ALL THAT CRAWLS

All that crawls, walks and flies,

All that is beautiful, and more beautiful, dies.

Love that shoots up in flames of love, like fire,

Dies in the fire burning and dying, dies in its own desire.

We thought love would last forever, but knew

Even as we loved most intensely, this wasn’t true.

We argued—Romantic versus Modern—an argument primitive and wild,

The oldest argument—for and against the child.

There on the stairs she stood.

Beneath every sky I knew she was good.

Long futurity, the only repair for the question of death,

Was ours to kiss, the mouth, the lips, inside the lips, and the breath.

We kissed on the stairs, and more stairs, to escape the eyes

That might see us. But the love that sees itself, still dies.

See the love in the moon, the moon in tempestuous skies.

We had questions and arguments. I said only the child

Makes fires over graves, and turns horror to the responsible and the mild.

 

 

 

YOUR PAJAMAS

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Your pajamas were made a thousand years ago
In the cool, etruscan shade,
By people dreaming of romance and sex.
Are thousand year old thoughts of love needlessly complex?
Add cold weather and bring in the heater,
Cold culture, the Pinot Grigio, the speculation on Tyrannosaurus rex.
Is it the closet or the stock exchange
Which is needlessly complex?
They cover themselves in virtue because the letter
Of the law is in their purview—but is this better?
Cost and rationale are what Rosalinda expects.
Is the spirit of the law needlessly complex?
Rosalinda is nice to animals.
We note the law form, the dog poop, the ex.
Selling improvements, we see we are punished especially today
By the needlessly complex.
We know it is really about the gossip, the acting,
Not the nudity or sex.
I can’t believe she loves him! Is she blind?
What notes did the oboe play? May I hear them again?
Rosalinda makes no sense. Nor is she kind.

 

 

WHEN WE WRITE A GOOD POEM

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When we write a good poem

It is we who write the poem

It is we—it is really we—even if it seems me,

Solitary, glimpsed, standing beneath a tree,

Smoking in the cold rain,

Is the one writing the poetry.

I write because I don’t like pain—

None of us do, and there’s that “we” again—

And poetry finds a way

To make a poem from pain for you today.

The secret is, a little poison is good,

And this is what the poets have always understood.

The best thing for me

Is the cigarette of toxicity

Because a little poison is good.

This is the secret poets have always understood.

When the leaves fall, and the air turns chill,

We contemplate what it means to be ill,

But when mother gives us sugar and carbohydrates

We love with our tongue what our inside hates;

We do not know what’s happening inside

Or where the slender lovers hide,

But when poison flies into me

I understand what’s going on immediately.

Everything I feel from the cold rain

Pushes the poetry out, as a cure for pain.

It was sugar—not cigarettes—which made me insane.

I thought we loved sugar, but we

Grew into wisdom; we cannot be

Poets, if we lie about the house and eat;

We go, instead, to dreary places where meat-eating smokers meet

And we talk of all the ways we

Write poems. This is exceedingly interesting to me.

 

 

 

 

VISTAS

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The beauty of the particular scene,
If there are streets, or not, or the streets are picturesque,
Doesn’t matter. The artist finds shadows and certain perspectives
And makes great photos in neighborhoods where no one would want to live.
Every space on earth, bare or not, has vistas.
Vistas with their length, their laws of vision, entice the eye,
Making even this crappy part of town interesting in all its views.
Don’t trust art—or should we call it art? Don’t trust the eye
Which makes near and far boulevards crowding but stretched in the eye
In the morning when fog surrounds the sky—those cheap white buildings
Appear nice in the distance. Do you see what I mean?
Vistas are beautiful, even if there is no beauty to the scene.
The mathematics of sight is more
Beautiful than art, the mathematics of vista finally forgives,
And makes this ugly stretch of the world beautiful—
Where nothing wants to live, but lives.

 

TO NOT HAVE LOVE IS TO HAVE LOVE

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To not have love is to have love,
Because everyone knows love is desire.
Love you don’t have, but want, is love.
This is why I seem cold, with my burning fire.
I have love. I have you. Because I have desire.
I do burn. And my burning is so hot
I cannot show it. I seem cold. But I’m not.
I have love. I have desire. I have you
Because I do not have you now.
I had to have had love to not have love,
And to not have love is to have love.  I wondered how
You were cold. But I don’t wonder that anymore.
Love is to not have love. Love the god does not have love, I’m sure.

To know love we had to see a body—
Bodies the only object of human love.
So bodies are the basis of the process
By which love is more when having is less.
And so bodies always fade when they are loved,
And the face loved shows a mysterious distress.
Bodies are the gateway to desire;
Bodies obey the disappearing law.
Bodies turn away and say goodbye.
You loved the body. Now it must die.
In my mind is the volcano of the past.
Desire! Desire! Only desire will last.
The longing madness loves the most.
Love sees the body. But the body is a ghost.
The body is not real. The love we hold
In love, is what we held.
I saw her on the other side of the hill in the mist and yelled.

 

 

YOUR ATTITUDE

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Your attitude is terrible. No,

That’s not it. You are all attitude.

You know, all one sees now are relationship

Videos on the “narcissistic” personality,

On how exactly men and women love differently.

Those psychology films are wrong. He lost his grip,

Hart Crane, the poet. And went over the side of the ship,

And in the rolling, gray waters was lost forever.

But you’re nice; you imitate Wordsworth,

And write careful poems, defending the prickly earth.

Meanwhile, you anxiously watch those videos

Invoking your narcissistic ex, counting your woes,

Trying to figure out how men and women are different,

And why love fails—crazy sighs within excrement.

You haven’t had a thought since two thousand three;

You read political articles, which agree with you, eagerly,

But if you saw words that at last could save your soul

You wouldn’t touch those words with a ten foot pole.

It’s not that your attitude is good or bad.

You don’t think at all. That’s why you are sad.

He’s a narcissist, and, of course, she is. And the sorrow

Alters, depending on whatever one happens to imitate tomorrow.

There hasn’t been an original thought here

Since the bikini. Since beer.

To know how much crowds hate crowds,

A crowd has to be in one, because alone,

The crowd inevitably begins to miss its favorite jerk.

But at least you get along with people at work,

Serving the crowd—which deceives itself inside its misery.

Have you seen a child, imitating

Everything—everything? All everyone is,

Men and women, are big fat jerks, all the same,

A great imitation and mockery machine,

Taking revenge against authority

When Wordsworth wouldn’t let them do this or that.

Two things exist: Blank imitation. Blank infinity.

Feel your way. Things seem to stick up, from the page, or the canvas, endless and flat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I DON’T WANT TO SEE YOU

Dear Rosalinda. Stop coming into my café where I write poetry

Wearing leather. Your black boots with elaborate buckles? Excellent.

“I don’t want to see you if I can’t have you” is not what I meant.

That sentiment is boring, and in bad taste.

All the work you did on your appearance shouldn’t go to waste,

So go ahead. Let’s see your jacket and your combed hair.

I’m writing poetry. Go ahead and look good. It’s only fair.

Just want you to know I’m noting every particular, the sound

Of your voice, the way you hold your hands, the emotions

Which play across your face, the things you say, how much you seem

To want me, or don’t want me; I notice these things confidently

As if I were in a dramatic, egotistical waking dream.

I can write poetry when the café is crowded, I don’t care,

Rosalinda. Or that other café. You can go there.

 

INDIAN POETRY OCTOBER

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India is just like America.  Why does it seem this way, as I review Indian poetry in English? Scarriet continues the project inspired by Linda Ashok.

Welcome to October.  (This 7-poet-reviewed series began in February.)

Hoshang Merchant was born in 1947.

He writes mostly in English, lives in Hyderabad, India, and has been educated in America, Iran and Jerusalem. He writes a searing love lyric—operatic and tragic.  Witness his poem, “Scent of Love:”

It is raining a small rain
A gentle rain
over all the world
Gentle like that love which is so hard
to sustain or to receive or to reciprocate
Because men are greedy: They bite and tear

You from the mountains I from the plains
I from the city You from the forest
I a hunter And you a deer
The city is full of the smell of my dear today

The musk mingles with the rain
Its scent spreads
This morning I lie in bed dreaming of you
I was to be hunter but I’m an inert deer

Sensing danger you wait
And I sense danger with you
Why is the world so crazed for venison?
I wonder at a living creature
Who must so eat a living creature!

And suddenly the wounded doe dies for you
She has dragged herself to you to die before you
Her stag
Did she not stay one night inert
When you slew her in bed
Just as tonight I wish to slay you?

Does not our passion only bring suffering
And do we all not die daily a little
Satisfying our longings?
Play go play though your scent drives me wild
And I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing

Slay or be slain
And your hand will not be cleansed of blood ever again
The pain the pain of love is everywhere
And the scent of this musk cannot be washed even in a rain.

Time and space does not permit printing more of Merchant’s poems, but I cannot resist presenting the opening stanza of “My Sister Takes A Long Long Time To Die:”

It was the dark of winter
When the illness came like a thunderclap
They isolated an Indian girl in the Chicago snow
Hoping this Indian disease would go away
But it was America that had killed her
The sickness in us is named America
And the long long time of waiting does not die.

There is a certain timeless passion in the poetry of Hoshang Merchant.  Passion (is this a paradox?) tends to turn poetry into prose—the poetry is ruined by what it contains. This seems to be the chief dilemma of the modern poet. If the poetic furnace from the 15th century is still hot; why not use it? There is something about Merchant’s poetry which reminds me of the old English and Italian sonneteers.

*

Shriram Sivaramakrishnan is like many poets.

The feeling and thinking and method of poetry is all one—it is as if life were speeding up and we were near death and the most honest and significant thing about life needed to be spoken in as few words as possible.

That’s what poetry is and that is its delight. Modernism has long banned the “romantic rhyme” as the model for poetry, though it remains so in the popular taste.

With the rise of the Instagram poets, however, the pithy epigram (is it really a poem?) is replacing rhyme.

The ‘scientist poets,’ many who come from India, however, have something different in mind.

Poem #1: A Glass of Water

A glass of water.

How simpler can the truth be?
Water — that indomitable spirit of nature —
civilized at the work of man.

‘Taught manners,’ let us say,
to display socially acceptable behaviour
to remain stoic and lend herself to the
whim of the organized mind,

that is, to contain her primal fury:
that which moved continents into civilizations
and made landmass levitate like china dolls;

into a palpable parameter
for further fiddling,
a ripple will disrobes her
into poetic verses
to quench this carnal thirst.

but contained, she was
as in petri dish
under the microscopic lenses
of a microcosmic species,
in whose sacral dimple
even a tail had chosen not to grow.

**

Keki Daruwalla, born in 1937, belongs to the generation of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, learned in the primitive, yet new.

New Criticism is the chief influence—it seeks human transcendence among the stoic and half-sublime creatures of nature—bees and fish figure prominently—in a style of taciturn, flinty, ice-cold lyricism.

Fish

The sea came in with her and her curved snout
and her tin coloured barnacles
and long threaded rose moles
patterned on her body.

The sea brought her and her curved snout
and her rose moles and her eyes still translucent
as if half aware and half unaware
of the state of her body.

The sea came in with her and her scimitar snout
and her translucent eyes
greying into stone.

The sea brought her in,
wrapped in seaweed
and slapped her on the sand,
all five feet of her
with the armour of her scales
and the filigree of her rose moles.

The tide kept coming in
but couldn’t disturb her
or her resting place –
she was heavy.

The sea fell back but even
as the thin-edged foam line receded,
it went to her once more with a supreme effort,
rummaged among her barnacles
and left.

Tide and fish are powerfully invoked in the poem’s repetitive language. A simple, yet magnificent, work.

***

C.P. Surendran writes the startling lyric. A small observation which is yet significant is what this poet does particularly well. The following poem is a masterpiece of this:

Prospect

While you were sleeping
A dog yawned in the sun
And in the distance,
A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,
Window by window
Regained vision.
I thought of all the things
That could happen
When we are looking away,
The universe we miss in a blink.

A Friend in Need displays the rueful, mathematical precision of an old Romantic.

He sits in a chair
Whose fourth leg’s his.
He loves this chair.They used to make love in it.
That was when the chair
Had four plus two plus two,
Eight legs. Days with legs.
Since then there’s been a lot of walking out.
Now the chair’s short of a leg
And he’s lending his.

The best poems are when the language writes it (or is this misanthropic?)—language can say more than one wonderful thing at the same time—like harmony in music. Every assertion of this poem—simple in the extreme—says two precise things, proving language was the writer—it wasn’t just the poet complaining.

Surendran’s helpless longing is beautifully rendered by the passive possessives—“leg’s his” and “he’s lending his.” The “He loves this chair” couldn’t be anything but that, since we know by the poem he does love, given the subject of the poem—and the chair as the place where they made love—a variation on bed, is a surprise keeping with the charm of this clear, sweet, sad eight-legged poem.

****

Nitoo Das doesn’t mind being called a “feminist” poet. She deflects the male gaze with—in a poet’s irony—exactly what the male gaze seeks, (with a little added wit.)

How To Write Erotica

Treat it like a hoax. Wear
suitable clothes. Gauzy.
Be slippery. Create calligraphic circles.
Cite flowers. Reveal the vanilla, declare
the hibiscus. You’re allowed
to be slightly long-winded.
Also, abstruse. Don’t be afraid.
Be kaleidoscopic. Fractalise. Read Nin.
Better still, read Sappho. Surreal
and slow. Steer clear
of the opaque. Quirkiness is useful,
so is translucence. Spank
words carefully. Include
lots of skin, mouth,
tongue. However aesthetic
breasts work the best. Linger.
Startle with a sudden mention
of death. It should be clear, you’re not
improper. Sigh, hush,
hiss a bit. Confuse
memory. Clarify: there could be two
or three or four bodies involved,
but not necessarily. Be serious.
Throw in a few bones
to close.

The genius of this poem is that the poetry writes the erotica—the theme is embraced, and is dignified, and in command, because, as the poet knows, “erotica” is a “how to”—the whole approach in which the poet slyly tells us “how to write erotica” is proper—therefore it is delightfully sly when she writes, “you’re not improper.” Morality is not the issue, since “how to” is merely that.

The poem triumphs because the poetry is deliciously good: “Reveal the vanilla, declare the hibiscus.”

Phrases “Sigh, hush, hiss a bit” succeed because the poem is called “How to write erotica—and the poet presents to us how language can be cunningly erotic even as it is “not improper.” The joke is that the “erotic” in the hands of a skilled poet is both erotic and proper; “Treat it like a hoax,” is how the poem opens, and everything that follows—from “wear suitable clothes” to “Fractalise” to “Read Nin. Better still, read Sappho” to “However aesthetic breasts work the best”—succeeds in both directions—the poem is erotic, and yet the poetry and the wit creates the most delight.

The eroticism of Nitoo Das is not cheap, just as a nude by a great painter never feels pornographic. Who knows why this is so? Who knows why “How To Write Erotica” is erotic, and yet not?

Literature can be exciting in so many ways.

*****

Kiriti Sengupta is an admirer of Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1913) which is apparently controversial for the new poets—perhaps it’s similar to American academics who feel they are too modern and sophisticated for Poe. Sengupta translates Bengali poetry into English. He’s written a trilogy which combines fiction, memoir, and poetry. His English poetry comments on contemporary events in the heroic mode.

The Untold Saga

It only took two hands
to kill the evil; it only took
the trident to destroy the opponent.
Yet autumn arrives through your
larger-than-life avatar teamed with
the ten arms. Like many women
you followed the husband; you had
several other weapons to fight the war…

Durga, was this a conscious decision?

Legends say you emerged from the gods,
the presiding male dignitaries while Asura
remained unfailingly blessed—invincible.
You won, but you didn’t claim a reward!

That you are formally worshiped twice a year
made no difference to the gasping Nirbhaya,
who gave up to the penetrating rod the scoundrels
dug into her motherly cave through the birth route.

And that Nirbhaya followed death/deterred her from creating an epic!

[Poet’s Note: Nirbhaya died from fatal injuries following gang-rape in Delhi in 2012.]

******

Ankita Shah is a political poet reacting to war, refugees, and artificial, unnecessary, divisions created by, and in the wake of, war.

A video performance of Ankita Shah’s bilingual poem, “Go Back To Your Own Country,” went viral on Facebook.

Political poetry will always have a niche, and the political poetry niche in India appears to be exactly the same size as the political poetry niche in the U.S. We are not sure why this is.

*******

Thanks for reading!  We will see you in November!

 

 

 

TEASING: A NEW PSYCHOLOGICAL LOOK

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Teasing is a psychological state which is crucial to understanding human nature, and yet, as far as I know, it has never been given its due.

Teasing is ubiquitous—most of us tease, consciously, or impulsively—but teasing is also highly ambiguous and complex—part of its nature is to disappear into other modes—humor, cruelty.

But why does teasing fall completely below the radar of social science? Apart from its hiding capacity, the most obvious reason why teasing as a legitimate psychological category eludes researchers, scholars, and distinguished and credentialed pedants of all stripes, is that teasing refuses to take itself, or others, seriously—therefore it naturally eludes all serious study.

The pithy remarks of an Oscar Wilde belong to the comic stage or the quotation book; serious scholars shudder at the idea of Wilde’s teasing wit upending their authoritative conclusions. One of teasing’s many manifestations is wit, destructive wit—the enemy of science, philosophy, and religion. “The best way to resist temptation is to give into it,” laughs Oscar. Teasing is walled off—even as it promotes wise laughter—from the wise investigations of the pundit.

I will now give teasing the prominence it deserves.

Let me posit the two most obvious modes of human behavior and psychology, which occupy the opposite sides of the behavioral spectrum—fighting on one side, and cooperation, affection, or love on the other. We’ll call it love, for simplicity’s sake. Hate and love. The fighting impulse and the loving impulse.

Teasing, as I see it, is perfectly suited to connect the two, to occupy the third, or middle ground which partly interacts with hate and partly interacts with love. Teasing, as is well known, and which I have observed above, is an extremely common behavior which covers a great deal of ambiguous psychological territory—teasing can be affectionate and humorous; we tease those we like, we tease those we want to like more, and we tease those with whom we feel extremely comfortable.

Teasing can be neutral—we tease to find out much a person can take, and this can be part of just getting to know a person, though it can seem invasive, even if it’s done out of friendliness or curiosity.

Teasing can also be vindictive, insulting, terrible.

And teasing can seem cruel, even if this is not its intention.

We would expect nothing less of this far-reaching cloud of ambiguity which unites hate and love.

What is life but a tease?

The mature soul understands the tease of admiring and desiring things which we both hate and love—the teasing mixture.

The craven person and the child don’t deal in hybrids—they only love or hate.

Maturity deals with the hybrid, and is resigned to being teased constantly.

The immature person viciously avoids being teased, and takes a sadistic delight, quite often, in teasing.

Teasing, then, is good and bad.  Which should be expected, since hate sits on one shoulder, and love on the other.

Teasing rounds out love and hate as a three-part psychology—and teasing, itself, exists in three parts, friendly, neutral, and hostile.

Satire, a form of teasing, can run the gamut from hostile to elevating, depending on how it is seen; satire can be a nasty political weapon, or it can use literature to gently seek truth.

Poetry, which today is mostly officious and uptight, once indulged in the sweet rivalry of teasing.  Who can forget Byron teasing the poet laureates of England, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey?

“Go little book, from this, my solitude!
I cast thee on the waters—go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days.”
When Southey’s read, and Wordsworth’s understood,
I can’t help putting in my claim to praise—
The first four rhymes are Southey’s every line:
For God’s sake, reader! Take them not for mine.

Teasing has this most important property: the ability to defuse hate (because it is comedy) and the equal ability to defuse love (because it is ridicule)—teasing can lead to war or love, with cunning or accidental, suddenness.

Teasing can be sweet and appropriate, or embarrassing and clumsy, depending on all sorts of psychological, material, and personal skill factors, both natural and learned.

Is it any wonder that ubiquitous, ambiguous teasing belongs prominently in the middle of the two most defined poles of human behavior—the fighting impulse, and the cooperative one?

Further, teasing is a directional indicator—it can be an intellectual vehicle to move towards love, or an intellectual vehicle to move towards hate. Or it can simply exist for itself, a buffer against hate to “keep the peace,” a buffer against love to “remain grounded.”

Most of us, in fact, live in the ambiguous state of teasing all the time, with a cloudy, occluded, semi-curious, bemused view of all those “higher” issues that escape teasing, and make life serious, or thrilling, or sublime, or tragic. We giggle at the serious, and feel protected, and rather content, in our “teasing” bubble, as we stay clear of serious hate on one side and serious love, on the other, each pole dangerous for different, and perhaps similar (!) reasons. Teasing is a highly effective means to deal with hate—to ridicule what we dislike, so that we laugh, an effective way of dealing with our own anger and dislike. And satire is a way for us to safely contemplate love—aren’t comedians, with their worldly, urbane personalities, genuinely wise when it comes to the dangers, extremes, and follies of love?

The danger is, that if we laugh too hard, we will never love, again.

Just as if we hate too much, we will never love again.

It may be comfortable to always mock, but teasing is also wrapped up in fear. Teasing is real; it is not just an occasional strategy.

Teasing eclipses love and hate. Teasing also eclipses real feelings.

Some people never reach a state of sublime love—it’s nothing but Romantic poppycock to them—the goal of love is merely a sad, or perhaps an amusing, tease to them; either they have no partner, or, if they do, it is a lover or husband whom they don’t quite love—but they tease them, sometimes affectionately, sometimes cruelly, and these feeling-states are really the best they can do, so vast is that middle ground of teasing, hovering between hate and love.

The thing about teasing is that it allows us to tease, but it also teases us.

In this ambiguous, granular state of continual confusion, in the middle-ground, teasing mode, we glimpse the warrior and the lover, truly sublime figures who truly live, dimly, as in a mist. The teasing state really doesn’t know anything. Teasing is an attitude, not knowledge. Teasing has no true feelings, though it has a general sense of what they are, since it exists beside hate and love. In the teasing state we ridicule all those who take life seriously. We intellectualize, but in a fraudulent manner. We know ourselves to be frauds. We only know small things at small moments. All we can do, with any vigor at all, is mock.

The whore has no philosophy. Those completely without love, the whore and the recluse, represent the two extremes—the whore teases; the recluse is teased.  The whore and the recluse are both anti-social. Society finds it difficult to function if there are too many of these in their ranks.

And those with extremist views (who politicians cynically weaponize) become even more extremist when they are teased about their views.  When someone tells you that you are wrong, that is one thing, but when someone tells you are wrong as they are laughing, that is another thing altogether.

Teasing, in itself, is neither good nor bad. It is a highly social way of behaving—it can mollify, it can lead to friendships, but it can also incense and enrage.

A recluse shies away from teasing.

A whore loves to tease.

It is a cliché to say the whore is stupid, but it’s always true. All they can do is tease. They laugh at both hate and love, and this is their intellectual position, the intellectual position of all who remain in the ambiguous state of mockery and bland, mindless, ambiguity.

To the whore, all intellectuals to them are one person: Woody Allen, a guy who talks very fast, in a high voice. If the Woody Allen makes them laugh, they are OK, but if the intellectual should turn “serious,” the whore only hears a high voice talking too fast, and nothing the intellectual says when the intellectual is being “serious” matters, or makes any sense. Which is probably true, since most intellectuals are frauds.

The whore sees men in three ways; they are either rapists, or a Woody Allen—who might occasionally amuse them by making them laugh—or finally a man with a hairy mustache, a nice stubble, who mumbles in French, in a deep voice, and has a big jaw and tiny eyes (see! I tease) whom the whore perhaps wishes to sleep with. Of course the man with the mustache, whom the whore favors, is not a real person, as unreal as the whore herself—a mere collection of errant atoms—who teases, and is teased, by a reality that remains shut to them, in their ambiguous state of mockery and stupidity. There is nothing they can know, and their “philosophy” is “we cannot know anything!” The male equivalent to the whore is the cunning, ambiguous, fake-intellectual man who is determined to tease the whore whom he is attracted to—to give her a dose of her own medicine. Knowledge is absent. Everything is impulse. All intellectuality in this realm is merely teasing, to give oneself a temporary, mocking, advantage.

There is nothing wrong with living in the teasing state—it is where everyone, except the psychopath, or the genius, lives. It belongs to the sad, charming smile of humility; it resides with humorous affection. It is a guard against extremes. It is the mystery in which we dwell with a smile.

But life is not truly lived, or experienced to its fullest, obviously, if the middle ambiguous, teasing realm is the only place we live.

What we mock aloud in polite company could be what we truly hate and abhor, but it could be just as easily what we secretly desire.

Mockery pushes aside everything, the bad and the good. Teasing can just as easily kill love as mitigate hate.

What remains in our hearts as secret, inarticulate, unspoken, mysterious desire will be forever vanquished by the mockery of polite company, by the stand up comedian, by the “common sense” prudence of smiling, daily life.

How can we truly live—not vicariously, but in ourselves—the beautiful, the good, the passionate life?

And how can we tell the difference between “ourselves” and whatever happens to be filling ourselves up, and needs to be ridiculed away?

We cannot.

The only way to know if something is both real and good, is by its ideal existence, as glimpsed in, and through, the beauty of artistic wisdom. The test of what you love is if it is immune to ridicule and mockery.

Two obstacles commonly stand in the way when a person attempts to reach the beautiful and the sublime—the impulsive mockery of the whore, and the cunning mockery of the fraudulent intellectual.

You will know the good by this: if what is bad mocks it.

I recently heard one of our contemporary sages (Alain de Botton) speak on the subject of love to a large audience. As a so-called philosopher who writes popular books, it was apparent to me after a few minutes why he has more notoriety than most contemporary intellectuals; it could have been the educated English accent, but I think it was more due to the fact that his lecture was more like stand-up comedy; he had the educated audience tittering as he spoke of love, of which he was, of course, mocking, as a quite impossible, and rather imaginary thing. The target of his mockery was Romanticsm, which he claimed sprang up in the “middle late 18th century,” with its emphasis on love as “special feelings” that mysteriously claim us when we happen to meet our “soul mate.” Romanticism, a view which we still have not escaped, according to de Botton, Romanticism, a response to arranged marriages of the past, based on property and such, was a nice thing, he acknowledged, but it was doomed to failure, since seeing love as the joining of two “angels” who are “made for each other” would inevitably lead to disappointment and probably lead to adultery. We all contain “crazy,” de Botton said, and he got a big laugh when he suggested the following wedding present: the bride and groom should exchange books which outline exactly how they are crazy and impossible to live with, up close, and in close quarters.

Because he’s a fraudulent intellectual, he neglected to mention that Romanticism was espoused way before the 18th century—one quickly thinks of Plato’s “Symposium,” of Dante and Petrarch—but more importantly, his description of Romanticism was superficial and naive, taking platitudes of synopsis scum which rise to the top of the ocean as the truth of the matter, all so that he could have a target set up for ridicule and mockery. Talking very fast, like most intellectuals, he had to be a Woody Allen—be funny—to get in good with his paying audience. At one point he made fun of Keats’ death by consumption at a young age—early death was a convenient way to end the silly love experiments of the Romantics, don’t you see? Right. Ha. Ha. And the audience, not embracing his words, but the whole attitude of mocking cynicism upon which his lecture was based, obediently laughed.

The Romantic poets, Shelley and Keats, did not naively believe in lovers as twin “angels;” their poetry is full of beauty and despondency—the anguish of the true lover in the face of whorish artificially, as personified by cynical, whorish buffoons like Alain de Botton, with their educated facades.

I only allude to this talk on Romanticism because great poetry—and the major Romantic poets are exemplary—is perhaps the best way to escape fraudulent intellectualism and the continual prison of mockery and teasing, and move closer to genuine philosophical interest and the life we wish to passionately live.

But the prison (and herd-like safety) of the teasing realm is not something that I can say I have escaped. I do not mean to set myself apart as a true intellectual, or as one who has achieved genuine love.

We are all finally trapped by teasing.

Something as primitive as our own bodily pain we feel cannot be mocked. But it can. The reason I might feel a tremendous pain in my nether regions as I hurry to find a restroom is precisely my pain letting me know I must perform this duty.

But were I later to recall this “pain” in front of my peers, as part of a more elaborate story, or not, the atmosphere would of course be one of laughter.

Mockery cannot be escaped.

Were I, myself, to claim that I know love, or that I, myself, am not a fraudulent intellectual, even within the bounds of a self-conscious essay such as this, I would be ridiculed and mocked.

As I should be.

We are always more teased, than teasing.

And hate and love do belong to a misty distance, a tease of a true passion we may never know, or need to know, or be worthy to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY, ROSALINDA, WILL NOT HELP

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Poetry, Rosalinda, will not help your causes.

Poetry is not speech, but the delicate pauses

Between the speech which finds its way

In blinding light or darkness—saying what it says by what it doesn’t say.

Poetry dignifies its subject. The poet is a stupid ape

Who invades poetry with talk of murder, acid attacks, and rape—

“Rape is bad” was never, and will never be said, in a poem—

Not because the statement isn’t true, or shouldn’t be known;

When you say the bad is bad, it’s not a poem.

When you put such things in poems, vain and stupid ape,

You seek to dignify yourself—“look at me! I’m against rape!”

Other stupid apes, who seek to praise themselves, give you prizes,

Further dignifying the poetry which merely repeats what poetry despises.

Everything has a dual nature: what it is, and the container of what it is;

The flower does amazing things—but in the appearance of a flower;

In pain, an hour seems infinite; in pleasure, an hour doesn’t seem like an hour;

The hour of pleasure went by so fast

Dear love is more than what it was—fear belongs to a distant past,

But the hour—the hour—is fresh and new,

And will always be an hour—exactly an hour. Despite me. Despite you.

The poem is the subject; it cannot be

Who you are, and no matter how much I love, have anything to do with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY LOVE?

The educated reader of today is certainly aware that love poetry appeals to the popular taste, and probably wonders occasionally if there is a critical, definitional connection between love and poetry.

But we have never seen the case made philosophically.

Love and poetry both belong, generally, to social, polite behavior, and love is an endless source of interest—all writing, laws, and human behavior revolve around love—and though we could expand on love’s definition, and include things like marriage, divorce, prostitution, and abortion, what we really mean by “love” here is courtship or Romanticism—what we usually mean when we refer to the love poem.

Forgetting the fact that “love” is a source of interest in itself, the question: are love and poetry good for each other? Aesthetically? Scientifically? Is the question I want to ask.

I don’t know if recent history can help us—20th century Modernist poetry was famous as a movement which chucked the “hearts and flowers” of 19th century poetry (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”)—but Modernists would be quick to point out that their revolution was not to consciously reject love poetry, but to simply expand poetry’s subject matter.

But hadn’t Byron, in his popular long poems, already done that? Byron wrote his share of love poetry, but he published two long poems, to much acclaim, which chattered on, in verse, about everything under the sun.

Perhaps it is best not to get embroiled in changes of fashion and taste; poets proclaim “revolution” mostly to get attention; I wish to ponder the twin existence of love and poetry in a purely scientific manner.

My entrance into solving the puzzle began when I seized upon a quote which I have thought about many times before—a pithy remark made by a non-poet philosopher from the 19th century. John Stuart Mill, in a rather brilliant, and today, mostly ignored, essay, defined “eloquence” as that which “supposes an audience” and is “heard,” while poetry, its “antithesis,” is “overheard.”

And thanks to John Stuart Mill (epitome of English, liberal, worldly genius) I think it is possible to explain, scientifically, why poetry and love are suited to each other to an extreme degree—despite the fact, that the educated, reasonable person will invariably insist, “A poem can be about anything! The poetry is what finally counts, produced by the poet as a whole person—there is no reason to defend any narrowly defined subject matter!”

Mill’s quote reveals a crucial distinction—we have “subject matter” (what the poem is “about”) on one hand, but there is something else just as important—the conveyance of the “subject matter”—is it “heard” by an “audience,” or is it “overheard?”

And upon this distinction, the great mystery is revealed.

If poetry is that which is “overheard,” and not “eloquence” which  is “heard” by an “audience,” this fact, which does appear to be an important truth, a truth which exists apart from “subject matter,” is that which truly defines and narrows poetry.

For what is it, but the talk of passionate lovers, which is “overheard?”

By contrast, the usual discourse of numerous subjects, declaimed to an “audience,” is not poetry—how often do we read “poems” which are arguments made for “the world,” the “audience” who represent the “world,” assembled to hear the wisdom of the legislator or the sermonizer—and without being able to put our finger on it, the “argument” put on display by the poet, fails to move us, sounds pompous, too obvious, too calculated to convince, too direct and transparent in the manner it speaks to us? (Or poets, wisely fleeing from pomposity, nevertheless err by blindly seeking what they feel is the opposite—the trivial and the obscure, which also disappoints.)

The lover who is “overheard,” on the other hand, comes from a place of shame, of flawed desire,  of subjective anguish and despondency, and is not meant to convince at all, but is like a “scene” or “drama” which we witness by accident, and for that reason, is more nuanced, more original, more driven by accident and the problematically unique, more embellished by subjective seeing—which turns out to be a more lively way of seeing!—more mysterious, more emotional, more cloudy, and yet more clear (because we are seeing what we weren’t supposed to see) and where the inability to explain is the very thing which explains.

All this—shame, subjectivity, cloudiness, confusion, negative capability, beauty for its own sake, urgency for its own sake—is it not felt and spoken most strongly by love? Or hate, which is the partner of love, since both belong to passionate, subjective intercourse, alive to what is most important to the slightly confused individual?

None of this would be tolerated by an audience assembled for instruction, or any sort of worldly rhetoric meant to clarify or solve an issue. Imagine a speaker on How To Recover From Alcohol Addiction speaking passionately about the pleasures of intoxication—and only that. It would either be taken as a joke, or seen as something foolish and dangerous.

Poetry will never solve alcohol addiction. Poetry is alcohol addiction.

Addiction is what we “overhear;” when we see a person, not wearing a public dress, not prepared for public disquisition, being an addict. The poem is for the shamed and covert “addict,” not for the convert seeking sobriety, not for the one seeking to expose the dangers of addiction.

Not for public consumption is the celebrity secretly glimpsed in their bathroom. And exactly so, is the poem an overheard document—which appeals to curiosity alone.

Curiosity alone! How much of human interaction belongs to this?

But the snare is not the same as the treat.

Poetry is “overheard” and this defines it absolutely.

The disgusting and the appalling, not proper for a general audience, is also “overheard.”

But love ensures the poem will be something else—not meant to be heard, and yet, the most beautiful thing (we never should have heard it) we have ever known.

HAPPY IS VERY SMART

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Happy is very smart, and this is why

There is so much injustice.

The miserable die in misery.

Unhappiness cannot think;

Therefore, the miserable cannot be happy.

Before thought—sweet thought!—is possible, joy

Must surge through the body,

Exciting our thinking. The goal

Cannot exist. We are immediately happy

With the world to be happy. I don’t remember why

I am happy, and in your cloudy misery,

You are unable to follow my thinking.

You read what I am saying, and disagree.

You are certain wisdom is not joy, but misery,

Life, you say, is difficult, short, and bad—

You think it’s idiotic to think smart is glad.

“The survivor,” you say, “facing harsh reality,

Is not some grinning fool.

Before you are happy, you need to work—or go to school.

And further, because life is sad and brief,

Joy needs help from wine or the aromatic leaf.

Happiness is not from intelligence, it is from a certain worth

Attached to men.  Unlike me, you—a man—are less close to the earth.

To say happy is smart, and that you have joy, or don’t,

Is the stupidest thing. Don’t say that again, don’t.”

She went on, refuting my poem for quite a while.

Feeling like a child, I looked at her and smiled.

She looked at my smile. I thought she would smile, but she did not smile.

 

 

POE AND BAUDELAIRE: THE KISS AND THE SNEER

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“Woman, a slave and yet vainglorious, stupid and unashamed in her self-love” -Baudelaire

“She was a child and I was a child in this kingdom by the sea” -Poe

*

Women with skin of ivory, and beautiful black hair

Are women you might love as Poe, or love as Baudelaire.

Women who pull the collar of their coat around their neck,

Or look out at the sea, eating Italian cookies, from their breezy deck;

She tries not to think of me as she sips her bedtime tea,

In the prison of her pride, and when she sleeps, she writhes upon the key,

The key of simple love, which if she took it out, would set her free.

I was a gentleman, and wrote her poems, in vain.

She stood upon her phone. She pressed her lovely face against the window pane.

She let me have a kiss—

Upon her mouth, which was voluptuous—

But nothing hurt me like that mysterious sneer,

Which feeds heartbreaking love—the only thing lovers feel, when feeling is sincere.

I told her I was helpless, which was all she wanted to know.

She didn’t tell me things. Her mystery was severe.

I told her everything I wanted her to know.

I was afraid of her. But only because of love.

And now, in these warm October days, I strangely love,

Breathlessly, aesthetically,

One could say pathetically,

Like Edgar Allan Poe.

I imagine her dreaming, restlessly on that key,

And, in her horror, she sits down next to me,

And we clasp hands; we wander to a late night shop with wine,

And we know what we want, immediately,

And she wakes, horrified she spoke to me.

I loved the kiss, but I can’t forget the sneer,

Which feeds heartbreaking love—the only thing lovers feel, when feeling is sincere.

 

 

 

 

POETRY IS THOUGHT, PROSE IS INCIDENT

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THE REASON there are so few good poets is not difficult to understand. The poet is sensitive to an extreme degree, and because of this, makes a big deal out of the small.

This is both a gift and a curse.

Admirable is the person who can produce something marvelous from an idea or two, from almost nothing.

But those who make something big out of what is small tend to be worrisome and unreasonable at best, and hot-headed psychopaths at worst—the kind of person who worries themselves sick over a rumor, or explodes over a slight, and this weak, anxious temperament (always making a big deal out of the small) is unsuited for calm and lengthy poetic contemplation.

The accomplished poet is paradoxical; they are cursed with a personality which makes a big deal out of everything—and yet, miraculously, they are also slow to anger, even-tempered, thick-skinned, and calm.  They have to be, to write poetry.

The poet is in possession of that faculty which transforms the trivial—mere words, syllables, sounds—into sublime speech—and this uncommon, visionary character which fantastically creates the grandiose from nothing, is naturally the sort of person who is volatile in the extreme—but the poet, has a dual nature; is both extremist and conservative at once.

Such a person, with two powerful and absolutely opposing psychological tendencies, will, as a rule, be extremely uncommon among any population.

This is why poetry does not progress—we look back at previous eras and find genius randomly distributed; we observe in our own day a greater number of persons with leisure to write, thousands of writing programs encouraging poetry, and increased material conditions for sharing poetry, without any signs that poetry as a rule is better, or that poetic genius is expanding itself in any measurable way.

It even seems that genius is diminishing, and poetry is getting worse. Perhaps, in total, it is not getting worse—there are just more poets and so, more bad poetry. But poetry does not, by any measure, seem to be mechanically improving.

Poetry does not improve—because there is an algorithm for the good poet which does not change.  The good poet—as a poet—will create something out of nothing.  The weak person—as a person—will create something out of nothing. The good poet cannot be a weak person.  The good person cannot be a good poet.  Therefore, personality-wise, the great poet is impossible.

If what we have just said about the paradoxical task of poetry—making “the small big,”—seems to be mere psychological claptrap; nothing more than silly theory, the following, perhaps, will be better received.

It refers not to the person, or the poet as a person, but the poem—and therefore, is, perhaps, a better explanation for why the good poet is not common at all.

Poetry is thought and prose is incident.

Alarming incidents, thrilling incidents, horrific incidents, which writers recount, seek, embellish, and share, are told, sought, worked up, and shared for the simple reason that this is the life blood of all story-telling, that which thrills and excites.

Exactly. This is precisely the problem. Incident detracts and distracts from the great poem; incident belongs to fiction, not to poetry. Poets who share sensational incidents are actually harming themselves and their art—using what they think is necessary, but which is actually the opposite.

One incident, thoughtfully presented, is the soul of the poem. Fiction, by its very nature, is a series of incidents. The horrific or outlandish incident has the necessary space in fiction to live, breathe, and be believed.

An incident which is verifiable and viable outside of the poem does not belong in the poem.

A political reality does not belong in the poem.

The hour does not belong in the poem. The hour can be presented in fiction and the reader can think about that hour. But only the hour which thinks in a moment belongs in the poem.

Only thought belongs in the poem. Not incidents which live on their own.

There is a reason why Pope described poetry as, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed,” and not, what oft was seen and completely understood and ne’er so well recounted.

Innumerable poets fail to understand this, and this is why, for more than any other reason, there are so few good poets.

 

WHEN I LOVED IT WAS ONLY TO LOVE

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When I loved it was only to love,

It was not to see the moon, or the five stars,

Or feel, in my hand, ever so slightly, the sweat of your hand,

Or be at the beginning of a long line of cars,

Or be a king lying in a tomb in a foreign land,

Or to weep at some black and white film’s end, a projector

In the old cinema humming somewhat behind my seat and above.

When I loved it was only to love.

It was not to hear, or to write a magnificent song,

Or sleep in the bottom of a boat in Venice when daylight rose,

Or be savagely sad, indignantly right, or happily wrong,

In a mist somewhere, deciding and not deciding

What cooperation, if any, I needed, from those I did not love.

When I loved it was only to love.

Or maybe I lie, and what I also had to do

As I loved, smiling, or not smiling, at you,

Was to be sane and gentle, and not go mad,

And when love inevitably ended,

To be happy for that saving grace, that you, too, were sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE SCAN THE NEWS TO SEE

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We scan the news to see

If the criminals are being punished,

And when they were caught, and how.

You don’t need to read the news.

The guilty are suffering for what they did. Right now.

We scan the news, but what we really want to see

Are the innocent—and how completely unlucky.

And the truly wronged? That’s me. Do you want me to explain?

It’s enough to say I’m happy.

The weatherman appears to be happy, as he says something about rain.

 

THESE CONGRESSMEN CANNOT BE POETS

These congressmen cannot be poets.

Poetry does not follow money

Or the distribution of money.

Poetry lives in a realm of dreams

Where money is not money. Where nothing is what it seems.

Poetry is not the shirtless man with a beer.

Poetry is not that. Poetry is here.

Poetry belongs to the child, who first learns

Beauty will not hurt you, but the beautiful burns.

Do children in the womb dream? They do.

They do not dream of money. They dream of you.

 

 

 

IT HAPPENED

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It happened over there—back over there,
She said—pointing to the far mist
Surrounding the mountain—
Where inside the mountain, a cold lake
Surrounded by rock, a lake
Where its one species of fish
Eats amphibian, and thinks it snake,
Regretting but slightly its mistake—
Ravenous—but ravenous is everyone at last.
It happened, it happened in my distant past—
A lake which is a gorge of pure rock bound,
Bound on all sides by rock, where hungry birds look for prey
In the dark pool made of rock all day,
Where tall walls shade
Creatures who barely hide; I was afraid.
She pointed—over there, it happened over there—
When I was a girl, and he was a boy;
What is romance? Love? Excitement? Joy?
Compared to the slow responsible life?
The perpetual eating? The vulture’s wife?
It happened over there—deep in the mist—
And rumors are vague, but rumors persist—
Rumors of gods who the gods kissed—
For the interminable days in the beginning of time.
It happened over there, to me; it happened one time,
As the mist descended into the mountain—
Mist surrounded the lake; it happened too fast to remember,
But I remember. If it happens once, you remember—
It happened once. It was sad. And sad that I remember.

 

WHY RHYME IS BEST

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“I know in one step. You, in two.

You think. I simply love you.”

—“Love Not Only Loves, It Judges” Tom Graves

Immediacy and infinity are two sides of the same coin.

The mysterious connection between immediacy and infinity is what makes love (and poetry) both impetuous and eternal—is what gives earthly love both its “can’t wait” energy and its real existence in the Platonist sense that only what is eternal has real existence. Everything else is merely the coin itself, the metal that rusts or eventually melts away, the universe of disappearance, ephemera, illness and death.

One knows what is beautiful through the senses immediately. And all beauty known immediately is infinite, and therefore sublime and profound and everlasting and actual. Beauty known immediately belongs to Nature or God, to actual existence—the star made for the moth of the mind. One does not have to think through, in steps, the beautiful, and this immediate judgement, or knowledge, or understanding, or experience, belongs to the realm of the sensual, the physical, the material, the actual, which strikes our eye with its immediacy and which is experienced sensually.

The poet conceives the best poems, as the universe was conceived, as a whole—and this happy immediacy in the poet’s consciousness participates in what scientists have termed the “Big Bang”—the instantaneous creation of the material universe.

In order for the poet’s immediacy of conception (what the whole is) to have real existence in the physical world, so that the created poem is a fully realized poem with real physical properties—and not merely a group of words attempting, by picking their way, in the accumulative act of seeking “meaning” in a step by tentative step, manner, a meaning always elusive since it must be sought by choosing which parts best convey what the whole is supposed to be (since the poet thinks to find out what the whole is by continually adding parts)—the poem conceived immediately, exactly as the physical universe was conceived immediately, real and eternal, must have material properties in the poet’s real conception of it and in the resulting reader’s experience of it.

The physical existence of the poem is not an inferior byproduct of the poet’s “thinking;” the physical poem, which strikes the ear the way a beautiful body of water with the sun glinting off it strikes the eye, is the poem, fully and completely, and is not the result of “thinking,” nor is the poem meant to be “thought about” when it is first experienced by the reader.

Anything can be “thought about” later, even pieces of garbage—the act of “thinking” or “thinking about” has absolutely nothing to do with experiencing a poem.

This sort of “thinking” inevitably ruins the poem, and destroys the aesthetic sense completely.

In the preparation for the writing of the poem, there can certainly be this kind of “thinking,” the sort of “thinking” all non-poets do, but the immediacy of creating, and the immediacy of experiencing, poetry’s existence in time and space, is physical, sensual, material, and does not belong to “thinking.”

Rhyme and meter distinguish the poem as the real object of interest.

But rhythm and meaning interact in language—in prose, as well as in poetry. Pitiful would it be, to aspire to be “a real object,” and how is it anything but an empty platitude to say “a poem” is “a rhyme?” It insults our intelligence to even come near this platitude, and every good poet, even those with great affection for song and rhyme and rhythm, never commit themselves to the formalist platitude in practice, or conversation. The platitude is still true, however. The poet can rhyme towards silliness—or towards sublimity. It is up to the bravery and skill of the poet.

The lone poet is prolific, and will write several poems in an afternoon, and invisible roots will connect the sudden serial efforts, so that an excellent poem will result, due to the good poem (or an okay poem which fails for a particular reason) composed just before, or the good poem composed just after, in a frenzy of muscle-cloud creativity, as non-poet thinking is enslaved to the poet’s project.

The other sort of poet, far more common, will take six months to write a poem. They will sketch out attempts for the first part of the poem over several weeks; a month or two will pass, and then the second half of the poem will begin to take shape; the earnest zeal of revision takes over, as the idea of the poem slowly comes into focus, urged on, almost accidentally, by this, or that, image, usually.

This other poet inevitably achieves greater worldly success—for during those months when they do not compose, what are they doing? They are networking—making all those friendly, social gestures which insert and cement themselves into advantageous company: their non-threatening personality soothes, their poetry, since it is not very good, does not threaten, and the poetry will often be socially enhancing, as they write about the “right things,” or, in a slightly different strategy, their poetry inhabits a kind of “educated” obscurity, truly advantageous because obscurity is critic-proof; it has no real existence, and therefore it cannot be judged as bad.

The prolific poet, the poet of genius, is too poetically besotted to do any of this, and if their poetry is truly good, and it hasn’t been accompanied with fawning networking, the quality of their poetry is seen as nothing more than an outsider threat. Especially to those for whom poetry belongs exclusively to networking—which inevitably destroys everything which has anything to with poetry.

The prolific poet, lazy to the world at large, may be moved to write an essay in which they assert that “fully material immediacy, which has no time to think” is the most important quality of the poem. And the supporting quality which is: “eternally admirable fullness of expression,” or, in other words, sublimity, beauty, and unity, which defies immediacy, precisely because we wish to linger over its substance, which the poet has miraculously “fit” inside immediacy.

The temporal, material existence of the poem is its duration, and how that duration is expressed by meter (and rhyme).  There is no other way for the temporal poem qua temporal poem to be physical. Yet the immediacy of the wholeness of the experience in terms of soul-enhancing meaning and beauty and sublimity is more important than any mere ‘poem as rhyme’ platitude. 

The great disadvantage which the poet faces, as one who would reproduce the excellent—the excellent, by its very nature, will not be easily reproduced.

It is easy to hold up a mirror, as many poets do, to what is ugly, discordant, painful, wrong—and though many poets do this in the name of solidarity and justice and democracy, the true result is that the unpleasant is reproduced, in both form and content, and the percentage in the world of the unpleasant is increased—unpleasant poems of dribbly prose assert to the helpless reader—“you see? the world really is a horrible place! there’s more evil and wrong than you know!” Moral individuals cannot resist this spread-the-news-as-poetry, and build whole “poetic” careers around it. But morality has nothing to do with poetry. But since all is contained in the Big Bang, it could matter to the poet.

 

 

 

 

PSYCHOLOGY

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My son wants to study psychology. I always had an interest in what
Makes people tick. My brother and I would talk for hours. What
You had to do to make it through and be a happy person. That
Was an obsession of mine when I was shy and nineteen.
Political activism was great, but Freud and Fritz Perls,
What the inner person really wants, or can’t want, meant more.
My lapsed protestant parents raised me to be secular and educated.
Religion teaches you to be good. They taught me to be happy.
A fine distinction, that. Not that I abandoned the good,
The good was lazily applied by Christian vestiges as a child,
Not drummed in—perhaps it worked out for the best, by accident.

Now I ask myself—I chose poetry over psychology, finally—
What is psychology? In one word, I would say: Invisible.
Psychology is the study of the Invisible. Religion and poetry
Are certainly children of the Invisible, but psychology is the Invisible itself.
Where is the most Invisible found? In people. The secrets of people.
Add to the Invisible the Unspoken, but the Unspoken is often Visible—
Despite what you did not say, I see what you wanted, and what you are.
But what is that?  What did you want to say? Now let’s see.
Did you go to class? Where did you sit? Did you take notes?
Is this like those nightmares I had when I was late for class
And traversed the entire campus looking for what I never found?

MARS STOOD NEXT TO THE MOON

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Mars stood next to the moon,

Dwarfed by her size and light,

The vivid red of Mars neither large nor bright,

A point beside the moon—brightening the night.

The moment I glanced these two together,

I knew I wouldn’t describe the weather,

Only the moon and Mars, both silent and far away,

A portion of the universe circling to stay.

Last night I looked for the gleaming moon,

Where she had often been,

But yesterday belonged to the rain and the wind.

Tonight, here is Mars, and the bright moon, too,

The moon, familiar, but Mars I also knew.

I rarely see Mars, but there it was,

A hand’s length from the the moon—who makes me think of love.

Why, she wonders, do we call her moon?

Why, he wonders, do we call him Mars?

And how much foolish poetry is written

Underneath the stars?

CATS ARE ACTRESSES

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Cats are actresses. Dogs are porn stars.
I recently saw lonely women compared to dogs
In a woman’s poem—what do you expect from poets?
Their moral apologies, their moral ambiguities, and shame,
As they feel around the real and try to give it a name.
The wagging, slobbering loyalty of a dog
Is an acquired taste. A dog, a kind of sexual partner without sex,
Has saved many a life from pure despair
When otherwise we would go out of our minds
From loneliness our indignant irritation always finds.
You had too many thoughts, didn’t you?
In your desperate loneliness you were not wholly focused,
Like da Vinci, like Mozart, like a dog.
Plenty of men prefer the loyalty of a dog
To anything a fast thinking woman can offer;
A dog can be disgusting, but no person
Will be disgusting for very long.  I should know this
But I don’t. The disgusting won’t remain
In the public eye for long. It’s private. Who the fuck knows
How disgusting people can become?
We hate you, women, because
Love is fragile, and females initiated every romance that ever was.

 

THE INNOCENT CHILD

Image result for chickadee in renaissance painting

A chickadee will never see

How a blind composer took her phrase, and added to it a melody—

A famous tragic song of love for all

Who love the difficult love, which holds us all in thrall.

The bird on the bough will never know the plan

To abort the child because it was a different man,

And that the aborted child was born alive and almost saved,

The DNA was switched by the trusted doctor she thought

She loved, and, as the doctor came to murder her, was caught,

And murdered by the assumed father, the rival, as she was slain.

Will poetry, or the chickadee, ever be more than it is, if it knows this pain?

 

 

 

THE BORDER IS ALL

Image result for a beautiful goddess guards the wall

As soon as you begin reading this, you’ve crossed

Into it. This poem exists because you are able to cross

Into it. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist.

Existence requires borders. Everything. Even a list.

Why is life perplexing? There are places you go,

And places you don’t go. That’s all you need to know.

Why is this so difficult? A note in music has a certain duration

Or it’s not a note among the notes of that composition,

Which is—is the audience ready?—playing only when it’s playing,

Just as this poem is here only for the time it’s saying what it’s saying.

If there is a place which is happy, outside of it is nothing, or sorrow.

Happiness today is made of borders—keeping away sadness tomorrow.

The world is mathematically round to keep the non-mathematical out.

The world is measurement and order. Beyond is misery and doubt.

The poem—I’m not inventing it—will keep you here, until it throws you out.

The poem has both of us—me, the poet who saw it first, and then you;

The poem took you when you entered it, and finally, what are you going to do?

The place you entered, and the place you will exit, keeps out all that is bad.

The poem keeps out, but also, to be a beautiful poem, contains the sad.

The poem, like all existence, has a border,

But sadly, is a border solely. Beauty walks these walls, keeping order.

 

 

LOVE NOT ONLY LOVES, IT JUDGES

Love not only loves, it judges,

And this is why love fades away,

And only the cigarette butts from yesterday

Remain—after you cry, and plead, and say what you need to say.

Only the poet who sings a sweet song,

Hates what needs to be hated,

And sees the poem of drippy prose is wrong.

Only a poet hates the one who waited

To show her hate, and when her hate is revealed at last—

Love, asking for honesty, having forced her hand—

Love, not only loving, but seeking continually to understand—

Finds hate, calculating, doubtful, slow, the winner; love unfortunately is fast—

Since by its very nature, love is unable to doubt.

Love belatedly discovers the hate, and judges the hate out.

When I loved you, fully and completely, and love surprised

You in your very eyes,

You looked at me in love, hiding as long as you could, your hate.

I loved you until I understood. You are pitied, wounded and waiting. I never wait.

Love and judgment are alike in this—

Bright. And with the speed of light, surround, and ruin and kiss.

I know in one step. You, in two.

You think. I simply love you.

 

NOW THAT I KNOW

No one is real. Everyone is a spokesman for someone, or something, else;

Everyone is a puppet for a hidden agenda. A willing, or an unwilling, dupe.

And the landscape of secret competition is so complex, willing and

Unwilling are the same. Seeking security and pleasure is simple,

Right? Absolutely not. All we know are thoughts inside of thoughts.

Everyone is confused absolutely and a puppet absolutely.

Love requires trust, but anyone who trusts a puppet is a fool.

I must include myself in this charade, and ask you not to believe

Anything I say. What can I say in favor of this or that? What do I know?

I am being used. By what or whom, and for what purpose, I’m not certain.

I could represent a large enterprise, changing from within,

And my resistance to change could be, in an odd twist, in favor of it,

Or my actions could be secretly against it, or, a preparation

For something entirely new, separate and different, which will benefit

Those people over there, or maybe I’m an agent for an operation to soften

And confuse, planting seeds for the next unforeseen uprising and change.

I don’t know what my feelings and thoughts are for, or what they indicate.

I don’t trust you. I don’t know what to tell you. What the hell? This poem is over.

OH NO, PLEASE HELP US! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED

angry-mob

1 Anders Carlson-Wee: Brilliant, empathic poem, “How-To,” published in The Nation—then a mob ends his career.

2 Stephanie Burt: Harvard professor and Nation poetry editor publishes Carlson-Wee—caves to the mob.

3 Carmen Giminez-Smith: Nation co-editor, with Burt, apologizes for “disparaging and ableist language” giving “offense,” “harm,” and “pain” to “several communities.”

4 Grace Schulman: Former Nation poetry editor: “never once did we apologize for publishing a poem.”

5 Patricia Smith: Runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, a slam poet champion, leads Twitter outrage which greets Carlson-Wee’s Nation poem.

6 Ben Mazer: Selected Poems out, discovering unpublished Delmore Schwartz material for Library of America.

7 Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey, her debut self-published book of viral Instagram ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ verse, has put a young woman from Toronto on top of the poetry popularity heap.

8 Tyler Knott Gregson: NY Times pointed out this Instagram poet’s first collection of poetry was a national bestseller.

9 Christopher Poindexter: This Instagram poet has been compared to Shakespeare by Huffpost. (He’s nothing like Shakespeare.)

10 Nikita Gill: Probably the best of the feminist Instagram poets.

11 Yrsa Daley-Ward: Her Instapoetry memoir, The Terrible, was praised by Katy Waldman in the New Yorker.

12 Marilyn Chin: Her New and Selected (Norton) this October contains her famous poem, “How I Got That Name.”

13 Frank Bidart: Awarded 2018 Pulitzer for his Collected Poems.

14 William Logan: New prose book: Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods. New book of poems, Rift of Light, proves again his formal verse is perhaps the best poetry published today.

15 Kevin Young: New New Yorker poetry editor.

16 Evie Shockley: Was on short list for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

17 David Lehman: Series editor for Best American Poetry since 1988—30 years.

18 Linda Ashok: Poet (Whorelight), songwriter (“Beautiful Scar”) and champion of Indian poetry in English.

19 Derrick Michael Hudson: Who still remembers this “Chinese” BAP poet?

20. Dana Gioia: Guest editor of Lehman’s Best American Poetry 2018.

21 Akhil Katyal: “Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?”

22 Urvashi Bahuguna: “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/It was Boy.”

23 Jeet Thayil: “you don’t want to hear her say,/Why, why did you not look after me?”

24 Sridala Swami: Jorge Louis Borges of English Indian poetry.

25 Adil Jussawalla: Born in Mumbai in 1940, another Anglo-Indian poet ignored in the U.S.

26 Rochelle D’Silva:  Indian slam poet who writes in English.

27 Billy Collins: Pajama and Slippers school of poetry. And nothing wrong with that at all.

28 W.S. Merwin: One of the few living major poets born in the 20s (goodbye Ashbery, Hall).

29 Valerie Macon: Quickly relieved of her NC poet laureate duties because of her lack of creds.

30 Mary Angela Douglas: a magical bygone spirit who sweetly found her way onto the Internet.

31 Stephen Cole: Who is this wonderful, prolific lyric poet? The daily Facebook fix.

32 Sophia Naz: “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

33 Rochelle Potkar: “But can I run away from the one cell that is the whole Self?”

34 Helen Vendler: No one finally cares what non-poets say about poetry.

35 Huzaifa Pandit: “Bear the drought of good poems a little longer”

36 N Ravi Shankar: “a toy train in a full moon night”

37 Sharon Olds: Like Edna Millay, a somewhat famous outsider, better than the men.

38 Nabina Das: “the familiar ant crawling up”

39 Kaveh Akbar: “the same paradise/where dead lab rats go.”

40 Terrance Hayes: “I love poems more than/money and pussy.”

41 Dan Sociu: Plain-spoken, rapturous voice of Romania

42 Glyn Maxwell: Editor of Derek Walcott’s poems— The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

43 Arjun Rajendran:  Indian poet in English who writes sassy, seductive poems.

44 A.E. Stallings: With Logan, and a few others, the Formalist torch.

45 Patricia Lockwood: Subsiding from viral into respectability.

46 Marjorie Perloff: An old-fashioned, shaming of NYU professor Avital Ronell in the Nimrod Reitman case.

47 Daipayan Nair: Great love and sex poet of India

48 Shohreh Laici: Proud young voice of restless, poetic Iran

49 Smita Sahay: “You flowed down the blue bus/into a brown puddle/below the yellow lamp post/and hung there”

50 Mary Oliver: An early fan of Edna St. Vincent Millay, she assisted Edna’s sister, Norma, in assembling the great poet’s work.

51 Natasha Trethewey: Former U.S. laureate, her New and Selected favored to win National Book Award this year.

52 Anand Thakore: “a single tusk/White as a quarter-moon in mid-July,/Before the coming of a cloud.”

53 Carl Dennis: Author of the poem, “The God Who Loves You.”

54 Tony Hoagland: Today’s Robert Bly.

55 Meera Nair: “I live in a house/Someone else has loved in”

56 Fanny Howe: “Eons of lily-building/emerged in the one flower.”

57 Rita Dove: Won Pulitzer in 1987. Her The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) was panned by Vendler and Perloff.

58 Diana Khoi Nguyen: Poet and multimedia artist studying for a PhD in Creative Writing.

59 Matthew Zapruder: Poetry editor of the New York Times magazine since 2016.

60 Jenny Xie: “I pull apart the evening with a fork.”

61 Mary Jo Bang: Chair of the National Book Award judges.

62 Jim Behrle: Hates David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series and “rhyme schemes.”

63 Semeen Ali: “diverting your attention/for a minute/contains my life/my undisclosed life”

64 George Bilgere: Ohio’s slightly more sophisticated Billy Collins.

65 Aishwarya Iyer: “When rain goes where will you find/The breath lost to the coming of love?”

66 Sukrita Kumar: “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

67 Sushmita Gupta: “So detached, so solid, so just, so pure. A glory unbeholden, never seen or met before.”

68 Merryn Juliette: “before your body knows the earth”

69 John Cooper Clarke: “The fucking clocks are fucking wrong/The fucking days are fucking long”

70 Justin Phillip Reed: His book (2018) is Indecency.

71 Cathy Park Hong: Her 2014 essay, “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” rules our era. The avant-garde is no longer automatically cool.

72 Carolyn Forche:  “No one finds/ you no one ever finds you.”

73 Zachary Bos: “The sun like a boat drowns.”

74 Bob Dylan: “You could have done better but I don’t mind”

75 Kanye West: The musical guest when SNL open its 44th season September 29th

76 Raquel Salas Rivera: “i shall invoke the shell petrified by shadows”

77 Jennifer Reeser: Indigenous, her new collection, will be available soon.

78 Forrest Gander: Be With from New Directions is his latest book.

79 Arun Sagar: “through glass and rain./Each way out/is worthy, each way leads/to clarity and mist,/and music.”

80 Joanna Valente: “Master said I am too anti-social.”

81 Richard Howard: Like Merwin, an American treasure, born in the 1920s.

82 J.Michael Martinez: Museum of the Americas on 2018 National Book Award longlist.

83 Amber Tamblyn: The actress/poet’s dad does the amazing flips in the movie West Side Story.

84 Paul Rowe: Stunning translation of Cesario Verde’s “O Sentimento dum Ocidental.”

85 Jill Bialosky: Norton editor caught plagiarizing by William Logan

86 Robert Pinsky: Editor of the 25 year anniversary edition of Best American Poetry in 2013.

87 Philip Nikolayev: Poet, linguist, philosopher: One Great Line theory of poetry is recent.

88 Ada Limón: The poet lives in New York, California, and Kentucky.

89 Rae Armantrout: Her poems examine, in her words, “a lot of largely unexamined baggage.”

90 Alex Dimitrov: “I want even the bad things to do over.”

91 Sam Sax: “Prayer for the Mutilated World” in September Poetry.

92 Danielle Georges: “You should be called beacon. You should be called flame.”

93 Stephen Sturgeon: “These errors are correct.”

94 Hieu Minh Nguyen: “Maybe he meant the city beyond the window.”

95 Richard Blanco: presidents, presidents, presidents.

96 Kent Johnson: His magazine Dispatches from the Poetry Wars continues the fight against poetry as commodity/career choice.

97 Parish Tiwari: “between falling rain/and loneliness…/the song/that once was ours”

98 Eliana Vanessa: Rrrrr. Lyric internet poet of the Tooth, Death, Love, Sex and Claw school.

99 Rachel Custer: Best known poem is “How I Am Like Donald Trump”

100 Jos Charles: “wen abeyance/accidentlie”

 

 

 

WHEN I AM TO THE DARK HOUSE GONE

Image result for stars in the sky

When I am to the dark house gone,

My poetry maybe will travel in hearts a little farther on.

But if I failed as a poet, I will not know.

I only hoped, and still to the dark house I go.

When I am to the dark stars gone

The bright stars, as they always have, will shine a little farther on.

This does not require hope. It’s something I know.

The bright stars will shine. When to the dark stars I go.

 

 

 

CRIME IS LIKE LOVE

Crime is like love.

How can we prove

The criminal did it again and again,

And loved us, with love that doesn’t end?

The brash detective proves

That even a lover, a lover who loves,

In one place and one time,

Even as they loved, committed a crime,

Kissing us falsely under a tree.

Prove it, detective. She loved me.

She came to me of her own free will,

To be loved and love. Prove every thrill

Of the mood by that shadowy lake

She felt freely, and all for my sake.

Every sigh she made in the grass

Was for me, and the mood did not pass

When she went home to rest.

Her restlessness was love at its best.

Prove her lack of peace proved

She was mine, and I was the one she loved,

And when we met and kissed again,

It was love which did not want to end,

Whether we kissed on the mountain or by the low lake,

And she tenderly kissed me only for my sake.

And when she didn’t love me that one time,

Can you prove, that this once, love wasn’t like crime?

That she wasn’t guilty, and love didn’t pass

Away, and when later, she kissed me in the grass,

And she told me she was still in love with me

It was love that was the same as when we kissed by the sea?

 

 

DURING THE DEPRESSION

During the depression, I lived richly.

During the war, I lived peacefully outside of town.

The year the crops and gardens failed,

I enjoyed sugary meals from 7-11.

When I thought about what I was doing I didn’t know what I was doing.

I wrote poetry that was not poetry.

I had thoughts about love that were not about love.

The day the towers fell I was raising children,

And thinking blindly in the back of my mind about many conspiracy theories.

Working on my Ph.D., I drank beer and played Pac-Man

At a Big Ten school, avoiding drunk football linemen.

In 1986 I had more doubts about her after she expressed herself, and yelled.

In 1996 my mind was clarified by a smoking habit, and I was more loved, albeit I smelled.

Paid to take my money, professionals had the money in wealthy days

I paid to those who were in debt to be above talk of money.

There was a huge crisis. Because it was balmy and sunny.

All politics and all philosophy belonged to one particular, silky-haired asshole.

The differences that were not really differences took their toll.

My lover and I during the Age of the Selfie did not take selfies at all.

And once, I think, my short, successful friend pushes me from behind, simply because he is small.

YOU PERMIT THESE THOUGHTS

Image result for abstract painting city trees

You permit me these thoughts,

These hopes, these stairs, these sights

From the top, with the city trees in view,

As I depart the station. If I saw you,

Before I was allowed to know you were

My love, my maker, making all these things occur,

You, the one who is coming,

You, much more than my troubled thoughts—

I would be too excited; I would fall down the stairs.

The fact that you are not here protects me.

If I saw you, if you were to be seen, to add

To what is only my sad, daily scenery,

A light in shadow emerging below,

Perhaps between those two parked cars,

On that street, where every day, I go

On my interminable commute, my commute would be

Over in an instant, the rapid light and shade.

I am walking down the stairs carefully,

Cool but excited, writing this in my head—

Seeing you? This poem? Is that what you made?

 

 

 

THE LARGER WANTS TO GET INTO THE SMALLER

Image result for nickel in painting coins in renaissance painting

Your brain, the size of a nickel,

Must confront ten trillion dollars in change

Every second of every day. Life

Is an endless variety of sadness and torture

And your heart keeps saying it’s OK it’s OK.

Your memory is a beautiful woman

The universe wants to enter: do you remember

How the crowd agreed with you and you felt love

In a way that swamped the embarrassing

Episodes when it was just you and him?

Your brain is amazing. It’s almost worth a dime.

But look. Here comes the coolest god:

Forgetfulness. She is never on time.

THE EYE AND THE ARTISTIC SOUL

Image result for da vinci sketches of astronomy

The eye drinks astronomy
And by the perspective of geometry sees,
The universe, her children, and the poet’s unease.
The farthest star, just out of sight,
Is seen by mathematics, if the calculations are right.
The farthest star, must fall back into
The beginning, central to seeing the you and the non-you,
The big bang, where nothing into matter grew;
Relation, the soul of matter, and so you knew
Perspective was how distance mirrored time.
That was the reason, as a child, you were charmed by rhyme,
And you liked to think about where the universe stopped.
Eventually your whole definition of infinity was dropped.
Today when you prick yourself, and there’s a little blood,
You automatically think of sex and horror films and food.
You thought a little too much, and it spoiled love.
She would have figured things out with you
But you had slightly more mundane things to do.
You couldn’t keep what you were thinking all in one place;
You were writing poems; you were worried about your face.
Poor poet, you know one thing: Many things into one thing will fit;
A little shaping of this verse, and that will be it.

 

 

THE MAN IS MORE ARTIFICIAL

 

Image result for woman with a knife in renaissance painting

The sad is my object, and I play with it in poetry and song.

She feels sad as a subject, and feels the sad is wrong.

I was able to kiss her and want her and my poetry

Loved her, but her love was deeper, so she left me.

I could be all and everything; I could kiss her, and then be apart;

She was focused on me and me alone, but she broke my heart.

Her daily rituals and appointments enslaved her until I

Arrived to make her happy—yet she made me cry.

The man is more artificial, and has a superficiality

The woman envies; she gives up her melancholy for clarity

And renounces all which prevents the sexes from being the same.

With a pocket knife she carved into my poem, “I Love You,” the first four letters of her name.

 

 

THE POOR MIND

Image result for dark grotto in renaissance painting

Cloudy sunshine emits more light than a lighted room.

Compared to nature, the mind is an unvisited tomb,

Which in darkness picks over the remains of its dead,

Traces of memories fooling itself in a foolish head.

The mind is only an eye, and, when the mind is its own subject, a subject of gloom,

Trapped by its own melancholy, and when it fights

Sad feelings with happy thoughts, it deludes itself with small lights.

The reassurances of the depressed

Repeat themselves in a skull which admits no light, no guest.

“There’s no one here!” Examine the mind,

And the eyeless discovers it cannot find the blind.

Instead, change slightly the old and visible in that piece of history we know as a day,

And make new melody with bright error inside harmony. Seek joy and knowledge that way.

 

INDIAN POETRY— SEPTEMBER

Image result for india in september

Welcome to another month of 7 Indian Poets in English, a project born from the mind and good will of Linda Ashok.

The 7-poets-per-month reviewing began in February of this year, and the experience has been humbling and elevating.  Humbling because the poets are talented, and Scarriet cannot possibly do them justice by looking at them so briefly, and elevating, because to love poetry is to read and support poetry, no matter how imperfectly.

*****************

How do we know the poetry reviewer or critic is good and honest?  And is good always honest?

If poetry (and therefore its judgement) involves emotion (and every aesthetic philosopher, even the colder ones, acknowledge emotion as crucial, whether embraced or escaped), must the honest critic, like the poet, be fickle, moody, unsparing, and often wrong?

If the critic obeys no emotion, and instead uses a standard, or lens, to judge the poetry, how do we know the “lens” of the critic is worthy, accurate, or true?  How can the critic prove to us his “lens” is accurate?  And if he can’t, isn’t this supposedly more objective critical method open to the same charges of unreliability?

If a poem is good, does it need criticism?

If the poem succeeds, does it require nagging reminders or explanations—since the poem, because it is a success, says it all?

If a good poem does not require criticism, how can we can attach importance to criticism?

The bad poem doesn’t need criticism, either. Unless the criticism is teaching the bad poet something, and what poet wants to be given a lesson in public re: his poem?

What critic would dare do such a thing?

It’s a miracle criticism exists at all.

Is this why for every 10,000 poets there is one decent, respectable, and serious critic among us?

Poets are always complaining that a critic is not their friend.

But when has a poet ever apologized to a critic?

We know there are bad poems, which no reader or critic should be forced to read, but even with the millions of bad poems published, when has a poet ever apologized?

Critics write apologies—this is what reviews and criticism, in fact, are. So why is the critic perceived as the villain? And the poet the victim?

When the very opposite is true?

And surely there are readers-–who are not critics at all?

Sudeep Sen may be perceived as the victim, but this is not true. By way of demonstration it is only necessary to print his poem “Desire” in full:

Under the soft translucent linen,
  the ridges around your nipples
harden at the thought of my tongue.
  You — lying inverted like the letter ‘c’ —
arch yourself deliberately
  wanting the warm press of my lips,
it’s wet to coat the skin
  that is bristling, burning,
breaking into sweats of desire —
  sweet juices of imagination.
But in fact, I haven’t even touched
 you. At least, not yet.

*

Devashish Makhija is a filmmaker.

And if that’s not enough, he writes poems like Neruda.

But this critic, sworn to love only the truly good, has never been too impressed by Neruda, the poet of seduction, whose one trick is pick-up lines enhanced by Metaphor 101.

A kiss is never just a kiss. It is, in “The Silence in the Body,” by Makhija, “a yellow ocean of abrasive sand” and “a deep sky of knife-edged stars,” and many other things, but there is a variation on Neruda—“The Silence of the Body” is not a love poem, but a defiant quarrel, in which Makhija offers his “silence” to his beloved’s attempt to “hear me scream.”

From his poem “If I Kill Myself Today”—perhaps not as witty as Dorothy Parker, but it has a pleasant darkness; we quote only the first part:

If I kill myself today

Tomorrow’s milk will curdle
untended at the door

Some clothes in the
washing machine will stay
unwashed forever

A hundred ants will gather in
quiet celebration around some
spilt tea in the kitchen

A quiet celebration around tea.  What’s not to like?

**

Mani Rao could perhaps be called the e.e.cummings of India; she’s enormously clever, in a coy, on-the-run, romantic. Look at this, from her poem “End of Scene”:

We don’t see each other  any more

Was it art for art’s sake

or did we get some poems out of it

“Until part do us death”

Until we exhaust all endings

Mani Rao can make a reader grimace and grin at the same time.

Here, in its entirety, is her poem, “Peace Treaty:”

What if Helen died

Cuckold crows
Husband recalls
Body face rites

Once broad Trojan devils
Now cower in the shadows of walls
Fearing skywitnesses
Quaking at birdshit

Our boy came back
From overseas with a
Souvenir egg that ticked

A runaway wife’s a rotten prize
Unwanted alive
And dead

History isn’t very old. Poetry isn’t very old.  It’s still dealing with the same alive, rotten, and dead.

***

Menka Shivdasani is one of those poets very fond of metamorphosis; she pushes right through metaphor into transformation—she becomes utterly at one with an everyday object, or a pet dog, and her metamorphosis story becomes the reason for writing the (prose) poem. She does this so well, that she diminishes herself by association with a thing, and, with subtle imagination, is triumphant, at the same time. “Diary of a Mad Housewife” her tour de force, has her bringing her dog to the vet, and the vet is not sure which one is the dog.

“The Woman Who Speaks to Milk Pots,” perhaps less cleverly, but more concisely, and forcefully, demonstrates her poignant genius at living in a profound way with objects.

Boil.
I shall ignore
that steely glint
and watch you.

I am simmering too,
padding about
with cotton ball claws,
arching my back
before the flickering
flame, scratching
behind my ear.

You’ve got the cream,
melded into every drop.
I will bide my time
till you separate,
and strain you
through wire mesh.

I’m on edge now; about
to overflow. Don’t sit
so self-contained,
snow-white and cold.

I shall turn the heat up,
put the lid on.

Watch me.

****

Nabina Das is poet who floods you with sensual detail, but she also steps back for the journey, a longer looking—and it is hard not to be charmed by the simple, yet effective manner her poem “Death and Else” is divided up.  The parts of a poem, and how they contribute to the whole, is such an obvious thing, that sometimes we miss how important it is in moving a poem towards perfection.

age seven:
a white-sheeted stomach
an upward motion
drowning breath.
i’m just a fly
on the wall thinking
why the old man
won’t sit up any more
get his shirt
worn-out leather belt
soaked dentures
and just go.

age eleven:
grandma is all marigold petals
her widow kitchen
shut and swept clean.
the hens she shooed
from the porch
aren’t happy either.
they miss her
rant as much as i do
her cow-dung mud floors
ladles bent
brass plates lying idle.

teenage:
she recounts the story
at our sleepover –
her sister had sat
where i sit
under the same ceiling
fan from where she
later dangled.
they had a song
about skirt hems
secret love letters.
her voice rebounds
against the ceiling’s hurt
old rose wall
sister’s school sash
the familiar ant crawling up.

early youth:
newspaper packagings never fail
to surprise, to raise curiosity
about a life in black and white, so
i sit down cross-legged poring
over THE TRIBUNE
with no dateline.
soon the newsprint too
gets shredded –
strip limbs
defaced alphabets
police-record names.

time of lust:
we kiss in a living shadow
away from the dead
body lying gently
in the front yard.
no one notices us
and the mourning
tastes like his stale
cigarette-tea-tongue
my chipped nails
fail to dig into his skin
and we miss the dead.

the other day:
my father’s face
is held in four frames
that don’t contain
his timex watch
the steel-rimmed glasses
a karl marx tie pin
and a pen of many decades.
the frames box him
like all things past,
they smooth his
tender jaw and here
he is young
he is in love.

This is a nice form, which we hope a wonderful poet such as Nabina Das will pursue more often, even if poems and forms sometimes quarrel with each other.

*****

Smita Sahay belongs to a rising wave of women poets attempting to move India forward in terms of female empowerment. She’s into spoken word—and the possibilities of blending it with comedy.  Whatever helps poetry! Poets wait for the day when spectacular crowds attend poetry readings. How do we make poetry as popular as music? When a poem is read silently, it is still performed. To hear music, most people need the music. Will poetry ever be massively popular? Or does it thrill best in one’s head?  This poem by Sahay explores, as only a poet might, mysteriously (I confess to not understanding everything in this poem) the very popular Marilyn Monroe.

For Marilyn Monroe

You flowed down the blue bus
into a brown puddle
below the yellow lamp post
and hung there –
beneath streetlights.
As I walked past,
my cane poked your right eye
and rippled your left.

I walked on,
head in a woolly cap,
heart wrapped in pashmina,
tottering on wobbly knees,
my cane click-clacking.
My head held your pictures
and heart heard voices –
your voices.

You flow in your white dress upon that vent
and croon ‘Diamonds’.
Now you live on buses,
on billboards,
fashion catalogues,
magazine covers;
my memories
and brown puddles.

******

Preeti Vangani is a spoken word poet earning her MFA at the University of San Francisco and she embraces social justice—which means her poems attempt to describe bad things humans do in the clearest way possible. “Parental Advice,” in which “for your own good” is appended to every line is a “Found poem made entirely from politician and police statements post incidents of rape in India.”

Here’s another poem with the same theme. We quote “Cover Up” in full:

(Woman who survived gang rape, acid attack thrice; forced to drink acid by perpetrators)

How many perverts does it take to change a light bulb?

Dad says wear full pants when a lower caste electrician comes

home to look at your sockets but don’t forget to offer

courtesy water & smile for the camera with me

when the right winged prime minister

celebrates womanhood on Twitter

as #selfiewithdaughter. A woman on the news melts

as she is bathed in acid, she shakes it off

like drying off wet hair. All Indians are my brothers

and sisters is the first line of our pledge:

But a dented sister must beg police brothers to write

an FIR as her body burns bureaucratically

and she is burdened for proof. And she better be wearing

full pants while begging. The govt. must mandate begging

bowls with pink bows for all women while doling out

Rs. 1,00,000/- as her consolation. She must learn to cover

all of her sockets with bowls and hide the jangling pennies

of protest in her chest

*******

Our exciting tour of India through poetry will continue next month. More great poets to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

INFINITE BEAUTY

Image result for preraphaelite painting

The beautiful face is like other beautiful faces,

The beautiful iconic look other faces share,

A beauty instantly recognized which the knowing cartoonist traces,

But her face compares to nothing—some similarity is there

To other beautiful faces,

But her face violates the template lovers see;

Her face, by the normal measure, should be ugly.

But it isn’t. And those who meet her more than once,

And get over that first illusion

Of the awkward and the ugly, gradually reach a different conclusion.

Her face is like the Christ, a difference the gift of God.

I, too, thought her face was strong, but odd,

A chin too prominent by the architect’s hand,

A beauty even beauty could never understand,

Not beautiful because it was her—

No personality shining through—

But a timeless architecture, imperious and pure,

A beauty not really for love—but belonging more to awe,

A face in an opium dream of lust, no cartoonist could draw.

Her face is the template of a beauty yet to be,

And not only did I succumb,

Her face succumbed to me,

And even now I am dumb

And cannot speak; wit does not belong to eternity.

 

THERE IS NOTHING THAT MUST BE SAID

There is nothing that must be said,

Despite what the vain poets say,

There is only what should be said,

And what we might have said, yesterday.

Do you hear nostalgia in “yesterday?”

That’s mostly what poetry is. That’s mostly what the poets say.

And if you are sad, you must be sad,

But I don’t know anything that must be said.

Examine all the poems, examine all the lives of the dead.

We find the attempt, and all attempts against what was attempted,

And further attempts, and we always attempt, as we should,

And if we ask for the bad, pretending to ask for the good,

The world will punish us, exactly as it should.

You should know this, but maybe you don’t,

And maybe they will tell you, or tactfully, perhaps, they won’t.

You don’t need to explain too much, or you shouldn’t;

You may hurt my feelings, but really, you wouldn’t.

But now the poet comes along and falsely says, what I have said, must be said.

I will write of love—before it is a love, before it is a love of someone who’s dead.

But there is nothing that must be said. Just say what you think you should.

Then tell me again of love that’s neither bad nor good.

WHEN BEAUTY DOESN’T KNOW IT IS BEAUTIFUL

Image result for lights across the bay at night

When beauty doesn’t know it is beautiful,

Because beauty wants something more,

Who dares to tell the ignorant

What ignorant beauty is for?

The response will be like the stars

Silent, in silent skies,

Or the sneer on the face of the one who has those beautiful eyes.

The additional, which the beautiful wants,

Adds more to how the beautiful wants

Secretly more beauty.

Everything is sad and needy

Except pure beauty.

When beauty doesn’t know it is beautiful,

It seems more beautiful still,

As when anger burns in fury

But has no fighting will.

“Fight me!” You cry, knowing anger is there.

But anger is far more angry when anger doesn’t care.

When beauty doesn’t know it is beautiful—

Actually, beauty not knowing is always the case;

Beauty isn’t confident, just because it has a beautiful face.

Everything can bring down the beautiful—

We all fear humbling disgrace.

Be careful what you say to the beautiful,

In poetry, or in person.

Less beautiful when it leaves its prison,

The beauty is not a beautiful person,

And wants to be beautiful again, in the prison,

Trapped by its beautiful face and eyes—

You’ve seen the mute stars look down, trapped by an empty sky.

You’ve heard the poet—the big baby—in love with beauty, cry.

Look! The evening lights of the town gleam across the bay—

Each light, a human story; but they have nothing to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU WANT WHAT YOU WANT BECAUSE YOU DON’T WANT IT

You want what you want because you don’t want it;

You want what you don’t want a lot;

You cannot want what you want just a little bit,

And the next moment you throw it away.

You wanted a violin—but a violin was too difficult to play.

You wanted me. And you stopped wanting me the same way.

But wanting is such that it is not wanting, because wanting

Is not having, and not having is not knowing, so wanting

Is, by its very nature ignorant. So watch out for wanting.

Beware when you want, and beware being wanted.

You don’t know what a violin is, and you are a violin no one can play.

But when I warn you against wanting, you’re just going to want, anyway.

You want what you don’t want. Why did I think when you wanted me

I was going to be loved? I didn’t. I started to write a poem immediately.

 

POEM WRITTEN WHILE MAKING LOVE TO GERMAINE GREER

 

Those unable to think abstractly,

Will hate abstractly, because feeling needs a place to go.

What is the abstract? It is emotion knowing—when we don’t really know.

We think with our feelings, sometimes matter-of-factly,

When the mundane thing must be done,

But daring insights, when we fly close to the truth, or the sun,

Turn our feelings into thoughts. We triumph in the mind,

As thoughts become feelings, when music, both beautiful and blind,

Narrows pleasure by increasing it.

Look at this poetry. It is music.

But those with no insights can only abstractly be abstract,

Can only feel the frustration of feeling, or examine dully the dull fact.

Abstraction is ubiquitous—because partial information

Belongs to expert, child, intoxicant—drunk in death, or elation.

The rush to hate abstractly appalls us. Will all the women hate all the men?

The whole society becomes infected. Madness. War. Here it comes again.

Remember, there is always a reason. Reason can and will understand hate,

Even when it’s directed at innocent you. Let’s go. It’s not too late.

 

 

YES, DARWIN

Yes I admit

I’m a Darwinist in my thought and wit.

If I see the cutest face on a short woman

I think, “Oh yes, cute provides hope for

Her—hope is natural for the human—

A cute face making up for lack of stature,

And so short and tall, rich and poor, we have these choices,

But I hate them, and when I hear the chattering voices,

Shall we go to this restaurant or that one?

All the hopeful ideas and decisions,

The elections, the Darwinist decisions,

Filling up our hopeful lives and days,

I reject these human interactions

And dwell, instead on the divine.

Maybe the restaurant is closed,

The short one rejects you. Fine.

I won’t go to a restaurant.

I will wander. What people hate is what I want.

No I can’t eat that! But I expect to dine.

 

POETRY IS NOT

Image result for painter william church

for William Logan

Poetry is not a medium for painting,

Yet I see poets painting all the time.

“Let’s make a poem a painting! Let’s not rhyme!”

And we wonder why poetry is failing.

A novelist is great when he knows about whaling?

A firefighter, an expert on Rome?

Is the poet a world traveler

With a collection of maps, who just stays at home?

The poet is allowed any number of trades,

But here’s the point: how is a poem made?

I’ve seen poets plunder the dictionary

For the rarest colors—to paint a picture no one can see.

We have the color of the sky—breathtaking!

And look, the color of the sea—my heart is aching!

But now the poet has forgotten what to say.

The picture he was painting got in the way.

And while the sunset is crazily igniting,

The poet doesn’t talk. He’s dryly writing.

He believes his painting is learned and profound.

He guards the museum. He doesn’t make a sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW MANY

Image result for air in renaissance painting

How many kisses do I have for you yet?

A thousand kisses for each regret.

Two kisses for every sigh we made,

When apart from each other, we sighed in the shade.

A kiss for every sigh in the sun.

A kiss for every decision to run,

When we thought to run was best,

From love that died yesterday in the west,

And away from love, we took our rest.

The reasons to go became too many,

And for years, no kisses; no, there aren’t any;

No kisses when I think of you,

No kisses when only a kiss will do,

To remind us both of how much a kiss

Is what we wanted, and will always miss,

Despite reasons we shouldn’t kiss,

Reasons which die next to the bliss

We felt, when sweetly, we bent to kiss.

I have kisses, I have more kisses yet

For our hearts, miserable and weary with regret—

Bodies, heavy, older, and tortured with pride—

Kissing, we’ll laugh when pride has died.

We’ll kiss more sweetly than that first day

We kissed—and kissing, knew kissing was the way.

 

 

LET ME ASK YOU SOMETHING

Let me ask you something. Is it worse

When you are certain and you reverse

Your opinion? I was sure Beethoven was better,

And now I’m sure Mozart is the greater composer.

Is it good to change your mind?

And when you love her, and then you don’t, is the song

Which played in your heart still right, or now wrong?

Beethoven transported me to places

I cannot describe. But now look at these faces.

Do they care that Mozart and Beethoven changed places

For me, tonight, as I listened to Mozart’s piano concerto in D minor again?

They are completely bored. They don’t want to argue with me.

Look at them. They are bored. You see it immediately.

I want people who understand me and love me.

Maybe I’m crazy. I want it all.

The greenery. The argument. The concert hall.

 

 

 

 

HUMAN SACRIFICE

Image result for abraham sacrifice son in renaissance painting

Everything that is necessary is a ritual,

And a ritual is only finished when we do it alone.

Religion belongs to our solitude,

The sacrifice done by the sharpener of the stone.

You laid things out the night before,

And then you took the other through the door.

You wish you hadn’t decided to reject

Love—but you work, and that requires respect.

If you are bored in the back of the church,

You belong to the millions who belong

To a ritual so you might escape it.

In your heart you secretly love a song,

A hit, which everyone else is listening to.

To make a knife, with a knife they scrape it

With all the patience they expect from you.

You were depressed and who knows

How you languished. But now

You are less troubled. You wear the clothes;

They don’t wear you. If the cow

Must be eaten, the sacrifice must be made.

The ritual of sacrifice is a ritual of no choice,

The symbolism of shadow is yours in the shade.

You needed no religion to remove every aspect of my voice.

The ritual is performed best by a crowd

Because in a crowd we are never free.

The performance was loud,

Unlike the quiet freedom of my poetry.

There is no ritual to an abortion. Just have it done.

Freedom is free of ritual. But, yes—once, they did have to sacrifice the son.

 

FOR MY REVENGE

Image result for green jungle in renaissance painting

For my revenge, I remain young and green,

Making sure spring laughs, and the laughing mountains are seen.

For my revenge, my glad youth parades

Past your planted memories, cool and shaded,

Which your madness had piled high with grim,

Uncomfortable, monuments to him—

My rival who defeated you, his roots covered in ice,

Authority standing over the pink and the nice.

In my green buds bursting from rough, old bark

I prove sweetness won’t surrender to conspiracies of dark,

But sings like the error-free birds do,

Their coats, feathers and loves, new,

The territorial battles made earnest and enthusiastic again.

If I can be new, why should I fear old, impolitic men?

If I can be a child, why shouldn’t you take my love up

And drink from the rose’s delicate cup?

Youthful secrets know time will do

In my green immortality what this poem does to you.

Read this poem again, after a year,

Or eons, if you like. I’ll be here.

 

 

I WRITE ON WHAT I JUST WROTE

Image result for shelley writing a poem in renaissance painting

Poets who are not critics, you should take note.

The poem worthy of itself is writing critically of what it just wrote.

If your poem hates criticism, your poem does not denote,

But sinks to muddy death in pure self-satisfaction,

Seeking a reader’s pitiful, gullible, second-hand, reaction,

The flow of inspiration blocked by thick, leafy redaction.

You who believe criticism of poetry is hate,

Safely meander towards nothing, pleasing obscurity your obscure fate.

The next line is always waiting for you—but you couldn’t wait,

Hurrying to illustrate your case—a clumsily played card,

Your metaphors for air immediately turning stale and hard;

The reader falls into reading shard upon shard,

The little meaning of this standing for the tepid meaning of that,

In the most obvious gambit of resemblances,

Or, if you are sophisticated, metaphors, perhaps, which don’t quite fit,

To win the reader—but the poem? You don’t care about it.

You pursued a poem without the poem in mind.

You wrote only to them, thinking your poem, like you, could be kind, or unkind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLEOPATRA

Cleopatra worked at my café.

Gradually she added paint to her face

And became more beautiful every day,

She got more beautiful every time I visited the place,

Which was often, because I liked the change in her,

As I did my writing—the days, the poems, a blur.

We are bored, so bored—we have to fill up the days

With meaning—that’s difficult, but we have to find the ways.

Meaning always means a challenge, the labor and stress

Of having children, a respectable job, a job with consequences.

Cleopatra was on her feet all day. I couldn’t have cared less.

She wasn’t Cleopatra, but I convinced myself she was.

Idiot dreams! Vanity! But that’s what Cleopatra does.

 

AMERICA WAS NEVER THAT GREAT

Image result for cuomo america was never that great

There is a certain dissatisfied type who hates

Those perceived as superior—saddest of fates!

All strive to be better, comparing themselves to others,

And some compete with love and good will, but others

With resentment, whine and hide, behind mentors and mothers.

And someone who blurts out in public life,

“America was never great” reveals at once his resentment, his pathos, his strife.

But since all of us struggle against this truth

That we are inferior, and constant proof

That we are inferior besets us each day,

We must forgive, and we must actually say

What does make America great,

And what this might have to do with our fate.

First, the obvious: a country is a home

Which we share with citizens; to roam

Among the dark hills, the wandering sea

Always implies a safe return; to be

Homeward bound is to know the great

As your place, your green shadow where loves wait.

Your home yesterday, today—this is why America for you has always been great.

Next, the martial, mixed with pride and pain,

The wars won for necessary gain.

An international war is how America was born,

A child, from a world Empire torn;

We were an Indian land worked by slaves,

The resource-heaven which the workshop craves,

And the British were this close to taking over the world,

Until comedy intervened—the Yankee flag unfurled.

Yankee Doodle Dandy boldly entered, and then,

A few battles, a contract—and the world would never be the same again,

And soon it was an America where all came

To be famous in a new and faster definition of fame.

New nations build new circuses and new devices to find

The empire was at once the consciousness of races and almost kind.

But the world will always be the same; different men

Love different women and different women love different men. The world follows the same plan,

Feeling itself as one—one creation, one message, the same man

Building the telegraph—which announces to himself the Civil War,

And a woman, seized by opium, coughs, and America is not America anymore.

The Victorian Christmas, with its beautiful lights,

Gave way to louder and quicker and lovelier delights,

And strange gods with beautiful eyes whispered to us our future fate:

“All is theft and illusion, and America was never that great.”

But let us return. Can we return? Who are we? If there is a flag that waves

From sea to shining sea, who will fight wars and take care of the wage-slaves,

And get up each morning to love what should be loved, and not what the infinite confusion of the infinite universe craves?

I look at what is not that great and I see you,

But I’m not that great either, and I’m hungry and I’m mortal, so what do you want me to do?

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, I’m a deplorable, and I’m going to make sure

You don’t get rich off government, and home will be these trees, these factories, these shady houses clinging to this shore.

 

 

 

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