or tragic the emotion.’ The form, in short, carries its own independent feelings, which play against the feeling aroused by the subject; and the artist, according to Eliot, is most interested in the ‘fitness’ of these contrasting feelings to each other, so that a ‘balance’ may be reached.”

Eliot (and again, Ransom would fully agree, having himself emerged fully formed from the head of Eliot) is stating the great “reactionary” truth of art, which is that the art-form must be taken into account when it comes to art, no matter what the art is “talking about.” Accounting for “form” is necessary, Eliot says, in a “good poem.” And Rosenberg, like an excited child, runs with this idea as an idea, to wherever it might lead:

“If this is the case,” Rosenberg continues, “the form of a literary work acts directly contrary to Dostoevsky’s desire to get to the bottom of a particular state of affairs.”

Doesn’t “desire to get to the bottom of a particular state of affairs” sound similar to what Ransom professed poetry singularly ought to do? In Ransom’s own non-idealizing words: “to realize the world, to see it better.” Rosenberg begins with Eliot (and Ransom attached to him at the hip) but where Rosenberg ends up may not be fit for Ransom’s eyes:

“Indeed,” Rosenberg goes on, “the very function of form would be to cut across the reaction aroused by the subject and suspend the mind in a riptide of feelings belonging to art itself.”

But wait, it gets better. In the next paragraph Rosenberg hits a home run:

“In emphasizing balance Eliot is consistent with the attitude of literature toward truth throughout most of its history. For it is clear that writers have not, traditionally, regarded themselves as crusaders against mystification. Their way has been rather to appropriate illusions inherited in the patterns of story-telling and in the usages of words and to contribute to deepening these illusions. It is not by chance that the meaning of ‘form’ and the meaning of ‘hallucination’ overlap in their connotations of an appearance or ‘show’ without substance. There is a natural alliance between art and deception; and one needs no prompting from modern radicalism to see this alliance as the ideal extension of the relation of the arts to their historic patrons: courts, priesthoods, and in more recent times, capitalists and bureaucrats.”

The reference to “form” as an “appearance” in a “hallucination” is one of the greatest moments, for me, in the history of Letters. Eliot’s delicate “balance” between “form” and “matter” in art is in danger of being swept entirely away into pure suspension of disbelief and illusion. But Rosenberg, the lynx-eyed social critic, grounds it in society: “the ideal extension of the relation of the arts to their historic patrons: courts, priesthoods, and in more recent times, capitalist and bureaucrats.” Again, this is not foreign to Ransom, who brings acute social observances into his literary ideas, but what is being smashed here is Ransom’s naive aesthetic desire to “realize the world, to see it better.”

Rosenberg attaches a footnote after “bureaucrats,” which demands quoting: “Writing about the traditional attitude toward the nude, Paul Valery observed: ‘Everyone had a muddled conviction that neither the State, nor the Law, nor Education, nor Religion, nor anything else that was serious, could function if the truth were entirely visible.’ [Valery’s italics]”

But Rosenberg still isn’t done, bringing in Keats, a modern critic known to Ransom, and then Plato:

“The celebrated phrase about poetry inducing a ‘suspension of disbelief’ need only be given its socio-political dimension and it becomes a formula for the service rendered by art to holders of social power. If it weren’t for art, men’s disbelief would not be suspended. Would not curiosity press them then to chase after the hidden truth? Form, beauty, calls off the hunt by justifying, through the multiple feelings it arouses, the not-quite-real as humanly sufficient.

Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity

Wasn’t it in I.A. Richards’ discussion of Keats’ drugged lines about beauty being truth, truth beauty, in which the poet so perfectly draws the curtain of ecstasy over his vision of painful fact, that ‘suspension of disbelief’ first entered the contemporary vocabulary of literary criticism?”

“Plato’s Republic, which was organized ‘transparently,’ and hence had no disbeliefs to suspend, banished the poet.”

***

“In the past, governments took for granted the cultural Chinese walls which the arts built around them; today, the cost of reinforcing these walls against the siege of rival concepts is included in every defense budget.”

And then another brilliant footnote follows:

“Note to ideology-enders: In the war of ideologies, history grows more and more talkative, i.e., rhetorical, which means that image assaults image, until all have lost their sacredness and none inspires a defense to the death. Thus ideological conflict, which promotes rather than suspends disbelief, is the only kind of conflict among great powers in which hope can exist for a nonviolent resolution.”

“Considering the function of the arts in transferring into familiar experiences the hallucinations bred in the centers of authority, one might decide that the arts are by nature reactionary. Such a conclusion would be neither far-fetched nor particularly novel—I suspect that most liberals feel this, though they shrink from admitting it to themselves.”

Liberals realizing that art is reactionary in 1960? Is this like liberals facing their white privilege in 2021? Not only is Rosenberg’s essay brilliant on several levels (I wish I had time to quote more of it)—it’s prophetic, as well.

But let’s not get side-tracked, although this is perhaps what Rosenberg wants, and this is the danger I face in quoting this marvelous essay at length.

Now at last I can quote Rosenberg a couple of pages later in the essay speaking directly to Ransom’s all-too-common Modernist complaint against poetry of the “heart,” the “child,”—of and for “romantics:”

“The sigh of Keats and the logic of Eliot represent art’s willing acceptance of the merger of substance into form—and the fabled lightheartedness of the artist, his childlike spirit, his ‘innocence,’ have to do with this professional yielding to the falsification, play-acting, and charmed distortion inherent in his medium. The abnormal thing is not the pressure upon art to falsify, but that art should have come to resist that pressure.”

John Crowe Ransom represents the thrust in our time to “resist that pressure” to romantically “falsify,” though he is fully aware of it and even somewhat sympathetic to it. From The World’s Body:

“The whole poem is properly an illusion, but a deliberate and honest one, to which we consent, and through which we follow the poet because it enables him to do things not possible if he were presenting actuality. At some moments we may grow excited and tempted to forget that it is illusion, as the untrained spectator may forget and hiss the villain at the theatre. But we are quickly reminded of our proper attitude. If the author tends to forget, all the more if he pretends to forget, we would recall him to the situation too. Such license we do not accord to poets and dramatists, but only to novelists, whose art is young. And even these, or the best of these, seem now determined, for the sake of artistic integrity, to surrender it.”

We can see from this passage that Ransom understands the importance of art’s deception—but by God he will not be deceived for very long! Ransom goes so far as to be pleased that the “novelists” will “surrender” their art “for the sake of artistic integrity.” Surrender your art for art, Ransom says—but can he really be saying this? Yes, he is saying this. And now comes the following two questions: Why is he saying this? And what is wrong with him?

Rosenberg will help us out; let’s re-quote him: ” In the war of ideologies, history grows more more and more talkative, i.e., rhetorical, which means that image assaults image, until all have lost their sacredness…”

Ransom, who took great delight, with many of his contemporaries, to label Romanticism as the act of a “sick mind,” to hiss at villains from the past, to beat the drum as mustaches were put on the Mona Lisa—was a high-ranking general in the Modernist ideological war in which “image assaults image, until all have lost their sacredness…” Ransom was at the front of the mob which threw splinters of the red wheel barrow at The Raven.

The stripping-away-the-veil-from-art so that all sacredness is lost is just what certain intellectuals love to do. They may justify their acts with “theory” and impressive intellectualism, but they are finally like Ransom’s “untrained spectator” hissing at “the villain at the theatre.”

Their “theatre” is whatever they want it to be. In art theories (think of Wilde) which have the art hide the artist, we are reminded of the New Critical impulse to look “only at the work.” The New Critics never really believed this, and first asserted it in order to seem “pure;” they spent the second half of their careers back-peddling, as they raised the “impure” flag—what I said to gain attention I now renounce as a full human being: thus end all art movements.

In the essay by Ransom just quoted from, “A Poem Nearly Anonymous,” Ransom is most interested in Milton, the “man,” lurking behind the acknowledged masterpiece of “Lycidas.” As Ransom remarks in the penultimate sentence of his essay: “We are disturbingly conscious of a man behind the artist.”

As I said earlier, Ransom falls on the side of expanding poetry, which is wrong (oh we must think of this and think of this and think of this) and despite New Criticism earning its reputation of narrowing (focus on the work only) this is more its exception than its rule—as Eliot questioned what the Metaphysical Poets really were, we must do the same with The New Critics.

What this critic believes is this: there is no “man” behind the poem.

There is no John Milton who John Ransom needs to be “disturbingly conscious of.”

Save your energy, John.

There is a wonderful South Park episode called Sarcastaball, in which the sarcasm a father uses to defend the rough-and-tumble aspects of football is taken literally, leading to a whole new professional sport. The father becomes addicted to sarcasm—he is sarcastic in the doctor’s office—the audience of this South Park episode are not sure whether or not the doctor is being sarcastic as he shows the father brain scans of severe brain damage—but is it from a concussion, or the father’s disease of sarcasm?

Criticism which demands to be taken seriously, but is so absorbed in balancing form and matter (but willing also to choose one for the sake of an art movement so that finally either one will do,) drags us into the mind-fuck world of “Sarcastaball.”

The truth is: form in art is all that matters.

Art is “suspension of disbelief.”

And art is “reactionary,” and we will all just have to deal with it.

Politically, Ransom and his colleagues were reactionary. And this is why in their Criticism, they tried to go the other way. The New Critics’ “balancing” act within literature sprawled over into politics—politics/social commentary (Plato, Marx, the State) has traditionally been the escape-hatch, the fourth wall, for any critic who is not certain of his or her aesthetic designs. If they were more certain of purely motivated art, the critic might become an apolitical creative genius, instead.

Criticism—which wrestles with things other than pure form—is finally seen in the public square as rather a mess. Its politics hides behind its criticism (New Criticism) or its criticism hides behind its politics (Marxism). Our best living Critic happens to be a reviewer—William Logan—and in the eyes of Letters, he is considered a conservative, by default, since he dares to actually criticize what he reviews. No one knows if he is actually reactionary—they assume he is, since he is a Critic, and has no choice but to be less than polite. As an honest Reviewer he has no where to hide. Actually, William Logan is not reactionary. (Like many people, he likes old stuff.) There’s no other reviewer like him, because no one wants to be thought of as reactionary in the world of Letters—and utterly transparent reviewing pegs one as so. Why this phenomenon exists would make for a very interesting essay, indeed. Harold Rosenberg might be able to help, but he’s been dead for over 40 years.

Logan does puncture “Romanticism” in a manner similar to Ransom—and until recently, “conservatives” tended to clobber Romanticism—we will quote Harold Rosenberg in a few minutes on this very point. Romanticism, however, no longer represents progress—perhaps T.S. Eliot and Harold Rosenberg assumed it did; surely William Logan does not object to Romanticism for this reason!

I champion Romanticism—but for aesthetic reasons only. (I do sometimes think in political terms—and do not believe High Modernism is progressive in the least, but as a true Critic, I should suppress these feelings.)

The ideal art form, of course, is music. And in music, form is all. There is no “man” behind Mozart’s music. There is no way one would be construed as “reactionary” in discussing Mozart’s instrumental music honestly, in a detailed and critical manner.

There isn’t even “feelings” as we commonly think of that word, in Mozart’s music. To hear “feelings” in Mozart’s music is to falsify, in a non-artistic sense, the art.

Sarcasm cannot exist in Mozart’s music—it can only exist in speaking of Mozart’s music. Mozart’s music is a very heaven because everything is completely understood immediately there.

If we hear a passage in a Mozart concerto which sounds “sad” to us, there is no way to prove that any of this “sadness” (which is merely due to a certain arrangement of notes) can be traced back to Mozart the “man” (or the “composer,” what difference does it make?)—so we really would be completely deluded to believe it is “sad.”

When you hear a critic going on about the “mature” Mozart wrestling with “tragedy” in his “life” through his “music,” this is only the critical impulse puffed by its own importance. For truly, even if Mozart (who can do it) expresses melancholy in a concerto, the point of the concerto is for the whole to be resolved by the whole—so that a bit of “sadness” qua “sadness” is meaningless—in terms of any understanding we have of the “sad.” Even if a violinist who understands the music better than we do weeps as she plays the music, we cannot, from this, assume the music Mozart has written is intrinsically “sad.”

The overwhelming genius of Mozart might make us sad or frustrated, but this, again, is of no consequence. That we “feel emotional” listening to Mozart’s music is eminently possible—but we can’t trace this back specifically to the music, nor (and this is more far-fetched) to the “man” behind the music.

Rosenberg at one point said that pure formalism is the art which really annoyed the Soviet Union. Why should the Soviets have cared about painting of drips and shapes? They did, Rosenberg insisted.

If you don’t like Mozart, you might want to re-think.

I will end this essay by leaving art and returning to the real world. Art is indeed wonderful because it has nothing to do with the real world.

Harold Rosenberg’s introduction to his book of essays, Discovering the Present: Three Decades in Art, Culture & Politics, published in 1973, contains some remarks worth noting, as well.

“The cultural revolution of the past hundred years has petered out. Only conservatives believe that subversion is still being carried on in the arts and that society is being shaken by it. Today’s authentic vanguardism is being sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, by state arts councils, by museums, by industrial and banking associations.”

***

“Exhibitions of art and publications of literature are quite pleased to be absorbed into the teaching and entertainment industries. Professional art lovers are less interested in their responses to works of art than in knowing what to tell people about them—to take an early example, Leo Stein lecturing on Matisse the moment he began to acquire works by him.”

***

“An assistant professor of English, writing in the Times Book Review on a work by the Marquis de Sade, finds the Marquis’ tortures of servant girls to be tame, and is prepared to fit him into middle-class reading lists. Is this professor radical or conservative?”

***

“That there is no radical presence in society seems to give the conservative an edge in the argument. He can revile the mistakes and foolishness (Romanticism) of those who still hope for more humane social arrangements and for forms more responsive to actualities, high and low. But though the radical consciousness is stymied, the events of the epoch are radical. The values to which the conservative appeals are inevitably caricatured by the individuals designated to put them into practice. The cultural conservative wins the argument, but, like the political conservative, he repeatedly finds himself betrayed. Hence he is in a constant state of paranoia. The most he can hope for is that nothing will happen—that Nixon will not go to China—and that fewer knives will flash in the dark.”

Again, Rosenberg is prophetic about our day: the “conservative” hopes “Nixon will not go to China” (!)

Or: “prophecy” merely means nothing has changed very much?

Ben Mazer sent me Rosenberg’s essays recently—utterly by accident—and isn’t that how life usually changes one?

In Ben Mazer I, too, find that mysterious phenomenon—as a voter, Mazer, shuffling along with the mass of humanity, is a liberal, a Democrat, a leftist all the way, but in the completely unspoken presence of his uncanny work, I find him to be something else.

Thomas Graves, Salem MA 5/31/21

WHEN DREAMS AND LOVE

In the classroom there were rows of faces,

And one of them was hers; I never tire

Of looking at her face—

The heart of my love, and my love’s disgrace

Is the desire to see her face—

To me she is a god; iconography

Haunts me and teases me;

Is this why my poetry is crazy?

I hope you like my poem,

But this one’s really odd.

My excuse? I fell in love with a living god.

Is my attraction to her really so odd?

Especially if it gleams inside the shadows

We associate with dreams and the higher God?

She is a somber example of how the human race

Can be teasingly god-like.

When I go about, lost, in a dream, hoping to meet her face,

I wonder why, she, who works,

Was also in school? How does a dream work?

I was in the classroom, but the rows

Blocked her; no dream really knows;

I don’t think history knows

The reason I couldn’t see her face.

This simple fact is my utter disgrace.

I was always quiet around her.

She had passages she knew.

Now in the dream

I am confused and shy, trying to catch her eye.

Do I need to explain?

Do we need this poem?

Isn’t this enough? My dream? My pain?

I WISH THE SAD RAIN

The Mill

I wish the sad rain,
And the clouds trooping and covering up the sun, remain—
For the sake of my poetry, which I coil up and write—
In a mood best fit for the middle of the night.
Coolness and cloudiness have made
This day a writing day. Poetry is best felt in the shade.
Were the sun to come out, I would leave for the hills
And poetry would be forgotten in those different thrills.

ADDICTED TO PLEASURE

Image result for white miles photography show

Addicted to pleasure is the worst thing.

You can’t smile—or talk—or sing.

All you can do is moan.

If elegy—or goodbye—or greeting is required

For the one you love, you groan.

The springing world secretly notes you have retired

Into green mortality and mist, and the red clay

Breaks apart and drops into the bay

And the secret, with a dry, indifferent tone,

Nevertheless spreads

Into nature’s greens and reds

And you, who were once so fond and made of smiles,

Fade with a million small noises into the white miles.

SO WHAT IF IT’S TRUE

Image result for modern painting of people waiting

So what if it’s true?

The weak is true.

The inevitable is true.

When you align yourself with the truth

It means you don’t have anything to do.

It means you aren’t going to love me.

The truth is inevitable—

So what’s the point of trying to be true,

If it happens, no matter what we do?

Once, I overheard you

Using voices with someone else

That you never used with me.

You aren’t you. You’re just a strategy.

This sickens me.

You split yourself apart

For the sake of a cunning art

Which is, in its way, true,

Since truth lies in its various parts,

Among the broken hearts

Which couldn’t be false

Anymore than they could be true.

There wasn’t anything to do

As you came into view.

LIGHT IS LIGHT

Light is light, whether sun—or dim fire.
Love is love, whether God—or smoldering desire.

I cannot compare your eyes to the day:
Tomorrow is forgetfulness and clay.
Your eyes have the light
Of the sun hiding in the light of the night.
I die by my own comparison.
You are outside my library-garrison.
You smile at my slip-shod poetry and sin.
You are the air. I’m trapped by books within.

What are these prophecies the blind poet believes?
History said: she was here. My dream says: she leaves.

WHEN YOU SEE ME YOU INSULT ME

Image result for lovely clouds

When you see me, you insult me
By moving away.
You insult me every day.
I never say a word,
Too stunned to speak, this life being so absurd.

The sky is beautiful—this sky that I will never touch;
I will never touch the distant clouds within higher, softer clouds:
I love the sky’s beauty so much!
The sky, too, moves away.
It moves away throughout the day.

Look at me! Listening to Mozart on my phone
With my coiling, green earbuds!
You might think I’m terribly alone
Just like the dead—who are silent—silent!—underground,
Even though right here they can be found—
And look, the trains are running! I’m hearing Mozart’s sound
Which also moves away
Like everything moves, moving away from me, every day.

It is the language of everything which lives,
A cloud, a face, a crescendo, which dies away
Peacefully, not unkindly, and so what can I say
To you, who never could say
Why you loved me, and who always seemed to be on your way,
As now you veer away from me in what seems like sorrowful hate.
Insult me, then. Something beautiful will insult you, too, on some beautiful day; just wait.

A STREET LAMP CONFUSED WITH THE MOON

Image result for street lamp through trees and the moon in painting

Beware of things.

Beware of everything.

The advice you took will backfire soon.

It was too superficial:

A street lamp confused with the moon.

The flags wave: the white, for doubt,

The blue symbolizes what hides

Pleasantly. But evening arrives soon.

I had no idea you would do that:

A street lamp confused with the moon.

Don’t complain just because we complain,

Or because it is no longer June.

You’ll be a spot of radiance yet:

A street lamp confused with the moon.

The sun will explode. You cannot forget

An instant of what happened.

You’re everything, but you won’t be everything soon.

Be harmonious with others:

A street lamp confused with the moon.

LOVE MAKES YOU WANT

Image result for hudson river painting

Love makes you want. That’s all it does.

Did you think you loved her? That’s what it was.

Love needs an object, so you can care.

And during this time, wasn’t she there?

Wanting, in general, what you actually need

Is within you, but wanting what you don’t need

Is love, says philosophy.

Wanting what you don’t need is crazy.

If you have all you want, you get lazy,

So you try something new, you feed

Want itself; you want what you don’t need,

And this makes the wanted happy;

Wanted by pure want, not hunger or greed,

Is like being outside of the world, beyond all need.

So love has an otherworldly purity.

The first thought happened because

Someone said, ‘let’s want want, and see what it does.’

And when you loved? That’s what that was.

IT’S NOT GOING TO RAIN ON ME

Bellini: St. Jerome in the Desert (1455) | Giovanni bellini, Bellini,  Historical art memes

“the dry stone no sound of water” —T.S. Eliot

It’s not going to rain on me.

I’ve got money in the bank.

It’s not going to rain on me.

I’ve got time and fortune to thank.

It’s not going to rain on me.

I have land to be grateful for.

I have trees and bees to adore.

It’s not going to rain on me.

I have a new poem in my head.

Sunshine will fall, instead.

It’s not going to rain on me.

I’m working diligently.

It’s not going to rain on me.

There are dark shapes in the sky,

But they are passing by.

It’s not going to rain on me.

I’ve gathered inspiration

From the tears and pain.

It may be cloudy.

But she loves me!

It’s never going to rain.

MINE WAS THE THRILL

Le Prince Lointain: Silvio Allason (1843-1912), Il Bacio ...

Mine was the thrill,

Hers, the woman’s will

Allowing me to love.

I would rather see beauty

Than be beauty.

To see her in the moonlight.

To kiss her. It seemed easy to get right.

All we had to do was visit.

Or was it right?  Did the moon begin the night

Or did the night begin the moon?

I said, “let’s do this again soon!”

Was her reluctance, feigned, or no?

She was the woman, and I,

Denied in life, as men will be,

Connected her with getting what I wanted.

Kindly she loved me—the undaunted.

Her reluctance convinced me that I

Convinced her; made me strong, devilishly,

And understanding this

She withheld her kiss

To increase my thrill—

Done lovingly but surely by her will.

I was the infant, pleased

Because she teased—

And once this was understood

Nothing love did was any good.

Love devolved into a power play

And gradually she took all I loved away.

Her reluctance became more and more real.

She had to think. I had to feel.

Because her thought grew bold

Her love became cold.

“Let’s go to that spot again,” I said,

Dreaming of her moonlit

Face—but love was already dead.

FAT, CURVES, AND CONFIDENCE

Related image

In a survey, poets expressed the belief
Surveys are not good subjects for poems.
The lyric poem does not ask what’s trending in grief,
But let me tell you what is making women sad.
Without fat, a woman has no curves:
Good figures are what the god, Love, who makes us happy, deserves.
Women lack confidence, and the number one reason for that
According to this survey, is they constantly worry about fat.
This poem is a disaster
Because it cites a survey.
In indignation, she just walked away.
Love, however, is the lyric poem’s master,
Love, who shoots the arrows, and misses,
Love, who falls upon us in a cloud of kisses,
Who whispers, through roses, at the museum,
The true turning of a Roman poem,
Lisped lyrically above the bosom.
Love will do anything to ruin
Love: Bring in poetry,
Cite surveys, embarrass me.

FUNNY

Image result for a woman's face in renaissance painting"

I am sad like you,

But I just saw something funny.

A woman, tall,

Regal, beautiful, who I fell

In love with immediately, as anyone would—

Who believes the beautiful is good,

Sat next to a balding, middle-aged man

Across from me today, and, because I can,

I gaze sometimes in wonder at this young woman,

Among the sleepy commuters, who stare

At their phones, at least as much as I dare—

And what did I see?

Something strange for you, my poetry, and me.

If I never tell it right

That’s perfectly alright—

For I delighted in the funny;

If life can give

Me moments like this, it’s much easier to live.

This man had lips,

And his chin, too, resembled

The young woman’s. I laughed when I saw this.

It happened like a sudden, unexpected kiss.

There’s nothing in life that will not occur.

Not even her beauty could save her.

IF YOU ARE A POET

Image result for delmore schwartz

“I have to stop hitting people” —Delmore Schwartz, letter to a friend

If you are a poet, have sex with her.

If your friend has had sex with her, do not have sex with her.

If your enemy has had sex with her, definitely have sex with her.

If a useful literary connection laughs at you, frown.

The connections made in the suburbs are better than those made in town.

Find out what your connections think of each other.

Never confuse a mentor with a bargain or a brother.

Take copious notes of every scene you inhabit.

Read more than what other people are reading.

Measure your mentor so you might surpass

The philosophical measure of your own ass.

Determine the ruling animus of the group

In which you indifferently place your hope.

Mix your beliefs. Politics, religion and art:

A giant shit. Or a little fart.

Remember, nothing is true, but in how it’s juxtaposed.

Don’t flap your arms. Or pick your nose.

THE MARINA

Abstract Sailboat Paintings | Fine Art America

Walking about the marina on a rainy day,

I think about my dying father and what he tried to say.

I see the details of which I don’t need to be aware:

The bricks below my feet, the spaces between the bricks, the moss between the bricks—the million details resting there.

What is a poem compared to reality?

A poem is a voice, which you overhear—

Not specifically for you, but to you it’s meaningful and clear.

Light rain falling from a swimming, occluded sky.

And there’s that sail, that sail—which will sail, by and by.

DUALITY ALWAYS FAILS

Image result for blue stream abstract painting

Duality always fails, and that is why

Love between two will die.

One is the most fascinating number.

It is simple and true.

Waiting for relation and the Big Bang, One can do

Whatever it wants: fake love and fake you

And fake the scenery and psychology of two,

The back and forth banter

Which breaks your heart and doesn’t matter.

The myth of virgin/whore

Is not necessary anymore—

It grew wings in lurid D.H. Lawrence novels—

But vampires proved impossible.

The vanity of love wanted to have fun.

And in the end, nobody won.

The lover, in error, crept into the wrong room.

It was dark. And fertile. It was the womb.

The lovers, holding each other, drowned in a tiny stream;

Only the child, already gigantic, was not a dream.

LOVE CAN BE OBSESSIVE AND KIND

Image result for river naiad in painting

Love can be obsessive—and kind,
Love can be mad—and sweet.
Love can kiss you in secret,
Stealing through reeds on secret feet.

Love can be guilty of wanting love.
Or did you make mention of love
Because you hardly wanted love?

Sighing by the river, I saw her,
Feet nearly wet; her sighs
Were not supposed to be heard, or
Did I hear them? I couldn’t see her eyes,

Covered by her lovely lashes
As she bent her neck and looked down.
Who made those mysterious splashes?
Will she look up and frown?

Yes, I wanted you madly,
And yes, today I still do.
Have you heard of this? It’s called love.
I’m kind. And obsessed with you.

WHO CAN LOVE THE FLOWERS

Image result for women with flowers in renaissance painting

Who can love the flowers,

Or the trees—if there’s you?

Who can enjoy portraits in their frames

Or stories, with their names,

The pictures and promises in the colorful brochures of Kathmandu—

Likely just as false as true—if there’s you?

And if they happen to be true, the things they say,

In the song, the meme, or the Broadway play,

In the books, in the philosophical arguments made for hours,

Who can fail to appreciate one movement you make towards them?

Who can love the flowers?

RAW OYSTERS FOR LUNCH

Robert Lowell - Wikiwand

While the fan glides into the memory? Or propped
Just for an hour, before falling down, we’ll go.
Where are you going, Robert Lowell?
Did you write “trestles” or “testicles?” Robert Lowell
Answers, “I don’t know.” Down to see John Crowe Ransom now.
Tennessee. Tennessee. Escape from Harvard and dad.
Learning from fugitives and new criticisms the holy
Path to the Pulitzer prize.
O fancy in the long wind. Decision in the epigone’s eyes.
You forgot swinging Boston and Milton
In the back of that cab.
Bishop, Engle, and all your wives—
Allen Tate’s mistresses! winked at you, like a crab.

ISN’T IT AMAZING

See a Man About a Dog. Dogs in Paintings | DailyArt Magazine

Isn’t it amazing that when you give,
They want more, and are not happy,
And when you deprive them,
They learn how to live and love?
It’s the same in love—love them,
And they are not sure they love you;
But when they are not sure you love them—they do!
Even the smallest gesture to a dog
Obeys this rule; it’s true throughout the universe:
The star does not want to come near.
No. Don’t you see? Its light is here.
My thoughts were with you all night long.
But you won’t see it in those poems—or in this song.

THE POETRY OF INFORMATION

Allen Tate Poems > My poetic side

Nature is excellence everywhere all the time. Art is excellence—extremely rare.

Not only is nature’s excellence more abundant, nature is excellence itself; nature defines excellence—as does that extremely rare excellence art produces, which is why Pope, and the Enlightenment generally, called the Greeks “Nature.”

Not only is the poet’s excellence rare—it is very often a channeling of nature’s.

Truly original art (existing completely apart from nature) which is excellent is rarer still.

The wailing of an honored blues singer imitates the wailing of a babe (nature). Poetry that resents nature—a poem (I’m thinking of no poem in particular, only one that would) which complains, for instance, of loud and unruly children will fail. This failure will be signified by reasonable Criticism—which is Nature. Can you imagine a poem seriously complaining about misbehaving children? I can’t.

All good Criticism, like anything else people produce, comes from Nature.

Art cannot compete with Nature. It may (and often does) run away from it. This is fine. However, Art cannot challenge Nature. It will fail miserably (whether some critic knows it or not).

Nature is ordered, but often appears chaotic—artists who attempt chaos as a way to imitate nature have succeeded wildly (we call it Modernism) but only due to a lapse of judgment (sometimes referred to as the New Criticism).

Everyone agrees poetry died around the middle of the twentieth century.

According to some, like the fearsome critic William Logan, this happened in the wake of a Modernist Renaissance which took on, and quickly exhausted, everything new to be done in poetry.

Robert Lowell was the first casualty of that Early Twentieth Century Modernist moment, failing to rescue the iambic pentameter as he went slowly mad.

Robert Lowell, the mad poet, left Harvard to study with Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, a couple of mad (New) Critics.

Most—who don’t care about New Criticism, and who are more radical than Logan—agree poetry died, but are glad it died; in retrospect, that wasn’t poetry, they say, that was Victorian. What is now (still) called “poetry” is better—more “honest” and “raw.” The word, “raw,” was the very term Lowell himself used, as he promised he would try to be more “raw” as the New England Lowell, former pupil of the New Critics, and former Iowa Workshop instructor, made peace with the Beats. Even as the Beats, and every generation following, became poetry workshop instructors.

Others, more pedestrian, looking for reasons why poetry collapsed, blame poems which stopped rhyming. Poetry no longer had form. Poems simply became the receptacles of Everything—and therefore became Nothing.

Two things did happen in the middle of the twentieth century, which had nothing to do with how people wrote poems: the rise in mass popularity of Writing Programs and Blues Music.

Writing poetry simply couldn’t compete with these two things.

The same poet/critic/professors who stopped rhyming due to the success of early twentieth century Modernism ran the Writing Programs. They told poetry to stop rhyming.

Meanwhile, blues music, which everyone loved, was rhyming like crazy.

The post-modern poets were caught in the middle. Poetry, as both an art and a social practice, didn’t know what to do.

But finally the poets had no choice. Not being blues singers, they listened to the Writing Programs. They stopped rhyming.

The death of poetry in the middle of the twentieth century was not the poets’ fault.

Blame the Critics.

The Critics were guilty of embracing chaos—because Nature sometimes seems chaotic. (But it’s not. It’s ordered.)

Criticism, or rather lack of Criticism, killed poetry.

The New Critics are much to blame—they were not New Critics; they were “No” Critics; as one reads what they wrote, one realizes this. As one reads the New Criticism, one finds there is a lot to chew on. But beware. Don’t take it too seriously. You will choke. New Criticism is not nutritious. Most of it is confusion—though it is intelligent.

The New Critics didn’t like Modernism, but Modernism liked the New Critics.

To establish itself successfully in the academy, Modernism needed to look smart, respectable, academic. The New Critics were successfully recruited. Both sides shook hands.

Nerds became thugs; the tweedy New Critics agreed to murder poetry—as they murdered judgment.

They decided modernist poems—the “new” poems—needed to speak. Under the sway of modernism, they decided they didn’t trust Criticism at all.

The New Critics were avatars of the Writing Programs. In the Writing Programs, poetic reputation no longer grew in the wild; it could now be manufactured in academia. This was “the deal.” The affected learning of the New Critics (dressed in tweed) was enough to make the Writing Programs respectable—finally “respectable” in the way crazy Robert Lowell was respectable.

If you think this is hyperbole, let’s quote Allen Tate, a New Critic, from his essay, “Is Literary Criticism Possible?”

When I first taught a college class, about eighteen years ago, I thought that anything was possible; but with every year since it has seemed a little more absurd to try to teach students to “evaluate” works of literature, and perhaps not less absurd to try to evaluate them oneself. The assumption that we are capable of just evaluation (a word that seems to have got into criticism by way of Adam Smith) is one of the subtler, if crude, abuses of democratic doctrine, as follows: all men ought to exercise independent judgment, and all men being equal, all are equally capable of it, even in literature and the arts. I have observed that when my own opinions seem most original and independent they turn out to be almost wholly conventional. An absolutely independent judgment (if such a thing were possible) would be an absolutely ignorant judgment.

Shall the instructor, then, set before the class his own “evaluations?” He will do so at the risk of disseminating a hierarchy that he may not have intended to create, and thus may be aborted, or at least stultified, the student’s own reading. It is inevitable that the instructor shall say to the class that one poem is “better” than another. The student, in the degree of his intelligence, will form clear preferences or rejections that will do little harm if he understands what they are. But the teaching of literature through the assertion of preference will end up either as mere impressionism, or as the more sinister variety of impressionism that Irving Babbitt detected in the absorption of the literary work into its historical setting.

In the beginning of this essay, Allen Tate agonizes over the “humanities” as something which merely has an odor of the past (one teaches time periods) but no truth, and therefore, except for grammar, cannot be taught, unlike “natural science.”

Modernism blew everything up and Robert Lowell, the first “great” poet who came along after this explosion, went mad because he couldn’t go forward—and wasn’t allowed to go back.

And it was the teachers who wouldn’t allow him to go back.

The teachers, like Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, went mad, so the poets went mad, too.

Teachers are supposed to steer the ship; they are supposed to rescue the troubled students. The New Critics did the opposite.

Allen Tate is obviously a brilliant, well-educated man. Listen to that subtle pedagogy! But what is it aimed at? What is its end? He is teaching despair. He is teaching mental breakdown.

Here’s what the New Republic had to say (pretty accurately) about Tate 10 years ago:

In the galaxy of American modernism, Allen Tate is now a black hole. The authority that made him, in the 1930s and 1940s, one of the most formidable figures in American poetry, mentor and superego to a generation, has collapsed. Neither his strenuously ambiguous poems nor his orotund essays in literary interpretation (he was one of the deities of the New Criticism) are still commonly read. In both realms, Tate seems to represent a version of modernism scarcely more acceptable than the politics–Agrarian, neo-Confederate, quasi-fascist–that put the seal on his obsolescence.

Of course it is wise to say, when Tate says, ‘when I had what I thought was an independent thought, it turned out to be a conventional thought.’ Yes. This is good. This is why you are a professor. You are the true gatekeeper of literature, because you can tell the truly independent thought from the conventional one.

Yet Tate goes on to wring his hands that if he “evaluates” and “asserts preference” he will create debilitating hierarchies based on personal weakness, or worse, “sinister” elimination of the art of literature itself.

Mind you, these are not political hierarchies Tate is warning against—no judgment at all, for Tate, is the best thing of all. This is the blank, the leveling, which every sincere and successful revolution seeks. Pull down the old walls—then, later, build anew.

John Crowe Ransom was, like Tate, suffering a crisis in teaching literature.

And like Tate, Ransom counted himself as a poet more than a teacher, anxious to have his poetry taught by professors who unfortunately were oblivious—too interested in “evaluation” and “history” (not Ransom or Tate)

Of course, who can blame them? They were ambitious poets—and there is nothing wrong with that. We can forgive them for this.

But to continue:

Now Ransom, from his essay, “Criticism, Inc.”

“Here is contemporary literature, waiting for its criticism; where are the professors of literature? They are watering their own gardens; elucidating the literary histories of their respective periods.”

There it is, in black and white. The lady, Contemporary Literature, has no suitors. What is to be done?

And now let’s return to the highbrow-yet-know-nothing agenda of the “No” Criticism revolution. Here is what Ransom says Criticism is not and cannot be:

“I should wish to exclude: 1. Personal registrations…2. Synopsis and paraphrase…3. Historical studies…4. Linguistic studies…5. Moral studies…6. Any other special studies which deal with some abstract or prose content out of the work.”

Ransom was just as brilliant as Tate, and this narrowing of Criticism by Ransom is brilliant even as it is completely insane.

Don’t get me wrong. If a poet wish to throw off all Criticism in their pursuit of glory, all power to them.

But these gentlemen, Tate and Ransom, are speaking as school teachers. As higher education administrators. As critics.

Ransom, like Tate, is the teacher giving up his role as teacher—it is the madness of professors leading to the madness of the world.

Nor does Ransom in this essay want Criticism which is more social or practical, either:

“I do not suppose the reviewing of books can be reformed in the sense of being turned into pure criticism.”

Finally, he says,

“I know of no authority. For the present each critic must be his own authority.”

This manages to simultaneously contradict every rule, habit, and principle “conservative” Ransom and Tate stand for—while asserting perfectly their perfect madness.

And even so Ransom persists in asserting:

“Studies in the technique of the art belong to criticism certainly. They cannot belong anywhere else, because the technique is not peculiar to any prose materials discoverable in the work of art, nor to anything else but the unique form of that art.”

And then Ransom serves up, after closing off all lanes of Criticism, his own interesting idea:

“I intrude here with an idea of my own, which may serve as a starting point of discussion. Poetry distinguishes itself from prose on the technical side by the devices which are, precisely, its means of escaping from prose. Something is continually being killed by prose which the poet wants to preserve.”

If poetry can be made a subject of study delicately separated out from prose, Ransom thinks he can, by this maneuver, inform true Criticism—of prose!

Again, this is brilliant—but absolutely nuts.

On at least two levels.

One: Poetry is opposed more to painting than prose; poetry and prose are both temporal art forms.

Two: How can one (outside of one’s own mind) assert a “unique form” of an art which is free of all the “abstractions” of all that is traditionally associated with Criticism—without entering an Alice-In-Wonderland-World inside a nutshell?

The New Critics and their empty brilliance (which served Modernism—and Pound’s coterie) existed for a practical purpose. To bury professors who taught Homer, Plato and Keats and usher in the catch-all-as-catch-can Writing Program era—which took poetry away from reviewers, critics, the public—and placed it safely in universities.

Since then, Criticism and Poetry have continued—but oddly.

It isn’t really that poetry is dead.

It is that Independent Poetry Criticism—of Evaluation and Hierarchy—is dead.

The professor has become the poet and the poet has become the professor.

And that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

Tate and Ransom knew this all along. It wasn’t too many mint juleps or madness (maybe they were mad, who knows?). It was brilliance and ambition. And certainly everyone forgives them.

I’ve heard people defend the Poetry Workshop by saying, “We don’t just write our poems—we are students of poetry in the traditional sense, too!”

No doubt! This fits right into the idea of the poet and the professor becoming the same.

I’m sure this is true. As Poet-Critic Ransom put it, even as he was narrowing Criticism down to a barely visible point: ” A very large volume of studies is indicated by this classification.” The “classification” he is here referring to, is his “exclusion” of everything traditionally associated with Criticism—both outside and inside the classroom.

We can argue all day about what Criticism was before Tate and Ransom took their axes to it, but this would take us far afield; right now let’s just say one very important task a critic had was to make sure no lies were told about the poets.

The last thing a critic should be is self-interested, but this unfortunately occurred when the poet-professors of New Criticism and Pound’s clique shook hands.

Criticism stops evaluating—but that doesn’t mean all sorts of fussy, faux-learning cannot explode in the meantime.

This is exactly what happened. The Keats professors were buried. But “knowledge” grew.

What replaced the old poetry (which in retrospect, seems narrow) is what can only be called:

The Poetry of Information.

Workshop poems tend to be extremely informative.

They are written after long study.

The vast learning of Poetry rolling over weak Criticism is what Ransom and Tate within the academy wanted.

It’s a childish wish among poets too brilliant and ambitious to understand what Oscar Wilde (d. 1900) laid out so beautifully in his master-work, “The Critic As Artist.”

Tate, the professor, was ashamed of his job as a professor in the humanities department. Here is Tate from his essay again:

Of the humanities, the division with which as poet and critic I am presumably most concerned, one must speak with melancholy as well as in ignorance. For into the humanistic bag we throw everything that cannot qualify as a science, natural or social. This discrete mixture of hot and cold, moist and dry, creates in the bag a vortex, which emits a powerful wind of ineffective heroics, somewhat as follows: We humanists bring within the scope of the humanities all the great records—sometimes we call them the remains: poetry, drama, pre-scientific history (Herodotus, Joinville, Bede)—of the experience of man as man; we are not concerned with him as vertebrate, biped, mathematician, or priest. Precisely, reply the social scientists; that is just what is wrong with you; you don’t see that man is not man, that he is merely a function; and your records (or remains) are so full of error that we are glad to relegate them to professors of English, poets, and other dilettanti, those “former people” who live in the Past. The Past, which we can neither smell, see, taste, nor touch, was well labeled by our apostle, Mr. Carl Sandburg, as a bucket of ashes…No first-rate scientific mind is guilty of this vulgarity. Yet as academic statesmen, the humanists must also be practical politicians who know that they cannot stay in office unless they have an invigorating awareness of the power, and of the superior footwork, of the third-rate mind.

Again, the combination here is of sheer brilliance and deep, hopeless, madness and depression. The New Critics did not like what they were doing. They were professors lured by the new poetry. Note how deeply ashamed of the “Past” Professor Tate is. That was their problem. “I want to be a famous poet like Keats (d. 1821)!” Tate must have thought. “But how can I be a famous poet if fame in poetry belongs to the past—and Keats?”

Thanks to Writing Workshops, poetry, as it seeks fame, is as academic as ever.

The world of poetry in John Crowe Ransom’s day was similar to ours—fame for the poets was elusive (Pound and Eliot were not yet famous) and the professors didn’t understand how elusive it was for contemporary poets—because they kept on teaching—before the Writing Program Era took off—Homer and Keats.

Slowly this would change.

Academia would make respectable—in the middle of the twentieth century—those revolutionary Modernists from the century’s beginning.

The essays by Tate and Ransom glimpsed here belong to the period in-between the Modernist explosion (when nothing was certain and things were exciting, doubtful, somewhat pessimistic, and ambitious) and the material rewards which eventually followed.

We now live in an era where Criticism is dead, the English major is dead, the Writing Program still pays the bills, and poets are not famous.

And Blues Music is still much bigger than poetry.

The poetry in favor right now, more so even than overt political poetry, is the Poetry of Information.

The following is a contemporary poem which is an example of this.

Steven Cramer teaches writing, and is one of the best poets writing today. Cramer is as brilliant as Tate and Ransom—and these two were, indeed, brilliant.

“Elegy for Little Richard” is beyond evaluation or rank—it is simply a fantastic poem, teeming with information. The most respected poetry has existed in this mode pretty much since Robert Lowell.

Since Robert Lowell, poetry is now a perfect blend of the “raw” and the “cooked.”

But before we quote this poem in full, let us, for comparison, look at one stanza from a poem in favor prior to the Modernist revolution. It evinces beauty, not information.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense
As though of hemlock I had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not thru envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

One might call this a selfish poem—the “news” is about the poet, and how he is feeling. There is no “information” provided, in the conventional sense. Keats is no professor.

And now our contemporary poem:

Elegy for Little Richard

Satori can surge upon you on the subway,
lectured Dr. Tufail in Intro Zen.

The mire gives us the very substance of art,
goes Lorca’s Play and Theory of the Duende.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom,
reflected Little Richard in a Macon

Greyhound terminal’s greasy spoon,
up to his biceps in Georgia suds, boss-

man piling on pot atop pot atop pot—
and that’s exactly what I meant at the time.

Of the two strains of modesty, false
and true, he knew neither.  I put that little

thing in it, he said of Little Richard’s Boogie—
gospelized flop, in no way Tutti Frutti,

green as air before a downpour. Always
had that thing, but didn’t know what to do

with that thing I had.   For consistency,
he’d win the Whitman Contradiction Prize—

Gay?  I founded Gay. I wore makeup
and eyelashes when no men were. But once

a chartered flight caught fire in a dream,
Jesus Christ made men, men; women, women,

sermoned Minister Richard Penniman.
Satori, Duende: daemon versus demon—

one draws from light; the other swills
in Bier-stink at the Star Club, Hamburg,

1961. He didn’t open for The Beatles;
The Beatles opened for him. Backstage,

he’d preach from RevelationsWe’d all
sit around and listen, just to hear him talk,

remembered Lennon, whose dying mono-
syllable, yeah, I’ll never not recall, down

to the loaf-sized radio the news dirged
through (I call that time my decade-long

lost weekend).  His own One and Only,
for years an ancient star I didn’t know

wasn’t dead—in fact it was the Fab’s
blandish cover of his Long Tall Sally

that schooled the Beatle-daemonic
white mass of us: don’t sit so still; sex

sings best in tongues, if not yet drag;
Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.

When this hits us early in the poem, we laugh—it’s a shock. A brilliant, humorous effect. Cramer’s a genius.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom.

Cramer’s poem is a riveting lesson. It gives us literary criticism in places we wouldn’t expect, and so much more.

“Elegy for Little Richard” is a delight: autobiographical, deeply thematic, linguistically glorious, as well as informative.

The two-line stanzas do not appear to be organized to impart sound—they exist more to hurriedly and efficiently impart information.

The epic fallacy, said Poe, was a lot of short poems strung together to make an epic.

There is no reason why Poe’s formula cannot exist in a shorter poem, where a shorter poem exists only as a sequence of small poetic glimpses: “green as air before a downpour,” “the other swills in Bier-stink at the Star Club” and “Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.”

We might say that “green as air before a downpour” is Keats—this is John Keats kept alive in poetry today.

To say nothing of “Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.”

It is a wonderful and beautiful phrase: “green as air before a downpour.” To say “this is like Keats” does make sense.

But no—we need to be more rigorous.

The poetry Keats wrote is defined chiefly by its rhythmic quality—Keats wrote poems rhythmically cohesive. Poems of Information are nothing like this at all.

Information belongs to Man, not Nature.

Pieces of poems are not poems.

The minor poets have written beautiful lines and phrases, but they are minor poets because they have written no major poems. Poe, the critic, often collected beautiful lines from minor poets in his reviews.

Like music laid asleep in dried up fountains

Plain as a white statue on a tall, dark steep

Green dells that into silence stretch away

And the list could go on of lovely phrases by poets no longer read.

But if we quote the following line, we see immediately it belongs to something greater, something immensely popular:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

This belongs to a wider, rhythmic sea—a famous poem, full of rhythm, which has nothing to do with the Poetry of Information.

The differences are more vital than the similarities—we are talking about two different forms of art.

The Poem of Information began with Robert Lowell (or perhaps that poem by T.S. Eliot with all the footnotes?)—student of Ransom and Tate (but did they “teach” Lowell anything? Doubtful)—think of that poem, which the critic William Logan calls Lowell’s last major poem—“For The Union Dead.” There is a lot of information in that poem—the cars in Boston have “fins” and the Boston Aquarium—have you heard?—is closed, and there is this statue in the Boston Common… It is a very fine poem, but it is scattered, and has no cohesive rhythm.

Here is the second stanza:

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

Beautiful, in itself, but does it need—aesthetically—to belong, in any sense, really, to this, a few stanzas later?

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

There is no “art” which unites the two stanzas. Information belonging to itself is paramount.

Poetry’s rhythmic strategy is absent.

This is what makes Keats Keats.

Rhythm.

I might as well quote the poem evoked by Cramer’s “Truth’s not only Beauty but Raw Joy.”

To get the stark difference, in terms of rhythm and cohesiveness, quotation (because otherwise we might not believe it) is probably necessary; the first and last stanzas should suffice; notice, unlike the Lowell, how much the two stanzas resemble each other:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
        In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
    What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
        What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

……..

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
    Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
        Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Keats sustains the theme—and the rhythm. There is no overriding desire to provide information—in the sense that we understand that term. Information is not barred from the poem—the poem is merely doing other things; information is not necessary; it would merely distract. Information in itself, by its very nature, is distracting. Whatever distracts from the theme—even if it is interesting itself, or relates in some indirect way to the theme—is not artful.

Poetry once implied concentration—not a lot of parts lying about on the ground. Parts were not bad in themselves; the point was to gather them into the poem—to welcome them, and not forget about them.

Can we finally evaluate anything here?

No, we are not ready for that. The world created by Tate and Ransom, and practiced by Lowell a half-century ago is still the air in which we swim. We cannot rank or judge. The Poetry of Information will not be out of fashion at all soon.

What if a poet tells us that if he did not turn on the news, or consult an encyclopedia, or do research on something he sees on a walk, he would have nothing to write about? Should we take him at his word?

Poets—and even the critics—have long since given up being concerned about these sorts of things.

I’ll close by quoting two contemporary, neo-Romantic poems.


I Never Give Out My True Love’s Name

I never give out my true love’s name.

Is love my god? My god is shame.

In the dreaming garden I walked along,

Too ashamed to sing a song.

Love may be the moon, smooth and bright.

But shame rules the details of the night.

All I whisper when no one’s there

From my true heart? Shame doesn’t care.

The sad images which lie in my heart

Belong to love. But shame rules my art.

Shame rules all I see and hear.

Love hides. Never spoken. Though here.

Shame lives with millions. Do I blame

Love? Shame is not afraid of love. Shame

Is an army of poetry. Shame is not afraid.

Do not love your love, he said. And I obeyed.

This poem—one of my own—is aggressively anti-informative.

And this one, by Ben Mazer, from “The King,” also springs more from pure imagination:

XXXVI

for Isabel Biderman

Finally to see with eyes of onyx and jade –
what’s always there. Cleopatra with her crown
gives O’s for X’s, gives X’s for O’s
perpetually working towards the city’s center
by katty-corner, wishes too grand to grant
– for who can both live in the rarest palace
and be its guest? Passing again and again
brings nothing closer – a few feet in the end
and all is different. Different and the same!
A better life, taller and rising to heaven
(the dog escapes, returns according to plan).
Fabulous laughter lives in the hereafter.
The cat withdraws into its impregnable dream.
The actor leaving the palace is just a man.



LOGAN, WILLIAM

Brighton Riviere. Una and the lion | Art, Moonlight painting, Classic art

This critic’s fire burns himself
Even as it entertains me.
Let me admit I love
(And maybe it offends you)
What I am too cowardly to do:
Undoing with wit someone’s wit
Having the audacity to sit in a poem,
A dry poem, offered up to one, in flames,
Trained to match all the poems to all the names
Without faces. Wit has a chance to be unkind
In criticism felt only by the mind.

But this is how I want my poetry
To be eaten—with less respect than lamb.
Let poems be torn limb from limb,
A lady of crowe ransom propped and prim
Or the poem which doesn’t respect itself at all.
He’ll show it respect, a critic who owns no circle,
The critic the eagle where below we crawl.
His judgment like atoms—invisible, not small.

But what does he love?
There’s the rub. Old Robert Lowell? We don’t know.
Judgment is the shadow
And love is the sun.
He strikes fear in everyone.
But he should not.
We didn’t wait for Christmas
So we might have the sun—
That’s never what we got.
The shadow, like his ink, is neutral.
Criticism isn’t his, or yours.
Let’s face it: A poem is a dry rock.
Sans lightning, sans thunder, sans display,
Criticism pours.

YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO SEE

27 Acteon ideas | art, painting, ovid

You are not supposed to see
The one you love naked
If you love her
Only because she is naked.
The philosopher who protests:
“It is the fault of her mind
That I love her this way”
Protests in vain. But let’s be kind,
Even from our highest moral perch,
Elevated further by this poem—
You know I have always been honest with you
In my verses and my mind—
By admitting neither woman nor man
Can be moral but separately,
In the windy night-time of a desert plain
Or when we see too much
In the mind’s garden, alone but happy,
In the bounty of ourselves, sweetly in pain.

POETRY IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE

AMERICAN PAINTINGS AUCTION AT ELDRED'S FEATURES TWO PRIVATE COLLECTIONS -  Artwire Press Release from ArtfixDaily.com

Poetry is not supposed to be explained in poetry.
You are expected to see a man in the shadows
And learn later something more about the man.
But poetry and poetry are very close. Poetry
Will now be explained by poetry as talk walking.
As I walked by the sea
I found myself talking poetry.
But since I never wrote it down
No one judged it. No one called me a clown.
Verse remained a modest pleasure as I talked
Rhythmically and truthfully as I walked.
Did you walk with me? Did you let
Me say whatever I wished, or not yet?

SUPERFICIAL

The Milky Way, abstract painting Painting by Liza Peninon | Artmajeur

Superficial objections to the superficial
Promote the superficial—
Despite all your objections, you are
Yourself, the hidden star.
The glow, the gas, the dust,
The universe you don’t quite trust—
And yet you have your opinions
Which become certain as you speak
Until you glimpse the immense
Drama, and feel ashamed and weak.
When you kissed her in private you felt like a man
Until you saw, like a scientist, others also can.
Knowledge runs headlong into the wall
Of love—deciding things without knowing anything at all.

SCIENCE!

Max's Blog: Quick Blue Sky and Clouds painting

Science is proclaimed with pride
With a feeling of religion and poetry inside.
Scientific papers are read by few.
“Go ahead, doctor, do what you need to do.”
Scientific certainty is known to be small—
Wisdom whispers, “you really don’t know anything at all.”
Why cancer? What’s immune? Where’s the gay gene?
How did life start? Is the universe clean?
How big is the universe? How old? We don’t know.
Heat is a mystery. A star-anomaly a glow.
Every single tomorrow is a guess.
Science is an eye, suffering every kind of stress.
The Jews emerged from superstition;
The Christians climbed into position
As Islam sought to overtake
And science, a religion, is about to break
Since, to be science, science must admit
Ignorance is the very essence of it.
We know ignorance inside our cars
Dying, crashing. We live in ignorance beneath the stars.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. POETRY

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on various subjects, religious and moral - Age of  Revolution

1650 Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America: By a Gentlewoman of Those Parts published in London.

1773 Phillis Wheatley, a slave, publishes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. During the American Revolution she wrote to George Washington, who thanked her, praised her poetry, and invited her to his headquarters.

1791 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is published in Paris, in French.  Ben Franklin’s Autobiography appears in London, for the first time in English, two years later.   Had it been published in America, the Europeans would have laughed.  The American experiment isn’t going to last, anyway.

Franklin, the practical man, the scientist, and America’s true founding father, weighs in on poetry: it’s frivolous.

1794  Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey make plans to go to Pennsylvania in a communal living experiment, but their personalities clash and the plan is aborted.  Southey becomes British Poet Laureate twenty years later.

1803  William Blake, author of “America: A Prophecy” is accused of crying out “Damn the King!” in Sussex, England, narrowly escaping imprisonment for treason.

1815  George Ticknor, before becoming literature Chair at Harvard, travels to Europe for 4 years, spending 17 months in Germany.

1817  “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant appears in the North American Review.

1824  Byron, who wanted to travel to America (he met George Ticknor in Europe), dies in Greece.

1824  Lafayette, during tour of U.S, calls on Edgar Poe’s grandmother, revolutionary war veteran widow.

1832  Washington Irving edits London edition of William Cullen Bryant’s Poems to avoid politically offending British readers.

1835 Massachusetts senator and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier mobbed and stoned in Concord, New Hampshire.

1835  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appointed Smith Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard.

1836  Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes 500 copies of Divinity School Address anonymously.  He will not publish another book for 6 years.

1838  Poe’s translated work begins appearing in Russia. Dostoevsky, influenced by Poe, publishes him.

1843  Transcendentalist, Unitarian minister, Harvard Divinity School student Christopher Pearse Cranch marries the sister of T.S. Eliot’s Unitarian grandfather; dedicates Poems to Emerson, published in The Dial, a magazine edited by Margaret Fuller and Emerson; frequent visitor to Brook Farm.  Cranch is more musical and sensuous than Emerson; even Poe can tolerate him; Cranch’s poem “Enosis” pre-figures Baudelaire’s “Correspondences.”

T.S. Eliot’s family is deeply rooted in New England Unitarianism and Transcendentalism through Cranch and Emerson’s connection to his grandfather, Harvard Divinity graduate, William Greenleaf Eliot, founder of Washington U., St. Louis.

1845  Elizabeth Barrett writes Poe with news of “The Raven’s” popularity in England.  The poem appeared in a daily American newspaper and produced instant fame, though Poe’s reputation as a critic and leader of the Magazine Era was well-established.  During this period Poe coins “Heresy of the Didactic” and “A Long Poem Does Not Exist.”  In a review of Barrett’s 1840 volume of poems which led to Barrett’s fame before she met Robert Browning, Poe introduced his piece by saying he would not, as was typically done, review her work superficially because she was a woman. Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to Elizabeth Barrett. Then Robert Browning entered the picture.

1845 Poe accuses Longfellow of plagiarism.

1847  Ralph Waldo Emerson is in England, earning his living as an orator.

1848  Charles Baudelaire’s first translations of Poe appear in France.

1848  James Russell Lowell publishes “A Fable For Critics” anonymously.

1848 Female Poets of America, an anthology of poems by American women, is published by the powerful and influential anthologist, Rufus Griswold—who believes women naturally write a different kind of poetry.  Griswold’s earlier success, The Poets and Poetry of America (1842) contains 3 poems by Poe and 45 by Griswold’s friend, Charles Fenno Hoffman. In a review, Poe remarks that readers of anthologies buy them to see if they are in them.

1848  Poe publishes Eureka and the Rationale of Verse, exceptional works on the universe—and verse.

1849 Edgar Poe is apparently murdered in Baltimore; leading periodicals ignore strange circumstances of Poe’s death and one, Horace Greeley’s Tribune, hires Griswold (who signs his piece ‘Ludwig’) to take the occasion to attack the character of the poet. There is no press notice of Poe’s unusual passing. Baltimore Sun writer, Joseph Snodgrass, who happens to live close to where Poe is found in distress, and Poe’s hated cousin Neilson Poe (who happens to appear) are prime suspects according to Scarriet. The Baltimore Sun, like the New York Tribune, covers up any hint of foul play with bland and brief coverage.

1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The Scarlett Letter. There is recent speculation the work is loosely based on Edgar Poe, Fanny Osgood, and Rufus Griswold.

1855 Griswold reviews Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and calls it a “mass of stupid filth.”  Griswold, whose second wife was apparently a man (their divorce is very complicated, involving Griswold lending out his daughter) fills his review with words such as “vileness,” “rotting,” and “shame.”  Whitman later includes the Griswold review in one of his editions of Leaves.

1856  English Traits, extolls the English race, claiming it was the English “character” that vanquished India, is published in the U.S. and England, by poet and new age priest Ralph Waldo Emerson, as England waits for the inevitable Civil War to tear her rival, America, apart.

1859.  In a conversation with William Dean Howells, Emerson calls Hawthorne’s latest book “mush” and furiously calls Poe “the jingle man.”

1860  William Cullen Bryant introduces Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union; the poet advises the new president on his cabinet selection.

1867  First collection of African American “Slave Songs” published.

1883  “The New Colossus” is composed by Emma Lazarus; engraved on the Statue of Liberty, 1903

1883  Poems of Passion by Ella Wheeler Wilcox rejected by publisher on grounds of immorality.

1888 “Casey at the Bat” published anonymously. The author, Ernest Thayer, does not become known as the author of the poem until 1909—he is the uncle of Scofield Thayer, who will publish “The Waste Land” in the revived Dial.

1890  Emily Dickinson’s posthumous book published by Mabel Todd and Thomas Higginson.  William Dean Howells gives it a good review, and it sells well.

1893  William James, the “nitrous oxide philosopher,” Emerson’s godson, becomes Gertrude Stein’s influential professor at Harvard.

1896 Paul Laurence Dunbar publishes Lyrics of Lowly Life.

1897  Wallace Stevens enters Harvard, falling under the spell of William James, as well as George Santayana.

1904  Yone Noguchi publishes “Proposal to American Poets” as the Haiku rage begins in the United States and Britain, mostly due to Japan’s surprising victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Imagism, eventually celebrated as “new,” is merely a copy of haiku, and belongs to the same trend.

1910  John Crowe Ransom, Fugitive, Southern Agrarian, New Critic, takes a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.

1910  John Lomax publishes “Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads.”

1912  Harriet Monroe founds Poetry magazine; in 1880s attended literary gatherings in New York with William Dean Howells and Richard Henry Stoddard (Poe biographer) and in 1890s met Whistler, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Aubrey BeardsleyEzra Pound is Poetry’s London editor.

1913  American Imagist poet H.D. marries British Imagist poet Richard Aldington.

1913 The Armory Show in New York, which brings modern art to America, occurs under the guidance of Pound and T.S. Eliot’s attorney and modern art collector, John Quinn.

1914 Robert Frost meets Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell in London.

1914  Ezra Pound works as Yeats‘ secretary in Sussex, England.

1915  Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology published.  Masters was law partner of Clarence Darrow.

1917  Robert Frost begins teaching at Amherst College.

1920  “The Sacred Wood” by T.S. Eliot, banker, London. Decries “Hamlet.” Writes, “immature poet imitate, mature poets steal.”

1921  Margaret Anderson’s Little Review loses court case and is declared obscene for publishing a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is banned in the United States.  Random House immediately tries to get the ban lifted in order to publish the work.

1922  T.S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” awarded The Dial Prize before Ezra Pound has finished editing it.

1922  D.H Lawrence and Frieda stay with Mabel Dodge in Taos, New Mexico.

1923  Edna St. Vincent Millay wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1923  William Butler Yeats wins Nobel Prize for Literature

1924  Robert Frost wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1924  Ford Maddox Ford founds the Transatlantic Review.   Stays with Allen Tate and Robert Lowell in his lengthy sojourn to America, and helps to found the American Writing Program Era.

1924  Marianne Moore wins The Dial Prize; becomes editor of The Dial the next year, as E.E. Cummings elopes with the retiring editor Scofield Thayer’s wife.

1924  James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children opens.

1925  E.E. Cummings wins The Dial Prize.

1926  Yaddo Artist Colony opens

1926 Dorothy Parker publishes her first book of poems, With Enough Rope.

1927  Walt Whitman biography wins Pulitzer Prize

1929 Harry Crosby, Black Sun Press editor, free verses poet, nephew of JP Morgan, dies at 31 in suicide pact with his lover.

1930  “I’ll Take My Stand” published by Fugitive/Southern Agrarians and future New Critics, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Allan Tate defend ways of the Old South.

1932  Paul Engle wins Yale Younger Poet Prize, judged by member of John Crowe Ransom’s Fugitive circle.  Engle, a prolific fundraiser, builds the Iowa Workshop into a Program Writing Empire.

1933  T.S. Eliot delivers his speech on “free-thinking jews” at the University of Virginia.

1934  “Is Verse A Dying Technique?” published by Edmund Wilson.

1936  New Directions founded by Harvard sophomore James Laughlin.

1937  Robert Lowell camps out in Allen Tate’s yard.  Lowell has left Harvard to study with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College. The trip by Lowell was recommended by the Lowell family psychiatrist, the Fugitive poet, Merrill Moore.

1938  First Edition of textbook Understanding Poetry by New Critics Brooks and Warren, helps to canonize unread poets Williams and Pound, while attacking Poe.

1938  Aldous Huxley moves to Hollywood.

1938 Delmore Schwartz publishes In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, at 25, a smash-hit volume of short stories and poetry.

1939  Allen Tate starts Writing Program at Princeton.

1939  W.H. Auden moves to the United States and earns living as college professor.

1940  Mark Van Doren is awarded Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1941 F.O. Matthiessen publishes American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman.

1943  Ezra Pound indicted for treason by the United States government.

1946  Wallace Stegner founds Stanford Writing Program.  Yvor Winters will teach Pinsky, Haas, Hall and Gunn.

1948  Pete Seeger, nephew of WW I poet Alan Seeger (“I Have A Rendezvous With Death”) forms The Weavers, the first singer-songwriter ‘band’ in the rock era.

1948  T.S. Eliot wins Nobel Prize

1949  T.S. Eliot viciously attacks Poe in From Poe To Valery

1949  Ezra Pound is awarded the Bollingen Prize.  The poet Robert Hillyer protests and Congress resolves its Library will no longer fund the award.  Hillyer accuses Paul Melon, T.S. Eliot and New Critics of a fascist conspiracy.

1949 Elizabeth Bishop appointed U.S. Poet Laureate.

1950  William Carlos Williams wins first National Book Award for Poetry

1950  Gwendolyn Brooks wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1950 W.S Merwin tutors Robert Graves‘ son in Majorca.

1951  John Crowe Ransom, the Modernist T.S. Eliot of the American South, is awarded the Bollingen Prize.

1953  Dylan Thomas dies in New York City.

1954  Theodore Roethke wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1955 John Ashbery wins Yale Younger Prize for Some Trees. Judge W.H. Auden requested the manuscript.

1957  Allen Tate is awarded the Bollingen.

1957  “Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg triumphs in obscenity trial as the judge finds book “socially redeeming;” wins publicity in Time & Life.

1957  New Poets of England and America, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, Louis Simspon, eds.

1959  Carl Sandburg wins Grammy for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

1959  M.L Rosenthal coins the term “Confessional Poetry” in The Nation as he pays homage to Robert Lowell.

1959 Donald Justice wins the Lamont Poetry Prize for Summer Anniversaries.

1960  New American Poetry 1945-1960, Donald Allen, editor.

1961  Yvor Winters is awarded the Bollingen.

1961  Denise Levertov becomes poetry editor of The Nation.

1961  Louis Untermeyer appointed Poet Laureate Consultant In Poetry To the Library of Congress (1961-63)

1961 Robert Graves appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford—holds the post until 1966.

1962  Sylvia Plath takes her own life in London.

1964  John Crowe Ransom wins The National Book Award for Selected Poems. His Kenyon Review is where Plath and other poets were most eager to publish.

1964  Keats biography by W.Jackson Bate wins Pulitzer. The Burden of the Past and the English Poet by the same author predates, and is a more readable version of, Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence.

1965  Horace Gregory is awarded the Bollingen.  Gregory had attacked the poetic reputation of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

1967  Anne Sexton wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1968  Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Zeffirelli, nominated for Best Picture by Hollywood.

1971  The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner published.  Kenner, a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., saved Pound’s reputation with this work; Kenner also savaged the reputation of Millay.

1971  W.S Merwin wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1972  John Berryman jumps to his death off bridge near University of Minnesota.

Berryman, the most “Romantic” of the New Critics (he was educated by them) is considered by far the best Workshop teacher by many prize-winning poets he taught, such as Philip Levine, W.D. Snodgrass, and Donald Justice.  Berryman’s classes in the 50’s were filled with future prize-winners, not necessarily because he and his students were great, but because his students were on the ground-floor of the Writing Program era.

1972  Frank O’Hara wins National Book Award for Collected Poems

1974 Anne Sexton commits suicide.

1975  Gary Snyder wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1976  Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s novel on Delmore Schwartz, wins Pulitzer.

1976 John Ashbery wins Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award for Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror

1977 Gerald Stern wins the Lamont Poetry Prize, Judges Alan Dugan, Philip Levine, and Charles Wright.

1978  Language magazine, Bernstein & Andrews, begins 4 year run.  Charles Bernstein studied J.L Austin’s brand of ‘ordinary language philosophy’ at Harvard.

1980  Helen Vendler wins National Book Critics Circle Award

1981 Seamus Heaney becomes Harvard visiting professor.

1981 Carolyn Forche wins the Lamont Poetry Prize for The Country Between Us.

1981  Derek Walcott founds Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University.

1981  Oscar Wilde biography by Richard Ellman wins Pulitzer.

1982  Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems wins Pulitzer.

1984  Harold Bloom savagely attacks Poe in review of Poe’s Library of America works (2 vol) in New York Review of Books, repeating similar attacks by Yvor Winters, Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot.

1984 Charles Bernstein at a poetry conference in Alabama mentions the “policemen of official verse culture.” Gerald Stern presses Bernstein to name names. He does not—except to mention T.S. Eliot as being disliked by WC Williams.

1984  Marc Smith founds Slam Poetry in Chicago.

1984  Mary Oliver is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1985 Gwendolyn Brooks appointed U.S. Poet Laureate for 1985-6.

1986  Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a novel in verse, is published.

1987  The movie “Barfly” depicts life of Charles Bukowski.

1988  David Lehman’s Best American Poetry Series debuts with John Ashbery as first guest editor.  The first words of the first poem (by A.R. Ammons) in the Series are: William James.

1990 Robert Bly publishes Iron John.

1991  “Can Poetry Matter?” by Dana Gioia is published in The Atlantic. According to the author, poetry has become an incestuous viper’s pit of academic hucksters.

1996  Jorie Graham wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

1999  Peter Sacks wins Georgia Prize, Jorie Graham, judge.

1999  Billy Collins signs 3-book, 6-figure deal with Random House.

2002  Ron Silliman’s Blog founded. Silliman will attack “quietism” while defending the poetry avant-garde.

2002  Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club wins Pulitzer Prize.

2002  Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems published.

2004  Foetry.com founded by Alan Cordle. The site looks at Poetry Prizes, judges, and poets, in a controversial manner. Shortly before his death, Robert Creeley defends his poetry colleagues on Foetry.com.

2004  Franz Wright wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 Ted Kooser wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2005 The LA Times call Alan Cordle “the most despised…most feared man” in American poetry.”

2005  William Logan wins National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

2006  Fulcrum No. 5, editors Philip Nikolayev, Katia Kapovich, appears, featuring works of Landis Everson and his editor, Ben Mazer, also Eliot Weinberger, Glyn Maxwell, Joe Green, and Marjorie Perloff.

2007 Joan Houlihan dismisses Foetry.com as “losers” in a Poets & Writers letter. Defends the integrity of Georgia and Tupelo press.

2007  Paul Muldoon succeeds Alice Quinn as poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2007 Frank Bidart wins the Bollingen Prize.

2009 Fanny Howe is awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

2009  The Program Era by Mark McGurl, published by Harvard University Press, an historic look at college creative writing.

2009  Following the mass banning of Alan Cordle, Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman from The Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet (which soon bans all public comments), they decide to create Blog Scarriet (September 1 2009 to present)

2010 Sir Christopher Ricks publishes True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell Under the Sign of Eliot and Pound.

2011 Rita Dove publishes her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff object to her choices. Scarriet defends Dove.

2012 Natasha Trethewey is appointed U.S. Poet Laureate

2013 Mark Edmundson, U VA professor, attacks the quality of contemporary poetry in Harper’s magazine.

2013 Sharon Olds wins the Pulitzer for Stag’s Leap.

2013 Don Share becomes editor of Poetry.

2013 Patricia Lockwood’s poem “Rape Joke” goes viral on social media.

2013 Paul Lewis, professor, brings Poe statue to Boston—the Jingle Man returneth.

2014 Billy Collins interviews Paul McCartney.

2014 Maya Angelou dies.

2014 Peter Gizzi publishes Selected Poems.

2015 Derek Michael Hudson is controversially published as Yi-Fen Chou in David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, Sherman Alexie, guest editor.

2015 Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric wins multiple poetry and criticism awards, and is on New York Times bestseller list in nonfiction.

2016 Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize in Literature.

2016 Ron Padgett writes 3 poems for the film Paterson.

2016 Helen Vendler reviews Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor, Ben Mazer, in NYR

2017 John Ashbery dies.

2017 William Logan, poet, and the best-know poetry reviewer in America, accuses Norton editor Jill Bialosky of plagiarism. Her book is called Poetry Will Save Your Life.

2017 Garrison Keillor, who broadcasts contemporary poems in his Writer’s Almanac, accused of sexual harassment.

2017 Jorie Graham wins the Wallace Stevens Award with a stipend of $100,000.

2017 Ben Mazer publishes his Selected Poems.

2017 Kevin Young becomes poetry editor of The New Yorker.

2017 Kenneth Goldsmith lives and dies by “found poem.” Autopsy of Michael Brown causes outrage.

2018 Anders Carlson-Wee apologizes for his poem in the Nation.

2019 Marilyn Chin is awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

2020 Ben Mazer resurrects the poems of Harry Crosby.

2020 Louise Gluck wins Nobel Prize for Literature.

2020 Don Share resigns as editor of Poetry for publishing poem by Michael Dickman.

2021 Amanda Gorman reads at Joe Biden’s inauguration.

2021 Thomas Graves, a Scarriet editor, publishes Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism.

WHAT IF EMBARRASSMENT IS TRUE?

Suburban Autumn by Janet Dyer - acrylic painting | UGallery

What if embarrassment is true?
What if embarrassment and truth are the same?
I wouldn’t be embarrassed by my poetry
If you didn’t know this already—but I think you do.
We drove around,
A middle-aged couple,
In quaint neighborhoods to see
If there was a wilderness,
Or maybe a gigantic tree,
Under which, undetected,
We could undress and kiss.
Walking on a country road, a car
Slowed down, and I,
For a moment, remembered
Especially how absurd
We had been. I imagined us
In that car; love wants
To be the one, to be the one
One loves, not loving another,
Knowing love to be love,
Must in a pure light be confined—
Unless bold curiosity
And philosophy and freedom
Embarrass us in the other manner
As we were that other time.

YOU HAVE NO APPOINTMENTS WITH ME

THOMAS ROWLANDSON, THE DANCE OF DEATH, SELECTION OF IMAGES,

You have no appointments with me.
All love, and even my sweetest poetry,
Simply remains. And when you fall off the cliff,
Your last appointment (your death),
In the downward fall, unable to catch your breath,
Accelerate past the big fraud of your if—
O the speed! O the speed!
The incredible amount of your need
At last you will know
As you hit the distant rocks below.
I didn’t make any appointments with you.
Didn’t you figure out how love works?
Love has nothing to do
With important professionals, appointments,
Hope fed to you by all those jerks.

MY EX IS LIKE AN ALZHEIMER’S PATIENT

Red tulips Painting by Elena Sokolova | Saatchi Art

My ex is like an Alzheimer’s patient
Remembering nothing. I look at her
And remember us—I sent
Poems. She responded with her own. We were
The lovers who took their place
In hills on top of hills.
I watched the love in her face.
Now she looks at me with a blank expression.
The mirror catches it. The triumphant film
Has no answers. The last scene:
Trees outside a window. She forgets
Not only the intimacy, but everything
As it gradually becomes everything
Which is the thing everyone forgets.
The everything everyone forgets
Is a flower, and is still a flower
Blooming in every petal; red, shiny petals of regrets.
She forgot. Did I forget?
Not yet. Not yet.

BEN MAZER’S THE HIERARCHY OF THE PAVILIONS—A REVIEW BY THOMAS GRAVES

The Hierarchy of The Pavilions: Mazer, Ben: 9781952335129: Amazon.com: Books

Poets—like diplomats—know what not to say. There is none more reticent than the true poet.

This is all the more remarkable to say, given that a poem (unlike most persons) is a person with his whole being talking.

This is not a metaphor; if you read a letter from your lover saying they are leaving you (for instance) when you are reading that letter, that letter is your lover. A poem is a talking person. No more, no less.

If ‘a person with his whole being talking’ is what a poem really is, how is one reticent in it?

It’s impossible to be reticent in it. We can use words like “pure” and “art,” but we cannot reconcile the two truths we have just posited.

It is difficult to read an excellent book of poetry in one sitting—is one supposed to do such a thing? When I finished Ben Mazer’s The Hierarchy of the Pavilions (Madhat Press) the idea which came to me was “the inevitability of chance.”

Ben Mazer’s poetry has no rules; it does exactly what it wants, and yet it is reticent to a degree unparalleled in the history of letters.

I am a poet less skilled than Mazer; it could help if I compare myself to him, and show you, in my role as a critic and poet, how extraordinary Mazer as a poet is. Here is a poem I wrote:

WHY DIDN’T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU?

I guess it was my fault. I went off to write my poems
Inspired by you, but since I’m not a portrait painter
You didn’t think you needed to be there. In my mind
You were fine and gradually you weren’t there at all.
My poems were the last to notice; they became so good
They brought you back more real than you had been
When you were here. And we laughed and sighed in our sin.
The lonely make the best poets; my desire for you
Wrote the poems; having you, did not. Simple painting
Would have solved everything. Poetry is more complex.
As for you, let me guess:
You woke up one day and realized: poets love us less.
Poetry doesn’t care that people are apart.
It’s true, Rosalinda. Poetry lives only in my heart.

I wrote this poem, obviously, with “something to say.” “Why Didn’t You Let Me Love You?” is not reticent at all. It explains its head off, and this is its weakness, in terms of art. One can see that writing a poem like this starts with a clear idea, in which one person is talking to another. Formally, the rhymes are intrusive. There is really no poetry here. It is nice talk, but that’s all it really is.

But here is Ben Mazer.

It rains. One steps up through the haze is the first poem in The Hierarchy of the Pavilions, and here it is in its entirety:

It rains. One steps up through the haze
of tan and violet to the maze
of memory—misty where one stands,
twisting, separating strands.

The hour’s dim, and no one calls;
obligation mutely falls
through floors of mountains, origin:
anonymously you begin.

The blasted lantern of the nerves
lights up the sky, where starlight curves;
below, on earth, some few pass by
sheer constructs of identity.

They swirl and plaster every sense,
unto a law of difference:
not clear how long, or what direction,
subsume the nerves in their inspection.

The skeleton’s examination
evokes, incites, brief procreation:
filed away, some future date
astonished memories locate.

The seraphs of pedestrians
seep into violets, into tans,
breaching desire’s boulevards;
throw down the last of evening’s cards.

There is no way to formulate
identity’s raw nervous state:
it seems to slip into the world,
by stellar facts and atoms hurled

into the mythic stratosphere.
Ideas formulate the seer.
Genesis sans generation.
A change of trains at London station.

Every phrase, “It rains,” every line, to the final “A change of trains at London station,” every word here—is poetry, and poetry of the highest order. It is not someone talking. It is a spell. As Philip Nikolayev says in his brilliant afterword, “We are as if beckoned to step out of whatever mental state we happen to be in—and into the rain.”

This is precisely it. We are taken out of our own “mental state” and into the poem’s—which, although it uses words, is not like the talking which goes on around us, or in our heads every day. It is a “mental state” produced by every rhythm, every sound, every shard and nerve of the poem’s language which fulfills the impossible prophecy—Ben Mazer’s poem is talking; sure, it’s a person—but it is reticent. It is art.

To quote Nikolayev again:

Identities that seem definite and self-determined are “sheer constructs,” illusions. The unfurling and dissipation of one’s identity is what constitutes one’s destiny, and Mazer’s poetry is very much a poetry of destiny. Luckily, a poet’s identity has a way of dissipating into poetry rather than into the stratosphere.

Once the abstract quest for identity has failed, we simply shake it off—as the dream and head trip and poem that it is—as we refocus our senses on something as concrete and contingent as a change of trains in a major European metropolis. The poem starts with one change of mental state and ends with another, setting the tone for the whole collection, which comprises a large percolation of mental states. The poem’s London is the London of the poet’s personal experience, but it also stands for the context of English poetry, important to him.

philip nikolayev. the hierarchy of the pavilions afterword

Ben Mazer stands at the center of English poetry—all poets of Mazer’s stature writing in English cannot help but be both American and British poets—and poets of the world as much as the best translations permit. That he is a scholar, as well, is a given—one cannot do in poetry what Mazer does in poetry without swimming in it.

The paradox of poetry without personhood I am chewing on can be illustrated by Mazer’s own words from his “The Foundations of Poetry Mathematics,” a series of metaphysical propositions, blessedly included in The Hierarchy of the Pavilions—making this volume even more indispensable:

“2.23. God gives and takes away. What He gives is poetry, what He takes away is the poet.”

The poet knows he doesn’t count—but his poetry does. This may be wrong, but it is the only way to write great poetry; or at least Mazer makes it seem so—for himself, if not the rest of us.

As a scholar, Mazer is singularly pure, just as he is in his poetry. He doesn’t divide himself; he doesn’t take sides in effusive but finally useless debates. His peerless focus on what’s important is demonstrated effortlessly by another gem from “The Foundations of Poetry Mathematics”—this assaulted my eye, lying near to its brother above:

“2.18. “Traditional” and “avant-garde” are interchangeable terms referring to formal mastery of the range of available techniques (including the not yet articulated).”

Mazer cannot be argued with—he will not argue, aesthetically, about “traditional” vs. “avant-garde” but defend both as “formal mastery,” and who but a truculent blowhard without discrimination or patience would disagree? And this is why his poetry stuns and weaves spells none can escape—he has studied and learned not to be argued with; there is no arguing with his pure poetic affect.

If this seems all too simple, well:

“2.20. The mature poet aspires to greater incomprehensibility and less complication.”

Look at this short poem, The black-gold wallpaper, which demonstrates “incomprehensibility” with “less complication,” a poem which says a great deal without really saying anything—just to briefly move in the book from what I could quote from all day (“The Foundations of Poetry Mathematics”) to the poetry:

The black-gold wallpaper,
the scarabs sealed in glass,
our beds set close apart,
how slow the hours pass,
in the great depths of night,
enclosed within the city,
I read from an old book,
with wonder and with pity.

The music is flawless.

Back to “The Foundations of Poetry Mathematics.” Here is another example of how Mazer’s paradoxical and ultimately triumphant mind works:

“2.39. Decisiveness. The same as decisions. If it is impossible to tell the number of these, literally impossible, because there are so many of them, then the poem is a job well done.”

And in this next one the impact is almost akin to hypnosis:

“2.49. Clouds do not have to be clouds. This is as simple an expression of number as I can think of.”

It’s not surprising that a mind like this will also produce, in another mood, humor, with the same singleness of purpose. Nothing stops Ben Mazer’s mind. The Hierarchy of the Pavilions features over 13 pages of something very funny, entitled, “The Magazine Review of Books.”

Ben Mazer writes pure poems “too deep for tears,” and these are almost too deep for laughter:

HELP ME OUT MAGAZINE
SAY THAT AGAIN MAGAZINE
EXCUSE ME MAGAZINE
THE WHY NOT REVIEW OF BOOKS
WANT ME MAGAZINE
ME TOO MAGAZINE
THE ME TOO REVIEW OF BOOKS
MANSTAND
THE TROUBLER
CONFLICT MAGAZINE
MARGERINE
TUNE ME OUT REVIEW OF BOOKS
MICHAEL MAGAZINE
THE HOWARD REVIEW
THE HOWARD REVIEW OF BOOKS
HOWARD MAGAZINE
JILL
BEGGAR MAGAZINE
LOOK OUT MAGAZINE
OFTEN MAGAZINE
CLAMP MAGAZINE
CLIVE REVIEW OF BOOKS
GLIMPSE MAGAZINE
MAKES NO DIFFERENCE MAGAZINE
BIG IDEAS
BOB
BEAR WITH ME REVIEW OF BOOKS

The list get increasingly crazier:

SHAKE MY BOTTLE REVIEW OF BOOKS
BRAIN POWER MAGAZINE
SECRET MEANINGS REVIEW OF BOOKS
NOT A MATTER FOR SPECULATION MAGAZINE

and crazier:

YOU MAY NOT BE GETTING IT REVIEW OF BOOKS
I TOLD YOU BUT YOU DIDN’T LISTEN MAGAZINE
I’M GIVING YOU ANOTHER CHANCE MAGAZINE
I NEVER GET PIMPLES I CAN’T BELIEVE IT MAGAZINE

and crazier:

THIS FEELS FINE I FEEL REALLY GOOD FOR SAYING ALL THIS REVIEW OF BOOKS
PLEASE DON’T HATE ME OR JUDGE ME TOO QUICKLY MAGAZINE
I’M REALLY YOUR FRIEND THAT IS IF YOU’RE NOT A MEAN PERSON REVIEW OF BOOKS

ending after 13 pages, with:

THINK IT OVER CAREFULLY THINK IT OVER CAREFULLY THINK IT OVER CAREFULLY THINK IT OVER CAREFULLY MAGAZINE
JUST LET IT COME TO YOU JUST LET IT COME TO YOU JUST LET IT COME TO YOU JUST LET IT COME TO YOU REVIEW OF BOOKS
THE ELBOW OF THE CHIN SMILES UPSIDE DOWN

I’ll close with a poem which hints at what poetry means for us:

SMOOTH AS A SILKEN BEE

Smooth as a silken bee you found that talk
came honeyed to your lips, the dropped leaflets
of cold war verse did more than just rehearse
the country gossip of another time.
First in milking, first in being read
to the old principal’s confirmed delight
till the days passed, and tall before the dean
you learned that you’d be given every chance,
so that even now you are self-chosen.
When the map wants to look you are the town.

A half a pint would get you half a poem
and one of ham and mustard get you one
so in the shuffle of the boys’ salon
under an optic tutelage by rote
you learned to put your claim upon the light,
translating it to mimicry of sound
just as you had when praying to the ground
in the morning light that knew no names for things
but that which, from the town, the father brings.
In poetry you found a foster home.

Ben Mazer is currently editing, under contract with both the Delmore Schwartz estate and Farrar Straus Giroux, the collected poems of Delmore Schwartz.

This is cause for celebration.

But I think it is tragic how few know how valuable this living poet is.

YOU’RE NOT SMART

Bobby Rivers TV: Marilyn Monroe Was Robbed

The greatest insult, she felt,
Was the implication she was not smart.
Admit her beauty was not perfect
Or she did not possess a pure heart,
You’ll see anyone, with a smile,
Own these flaws, but not: “I’m not smart.”

“I don’t remember things, I’m crazy,
I don’t know many things by heart.
I don’t read literature, or know certain answers,
But don’t you ever tell me I’m not smart.
It isn’t even empathy or justice—
Hard choices must be made in the heart.
No, I wanted to end you—
When you assumed I wasn’t smart.”

Do you remember Marilyn Monroe?
How she delighted to be in photos reading books?
Or wearing glasses? Being an intellectual?
She wanted smart more than fame and looks.

But Marilyn proved to be not smart, didn’t she?
She thought JFK would leave Jackie and marry her.
What kind of embarrassment is this?
Are you smart? You’re not. I wish you were.

I proved smarter than you at last.
I said, Stay where you are.
(My poems? I wrote those in the past.)
You don’t need to leave him for me.
I will kiss you next week in your car.

WHY DIDN’T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU?

10 Paintings That Show How Solitude Can Be Your Best Companion - Art - Art

I guess it was my fault. I went off to write my poems
Inspired by you, but since I’m not a portrait painter
You didn’t think you needed to be there. In my mind
You were just fine and gradually you weren’t there at all.
My poems were the last to notice; they became so good
They brought you back more real than you had been—
When you were here, and we laughed and sighed in our sin.
The lonely make the best poets; my desire for you
Wrote the poems; having you, did not. Simple painting
Would have solved everything. Poetry is more complex.
As for you, let me guess:
You woke up one day and realized: poets love us less.
Poetry doesn’t care that people are apart.
It’s true, Rosalinda. Poetry lives only in my heart.

I ONCE LOVED

Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge – pianodao

I once loved a passage in a work so desperately
I only heard the work in relation to the part
Which stood alone (I thought, for me)—
A space in the whole leaving room for my whole heart
To grieve for a beauty too brief
To complete the building of any belief,
Or anything I might use to build a religion;
But like a worshiper at the end of each day
I listened, my whole mind pleasantly far away.
I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the song,
Waiting for only this one part:
A divine melody, a mystery—
Like loves which hurt more the more moral and upright my heart.
Did the composer know this gem (never repeated in the piece elsewhere)
Would be the soul of the entire piece? And that I
Listened inside all its other music for it—
Inside the shadow of its brown piano—
A pause, there! that first, second, now that third note? Love? Why?

WHAT DO WE KNOW

Into The Night Air by Linda O'Neill (Acrylic Painting) | Artful Home

What do we know when someone
Says what they say? We don’t know.
It’s some kind of ironic day. If we shut
The door, the circus of air doesn’t
Get a chance to build up strength
And sail in, with her voice, in our direction,
A voice that tortures language, that
Tortures the air, tortures what they forget.
Did you think what they say is what they are?
That’s like saying yesterday’s light is that star.
Close the door. You can’t hear them.
Shut the door and change the world.
I was six feet from her
When she said, “I don’t love you anymore.”
This is not true. Look. The door.
I know she loves you. She does care.
She didn’t say that. It was the air.

I WONDER IF YOU KNOW

New England Landscape With Cemetery Painting by Mountain Dreams

I wonder if you know,
In easy walking reach,
I walk daily to the beach
Which faces your house,
Behind trees, a river, and a bay,
A mile away?
I was a lion,
And now I’m a mouse—
I held you in my arms.
We were king and queen
On every bay and inlet
And every river in-between.
I would steer you into shadows
Where marsh-reeds grew
And declare my love.
And I would kiss you.
But now I watch
The sun dissolve in this hazy sky
Above tracks where occasionally
Trains go by,
Distantly, between you and me.
I wonder if you’re home
And if you’re thinking of me.
The lion lived in your head
And was invited into your house
To stain your sheets—
But now I know: true love
Is not a lion. True love is a mouse.
I was never a lion.
Upon the marsh. Or in your house.

NOW WE NEED TO GET RID OF THESE POEMS

COVID-19 gives a new perspective to Dante's Inferno - The Johns Hopkins  News-Letter

Now we need to get rid of these poems
Which are actually prose.
Poems as prose can be great, as far as that goes.
Prose is more detailed and exquisite.
Place names! Ship names! Let’s go and visit.
Let’s meet the prose-poem writer, who is a regular guy.
You’ll read about the death of his wife and you will cry.
The children around the bed, the good wife
Trying to say goodbye through a tube. Prose captures life.
The great poets get closer and closer to prose
As life becomes more modern. A poem? I once wrote one of those.
I received high praise from the high school teacher
Who acted quite a bit like a nineteenth century preacher.
But when I got older, I learned in the tawdry bar
From graduate students verse wasn’t going to take me very far.
All of the cool things prose does it does so well
Poetry survives only in that Italian poem about hell.
Tomorrow they’ll make fun of Dante on SNL
And then it will be over—poetry will be dead
And live, but in silence, in the stars overhead.

MACHIAVELLI TAUGHT ME HOW TO TRIUMPH OVER LOVE

Leonardo-da-Vinci---Drawings---Animals--Horses 1.jpg | Horse drawings,  Animal drawings, Horse painting

I always do what I need to do—
Not for me, necessarily;
I always consider you.

Loving or hating, it’s all the same—
As long as there is passion
Which the investigators blame.

Investigations come up short.
There’s always some nuance
They don’t report.

As I loved you deeply, I found
You loved, too, but doubting
In love is always profound.

By my intelligence, I knew—
Or should I say in my heart—
You loved me. That’s why I loved you.

There is a theory—
Love is more mutual than we know.
“Does she love me?” an important query—

If you love someone truly
It is because they love you—
Not if they happen to be Betty or Julie.

But with certainty
Came ironically whispering doubt—
A certain doubt in you and me.

Doubt is always the price we pay
When certainty is the goal—
Certainty finds doubt along the way.

But I did what I had to do—
With certainty you loved me—
But I did what I did with nuance, too.

Love should not require nuance,
Eyesight, or quickness;
Love is not a jungle pounce.

Yet…sweetest love must navigate
Those shadows, those villains
Of secretive desire and hate.

Passion has a cunning eye
Which treasures love,
But naturally is a cunning spy.

But most of all give me a calm mind
To check undue passion—
So love’s considerate and kind.

I own such a mind—this story
A poet wouldn’t tell
Unless it ended in glory.

But three’s the number, not one or two—
This is what I did
And what I did I did for you.

You were sought by another
In the manner of sisterly things.
He pretended to be your brother.

The jealousy of him, outside—
But with an inner position—
Began to turned the tide.

But there was no tide to turn—
I knew our love was a sea,
A star, a book—to memorize and learn.

I tried to be light, but I was stern.
There were doubts. There were doubts.
Things of love are tedious to learn.

How shall the good take action? Delicately.
I bore witness to his position—
This was not expected of me.

You were put in a place
Where he would have less influence.
You avoided my face.

The shifting landscape saw
Anger instead of love.
You left it to the law.

You were blamed as much as me—
Though I was blamed
Slightly more, officially.

Surprised, you hated.
Surprised, stunned, offended.
Weeping at times, I waited.

You still love me—I knew.
Is that sad? My story is over.
My love was great, but finished with you.

We suffered this whole while.
I waited for years—remembrances of nuances!—
A poet with a sad and puzzled smile.


MUCH BETTER TO BE BETTER

Joaquin Sorolla / 'Walk on the Beach', 1909, Oil on canvas, 205 x 200 cm.  Painting by Joaquin Sorolla -1863-1923-

Once you decide the chorus of the gospel song
Will change you forever and you will go along
On the hiking trip and behind the ocean
Lyrics of the sea become an interesting notion,
And because you were one of the first to learn
You better move slightly when the others turn,
And every time you feel the urge, you see more
Reasons for more and more and more—
It will be a while before the chorus turns electronic
And Dionysus will no longer seem frightening,
And the others no longer influence you,
And the dull routines resume,
But then it will be too late;
Love will confuse you—it will be like hate.
Much better to be better and be left out.
Much better to not go along. To doubt.

Once you decide the chorus of the gospel song
Will change you forever and you will go along
On the hiking trip and behind the ocean
Lyrics of the ocean, the ocean, the ocean!
And because you were one of the first to learn
You better move slightly when the others turn,
And every time you feel the urge, you see more
Reasons for less and less and less—
It will be a while before the chorus fades away
And Apollo will no longer seem reassuring,
And the others no longer influence you,
And the regrets crowd in,
But then it will be time, at last,
To not think. To forget the past.
When you’re put in the boat, better to row.
To be off. To love. To know.

MARCH MADNESS SEMI-FINALS AND CHAMPIONSHIP

Pink Floyd - Steve®™ 💎 on Twitter: "And a new day will dawn for those who  stand long, And the forests will echo with laughter.. #LedZeppelin #Art… "

LED ZEPPELIN -BABE I’M GONNA LEAVE YOU/STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

vs

THE RONETTES -BE MY BABY/BABY I LOVE YOU

The Ronettes recorded “Be My Baby” July 5, 1963 and it raced to the top of the charts ahead of “She Loves You,” the Beatles’s first big single, recorded July 1, 1963. When The Ronettes toured England in early 1964 the Rolling Stones opened for them—and John Lennon met Phil Spector, Ronettes producer, and they became life-long friends. The drumming in “She Loves You” (big and busy) sounds similar to “Be My Baby.” The overall production value is stronger in “Be My Baby” than “She Loves You”—and the excitement of the chorus (which included Cher in her first ever recording gig) is through the roof. “Baby I Love You” followed “Be My Baby” in the fall of 1963 and did not chart as well, but still has a great sound and a thrilling chorus.

The Ronettes is the only act in the Final Four with choral excitement and harmony, a timeless dramatic and musical strategy—which The Ronettes exploited as well as anyone. Real magic here.

Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (1969) has dynamics and drama completely opposed to “Be My Baby.” A powerful solo voice over an acoustic guitar laments and boasts for six minutes—a whole different feel from the orgy of adolescent giddiness conveyed in 3 minutes by “Be My Baby.” Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s lead singer, is desperate and autumnal—though “summer” is when he must “go away,” increasing the feeling of sorrow. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” does have a ghost of a chorus towards the end as its big drumming flourish lifts up the song’s hopeful agony. “Stairway To Heaven” goes even further in the art of dynamic range—again, there’s no chorus, but flute and acoustic guitars are effective voices and the song continues to build over strange, evocative lyrics (Plato’s bucolic nightmare is expressed in “and the forest will echo with laughter”) becoming self-consciously heavier in its rock sound until dionysus enters full-blown as Page’s electric guitar. The song ends quietly with “And she’s buying a stairway to hea-ven.”

Both well-crafted Led Zeppelin songs end—The Ronettes songs, after reaching their ecstatic heights, fade out.

WINNER: Led Zeppelin

~~~~~~~

NINA SIMONE -I’LL LOOK AROUND/JUST SAY I LOVE HIM

vs

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE -WHITE RABBIT/LATHER

There is no chorus or big guitar solo in Nina Simone’s 1961 slow rock song—“Just Say I Love Him,” a duet between a languid, earnest, muted, electric guitar and Simone’s intimate and melancholy vocals. The whole song is “a guitar solo”—and Simone’s voice—actress, as well as a musical instrument—triumphs over the instrumental backing which is perfectly ideal for her. “I’ll Look Around” (1961, same album) takes a similar approach—Simone’s vocals intimately propound the poetry, and this time a lovely piano solo helps steer the song to its mournful but beautiful conclusion.

“I’ll Look Around” has especially marvelous lyrics.

I know somewhere spring must fill the air
With sweetness just as rare
As the flower that you gave me to wear

And the sweetness of spring is invoked by the piano’s tinkling solo.

And look at this intelligent and subtle passage:

I’ll look around and when I’ve found
Someone who sighs like you
I’ll know this love I’m dreaming of
Won’t be the old love I always knew

The delicacy here of considering a new love with the rueful admission that the new love “won’t be the old love I always knew…” This is unbelievably touching.

“White Rabbit” (recorded in the fall of 1966) by Jefferson Airplane might be the most perfect rock song ever made—the vocals, the instruments, the lyrics, the way it builds, and concludes. Is there anything better?

But this is a Two Song tournament. What about “Lather?” This, too, is an amazing recording, from early 1968:

“And I should have told him, no you’re not old…”

Here are some of the extraordinary lyrics:

His mother sent newspaper clippings to him
About his old friends who’d stopped being boys
There was Harwitz E. Green, just turned thirty-three
His leather chair waits at the bank
And Seargent Dow Jones, twenty-seven years old
Commanding his very own tank
But Lather still finds it a nice thing to do
To lie about nude in the sand
Drawing pictures of mountains that look like bumps
And thrashing the air with his hands

***

Lather was thirty years old today
And Lather came foam from his tongue
He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said
Is it true that I’m no longer young?
And the children call him famous
What the old men call insane
And sometimes he’s so nameless
That he hardly knows which game to play
Which words to say
And I should have told him, no, you’re not old
And I should have let him go on, smiling, baby wide

The effects, the lyrics, the haunting tune, the landscape and the life it creates! The only drawback is that it fades out too quickly.

WINNER Nina Simone

~~~

THE CHAMPIONSHIP

NINA SIMONE

vs

LED ZEPPELIN

Led Zeppelin songs “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Stairway To Heaven” have better parts; Nina Simone’s “I’ll Look Around” and “Just Say I Love Him” are better as whole songs with every intricate element intermingling. The Nina Simone songs have sightly better lyrics; “Stairway To Heaven’s” lyrics are brilliant, but suffer a bit from too much mysticism. Robert Plant’s vocals are all you could ask for—Nina Simone’s are all that, and then some, but in a quieter way. If you are alone at midnight, or with someone you love, you will be better able to appreciate Nina Simone in her quiet and sad repose. In a more calculating mood, when the sun is shining, you will likely swear Led Zeppelin is uncanny and stronger in every way. How will this be judged many, many years from now? This contest never really ends.

AND NOW THE CHAMPION…

I’LL LOOK AROUND/JUST SAY I LOVE HIM

CONGRATULATIONS TO NINA SIMONE and those who made her album FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

This ends the 2021 Scarriet March Madness tournament—thanks for watching. Goodbye everyone. –Marla Muse

SHE COUNTERED HER VOLUPTUOUSNESS WITH THE MUNDANE

Long Live the Queen | JewishBoston

She countered her voluptuousness with the mundane.
Her looks, therefore, drove me insane.
You cannot imagine what it is like to walk
With beauty in a wool sock.
“I had no childhood,” she said—
I, being child-like, felt a cold dread.
She would watch golf in her underpants.
She didn’t sing, nor would she dance—
Except once, in tears,
As if exhausted by every bit of grief through the years.
I held her, swaying, close to my side;
I pressed her tears to mine
For ten minutes—ten little minutes I stuck by her side
And in my mind, I was by her side forever after:
Desperate, in an old house, holding on to a rafter.

THERE ARE TWO THINGS

Rhythm in Art - Master Painting Examples - Draw Paint Academy

There are two things, and only two—
Me—and the persistent stupidity of you
Who insists on some kind of interest in me.
What an idiot you are; you read my poetry.
“Some kind of interest” is a really ugly phrase
But you’ve been poking around my pages for days.
I don’t suppose you know how much I dislike you.
I like myself—when I take walks, who do you think I’m talking to?
You bought a 300 year old house and can’t glue a tile.
You’re happy—not having fixed anything in a while.
When I try to fix something you become enraged—
Instead of being grateful, you’ll tear out the page.
I’m faced not only with stupidity but stupidity hateful and odd.
You thrive. How? Only by the grace of God.
“There are two things.” I was dreaming this idea
In such a manner I lost it when I woke up.
I am more foolish and idiotic than you,
Writing dumb poetry at 3 AM:
“There are two things, and only two.”
Well, your stupid pets woke me.
Yeah. That’s what they do.
But I’ll go right back to sleep.
Later, a long walk in the fresh air,
Talking to myself. Have you guessed myself is you?
I’m going to ruin a perfectly good poem
By defining reality’s two things—
Past and present? Oh. No doubt.
No. It. And me trying to figure it out.

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: