A WORD ABOUT LITERARY ACTIVISM

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The white guys of High Modernism

“Literary activism” has taken center stage recently among the chattering classes, those academics and journalists whose job it is to tell the working class how to live.

Is music a supplement to speech, or is it anti-speech?

Well, it depends on whether you hum or sing.

Mere humming is music which is anti-speech.

Singing music, however, (and that would include wordless Mozart) is clearly a supplement to speech.

Poetry, in the 20th century, went from anthologized, lyrical quietism by the fireside, to avant formalism in the classroom.

Poetry went from singing to humming.

It went from the musical wit of Byron to: red wheel barrow in the wastes of white space.

Lyrical quietism, so named today, was universal, personal, political, as well as…lyrical.

Avant formalism was apolitical, abstract, elitist, and just happened to be…white and male.

To put it simply: the crazyites (as Edgar Poe named them) won, even as Pound was put in a cage.

The recent surge of “literary activism” marked by ethnicity, with all it’s accompanying buzzwords (“struggle” and “voices” and “change”) is nothing more than a passionate reaction (or correction) to the white elitist character of the Modernism (the Men’s Club of Pound, Eliot, Williams) which destroyed the Universal Poetry of the People (dubbed ‘lyrical quietism’ by the avants).

The new “subversive” academics, the highly ethical and ethnic voices of “literary activism,” currently making headlines in the textbooks and Blog Harriet (The Poetry Foundation blog of Poetry magazine—famous because of the right wing Pound and Eliot) are semi-literate and reactionary, like their masters, the white “subversives” of 20th century Modernism, who shook off the highly literate and song-worthy revolutionary spirit of accessible 19th century poetry heroes such as Keats, Byron, and Poe.

Literary Activism does not sing, it hums.  It doesn’t speak, it produces a tune to which everyone must dance, an easily understood music—yawn in the face of the Odes of Keats because their author is white and male.

Keatsian Aesthetics is the enemy of the Ideological State—because the State is in a continual mode of “correction,” the on-going communist/fascist revolution which never ends; the war against whatever is old—running continually.

The reactionary nature of an Emerson or a Pound is hidden as long as these men are identified (and they are) with change.

Emerson’s imperialist, neo-liberal, racist “English Traits” is ignored in favor of his “The Poet,” which (subversively) attacks the aesthetics of Poe—the essence of whom, beauty, is not hidden: the subversion of Emerson leads straight to Pound and his white, male avant inheritors.

The soul-crushing politics of literary activism produces poorly written odes against “capitalism.”

God forbid we buy and sell. The ideological State does not approve of exchange. It does not approve of singing, of words, of speech, which create mutual influences: this is why dialogue is such a powerful tool and why the first clue to a bankrupt human being (crippled by ideology) is how difficult it is to have a conversation of discovery with them; they immediately quarrel and disagree the moment they are confronted with having to think as they talk. They can only talk about what they already think—they will not tolerate true dialogue, and the anger displayed always surprises the innocent lover of wisdom.

Exchange has one drawback. It is morally blind. Slavery is an instance of this, and the State which made the moral choice to end slavery is a good, not an evil.

But slavery has its origins in economic inequality—the slave trade persisted as long as it was profitable; the slave trade did not operate because it was a moral or an amoral practice; in the same way, thievery will always exist if there is economic inequality—morals mean nothing to the starving man.  If there is no honest exchange, it is due to one reason and one reason only: too much dishonest exchange: but the fault is not with exchange (capitalism) but with morals, and here we see by the very term, “honest exchange” that the two elements are really the same. The whole Marxist separation is false, and the intrusion of morals, per se, a mere Victorian illusion. The intrusion of morals becomes, in fact, capitalist competition by other means.

The good State wants good exchange. Exchange (song, thought, trade, capitalism) is a good, as long as it fosters further exchange. Slavery is an evil precisely because it prevents (by reducing a person to a commodity) further exchange. By faulting exchange itself, however, we actually perpetuate an evil, even as this anti-exchange folly is morally sugar-coated by the Marxist.

The State mind doesn’t like the music of singing; it prefers humming that pre-made tune.

The ethnic character of literacy activism innocently demolishes the ‘whole’ human being—who is forced into the prison of perceiving itself chiefly as black or gay or female. Instead of offering highly literate females, it offers illiterate females praising females—which is hurtful to females and does not advance their cause at all. Yet this reactionary practice is considered progressive.

In this instance it is easy to see why.

It is precisely because “literary activism” today is an unspoken correction against the embarrassingly white, male, elitist (and fascist/communist) character of avant Modernism: which destroyed the glory of lyrical quietism—the glory of Enlightenment Byron and Romantic Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The new literary activism is amending ‘old fogey John Crowe Ransom white male Modernism’—but is unfortunately at the same time an unwitting extension of the avant trampling of true poetry.

Caveat Emptor!

 

WHAT SHOULD BE PRAISED?

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We don’t love what flatters us.

I could not lie to either,

Though I tried, telling her,

Who was not smart,

“I love your mind!”

And telling her, ugly as a fart,

“I love your body! Can I kiss your behind?”

So none love me now.

Lying is best. But I don’t know how.

So, what can I do now

But take revenge in poems

Which say, fuck it, here’s the truth?

I can tell it because I am its truth.

Only we are the truth, and the lies

Everything not us; even our eyes

Show copies, so nothing original

Exists; only we, ephemerally beautiful,

Coy and partial, stuck in time and place

Are real. Nothing else. Not a trace.

So this is the truth, because it’s me;

The sole attraction of my poetry.

I can only love the physical;

The physical moves me to love, not you;

And that’s why I’m helpless talking to these two:

She, who is smart, I do not love,

Though our talk is delightfully witty,

But then I am stupid with this one,

For I am smitten by the pretty.

And never have the two lived in one.

I’m blinded by the physical.

So who the hell am I, to praise the sun?

I fail to love all things. Even my poetry

Fails. It divides me.

YOU WILL ONLY BE ALIVE TOMORROW

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As you examine the ruin of your life,

Which, in your mind, you call yesterday,

A once-happy past that brings you sorrow,

In a present that disappears,

You understand—as you count your tears—

You will only be alive tomorrow.

In your yesterday, you always are,

So in its death is all your life.

In this moment, vanishing,

You glimpse tomorrow’s star:

Strange place! where you shall die,

And forget this moment—which made you cry.

TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR MARRIAGE

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There is a kind of all-knowing, beautiful person

Who is certain—their beauty proves it—that we are all alone.

To them, a conversation always has a different tone.

When they see pictures of couples, a certain smile

Plays across their lips; they think: She’s going to leave him for a while.

 

Are you beautiful? And harassed? Don’t you feel alone?

And when you talk with someone, do you hear a different tone?

The sacred is not safe when you come into view.

It’s painful to think, isn’t it? that everyone’s untrue—

And the proof is in their eyes when they’re alone with you.

 

To complete the picture, you have no children.

Religion sighs. Tension swells. God inquires of his angels,

Angels in hell, angels in heaven: Is there anything we can do?

The heavens remain serene and beautiful. There is no help from heaven.

Then one leaves the one they love alone with you

And you prove what everyone knew.

Ever since you were a little girl, you heard it in their tone.

This is what beauty proves.

Everyone’s alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I, TOO, FIND THIS WORLD MEAN AND UGLY

I, too, find this world mean and ugly.

When I am sad, it is sadly beautiful,

But this is a passing mood, and not the truth.

 

Accidental verdure trailing across the top of an industrial fence outside the train

Can bring a momentary feeling of reprieve: heroic verdure!  Then the entire stained world seems okay.

This feeling lasts as long as I am sad. Beautiful moods attach themselves to sad ones.

 

But I find no beauty at all when

I dwell on wronged and fallen humanity, and how asphalt and trash

Are the essence of every city, and cleaning and flushing is an operation

That never ceases, and human loneliness and its bewildering pain

Afflicts even the sweetly innocent who try

To be good and tender before the very door of truth.

 

Inside that door, which is iron and spotted and gray,

I sense eternity, whose darkness is our darkness,

A rich, beautiful darkness, which never quite goes away.

 

TYPES

The writer types types.
And typos!  The darling little typos!  Bambinos!

I had a crisis this morning and thought (as I typed my typos)
There are no people!  Only types.

The interesting woman has only three choices in men:

The dullard. Boring, boring, boring.  No way.
The braggart. No way.
The weirdo.  Interesting, but cannot be bragged about: eccentric, not publicly accomplished.

If the weirdo is cute enough in his weirdness and not too weird in a threatening or excessively weird manner,
She may go that way, and give this weirdo her love.

But this doesn’t seem particularly fair to women.
What kind of choice do they have?
The world is not a nice place for women.

But obviously, the lesson is:

Types are the only thing shown.

And the only type which has any validity is you.

Writers type types.
Writers attempt to make types interesting and beautiful.

Writers are trapped in types as they type
Even as they try to escape them.

This is what I am desperately trying to do
As I type these types (without typos) for you.

 

 

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE SOUL IS

If you want to know what the soul is—

You tribes who love poetry—

I will tell you by the time you turn around;

I will illustrate with a simple example I found.

Listen. If you try and define the act of sex,

As it is commonly known by everyone

It is defined by only two things.

Stop me if I go astray, if I am wrong:

It is sexual exertion and orgasm.

This is sex, whether the person is beautiful or not.

They say sex is desired by nearly all

And night and day we hear its call.

But I do not desire sex

If there is not some beauty in the mix

Which we agreed has nothing to do with sex;

But I will not have sex without it.

But how can I have sex if sex is not what I am after?

How can I refuse a glass of milk

When there is only a glass and milk?

Sex without beauty does not exist for me:

It has never happened and will not happen.

Then exertion and orgasm do not exist for me

Unless something else is present which has nothing

To do with the act itself: beauty.

The soul, then, is like this beauty,

Which is everything, and yet nothing

In terms of how we behave in the physical world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE END OF FORMALISM

“I would counsel Lysias not to delay, but to write another discourse, which shall prove the lover rather than the non-lover ought to be accepted.” –Socrates (The Phaedrus)

Wouldn’t you say, a thing can only be so strong when it is based on weakness?

For instance, intoxication can make us brave, but it does so because we are not brave, and so intoxication’s “bravery” exists because of weakness and so intoxication as a “good” will always be seen as a weakness and be understood as such.

Likewise, verse (poetry) adds to language a music above and beyond language’s meaning.  Since all would agree that conveying meaning is the highest purpose of language, and poetry is a good in that it makes it more entertaining to get meaning from language—the weakness announces itself to everyone: poetry feeds meaning the way intoxication feeds bravery.

The brave don’t need intoxication.

Good readers don’t need poetry—to entertain them and keep them focused in order to get meaning from a text.

We may or may not want to leave aside Socrates’ argument in the Phaedrus that the lover (mad) is a better life-partner than the friend (practical, sane). As Socrates points out, everyone (lover and non-lover) wants beauty and the lover/poet is finally better able to provide this than the practical type.

But just as Psychology has largely left behind Freud and Jung and literary invention that gave birth to Psychology itself—for psychotropic drugs and their practical effects, Plato is hardly studied any longer in school, and therefore it is safe to say that intoxication and verse are no longer seen as strengths at all.

Madness is the way we denigrate a thing, especially in our race to absolute reason in the realm of the humanities: women and earth have been dominated too long by “crazy” white males. So this is why verse has been abandoned. Its “intoxicated” aid to reading is rejected as unnecessary and insane: a weakness, a wrong, to be dispensed with.

For, yes, we should admit it—verse is a silly, entertaining thing that makes reading a greater amusement for a kind of mind easily bored by reading for meaning.

Verse exists because of a reading weakness—just as intoxication is sometimes necessary for bravery.

We dare not suggest here—but because we are crazy, we will—that bravery is nothing more than intoxication itself, or that verse enhances and elevates meaning and is closer to meaning than naked meaning itself is, at least in some select and really important instances.  But we’ll throw it out there nonetheless.

Verse is, obviously, formalism.

Today there are three ways critics and poets attempt to downgrade verse (formalism.)

One: They make sure we know that Socrates wore a toga. They make the whole question of formalism historical: form exists in forms and these forms: sonnets, heroic couplets, etc belong to certain historical periods with specific historical conditions.

And therefore we either cannot use these forms today or we must self-consciously subvert them.

An ABAB rhyme scheme is the equivalent of using “thou” and “thee.”

The stream of history in which all forms must exist carries them away.

So forms—all forms—formalism itself, in one simple (historical) step, is swept away.

Of course, despite the scholars’ opinion re: forms and history, we find formalism persists.

But where it does persist, the scholars simply point out that its persistence is not scholarly:

Rhyme belongs to hip-hop and other kinds of pop music. It doesn’t “feel right” in poems today that wish to be taken seriously, as scholarly works.

According to this anti-formalist approach, a poem cannot “work on its own terms;” it is always felt and understood in terms of historical conditions.

The “rules” for writing a sonnet are certainly legitimate, and verse does have a valid existence, but, according to the historical anti-formalist reading, only in a museum sort of way.

The “historical” downgrading of formalism is a very powerful way to downgrade formalism because it is both conservative and radical, since it simultaneously plays the “respect for history” card and the “now” card. Form is respected, but forms are obsolete, says the historical scholar.

The conservative New Critic John Crowe Ransom told his 1930s readers that writing like Byron was no longer possible. The “historical” view justifies every kind of experimentalism—even as it trumpets its tweedy respect for history.

Two: The scholars make form—not forms—the only thing that matters.  A highly abstract macro (form) kills the micro (forms).

This, too, is a very effective way to downgrade formalism:

This whole anti-formalism method can be summed up with T.S. Eliot, who wrote that even prose scans.

Even the loosest free verse has “form;” white space on the page has “form.”

This argument is far more insidious than number one above; so much so, that it resembles a CIA brainwashing tactic, and is probably the top reason for poets giving up on verse altogether—in a turn-about that courts insanity; destroying formalism in this manner argues that because white exists, snow cannot exist.

Form is what matters.  And form is such a naturally large category that the formless resides there. Formalism (the quality dismissed) merely concerns itself with various antiquated forms.

And here one notices how much this resembles the historical argument: The poet is expected to explore form itself as it applies to the present. Sonnets and Elizabethan England both belong to a formalism of the past.

So here’s a second reason not to write a sonnet.  First, the sonnet is relegated to the past. Second, form should be the focus; sonnets are merely forms.

And if that were not enough, there’s a third way.

Three: Avoid the subject altogether and make poetry all about content: form is expressed by what we say.

Just as the second reason strongly resembles the first reason—both emphasize form over forms—the third way that downgrades formalism resembles the second reason, for saying “form is nothing” is logically the same thing as saying “form is everything.”

Helen Vendler, obsessed with the “heterogeneity” and “stylistic originality” of poets like  Graham and Ashbery, is, in her essentially New Critical style, a mixture of Two and Three. She has written:  “Poetry not intelligible with respect to contemporary values of society could not be read.”

Surely, however, all critics like Vendler understand that a pure prose content purely isolated from all musical considerations cannot possibly denote anything poetical.

The poetical is prose meaning dipped in the coloring of musicality and moods. Content is always the ground from which we start, but it is not the poem itself.

Bravery (truth) is not intoxication (poetry).

To asset that ‘form is content and content is form’ is to lose both—is really to assert nothing.

Formalism is downgraded in three distinct ways, but it’s all the same pedantic strategy, a convincing but hollow set of deconstructions.

Listen in on any discussion of formalism and you get one or some combination of these three anti-formalist positions we have just presented: there is little else, except perhaps a kind of vague, well-meaning gesture towards “poems that work” in whatever manner happens to suit the historically grounded and socially acute poet. Virtues are slyly assumed to exist outside of formal properties, with the added assumption that “stylistic originality” and forms cannot co-exist.

But the truth is, there can be more “originality” in a sonnet than in all the works of Ashbery.

This is a truth which overturns all the abstract claims of heterogeneity in terms of form versus forms.

For we are always assuming that heterogeneity is going to be more original, but there is no basis for this belief at all.

New York City is a large complex place, but so long as we point to New York City in our minds as “heterogeneity,” able to stand as the ideal which transcends the petty, self-important enclosures of mere formalism, we miss the much larger point that New York City really consists of tiny neighborhoods, and all poetry, if not all reality, exists, and is accessible and knowable, in the city block, or the building, or the room: the reality is not a scholar pointing to abstract “form;” the reality is understood in what hides in a building in New York City—a sonnet, perhaps.

Yes, it actually makes more sense to look at all literature as a great string of sonnets than to wallow in pretentious abstractions (and billions of details merely elucidated for their own sake—or to fit into heterogeneity theories.)

Sonnet by sonnet is not the way to read, obviously, but the point is that this makes more sense than any of the methods advertised by the anti-formalist school.

Think of a literacy of the sonnet, rather than of the line, or the sentence, or the word, or the phrase.  What a literacy that would be!

Couldn’t the sonnet be the building block?  And wouldn’t it be a healthy mind who thinks in those terms?

Shelley’s great Ode (West Wind) is a short series of sonnets.

And one can read the Gettysburg Address—as four sonnets.

 

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Now let us ask, after exposing the ravings of the anti-formalists, this more pertinent question: what is poetry’s purpose?

Flowers are not condemned to exist under glass, as the sonnet is—and why not?

The answer is obvious: because flowers serve a purpose.

Flowers attract bees—this attractive quality helps define for us what a flower is, and, although we are not bees, so powerful and overflowing is the flowers’ attractiveness, that we, bee-like, admire the flower for its flower-like qualities.

What if poetry is a language of dissemination which, like the flower, is attractive in order to disseminate?

And what if this attractive quality is timeless and demands cultivation and protection?

The gardener is not asked to admire the flower but protect, grow, and breed the flower, for all eternity.

If the gardener merely admired the flower and did not protect, grow, and breed the flower, in terms of what we understand a flower to be, we would call her a very poor gardener.

Further, if the gardener greatly admired flowers, but assured us that flowers had long since served their purpose as flowers, and now should exist in museums only, we should not only find this great admirer of flowers a poor gardener, but, despite their learned admiration, an enemy of flowers.

Those who downgrade formalism in the three ways outlined above—condemning traditional forms of poetry to sterility and “learned” curatorial irrelevance—are like the gardener who may admire flowers, but is their enemy and destroyer.

Poetry today is being destroyed, especially by those who currently study and practice it. A museum-admiration of poetry is an evil and insidious thing.

To seek for the elusive rationale or reason or purpose or use, of poetry can be compared to the search for a loved one in a crowd.

The similarities defeat us, not the differences.

“Is this the one you seek?” ask the ignorant but well-meaning searchers, and they bring us person after person, with face and arms and legs and every particular human quality—but no, this is not our beloved!

We are not looking for a type—we are searching for a unique quality.

Just as we look for a championship baseball team, celebrated through the ages, and are deterred most in our search, not because it hides beside an object like a fire engine, but rather next to a losing team—which also has pitchers who throw at 90 mph and hitters who can hit a ball 500 feet.

The poem’s reason that we seek, to the ordinary eye, looks very similar, in the great scheme of things, to a great deal of other writing.

Poetry’s purpose, ignored by theoretical moderns—blends in.  And—because we are blind to it, it can eventually kill us.

We scan the crowd for the one we love and die if we do not find her.

We search for: not forms, not form, not content, but attractiveness.

The pedants ignore the raison ultima because they fear it will be “a type,” thinking “type” itself is defined by form, but never content. But here they wildly err.

To specify poetry with formalism alone is to take poetry over to mathematics and music—and this is not 1) a general thing nor is it 2) anything to do with content—precisely because content is never specified (the purpose of poetry is never mentioned)—since we assume whatever is said can and will be said, heightened by the formal qualities, of course, but not determined by them. Yet how can the content of speech not be determined by its formal qualities in a systematic manner? Music does determine how speech speaks and once this is conceded, the poetry’s ultimate rationale must at last be acknowledged, for how speech speaks cannot but determine what speech speaks.

Yet we never hear in discussions of formalism what poetry must say.

We can discuss stocks and bonds in verse and never mention poetry’s purpose. We can allude to Eliot’s objective correlative and never mention poetry’s hidden purpose, since Eliot’s astute formula never escaped the blackboard to actually walk about. Eliot was using this formula to attack whole historic periods of poetry when, he felt, content and form were estranged; the tweedy Modernist condemned the Romantic poets this way—Eliot was finally downgrading formalism historically, not philosophically—and so an opportunity was missed: Eliot was essentially saying what the conservative Ransom was saying when Ransom said we can’t write like Byron anymore: Modernism ignoring poetry’s true purpose by saying “form, not forms.”

We are free to say anything in poetry now, said the 20th century Anglo-American Modernists, making the reason disappear in a general loosening of form to fit more and more varieties of content. But why the Modernists hated Byron, was that Byron said more interesting things while rhyming than the Modernists did in free verse.  This is why the chief Modernists like Eliot and Ransom tried to bury Byron (and Romantics generally).  Byron didn’t fit the Modernist formula.

Sure, many ruefully viewed the Modernist agenda as a simple mistake: poetry-turning-into-prose; well, everybody did, but no one had the pedagogical reasoning to stop it. Verse was the “metronome” and poetry-as-prose, the “musical phrase” was how crazy Pound cleverly put it. (“Prose scans,” in other words.)

No one stopped to think that a metronome was a perfectly useful tool for Beethoven, as he created profound “musical phrases.” Beethoven was hidden, like poetry’s reason, in the “room” of Modernist “verse.”

Robert Penn Warren, the New Critic co-author of the influential, mid-20th century Understanding Poetry textbook, wrote an essay defending “impure poetry” against “pure poetry,” another Modernist act in the drama of hiding poetry’s purpose. Poetic content was now, according to Warren: “all and any content not determined in the least by form.” The purpose of poetry was gone. Modernism had blithely killed it.

It wasn’t that form gradually loosened due to formal considerations; form wasn’t freeing up form—content was, in the sense of ‘anything goes,’ anything can now be said: the lyrics were eliminating the music, so to speak; this, and only this, is what was meant by “impure poetry” and its triumph. (Understanding Poetry included a savage attack on the attractively musical verses of Poe, even as it championed Pound and Williams; Warren’s essay savaged Shelley; Eliot impolitely attacked Shelley, as well: Poe and Shelley were wretched examples for Modernist delectation of scorned, “narrow purity.” Remember, the New Critics were considered “conservative” in their views. But chucking formalism was universally done in the Modernist era.  This is what the Pound clique did: they also attacked Edna St. Vincent Millay. (See Hugh Kenner’s nasty remarks on her).

But if formalism, as all must concede, has what must be described as legitimate formal qualities (to define it as formalism as such) what does it mean to say, as the anti-formalists said, that content can be whatever it wants in an “impure” triumph? Here is a “room” which has certain formal qualities, identifying itself as a “room” of poetry (as opposed, to say, a dinner menu) and yet, when content enters this room, the room itself only exists to leave the content untouched and free to express itself however it chooses, and any restriction upon the content is condemned as a backwards step towards an unwanted, old, and “pure” poetic practice.

Of course defenders of the “impure” never admit the absolute disconnection of form and content outright— in each specific poem, they say, form and content do their dance: both form and content are equally valuable; the “impurity” we defend is only to say (they point out) that formalism is no longer a straitjacket; formalism no longer is severe in its restrictions, no longer blindly formal in its dictates.

Poetry’s purpose remains hidden, however. What is said in the poem is said, and afterwards, the “everything is form” explanation is bent to the content’s will—this is the anti-formalist ‘explanation number two:’ making formalism a blindly obedient (and essentially nonexistent) shadow of content. Whatever facilitates the saying (or meaning) that is not the saying (or meaning) has an existence, in the same way that “prose scans;” but nothing that can be called art need exist at all—the poem speaks; the content speaks and asserts itself, and simply by way of formalistic properties manifesting themselves in a perfectly ordinary “grammatical or anti-grammatical” manner, this then becomes the “formal triumph” which mirrors the “ordinary” content speaking in its artless cunning, free of all artificiality, fulfilling the prophecy of Modernism’s expansive and articulate poetic quest.

There is no need to make any decisions about content; all that needs to be proclaimed, proclaim the anti-formalists, is that historically we are expanding our ability to provide content as formalism drops away: jettisoning all formalistic strategy, as content becomes all (and thus, nothing!) This is what Eliot meant by formalism hiding behind the drapery of loose poetry: historical poetry’s actual existence as such, is old Polonius—and the prying pedant is soon to be stabbed and killed in T.S. Eliot’s Critical Modernism’s play.

But how can the form of poetry—if it is really form-–not predetermine content? It must. Otherwise it is not really what we mean when we speak of poetic form. How can poetry as a formal practice not have a real existence as an actual piece of form and as an actual piece of content?

If we are true poets, we do not wish to blindly kill the beloved (poetry’s reason); we wish to find them in the crowd.

How will I my true love know from another one? —Ophelia, Hamlet

We listen to Beethoven and hear an actual musical content; the music inspires specific feelings—based on its formal qualities. To say that poetry does not do the same thing is to deny poetry’s existence altogether. Which is what we said earlier is happening in fact: poetry, in academia—where it now mostly resides—has become a museum exhibit in its formalism, an inconsequential exercise in its contemporary use. It does not matter that superior poetry is being written today in obscure quarters—the public simply does not exist for it, and so it does not exist.

We said that in recent history, formalist considerations never usher in the least interest in specific categories of content, with Eliot’s objective correlative formula the one major (ineffective) exception. But before Modernism, poetry’s purpose is acknowledged; poetry is given an identity based on what it does—and what it expresses in terms of content.  The greatest example in literature, perhaps, can be found in the dramatic dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus.

The modern lyric was called a “love letter” by Dante. Shakespeare made the sonnet a courting device for love and breeding—and thus was not far off from the “love letter” idea; the two greatest poets of all time (Eliot himself was explicit: “Dante and Shakespeare; there is no third”) have no trouble acknowledging the purpose of poetry which is now hidden: poetry, as much as it does exist formally, does yet have a use within, and obedient to, its purely formal existence.

The novel can be said to have originated as a series of letters (sonnets?) and the greatest fiction can be defined as an unfolding of love (or its opposite, hate: see the war-like Homer).

The sonnet—formalism—shall return.

Poetry, grown by philosophy and love, will be a living flower, once again.

 

WHAT I THOUGHT WAS VARIETY

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What I thought was variety was not variety at all:

Variety of grass. Variety of film short. Variety of tall.

What I thought was variety was not variety at all:

Variety of virtual, variety of very tall envying the tall.

What I thought was variety was not variety at all:

Everything was similar. Equality led to my fall.

What can I do next? A surprise, to love you well?

Apparently not. You left me—to every variety of hell.

 

 

WHEN I WAS A LADY

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When I was a lady, and all

My suitors were ignored who loudly came to call,

I dreamed of a humble one who wrote

Music. I loved each quiet note.

There is a loudness that is not heard

As loudness—now everyone may hear the bird

Who once sang on my window-ledge

Only to me—my secret privilege.

The bird only sang to me!

My secrecy and my vanity and my poetry

Became intertwined.

Talk to me of the rock arena, but that’s no interest of mine.

BEFORE LOVE SPOKE, THERE WAS NO LOVE

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Before love spoke, there was no love.

In the old days desire had no voice, only a sharp spear

For hunting—breeding sensation and fear.

 

In our day, desire is made of speech.

But since this change,

The poet grieves and thinks,

How strange! that love is yet beyond his reach.

 

There’s nothing in words love cannot express:

Words create desire and tell us how to dress;

Love is now a document, a deed.

Love is simply everything we read.

All we say is love, every word a bird-call

In the ever-writing mating tree.

Love has no will or force; only nights

That drunkenly happen. The spear writes.

 

Love has no art; all love is speech; all speech is poetry;

The poet is not heard over chattering society,

When love is mistaken for criminality,

Great lawyers are writing the poetry.

 

Thousands of beauties I saw!  And they all looked the same.

Does beauty have a thought?

Does desire have a name?

No. The lover has fought

For kindness, not fame.

 

 

UNTIL I’M CAPTURED AGAIN

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Until I’m captured again

I will love the chain, and pretend

You are on the other end.

 

You captured me—almost—completely.

But since no one is ever free—

Again and again you torture me,

For that is what you and your beauty

Did, if not intentionally—

Well, that’s how my slavery

Seemed, as if you knew all you are to be

The one thing capable of enslaving me,

And your beauty still does, because dreaming of it

Is now my routine and habit,

Your mind the one mind I cannot escape,

Since the philosophy of love became the world I made.

 

They say one’s own mind should not invade

One’s own mind, but that’s what we do,

As we try to decipher the false from the true

Hopelessly. In the meantime, my hope?

To feel your love tugging on my rope.

 

 

 

ART APPRECIATION

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Incapable of love,

All you do is seduce.

You are not the real fruit—

But the perfume, the juice.

Incapable of thought,

You fashion the noose.

You revel in surfaces.

Your philosophy: the excuse.

Incapable of love,

Here’s what they deduce:

Okay, she’s beautiful,

But she’s crazy, so what’s the use?

Incapable of love,

You flatter at first.

You pretend kindness.

Then you bring the worst:

You hide your empty nature

In mysterious unavailability,

And wear your victim like a glove.

That’s why I love you! You are a god,

And gods cannot love.

 

 

WHEN YOU SEE THE WEATHER COMING OVER THE TREES

When you see the weather coming over the trees

You wonder what the world is hiding:

In the next town, perhaps, she is on her knees,

The rain clearing, the brightening sky

Changing the whole look of her room.

She is begging God to tell her why

She is unlucky in love, even though she is beautiful,

But what’s amazing, is my poem will.

 

At this very instant I am getting answers for her,

The clouds unfurling more clouds from its cloud army

In one power packed display over more clouds in the distance,

Separating one neighborhood from another,

A cunning trick by the weather,

In what you find charming as branches hover over

The summer it always seemed to rain.

I’LL WOO HER BACK WITH POETRY

I’ll woo her back with poetry

Because that’s how I won her first.

Maybe she doesn’t love me—

Maybe my poems will fail—

But miss a chance to love? To love her! That’s worse.

 

I already love her, the Muse knows that’s true,

So my poems should be easy to write

For love makes everything easy,

Almost too easy, I found,

Because ease produces spite.

 

It’s so easy to smile, and kiss a smile, too,

Oh I used to laugh and weep

With joy just to be near her,

Acting strange, I was so in love,

But love that easy is not easy to keep.

 

True feelings annoy those whose feelings are not true,

Who need to think before they speak;

I know because I was like that once, too,

Calculating the impact I made,

And terrified of seeming silly, or weak.

 

All that changes when you really fall in love;

But love’s a funny thing.

Before you are certain they really love you

Or how it will play out in life

You feel like a singer who cannot sing.

 

Nothing at all is easy,

Except those feelings which make you mad,

And happy and ready to love,

To give yourself to that great worship

Of love, which is religious, it is so sad!

 

So alarms are raised in the lovers,

Because they are flirting with madness

And regular life doesn’t like that.

Ordinary life is jealous of love;

It laughs at religious sadness.

 

We all have that moment when we are young,

When, truly ready to love and adore,

A priestly voice takes us aside and whispers,

“Don’t you get it? It’s all a show.”

When we hear this we don’t quite love anymore.

 

Oh we may fall in love, later,

But we love doubtfully; normal life

Makes us feel self-conscious and afraid,

For we have joined ordinary life:

Someone else’s job, weighty children, unhappy wife.

 

The need to love, really love, though, never goes away,

Never goes away, or fades,

Even as we stumble through life, fake-smiling,

Failing at everything—because we don’t love,

Even if we manage to win a prize, or get good grades,

 

Because we know there is easy love,

Like playing sad music on guitar,

Even though we don’t play guitar;

We know love is spectacular and easy

And we want this ease to define what we are;

 

No more obstacles or hesitations,

No more calculations, no more freaking out.

We take up God’s guitar

Made by God and play what God already knows,

And love lives, and there isn’t any doubt.

 

This is what I do with poetry,

Which makes me a spectacular lover, and true

And mad and happy—and her?

I love her. She lives in my heart

In perfect ease! Muse, there is no need to woo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN SHE SAID NEVER

Love is that tragedy
Which is always affecting me
In funny ways.
A composer died of a broken heart,
But listen how beautifully his music plays
And still it lives, and will live forever.
The composer said yes
When she said never.

Love is that poetry
Which is always affecting me
In funny ways.
A poet died of a broken heart,
Yet listen how his poetry says
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
The poet said yes
When she said never.

Love is the whole of me
Which is always affecting me
In funny ways.
I am excited when I walk in the fields;
Every flower I see reminds me of her
And they will remind me of her forever.
I, too, am blessed. I said yes
When she said never.

 

FOR LIZ

I cannot love.

I can drive a car.

I can be kind.

I can work.

I cannot love.

I can play the piano.

I can write poetry.

I can feel excitement.

I cannot love.

I can cook and tend a garden.

I can avoid sleep.

I can sleep.

I cannot love.

I can be enthusiastic.

I can converse with strangers.

I can be calm.

I cannot love.

I can stand up for myself.

I can let others have their way.

I can think of several things at once.

I cannot love.

Don’t tell me I don’t know what love is.

You know what I know—don’t you, Liz?

AT LOVE’S

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When do you love the doctor?

When I am sick.

And when do you hate the doctor?

When I am well.

When do you love the lover?

When I am sick.

And when do you hate the lover?

Stay. And I’ll tell.

I NEED TO WRITE THIS POEM FAST

I need to write this poem fast.

This inspiration will not last.

Yes, look how love between two people disappears

In a cloud of tears.

My inspiration’s source will always exist, though.

Remember when you were young and bored in school and everything seemed slow?

The attempt to write fast

Does not help inspiration last—

And even the inspiration’s source

Immense as it is, will not stay its course.

It falls, knocking me down like a giant tear,

Aching inspiration heralding her cry in a future day: “I’m here!”

I had to write this poem fast.

Her kiss missed my lips.

If life is good, be happy!

And if not, be happy!

Because none of this shit, baby, is going to last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE EARTH TAUGHT HER CHILDREN TO BEFOUL HER

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The earth taught her children to befoul her.

You are my Central Park.

You are the landscape for loving a shadow’s deepening.

You are the landscape for which I apply.

You are the landscape not of talk or thought

But the glittering that goes on in the sparrow’s eye.

In the middle of the gleaming, teeming city I return to nature.

In your body I slowly know nature as I never did.

Where is the snake—feeding on the minnow in the stream—I hid?

Your trees, your fertility, your face of faceless architecture

Emitting sighs, would make Frederick Olmsted drop

And Wordsworth his cunning Prelude stop.

Of course I had long plans, and still do,

But when I became your friend

I realized that you were long in the planning, too.

You did not simply go along or get along

And that is how I found you in my song.

I had to amend my every idea of nature.

The Central Park of my youth where I found polliwogs was you.

You, the vista and the view.

You, the tangled branches shading the stream;

The snake-filled stream which haunted me in many a silent but riotous dream,

You, my prophecy—had you been seen,

Walking the margins of the dream-park with your plans,

Would I have fallen deeper? It is a joy to analyze—

Even though I cannot, when I peer into your eyes.

I paced the porch and considered the morality

Of the bridge between home and nature.

The talk of the “Father of Landscape Architecture”

Posited against you smiling in the swamp—

This is where I thrilled to journey, not knowing then

That loving the earth was incest,

And reading downward a sin.

I can only vow to love you under sky and sky

More, even more, when I love you again,

And this time at no time be afraid to die.

 

 

 

 

TO YOU, THE ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS THIS

To you, the only one who knows this,
I dedicate this,
Simply. Without a sound. Without a kiss.

I learned from you what is best for me.
You improved me. That was part of our destiny.
There was… love, but it is not polite to talk of that.
And I won’t. Losing weight from worry isn’t good. Everyone should get fat.

My adoration for you is unceasing.
Strange, strange, strange! how we died, and now are dead to each other—
But we still live, in the songs of afternoons, as before, feeling love
For a million things.

We died to each other
And perhaps that’s why
My love can live and die for you every day;

Because love died, and dies again and again,
I love you now more than I loved you then,
More than when I touched you, and held you close

And the uncomprehending would glimpse us: crying
By the sea, or kissing as we walked: two ghosts.

Do not doubt that for us love still lives.
Where there has been love, even the broken gives.

I LOVED HATE

She was like my mother, self-loathing and sad,
Comparing herself to others, and always feeling  bad,
Taking out her aggression on yard waste, alone.
I saw my lover as my mother, unconsciously. Groan.

She was sweet and friendly at first—
I fell in love; it was too late.
For the soul that loves this is the worst:
To fall in love with hate.

Everyone’s heart is a house.
She took me to her house
But left me at the gate.

She was sweet and friendly at first.
I fell in love with hate.
By the time I got to know her
Oh God! It was too late.

I was madly in love,
Madly in love with hate.

She had secrets, secrets galore.
Hateful secrets. Which made me love her more.

Hate can be loved, and once love begins,
It will love hate forever.
Love simply loves. And the world thinks it sins.

For one who loves love, this was an unkind fate.
To love only love—then fall in love with hate.

It is sad to be hateful; I don’t sympathize with hate.
I don’t wish to describe her this way. Ah, but now it is too late.

Love is normally patient, but not when love loves hate.
She had nothing else to do. And so she made me wait.

She was like my mother, worrisome and sad,
Comparing herself to others, and always feeling  bad,
Taking out her aggression on yard waste, alone.
And then she wrote me angry messages on the phone.

She took me to the house and left me at the gate.
She was sweet and friendly at first.
Then we kissed. I discovered my fate:
To love her. To love her. To love hate.

I SUFFER BECAUSE I LOVE

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I suffer because I love.

I hear sighs in the corridors of the day.

I long for suffering love, because this is what will stay.

If I must suffer, love, let me suffer because of you.

Suffering without love is unimaginable.

And not something I’m prepared to do.

They say sufferers are losers, and those who do not, win.

They are right! I would love to inhabit a sly, seductive grin,

But I think all eventually suffer, and I am glad

It is you who makes me sad.

Suffering is proof of love.

Too much laughter and joy

Will annoy.

There are holes everywhere, leading into the earth.

We are going to fall into one,

So what is joy worth?

As I am going down,

I want to think on you—your kiss, your sorrow, your frown.

 

UNFORTUNATELY THERE IS ONE

Unfortunately there is one

Who cannot love; who is a photograph, but not the sun.

A photograph is produced with a sudden, narrow light

On a flat surface: sometimes we mistake it for real sight

And evidence of the thing, as if the thing were a thing’s flight.

She does not want to be seen; she looked unhappy

When, by accident, a poet ran into her today.

All he needed was a moment’s glance to see

A face lined with anger and misery.

All love begins with accident; the accident of place,

The accident of a kind voice murmuring through a kind face.

The accidents of love are kind even to the one

Who cannot love; who is a photograph, but not the sun.

Poets are those who fanatically want things to be just right.

Poets choose a photograph over living, a picture over sight;

They prefer an image to living, if the image, not living, looks exactly right.

We were that rare combination, since beautiful poets are rare;

Most of us, when we see beautiful life, only stop and stare,

But there are those, and it is sweet, trembling and rare,

Who are the beautiful life, who can create it with their voice,

With the deliberate way they look and move; beauty is a choice

They succeed in making with their very being—

They are the beauty you and I are only seeing.

And now in the picture of this poem I give you a picture of one

Who hides, because she is a photograph; she is not the sun;

Who hides, because she could not finally love, and the shame

Of this is too much, and she is reduced to taking snapshots of blame;

She is miserable—in her life the accident of love has returned to accident,

In which most of us wait and suffer and hope.

We were those two poets: beautiful, loving in cinemascope,

An affair like a long porn film, lived; not watched; it was paradise;

This is what joy truly is: a beautiful porn film; porn that is beautiful and nice,

Made by, and for poetry; in the country, and in beautiful escapes;

But she is not the sun; she cannot love. So roll those tapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAS THERE EVER A YOU?

I made that poetry proudly,

A little bit of emotion, an idea or two.

In love, I write for the one I love.

But was there ever a you?

 

I, in love, loved loudly,

Too much emotion, which emotion knew.

In poetry, I write to one I love.

But was there ever a you?

 

How can I tell you, my only love!

Of these feelings that writing knew?

It is you I write to, my darling.

But was there ever a you?

 

Why do I ponder this?

To question this is absurd.

Of course you exist! You do!

I only question the word.

SHE COULDN’T FEEL

“Blue moon, I saw you standing alone.” —old song

They grew apart
For they were as together as they could be.
She couldn’t feel.
He couldn’t see.

They grew apart
As only lovers can,
As only a woman and a man
Who love deeply, can.

They grew apart,
Making themselves beautiful—beauty, their revenge.
Beautiful face, hard heart,
Hard heart until the end.

When they loved, they were brave.
Now they do not love.  And they save what they can save.

 

 

 

I WANTED TO PAINT A POEM FROM WHAT SEEMED TO ME ETERNAL IN MY MIND

 

A man cannot say, ‘I will compose poetry.’ The greatest poet cannot say it, for the mind in creation is like a fading coal… —Shelley, Defense of Poetry

Oh poetry revels in picturesqueness;
Bushes, flowers and vines
Coiling around broken friezes,
Odors bursting from slaved-over lines
As you walk in the garden—
Holding your palms out to the rain
Sailing, dropping mistily down,
While workers die in the mines—
Through nodding narrow greenery.
Tourists in Italy stood a long time.
If you can, picture Hawthorne or the Brownings,
The life of literary sculpture
Passing away into a more beautiful music
Which in turn passes away.

EGOTISTICAL SUBLIME

I thought: What is this world?

What is all this? And then I saw four letters

Staring at me from the label on a stranger’s coat,

Their back to me on the train.

T-O-M-S. And it grabbed me by the throat.

“Tom’s” suddenly flashed upon my brain.

The answer was simple, delicate and fine.

The world—everything thought, seen and felt—is mine.

Here is the secret to the whole world.

You couldn’t figure it out, my sweetest girl.

You couldn’t figure it out, psychiatrists and sages,

Priests and gurus, poets through the ages.

The transit authority stamps its “T”

On the sides of trains—and that’s me.

If the truth were announced, everyone would look.

I don’t want that. The secret is not found in a book,

Or in anyone’s mind; it’s not a crude matter of fame,

Because the truth of the world and the world are not the same.

It is the truth of all time, and it begins with a “t.”

I didn’t see it because I was too close to it—the truth is none other than me.

She—who I loved—was never able to see.

She told me that on two separate occasions the answer almost came,

While she was in a meditative revery,

But it was lost! She recounted this bitterly

While I, her lover, listened helplessly,

But now I laugh, for the truth is known—

She almost found the truth because she was profoundly alone

And nearest to the secret—the secret that she was the secret.

But poor blind thing! A searching—but not a great—soul—she lost it.

Though—profoundly timid—she never wrote poetry,

I knew she was a poet—it seemed obvious to me.

“Tom,” she would cry, in our ecstatic embraces,

“Tom! Tom! Tom!” Cried among kisses drenching our faces,

Love speaking my name, beautiful and sublime,

Reminding me! Reminding me! That life is—mine!

 

 

 

POEMS WRITE ME

Poems write me

Even as I die in this boring life

With business matters dangling over the days and the wife.

A sentence keeps me in line.

The soil is usually a line or a phrase,

Which may end up being the pretty flower,

The title, or the poem’s (yawn) most important line.

Helpless, I let creation have its say.

If a line is what struck me first, it will probably stay.

Of course, I may end up throwing what fell from the sky away.

Oh, and the root of every inspiration is you.

In this poem, for instance, you wait in the stem.

There you are. Strike that line. No, that will do.

Poems write what they please. I don’t write them.

PAINTING WITH MY LEFT HAND

The universe spins in a certain direction;
That’s how we know we’re—here.
This line moves at a certain speed:
Music finds its beat.  Conversations are clear.

But it’s not the business of poetry to tell you this:
Science is factual; what’s scientific about a kiss?

I did not wish to intrude on science’s domain.
But delightful kissing will make the kissing poet vain,
So love disguises itself as wisdom, making itself even more plain.

I write right-handed,
But throw with my left hand.
I am going to throw my signature at you.
I want to do something dumb;
Paint with my left hand, to make the drunken Muse come.

THIRTEEN (FOR MY DAUGHTER)

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Life is made for a thirteen-year old girl.

All that is strange and entertains us in this world

Is made for her, from the carefully painted toes

To the old, comedy television shows

Produced by fashionable drunks and their wives

Who make adult situations out of the situations in their lives

Which recall an earlier day and an earlier age

When the playful was more important than the sage,

And history, the wreck we carry on our backs

Needs to be forgotten, so every adult can just relax.

No longer attached to mom and dad,

Too much time ahead, too proud to be boring or sad:

Everyone wants, in their hearts, to be thirteen,

No compromise, nothing in-between,

Too young to be nostalgic, too young to be wise,

And old enough that one burning smirk sits like all the world in her eyes.

 

 

 

WHEN YOUR QUIET MUSIC

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When your quiet music fell upon the world

The warmth of the stars added to their light

A new and remarkable night,

A universe of hearts who burned mysteriously like stars.

Each male heart was warm, holding in the curled right hand the curled hand of a girl

And each girl’s heart could have been like a cloud that envelopes the sun

When sunset makes violet and golden bars.

Of all those girls and boys, you and I were one.

If there is a twinkling music, here it was,

Nimbler than I ever remember music being,

Yet with sweet understanding—as when smiling faces reflected are the faces seeing.

There is always a substance missing when delicate delights are contemplated;

So it is with music, and all refinements attempted;

The sorrow of the parts are real, for they are not the sun.

They are the impulses and clouds which undulate and run.

It is the beauty that is fading; the loveliness, itself, the death

That makes us slow down our breathing and love each next to last breath,

As we listen to the composer’s particulars glisten

In the slow overriding sound,

Like a planet coming near and slowly touching another planet’s ground.

Music cannot replace love.

Our composer’s revery has let fall what had delighted us in the fast-breathing regions above.

Love has returned to me all the remarkable love it found.

I drink the notes but now gaze at you from afar,

A warm planet now a cold star.

FOR _________

Let practical life and its lackeys,
Immersed in details and laughter,
Stand, impenetrable, to my mad poetry and my mad desires.
I can laugh as well as they,
And am warmed by the same fires.
I would not have that practical edifice fall
Or the practical things fail.
I, too, have needs, and must put things in my little pail.
Contemporary art is kindergarten
And yet its billions
Are the envy of bad poets, who number in the millions.
Philosophy wrecks itself on science
Which is a slave
To everything the brutally unscientific crave.
Love is the only glory.
The one I love says: “Where shall we meet?”
This is poetry—this is all—and I fall at her feet.

TAKE MY WORDS, PAINTER

Take my words, painter;
Give them the dark and the light
Which attends creation.
My reader is blind!  Give her sight.

My words are blind. Let her see
Her meaning to me
Travel in her own eyes.
Make her see, for the first time, my poetry

In all its subtle hues and dyes.
Let her see my pleas to her
In our hearts, where worlds occur.

All she hears are futile cries:
“My love, my love, my love!”

Let her watch the lowlands where my sorrow flies,
And walk through the fields of meditation beside the dove.

Speak, painter.
Poetry can say nothing.

TAKE MY WORDS, COMPOSER

Take my words, composer,

And make them your own.

Add music. For I have lost my love

And all I can do is groan.

 

Take this heart, composer,

No longer glad or light,

And fix up my utterances

For a somber and solemn night.

 

Take my loss, composer.

Your music might something keep.

Play my words with music

Until I fall asleep.

IT WOULDN’T BE BAD IF YOU LOVED ME

It doesn’t take much to make me glad:

A dip in a mountain lake, a long walk under stars by the sea.

And it wouldn’t be bad if you loved me.

 

It doesn’t take much to make me glad:

A bowl of strawberries for dessert; on the piano, a melody.

And it wouldn’t be bad if you loved me.

 

It doesn’t take much to make me glad:

Thinking about you. Thinking about you every day.

And it wouldn’t be bad if you loved me.

 

Did I tell you I like Brussels sprouts? And guacamole?

I know. You have your own special recipe.

And it wouldn’t be bad if we had some tea.

 

I like going places alone. I’m a bit of a loner, but not too bad.

Do you like being alone? Does that make you glad?

How are you under stress? How do you handle the mundane?

I like desire, and I don’t mind the clingy—that’s how much I like desire.

 

But you have your doubts that you can always be on fire.

And I notice you are not good-natured. That’s going to get worse.

Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be bad if I thought this out more.

 

This started out as a clever, sentimental song.

How did it go wrong?

Who am I kidding? I made it wrong.

Or maybe this is how it is supposed to go.

I wrote the wise parts fast, the foolish part slow.

 

 

 

A WOMAN IS A MAGAZINE: FASHION POEM NUMBER FOUR

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A woman is a magazine.

A magazine is why most women are horrors.

We all know the beautiful girl is mean

And the one who dresses best is the young teen

In thrown-together combinations wild,

But selling your soul to Conde Nast

Kills your soul pretty fast.

I didn’t know anything in the world

Until I realized she was a Town and Country girl.

A simple blouse and skirt, the center of her casual pride,

Prada bag, leather sandals, pretty watch, wealthy and dignified

The essence of her, the real her inside.

She sized me up as a careless, earnest, poet without style

Who—protected by her Town & Country brand—she could dally with for awhile.

Town & Country is a dual symbol—not two-faced, exactly,

But she liked its implication of social flexibility.

Something in my temples and neck she found vaguely aristocratic.

When I wore blue shirts bringing out my blue eyes,

She knew Town & Country had made her, a poor wall flower, pretty damn okay

By making her pleasant, without having too much to say.

With her love of nature, and her Yves Saint Laurent perfume,

I forgot my learning when she came into the room.

It quickly became a contest, which she knew she could win:

Tortured wordiness versus sweet, casual, Town & Country grin.

I read everything. Even Rolling Stone. My sense of taste was vile.

Town & Country was all she needed to enjoy me for awhile.

 

 

 

 

 

MY POEMS AND MY LIPS

My poems and my lips taste the same
As my flesh, as my name.

A shape—before touching—which you see
Is how my lips first spoke for me.

My lips still have nothing to say
To your beauty on this beautiful day.

Your beautiful name in the night
Swings back and forth in my brain like a light

In the breeze of an approaching storm:
Cold at first, and then very warm.

My poems speak for my lips:
On the ocean of my sighs, the ships.
Do you see my poems, lighted things,
In the mist, longing for shore where the longing shore bird sings?

I told my lips the other day,
My poems, in scintillating array,
Will be a navy for my lips, which cannot say
What it feels like in our hearts when ships take our hearts away.

My poems and my lips are almost the same—
Each made of dust, one crying your name
In a glorious attempt at fame:
Yours—if lips are not shaped the same.

 

 

YOU, ALREADY IN LOVE

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You, already in love, I did not see you there,

When I first fell in love with your shadow,

Who, although a shadow, presented a show

Daring to love me, and loving that I might dare

To love you; two minds embracing all love might know,

As two finally move into shadows with a sigh,

Knowing all they are is about to die.

There were warning signs, that I

Was only loving a shadow—“love is a madness,”

You said, and “everything must finally end,”

And you not wanting children;

I should have known; though I did guess

Something wasn’t right from the start.

I loved a shadow, a shadow! with all my heart!

And you, already in love, simply could not be

The shadow your shadow was when you first kissed me.

 

 

 

 

HUMBLE SITA SPEAKS

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“The Ramayana…is a divine romance…of undying love between Sita and Rama, two aspects of one divinity whose separation from each other…is illusion…acted out for the benefit of their devotees.”  —Self help psychology book

Why should I care about what you made up in your mind?

I’m not your epic poem. Fuck off. I’m not your Sita

And you’re certainly not Rama, you pathetic oaf.

You think if you steep your shit in ancient religion

It will impress me? Words, words, words. Psychology

And poetry and desire and big fat fucking deal. Listen:

Dinner and movie and you pay. Then we’ll see.

You must be confident. And funny.

Hey, put your poetry aside and look at me.

Sita gives all the guys hard-ons so don’t fucking think I’m going to be

Impressed by yours. You don’t know anything. I’ll show you femininity.

I’m better than you. I use you. Finding me might not be a good find.

Poet-Asshole! Why should I care what you make up in your mind?

 

 

 

 

 

EVERYTHING

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I don’t praise Everything, but stand in awe of it.

I had an insight today and realize how much we are enslaved by the everything of Everything.

Capitalism, Everything’s cousin, is disliked, and looking for a pair of socks this morning, I finally understood why.

My drawer is filled with unmatched socks, and as I studied my various dark socks in the light to find an exact match, I asked myself,

“Wouldn’t it be easier if there were One Dark Sock Factory that served all feet, making one dark sock that fits all?”

You see, I couldn’t care less about these subtle varieties of dark sock—and here Everything confronted me—countless varieties of socks exist because someone wishes to make money with their brand of specialized sock.

So I cursed capitalism.  If sock manufacturing were a socialist enterprise, all my dark socks, made from one simple model at a fair price, would match.  The variety of socks in the world—the Everything factor—was wasting my morning, as I attempted to find a match.

Things, the minions of Everything, take revenge against us if we do not pay attention to them.

My shoes, conveniently placed under my bed so I could put them on upon waking, somehow managed to get themselves far under the bed, so I had to bend over and reach for them, feeling about under the bed, in a flurry of curses.

I have been trained, however, to make what annoys me bear fruit.

I notice that nothing falls into place for us—Everything makes things difficult, annoying, and displaced—Everything is unruly and runs away from us: shoes, socks, the sheets and blankets on the bed—which always arrange themselves in such a way that ‘making the bed’ is an odious task.

There is no time for anything.

There is no time to make more time.

Everything is a cage.

We are trapped, and trying to escape traps us further.

But putting our finger on something, articulating the problem, makes us happy for a moment, at least.

More generally, I thought of the universal effort to simplify our lives by simply ignoring a whole host of things—we tell ourselves we will not care about this thing or that thing, in order to make our existence simpler and happier—we will defeat this conspiracy of Everything by excluding a certain number of things from our lives.

But does this bring happiness?

No.

It is in the nature of things, no matter how divided, focused on, or excluded, to never satisfy.

If we exclude this or that in our life and focus on one thing, we think, if we focus on this, then we will be happy—but no, even the one thing we want, as we humbly give up our need for other things, eludes us, or proves disappointing—for no thing wishes to be ignored, and to focus on one thing means ignoring other things.

Things ignored take revenge on us—socks will not match, shoes will run away under the bed—not even one thing we attempt to make ours will be ours—everything conspires to make us unhappy, if we fail to give Everything its due.

We cannot exclude. And the following will illustrate this:

If we put our stock in poetry, and ignore the non-poetic, our most precious poem will be mocked and ridiculed in the public square, and we will be humiliated forever.

However, those who focus on the non-poetic and ignore poetry in their lives—the mockers in the public square—will discover, meanwhile, that a poet has stolen their wife.

You better know Everything. Or you—no matter who you are, or how “expert” you are—will get burned.

No one wins in the attempt to exclude; Everything will have its revenge.

If we attempt to make life simpler, if we decide, in an egalitarian serve-humanity spirit, to make life better by having one dark sock factory, this will backfire, like everything else.  The noble revolution will crumble and fall in despair, and finally, in humiliation.  Up rises Everything, and there shall be countless varieties of dark socks and your morning will be wasted looking for one dark sock to match another—because someone wants to get rich on socks.

I decided not to be bitter towards Everything and to surrender to its power.  After all, I thought, what about those poor souls forced to work in that dark sock factory?  How much fun would it be to be make one dark sock all day?

And, further, what of my own responsibility to organize my socks?  Is it not my sole responsibility to make sure my socks match?  How I launder my socks, how I purchase my socks, how I organize my socks—is this not the important thing?

Respect Everything.

Everything forces us to be organized, and is actually a moral agent, since being busy keeps us out of trouble.

So this, then, is why Everything exists, and why it exists the way it does—for moral, religious purposes.

Is not the Bible lengthy, and full of so many things that it requires long study? Of course it is. The Bible, like all religious texts, and like all documents involved in the legal tangle of capitalism, pay due homage to Everything, which is our true God.

Who has the time to pay attention to Everything? We don’t. Which is why the world is full of dull, unhappy people—even as Everything spreads its riches before us.

Here are the choices:

Bare feet: happy but ignorant.

Mismatched socks: socially condemned.

Matched socks: organized and dull.

And we see this roughly pertains to the three ages of Humanity:

bare feet, the Child;

mismatched, the Adolescent;

matched, the Adult.

The challenge is finally to take account of Everything’s moral nature, respect this aspect of it, and not let it make you dull and miserable, for it will make you dull and miserable if you fail to respect it.

The everything of Everything makes us busy, and this is how it makes us moral. Capitalism, which is the source of so much consternation on the Left, offends as a seemingly cruel and amoral system—but as we have shown, it is really the opposite—think of all the work that goes into producing a certain kind of dark men’s sock—merely because it serves the refining nature of Everything’s expansive complexity: in a word, the Civilized.

Why do we have children?

For one reason, really.

We don’t have enough Time here—so we hand off the task of living to our child: here, you do it. I don’t have time.

And then we find a child takes up all of our time.

Or, we don’t have children because we do believe we have time. We look young all the way to the end of our child-bearing years. Then age creeps in all of a sudden, and we have no children. Too late, we realize there is no time, and Everything discovers even more ways to torture us as we look into the empty mirror.

All the exhausted, unhappy faces that you meet—exist because of how many different kinds of socks there are. We are unhappy, moral, busy—our vacations brief and unsatisfying, our jobs tedious and unsatisfying.

Our attempts to “rise above” the mundane into the realm of love and beauty prove short-lived and untenable, as the spirit of Everything asserts itself, taking revenge on us for our vanity and our self-indulgence, for as soon as we embrace love and beauty, pride makes us irritable and thin-skinned—we continue to knock against Everything; fragile Beauty proves too difficult to maintain. 

We find ourselves in our bedrooms. Tears rolling down our cheeks. An annoying song on the radio. A stupid piece of instant “wisdom” on social media.  Crying over lost love.

And our holy consolation?

Oh God!

Sorting our socks.

Everything crushes us under its Wheel.

Everything, the One True God.

The only thing the fortunate are thankful for, thanks to our God, Everything:

I didn’t have too much time to be unhappy.

 

 

 

OVER

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Is it over then? Has the last note been played?

Must I go home? Without getting laid?

How bitter this ending! Just a minute ago

You excited me with talk of doing something slow

And now you frown. Every inch of your demeanor says, stop.

You are the greatest musician in the world. Did you know?

You can pick up a concert hall and let it drop.

I will now be hungering for the rest of a tune

That ended back there with strings and bassoon.

The solo piano played like the moon.

I will expect its entrance tomorrow at noon.

The concerto resolved, and yet did not.

Forever now! I will dream of that tune.

When provoking desire is an art, a spell,

That a magician, a musician, a woman—does well,

Music and love mutually swell, they mutually dwell

With passion! I cannot speak!

Broken, I composed this poem last week.

If only I’d spoken—instantaneously—the whole

Joke the moment you were cruel! I would have defeated your soul.

 

 

IT TAKES A WHOLE LOT OF SORROW TO BE SAD

It takes a whole lot of sorrow to be sad;
The world needs to pile wrong on wrong
To spoil even one song,
But with a smile you’ve made me glad.

 

It takes a whole lot of sorrow to be sad;
The breezy finds it easy to ignore so much.
The sad lacks the light touch.
But with a touch you’ve made me glad.

 

It takes a whole lot of sorrow to be sad;
Sorrow’s armies are marching up and down.
Sorrow is going to take over the town!
But with a glance you’ve made me glad.

 

It takes a whole lot of sorrow to be sad.
It took some time, but you knew, you knew, you knew
You were the only one I wanted. Come here, you.
In one instant we’ll be glad.

 

 

 

 

RUMI’S LOVE IS HOW I LOVE YOU NOW

Lovers don’t meet anywhere. They live inside each other. —Rumi

Once there was a longing for you so strong
I could not be away from you for long.

I cursed the time away from you;
I was nourished in your intoxicating presence;

Having hungered my whole life for a love like this,
I fed on you like the hungriest animal

And grew mad for more and more of you
And to reach you, wrote you many a poem and song.

 

You were Isolde to my Tristan: passion
Fighting pride, that, even as sweet hunger all our passion won,

Sought honor even in the feeding, our rage
A kind of lust, wings of love stretching in a cage

As secrecy and homelessness cursed our kisses
Even as our love rejoiced in love which the simple eye of the public misses.

Wanton yet proud, your beauty burned like fate in my eye,
My destiny to consume myself as you desired me, in poetry,

Until things like time and place and “when and where will I see you”
Began to weary us, for the love given was never the kind that will do;

Our love had to fight for every inch of ground
Which by reproving public vigilance is drowned.

Exiled every moment, always thinking how and when and where to go,
We’d look at each other helplessly: yes, my love, I know.

Where can we love? Where can love that wants to love go?
There was not a crack in the world we could fit through,

Obligations to worlds and shadows and worlds is all we knew
And our love lay helplessly stretched upon

One shadowy bed; life—which conspires against love—won.
We should have been together constantly,

Harmony chasing routine inside ecstasy,
So love, building with love, not absence,

In constant delight, might have a chance.
The wrong endured became the thing sought,

More absence to aid desire, or so we thought:
I will make her miss me, I shall stay away.

Love! What is it? What shall it do or say?
Until the horror of staying away too long

Became its own prophecy.
Love dying, we did something wrong.

 

Now a sword lies between Tristan and Isolde.
Eternal love has surrendered to the dying world.

You look away, you cannot look at me,
It is not because you do not want to look at me.

It is only the passion and the pride
Of Tristan and Isolde. Tristan and Isolde have died.

Love is reborn in the love which Rumi
Knew as the highest of all.

There is no end. There is no wall.

THE BATH OF LOVE

If the angels are angels
Who swim in the elements above,
We are almost as lucky here,
Who swim in the bath of love.

The bath of love is where we love;
Where the moving waters move,
Our love loves when it gently moves,
As the moving waters of the bath can prove.
When loving loves,
The waters move
To the moving we make as we love.
Your mind and mine are the waters of the bath;
The movement is much, much more than math
But real, like the tiger, like the dove—
In the warm and swaying bath of love.

This is where we go to die,
In the bath of the seeing eye,
A liquid that looks
More tenderly than the brooks
And hidden streams
That lie quietly in our dreams.

When we are away
Every thought that falls will stay.

The bath of love is where we live.
The gentle pushing of the waters
Is how we gently love and give
Where all is loving already
In the one bath, that sways and is steady.
For the one bath is love already,
And contains our infinite minds
Which in the uniting body finds
The back and forth of loves
In crystal waters that gently move.

When the goddess gently knelt
To go into her bath,
All who saw, and all who felt,
Said they knew the ice would melt.

In love the dove flies within
Where the still bath has always been;
In gentle bathing there is no wrath
Or straying. All thoughts live in the one bath,
Where flies the tiger and the dove
In the swaying bath—the bath of love.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IT ISNT THE POETRY I LOVE?

Language is unreal. What’s in the letter

That I carefully seal?

What is it I’m giving to you?

Poetry is something you know that I do.

Love is a pleasure that can always get better

But there must be sentiments that are willing, and true.

How do you know it isn’t the poetry I love?

 

Your face is yours, the one that does the talking all day,

And what will you say to me as you open the letter

And read the inside of what I say?

Nothing belongs to us. Your face is the pretty kind.

I practice to make my poetry better

By sending, each day, a word of myself, which I do,

Like your face that does the talking for you.

How do you know it isn’t the poetry I love?

 

The more I love, the more unreal

You seem; your body hasn’t a thing to say

To what I say; it isn’t the poetry kissing you;

What is opening your letter is strange,

And doesn’t feel like me.

We can hold in our hands the scientist’s chalk.

We want to blast off, yet we are merely gravity.

Our bodies sitting around. The small talk.

How do you know it isn’t the poetry I love?

 

 

 

IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW

If you could see me now, relaxed and fit,

You would know I no longer lament on the benches

Where the sad watch the world pass, where we used to sit.

 

If you could see me now, saying clever things,

Laughing with beautiful people laughing,

You’d know I no longer care what a day with you in it brings.

 

If you could see me now, writing these lines,

My long hands, biting my lip, never looking up,

You would know I no longer care who dances with you, or dines.

 

If you could see me now, safe at last from throngs

Who loved to torture us with curiosity and gossip,

You would know I no longer care to ask why you love certain songs.

 

If you could see me now, without a care in the world,

Flying above dream houses in dreams,

You would know I no longer care for your opinions on this boy or girl.

 

If you could see me now, happy as a lark,

You would know I no longer miss the kisses

I gave you when we took our walks and kissed in the park.

 

If you might see me now, stretched out in the crimson dark, flowers at my feet and head,

Do not move closer or watch me—what other dreams have I forgot?

To see if I am dead.

 

 

 

 

 

THESE KISSES ARE MINE

I want to give you kisses,
More than a few.
I want to kiss your face awhile
As I throw my arms around you.
Perhaps I’m excited by your beauty and the wine.
But just remember: these kisses are mine.

I want to give you kisses,
A hundred or more.
I want to kiss your neck awhile,
The area around your neck explore.
I give and I give because you are fine.
But just remember: these kisses are mine.

I want to give you kisses,
The more the merrier.
I’ll kiss your breasts, your belly,
Even your interior.
My love is yours; my life is yours; yours, this wine.
But just remember: these kisses are mine.

When you go away from me—
Or if you should leave me for good
And take my whole life—
I hope it’s understood
Whatever you are doing: loving, sleeping, drinking wine,
Those millions of kisses I gave you are mine.

IMPORTANT AND TRUE

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This is hard to refute: Nothing is important and true if it is merely important and true to you.

At the college where I work, I heard a humanities professor remark recently: the abstract is the basis of education.

By abstract, the professor means: All that is wise, good, and important is true for everyone, not just you.

The children who “get this,” grow up to be productive members of society; those who don’t, become those half-formed dreamers who merely survive, or worse, criminals.

Most of us are comfortable thinking that there is a ‘selfish curve;’ the more selfish you are, the more you ultimately suffer; the religious find contentment knowing God’s justice ultimately takes care of everything, but that doesn’t mean everyone isn’t irked when they witness selfishness in others; the religious are still motivated to “spread the word of God,” even though their all-powerful God will “take care of everything at last, anyway.”

This contradiction is not a minor thing. If God is all-powerful, why do you behave as if He were not?

You (the religious) are busy “spreading God’s word,” even as God, beyond all words and beyond all understanding, inhabits, in a vast, just, material, eternal manner, everything. Why so busy, then?

I could believe every single thing you (the religious) say as you “spread God’s word” and still find you excessively ignorant and redundant and tiresome—and tell you in all sincerity to please go away and never show your face around here again.

There. As you may have guessed, Scarriet is not a religious place.

And this sentiment is precisely where we are in the world today, with the secular world becoming increasingly exasperated and emboldened in their objection to religion, especially as it manifests itself around social media-driven flashpoint issues and events.

Anti-religious extremism threatens more and more each day to become mainstream, at least in the West, thanks to academia and social media, where the religious find their antiquated mists lifting before the winds of progressive and intellectual arguments; secular common sense is nearly impossible to resist as the “love of Jesus” is turned against every religious prohibition under the sun.

The immutable Abstract God needs human representatives—with human stories and human logic. When servants of the Abstract God debate with the professor/artist/social worker class, who represent The Abstract Benefits of All People, the servants of The Lord lose, and they lose because they are humorless and antiquated, and because Equality is the abstraction which trumps everything.

This does not mean the religious ultimately lose—they will surely never go away—and they do not ultimately lose for the following reason: Equality, or even the need for it, is, alas, an abstract theory, not an abstract reality.

Abstraction, itself, at its most powerful, exists as a reality, not a theory.

Those quiet ones, who skip the debate, knowing the One True Real Abstraction, God’s Justice, takes care of everything, and not in some theoretical equality-type manner, but with every unequal thing and person fitting into the great scheme at last, miraculously and imaginatively, the quiet ones who skip the debates, are the ones you should listen to, when you have a moment—not the self-assured ones on the left or the right.

To return to “you” and how your feelings are never the most important thing:

According to our wise secular professor, what you happen to feel is never as important as the abstracted feelings of the many.

But not only is Religion on the run in the West, but a counter-force, Romanticism seems to be making a quiet comeback.

The Romantic does value “your” singular feelings.

This is because “the you” is finally an abstract idea, as well, and those who defend “the abstract” find themselves trapped by the whole theoretical notion of “the abstract”: once we begin to sociologically impose abstract models onto everything, in the name of a benevolent but coarse system of benefits for all, the theoretical destroys everything in its path. Theoretically, the “you” joins the “many,” and science becomes farcically anecdotal, all in the name of abstraction, and of words abstractly used, with “them” and “you” swapped and traded in the blink of an eye.

The Romantic persists in being “wrong” in the face of all the wise theorists; the Romantic denies the abstract with passionate feeling: Ovid’s “I hate and love.”

The Romantic is worth listening to, because there are two kinds of Abstraction.

Our professor friend, who we quoted in the beginning of the essay, refers to the Abstract Abstract.

The Abstract Abstract is the abstraction we find in psychology, sociology and literature textbooks, the essential content of the non-religious liberal arts education: generalized information applied anecdotally and then traced back to the generalized information in a rough ‘what’s best for all’ sort of way.

In these liberal arts scenarios, passion is always reserved for “blind evil,” which does the things we professionals are appalled by, and cannot understand, as we, rationally, in the course of our liberal arts education, pursue our sane pedagogical goals: marriage for everybody, love for everybody, riches for everybody, etc etc.

But the Romantic and the religious refer to something else: the Real Abstract.

The Real Abstract is The Whole Universe, literally, that dynamic, grand design of the whole which God (whether or not He really exists) is short-hand for.

It is why Edgar Poe ventured to call his essay on the Universe a poem—the unity of the subject called for it.

The abstract is truly one thing and one thing only: the material, finite universe as it really in fact exists.

The rigor of this abstraction puts to shame the mere ‘good for all’ theory practiced by the liberal arts colleges.

Example: there is no such thing as a kind review. We never argue for something in a generalized manner: the one (poem, book, world, etc) contains many things, which, by necessity, if the whole of which the parts are a part is worth anything at all, succeed and fail as things to varying degrees. So instead of saying, ‘this is a great ___,’ we instead say which parts of ____ in any given ____ are good and which are bad.

How many reviews of friends’ poetry books and chapbooks are thorough, and truly objective?  They are almost never objective. They always feel, due to friendship and kindness, like advertisements: you must read this great book!

Passion is required for truth, and passion, by definition, is Ovidian, containing love and hate. The truly unique whole of the universe is both loving and hateful. The Real Abstract contains both beauty and necessity.

The merely Abstract Abstract, however, the one we get from the liberal arts professor, is necessary, but not beautiful: proper goodness must prevail, so that the poet, who is both student and customer in the new professional university environment, receives the proper flattery and is pleased—each part in the Abstract Abstract must exist abstractly, pleased to be an unreal part of what is essentially a pleasing, artificial (abstract) agenda.

The uneasy way the universe actually fits together produces the passion that is at once the cause and the effect of  its meaning—for those who attempt to comprehend it. (Poe perhaps having come the closest?)

Abstractly speaking, the universe, today, in our progressive age, is a “rainbow” of benevolent mixing.

What does this “rainbow” symbol mean, anyway? What does it actually mean?

Be nice to everyone. Accept differences. But isn’t this too general to mean anything?

A friend once asked us if Joan Rivers was mean or funny. The answer, of course, is both. The funny and the mean are inextricably mixed.

“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” will always sound in fair Verona’s streets.

Let us look at an actual example.

A black conservative judge, who opposes gay marriage, and his white wife comprise two races and two genders. The vast majority of gay couplings comprise one race and one gender.

Which couple most resembles a “rainbow?”

If there is no rational reason to oppose gay marriage—we cannot think of one; Scarriet certainly does not oppose gay marriage—perhaps it is only a “rainbow” impulse that does oppose it: is that an irony, or what?

Our benevolent “rainbow” idea belongs to the Abstract Abstract, one of those ideals, which, upon inspection, is found to be one of those liberal arts ideals whose “truth” is a highly convincing symbolism for the sake of an abstract good: robbing from the rich is “good” in similar abstract ways.

The Real Abstract consists of social minutia, flawed expression, breeding, borders, hierarchy and competing interests over time—messy and vastly complex mixtures, not given to easy Abstract Abstract ideals.

Hate and love, as a mixture, is never easily understood; love by itself and hate by itself, are far more easily understood, and they are understood more easily—because they belong to the Abstract Abstract, not the Real Abstract; the Abstract Abstract is what tends to be taught—in the schools.

We can gently refute our wise professor after all: very often what is true and important is true and important—to you.

SHE DOESNT TRUST MEN ANYMORE

She doesn’t trust men anymore.

One she loved, a long time ago now,

Left her, pregnant, crying on the floor.

You may read about that, in her murky workshop poetry with elaborate metaphor,

But she doesn’t like to talk about that anymore.

She tried a final time with one who couldn’t make decisions

And hated herself for finding him a bore,

Her caustic moments towards him imitating the very guy’s demeanor who left her crying on the floor.

So now, thoroughly self-loathing, you can probably guess what she’s like.

Happy. Pretty. Published. Lots of friends. Don’t feel bad, really, that she told you to take a hike.

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