HEARSAY

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“Someone is speaking but she doesn’t know he’s there.” —Here, There, and Everywhere, The Beatles

The great Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci said truth is what we see with our own two eyes.

The Renaissance (aprox. 1400—1600) was a great and remarkable time because it threw off the fake, hearsay wisdom of Aristotle, and trusted simple looking.

But why did it take so long to chuck Aristotle? His authority lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Because hearsay is how highly complex groups communicate, think and live.

Yes, reader. Hearsay is how you think. You have no choice. What else do you have? Do you think you know everything?

Love happens in the eyes.

Seduction and false love happens with words.

Words are hearsay. Professors and journalists and authors may not want to hear this, but all words, not just some, all words, all combinations of words, are hearsay.

Because we read something in the New York Times, or we hear our professor say it, we believe it to be true.

It is not that “it” does not have a very good chance for a certain amount of time to seem true; what matters is that it is an “it,” a thing of words, and what is not included in “its” carefully chosen arrangement contradicts “it,” (if the words don’t contradict themselves, which they often do).

What the “wise” words do not mention is real, but unknown.

All we get is the “it,” the words, what may possibly be believed and what easily can be believed, and this “it” is hearsay—not partially, but entirely. The writer or speaker is not necessarily lying. And if we don’t find an evidence of an outright lie, this may lull us into a false belief that it is not hearsay. But it is. Because it is made of words.  Whether it offends or not, it is hearsay.

Da Vinci was right.

And when we see the hearsay repeated—if  what we read in the New York Times, is seen again in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Economist, the Nation, the Times of India, ABC News and Fox News, we think this is somehow proof that it cannot be hearsay. 

We think the repeating makes the hearsay legitimate.

But hearsay does not escape being hearsay if it repeats.

The very opposite is true. As they say, lies travel with lighter wings.

The “fixed stars” of Aristotle was a “truth” for hundreds and hundreds of years.

But hearsay didn’t die out with Aristotle.

Today—dear reader, what do you know about the stars?

Hearsay is not necessarily a lie; it’s merely an incomplete assertion—and often it is not innocently incomplete.

True knowledge is impossible.

Ambition is not.

Hearsay is not avoided by the ambitious.  It is embraced.

Since the world is vast and complex—so much so that it cannot be grasped—-it is easy for an educated but bad person to believe that all ideas must be incomplete, since knowledge is limited—and so bad behavior is excused by the knowledge that there is finally no knowledge.

We should listen to da Vinci.  We should look.

Our lives depend on it.

The president condemns violent protest. The paper which reviles him says the president opposes all protest. Those who oppose the president read and believe the president opposes all protest. Hearsay exists when anyone, on any topic, speaks and is heard. The speaker and listener—wherever speech is present—live in hearsay.

Because all speech is hearsay, all public dialogue finds both sides are always wrong, and always right—depending on feelings.

“But the president condemned violent protest!” say the president’s defenders.

“No. We know what the president really meant: to oppose enthusiastic protest against himself and his friends!”

And on it goes.

“Enthusiastic” protest is justified, everything enthusiastic is justified, because hearsay needs to be enthusiastic to sell, to have wings, to make us feel emotional and alive.

Emotion is real. And hearsay, which is not real, becomes real, simply by wearing emotion.

Emotion, needing to be fed, begins to actively seek out greater and greater hearsay. Lies are believed—just so we can feel. Feeling, in the absence of true knowledge, is all we’ve got.

Hearsay is not merely empty talk; it does great harm—as poetry.  Yes, poetry. This is why Plato is famous for faulting it.

Emotion persuades through hearsay; emotion and hearsay make a potent mixture.

Emotion is the frightening noise of the animal—but emotional hearsay is elegantly and insidiously human.

Fear needs an object, and hearsay provides it: fear makes hearsay more effective because the blindness of fear feeds the blindness of hearsay.

Socrates, in his case against Homer in Plato’s Republic, quotes beautiful passages by the great poet Homer—which depict the Homeric gods as sorrowful and weak. Socrates complains this is a bad example for children—on a very simple level, Socrates objects to low morale; with the wisdom of the child, Socrates condemns reproduced unhappiness, or to put it more simply, unhappiness.

Plato objects to Homer and most poetry, not because it is hearsay (though it certainly is) but because it is unhappy.

We know very little. But we should know, at the least, even in the face of hearsay, that to be unhappy is bad.

Poetry is bad for very simple reasons. Socrates makes an exception to his banning of poetry in the Republic—he permits, (in his imaginary, poetic Republic) the kind of poetry which praises and depicts heroic behavior.

Hearsay with a good result is good.

It finally comes down to bravery and morale.

Aristotle claimed literary tragedy is purgative—fear stirred up by fiction somehow causes less fear. Plato felt Aristotle’s scientific justification of unhappy poetry was—hearsay.

Plato and Aristotle rarely agree.  A diligent comparison of these two is the beginning of wisdom.

The criminal, looking to advance criminality, will rejoice in poetry of fear and low morale. Producers of drama which terrify and demoralize inject criminality into art; this was Plato’s moral view.

Shakespeare’s tragedies are not good because they are filled with horror; they are good because the poetry and the plot defeat the horror. Shakespeare’s plays are like Platonic Dialogues. Good poetry defeats bad poetry. It’s confusing, It’s why Shakespeare and Plato are so good.

Hearsay also belongs to libel and slander, the real-life, legal counterpart to the kind of poetry Socrates wants to ban.

What is slander, but a fictional condemnation?   What is libel, but bad poetry?

Bad poetry and hearsay are present in mere folly.  But hearsay and bad poetry are also present in the worst kinds of crime, and the worst sorts of sentiments which lead to crime.

Poetry is serious business.

This brings us back to da Vinci and actual proof—great art looks—it uses perspective to escape the blindness of hearsay and fearful emotion.

Love, beauty, and the heroic are seen in ways just enough to be loving, beautiful, and heroic—they do not live in hearsay—which Plato and Shakespeare (slander is condemned often in the Sonnets) both believed was the greatest threat to human happiness.

Socrates invokes the simple wisdom of the child against sophistical reasoning. And further, the worth of Homer’s poetry (for poetry does have worth) emerges with greater interest and understanding in the hyper-critical testing of Homer by Socrates—who certainly understood that banning increases interest in something. Banned, poetry will be loved all the more, and the higher critical lens developed by Plato is worthy in itself, increasing the value of poetry, and the value of seeing poetry—which is seen for what it is. Criticism and poetry both need each other.

Just as the visual arts belong to the geometrical science of the world as a whole, (painting, according to da Vinci, belongs to astronomy) poetry is best judged in the same way—by how it sees (which in poetry is not very much!) and by  how it dispels hearsay in a manner which constantly keeps hearsay in view. This is why the best poets secretly write against poetry.

Hearsay is hasty in its conclusions.

Science, graceful and slow, even where things are quick, is not.

Hasty is unkind.

Haste is not efficiency.  Efficiency is a thousand times faster than rude and ignorant haste.

Science is slow, like love.

If you don’t have the patience for the philosopher Plato, hearsay will likely be your god.

You will weep.  Because you don’t hear Socrates.  But do not weep.

Happy Thanksgiving!  —Scarriet Editors November 21st 2018

 

 

I KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVED

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I was not the top of a thick tree.

She built her nest low, but she nested in me.

I know how much I loved. I know it wasn’t me.

I was only the lyre.  Not the melody.

I was not the wind, which came whistling from afar.

I was only an eye, captured by a star.

Use science. Science doesn’t know

My love. But I know.

She wasn’t worth loving. But I know well

How she’s heaven

To my uncomprehending hell.

I was not prepared, nor was I right.

She was the glory. She was the light.

I know how much I loved.

But it didn’t do any good.

She was the bird who chattered in my wood.

She was the life my body waited for.

No. She was going. I was the door.

She was the fish who struggled in my lake.

Now she’s the breath in every poem I make.

She’s the name I cannot say.

The instrument must die. But the song will stay.

 

 

THE WORST POETS ARE THE POETS

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The worst poets are the poets.

Here they come. Looking for money.

James Oswald III has some.

Workshop your poems with a mountain view.

Oswald’s retreat. Make it new.

Do you want to buy my book?

Look at my face. No. Don’t look.

A poet says scientists are flawed

And human, fishing for money, too.

Oswald waves him off. Let’s see your manuscript.

Fees collected. Now the foot is on the other shoe.

After so many loves, and my experience,

I write poems three by three, and two by two,

For James. Charming man. Wouldn’t it be

Lovely if we were closer to the sea?

The books. The retreat. It’s so tidy.

The women are serious and drink tea.

Thank you. Fuck. Only whiskey for me.

To break into a dance for a mountain view

Somewhere in Italy. Breathe the air.

Bats at dusk. There’s poetry there.

Have you seen the alterations to the view?

Do you want mountains? Or will the poems do?

 

 

A WHOLE LIFE

Think of life: millions of hours, and yet you stay the same!

For years you meditate, try to love, yet always, who do you blame?

Yourself. But I love you, introvert misanthrope!—you made me see

That I, too, hate people; that’s why you got to me—

Why you got under my skin as no one else did.

I was always the nice fool, shy as a sheep as a kid.

When I couldn’t talk to people, the fault, I thought, was mine.

I thought I lacked communication skills; I would gulp wine

To loosen up. Now the truth flashes on me: people are swine!

If life is a game of chess, I look five moves ahead;

But others always taught me: knock over the pieces instead.

Dreamy and sensitive, I found people boring and rude,

But I thought I was slow; I thought the problem was my attitude.

I’m nervous. The room is crowded. I know what I need to do.

Ignore the smiling faces. Find the honest, frowning face. Find you.

 

 

 

POETRY LIVES

We’re all poets, but poetry is the worst part

Of ourselves: mawkish, declarative, the inner coming out like a fart.

Disgustingly clever, airy, vain,

Presuming to change the world, insane.

We’re all poets, but some are wise.

Poetry lives in the hatred of the poetry. In the eyes.

Poetry is her, whether she fails, succeeds, or tries.

INDIAN POETRY NOVEMBER

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Welcome to the November 2018 Scarriet Indian poetry in English.

It is advantageous when a poet knows what they want to do. Knowing what you want to do is the play you’re putting on.  I vastly prefer Shakespeare performed by the very young to the slickest Hollywood production featuring well-known actors. Shakespeare wins me over. And so a poet who knows what they want to do wins me over. An amateur love poem moves me more than a sophisticated one by a sophisticated poet who is dutifully being sophisticated—by saying nothing which identifies him as a poet with something to say. Auden, one of my favorite poets, said it is better for the apprentice poet to love to “play with words” than “to have something to say,” but this was Auden acting sophisticated for a certain class of people—Auden knew in his heart this was rubbish. It goes without saying a poet should be good with words and have a sizable vocabulary, but look what Mozart did with 12 notes. What you do is all. Not the words—is this wrong to assert around poets? I assert it, nonetheless. Hearsay belongs to words, and hearsay is the greatest enemy of the poet.

And because hearsay is the enemy, many seek the safety of “just playing with words.”  The truly brave fight hearsay by “having something to say.”

Linda Ashok knows what she wants to do.  She wants to make old-fashioned India sexually happier for women—a good challenge for poetry, and a good thing for her, since every great poet has an identity of some kind as a particular kind of poet; the vague feeling that you would like to write poetry isn’t enough; you need to know what you want to do before you write the poem. This is a simple fact. One can see the intention, or not—in every poem (no matter what the New Critics say) and language and experience are such that infinite profit can pour from a single theme; the poet who has no theme is barren.

Here is Linda Ashok’s “Dirty Love.”

A beach is a pretty place to kiss
but I don’t want to kiss you at pretty places

I want to kiss you under the bed
On the bathroom pot
While washing your wears
While on the wait for your train
at the station, at taxi stands

I want to kiss you by the masjid
by the tea-stall, house of the congress &
the conservatives
I want to kiss you in a public toilet

and places that are not as pretty as the beach

Because–
1) I only know how to make dirty love &
2) my absence can only love you as much

 

Linda Ashok is young and ambitious—the poem just quoted is superb—there are no limits to what she can do.

When I first met Linda Ashok as a literary online friend, “Linda,” a popular American hit song from 1946, was a brief point of interest between us, the context of which I cannot quite remember—except that, pedant that I am, I had to point out to Linda that “Linda,” the once well-known song, was named for the child who would grow up and marry the Beatle, Paul McCartney.  Yes, poets, it’s true!

I recently watched a documentary on my phone on the evolution of the Beatles’ public image as they burst upon the world in 1964—we all remember those snappy answers by the Fab Four at numerous press conferences, the Beatles, cocky, funny, self-assured, witty, ebullient at the time.

The documentary revealed by accident (it was the usual fan-hash of worship and nostalgia) the one overlooked fact of the most famous musical act in history—how much the Beatles came to hate the press—at first their best friends.

The press (publicity) ended up ruining the Beatles, causing them to retreat from public life, break up, hate each other, and lose their miraculous gift of songwriting before the age of 30.

“How long will you last?” “Which of you are married?” “Why are you doing solo projects?” “Are you spreading drug use?”

Paul McCartney was asked every day, “When are you going to marry Jane Asher?”

Paul became increasingly annoyed with the marriage questions—at one point saying on video with a very grim face, he hated marriage, (Linda was still a few years away) but this was only the tip of the iceberg; as the early 60s flew by, the Beatles died from fake news, exasperated with lying, gossipy, nasty reporters.

Poets live and die by the press release, the review, the publication, the notice, the award, the prize, the whisper.

But not just poets. All of us live and die by hearsay.

The poets are precisely that class of people who are supposed to miraculously conquer hearsay—when it comes to words, poets fight fire with fire.

When reporters and reviewers hate you, you are no poet, you are no human being. We really do live in the breath of others.

Linda Ashok is working hard, in a public manner, in the world of the press release, for poetry, and for all of us.

Upon the wave of hearsay she sails.

We make poetry professional when we elevate the criticism of the poetry.  Just as the Beatles knew they had truly made it when other artists began to cover their songs, poetry shared in a meaningful and sincere manner is the hard work that must be done.

Starry-eyed “poets” gushing fine sentiments and “liking” each other is to be encouraged, even, and it may advance poetry, professionally and internationally, but only so much.

Linda cares about poetry in all its guises, but I believe she also understands, in a worldly sense, what feeds poetry, and where poetry can go.

John Lennon wanted to pull out. Asked by a reporter (this might have been 1965) what he “really cared about,” since, according to the reporter, John (the caustic, cynical Beatles) was known for “not caring about anything,” John said he cared for, “myself and my family,” pointing out many people didn’t have to like everything, and the public was more like him, than this reporter realized.

And so, no pressure on Linda.

Poetry can be served in all sorts of ways.

It does not even have to be liked.

*

Rajiv Mohabir has a poem on the Poetry Foundation site called “Coolie” which sets the record straight about his slave ancestry: “Now Stateside, Americans erase my slave story; call me Indian.”

Indian poetry has a tendency, perhaps more so than American and British poetry, to be scientific.

Science—once felt by the Romantics to be the opposite of poetry—when embraced by poets today, tends to prove the Romantics right—to be taken seriously, science avoids song. Take this relentlessly passionate and lyrical poem quoted in full by Mohabir—it is highly prosaic; note the use of “something” and “sometimes.”

Perhaps there is a scientific reason for the poets inserting poetry into more accessible prose speech—the urgent messages can be more publicly conveyed.

The sentence, “Whatever beast calls out will never know itself through the mirror of another, as populations collapse and the sea empties and no others can process its cries into music” is poetry of the highest order—“mirror,” the key word, has a distant, underwater, relation to “music,” as well as “Whatever,” “never,” “another,” “others,” and “cries.”  As “populations collapse and the sea empties” are prose facts from a scientific journal. Presenting all this may indicate the highest genius, or an eco-poetry pulled in too many directions.

If readers are confronted with facts about ocean pollution in a poem, and this is the main thrust of the poem, it will never be a poem. Poems and scientific journals are utterly different, and should be kept separate.

This is a bold assertion, only because the reason may not be readily apparent, but it comes back to hearsay. The Renaissance artist da Vinci said truth is only what we can see with our own two eyes. (This faith in seeing began the scientific and artistic revolution against the hearsay of Aristotle.) Words are not just partially hearsay. Words are hearsay. The difference between factual news and poetry has nothing to do with the words and their content, but whether the narrator is considered reliable, or not. The hidden truth is that the reliability of the narrator is hearsay, as well. Poetry suffers whenever it includes narration by narrators who are considered reliable (“I read the news and the seas are doomed.”)  The unreliability of the narrator is precisely what frees up poetry to be poetry.

So here’s the poem:

Hybrid Unidentified Whale

Is it any shock that in loss
we compensate? How emptiness
is like a coral, a something,
that strews its intestines
then chokes another head
with its greedy bowels.
Poets gather at this bed, drawn
like rorquals to krill blooms
to the metaphor’s perfume
of being the first or the only
of your kind. Scientists listen:
a blue or fin? Or is it a sei? A mix
of the dying out? Whatever
beast calls out will never
know itself through the mirror
of another, as populations collapse
and the sea empties and no others
can process its cries into music.
I want to cast such song-frequency
with lines about how shells
gouge my feet when I keep up
with you foot for foot,
or how I’ve noticed
that you stop looking back
for me, but researchers
can no longer hear
its strain. Sometimes I call
into the abyss for so long
it reaches back and slides
down my throat.

I wouldn’t go so far to say this is great poetry chained to the scientific essay. It is more like the scientific essay hitting and molding great poetry. Those “researchers.”  The “sea empties.”  So the reliable have warned us.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s true, or not.  It could be true for a time, or in part.  That’s not good enough for poetry. That’s the insidious thing about hearsay. It keeps us from seeing. If we don’t see, it’s not a poem.

**

Meena Kandaswamy is a young poet and novelist who belongs to the Caste Annihilation Movement. Her poetry is frank, direct, and all for striking a match for revolution.

The poet is not at all troubled that her poem, marked by the sublime, which ends with a phrase which has the prose/science feel: “Aggression is the best kind of trouble-shooting.”

AGGRESSION

Ours is a silence
that waits. Endlessly waits.

And then, unable to bear it
any further, it breaks into wails.

But not all suppressed reactions
end in our bemoaning the tragedy.

Sometimes,
the outward signals
of inward struggles takes colossal forms
And the revolution happens because our dreams explode.

Most of the time:

Aggression is the best kind of trouble-shooting.

***

Shikha Malaviya is one of those poets who has so much to say, her poetry breeding with journalism, bursting with intelligence, feeling, experience, memories of her life and mixed with the news of the world—she is obviously anxious to share India, history and to change with the world—the poetry itself can hardly keep up with her breathless sweep. Is it possible for things to be too much for poetry? Nearly every poem by Malaviya has “after such-and-such” or “inspired by that” or “based on this” as a header; every poem, if possible, has more depth and exactness than life itself, as when a person’s room is as interesting as the person; hers is verse focused on multi-tasking to an extraordinary degree.

Her poem “September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours)” has 3 parts.

The first part, “1 PM, Bangalore, Sunday brunch,” is followed by “2. 5 PM, Narmada Valley, dam protest” and “3. 10 PM, Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, nuclear reactor protest.”

Shikha Malaviya is energetic, to say the least. Can we keep up with her? Here’s the first part of “September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours)”:

The sting of sea salt on our tongues
we chase down tequila shots
screaming chug! chug! chug!
Our hips swaying badly
to Bollywood beats
telling us the party has
just begun

Remainders of an ordered feast
green curry smudged
on the forehead of a table
and after the fact
a melamine pile
plates balanced precariously
a half-eaten momo
in the shape of a smile
grinning back at us
wickedly

As the neighbors’ loud laundry
flaps in the warm Bangalore wind
tied in triplicate to
the security camera pole
how ugly it is we all complain
tenants should be screened
we all agree
someone is always watching
don’t they know
as you snap a picture
with your mobile phone

Could there be a better way to spend a Sunday?

We are already exhausted, and we still have a dam protest and a nuclear reactor protest to attend.  But why complain?  With her, we can have our cake and eat it.  There is so much to eat.

Malaviya is not above remarking on “green curry smudged” before protesting a dam. Remarkably, she has time for everything.  We glimpse in her work the possible truth that poetry is energy.

****

Biswamit Dwibedy writes poems so metaphorically self-conscious of their own wisdom one almost feels one should be deciphering them on a blackboard, if not listening to them in a hushed and bewildered ashram.

Master Alone

Feeding on the bread of stars, at footlights of the ardent lover
Their relationship, now reduced to a metaphor, a cluster of knowledge
that turns perception to the proof as one searches for it.

Units of measurement become frames to reveal the radiant serpent
ever-changing in the night sky.

This freedom is the result of that recognition.

“And so I descended from the sky and awakened you,”

said the bejeweled animal
to the simpler earth choked by muddy fragments.

And lines of landscape appear choked when
expressions of the face cease to manifest

“two hands only intertwine by the extension of their shadows”

as the shape of the word “anonymous”
because it is incomplete
a sequence turns to an extension
seen in the nature of blood.

And the frequency in question
Is the proof allowed
to find no utterance.

*****

Jhilmil Breckenridge, like many poets these days, pursues advanced degrees in creative writing, is an “activist,” as well as a “poet.”

A poet doesn’t need anything aside from their poems to prove they are a good poet.

We go to a doctor when we are ill.

But who looks to see what someone “is” before perusing their poems?

If anyone did such a thing, poetry would be aghast.

Until there are churches or hospitals which exist because a “poet” works there, poets will wander with their works under their arms, belonging to nothing and no one. I “studied” with this or that poet is a sign of weakness, since a person will never be a poem.

The poem is the sermon and the surgery, and poems are had for a song. Poetic reputation outside the poem is the saddest lie. Not that activism and advanced degrees are bad. We should be able to do whatever we want to do.

Breckenridge is aware of this, otherwise she would not have written this lovely stanza:

If your religion is poetry,
you have to consume grief and joy
in equal measure,
consume until you are so replete
you have no option but for the words
and worlds to flow, soot on pristine white.

The priest brings soot which conveys religious law; the doctor, soot in a pill to make you feel better; Breckenridge understands soot is soot.

This is the awful truth of poetry. Imagination has more to do with a “heavenly” sermon or a “miraculous” pill than with poetry. Poets today merely mourn. Breckenridge, again:

If your religion is poetry,
you must learn to witness, to feel
the terror of starving farmers,
the hungry sea the refugee boat teeters in,
the salt of your tears as you see small bodies
being lifted from soot and grime.

******

Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet whose poems achieve a lullaby sublimity, the term of which is not meant to indicate a lower order of poem, since the best lyric poems in the canon, if we are honest, achieve excellence in the lullaby mode—poetry pours balm even as it does all of its other things; poetry otherwise would have no identity apart from jarring silliness (the limerick) or fictional speech (prose).

The following will illustrate exactly this—poetry is lullaby, when the wind isn’t blowing.

Prayer

May things stay the way they are
in the simplest place you know.

May the shuttered windows
keep the air as cool as bottled jasmine.
May you never forget to listen
to the crumpled whisper of sheets
that mould themselves to your sleeping form.
May the pillows always be silvered
with cat-down and the muted percussion
of a lover’s breath.
May the murmur of the wall clock
continue to decree that your providence
run ten minutes slow.

May nothing be disturbed
in the simplest place you know
for it is here in the foetal hush
that blueprints dissolve
and poems begin,
and faith spreads like the hum of crickets,
faith in a time
when maps shall fade,
nostalgia cease
and the vigil end.

*******

Thanks to these wonderful Indian poets and to Linda.  See you in December!

—Scarriet Editors, Salem MA 11/15/18

 

 

 

 

 

I HOPE IT STAYS THIS WAY

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“what I had before” —old blues song

Yesterday, when reading the news

I suddenly realized only conservatives can sing the blues.

Look at my hand! My hand was praised once by my love.

I heard that someone manufactures a beautiful leather glove,

And clothes are good. But not really, when you’re in love.

I skipped the laundry and the chores and didn’t bother with a hat.

I just went out in the wind with my love. She likes that.

We went out to an old farm and touched the back of an enormous pig.

We are drawn to the bar life because nobody wants to be a prig,

But these days I lounge indoors for the entire afternoon,

And then have a single smoke, dreary and sober beneath the sober moon.

I hope it stays this way. But with death involved, you cannot know.

The architecture of old New England houses, boxes in a row,

Look solid, and even colorful, as old houses go.

They have a dignity and a practicality and cozy by the sea,

Where old America began. It’s okay by me.

Where a plantation stood in Georgia, rural dogs run free,

Just south of the Jefferson mall, on interstate 83.

But all these details… When everything amounts to good

Then everything is good. Criminals can do what they want.

I would smile a wan smile and look away. If the bullies taunt,

Their rhetoric will eventually cease. But if they took my lunch,

Many problems can be solved with one good, well-aimed punch.

You don’t get many chances. So don’t miss.

When you punch, punch, and when you kiss, kiss!

Yesterday I heard a pitch for a sexy bot.

I hope it stays this way. But I know it will not.

 

THANK GOD I’M SAFE

Thank God I’m safe. Free of lamentation—

Now that I see

She’s not the one for me.

Oh God, had she been,

I would have had to cross the sea, and I cannot swim.

I’m safe now. Love would have meant

An hour or two of kissing and then wondering where she went.

When I saw her from the back, her long hair

And her tall shape made me prepare

For love everlasting, but when she turned around

I saw her face was a little too round,

Thank God! I knew then there would be no insurmountable trick

Of children, the broken life in the night, worried sick,

When the night crawls and spreads its alarms

As we hold the infinite child in our arms.

I knew there would be safety; there would be no way

For the visionary lightning to wake me, though I had slept all day.

LOVE WILL NOT GET YOU LOVE

Love will not get you love.

Loving will not make you loved.

Have you loved one who did not love you?

Why did you think that would do?

She loved a pile of pennies more than you.

She was the one who looked out

At many things, and filled you with doubt.

It’s time to put on your uniform and fight.

Love desires to sleep peacefully at night.

Love is looking for a peaceful dome

Where money drops, to count money at home.

This needs to be defended.

War is love, now that love has ended.

Sublimity, like this poem, is cold and hateful.

Defeat libel. Face death. Then she’ll be grateful.

 

 

 

 

IF YOU HAD A BODY LIKE THAT

Two gloves, a left and a right.

Only the fool doesn’t get it right.

God is peace. Then a note from Mozart, and a little bit more.

Following the concert, we run home to bed.

No ambiguity and nothing to dread.

Good is nothing. And a little bit more.

Evil is everything. Birthmarks on the whore.

If you had a body like that,

What would I think of your soul?

Everything runs from the world as a whole.

Ignorance leads to irritation, and then attempts to be boss.

Democracy is bitter, bitter about its loss.

This is my republic. No one tells me what to do.

The simplest laws would look good on you.

 

I WENT DOWN

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I went down to poetry, with quiet thought,

Finding, but not finding, what I sought:

Ambiguous cigarette, ambiguous kiss!

Is it possible poetry can give me this?

What do words mean? What do words mean in the end?

Now that I have my poem—is it mine to send?

Or is this a sentiment caught from long ago,

Which is not mine?  Can you let me know?

HOW CAN THERE BE

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How can there be a sexy face?

Sex is something done in private.

But here is sex in every place.

Let’s cover the face,

As we cover the other parts

Which render and distract so many hearts.

God help me, I cannot stop looking

At her eye. It’s like smelling bacon cooking,

Everywhere! Sizzling bacon invades the nose,

Where morality doesn’t live. The scent of the world wears no clothes.

And neither does this face, whose eye

My eye catches. Sex is more than a dream,

As common on her as perfume, or a sunbeam.

And yet you want me to be moral; you want me not to say

What the whole world dreams, and what I would like to do today.

The only way morality exists

Is if we live in the past.  She lived long, but never kissed!

I have everything I want today.

Don’t ask me why, Rosalinda. I will not say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE NEVER SEE THE SUN

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We never see the sun.

We only see the sunbeam.

We get but a glimpse of the true, romantic dream.

The wisdom of Socrates and the old Romantics

The Moderns never get.

Tears of—laughter—made Byron’s face wet.

There is a world of nuance the Moderns don’t know—

Beneath the black, the humor, of Edgar Allan Poe.

Romanticism is not what the Moderns think.

The Dark Lady wasn’t a lover. But a pun on black ink.

Romanticism is not alive with flowers.

Romanticism is the dungeon and a moon, seen in the window, one night, for a couple of hours.

And if this makes you sad, go ahead, be modern. Whatever that means.

A cough in your forties?  England by way of Italy in your teens?

Romanticism happened. You never saw it. That’s what it means.

 

 

 

 

WHY LOVE IS JEALOUS

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Women are wise to hate men’s jealousy;

The jealous man loves the woman

Through a standard of beauty loved by men.

A man wouldn’t mind if a woman loved him this way.

If she loved him through a female standard, to him that would be okay.

But why, when a woman sees her man is jealous, does she run away?

Men embrace judgement, the contest; they have a keen interest in the game;

Men see life as binary; life is either split, or everything’s the same.

The mathematical reality of life is binary;

Reproduction, the binary split of replication fascinates the man—

He loves himself—in his son, he loves life—in poetry.

To her, nothing is worth replicating;

Jealousy to her is death; she rejects his standard, his hierarchy, his plan.

She transcends life and death in non-death. Nothing, to her, is worth debating.

The woman, wiser, knows binary in life means death;

The woman is content in a way the man is not; she is self-enclosed and whole.

So the sexes are different—different not just in body, but in soul.

So when I wonder how it was

With her and I, the question,

Why love is jealous, should be: why is jealousy love?

 

 

 

 

RUMINATION

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Alarmism has turned off my alarm.

The rooster crows as I walk with my dog around the farm.

Now I sleep. A world inside a world is safe from harm.

Among tall trees, a lush, fantastic, garden,

Three hungry bees for every flower.

Sunlight, you are my radiation, my danger.

Something hand-written is handed to me. Could anything be stranger?

The world looks the same as it did in my first hour.

The world can take care of the world.

I feel safe.  Is this odd?

Have I slipped into madness? Or did I find God?

 

 

 

A POEM IS A JOKE WITH A DRY PUNCHLINE

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A poem is a joke with a dry punchline.

You looked into a divine future that wasn’t.

Let’s say she loved you, but now she doesn’t;

Love’s not funny, but maybe she never did.

A poem fails that cries. Better to kid.

Better to say the bricks that rainy night in the square

Were mirrors in the evening glare

And find a joke in that, that could be hiding there,

A memory of something a little weird or funny,

Her attempt at humor, your lack of money,

Whatever kind of makes sense, but is sort of odd;

Speculation or comparison to God

Is good for a laugh without laughing.

I want that, but that’s not what she’s having.

You fall in love with the crazy ones. Why is that?

There’s a mad excitement which lights the eye,

An interest which is close to enmity,

Which few can broadcast. I saw it in you

And ha ha ha—you must have seen it in me, too.

Now get ready for the punchline:

The gleam that gleams in the gleaming wine

Was the whole delicate thing in sum.

Get the poems from your desk. Patricia said you were fucking dumb.

 

 

PRUDENCE

Love that’s stupid is not love.

Love is betrayed most by love

When it loves, but loves stupidly.

Love discerns the enemy,

And doesn’t let the enemy in.

Love that’s stupid isn’t love. It’s sin.

She respected the fear of her boss,

Which would have been OK,

But that’s all she cared about.

I loved her. That was my tremendous loss.

That’s how I lost my way.

I was stupid. There was one

Who loved me and loved great art,

But I was stupid and pushed her out of my heart.

Stupid always seems to win. Why?

I loved one who didn’t love me.

When we love, why do we love stupidly?

When we love, we shouldn’t be stupid.

But look at all the things, when we wanted things, we did.

When you sell the worthless, it isn’t profit,

But its opposite.

Love that’s stupid is the opposite of love.

I MADE HER CRAZY

I made her crazy. The broken heart

Learns to be crazy as its highest art.

After she talks to strangers who look at her and smile,

She thinks, I’m crazy, why did I say that, he thought I was crazy all the while,

And the stranger who leaves her thinks, she is totally mad,

She’s crazy. She’s crazy. Too crazy to be happy. Too crazy to be sad.

When she’s alone she decides again not to think

Of me, and succumbs to memories, at the desk, at the bureau, at the sink.

She talks to her family and her friends while thinking of me,

And into her dreams I waltz in fateful horror and pornography,

And she sees me—and otherwise cannot see.

It is usually enough to hate and blame me for what went wrong,

But then she imagines a bird in a wood singing a delicate song

And then she sees me approaching with a poem on my tongue

And again she thinks of me, and wishes she were young,

Long before she met me and I smiled and then

She it made it worse and now she thinks of me again.

She wishes she had a spade, a garden with dark soil deep,

And into the earth she crawls, a young girl, who falls asleep,

And when she wakes in the morning, the quiet butterfly

Makes confident noises. And nothing else comes by,

And she escapes, at last, my blue-green eye.

O here comes the madness, oh let it start!

Madness is the only thing which soothes the burning heart,

The heart he heated with his voice and hand,

When the cold blue sea sprinkled the respectable land.

 

EVERY ETHNICITY

 

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Every ethnicity has a soul,

But only the poet has a soul that is whole.

If I could be an ethnicity, which one would I be?

None. I would rather write poetry.

I could be a Chinese nerd, and love beauty unselfconsciously.

The men there are either severe or nerdy,

And if you are nerdy you may still love a beauty,

Since millions—how sweet!—of the men are nerdy

And the Chinese women don’t care how men look.

Beauty in China is measured by how well you read a book.

The Italian men have swagger in their soul

And fight over their beautiful women to feel whole.

The English men are brutish and sarcastic,

And in response, the English women are sarcastic, too.

The German man is thoughtful. His dreams are fantastic.

The Pole shrugs. The Arabs shower cigarettes on you.

Russians share feelings, the friendly Africans flirt.

The Frenchman is theoretical, the French woman, rather curt.

The Spaniard prefers a mysterious smile, the Irishman, a song,

The people of India are jolly, but intense, when they prove you wrong.

Americans? This mixture hasn’t been around for long.

The men are arrogant, they look around

At the world they rule, which America recently found.

A miracle, I was raised a poet here. I write poems for Cupid,

Not for these—they’re either feminist, or stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAFETY OR LOVE

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Choose safety or love.

If you think it’s safe, it’s not love—

She only pretends to love you.

The more you love her,

The more she turns to safety—

Where paintings and words are a blur.

I know, because she reached out to me

When you thought she was loving you.

I was ugly. Tomorrow came to her safely

Because I didn’t love her. She had no doubts. She knew.

You only want to be certain,

Now, in your grief,

Why she disappeared behind the curtain

And what she does behind the curtain now,

And if love is love, how

Love can hurt and betray all love.

The problem is, you want to be certain

If she was certain

When she disappeared behind the curtain

And was she running from love?

You loved her. She was certain.

And yes she was.

 

 

 

WHEN YOU LOSE LOVE

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When you lose love, the experience of kindness is painful.
You’d rather have them back, disdainful.
When you lose love.

When you lose love, everything seems trivial and mild.
You’d rather have them back, when things were wild.
When you lose love.

When you lose love, conspiracies prevent a love that’s new.
Life looks backwards. Rumors of them are everything to you.
When you lose love.

When you lose love, you knock on the door of your tomb
Which was their house. You wish you would die soon.
When you lose love.

 

YOU ALWAYS KNEW THIS

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Join the mainstream.

Independent thought is a dream.

Like what other people like, and you’ll survive.

The end of philosophy isn’t truth. It’s staying alive.

There is nothing beyond conformity.

Conformity is how we live. Poetry

Has no soul. It’s only vocabulary.

You! Say something new and leave the pack.

You won’t be coming back.

Write to us. Tell us what you find.

Is it useful? Good! We want to be useless and blind.

 

 

LIFE IS SIMPLE IN LATE OCTOBER

Baseball is more interesting when runs are few.

Love is best when I don’t know. And so I love you.

I whiff when you throw fast, and when you throw slow.

I love you, anyway. You just never know.

To guess fastball, and win it all

1-0, with a fly ball almost foul, that just makes it over the wall.

To win you with a poem, or something stupid I say.

A kiss. A wish that reaches you from far away.

Never mind the dinners and the wedding ring.

I like it when you don’t think you can but I tell you, you can sing.

You don’t believe in yourself. You never do.

You get upset at nothing. And I love you.

You made me hate you. But I keep on loving.

I was nervous, but my mind keeps moving.

Two strikes, two outs. You don’t smile.

I once thought I could hit a baseball a mile.

But you throw too hard. I can’t hit you.

I just stick my bat out. I steal. That’s all I can do.

Bring it. Hate me. I still love you.

Baseball is more interesting when runs are none, or few.

NOR’EASTER, SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS

A ravaging storm of rain and wind,

On the final Halloween weekend,

Empties the streets of this Halloween town.

Witch’s hats are blown by the blast.

The ghouls of hell are gone at last.

The Christian preachers tried their best

To shame false gods in Halloween dress.

They laughed. Now nature’s wind and rain

Brings normalcy back to the streets again.

Normalcy is my God, much more

Than the harrowing spectacles of Christian lore,

Priests with their earnest, “Be good!”

Or more sly: “Find religion in pond or wood.”

(Just give me exercise and decent food.)

Discipline establishes space and room

For me to know a certain serenity in gloom,

Chaos, betrayal, misfortune.

Calmly, I light a cigarette in the wind.

A cigarette brings me closer to God.

Not “a smoker,” one smoke and I feel odd.

Tingling, I feel the need to shit; I fart;

Relaxing the body is the best medicinal art

And the secret to sex. I felt relaxed with you,

But the problem, of course, was you; we always feel

Troubled by others. We know only the self is real.

Sometimes we doubt the existence of our mask,

But the true self will never tell, so please don’t ask.

I smile. How to explain normalcy to you?

A Marxist, you want to change the world. How best to feel

What I feel about the rain, the wind, and the leaves falling?

Is that your phone? Someone’s calling.

Better take it. A cigarette, like God, changes your view

With a feeling, a small feeling which has nothing to do

With the view, but changes the view.

That’s all I need to know of God. Or Marx. Or you.

 

 

 

 

VEILS, HALOS & SHACKLES: INTERNATIONAL POETRY ON THE OPPRESSION AND EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN

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Charles Adès Fishman and Smita Sahay have compiled an heroic anthology of poetry.  Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women; Kasva Press; Fishman, Sahay; Ed., 2016, 555 pages.

The topic of rape is a horrifying one.  It will not take long for readers of this anthology, readers of manners and decency, to be completely horrified and aghast—the systematic, contemporary, and worldwide brutalizing of women and children is not a dainty subject.

In this remarkable and necessary anthology, brutality against women is often told starkly, in what is essentially prose incident and prose vignettes—poetry sometimes takes a back seat, or poetry comes to the rescue. The topic hinders poetry. Poetry, in this atmosphere must fight to live and breathe.

Either the horrific incidents themselves do not allow poetry to come anywhere near, or the poets, brutalized by the incidents, or stung by the terrible news, are too traumatized to produce poetry.

Weaponized gossip is occasionally the go-to strategy, especially when the incidents occur in more middle class settings. It might be teachers using papers written by their students. One poem begins (and notice the pure prose):

The part-time teacher sometimes has her students read their English IA papers in front of class. She has not read them yet. She asks for volunteers.

A beautiful woman stands in front of the class and reads a paper in which she states that her husband beat her…

Judy Wells “The Part-Time Teacher Sometimes Fears For Her Students’ Lives”

Veils, Halos & Shackles does not get mired in one kind of politics; the perspectives come from everywhere—they are brief, but numerous, and the poets also add prose remarks to their poems.

This book, I am happy to say, has great documentary worth.

The poems tend to be the quick, through-a-keyhole type of horror—not the long arc of fictional, Stephen King, horror. But this is, unfortunately, very real. There are things here you would never want to look at, but which poetry somehow must tell—horror in sad, banal, mundane glimpses.

Poetry almost feels superfluous in recounting these terrible incidents. Poetry, like civilized decency, is ashamed, is tactfully silent, as the suffering unfolds. Unfortunately, or not, Veils, Halos & Shackles only sometimes has poetry. To be true to its subject, this was necessary.

The Socratic injunction against the danger of poetry was not the paranoid ravings of an old man. The best poem about a street fight will feature neither the street nor the fight.  If the poet is weak enough to believe that a poem on a street fight is all about the street fight, then street fighting will win, and poetry will lose.

Is there history, or science (why is there brutality?) or politics in these poems?  Yes, and no.  There is no systematic effort to present science, politics or history.  Yet the nature of the subject—and the poets in this anthology are from all over the world—make it impossible for these poems not to be, in some manner, political and historical—if not scientific.  The anthology has a fullness, in this regard, and is an important record, if only for that.  The editors have done a wonderful job in making this book feel like the world.

But does the subject itself hinder the pleasures of poetry?  To some degree, this might be said to be true.  The more we are appalled by a vast, society-wide problem, the more merely a reaction to it pains us to such a degree that even if the reaction contains understanding, stretching upwards into art, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to have anything to do with that reaction at all.

Poetry walking into the fires of the world cannot survive the fire—if it does, it’s not poetry.  Or, so many instinctively believe.

And if news of the horror needs to be spread, let something more efficient, like prose, do it.  Poetry is the end of existence, not the means; it is the message, not the messaging service.  We should spread the news some other way.

The poet, when reporting contemporary, dire, emergencies, naturally begins to talk in the more urgent, and plain accents, of prose.  It can’t be helped.

Prose can be three things, and only three things.  The truth. Story. Propaganda. Poetry traditionally avoids all three of these, but during an emergency, what is called “poetry” tends to follow the dictates of prose.

Poetry, as it is mostly written today, then, can be three things: The truth. Story. Propaganda. The third is perhaps the most common, since it’s so easy to mix up the first two, and the confusion between the first two ends up, often, being the third, even when the attempt at truth and story is done with the very best intentions.

Propaganda is best when it disguises itself as concern for the oppressed.

The message of concern only advertises the triumph of the wicked, and the end result is just more winning for the wicked, as the innocent are frightened and the good are demoralized. This is the danger. Men are hated. Then men become worse. The illiterate brute fears nothing in front of the ineffectiveness of poetry, which is nothing but unintentional propaganda for what they do. Shelley warned of this, pointing out that poetry has a higher calling, creating love and beauty itself, the true poetry avoiding the problem of the dyer’s hand, stained by reportage of the very horrors poetry must fight by other means.

Many of the poets in this large anthology, about 250 of them—and many are widely published—are aware of this danger—poetry which reports oppressive behavior may give cheer to the oppressor, since poetry which replicates the helpless tears of the oppressed is exactly what the oppressor feeds on. Because of this awareness that weakness breeds weakness,  a few of the poems in Veils, Halos & Shackles urge the women in abusive relationships to murder their oppressors.

The reporter and the poet are not the same. The world needs both. And they should not be confused—when they are, propaganda grows like mold and problems multiply. Rather than be a helpless reporter, the poet offers brutal advice, but this unfortunately fails; it only deepens the sense of helplessness and despair, in which our world, and the attempt at poetry, founders.

Then there is the acute problem of symbol and metaphor—we think, without thinking, that metaphor is the soul of poetry, and even a figure as illustrious as Aristotle thought it so; but when we describe the disgust and terror of this topic in other terms (symbols) the poetry’s gain is the world’s loss; the problem remains, as it is simply given another name, and so despair actually deepens, and poetic wisdom mocks itself.

History, story, journalism, and statistics, are the moral lenses typically offered when widespread brutality occurs—poetry adorns, pleads, humiliates itself, digresses, sketches, symbolizes, paints, condenses, and gasps in such a manner that the very brutality which is the enemy now emerges grinning, in a new guise, not chastened; the oppressor, once banal, is now decorated with the laments of its victims. Poetry cannot harm it. Poetry, by its very nature, does not operate morally, but with faculties more sensual and ironic and complex, such that mere brutality has nothing to do with it at all.

Despite this, the editors have found poems which are stunning examples of poetry, avoiding the trap of harm, venality, stupidity, hunger, and menace breeding more of the same. The editors have still, despite all we have said, produced an important and bountiful anthology. There is hope for humanity.

Here is a poem from Karen Alkalay-Gut, which we meet early in the anthology—arranged alphabetically by author. The variety of the poetry in this anthology recommends it. This poem by Alkalay-Gut is rare for its pure accessibility and brevity.

Guy Breaks Up With A Girl

Guy breaks up with a girl
she tries to kill herself
girl breaks up with a guy
he tries to kill her

either way it’s her fault

This sad tendency is true. The difference between the genders, in that nebulous state of impulsive human desire, where the male oppresses the female, describes the whole subject of the book in an instant. What editor would not want to include this poem?

But what of men who die from love? Or where no one is at fault? What of this?

Or what of the men who would never say if the man “tries to kill” the girl it is “her fault?” What of this?

A poem is not a poem when it leaves itself open to indignant prose responses. Poetry does not belong to sad tendencies. Especially when they are objectively expressed.

Are all women self-effacing, and all men murderous? The poet is not a statistician, who furthers the news of cruel probabilities.

In “Guy Breaks Up With A Girl,” the subject triumphs; the evil, in fact, triumphs, not poetry.

On a certain level, this is the best poem in the book.

On another level, it is not a poem at all.

Here, then, is why this piece deserves a look. It describes the gulf—on two levels—which is the sorrow of us all.

The gulf between men and women—is it real, is it wide, is it imagined? How real? How wide? How imagined? Is it from birth? Is it from society? If it’s from society, does that mean the individual is innocent? How we answer—or do not answer—these questions—is how we write poetry on this topic.

It seems to me that women should never hate all men. If this horror is to be overcome, shouldn’t women fight the horror with the percentage of men who are good, and also hate the wrong?

Linda Pastan, one of the better known poets in the anthology, writes a poem with the same sentiment as “Gut Breaks Up With A Girl:”

On Violence Against Women

when Adam took
that second bite
he said

you’ll get what
you deserve
and spat out the pits

and led Eve
in lockstep
from the garden

and oh
the sweetness
of blame

continues
toxic
down the ages

Unfortunately, Pastan is right. Blame is sweet.

The truth of women wronged is such that perhaps I am too fastidious to speak of gender theory and society and poetry and blame; I should recognize it is the topic which is more important, even as I quote Shelley. But I trust the reader will understand what I am saying.

The following, by Sampurna Chattarji, is my favorite poem in the anthology; it does not shy away from the topic—none of the poems in this anthology do—but it manages to embrace the topic and its profound terror without succumbing to what it works in. It has a deeply informed subjectivity; there is no straining after reporter’s facts, there is no general bitterness, which causes so many poems to run aground. It achieves poignancy in the simplest and truest manner possible.

As A Son, My Daughter

When you grow up,
you will be a healer
loved for your smile
and your sorceress skill.
You will be a composer
of concrete dreams,
songs of towering glass.

You will be the one
to split the gene
and shed light
on every last particle of doubt.

You will know numbers so well
that you will reject them all
save two,
for they will be enough
to keep you engaged endlessly
in running the world,
efficient and remorseless,
a network of binary combinations.

When you grow up,
you will be all that I am not.
Wise, patient, with shiny long hair
and good teeth,
radiant skin to go
with your razor intellect,
as brilliant as you are beautiful.

You will be a wife
and a mother,
your children will be
brilliant and beautiful,
exactly as I see them,
perfect miniatures
of all
that I am not.

I brought you up as a son,
my daughter,
fierce and strong and free.
But now, now
that you are, have become,
all that I am not,
you are too fierce, too strong, too free.
Your hair is too short.
Your absences too long.
You fear nothing.
You frighten me.

The paradox is that poetry can speak of the horror of women brutalized, both systematically and randomly. But poetry escapes blame; it escapes its subject—or, rather, it elevates the subject, which is a paradox, since the wrong, the horror, cannot be elevated.

The miracle is not that that Veils, Halos & Shackles, a poetry anthology, contains no poetry, but that it does.

Wrong begets wrong. And poetry must conquer this begetting, not just the original wrong.

Men, hurt by women, for whatever reason, often rescue themselves by retreating into a “man’s world;” men’s escape from women is expressed in the following “humorous” bumper sticker: “Wife and dog missing. Reward for the dog.”

Diane Lockward saw this bumper sticker on a pickup truck in New Hampshire, and she came up with this fine response, a beautiful, redemptive and poignant poem, “The Missing Wife:”

The wife and dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.

They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

Time passed. They came and went as they pleased,
chased sticks when they felt like chasing sticks,
dug holes in what they came to regard
as their own backyard. They unlearned
how to roll over and play dead.

In spring the dog wandered off in pursuit
of a rabbit. Collared by a hunter and returned
to the master for $25, he lives
on a tight leash now.

He sleeps on the wife’s side of the bed,
whimpering, pressing his snout
into her pillow, breathing
the scent of her hair.

And the wife? She’s moved deep into the heart
of the forest. She walks
on all fours, fetches for no man, performs
no tricks. She is content. Only sometimes
she gets lonely, remembers how he would nuzzle
her cheek and comfort her when she twitched
and thrashed in her sleep.

What woman—or man—could read this poem without being profoundly moved?

Another major theme in this anthology—of perhaps the most important topic of our time—is that the aftermath of abuse is as terrible—perhaps more so, lasting a lifetime—than the abuse itself.

Bruce Pratt’s irony perhaps makes the point the best; his poem “According To A Spokesman” begins:

Raped, beaten, and thrown down an embankment,
left by her three male attackers for dead,
her injuries are not life-threatening.

The truth is that the “injuries” are always “life-threatening.” Sexual abuse of any kind destroys lives, innocence, and every part of life, once and forever—the defense against the wrong after the wrong has happened, cannot speak, unless to dismiss the wrong—but the wrong can never be dismissed, even if the person, in certain instances, bravely escapes the worst effects. The morality of the issue is such that nuance is not possible, and since poetry excels in nuance, translating a wrong into poetry is the most difficult task there is.

Hina Panya’s remarkable poem, “The Gallery,” gets at the sorrow of the anthology’s topic by having a mother in a gallery opening of her son and stopping in shock before a portrait of her own battered face, a memory (she thought) her son was too young to remember. The poem’s three stanzas use first person, third person, and finally second person, in a very effective manner.

Rochelle Potkar’s “Friends In Rape” attempts a strategy we only occasionally find in Veils, Halos & Shackles—the poem uses the point of view of the abuser—the poem inhabits the “logic” of the male friend’s thoughts as he decides his “brimming love” needs to connect him to his female friend: “Should love not translate?” “Maybe she is just shy” “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?” “I will be gentle”

Potkar’s strategy flirts with danger—drama illustrating wrong by allowing wrong to speak, concedes too much; it enters that realm where Milton made Satan too attractive. If the entertainment industry gives us villains who seduce, in dramatic fashion, as the audience is forced to listen to villains’ “logic,” or even view villainous audacity and energy, wrong may ultimately win. On the other hand, Shakespeare allowed Iago to speak freely, and who can say this was not a good idea? We are tipped off to how evil works. Potkar is doing us a service; after all, the poem is called “Friends In Rape,” and so I think she is wise to show us what the “friend” is thinking.

Kirtland Snyder’s poem “Intimacy” takes arms against the ‘historical violent male conquest problem’ head on, in one of the most impressive poems in the book, with heroic meter and blasting rhetoric, a sensitive message that swaggers to make its point.  The poetry, as poetry, is strong in a 19th century sort of way, which Snyder obviously intended somewhat ironically—but it’s impressive as poetry, nonetheless.  The message, however (the poem is addressed to a sword-wielding, penis-wielding cartoon of a man) is a bit overblown—neither civilization as we know it, nor the successful male, belongs solely to the sword and penis, if at all, as the poem will have it. Stereotyping, which Snyder chivalrously uses to bash the stupid, bullying male, finally helps no one. It doesn’t reduce violence, it doesn’t increase enlightenment, nor does it produce very good poetry. But Snyder’s poem, considered purely as pyro-technics, is really good in parts—here’s the first stanza:

If you’re lucky in life you will learn to love a woman,
you will learn to keep moving inward on the long journey
to the heart, your most audacious enterprise,
like trying to find the source of the Nile with the Nile
your only map, a living watercourse through a dark
continent whose deepest wellspring you will name Victoria.

The superficial theme eventually kidnaps the poem, but it’s a great poem, nonetheless.

When the majority of the poems are not painting savage incidents which make us turn away in helpless disgust, they occasionally sing out a will to survive, advertising the strength of the woman who survives. Do any of these poems—which address the pain of rape and murder and abuse explicitly—cure the pain, or reduce the suffering, of any of the countless victims? Certainly, writing poems is better than silence. Certainly, it is better to share.

This plague of women suffering must end. All must be vigilant. Men must learn to love. Only through love, and through words informed by love, can we enter paradise.

If you purchase only one book of poetry, please purchase this one.

—the Scarriet editors, Salem MA 10/22/2018

 

 

 

THE WOMEN HAVE NO EYES AND THE MEN HAVE NO EARS

Image result for a tomb at night in renaissance painting

The women have no eyes and the men have no ears,
When it comes to love. The man doesn’t care what the woman hears:
Songs and poems belong to others—songs are not what the man fears.
The woman will listen to a song with her whole heart,
Contemplating its meaning, tearing every word in the lyric apart.

When the man first starts to speak to her of love, the woman knows
This is the moment to listen with her whole being, and be still.
To listen! The man thinks: what a strange way to be beautiful.

There is always something missing in the universe.
Entropy belongs to love and love always makes things worse.

The man wants the woman inside his eyes.
He feels uneasy, precisely because she listens well.
The man wants to look, but when she listens for the prize,
He doesn’t know what to say—and looking at her listening, is unable to tell
How he feels, or who she is. She hears
Hesitation. Loss. Because women have no eyes. And men have no ears.

 

 

 

POETRY IS A TRANSLATION FROM A LANGUAGE WE DON’T KNOW TO ONE WE MIGHT

Image result for girl trying to read in renaissance painting

From the unknown emerges what the known was meant to be.

A carefully scripted version of a perfect me.

Take my word for it, these words

Are as unfathomable as sea birds

Flying very fast across long seas.

My idea could be an idea of an idea that pleases,

But if the poet is irritated by any little thing,

The idea will be a flight without a wing,

A perfect arrow which parts the air,

Which you thought you saw: an idea of here. An idea of there.

How fast it traveled! Did you see

What it was? That could have been me.

Poetry is a translation from a language we don’t know to one we might.

I think you have seen those symbols when the symbol is a symbol of mourning in the night.

TO NOT BE POPULAR

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To not be popular, I made a bad recording of my song,

And sent the recording to only the best philosophers

Who knew a sad ballad when they were young;

All I find interesting, is a little bit wrong.

Because I slept well, I slept late, and to find the quiet day

I had to hurry, and looked a mess,

Before the morning, singing and misty, slipped away.

I love Nietzsche, but disagree with Nietzsche, nonetheless.

I sincerely hope you’ll find my praise, when I love you, sincere,

Because I’m jealous and hate everybody down here,

Except when they mind their own business and behave;

Rebellion disgusts me—do laundry, clean, cook, work, eat, shower, shave,

And save your pretentiousness for one more gullible;

I care what you’re doing, not whether or not what you do will sell.

If you are too successful you’ll face expectation’s hell.

I expect you won’t love me unless it’s completely unexpected,

And we can be safe and unpopular together,

Our sweet irrational love a sexy description of the weather,

In a copse of oaks and elms. The good love is when lovers are neglected.

You discerned my song was good.

Hidden, we spoke openly at last, because we hadn’t, and because we could.

But there is more to who we are.

We are good, too; we’ll make plans for a distant planet and star.

Don’t forget the hoary, bearded philosophers

Were young and vain once.

They knew their vanity,

And then became philosophers.

 

 

 

I WANT TO SAY NO TO HIM

Image result for girl admiring boy in renaissance painting

I want to say no to him

Because he has the feeling that all

Will say yes to him. He’s beautiful and tall,

And neither a woman, nor a man,

Can describe him; if you knew

Him for a minute, you would want to hold him, too.

But I don’t think his kind

Deserves to be happy. I feel kind

Towards him, but I hate him, too.

He confuses me, and I think this has probably happened to you:

Jealousy makes you hate what you should love.

But since love is unwise, isn’t it? you trust what combats love

Even if you begin to doubt yourself, and you don’t know

What in the world you need to feel.

Is God, and the stupidest emotions elicited by God, equally as real?

I see it in my thoughts, wherever they go.

I want to make him miserable. Watch me, friends!

I will say no, I will say no, I will say no.

He will see me proud in my new shoes. He will know how the story ends.

 

 

 

 

YOU DO THAT

You add the numbers. You be the secretary. I’ll please the boss and get fat.

You make sure things are running correctly. You do that.

The swearing-in ceremony was boring. He’s upset. Thanks to you, it came off flat.

The ceremony needs more peaches next year. You do that.

You’re lean and hungry—and good with figures. So don’t be a rat.

I’m the lover, here, got it? The books must be clean. You do that.

Isn’t our boss handsome? A little boy, really, a puppy to my sexy cat.

I’ve got this. He needs me. You make it work, please. You do that.

I’ve got a million things on my mind. He stood. I sat.

How many lives do I have now? Oh you’re the best, dear. You do that.

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

Image result for poe baudelaire and cigarettes

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

Image result for porter square cambridge

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

Image result for orpheus and eurydice in renaissance painting

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

Image result for sad lover in modern classic painting

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

Image result for india october

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

Image result for fritz perls

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?

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