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The sheep want to go back,

To when Walter Cronkite was the only news.

And sure, we want Cronkite to love us,

Every smiling dictator knows;

And if a dictator frown,

Sheep don’t mind it when they put them down.

The sheep have always been the problem.

Always. We know this. The wolves

Have an elan we all secretly respect,

Even as we are being devoured.

But we hate the sheep, we really do.

If only we could kill them all!

The stupid sheep! Isn’t this true?

Wherever there is a problem,

Whenever you can’t sleep,

Because you are hungry. Blame the sheep.

If you are shopping and can’t find

What you want, only a wolf will blow your mind.

The sheep don’t like many voices;

The sheep don’t say very much;

Their wool is itchy to touch.

The sheep think confusion is bad.

They want one view of Washington D.C.

And one opinion of Baghdad.



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Every poem has been for me,

No matter what I say, or do.

I was in a crowd, and announced,

“This poem is for Rosalinda!”

It wasn’t true.

It’s not easy to escape one’s poems.

As children to their mother, they cling to me.

Every poem a squishy mark of vanity.

The understanding is: I wrote this.

Yes, Rosalinda was meant for each kiss,

But each kiss was delivered for my sake:

I trembled and quaked.

A poor drawing of Rosalinda’s eye

Is nothing to Rosalinda. That was my

Folly—I deserve my fate

To strive long hours, to make poems for Rosalinda

That are neither interesting or new.

When love’s aim is love, it always ends in hate,

For in love, nothing aimed is true.

A good rendering of Rosalinda’s face

Only means, “look at me! I’m good!”

Bad or good still equal her disgrace.

Good, or bad, is still false, and forever.

My poems can never be for her.

Unless dear Rosalinda read

In my poem’s desire her poem’s need.





I have read prose with haunting ideas, with every semi-colon in the right place:

Poetry, with a prose face.

I’ve read stanzas which made me laugh

As they sank into the paragraph;

Sentences, in prose, which crept along

As if they wanted to be in song.

I have seen plain writing,

Hinting, like a poem, at the exciting.

I’ve seen a poem, attempting to thrill;

But like its poet, it was dull.

I’ve heard Muslims dying in desert sands

Cry out for the greener lands

Of their God, with such elation,

Only poetry would be taught in their future nation.

Poetry is taught everywhere in your cry,

Rosalinda, that in your mouth I thought to die.

The prose writers are telling the joke

The poet in somber numbers spoke

Which at the time didn’t seem funny.

But now that joke is making money.

I feel a poem traveling near me in the shadow

Of a drafty mansion. An essay on sorrow

Attempted to convince me the most beautiful rose

Was black; but this could never be explained in prose.


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Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809.

Poe is a figure of opposites—which is what all successful people are.

First, it makes you enigmatic, which is always good, and it makes you enigmatic in a manner both complete and accessible, since opposites imply both depth and self-conscious unity, in a readily discernible manner. This will always make a character more attractive, and if not always appealing—some prefer consistency to complex magnitude—well, if today you don’t like this, tomorrow we’ll have its opposite. ‘I will always find a way to make you like me.’

Readers find Poe both emotional and mathematical.

One of his great themes was the double.

His essay on the physical universe, Eureka, was the first serious explanation of the Big Bang; it was read by Einstein, and Poe’s stunning scientific treatise is more influential than anyone will probably know. In it, we find the great opposites of the beginning when there is “nothing,” and the “bang” which produces “everything,” as matter expands into difference—which is how matter exists.

It is no surprise, then, that Poe’s detractors took to stealing from him those opposing qualities which make him truly who he is. He wrote humorous tales, but they focused soley on the ones concerned with murder. He laughed as often as he wept, but to suppress all that was great about him, all they had to do was appeal to our belief that he wept only, for we, the non-great, all share this low character—which takes delight in weeping for clowns and laughing at the sad. We laugh at Poe’s weeping, unable to accept he laughs, too. It makes us feel better. Genius, when experienced nakedly, has this way of making us, because we lack genius, feel miserable. And we don’t want to feel that. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by anyone. Hero-worship has a rule: it must have warmth and passion, but have a narrow, mean focus. Poe’s planet is both tropical and icy; but out of pride, we see him only as winter.

Poe is seen as ‘oddly this way.’ And therefore he doesn’t speak for us. He only represents a part of us. Poe has been damned with faint praise by the wise at Harvard and Oxford for so long, he is damned. He’s not perceived as one of us: an American speaking to Americans. But he was completely and soberly American in a time when Europe sneered at the upstart republic; Poe seems European, not because he strove to be that way; he was—and we have trouble seeing this—an American showing the world he could be anything he damn wanted. And seeming to be European was just one of his strategies. He lived and wrote for half his adult life in Philadelphia and New York, but somehow is boxed in as a Southerner who is a little too stiff, with a faint smell of gin, and worse, also falling into bohemian poverty which he hated—so on a personal level everyone has a reason to faintly dislike him. We’ve dressed him in borrowed clothes, in an outfit we’d like to think he wore—but Poe wears the world, the world doesn’t wear him. The default Poe that Americans “know” is not Poe, and since the private person belonging to his genius is to us a blank, the widely disseminated default simply lives on, reinforcing, inevitably, everything about him that is cheap and wrong. This happens to all of us; it’s just more magnified and unfortunate in a great writer.

For America’s sake, it’s a pity, because we lost somewhere in our Letters this true spokesman—who also happens to be one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived.

The opposites of good and evil will forever have a hold on our souls, not only in fiction, but in reality.

Poe was the Benjamin Franklin American good to colonialism’s world-cranking evil.

Poe belonged to the United States of America in its fragile, puritan, chaste, brilliant, heroic beginnings.

America is not the underdog anymore. But this is no reason to misunderstand and ignore America’s Shakespeare. Poe was not pretentious, so wouldn’t care, surely, that he’s B-movie popular. But ironically, no writer wrote for the educated few as much as Poe.

Whitman said America was “a poem.” But Poe, only 10 years older than Whitman, though he seems several lifetimes older, was America as “a poet.” Just as ‘America as a poem’ expands the definition of a poem, Poe’s ‘poet’ wrote more than poetry—murder mysteries (!) in which Dupin, an amateur, foils the chief of police, a professional. One coast of Poe barely knows the other. His laughing mountains barely know his sad valleys.

Britain, who had poets galore (America, before Poe, only school-boy imitators) was fast becoming the prose fact of the world. Places like India were colonized in reality, as America was colonized in the minds of brilliant but homely citizens like Thoreau and Emerson, who succumbed to the idea that locomotives were useless, even as U.S. manufacturing was the only thing keeping the United States free of colony status. Emerson (homely) and Poe (pretty) hated each other and Harold Bloom (homely) actually took up this quarrel, heavily on the side of Emerson. Anyone who does not consider themselves belonging to the world of locomotives will prefer Emerson, believing against all evidence that they are pretty, for taking the side of Emerson, simply because they are against locomotives.

America, with her locomotives, was the British Empire’s nightmare.

In Poe’s day, America was David to the British Empire’s Goliath, and the stone in David’s sling was not poetry; it was a locomotive. Poe was on the side of David and his locomotive, unlike Emerson’s friend Thoreau, for instance, who, unwittingly, by spurning the locomotive, sitting by his pond, played into the hands of the British Empire of colonies and holdings and farms and ponds and rivers and mines and booty and no borders. The romantic American belongs, at last, to Great Britain, and the Modernists, as Randal Jarrell surmised, were Romantics becoming so worldly they were no longer Americans—Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound— globalist white men who sneered at Poe—the world’s great literary inventor—as provincial, immature, and backwater, so devious and self-assured were they. Eliot really let loose against Poe in “From Poe to Valery,” only after American-turned-British Eliot won his Nobel.

The “smart set” thought Poe “boyish.” But this is always how worldly, defensive neurosis dismisses a clear-eyed god.

Poe, as a critic, desired two things: Always be original. Never be obscure. He called Thomas Carlyle an “ass” for being obscure.

Poe was loudly and confidently Romantic-as-Modern; no antiquarian, Poe. Look at how he defines old versus modern long before “the Modernists” appeared, in his review of a British Literature anthology:

“No general error evinces a more thorough confusion of ideas than the error of supposing Donne and Cowley metaphysical in the sense wherein Wordsworth and Coleridge are so. With the two former ethics were the end—with the two latter the means.”

Poe prefers Coleridge to Donne. But Poe finally understood exquisite and delicate imagination is far more important in poetry than ethics. Which is an idea so new that almost no one believes it. Eliot, the leading critic of the 20th century, preferred Donne to Coleridge, and now ethics in poetry is everywhere, threatening to overthrow both fancy and imagination (which Poe, ever-grounded, said were closer than we think).

In his review of the British anthology edited by S.C. Hall, Poe quotes from four poems, the first of which he does not like, a much anthologized specimen you may know, by Sir Henry Wotton:


You meaner beauties of the night

That poorly satisfy our eyes,

More by your number than your light,

You common people of the skies

What are you when the sun shall rise?


You curious chaunters of the wood

That warble forth dame Nature’s lays,

Thinking your passions understood

By your weak accents; what’s your praise

When Philomel her voice shall raise?


You violets, that first appear

By your pure purple mantles known,

Like the proud virgins of the year

As if the spring were all your own,

What are you when the rose is blown?


So, when my mistress shall be seen

In sweetness of her looks and mind,

By virtues first, then choice a queen,

Tell me if she were not designed

Th’ eclipse and glory of her kind?

And here’s the last poem which Poe quotes, by Marvell, which Poe loves:

“It is a wondrous thing how fleet

‘Twas on those little silver feet,

With what a pretty skipping grace

It oft would challenge me the race,

And when ‘t had left me far away

‘Twould stay and run again and stay;

For it was nimbler much than hinds,

And trod as if on the four winds.

I have a garden of my own,

But so with roses overgrown,

And lilies that you would it guess

To be a little wilderness,

And all the spring-time of the year

It only loved to be there.

Among the beds of lilies I

Have sought it oft where it should lie,

Yet could not till itself would rise

Find it although before mine eyes.

For in the flaxen lilies shade,

It like a bank of lilies laid,

Upon the roses it would feed

Until its lips even seemed to bleed,

And then to me ‘twould boldly trip,

And print those roses on my lip,

But all its chief delight was still

On roses thus itself to fill,

And its pure virgin limbs to fold

In whitest sheets of lilies cold.

Had it lived long it would have been

Lilies without, roses within.”

Most of us either like, or dislike, old rhyming poems. Leave it to Poe to start a war between two old gems few would bother to distinguish from each other.

Of the first poem (Henry Wotton), Poe says,

“Here everything is art—naked or but awkwardly concealed. No prepossession for the mere antique…should induce us to dignify with the sacred name of Poesy, a series such as this, of elaborate and threadbare compliments…stitched apparently together, without fancy, without plausibility, without adaptation of parts—and it is needless to add, without a jot of imagination.”

Of the Marvell, Poe, in swooning rapture, calls “the portion of it as we now copy…abounding in the sweetest pathos, in soft and gentle images, in the most exquisitely delicate imagination, and in truth—as any thing of its species.”

Whether writing on the mysteries of the universe, the mystery of a stolen letter, or on the delicate accents of poetry, Poe is a literary treasure—strict but passionate.


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I cannot now remember what

It looked like, or what you said.

Sometimes memory is as fresh as spring

And sometimes it falls dead.

My great desire for you is only because

I am bad at remembering.

When someone is really beautiful,

Memory doesn’t work on them.

We have to constantly look at them.

This is why bad memory is crazy

And those with good memory are lazy

When it comes to desire and love.

Who could remember you?

We can’t remember the beautiful.

The beautiful is beautiful now.

A train ride is a feast for the eyes,

The three dimensional landscape

Perfect as it goes past.

A moment ago I had an idea for a poem.

But it didn’t last.



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When I attempted to speak

On my idea that everything’s a conspiracy

I was drowned out by the clique.

They insisted that my idea that no idea matters

Was conspiratorial and mad;

Agreeing with each other, they were only too glad

To echo each other, to shout me down.

I said we think it is a trick of light

To see the waning moon, or the sun going down,

Since the moon’s gradual decrease

In size and light, or the day’s cease,

Is not a real goodbye;

The moon is just as solid as she was before,

The sun just as brave and shining;

Nothing changes but ourselves,

And really, it is a trick of light

Only to our animal senses; the trick

Is only one of perspective, not light;

Nor is the change due to ourselves,

Nor does anything happen to ourselves;

This great display of changing light,

This great display of change itself,

Is a lie; everything is as it was before;

You—not as you—and it—not as it—

Makes it seem there’s less light than before,

Makes it seem somehow something is dying,

And none of you will love me anymore.




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When I was in a rage, specifically against you,

Because you insulted the very thing about myself I most admired,

And then in the same breath, praised him, for the same quality,

I found at that pinnacle of blinding hate, love.

And this made perfect sense, in a way.

Love is alchemy. I couldn’t think of anything else that day.

Dreading lack of love, love sits there with its opposite

And mockery draws a picture of it

In renaissance colors and sighs.

No one else had ever insulted me so keenly,

And yet now I wanted to kiss you.

Love, in myth, falls in love with War.

I need to be insulted, I need it more

Than praise; in a rage, I fell in love with you.

The strangest thing in life: we find that myths are true.



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She desired; I happened to be in her way.

She kissed me—looking back, Rosalinda, I’m not sure why.

A dog will lick its master, because the dog has nothing to say.

The best “last word” is not to say anything at all.

It was mild. But the sun was low; it was late fall,

We were walking to the train; she said

If the winter was cold this year, she might prefer to die.

She was moody. Suddenly, she would hint our love was dead,

And, since I always doubted her love, I would try

To lighten her mood with words,

And I remember she said strongly, “I don’t trust words.”

I realized, then, and looking back, every day,

Now that our love did finally die, she was right.

I converted. I’m silent towards her. Love has nothing to say.

Nothing you can say to love, or about love, is true;

Love sees everything. They are wrong: love isn’t blind.

Love can be defined this way:

Love is a human bond—when that bond has nothing to say.






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I’m scientific, through and through—

I don’t go to church;

I love Jeopardy just as much as you.

But you are surprised at my patriotic stance towards God.

Since I’m elitist and secular, my conservative views strike you as odd.

I need foolish comfort; I’m Socratic, and full of doubt,

My scientific nature pushes all certainty out;

Everyone’s mean and crazy, the sun is setting;

All that’s possible are intelligent guesses

As we confront psychotic no’s and Pollyanna yes’s.

I have no idea, so I’m betting:

I’m guessing science is a lender, not a thief,

That faith is about behavior, not belief;

God is nowhere; yet, why shouldn’t I choose

The door hiding God? As a poet, I see

All life is dead, but expressed poetically—

Just as I am—but am not—my muse.

I smile, and when I do, my muse grins.

Is mathematics still mathematics when it sins?

I have to believe calculating odds is smart.

It verifies the art inside the art.

The blank, which might be God, still imagines

There is God. And comfort, which belief in God brings,

Is one of those scientific things

Science—conscious of its limits—should embrace,

Traveling through cold, dark, vast, space,

Guessing it will see another looking face.











I’m boring, I know. But I have to be

Like others, for you to understand my poetry.

I stand among white petals that fall and die.

In one hand I hold the sun, and in the other, a slightly smaller eye.

In the center of the red sidewalk

I hold a red piece of chalk.

I have to be like them; they are the air

I was born to breathe. You stare

With amazement, because I seem

Beautiful and different; but this is an empty dream;

In the end, no matter what I say—

“Sun! Red! Love!”—you’ll find the same clay

Went in to making me

As that artist in the shadows there—

No, don’t stare—

Keep your eye on my poetry.

Did you think I was going to give you something?

Lady, this is robbery.


Love is the appearance of love.

None of us are meant to love.

Did you think you were going to go on Dick Cavett

And explain yourself? OK, where, then?

Privately, you would contemplate your jealousy?

None of us were meant to love.

It looked to me like George Harrison,

Post-Beatles, wanted to punch Dick Cavett in the face.

But even George was not willing to go that far to illustrate

The cunning misery of the human race.

The world is how the world looks.

Did you think you were privileged to know more?

If I told you, you had as much free will

As a ball rolling towards the edge of a table,

A table moderately lifted, and your motion

Is all you know of life and free will,

Would you start asking me about the table

And what it means? Is God a table, then?

No, you wouldn’t. You’d get what I meant, and that’s all.

So why do want to know the ultimate meaning?

It’s not for you to know, even if there is one.

Know the answer? You are simply not able.

None of us are meant to love.

You’re jealous. Do the math.

There is a table.


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My muse disappears behind the darkening hills.

I no longer love you.

My muse disappears behind the darkening hills.




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The best lyric poetry

Begins with the proper sadness.

If ape or astronaut die before they are born,

I hope, for a little while at least, you will mourn.

Ricky Gervais told a joke that’s true:

Liberals are not liberal. Some

Will never get that joke.

They will make a face, their stomach

Will churn. Your face and stomach

Will stop any joke from being funny.

The world is unwell. We can no longer

Say what we are anymore. Christians

Are not Christians. Muslims are not

Muslims—even if all the joking stops.

I cannot say anything about anything anymore;

I need to be a divine comic.

I cannot say what I’m saying. And you cannot

Say what you are saying in response—unless we laugh.

The only joke you tell that’s true

Is yours, making fun of you.



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Poetry is lazy and wants the lazy life to stay,

And with imagination, returns to yesterday.

Poets are lazy, and they lie against the wall,

Their feet on the bed, immeasurably tall.

I go back to Riverside Drive in my mind.

Anna Akhmatova. My childhood was anything but blind.

Poetry is lazy; the best of it is lazy, with a dying fall.

A lazy poet wants to tell you he’s here—

But not in this young, busy atmosphere.

You have no idea how lazy the gods are,

Those titans of the past, who hardly move,

Standing around like that steady star:

The visible point of your lost love—

And everything you are.

Poetry is lazy. It spends time on the face,

Before it kisses the body of the poem.

Look, it’s right here. This is the poem:

Take my disgrace.



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Why can’t this poem please right away?

Why must this poem be read?

Why do poems need to be collected,

To live in books when the poet is dead?

How does someone survive all the hours of a day

Without imagination?

Why do I need to write you a love poem?

Immediately love can be expressed;

But instead we enter the long poem’s waste;

It was a waste to translate my love into loveless words—

So you might deign to see my design in them,

Travel backwards in them, to what is nothing

But my desire, which looks to be satisfied immediately,

Prior to all this useless poetry.

And no poem could cause my desire to go, or stay.

Why can’t love be love?

Why can’t a poem please right away?





Honesty is uncertain. There’s too much to know,

Which makes the world honest, uncertain

Because of all the things to know. This is why

Dishonesty, appearing to know, and winning

Over shy uncertainty with its bold act,

Runs things, trampling on honesty and tact.

But if there were not so many things to know,

If there were not so much uncertainty and honesty,

The world would not be fraught

With so much swift dishonesty. Because I was fooled

By your certainty, I was ruled

By your certainty; and you, by my certainty;

Uncertain pilots—but somehow we flew.

We loved completely and dishonestly,

You betraying me, and me betraying you.

This was how we loved. And this was all we knew.



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Compiling this list, as we looked over decades of music, we found ourselves asking, “What happened to the two minute pop song?”

In 2015, streaming became the best source of revenue in the music business.  In streaming, the shorter the song, the more it can be heard, and this equals more money.

So guess what’s happening?

Songs are getting shorter.

In 2000, the average song on the charts was over 4 minutes.

Now we’re down to about three and a half minutes, and two minute songs (and shorter) are beginning to pop up, again.

For almost 50 years, the two minute hit song has been dead.

Now it’s coming back.

Most of the songs on this list are from the 50s and 60s.

If you don’t see your favorite artist, it could be because they never made a mark under two and a half minutes.

We were very strict with this list.  The most glorious songs running to 2:31 were rejected.

At first, we set the standard at 2:06, the length of “Yesterday,” the pace setter, but too many short songs recorded by masters of brief hits would have been left out, so we settled on two and a half minutes—interminable, if one doesn’t happen to like the song, but still brief enough to meet the standard.

Elvis and the Beatles had hits under two minutes; these two famous acts produced many great songs in the ‘two minutes’ territory. (To keep the list from being dominated by the Beatles, we had to leave off All My Loving, She Loves You, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Martha My Dear, and many other favorites.) Producing a short recording isn’t easy for songwriters and bands to do. A 12 bar blues song tends to be at least three minutes. Most popular songs before and after (and during) the Elvis/early Beatles era were three or four minutes long. Groups like Devo, the Sex Pistols, the B-52s, and even the Ramones, usually took at least 3 minutes to say what they needed to say. Commercial reasons aside, one wonders: did the relatively short length of their songs (done consciously?) give Elvis and the Beatles a feverish, energetic boost as artists?

Whole decades are dominated by songs averaging four minutes in length—the whole philosophical, or just stylistic question, of the duration of a song, is a fascinating one. What if Mozart and Beethoven symphonies were all four minutes long—would these masters be considered “easy listening?”  How long do we want a song to be?  What imposes length? We think immediately of commercial air time, or now, commercial streaming time. But certainly aesthetics plays a part.

Two minutes is plenty of time to both tell a story and to feature intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and a short solo.  What else do we need?

Time is precious.  We are busy people.

So let’s get right to the list, in no particular order:

1. Yesterday -The Beatles  ~Paul McCartney, perhaps the happiest person on the planet, dreamed this brief gem of a broken-hearted song in the middle of Beatlemania.

2. Between The Bars -Elliott Smith ~This guy had a direct, poignant sound like no other.

3. You Don’t Own Me -Lesley Gore ~An early, operatic, feminist, masterpiece from the golden age of the short pop form.

4. Gin House Blues -Nina Simone  ~You probably don’t know this one. Off her early, great album “Forbidden Fruit.” It’s about gin. But does that matter?

5. All Shook Up -Elvis ~He ruled the short genre.

6. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want -The Smiths ~When you hear a song like this, you think, ‘Why does a song ever have to be long?”

7. White Rabbit -Jefferson Airplane  ~Is this song missing a chorus? Does it have a completely different structure, or does it just feel that way?

8. Universal Soldier -Buffy St. Marie ~This is more than a 60s anti-war song; it’s a whole soul cry.

9. The Good Life -Tony Bennett ~Even when pop songs were elegant, they featured lyrics which were partially a mystery. Please tell me what this song means!

10. Subterranean Homesick Blues -Bob Dylan This is one of his shortest. His pop genius tended to express itself in three to six minutes.

11. Ferry Cross the Mersey -Gerry and the Pacemakers ~The lilting, lazy (but brief) way to pop immortality.

12. A Day In The Life Of A Fool -Harry Belafonte ~Not his signature song, but a great version of a classic, the one version we found which clocks in under 2:30.

13. Georgy Girl -The Seekers ~Do they write swift, catchy, urbane, hopeful songs like this anymore?

14. Fly Me To The Moon -Frank Sinatra ~”Grown-up” music like Frank’s tended to run three and a half minutes long, not two. This one’s a little over two. Obviously there’s no hurrying Frank.

15. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) -Simon & Garfunkel ~A breezy, under-two-minutes, swirl of swooning, 60s harmonizing.

16. Summertime Blues -Eddie Cochran ~A teenage, working class, lament—from 1958, covered in a live recording by The Who, in 1967.

17. Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat -Guys and Dolls ~A full but fast Broadway musical number of arch religious urgency.

18. Bad Moon Rising -Creedance Clearwater Revival ~Pure, neat, and rocking.

19. Immigrant Song -Led Zeppelin ~They led the FM radio, longer song, wave of earnest rock; this minor hit from their third album is uncharacteristically quick.

20. Fun Fun Fun -The Beach Boys ~No surprise that they had short songs.

21. People Are Strange -The Doors ~The bad boys of AM radio loved the long song almost more than anyone else. But they had structured pop brevity, too.

22. Elenore -The Turtles ~Joyous romanticism.

23. Sealed With A Kiss -Brian Hyland ~A very pretty song, with the perfect bridge.

24. She’s Not There -The Zombies ~Beatles plus Dylan. Add mood.

25. Everyday -Buddy Holly ~The nerd Elvis. Died at 24.

26. I Fought The Law -Bobby Fuller Four ~Rolling rhythm of iconoclasm.

27. Eleanor Rigby-The Beatles ~Bite-sized classical music

28. Play With Fire -The Rolling Stones ~The Stones tended to stretch out; in this early, brief song, they ply one of their common themes: telling a chick who’s boss.

29. Plays Pretty For Baby -Saosin ~This rocks beautifully for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

30. I Want To Hold Your Hand -The Beatles ~Their early hits get right to it; no lengthy intros, solos, or fade outs.

31. Teas -Donovan ~The most talented folk rocker of them all? Even this obscure song is great.

32. You Really Got Me -The Kinks ~Ray Davies began writing songs because he didn’t like the songs his talented band was covering. Great songwriting in the 60s was an amateur explosion.

33. The Needle and the Damage Done -Neil Young ~The somberest pleasure.

34. Dance Music -Mountain Goats ~Upbeat, hipster-era song with autobiographical feel.

35. Blister in the Sun -Violent Femmes ~Post-60s mannerism.

37. Blitzkrieg Bop -The Ramones ~When parody is so menacing and serious it’s good.

38. September Song -Nat King Cole ~A wonderful melancholy pop song and a wonderful melancholy  pop singer.

39. Let’s Twist Again -Chubby Checker ~Dance informs song in one way or another.

40. Falling In Love Again -Marlene Dietrich ~She’s had enough of you. But you want her.

41. Roll Over Beethoven -Chuck Berry ~It wasn’t true that Beethoven could be so good and  little pop numbers could also please. But it was true.

42. Blueberry Hill -Fats Domino ~When blues became pop.

43. Tutti Frutti -Little Richard ~A voice that goes through the roof even as electric is taking over the house.

44. La Bamba -Ritchie Valens ~The guitars on this song are fantastic—speaking Spanish or not.

45. Wake Up Little Susie -Everly Brothers ~Everything: Rock, country, folk, great guitar playing, great vocals, story, hooks.

46. Gucci Gang -Lil Pump ~A tiger laughs in this video, a recent hit which shows rap songs getting shorter. The 2 minute hit is returning.

47. Massachusetts -Bee Gees ~Their melody and vocals have great charm.

48. It’s Nothing To Me -Sanford Clark ~A barroom fight story.

49. Fell In Love With A Girl -White Stripes ~Snappy vocals and crunchy rock sound.

50. Communist Daughter -Neutral Milk Hotel ~Crunchy melancholy with a nice trumpet solo.

51. Lump -Presidents of the United States of America ~Hard and catchy.

52. Wrong Way -Sublime ~Tells a miserable story fast, with knock-about energy.

53. Letterbox -They Might Be Giants ~This song (1:26!) has a nice ‘wall of sound’ sound.

54. Game of Pricks -Guided By Voices ~A minute thirty of driving guitars and nice chord changes.

54. Danville Girl -Pete Seeger ~A sweet, melancholy, hobo song. A treasure.

55. Norwegian Wood -The Beatles ~Even as they became more sophisticated, they retained their early-days-knack for ravishing brevity.

56. It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie -The Ink Spots ~Insouciant (and influential) blues/rock & roll—they formed in 1932! One of the best vocal groups of all time.

57. Ain’t No Sunshine -Bill Withers ~1970s Smooth.

58. This Land is Your Land -Woody Guthrie ~Folk music for the U.S.A.

59. Rocky Top -The Osborne Brothers ~Fast and sweet.

60. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy -Manfred Mann ~A great vocal, and a really fun song.

61. Walk Like A Man -The 4 Seasons ~Your great-grandfather’s rock n’ roll.

62. Run Away -Del Shannon ~Melancholy romp.

63. Honky Tonk Blues –Hank Williams ~The Poet of Country Blues

64. He’s A Rebel -The Crystals ~That undying theme: the outsider rebel who woos.

65. Love Potion Number 9 -The Searchers ~A song doesn’t need much time to tell a story.

66. Come See About Me -Supremes ~Motown gals.

67. You Gave Your Love To Me Softly -Weezer ~A big, fuzzy sound over traditional structure.

68. Don’t Be Scared -Daniel Johnston ~Nice song. Sometimes being less scared matters.

69. Nervous Breakdown -Black Flag ~The lyrics, performance, and music sync up well.

70. Black Hole -The Urinals ~When a punk song has a certain softness, it’s always interesting.

71. Loneliness -The Residents ~The apocalypse: in a murky one minute and seven seconds.

72. Come In Stranger -Johnny Cash ~Country guitar over boogie woogie, and that voice!

73. Single Pigeon -Paul McCartney ~After the Beatles. The greatest pop songwriter of them all?

74. Untitled -Bauhaus ~Spooky war sounds and mumbles.

75. Colossal Youth -Young Marble Giants ~Toy instrumentation and girl vocal.

77. Moulin Rouge -Tim Buckley ~A trumpet, a bit of French, a sweet, vampy vocal.

78. Dean’s Dream -The Dead Milkmen ~Some punk is punk—but practiced with art.

79. Outdoor Miner -Wire ~Exquisite pop number which fades out at 1:45 just because it wants to.

80. Orchid -Black Sabbath ~Spanish guitar sound in a ‘less is more lesson’ from Tony Iommi.

81. 30 Century Man -Scott Walker ~”See the dwarfs and see the giants…” 89 seconds of pondering an attitude.

82. She’s A Hunchback -The Dickies ~One minute and twenty seven seconds of melodic, rhyming, punk genius.

83. Remember the Day -Sibylle Baier ~The winsome dream of girl and guitar, languid and sweet. She’s fantastic.

84. Follow God -Kanye West ~Self-assured enough to say big things casually and briefly.

85. It Never Was You -Lotte Lenya ~Married to the songwriter, Weil, who wrote for Brecht.

86. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas -Judy Garland ~Her voice was too valuable to waste on a two minute song, but we found this Christmas song…

87. Second Hand Rose -Barbra Streisand ~The hit maker; this is from “Funny Girl.”

88. Hit The Road Jack -Ray Charles ~Brightly Percussive, with call-and-response.

89. Yes Indeed -Drake & Lil Baby ~Rap, backgrounded by its music, splits the mind.

90. Lazy Confessions -The Moldy Peaches ~Breathless hipsterism.

91. The Letter -The Box Tops ~A sophisticated, multi-instrument, formula hit in just 2 minutes.

92. Mercedes Benz -Janis Joplin ~G-Eazy’s rap song samples Joplin’s throw-away rather well.

93. Go In -Bigklit ~A recent girl rapper moving into short song territory.

94. Stay -Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs ~The falsetto “won’t you stay?” still excites.

95. Because -Dave Clark Five ~Iconic British invasion band originally formed to fund their soccer team’s travels.

96. I’m Henry VIII I Am -Herman’s Hermits ~Rock and roll can be kids music.

97. Jumpin’ Judy -Erik Darling ~From the folk album “True Religion,” one of the best ever made.

98. Yakety Yak -The Coasters ~A ‘clean your room’ song, fun, socially real, but innocent, and under 2 minutes.

99. Walking My Baby Back Home -Johnnie Ray ~Would have preferred “Cry,” but it was a little too long.

100. The Entertaining of a Shy Girl -Donovan ~If you don’t appreciate the genius of Donovan where have you been?

101. Black-eyed Susie -Ralph Stanley ~A bluegrass tempo can fit everything into two minutes.

102. The Scarecrow -Pink Floyd ~This band will always be Syd.

103. What’s New Pussycat -Tom Jones ~All that excitement in 2:09!

104. It’s Only A Paper Moon -Ella Fitzgerald ~”It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, just as phoney as it can be, but it wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.” A classic. And we cheated. The final note of this complex arrangement sounds at 2:32. For Ella we’ll do anything.



How shall we change the hard-working elders’ definition of sin—

And further, what exactly shall we wrap our late 19th century evil in,

So that we can do anything? OK first, let’s say

Why we want complete freedom. Today,

As long as it is today, is free.

Tomorrow features regrets and graves,

But today will always be sex and poetry.

So that’s our first good reason. Today

Forgets, doing what it wants now,

And tomorrow will just become today, anyhow.

So let’s do whatever we want for that clever, immediate reason.

And there’s a second reason: we’re lonely;

Evil, as you know, will always be lonely; evil is afraid—

We fear there’s nothing to sex and poetry,

And all that’s bright is destined for the shade.

So we want groups of people, our group

Made of groups, to prevent loneliness. A wild, full company

Of mobs thronging. The one mad troop,

Trooping self-consciously as a troop; we,

As the mob, the mob which knows itself as a mob,

The all, which knows itself as all,

Groups together for this reason alone,

An army for one purpose: standing tall

Against the one real enemy:

Loneliness. We feel this, naturally, because we fear

Darkness growing against our poetry.

What can we say otherwise,

Unless we are many, many eyes?

So this is what we wrap our evil in,

This is how we redefine our elders’ definition of sin:

Something must be done now.

It will be done, for tomorrow becomes today, anyhow,

And it will all be done

By all of us who doubt—which is, everyone—

We, who parade in long troops into the darkening hills, just because we fear

Our poetry and love ends right here.

But it doesn’t. As I pointed out

Today keeps arising, the deferral of our doubt

Is eternal. Our today

Loves eternally. You buy my poem forever,

No matter what it is. This is the way,

No matter who I am, my beliefs, what hills these are, or the weather.








Love always catches us loving superficial things;

Love is the mad, impetuous rush to embrace breasts, dresses, eye color, rings.

Here comes 2020, and we make a big deal of a date.

Can we save our love which died in 2013? No, the decade’s over. Too late.

All lovers suffer this paradox. Everything felt deeply

Was based on the trivial—

The most dramatic love, singing with poetry,

Was the one based on a raindrop whim.

The love which was dramatically full

Was the one which immediately became empty!

You asked me to give up the “good life,”

As your creeping heteropessimism

And woke disgust with “old boy”capitalism

Filled your heart, the more you saw me as someone who desired you as a wife.

I wasn’t reading the same woke signs

You were reading. I just thought you were being involuntarily cryptic, sad, unkind.

And you were. Love is never about the world at large;

Love is inane, private, trivial things.

Cleopatra gliding on her perfumed barge

Is not love. And when Frank Sinatra sings,

That’s not love, either. Nor Bruno Mars. Love isn’t Queer Theory

Or marriage, or socialism, or the “good life,” or years.

Love is you, confused by me, confused by you, crying small, small tears.






Everyone is being polite,

And that’s the problem with the poetry tonight.

Everyone praises, so I cannot tell

Whether I am doing well.

Publish me in your magazine;

OK. Now it’s impolite to say what else you mean.

Look at all these modern, busy bees:

Poetry’s unspoken absurdities.

The truth, which is both common and dear,

Enforces its reality then, and now,

But so coyly, I never know when, or how

Truth is calling, or not calling my name:

“Here I am!” But truth, and the search for truth are not the same.

Tonight we wanted to discuss the MFA:

Legitimate, or not? We were too polite to say;

Those who had one, taught in one,

Earned their living from an MFA,

Were too vulnerable. There was nothing we could say.

Polite is best when driving—traffic laws have one object:

Agree. To get home, I will let

You go first. No poetry here. The stop

Sign works best when it’s obeyed.

“G’nite Mrs. Richards, g’nite Sal!”

Delay here—so later you won’t get delayed;

Accommodate the motions

Of all; but why do we have such odd notions

Of poets and poetry? Poetry isn’t traffic.

The point of poetry is not for everyone to get along

By stopping and conceding and delaying.

Poetry is the immediacy of song;

Poetry runs the stop sign of all saying,

No poet can tell poetry what to say.

Poetry is not like truth, in that truth

And the search for truth are not the same.

Poetry is not polite, ordered by route and name.

Poetry is honest. Poetry seeks blame.

Poetry seeks revenge. Poetry knows evil.

Poetry loves crooked and level.

Poetry spills the beans.

Poetry peels off everyone’s jeans

And laughs. Poetry will not be dropped

For something else; song can’t be stopped.

Poetry, and what I’m saying

About you, are the same. Delaying

Is impossible. What I’m saying

On the poetry is the poetry,

Was the poetry, and will always be the poetry.

Poetry and truth are the same.

Jonathan! Do you see how hypocrisy dies in my flame?








I love war, since the fight over beauty

Fights to preserve the most beautiful beauty—

The flower allowing every bee a taste—

So that beauty is never a waste,

And beauty at last is wise and witty;

And beauties will knock down every door—

You know the old story: nature wants more.

And beauty? Beauty is both check and urge

On the cloudy bank backing the pinkish, war-like, surge—

And the most beautiful ones amass,

So that no one on beauty may pass.

Cain is self-evidently ugly and jealous,

History, the cleaning up of the murdering mess.

I feel great when love is avenged,

Even after years; across the centuries, love’s vigilance is ranged.

Weeds need peace to march along

Without one beautiful song.

Love is the lazy sublimity

Of my war’s competitive poetry.

Yes, with a sigh, I compete;

My verse for all that, still selfless and sweet.

You don’t believe it? Look:

I am not my poem. Even when it cries about you and me in this book.

Love became blood, when I, the aggressor

Contradicted the grim professor

On her behalf—

The silk, abstract, giraffe,

The lovely, panting, gazelle—

Who I knew so well;

Also, that professor,

Whose views on beauty insulted her,

The most beautiful, who embarrassed

Him—and his footnoted events of the past;

The sad women covered by plain cloth wrapped,

In the proper strapping of the strapped,

Not to mention the historic anomalies.

Now Beauty with beauty agrees,

And all those not beautiful are in dispute;

Unfortunately, the Committee of the Non-Beautiful agrees

To wage war against her, and her beauties.

Even though I love them, I don’t have the time

For them, all these beauties who rhyme,

Their poems which let me worship them,

Clothes on the flower, perfume on the stem,

The root crowned by a sigh and a diadem.

Established by our rank, we,

May not be in the rank of beauty;

For these, Plato said,

Are either soldier, artisan, or the philosophical godhead,

Not these wine goblets of flowers

Which furnish us our forgetfulness in our amber and austere hours.

Am I forgetting someone?

War acting like love, but with an empty gun?

Nature plotting increase with increase, the whole plot;

Artificial shortage, the only thing, finally, the wealthy villain has got.

Whip on these horses onto the easily invaded plain,

Go for the table settings.

I, the humble lover, remain,

Enabled by Abel, and watched by Cain.


How is this prison, if I’m imprisoned with you?

There are no fresh breezes here, no new

Sights to see, no intelligent, winding ways,

No green paths for any of these days.

But to me, confinement is true

When confinement is me

In confinement with you.

When it’s me who discovers

You—as all other lovers,

With places to go,

Fade—and by this prison I slow;

I look: the only fact

Is this prison, and by this prison I know

Facts, prisons, prisoners. To act

Like there is more would be the source of all my woe.

I leave hope, and all the cunning

Optimism I know—

Look, the rats are running—I go

Slowly into the prison where you

Are my face, and you are everything I do.

You have put yourself there.

Why do I need fresh air

When your breath holds my care—

When your arms, which have waited for me,

Hold me dearly against your poetry,

And your fate which drew me in

Is the only lesson with which I begin?

It is this poem—announcing prison—

Which is the limit, not of this prison,

But of this world—one I believed

Was real, and one I grieved.

A world I believed was everything. But no;

Your way; you; prison, and you—

All my prison, all I know,

Imprisoned in, imprisoned with you;

You looking in my eye, looking in yours,

You allowing me, now, to stay,

As I can, and will,

All prisoners, all poets, lying this still.




This poet is not only beautiful, she will write

On whether days are better for writing,

Or whether it’s better to write poems at night.

I bet you didn’t know this was important to know.

I didn’t know about these narrow streets of advice.

Advice runs through every town. In Kosovo

Her boyfriend was a menace door to door

And later was beat up by VA police

When he sought mental health counseling

Denied by the agency, out of reach

Since he tested positive after the weekend at Myrtle Beach.

You cannot have simple views of veterans

And wars. Free money breeds corruption.

And war? Get in uniform. Take the tour.

Work at filing in a mononotous job. War.

You’ll see how it all gets started, when

You can’t take it anymore. When the yen

Rises or falls against the dollar, when

You get home from work drenched in sweat.

When your job depends on suspicious people you’ve never met.

We know how the madness starts; if you only

Had some kind of skill to keep

You out of trouble. Why did you go

After short term pleasure? I know, I know,

You were sick of advice, sick of being taught.

You figured out too late how everything—everything—is sold. You bought

What was waved in front of your face,

Graphically. You trusted your eyes.

Beauty is a business. Yes, I like her poetry, too.

Veteran’s Day? What exactly does it mean to you?

The Great War’s Armistice. You know what they say:

What it really was: Screw the Germans Day.

She’s beautiful. She’s a poet. She’s also nice.

It isn’t the poetry. It’s the advice.






Image result for train at night in the station in painting"

Yesterday was your birthday,

And now I realize it was a holy day for me.

I didn’t do anything. I worked. I bought

Breakfast and lunch. I calmly thought,

With highest, secret pleasure, about you;

How strange to think that’s what I do:

To think all day, every day, about you.

But yesterday was your birthday,

And I believe it is a holy day—

Because I noted the day in my head,

And for no other reason. Your existence

Gives existence to mine. “Our love is dead,”

As they say, when two lovers break up; sure,

That happened. We don’t speak anymore.

In fact, I’m not allowed to speak to you.

And that makes it sweeter. I’m free.

To love without speaking, in secret poetry,

In sweet (or bitter) thoughts, I trace

All that happened: your beautiful face

Kissing mine. What else happened? I don’t know.

I was happy yesterday. My lunch was good. The train was a little slow.





Why shouldn’t I tell you only about myself?

This is all I know. I have not been

Conditioned to think I know the key to something else;

I will not lie, like all the rest.

Talking away from yourself

Is the best way to lie, but if I talk of me

Talking of me; if I cannot escape myself,

No lie is possible. This is truth and poetry.

They may say it’s selfish, or mad,

To be like this, to be self-obsessed;

But myself is not just what I know the best,

It is the only thing I know;

And if you are honest,

You know it, too.

You pretend and lie about everything else,

Don’t you?

Here is what we’ll do:

I will talk of me and you will talk of you,

Defending ourselves, not lying,

Exposing ourselves, laughing, crying,

Entering a heaven of intimacy

Defended by increasing self-examination and honesty;

If I pick up a guitar,

I will not teach; I will say here’s what I know I cannot do until you know it; we are

Receptacles ourselves of all knowledge.

We will examine ourselves in the world

Until we are geniuses in our honesty.

Your eye will be my eye.

And by ourselves there will be more expressed

Than all the science and all the manners pronounced by all the rest.

I’ll listen to you, and you’ll listen to me,

And in our irreverent originality,

With unbounded faith in ourselves,

No lie will mar our life and poetry.

And we will be like scientists, too;

Through pure honesty, I will be a scientist,

Who, until the end—oh God will there be an end?—loves you.





Image result for the song oh darling"

There is only yearning, and when I sing,

What will it be, but “oh darling?”

This is all I know, and the rest

Is a mystery; I love; I know that’s the best;

But what this means is, also, I don’t know,

Because love is never about what you know.

Love is only about when you sing

Those two words, “oh darling!”

The “oh” is the simple groan

Of passion, felt, expressed, but unknown,

In how it whispers or yells, inarticulate,

Passion the big expression inside the little bit.

There is nothing to understand, or know,

About that “oh!”

As far as the word, “darling,”

Here lies everything we might ever sing

In fondness, desperation, or praise.

There’s a recording; and it forever stays.

But most of the time we’re embarrassed; did you ever sing

To someone, “oh darling?”

I once loved curves and whims.

Now I love her thin limbs.

Tomorrow I’m going to sing,

“Oh darling!”

She will be surprised.

I’m going to discover a few things in her eyes.







Image result for shakespeare"

Let her love somebody else. She can. And will.

What if dogs could vote? No more “walks!” Open spaces for play!

Bark all the time! Woof! No more “dog food!” Only fresh kill!

Democracy gets whatever it wants. Some day

You will get a better government, where votes

Will not disappoint you; until then, don’t “educate.” Don’t say

Dogs are “damned dogs.” Don’t blame dogs. Democracy dotes

On winners, on breeding, breed-ist, dogs. Accept the loss.

Otherwise, democracy loses. And it’s not

Your loss, anyway.

When I say “Jesus Christ!” it offends my Catholic wife.

I was raised an atheist—but with Shakespeare, Christmas, and all the rest.

What the vulgar say has nothing to do with life.

Democracy is permanent. Losing to it, the best.

It doesn’t matter, outside the poem, what I say.

I don’t care if you’re black, Mexican, and trans-gay,

Or an earth model is on the spectrum of hot.

No one says you must love anything a lot.

She is allowed to

Love another. Even you.





Don’t look. Don’t read that book.

It is always better not to look.

The genius sees little, but what he sees

Invades his poetry with ease.

There is no exception; the world is full

Of horrible protesters protesting the horrible.

If you see too much

You will lose genius and its soft touch.

Superior knowledge will equal anxiety

And too many things inhibiting poetry.

The genius lets attractive illusion do

What sad knowledge is doing, too—

But sad knowledge

Thinks, and pays, and goes to college,

And is forced, in every instance, to acknowledge

The parts separated from the whole,

The parts which strive, in difficulty, for the soul of knowledge,

Studied and learned as parts in college,

Heaping up misunderstandings of the soul.

Being is majority, of which majority is the whole

Majority which, as the majority of the whole,

Represents the being of whatever lives as that

Whole thing which the parts are separated from,

And all the parts, to be real, become

Separated, the flaking off of sad parts

From the whole, and these hearts

Protest endlessly in pain

Like rain falling down on rain.

The protest is in vain.

I found my will

By saying nothing and standing still.

These parts, in cold, lonely, orbit

Would join the mass—but the movement runs them out of it.

The majority is all there is.

But wait. There is a quiz.

You have to figure out what the majority is.

There is only one sunshine in your eye.

The universe has no choice but to be one.

Amazed and sad, you see that I,

Happy poet, who wrote this one thing, am already done.






Image result for kanye loves god"

With that bragging confidence which drips cool,

Rap makes money, which allows you to be a fool.

But without money, your colorful attitude is annoying,

Hip hop a nerd mall cop when the money’s not pouring.

Simple beats and frank sexuality

May not be good poetry,

But visual brag,

Professional videos of modern classical music in drag,

Sampled thievery and party scenes,

Means the rapper doesn’t need to explain what he means.

The grunt is enough, the shuffling thug life

Cool to cuck, intriguing to wife.

But don’t ask me; rap songs all seem the same,

Like cigarettes, like bias, like anybody’s name.

What, you think I’m a racist because I don’t like Obama?

Do you think I hate my mother cause I don’t like your mama?


Here’s my chorus: Oh Shit.

Rap makes you confident; no person wants to be afraid,

And then some producer says hey you get paid.

I tried rap, and I’m still nice.

I know it’s just an act. But this is not an act: I’m your only vice.

You suffer, sorry.  This poem doesn’t give advice.

I saw your charity. So I knew you still loved me. That was nice.

Oh Shit.

Do you think you are good now? Is that it?






Image result for film noir bad guy"

The pundits kept talking “moderate”

And “suburban Republican women”

And I just wanted to scream.

There has never been a poet with a moderate dream.

Here, moderate does not exist.

The seasons take or give.

The airy cliffs frighten, or inspire;

The attractive view only in this light can live.

The rhyme scheme is either smooth or dire.

There is water, or graves.

There are melting ruins, or carefully hidden staves.

The least is not protected.

The old lives on, respected.

Or, sudden death

Mocks the intaken breath.

We don’t know what, from one minute to the next,

Will lie about, yawning; or jump up, and perplex.

There is no middle ground.

Either the poem is boring

Or it has a beautiful sound.

It is either: “I hate them, I hate them,

And because you hate them, I love you,”

Or: “I’m very sorry, I hate you, too.”

In America, how can the woman who is pro-life,

Love the abortionist?

The abortionist may love his wife,

The tallest mountain may be covered in mist,

But the moderate does not exist

In American politics.

The proud pro-choice block will not abide

Mothers not choosing; judgement looking at them and looking inside.

A “moderate” smoker. Sure, “moderate.”

Until you crave the one cigarette.

Mother? Poet? Do you want me, or not?

Moderate? There is no moderate:

I want to erase it, yes, that’s it,

Or, my God I love this poem a lot.









Image result for nativity scene in renaissance painting"

It is the holy time.

A political party is seeking a crime

They themselves are guilty of—

And love is used against love.

So spoke the evil right wing fanatic!

I loved. But I was in a panic!

The other party said.

Poetry is argument.

At least that isn’t dead.

Here is the rhyme—

Which indicates the crime.

But here is what you feared: a simple, cold breeze

Has come. The pledge of allegiance

Has become a strip tease. You are calm and proud

No more. Once, you were cunning and correct and loud.

You, too, now find,

You are hated, even for your most beautiful beliefs,

And those who hate you are deliberately blind.

The majority you strove

To join couldn’t love

The minority—mocked, and left behind;

You were, but you accuse them, of being unkind.

You had safety and numbers, but then you wouldn’t give—

Though mostly a child,

And the world was wild—

You merely enjoyed, and meanwhile others couldn’t live

Because you fed on what they couldn’t have—

And now they tell you, “you are bad.”

But you are not bad, they

Would have been as you; what they say

Is deliberately blind.

No one wants to seem unkind—

But they—like you—are;

Because death is, and this star

Is finally far too far.





Image result for woman waiting by the sea in painting"

You waited for me,

Though I was much delayed;

I orbited into the blue

And you stayed.

I found much to distract

Me—when I should have been thinking of you.

The years it took is a fact.

And yet you waited for me

By the vast, cold sea,

And every far star I was,

Was to you merely a mystery.

You waited by the shore

When you shouldn’t have waited anymore.

I came into starlight by accident,

Wandering far above the air.

You knew what the waiting meant

But didn’t care.

You waited for me.

The only reward, the poetry.



Image result for goddess crowned by the river in renaissance painting"

Only Democracy should be crowned—

Like her, who the Athenians found

Weeping by the spring where Narcissus drowned—

Like her, the daughter of Egypt, who found

Smiling in the river, the child, in the singing reeds around—

Only Democracy unites, inside division,

All love, without regret or derision,

Because love eventually divides.

She decides. She decides.

She knows what you want,

You beautiful infant,

And knows how you want it, too.

Democracy kisses you

And whispers, “think it through.”

It is—and is not—about you.

Passion does not move her,

Lies do not soothe her;

She tames the mob with a calm majority,

Replacing the mob’s energy

With something all understand:

Agreement out of disagreement,

Counted by her beautiful hand.

Don’t be afraid to lose.

Bend to the temporary rule of others,

Who will laugh at what you choose,

Because in bonding with love that dies

In the middle of the reed songs where the river lies,

Democracy waits with a terrible surprise:

Those who love the same as you,

Are vindicated, in both old and new.

Those, who mocked you, must see

You—loved by Democracy.

And when she takes away your day

You’ll cry. But love her. And obey.




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Because we cannot see

Words lying, poetry

Is impossible. Words are so good

At deception, poets, who would

Make you deceived,

Are never, themselves, believed.

The cunning it takes

To sweetly and obviously lie, makes

Poetry, poetry. But how can the poet lie

When words themselves deceive our ear and eye?

How can the poet fool

The frowning teacher in the school?

How can the poet deceive

The prose of life which makes us laugh and grieve?

I’ve been reading my old love’s poetry

For hours. I cannot see

One word meant for me.

I hear words. Not the poet. Not poetry.

This is why my muse seeks fame

Crying loudly hers, and my, name.








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The city officials were the ones to ask.

Organizing the event was an enormous task.

She had a personality which could tame

Any recalcitrance with the dropping of a name.

The poetry officials met with the city officials.

It would get done

Just as small trees with crooked branches grow under the sun.

Youth had no time for a PhD

But still they needed to stamp the poetry.

The right people wrote from LA

To recommend the low residency MFA

Earned in Brooklyn with her neurosis

Thanks to Rimbaud, the New Yorker,

A divorce, and two overdoses.

It was complicated to be

Keen to the right kind of poetry.

But the publisher said he would handle it.

Good had nothing to do with being a poet;

It was the news stories they mined,

Or the perception they were troubled, but kind.

And if you were to publish them,

They would be happy to publish you again.

But during these calculations there was also so much to do.

Me? I did nothing. I was the poet laureate of you.





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You wrote about the day.

You convinced others. But here’s what the one you love has to say:

Your poem is not yours, not because

It is someone else’s, but because it is mine.

Inspiration is all. Who cares who wrote that line?

You wrote this poem when you were alone

And thinking of me, and thinking is everything.

How, you ask, is the poem not your own? Because just like love,

Once love expresses itself, if it is not mine,

It is not love. Poems work the same way;

The subject is unique, I am unique—prior to what you’re going to say.

Love and poetry inhabit the same line.

The poem told you what you wanted to hear.

Your poem was death, but called you, “dear.”

And we are all guilty, and cannot love.

As your poem becomes more perfect, it flies from your reach.

You are forgotten.  Your poem they teach.

You wrote this poem, and because it was good, it turned into mine.

It was given. Not yours anymore. The love, the poem.

Stolen, though you wrote it, in darkness, alone.

In your spitting fire, it was done.

But now it belongs to the air.

I should have written it,

I could have written it. I did. This day, this night,

Was yours; after thinking of me, it was yours to rewrite,

After I kissed you—which made you want me,

And all that I was. In every line

You wanted me, and all I loved—what’s unique is mine.

Think deeply. What is your poetry?

It’s the sweetest thing rhetoric can do.

You never wanted it to be you.




Image result for mother and child in renaissance painting"

Everyone is in their bubble,

Because the protection of life is more important than life.

If we were constantly exposed to love,

There would be no love:

Romeo and Juliette

Would be trying to find each other yet.

One mistake by this child

Is the end, there is so much wild.

We are forced into themes

That make truisms of our dreams.

I guess I don’t know

When I can come and when I can go.

The legends and the news stories are repeated

Until even surreal poems are depleted.

I cannot make my mark.

The delighted light keeps moving into the dark.

Too many are asleep, or on the island where

Necessity has pinned them there.

The invisible decenteredness of each piece

Requires itself—this doesn’t cease!

Do you see how each line

Of my poem defines what I can’t define?

And my noble voice, a mosquito’s whine.

I was going to say something to make you happy,

My words the gush of a sweet fountain;

There’s only embarrassment before life’s enormous mountain.

We have one choice: to be tragic, or boring;

To be safe and dull—or get into trouble.

The tragic is real, it’s easy to die;

That’s why I’m in my bubble.

I barely see you, I barely hear you,

But when I do, I see, and hear

Sadness, vulnerability, fear.

Tell that joke: I heard it before.

There’s too much coming and going.

It’s cold. It’s noisy. I built this door.

You never opened mine.

(We pay everything for these tours.)

You didn’t see mine. You were behind yours.



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You’re a poet because you see how shallow

Everyone is, and you know in your heart

You are not shallow, but you don’t want to offend anyone

By telling them they are shallow.

Here’s the reason for poetry:

It’s not because you love the look

Of purple heather, and how it’s like the sea,

It’s because you want to be loved,

And are not as shallow as me.

Everyone wants to belong to everyone

But not every one is an Emily.

For every Emily, there’s a Bruce,

And in the sensitive poet war,

There’s no truce.

If you’re a poet named Bruce, and you want fame,

You better have an interesting last name.

I’m not a poet. I’m a guy,

And I look like Bruce. Looks don’t lie.

Fighting the shallow is the true poetry.

If Bruce wears makeup, that’s exactly

The shallow stuff people do

And that’s not you.

You know you’re not a Bruce, that’s easy,

But now you turn your attention to Emily.

You study her, and you find

She’s even more shallow than Bruce,

And this drives you out of your mind.

Poetry doesn’t like makeup and tattoos

And for every shallow selfie

And contrived self-deprecating remark,

Purple Emily moves further away from poetry.

And then there’s tough Meg,

Who, with sarcasm, takes Emily down a peg;

But this is an equally shallow move

And nothing you, as a poet, can love.

The shallow who try desperately to be deep

Are even more shallow than the shallow—

And just makes you weep,

Because nothing ruins poetry

Like learned obscurity.

Many are the obstacles to poetic fame.

Some involve a kiss

And some involve a name.

Some involve a publisher,

And one involves me,

Who knows you and judges you and loves you

More than your poetry,

Which nonetheless saves you, from the fate

Of love—which loves when it’s too late.




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The poet is upset tonight. He heard the news

Spun in national story after national story. The elites are turning the screws.

As a child, he rooted for the Minnesota Vikings. He ate

Headlines. When he saw the news anchor and the broadcaster were the same, it was too late.

He wore a sports jersey ironically for years.

He found addictions. All that was legitimate came apart in recriminations and tears.

He doesn’t say much. He doesn’t love a lot anymore.

He sees the futility. Oh the energy and the difficulty of the stores.

He does recall ancient fields. Her unraveling kiss.

And he takes infinite comfort from this:

All those involved in the fake news scam are dead.

Before you judge his demeanor, he should be read;

The poems which came from his mouth in song

Live forever, and correct all wrong.


Image result for black and white photo poetry gathering it Italy"

It is better for all involved,

Especially those, for whom, at length,

We pretended to have loved,

That right now, seeing it cannot be good,

We stop this charade of poetry altogether.

If it cannot be good, it is better

That it not be done.

Why gather around a small light and say it is the sun?

It is obvious it cannot get any better.

The evidence is in the attenuated pleasure

Which attends black marks which we call

Poetry, so that an anecdote cheerfully made

About the poem takes us into the light

And the poem itself is nothing

But the darkest possible prose showing off inside thick shade.

If the anecdote (my father and I went to Italy)

Is better than the poem, in every case,

Why does the poem show its face?

Why does the poem have to happen?

Because of the gaudy line of long tradition?

Or does poetry—as you call it—bring—how do you say it—fruition?

But what if, by that very tradition which apparently causes you to sigh,

This isn’t poetry? It is the crowds. It is the Italian sky.

We might be surrounded by the other arts;

Natural scenery, or this room,

Which can be put inside a frame,

And writing on that photograph—

Look! A photograph—you can put your name.

This might be art. But do you think it’s the same

When you name your father, or name

The district in Italy, where you took

The time to browse. Did you learn to cook?

Or this might be of interest—name the bank

Where you withdrew funds that day.

You could be Pound, and the adventures of a crank.

It’s poetry. We’ll listen. We’re in the audience. Go ahead and say

Whatever it is that’s supposed to be poetry.

Somewhere, someone is painting right now,

Learning how paint might invoke

Fate—the criticism of each brushstroke,

The afternoon light dying; in the group of people sitting next to me, someone spoke

Of just another day like this, the shadow

Covering all. The reading is over. Should I socialize? Or go?




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I don’t know any format—except this one, Scarriet, now in its tenth year—which attempts to bring together every kind of poet in one place.

There are four kinds of poets who never touch each other and exist in separate universes: the formalist poet, the colloquial poet, the professional, and the amateur. Poets of radically different styles insult one another, stylistically, that is—the novelist is more like the poet than different kinds of poets from each other. I can no longer go to a library or a bookstore and seek “poetry” without entering a shooting zone of competing forms and sentiments.

The colloquial now dominates the professional; the beautiful and well-made book cover of the contemporary poet hides more f-bombs than rhymes.

The professional, with their prizes and book deals, wants nothing to do with the amateur—who posts their accessible love poems online. The gulf is such, that a person “who hates poetry” will sooner read, and even like, the amateur’s efforts, before the well-connected professional will deign to glimpse what, in their opinion, is trash (or perhaps to their jealous consternation, good) given away too easily.

One delightful thing I’ve noticed: how a few selected words from a poet’s work can explain the entirety of the kind of poet they are; as much as this is true, it validates this list, and makes it more than just an exercise in which a formalist amateur like myself attempts to ram together, in a feverish fit of schadenfreude, things which do not belong.

These poets do belong together—or, rather, they do not.

Yet here they are.

Thomas Graves, Salem, MA 12/4/2019


1) Laura Foley “to look back and see, on the hilltop, our life, lit from inside.”

2) Luke Kennard “I take the murderer for coffee.”

3) Ilya Kaminsky “What is a child? A quiet between two bombardments.”

4) Kathleen Jamie “Walking in a waking dream I watched nineteen deer pour from ridge to glen-floor”

5) Linda Ashok  “the moon licked up the landscape with her fervent tongue”

6) Fiona Benson “How light I was. How doubtfully safe.”

7) Ben Mazer “Some must be publishers, and some must be spot on, in a horse drawn carriage, taking in the dawn”

8) Sushmita Gupta “She gave a last look at her solitary car, in her garage, with seats folded down so paintings could lay, the slope that rolled down the hill that ended in a roundabout, with palms and coloured grass that looked like hay.”

9) Stephen Cole “You still disturb the meadow with your words.”

10) Julia Alvarez “I’ve broken up with my true love man after man”

11) Brian Rihlmann “nail guns pop pop pop I heard stilettos on concrete the lady of old Reno wandering”

12) Patricia Smith “Who shot you, baby?”

13) Joie Bose “I see you in all the faces I see, crisscrossing the pavements aimlessly.”

14) Indah Widiastuti “Who is the poem I wrote? He speaks a language I never use; read by those I never know.”

15) Kevin Young “We curl down the slide one at a time, blue light at the end.”

16) Joy Harjo “I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.”

17) Jill McDonough “I am not interested in makeup. I am interested in jail.”

18) Chelsey Minnis “People in their nightgowns, smoking cigarettes, they give great speeches.”

19) Nabina Das “It’s in love that we wait & let all other loves wither & waste.”

20) Eliana Vanessa “impediment of roses: and this is not the sort of thing you can control, no, how our bodies trembled, post-love, nor the way I will keep falling, to explain it, just so.”

21) Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Splinter the sun, wake all its ashes.”

22) Dorianne Laux “Broken the days into nights, the night sky into stars”

23) Sharon Olds “I caught bees, by the wings, and held them”

24) Alicia Ostriker “there are no pauses in this game”

25) Tishani Doshi “to fall into that same oblivion with nothing. As if it were nothing.”

26) Vidyan Ravinthiran “this isn’t the right kind of snow.”

27) Glyn Maxwell “he goes his way delighted”

28) Anne Carson “During the sermon, I crossed my legs.”

29) Peter Gizzi “I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.”

30) Li-Young Lee “From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

31) Blake Campbell “And he entered, great spelunker, the resonant and ancient darkness”

32) Diana Khoi Nguyen “You cannot keep your brother alive.”

33) Marilyn Chin “I watched the world shrink into a penlight: how frail the court poet’s neck, how small this poetry world.”

34) Fanny Howe “We are always halfway there when we are here”

35) Babitha Marina Justin “It is rolling from roof to roof”

36) Meera Nair “You set us up against each other. Men against Women. We are all bovine.”

37) Anthony Anaxagorou “is that your hand still on my elbow?”

38) Tracy K. Smith “We wish to act. We may yet.”

39) Wendy Videlock “He watches ball. She throws a fit. She cannot stand to see him sit.”

40) Daipayan Nair “Autumn leaf! Nothing to keep—apart from beauty.”

41) Mary Angela Douglas “and let the tiny silver trumpets blow”

42) Carolyn Forché “What you have heard is true.”

43) Martin Espada “No one could hear him.”

44) Tina Chang “love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.”

45) Danez Smith “I have left earth.”

46) Ocean Vuong “this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning into a tongue.”

47) Eleanor Wilner “the blood that is pouring like a tide, on other shores.”

48) Marge Piercy “a woman is not made of flesh: she is manufactured like a sports sedan”

49) Yusef Komunyakka “My muse is holding me prisoner.”

50) Naomi Shihab Nye “Each day I miss Japanese precision.”

51) Terrance Hayes “I love how your blackness leaves them in the dark.”

52) Carl Dennis “Lending a hand, I’d tell him, is always dignified, while being a hero is incidental.”

53) Jeet Thayil “Some are sweet and old, others are foul-mouthed and bold. Mine is dead and cold.”

54) Victoria Chang “Her last words were in English. She asked for a Sprite.”

55) Kushal Poddar “ferns, orchids, hyacinths sprawl like insomniac veins.”

56) Karen Solie “We itch and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke”

57) Richard Blanco “Stare until the trembling leaves are tongues”

58) Paul Muldoon “putting its shoulder to the wheel it means to reinvent.”

59) Safiya Sinclair “Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark”

60) Frank Bidart “Fucked up, you know you’d never fall for someone not fucked up.”

61) Nick Flynn “My therapist points out that fifteen minutes of movie violence releases as many opiates into the body as if being prepped for major surgery.”

62) Jennifer Moss “all beauty turned hostile”

63) Fatimah Asghar “your lantern long ahead & I follow I follow”

64) Hannah Sullivan “All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.”

65) Jamal May “The counting that says, I am this far. I am this close.”

66) William Logan “Don’t be any form’s bitch.”

67) Juan Felipe Herrera “No food. No food no food no food no food!”

68) Hera Lindsay Bird “it was probably love that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true”

69) Ae Hee Lee “She asks your husband to step in.”

70) Jay Bernard “I file it under fire, corpus, body, house.”

71) Sophie Collins “pails full of oil all dark and density and difficult for a girl to carry”

72) Hollie McNish “I let myself go cycling slow as I unbutton my clothes jacket unzipped helmet unclipped”

73) Zaffar Kunial “I didn’t know the word for what I was.”

74) Paul Farley “he fell up the dark stairwell to bed and projected right through to Australia”

75) Deryn Rees-Jones “The movie I’m in is black and white.”

76) Roger Robinson “he picks you up in the hand not holding the book”

77) Lloyd Schwartz “or if not the girl, then Vermeer’s painting of her”

78) Nalini Priyadarshni “but I love tea and so do you.”

79) Raquel  Balboni “Come off as harsh even if I’m friendly”

80) Robert Pinsky “When I had no temple I made my voice my temple.”

81) Emily Lawson “I step out to meet the wanderer: its black-veined hindwings”

82) Bruce Weigl “Why do we murder ourselves and then try to live forever.”

83) Steph Burt “I want to go home, paint my nails until they iridesce, clamp on my headphones, and pray to Taylor Swift.”

84) Merryn Juliette “There is no ceremony to her—she was simply there when yesterday she was not”

85) Thomas Sayers Ellis “It’s entrancement, how they govern you. The entertainment is side effect.”

86) Amy Gerstler “Here on earth, another rough era is birthed.”

87) Rupi Kaur “i change what i am wearing five times before i see you”

88) Forrest Gander “What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark?”

89) Justin Phillip Reed “when you fuck me and i don’t like it, is that violence.”

90) Franny Choi  “i pick up the accent of whoever i’m speaking to. nobody wants to fuck a sponge.”

91) Emily Skaja “when night came, an egg-moon slid over the steeple.”

92) Mary Ruefle “Night falls and the empty intimacy of the whole world fills my heart to frothing.”

93) Aaron Smith “If a man is given dick, he’s never full.”

94) Donald Revell “Time might be anything, even the least portion of shadow in the blaze, that helpless Hare of darkness in the hawk’s world.”

95) Dan Sociu “people have infinite capacity for transformation, into anything, and I know that I myself can transform”

96) Ben Zarov “There are many, many wrong ways.”

97)  Adil Jussawalla “Twenty years on, its feet broken, will its hands fly to its face when a light’s switched on?”

98) Steven Cramer “no matter how we plead they won’t come down.”

99) George Bilgere “My father would take off his jacket and tie after work and fire up the back yard grill. Scotch and a lawn chair was his idea of nature. Even Thoreau only lasted a couple of years.”

100) Ravi Shankar “I watch, repose, alone.”


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I wish I did not think so much.

Thinking makes me afraid.

But on the other hand—

There is sun. And there is shade.

And really, what does thinking do

About the dark, the sound of breathing, you?

It’s not thinking’s fault. If there’s a crippled, tortured, natural, mess—

The pain is not from thinking more;

The fault lies with thinking less.

Thinking manifests itself in expertise,

Which is the only thing we adore:

The face, calm, the ball hit, the word found, in a breeze.

Philosophy makes thought plunge ahead

Into thinking we usually associate with dread:

The reason we die, the reason we think.

Let’s meet for dinner, let’s have a drink.

Let’s not philosophize tonight.

Let’s put all thoughts about thoughts out of sight!

But that will not help. Thinking about

Thinking is poetry. Love the fruit of all doubt.

Love and poetry, the end of thinking!

(Sure, let’s have a drink, tonight.

Will it be orange or blue?

See, I see thought catching up to you.)

Thinking will be about thinking,

That’s what thought is, in the end.

Do you love me? Do you think me? Are you thinking

What kind of card, what kind of kiss, what kind of word, what kind of poem, you will send?

Thinking. Not thinking. Thinking. Thinking is our fate.

Thinking. Even though you think it is late.





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Language does not do

Anything. It adds not doing

To our being. It is unthinkable.

Just as when my mouth kisses and loves, I drink

The undrinkable.

But when I do not love, I drink

Everything she and I think,

When, apart from each other, we cannot love and kiss.

That’s when language misses what we miss.

The poem makes me confess—

(This is a paradox, but not a mess—)

I guess that’s what I wanted:

Breasts she happened to have;

I loved her for letting me have them,

But not her, and she despised me

For wanting them too desperately,

Even as to love them too indifferently

Were also something bad.

Life and love, not language, makes us mad;

Language introduces the unthinkable;

Language does not.

And this saves us,

Who would otherwise rend and tear and eat

The undrinkable.



Snow is warm, the scientists agree;

But if I explain this, would it be poetry?

“Winter kept us warm” is from T.S. Eliot,

But The Waste Land does not say a lot.

Don’t let the footnotes fool you; a show

Of learning isn’t learning. Can I explain? Snow

Is water vapor, and water vapor is the true

Greenhouse effect, not CO2.

Snow, therefore, is warm; what Eliot meant

Was emotional; he wasn’t of a scientific bent—

Oh but he was. He kept it mostly hidden;

The tradition he inherited was: poetry comes to one unbidden,

In a romantic shower of rain

As spring hurtles itself along the small English plain

Where the gray mist shows gray trees dripping

Outside a vine covered window where Aldous Huxley is tripping,

As he dies, but tries to live inside LSD;

Look through the window; you’ll see lots of poetry:

Wrinkled, clutching, hands, and a man about to go

Into a sweet afterlife of warm snow.



Romanticism is the attempt to bring what is important in life into poetry.

It is about love and romance only indirectly.

Take the following poem. The author is Edmund Waller, imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London for a political plot; born in 1606, he does not belong to the group of 19th century poets known as “the Romantics,” advertised as rebelling against 17th and 18th century poetry. The poem, however, is pure Romanticism—the much anthologized “Go, Lovely Rose:”

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me

That now she knows

When I remember her to thee,

How sweet and fair she  seems to be.


Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.


Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.


Then die, that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share,

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!


In examining this poem, we need to recognize some important things which will be missed if we merely list its formal properties—the worst way, obviously, to understand the essence of anything.

Facts defeat the fact, and this is why Socrates belongs to poetry’s wisdom more than Aristotle.

Moderns will be put off immediately by “Go, lovely rose!” But this is to fall into the error just mentioned—the facts cloud the fact.

“Go, lovely rose!” is, in its essence, a fact which eclipses the facts.

The facts are these: Poems say “Go, lovely rose!” but people, especially people today, do not.

The sounds of “go” and “lovely” and “rose” placed together are no accident, and therefore contrived, therefore limiting, and therefore insincere. It is a person speaking through a poem, and not a poem speaking as a person. So say the scholars, with their facts, today.

The facts of “Go, lovely rose!” point to technique—forced resemblances viewed throughout the poem, a damning list of rhythms and rhymes.

But the mystery is this. The following, too, is from another 17th century poet, James Shirley, from his book, Poems, published in 1646—when poets called their books “poems,” since this is what everyone happily understood them to be:

Within their buds let roses sleep,

And virgin lilies on their stem,

Till sighs from lovers glide and creep

Into their leaves to open them.

(from “The Garden”)

The facts, here, point to poetic language, too—sound similarities of great beauty. The rhythm of “into their leaves to open them” is exquisite. Whole libraries of 21st century poems don’t contain poetry like this.

Romanticism, as generally understood, began with Wordsworth’s revolutionary decree that poetry should speak as people do; but looking back, this is confusing, because Wordsworth’s poetry has much more in common with the 17th century poets than with poets of the 20th century.

OK, the scholars admit, Wordsworth said it, but didn’t do it; that came later.

And since poetry of the moderns established itself in the universities, as poets in the 20th century began to teach creative writing, poetry gained an educated sheen surpassing even the 17th century bards (think of Eliot’s footnotes, etc) before poetry finally succumbed to Wordsworth’s homely advice—in the far looser, award winning, efforts published under the name of “poetry” today.

So again, what is Romanticism?

Is Romanticism finally rhyming about flowers?

And if so, how can such a narrow definition even concern us today?

Well, here’s the fact that defeats the fact.

Romantic poetry is poetry which imitates life.

Modern poetry has only an accidental connection to life—for modern poetry is an activity in which self-expression is primary; and the individual, to be an individual, owes nothing to life—within any framed expression (poem) of an individual as an individual. Life, here, is meant in the sense in which it is always meant—life for everybody, and not for the individual. Not everyone is romantic. But life is romantic. Life is a set of conditions which furthers itself. Just as romantic conditions are necessary for romance, so the romantic poem is a set of conditions for romantic responses. The conditions created by romantic poems—beauty, the awareness that beauty quickly dies—are therefore sincere; they reflect life.

The connection between life and poetry is important. Why? Because we have seen, in the last 100 years or so, how poetry can get away with all kinds of shit—and this is one of the things we moderns admire about poetry: it can do whatever the hell it wants. It can be disorderly, and be simply for itself, and not a condition for anything. It can raise its voice. It can be vulgar. It can attempt to frighten, or shock. And it pretty much does this all the time now, even in, and especially in, the academically lauded sphere.

Once license becomes licensed, license tends to become all there is. And nothing will be protected once license is king, except license, since license is the end of all activity qua activity. Poetry is an activity. Life, which completely surrounds us, is not. The moderns are acutely aware of how efficient, modernized existence is a nexus of supporting activities—oil drilling is an activity which supports driving cars, and driving is an activity which supports commuting to work. Protesting oil drilling is also an activity, caught in the great activity nexus, a corrective response to oil drilling—and the correction itself is an activity. Education is an activity which carefully separates itself out into other activities, and one of these activities is poetry. And so on.

The activity, separated out from life, becomes, by the further activity of advertising in the modern world, an activity which is an end in itself. Advertisements for automobiles do not include scenes of cars being driven to work, or for errands—though this is what automobiles are mostly for; no, the advertisements always show driving as a beautiful and exciting activity, reveling in the self-contained activity of driving itself. This is how the advertising industry (the new poetry) depicts driving. Advertising, like any other activity, is not life.

Poetry, then, or modern poetry, is an activity, and known, and defended as such, as an activity which is for itself, just like any virtuous activity, such as driving, of which modern society tacitly approves. It is not quite accurate, then, to say “poetry can get away with all kinds of shit.” Poetry is free, as a modern activity, to be free within its identity as the activity which defines it as a modern activity, supporting, in otherwise unrelated ways, other activities which comprise the modern world. Poetry is an educational activity which promotes linguistic self-expression, and just as a car in an advertisement is never depicted as a commuting tool stuck in traffic, poetry advertised as such by those who nurture its existence in the university, present poetry as an activity which seeks license for its activity: linguistic self-expression in the free and experimental mode. The poetry is not “doing whatever it wants,” but is free in a different manner. It is by the approved nature of its activity qua activity, defined as self-expression in words, practiced experimentally and freely, that it can do anything at all. And since within this framework, it pursues license as an end in itself—which all activities, as advertised, do, and since license always promotes more license, poetry has become increasingly disorderly, since only life is truly conditional and contingent in a manner which requires order (intra-semblance) as a necessity.

Poetry today is highly disordered. It no longer has specific conditions, because this would get in the way of its hard-earned freedom. Romantic poetry, however, is a condition, and this is the whole point of Romantic poetry, and why it does not resemble license-seeking modern poetry.

I don’t like disorderly poetry.

Even if its disorderliness allows it to be about anything it wants.

Orderly and comely poetry is the effect which literary Romanticism promotes, and this orderly condition, like a pleasant bedroom with a fireplace, this atmosphere (merely atmosphere to the modern reader who is quick to find overt romanticism superficial) belongs to the very process which makes conditions infinitely multiply, which makes romantic poetry a reflection of life—due to that very conditionality.

I like beautiful lines of poetry intentionally made, thus made with greater frequency than in colloquial poetry, in which poetic lines emerge accidentally from the prose—and I read entire books recently published in which not one line of poetry can be found, so dense is the book with the honest and colloquial prose of self-expression.

But the Romanticsm we are seeking in this essay is not merely what might be called the sonorous, superficial beauty of “Go, lovely rose!” Once we reject license in self-expression, which includes the commandment to sound how “real” people talk, as the primary criterion of poetry, the poem is now, ironically, free to imitate life, with all its contingencies, with greater facility.

Life, after all, continually alters things, enforces things, and imposes conditions, from without, on what we are doing; it isn’t Waller, then, who artificially approves of “Go, lovely rose!” Life  demands it; Waller isn’t permitted to speak colloquially (though he could) because a higher end is demanded—and higher ends are hidden within the conditions necessary to life. The concision of the poem’s opening, the lovely concision of its drama, like a simple pawn move in chess, operates beyond self-expression and towards conditionality itself. In order for the poet to speak, he sends “a lovely rose” to speak for him. The single word, “rose,” becomes a character in a drama. Self-expression, by any means possible, is replaced by a concise imitation of life, by any means possible. The poem’s message is enforced by the poet telling the rose what to say to his potential beloved. Waller is not expressing himself. He is writing a poem. “Go, lovely, rose!” achieves three things quickly and simultaneously; the swift expression of: beauty, drama, and theme. Mathematical expression annihilates self-expression. Romanticism is not the point at all. Conditionality is. The wooed, in every instance, must be won. The poet is presenting the example of the rose to the reader, by comparing rose and beloved; the alacrity of the expression itself matches the urgency of the message: beauty (rose, person) fades. One aspect of the poem is necessitated by other aspects of the poem, and all of these aspects are dependent on life, or wisdom about life, which gives rise to the poem as poem.

To illustrate Romantisicm from another angle, let’s look at its typical pejorative treatment by a 20th century critic: Delmore Schwartz on the romantic Yeats.

“…some of Yeats’s poems are full of a wisdom which must commend itself to and convince every man, Buddhist to Seventh Day Adventist. The second part of “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” is a passage the equal of Dante and Shakespeare at their best. But in general, the point of view of Yeats’s verse is romantic in its assumptions and its conclusions.”

Note the assumption that “romantic” is bad, while the authors who gave the world Beatrice, Juliet, and Ophelia are held aloft as the highest standard.

Schwartz continues:

“Even when he sees and understands much more than the romantic poet, the lurid glow of romanticism nevertheless hangs over the scene.” …

“An easy instance is such a poem as “The Scholars.” These academic figures, bald-headed, coughing and respectable, would be dumbfounded, the poet suggests, if they met Catullus or the other poets whom they edit and annotate, making a learned text of the lines

“That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love’s despair

To flatter beauty’s ear”

“How utterly banal a view! No doubt, some scholars are worthy of contempt for the reasons advanced by the poet. It is not a question of the character of the scholar, past or present, nor is it necessary to suppose that scholars are handsome and heroic figures. What one finds essentially wrong here is the romantic triteness and stupidity of the attitude, the implied contempt for learning because it is painstaking and not spontaneous, the schoolboy’s view of the absentminded professor, and the Bohemian’s notion of academicism: ‘All (that is, all the scholars) think what other people think,’ Yeats wrote, thinking what other people think.”

—Delmore Schwartz, “An Unwritten Book,” from Selected Essays; originally published 1942, The Southern Review

Schwartz, the Modernist, thinks of scholars as contributing to an important and valued activity, complete and worthy in itself. He concedes there might be some inferior scholars, as Yeats depicts them, but not all of them can possibly be that way—otherwise the “activity” of scholarship would be invalid, which, as Schwartz understands it, is impossible.  But when Socrates said he could not automatically transfer his wisdom to another person who happened to sit down beside him, the Athenian did not mean some, he meant all. The romantic poet, according to “The Scholars,” owes his poetry to desire, not scholarship—the former writes the poem; the latter merely edits it.

The “spontaneous” is the immediacy of beauty, the glory of unhindered free speech, the brevity of wit, the quickness and certainty of love, the leap of understanding (eureka) by the  scientist, and yet this term is the object of Schwartz’s scorn; the “painstaking” is a scholarly virtue, for Schwartz, attempting at a young age to please his New Critic masters, as he calls Yeats’ theme “trite” and “stupid.”

Here’s the thing. The “activity” is always “painstaking,” and sometimes evil, whereas romanticism never is. Schwartz, a brilliant short story writer, poet, and critic, currently enjoying a revival thanks to Ben Mazer and others, is nevertheless wrong in this instance, poisoned by the Modernism of his time.

It is true that the “painstaking” is often for the good—laying transatlantic cable, Mozart hand-writing his music, etc—but life in poetry is always a good, while any painstaking activity, weighed in the balance, is always, in itself, bad. “The Scholars” is a great poem.

The romantic poet participates in life, which includes love. The scholar belongs to an activity—which is different. This Schwartz view sees only a series of activities, with practitioners sometimes more, or sometimes less, skilled at the activity at hand. Romanticism is not an activity, however; it is life. Yeats does not say there should be no more scholars—there will always be scholars, just as there will always be cakes and ale.

Even as the occasional poet will avoid cakes and ale—and be the much better poet for it.

Life is finally the critic. Life is finally the poet.

Romanticism, a term which arose, in fact, as a subtle form of abuse by modernist scholars, happens to describe, quite often, the true poetic effect—which the painstaking, modernist scholar is unable to grasp.

Sometimes the light does not go on.



Image result for two lovers on a walk in renaissance painting

There was a conversation I had—

Superficial when I laughed;

Sincere, when I was sad.

I’m thinking, where is this conversation going?

Why do I hang between ignorance and knowing?

I’m sorry I don’t understand the poem.

Why is life a conversation,

Suddenly in the middle, and never done?

Either I agree or disagree,

And then, after that, do I have to reply?

Why did I chuckle? Who am I?

Why is silence so uncomfortable?

I’m not forthcoming. Shame makes me dull.

I didn’t pick this conversation. I never do.

Otherwise it feels like someone’s coming after you.

People are great! But I hate these halting talks,

And the wordy observations we make on our walks.

If you only knew how I hate this. The full

Rot of it all. Rosalinda? Hey. Are you comfortable?



Image result for shakespeare's sonnets the young man in renaissance painting

The lie of now

Is my truth against the grave.

The truth is what will happen.

So now can lie, and save

Everything. It doesn’t matter how,

Or whether I’ll be happy. I am happy now.

I won’t be happy then, and the proof

Is what we know of death, and what we learn of truth.

Don’t dismiss my folly so fast;

The untruth of now is better than the past,

Which is so true,

It includes me, and kissing, and you.

But the future is completely wrong:

No you, no kissing, no song.

Nothing. Yet completely true.

So kiss me, now. Now is all I know of you.



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Why did you sigh?

Perhaps this is why:

You will always be

Someone else’s subjectivity.

We are trapped in the cutting net of ourselves.

You cannot be private, or alone.

You never are. You are forever known

By another’s knowing.

You cannot arrive. Someone else is going.

You cannot love. Someone else is hating.

You cannot achieve. Someone else is waiting.

Your charity is futile, too.

In every sense, you are not you.

You are an object—never your own.

This is why you sigh. And cry. And groan!

Nothing is certain, but that you

Are not. The sighing and the groaning, too.

And so, this is why

I smile, when you sigh,

I laugh, when you stumble downward and cry.

I will fall, too,

The same, but far from you.

Oh yes, I hear your plea.

But my hearing is your fee;

You? You? You? Give everything to me.


Image result for sleeplessness in painting

Saying it without saying it

Is the entire creed of the poet.

He will read you, slowly, Swinburne,

Or Wordsworth. To love? Or learn?

He wants you to live beside

His verses of inspiration; the fertile ground

Where, together, you and he may hide,

Greenery shaped to your desires—

Whether it is wet, or steep, or round.

The poet announces when the poem is over;

He says when the inspiration quits;

He loves you almost as much as he loves other poets.

A poem keeps reading him.

A semi-colon keeps him up.

A poem has the night figured out;

It knows every moment. Though sleepless and full of doubt.

He failed to say whether he would be

Able to live with you. Read his poetry;

There you might hear

Of pearl and white; that was a tear;

He didn’t say; he didn’t say;

He failed; it’s true—he loved you entirely.

And aren’t you a poet, too?  Don’t we cry, “I didn’t love them enough?”

Why can’t you say it? “I love! I love!”



Image result for man reading the newspaper in painting

The attempt to own the things we see

Is impossible. It was easier to own me.

All you had to do was fall in love—and be

Everything that I might call my poetry.

Now I register everything you do,

Even faintly, by a rumor, but it’s you; it’s you:

In things I read about—we no longer talk,

In things I remember—we no longer walk

Side by side; in things—is that really you,

Doing, I hear, what I know you never used to do?

You are changing for the better, you

Own me. It’s nearly nothing. But you do.



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