The science of sports is like the science of anything else. It includes two basic things.

The first is scientific measurement—the hard data. Data which indicates, transparently, the reality of what occurs in a framework or context which makes sense, a context useful in understanding the data itself.

The second is whatever wishes to hide measurement, hide the science—distort the objective view in order to advance whatever human agenda or secret motive happens to come into play. This second aspect of scientific measurement involves a frame only in the sense that the intent is to leave out important information from the frame.

The first thing is what scientists do—they measure. More than anything else, science is measurement.

Velocity, temperature, percentages—how often does something happen and to what degree? That’s it in a nutshell.

But measurement also includes context: velocity of what, a velocity compared to what? Frequency—in terms of what? 99% of science is observable measurement which reflects the reality of whatever is being measured in the most complete manner possible. It has nothing to do with opinion, judgment, experience, credentials, or expertise. Data and its completeness is all. If a scientist is not urgently advancing these two things: data and completeness, something is wrong.

The second thing, obviously, is contrary to science—but it is often accomplished by scientists—because human activity is not solely based on science, and never will be. There are plenty of overriding reasons why transparent, factual information is not desired, and is not forthcoming. When we consider anything scientific, we must also take into account the whole (scientific) picture, which may be non-scientific or even anti-scientific: either neglectful or careless when it comes to science, or rationally anti-scientific (dishonest) on purpose. It often profits us not to be scientific.

Sports is most obviously scientific—in its devotion to statistics.

Mathematical and scientific minds, as well as artistic ones (art matches measurement and science to varying degrees) are drawn to spectator sports; the nerd, as well as the jock, have an interest in what is both competitive and measurable.

How good am I? I am this good: I scored 5 touchdowns. I struck out 20 batters. The nerd and jock both joy in this kind of measurement and science. Pride measured is extra special—measurement, even if it’s dubious measurement, swells it.

Unlike life, sports is full of immediate, understandable, and precise measurement, and this is why it is interesting to so many. The clock annoys and interrupts life—we consider its impact on us cruel, vague, and random. But the clock in sports is part of the thrill. In sports, the simplest of measurements is sexy.

Because science inevitably deals with data which is complex, the more scientifically minded sports fan will demand more nuance in scientific sports measurement: you ran for 5 touchdowns—but why? Did the linemen who pushed the defense out of the way not deserve much of the credit? The defense hardly touched you because of the big guys who blocked for you. Or you threw for 5 touchdowns: but your swift and elusive receivers were wide open and your blockers gave you plenty of time to throw.

Measuring the number of times a runner crosses the goal line is simple. Measuring how many meaningful blocks were made—by a particular lineman on a particular march down the field—is impossible. Measuring “how open” a receiver was when a quarterback completed a touchdown—and why—is impossible.

Well, perhaps such measurement is possible, but it is so difficult, it is never measured.

What should we measure? This is as important as the measurements we actually look at.

Statistics are limited by how they are able to measure the overall performance of a sport involving complex moves by many individuals.

And to limit the data is to limit, or even eliminate, the science.

“I scored 5 touchdowns” becomes math, not science.

If the context—everything which happens on the football field—is not seen or measured completely, then science cannot be said to be present. Measurement demands complete measurement. Science demands complete science.

If complete data is not available, scientific certainty fades into the background, even as crude types of certainty remain fixated in people’s minds: “X scored 5 touchdowns!”

The owner of a football team may prefer not to have stats for blockers—otherwise he may be forced to pay them as much money as the star running back.

Most of the original NFL teams were funded by gambling winnings. Gamblers are notorious for wishing certain pieces of information be suppressed. Here, then, is their “science.”

There is always motivation—somewhere—not to be scientific. Not to truly measure. Not to see the whole picture.

Or sometimes it’s just too complex and we don’t want to bother with it. But let’s leave aside this reason for now and assume the best measurement is always the true one.

To succeed in the game itself, what is hidden is key.

Stealing signs in baseball or football immediately comes to mind. (There is also the remarkable example of the tennis champion who noticed a player he did not fare well against telegraphing where his serve was going by the brief, unconscious movement of his tongue just before he served.)

Sport does not routinely measure cheating. There is an obvious reason why this is so. It would defeat the game’s entire legitimacy in the fans’ eyes if such a thing were routinely or officially measured.

Cheating, by its very, nature, avoids measurement—even though cheating itself, to succeed, must, in itself be scientific.

There is a science which defeats science.

And this truth lies at the heart of all criminality—and is the reason why a successful criminal must be regarded as a successful scientist—in every sense of that word. Science concerns data, not morals.

One doesn’t need to be a true scientist to ask interesting scientific questions, or make important advances within smaller regions of the whole.

Ultimate data—that which includes measurement of all data, both seen and unseen (including data deliberately hidden by a few)—is moral, in the sense that truth is associated with justice, but this is not how we define science—the scientist (who we normally think of as a specialist) almost never studies the whole picture.

A good scientist is understood to look at whatever needs to be looked at—but who knows “what needs to be looked at” in the whole universe? Are there any true scientists, then? Maybe a few: Plato, da Vinci, Leibnitz, Newton, Franklin, Einstein.

Most baseball fans are familiar with the Moneyball revolution in baseball—the short of it is this: using statistical observations hidden from standard statistical reporting, a poor team (the Oakland A’s) was able to assemble successful teams for less money. The science of Moneyball was superior to the first-hand, observational science of actual baseball scouts—statistics (measurement) was able to see what the eye could not. Data (measurement) can be more significant and nuanced than the naked eye.

Moneyball largely consisted of the following insight: filling your lineup with guys who walk a lot will tax opposing pitchers more than guys who swing a lot—this involves a physical aspect of the game—a pitcher throwing a lot of pitches—indirectly reflected by statistics. It isn’t just the numbers, but how you think about them. True, without the numbers, without the raw measurement, one would be lost. The numbers are there for you to see—walks equal bases exactly as different types of hits do, but since a hit is a hit and a walk is only a walk, the hits largely received more attention. Another thing about hits and pitching which Moneyball discovered: a safe hit is one of the most important statistics in baseball. What was never measured, however, was what percentage of balls merely put into play become hits—and this measurement led to a startling statistical insight as to how effective a pitcher is. Measuring how often a pitcher allows the batter to make contact turned out to be a far more meaningful stat than runs allowed—since luck plays a large part in how many struck balls turn into safe hits, and safe hits lead to how many runs a pitcher allows—perhaps the most important statistic, traditionally, for a pitcher.

I’m not aware of a Moneyball equivalent in football—statistical insights to revolutionize how we see and measure football—now America’s most popular game.

This is probably because football is not “read” or understood in statistics the way baseball is. Football is a tangled up team sport and no stats truly reflect individual, scout-able excellence—except for perhaps how fast a player runs the 40 yard dash. There’s a single number that matters in football—number of super bowl rings. This is not a scientific number, however—because all sorts of factors and all sorts of players figure into winning a single game.

What is scientific is that dynasties—no matter what the sport—are as necessary as star players for interest and ratings. Great players must be manufactured, as well as great teams, for any team sport to have any lasting success. In spectator sports, hierarchy and royalty are all. The NFL must have dynasties—privileged teams to love and hate.

Football, as something scientifically measured, does feature roughly the same amount of statistics (raw data) as baseball.

There is a divide, however, between stats (raw numbers) and myth (greatest game, greatest catch) and football, more than baseball, relies more on myth than numbers. Baseball represents a lot of things to a lot of people and is very heavy on the myth side of things, as well, but baseball is ultimately more about “Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs” where football is more about the following, which I found on the internet:

Years after he finished playing in Baltimore, the late Johnny Unitas is still remembered and idolized for what he did on the football field. Perhaps the most unbreakable record in professional football is Unitas’s record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Some people feel that record is living on borrowed time, and yet, even the most prolific passers like Dan Marino and Peyton Manning have yet to take it down. Unitas deserves every accolade he gets and then some as one of the league’s all-time great quarterbacks. Unitas was the winning quarterback in the so-called “Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL championship against the New York Giants, quarterbacked a successful title defense in 1959, then defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V.

Most of Unitas’s records have now been broken with the advent of rule changes that favor offensive production, but Unitas pioneered such mainstays as the so-called “two-minute drill” that are still used today. Unitas is without question a top-three or top-five quarterback in NFL history, and there is a strong case for him to be as high as he is here.

Unitas and the Baltimore Colts began play at 2 p.m. every Sunday, which was unique to Baltimore: The Colts wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to had time to go to church before the game started. So the saying went that for Colts fans, the day started with God, and the day ended with God, just in a different form the second time—as he wore No. 19.

In baseball, hits, walks and strikeouts per inning give a very good indication of a pitcher’s effectiveness. Two-thirds of those numbers (walks, strikeouts) are pretty much controlled by how the pitcher throws over a certain amount of innings.

The stats for a quarterback fit neatly into a QB rating.

The QB rating combines the percentage of completions, yards, TDs, and interceptions—a very simple calculation based on 4 numbers, but which has more to do with hidden factors than it does with the quarterback. All the quarterback’s numbers (complete passes, yards thrown, touchdowns, and interceptions) involve a host of other players (both on offense and defense) not to mention the game plan of the offensive coach and the defensive game plan of the defensive coach.

Here’s a big problem with myth and numbers in football.

Johnny Unitas has a lifetime QB rating of 78.2. This rating is dismal in today’s rankings. Just to pick a few quarterbacks at random who have little mythic weight: Carson Palmer: 87.9. Matt Schaub: 91.1. Trent Green: 86.0.

This is like Babe Ruth without big home run totals. Johnny U. is a myth without numbers.

The reputations of Ruth and Unitas both involve rule changes—which radically alter reality as well as statistics.

Ruth benefited by major league baseball altering the ball—the “dead ball era” ended with Ruth himself, as 10 home runs once led the league–and Ruth suddenly hit 60. Based on this stat alone, a myth was born.

After the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, the sacred game of baseball needed a diversion—1920 (coincidence?) marked the end of the dead ball era, when Ruth began to put up big numbers.

Football also changed the way the game is played—but more gradually. Football was once more like a wrestling match—and a nasty one. Players trying to catch a pass could be paralyzed or crippled. Passing was risky, and “establishing the run” was a necessary game-length strategy. The old, “great” quarterbacks played meat-grinder football, often in the mud, and this is why their QB ratings are quite pitiful, despite their heroic status.

Terry Bradshaw won 4 super bowls in the 1970s with the Pittsburgh Steelers (known for abusing steroids during that era) putting him in a very elite class.

Yet Bradshaw’s career QB rating is 70.9 and he threw a total of 212 TDs—and almost as many interceptions—210. Today, a QB who throws as many interceptions as TDs is considered a failure.

Ironically, Tom Brady, considered the greatest QB of all, benefited from a rule change just as Babe Ruth did, and it may be cynically observed that just as the Black Sox Scandal in baseball was conveniently over-shadowed by Ruth’s glorious exploits, Tom Brady, GOAT, was the perfect distraction for an NFL scandal—Brady’s own team, the Patriots, was hounded by accusations of cheating in the scandal known as Spygate.

Rules making it easier to pass the ball in the NFL were applied gradually, and as late as 2002—the Patriots’ defense stopped “The Greatest Show on Turf” (mud no longer a factor in the NFL by then) by breaking the arms of the Rams’ receivers as the Pats won their very first Super Bowl, with Tom Brady, who threw for just 145 yards and 1 TD, winning the MVP award. The Pats made it to the Super Bowl when Brady, who was sacked and fumbled late in a playoff game that year, ending all chances to win the game against the Raiders, got another chance, due to a bizarre NFL rule which reversed the season-ending play. Because of how the Rams’ passing game was assaulted by New England, rules protecting the passing game were put into place the very next year. Passing now became easier to do and more important than ever.

Here are the season numbers Tom Brady put up in the 2007 season, with investigators closing in on Spygate that very year.

For comparison, recall Terry Bradshaw, a 4 time SB winner’s lifetime numbers: 212 TDs, 210 Int.

Tom Brady’s numbers in 2007, the year of Spygate: 50 TD and 8 Int. QB rating 117.2

In 2003, a season in which Pats won the super bowl, Brady’s QB rating was 85.9.

In 2006, Brady’s QB rating was 87.9—typical for him, until everything changed in 2007.

The NFL in 2007, in the wake of scandal, found its Babe Ruth.

An interesting thing to consider is that a season for a quarterback is almost the same as a game for a baseball pitcher, in terms of throws.

Average pitchers can throw no-hitters.

QB Milt Plum, in 1960, when QBs had an average QB rating of about 60, earned a 110.4 QB rating.

Is there a scientist who desires to find out why?

Y.A.Tittle, a famous QB (1948-1964) whose number was retired with the New York Giants and won an NFL MVP in 1963, threw more interceptions than TDs. His QB rating? 73.6.

Another famous New York quarterback, “Broadway Joe” Namath, whose one super bowl victory made him forever famous, and opened the door for the then-inferior AFL to join the NFL (a very profitable merger—the heavily favored Colts appeared to throw the game) had a career QB rating of 65.5.

A new set of statistics is required in football to reflect what actually happens on the field.

Here’s a much-needed stat: how much time is the QB given to throw? This is measurable, but if we don’t see this, we have no way to truly judge a QB. A QB who has 4 seconds is a superstar compared to a QB who has 3 seconds before he is hit. One second is everything. This can lead to a 30 point spread—yet this is not part of football’s statistical lexicon.

And here’s a more important one. There are no football stats for ref calls.

Ref calls (including bad calls or missed calls) can easily generate up to half the yardage (or more) in a football game.

This alone makes football stats highly incomplete, and therefore, one could argue, unscientific and meaningless.

American political history is a mosaic of conspiracies—optimists insist they are “theories” only. American football, rife with questionable ref calls, parallels American history—fans can only watch and wonder how much is a conspiracy theory—and how much the fix is in.

If there is any doubt that ref calls matter, we only need to glance at an NBC sports story from about 10 years ago.

The headline: Four Years Later, Bill Leavy Apologizes to Seahawks

[NFL referee Bill] Leavy said in reference to his infamous performance in Pittsburgh’s 21-10 win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL “…I impacted the game and as an official you never want to do that.”

Here are comments under the article from passionate football fans, ranked from least to most scientific.

1) There are always bad calls. Sometimes I hate the refs, sometimes i love them. It all balances out in the end.

This is not science. “It all balances out in the end” is wishing.

2) I can’t believe the Seahawk fans are big babies.

Since divided loyalty is a reality of sports (like politics) every accusation (even truthful ones) will be passionately countered.

3) I laugh every time I hear this stuff…

To some, this is amusing. They can afford to laugh, because bad calls in the NFL may not be reviewed.

4) Darrell Jackson pushed off clear as day. How can you say that was a questionable call?

NFL rules are so ambiguous that a call can go anyway a ref (or the NFL, a private entity) wants. This is the main point most fans miss.

5) Seahawks need the refs to allow holding on passing plays to even keep the game close…

More evidence that refs decide games—simply by not making holding calls. A counter-thesis (in favor of Pittsburgh) which also implies the refs impacted the game.

6) Not A Seahawks or a Steelers fan… but Seattle was screwed royally. The fix was clearly in and the holier than thou NFL is just as corrupt as the NBA. Furthermore, Mr. Goodell and Mr. Stern are both of a similar mindset… “we’ll” decide who “we” want to be champs and if that means getting a few calls “wrong” during the big game, then so be it.

This is how many fans see sports—but it doesn’t stop them from watching.

7) Lots of bad calls in the Steelers v. Cards super bowl that favored Shitsburgh too… hmmm
6 championships* 4 thanks to steroids and 2 thanks to the refs.

hmmm is always a sign that a little science is happening.

8) The facts are these: The official who called Jackson for the penalty -negating a touchdown- was born and raised in Pittsburgh.
Ben Rothswhatever didn’t get in the end zone. That was obvious on the replay, but Leavy still allowed it.
Darrell Jackson caught a pass at the end of the first half where he got one foot in bounds and the other foot hit the goal line cone. If a running back touches a cone with the ball, it’s a touchdown. In this case they ruled it an incomplete pass. The NFL changed the rule the next season to specify that one foot + cone = touchdown.
The ‘holding’ call on Sean Locklear, negating a completion ot the 2 yard line; it’s clear on the replay that Leavy was reaching for his flag BEFORE LOCKLEAR EVEN TOUCHED THE STEALER HE SUPPOSEDLY HELD ILLEGALLY. John Madden even comments on this during the replay.
Sports Illustrated never even printed a Seahawks Super Bowl Champion edition before the game; only a Steelers one.
$400 million dollars bet on the Steelers came into Las Vegas the Friday before the game from ‘East Coast betters’ – according to an ESPN report.
And lastly, the retiring Paul Tagliabue got to hand the Vince Lombardi trophy to his best friend in the league, Dan Rooney.
But no, the game wasn’t fixed. How could that happen? Bill Leavy just made some mistakes.

This is the most scientific post on the NBC article—in which the referee admits to making mistakes in favor of Pittsburgh. This fan comment speculates on what happened on and off the field. Obviously, a play by play analysis of the game is necessary, and that’s not possible here.

The point here is not to declare the game was fixed.

Fans will always wonder. That’s as scientific as it gets.

Science, without loyalty or optimism, needs to cast its eye in every possible direction.

As we enjoy the game.

And worship our gods.


Need a Good Laugh? Check Out Some 17th-Century Dutch Art - The New York  Times

Desiring laughter, and weak,
I made them laugh,
the citizens of my poems.
I was weak and became a poet,
and came to it so I could laugh,
because the weak need to laugh.

In the old days of rhetoric
when persuasion shook marble
hospitals—who knows what idiosyncracies
were used to whisper under doors?
I have been laughing
since professors made poems weak.

Beautiful pessimism is what I decided to seek.
Thereupon I decided I also had to laugh
And make fun of the muse, who saw
I meant no harm. I knew I was weak—
I knew I had a weak jaw
and would do better to keep to the law.
I took terribly seriously the first Greek
who lived in the city—away from tooth and claw.


Plato, c.1560 - Paolo Veronese -

Non-poets are impressed when poetry

hides in the news—but a symbol

doesn’t need to be true.

Poetry hides and lies. Plato knew.

An army of images surrounds

a poet feeling sorry for himself.

A poem dies in its sounds,

somewhat like music does,

or the lying rhetoric of the news.

I loved everything about you.

Now I’m confused.


Animals in Art - Albrecht Dürer

With what pure vanity do natural things exist,
Their feathers, their fur, their mandibles,
Their necks, their wings with strange patterns,
A leaf serving its tree, and by accident, our eye.
For them an accident is all that matters.

The animals look at us, whether we live or not,
Baudelaire! They eat us or wait for us
To do something; their city becomes a tomb;
We might see right through their bodies: Ah! young
Termites! To classify them is our doom.

We think humans are stiff with vanity;
With hypocrisy they seek religion;
Pity these: helpless hunter, anxious prey,
Lost in a merciless wilderness—
Where we once lost our way.

Vanity, teethy darkness and error!
Vain thoughts and vain ambitions!
The animals die and re-awaken images of hell
In those who smell the night, taste the night
And eat its eyes as well.

All that’s perfect is done in one kind of silence or another,
Yet poetry asks that we speak.
Is poetry not the most ridiculous failure?
Are not all poets weak?


Soldier, Renaissance paintings, Renaissance art

Love is pleasure. But hate

becomes love’s fate—

since paradox is everywhere.

You know it’s true.

Even now paradox is destroying you.

But not me! Can that be?

Have I reasoned paradox away

in my poetry?

By the slightest measurement

I know what paradox has meant.

They agonize: what is poetry for?

It seems beauty is made to be

destroyed and wasted. I adore

what dies—this paradox has more

of paradox than even paradox

can describe: the love and hate

which breaks out in every tribe

almost ruined me:

I hated you in my poetry.

I betrayed myself with cleverness

which made me ignorant. Nonetheless,

as you can, at this moment, see

I am fighting back, if not in that,

then in this, poetry

which says I still love you;

pleasure still moves

me in you by the smallest possible degree.


a man with a past | Romantic art, Art photography, Pre raphaelite art

Dad felt depressed after the wedding,

despite his successful children dancing

and hugging. He and mom, dragging

their ninety years, slowly moved

into the next room;

the loud music afflicted their ears.

Two of his sons researched the dj’s

selections on their phones, getting

into music from various angles.

The younger wedding guests looked like angels.

Dad imagined, I’m sure, sitting at the head

of some table, offering wit and advice

to children and grandchildren. At least be nice,

at least pretend to listen.

Eat vegetables. Don’t yell.

I still remember the sound my old phone made

when my ex-lover sent me a text.

When you speak, who listens to you?

Who stands at the window, dreaming? You do.


Renaissance Art School in the city Wheaton

She will know poetry


who never got it in school.

Fortunately for poetry,

there is no rule

taught in any school,

no dictum, ought, or should

which makes poetry any good.

She cannot learn it

from women full of anxiety

or bland, confident men.

When I love her madly

she will know it then.


Clearing Storm at Gibraltar | Smithsonian American Art Museum

Everything is a thing; the poet

discovers the idea the first time

he writes a good poem, the lover,

when she glimpses the truth: all love

is the same. It hurts to let go

of your personhood and your pride;

you are a thing there feeling a thing inside.

Do you want me to go on?

Someone else’s expertise

will bring you to your knees.

Imagination puts things together

to arrive at what you might say

is an insight: it happened yesterday

and now whatever you are is not the same.

A thing happened. You can’t blame

this or that person; they did not sing.

Or, if they did, it was nothing but a thing.

It was a thing. It was a thing.

It was a thing.

The virtuoso noticed how things relate

and how a certain thing

makes a certain thing wait.


Death of Edgar Allan Poe still debated

Do you remember when you read the Black Cat

by Edgar Allan Poe?

The whole cycle of love was explained:

something I would rather not know.

You were disgusted when I came too close,

yet longed for me when I was far away.

This explains the craziness of love.

It is why that mix of cynicism and sadness

describes everyone we know.

It is why life is a gruff joke.

I no longer read quickly.

Do you remember when you read the Black Cat

by Edgar Allan Poe?


File:Eugene Delacroix, Lion, 1848-1850. Watercolour, heightened with white,  15.2 x 20.2 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The lion was dying

and the antelope,

who suggested peace

to her new friend,

did not know why.

“Peace is beautiful,”

said the grass—

the grass—

as beautiful, in its collectivity,

as any woman—

and the antelope’s child,

in love, and unable to eat,

was also dying.

War had ended

and the beautiful grass

could not understand

why the antelope suffered.

“You don’t need to eat me,”

sang the grass. “I will not;

I love you,” said the sweet

antelope’s child, dying. Peace

had won, and death and its peace

had spread to every valley.

War and God no longer existed

on the plain. The last lion

saw the beautiful antelope

when he closed his eyes at last,

too weak to proclaim his love.

We met because you were free;

the love that injured us

produced all the poems

which preceded this one.

Call it fate;

whatever is inarticulate

is God. To be free,

you made war on the child

in your womb. That’s what

happens in the wild—

there was never a child.

You went to war so you

could be free—

and you could meet me.

No wonder our love was strange.


The Most Fatiguing of Occupations”* | You Do Hoodoo

A narrator of an autobiographical tale pleads with his parents not to marry—their courtship is up on the screen in a documentary/romance. ‘Don’t have children,’ he yells at them, helplessly, ‘what are you doing?’ An usher in the dream cinema says, ‘Wait, what are you doing? You can’t say whatever you want in a theater.’ A microcosm not only of a life but of a removed and powerful feeling for and against that life—“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” by Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966) has a poetic transcendence condensing thousands of movies and novels.

At 21, in July, 1935, near the calendar day of his death, Delmore Schwartz wrote perhaps the best short story in English (go read it now if you haven’t).

Get ready.

A Delmore Schwartz revival is coming.

The only possible breakthrough equivalent in American Letters, equal to Delmore’s tale, which did not involve obscenity issues or cunning self-promotion, was Poe’s Raven/Philosophy of Composition/”A long poem does not exist” phenomenon a century earlier.

Like Poe, Delmore was no blue-blood who belonged to a well-established clique. Poe was an impoverished orphan, cut off by a wealthy guardian. Schwartz was a Jew trying to succeed in a world with WASP Harvard at its center and he was also bitterly aware of an inheritance denied him—a Great Depression and corrupt lawyers ate into his father’s legacy which would have made Delmore quite well-off.

Delmore was acutely aware of his outsider Jewish immigrant background even as he ran in Allen Tate’s Modernists circles in a vain attempt to be the next Ezra Pound. He was both arrogant and brilliant enough to half-laugh at this dilemma, ignore this dilemma, perhaps, even as one suspects it pushed him towards paranoia and madness.

Poe and Delmore were outsiders, yet so extraordinarily adept at poetry, fiction, and criticism—all three—they threatened to outstrip every Anglophile above them.

Poe tangled with the wealthy Harvard professor, Longfellow, and thumbed his nose at Emerson. Poe also wrote devastating reviews against New England circles—the same circles which would produce the American-turned-Britisher T.S. Eliot (Eliot’s grandfather, who knew Emerson, left Harvard Divinity School to co-found Washington University in St. Louis).

Delmore was a bit more ingratiating than Poe. Schwartz was pals with nearly everyone, from big shots like Pound, Eliot, Tate, and Ransom, to second-tier figures like Berryman, Jarrell, and Lowell. James Laughlin, who used his Steel fortune inheritance to float Modernist-literature-which-didn’t sell (New Directions) was Delmore’s publisher; a year younger than Delmore, Jay loved to ski and was prone to depression and Delmore bossed him around—when it came to making publishing decisions, it was the blind leading the blind.

Inside positions, top appointments, tenured professorships eluded Delmore, and in the end, Delmore was just as much of an outsider as Poe.

Delmore’s longest term of employment was as an English Composition instructor at Harvard, correcting endless “themes” (freshman papers). He should have been given a chair in his honor and a couple of small seminars of graduate students to teach, but the fates were not kind to him—given how much talent and intellectual ambition he had.

Delmore’s age consisted of short lyric, simple painting, poignant story, strident essay, and cement architecture, but just as the Civil War with its body count shocked the delicate aesthetic community of Poe’s, World War Two and its Boom swamped the introspective, modernist, pessimism of Delmore—a film fan and a philosopher, who lamented TV’s popularity.

Schwartz was on top of the world in 1938—and lost to it by 1943—drinking and popping pills. He did pick himself up a few times, no doubt breathing a sigh of relief when newspapers announced the Axis Powers lost in 1945. Delmore was seeking to add to his fame during a window of time in the early 40s when Pound and Eliot headed up the clique he labored in and no one was sure which side was finally going to win the war. Delmore’s biggest award was the Bollingen Prize (awarded to him in 1959)—a prize made famous by Pound, who won the first-ever Bollingen in 1948 after escaping hanging for treason.

A lady’s man, Delmore would re-marry in 1949 (Elizabeth Pollet, a beautiful blonde novelist who married someone else in 1948 when Delmore got cold feet, admitting she loved Delmore the whole time) and his stories, reviews, and anthologized poems secured his reputation during the late 40s, but as his biographer put it, 1947 saw the “beginning of his worst depression—from which he never entirely recovered”—at this time, “Allen Tate, in Sixty American Poets, concluded that Schwartz had not ‘lived up to his early promise.'” Delmore knew this to be true—but hated someone else saying it.

Delmore did say it, in a journal entry, quoted by Robert Phillips in the introduction to the selected Letters:

“I must think of the house on Ellery St: where I lived alone, drank until I was a problem drinker, fell in love foolishly and vainly wasted the years when I should have been at the height of my powers: during most of the Second World War and after…”

Delmore does not blame his failure on the United States—but this is what Delmore-intellectuals all like to say, by way of some crude remarks made by Baudelaire. Dwight MacDonald, one of Delmore’s oldest friends from the Partisan Review days, in his introduction to Delmore’s Essays, compares Delmore to Baudelaire’s Poe. Here is MacDonald quoting Baudelaire:

“In Paris, in Germany, he [Poe] would have found friends who could easily have understood and comforted him; in America he had to fight for his bread.”

Delmore came to believe this rubbish (the food of nearly every literary intellectual) that Europe is superior in every way to America. Here is Delmore in a letter (8/8/1957) to the English poet Stephen Spender:

“English publishers…do not believe that the best of all books is the bankbook and the writing of poems a self-indulgent hobby…”

This is ironic, since Spender was being secretly paid by the CIA (this would have been “paranoia” had anyone said it then). Here Delmore’s naive side is on display: the belief in the nobility of English publishers; the cynical side of Delmore was constantly ridiculing president Eisenhower.

Delmore was always complaining about the “Almighty Dollar,” and he did face money problems—this did belong to his decline.

Middle-aged Delmore was like the Rolling Stones, who made money touring, long after they stopped writing good songs—only Delmore’s 1930s reputation was used by others (Recommend/review my friend’s book! Be our mag’s poetry editor! Write an introduction for our anthology!) while no one paid Delmore much money; he was fairly stable in the 1950s until his second wife left him—this, combined with his poverty, and everyone using him, and his non-existent belief-system, finished him. Delmore was a dead man walking for the last ten years of his life.

In the last third of his career, Delmore had no center, no belief, nothing to fall back on, except poetry—which he wasn’t able to write. It would be wrong to make too much of Delmore’s Jewishness. Delmore was whatever he wanted to be; he could admire Heine and discuss Jews with Karl Shapiro, but then turn around and say to Robert Lowell (in a 1/27/55 letter):

“I am…a royalist in literature, a classicist in politics..and an Anglo-Catholic in all questions of lyric poetry.”

Delmore said his favorite of his own poems was “Starlight Like Intuition Pierced The Twelve,” written, he said, in 1943, because it had him liking Christianity without having to believe it. Delmore’s madness may have been partially due to his inability to feel genuinely about anything.

As James Atlas describes Delmore in the 1940s—only the second decade of his career—and yet, sadly, the beginning of the end:

“Delmore’s most famous epigram, that ‘even paranoids have real enemies,’ could well have served to characterize Harvard’s intellectual climate, for he was hardly alone in being competitive, high-strung, and temperamental, and had only to elaborate and refine real instances of rudeness in order to arrive at the conspiracies he found so dramatically satisfying.”

Atlas, again: “Bowden Broadwater refused to invite the Schwartzes [Delmore and his first wife, Gertrude] to his parties because ‘they are always imagining that people are talking about them, and they glower from corners.'”

The only certain thing about Delmore’s entire life and literary career is the perfection of the tale, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities;” everything else is ambiguous and painful.

First—and what gets the most attention—mainly because the embarrassment was fictionalized so well by Delmore’s friend, Saul Bellow, is Delmore’s personal destruction: he died, childless and alone, from a heart-attack at 52, looking like an old man.

Second, is the poetry, which is decidedly minor: three anthologized poems, but no great poems, towering above the rest, were ever produced. The world waited, but it never happened—yet he’s remembered as a poet.

Third, he did go on to produce more fiction, mostly realistic and autobiographical, occasionally transcendent or surreal, but none of it has the poetic intensity of “In Dreams,” which has a vivid, searing quality lacking in Delmore’s other stories—which often read like he took a vacation from the calling that produced that first masterpiece. He never escaped the autobiographical fire which burned so brightly in the tale which introduced him to the world—he didn’t use it; he let it use him. He never “got over” things—he picked at them. He suffered from insomnia his entire life. Was this his fault? Do we love him in spite of it? Yes, we love him: no, we don’t blame him; but this is beside the point.

Fourth, the criticism, which is surprisingly polished, even-handed, and likable. And this is somewhat disappointing, given Delmore’s genius. In the critical prose we get Delmore’s Dr. Jekyll side. His essays are full of phrases like “We ought to remember that perhaps…” Pound, though it’s clear Delmore had no illusions about him, is defended as a beautiful and historically important poet who must be read over and over again. Delmore repeats all sorts of Modernist truisms—Rimbaud was great because he hated the bourgeoisie and capitalism and yet Rimbaud failed because his hatred was too extreme, and yet, this too, makes Rimbaud great. There is a faint sympathy for things like Christianity (one can feel Delmore always trying to come across as calm) but every time Christianity is mentioned, it is “dying.” A diligent errand-boy for Modernism, we are continually reminded, “The age in which one exists is the air in which one breathes.” Capitalism isn’t dying, but it’s hateful. The Romantics (old-fashioned, every one) wrote about “nature.” Poe (who Schwartz, like all Modernists, never admitted to, nor actually seemed to, have read) was “naive.” Twentieth century letters, for Delmore, quite simply pours from the head of Rimbaud (and Blake). Because “Christianity was dying.”

In “Rimbaud in Our Time,” Schwartz writes, “[Rimbaud] attempted to return to an ancient purity, a time previous to Europe, and Christianity, a pagan culture: ‘I am a beast, a Negro’… But he cannot accomplish this departure because Europe is everywhere.”

The Rimbaud of “I am a beast, a Negro” is one of those big, stupid ideas which poets and intellectuals should examine, dismiss or refine, not feed. Schwartz was certainly not the only one guilty of this; the young Delmore strove to please a Modernist hierarchy which mostly accepted him; he belonged to that camp and willingly, or unwillingly, breathed that air.

Delmore favored a “special language” for the poets (he adored Finnegan’s Wake) and privileged the didactic over beauty in poetry. If we believe Delmore’s own words, it was because he was stuck in “his age.”

Delmore loved to gossip, joke, and argue—and exceptional at all three, these three inform his work—which continually struggles to rise above gossip, joke, and argument—and reach the level of literature.

He made two great mistakes in his late 20s, following his initial splash.

First, rushing into print a poorly translated Rimbaud.

Second, spending five years writing and publishing a long, didactic, Greek-chorus, autobiographical, prose poem full of exclamation points.

If someone were bent on ruining his career, they could not have given him better advice to that effect.

Glancing at Understanding Poetry 3rd edition, the textbook used in all the schools (the surest way to fame, actually) during Delmore’s lifetime as he sought the lasting respect and recognition he never got, what do we see?

The influential textbook, put together by two New Critics (the unofficial group Schwartz lovingly worked for and with) is filled with Delmore’s rivals, their poems prominently illustrating poetry lessons.

Only one of Delmore’s poems sits at the back of the book, within almost 100 pages of poetry merely reproduced for extra reading, or “study” as the book puts it.

What is this poem?

It is the “Heavy Bear” poem which appears in Delmore’s first book, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” named after the tale, but which contains mostly poems—of uneven quality—published by James Laughlin at his family estate in Norfolk, Connecticut. Laughlin was pushed into publishing by his friend Ezra Pound (who Laughlin stayed with in Italy after graduating from Harvard). Both publisher (Jay) and writer (Delmore) were in their early 20s.

“The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me” (untitled in the book) depicts a person clumsy with appetite and anxiety—a poem of adolescent trepidation and nervousness, which unfortunately contains the lines “Climbs the building, kicks the football,/Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.”

One knows poets through textbooks. Unfortunately, for Delmore, “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me” sitting in the back of Understanding Poetry was not enough to keep his poetry in print.

Pound and Williams were used to illustrate lessons (paltry ones—but nonetheless) in Cleanth Brooks’ and Robert Penn Warren’s tome.

Another poem in Delmore’s first book shows the same theme, but here adolescent anxiety mars the writing itself:

I am to my own heart merely a serf
And follow humbly as it glides with autos
And come attentive when it is too sick,
In the bed cold of sorrow much too weak,
To drink some coffee, light a cigarette
And think of summer beaches, blue and gay.
I climb the sides of buildings just to get
Merely a gob of gum, all that is left
Of its infatuation of last year,
Being the servant of incredible assumption,
Being to my own heart merely a serf.

(first stanza)

This is the humble, depressed side of Delmore—he also could be imperious, caustic, and manic.

The pairing of a young, arrogant, writer with a younger publisher (one who was more into skiing than literature, to boot) was bound to lead to disaster. Schwartz was prolific, as well as a genius—but poor publishing decisions can ruin the relationship between public and writer—unless that writer is a Milton or a Poe.

Poor reception—lack of sales—introduces doubt, and this was terrible for a writer like Delmore, a young, sensitive, outsider.

Delmore’s second collection of poetry did not appear until 1950, and was savaged by Hugh Kenner, author of the Pound Era. Vaudeville For A Princess, a thin, rather unattractive, hardcover published by New Directions, was not well received.

The first poem which greets the reader in Vaudeville is “On A Sentence By Pascal:”

“True eloquence mocks eloquence.”
Did that Frenchman mean
That heroes are hilarious
And orators obscene?

Eloquence laughs at rhetoric,
Is ill at ease in Zion,
Or baa-baas like the lucid lamb,
And snickers at the lion,

And smiles, being meticulous,
Because truth is ridiculous.

Then follows a short essay, “Existentialism: The Inside Story,” which ends, “As for me, I never take baths. Just showers. Takes less time.”

And the second poem in the book, begins:

The mind to me a North Pole is,
Superb the whiteness there I find,
The glaring snows of consciousness
Dazzle enough to make me blind,
Until I see too much, in this
Resembling James’ governess.

And the final stanza:

The mind resembles all creation,
The mind is all things, in a way;
Deceptive as pure observation,
Heartbreaking as a tragic play.
Idle, denial; false, affirmation;
And vain the heart’s imagination—
Unless or if on Judgment Day
When God says what He has to say.

This sort of writing may be amusing—but if you wish to be taken seriously as a lyric poet after a 12 year absence, this is not the way to do it.

The only poems Delmore was known for were three—including “Heavy Bear”—included in his first book, all written before he was 25.

The one book of ‘poems only’ which Delmore published was his third collection, Summer Knowledge, Selected Poems, issued 5 years before his death.

Vaudeville for a Princess, his second collection, which biographer James Atlas calls a “slight achievement,” includes dazzling yet bizarre essays, including cynical summations of Hamlet and Othello by Shakespeare—missing what’s great about these plays and explicitly saying they have no meaning—a glimpse no doubt, into Delmore’s soul.

Writing in the Age of Freud, Delmore, in all his work, wrote almost exclusively about himself—and whether he is a great author depends on how much he understood himself—which this reviewer believes was just enough to make Delmore Schwartz a worthy object of study.

In one of the essays in Vaudeville, we read this about a literary party:

“he was making unkind remarks about editors and critics. This caused an awkward silence because several of the critics were friends of his host and his host was a very kind man…” “I had been warped by being forced to earn my living as a literary critic…”

In another essay from Vaudeville, “Don Giovanni, Or Promiscuity Resembles Grapes,” we get insights on being a playboy which ring true—one comes away believing that Delmore was that breed of melancholy and guilty seducer who may have significantly ruined his literary career and his sensitive nature with screwing.

The sonnets which close out Vaudeville is not a “slight achievement;” they are wonderful, but they do tend to be a little didactic. There are three kinds of poets—the bad ones, the ones worthy of study, and the ones who produce poems we just plain love: Delmore, I think, belongs to the second category—which is no mean feat.

The treatment of Delmore in Delmore Schwartz, The Life of an American Poet, by James Atlas, is like most other responses to Schwartz as a literary figure—respectful, when not being condescending.

It is true that Delmore became paranoid at the end of life, but Atlas is clearly not happy with 36-year old Delmore’s behavior during a cocktail party (“Delmore’s suspicions about his friends were by now verging on paranoia”) but one can understand why Delmore might be upset:

“When William Empson, just back from China and sporting a Mao suit, volunteered that giving the Bollingen Prize to Pound was the best thing America had ever done, Delmore turned on him and accused him of being a traitor to England because he was a Communist. The Mizeners, who lived next door, heard Delmore shouting long after the last guests had gone home.”

Atlas ends the anecdote with “Delmore shouting” as if this proves Empson was reasonable and Schwartz was not—clearly it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Hayden Carruth describes the poet’s decline in 1952, when Schwartz was 39:

“He still looked rather boyish like that old photograph in the Oscar Williams’ anthologies, but his features were somehow softened, hazy, blurred, and his voice was so quiet that I had to bend my head to hear him. I had the impression of great sadness and sweetness. It was as if he was lost and knew he was lost, and had given up caring about it. The exhilarated spirit his older friends remember was never apparent to me, but rather a quietness and a desire to cling to little things—little actions and objects—as if from a simple attachment to littleness for its own sake. He looked and spoke like a defeated shipping-house clerk.”

To see how brief the career of Delmore Schwartz actually was:

Schwartz was born in 1913. The composer Verdi was born in 1813.

By 1840, Verdi’s two young children, a girl and a boy, and his wife, were dead of illness. Verdi’s only son died before he was 2.

Life was not easy in the 19th century, but people were tougher perhaps.

In the year Delmore was born, in Brooklyn, in 1913, a statue of Verdi was placed in his home town in Italy. Delmore died not too far from Verdi Square in mid-town Manhattan.

In 1842, Verdi’s opera Nabucco—the subject: Jews in exile—debuted, in the spirit of unification of Italy. “Song of the Hebrew Slaves” from that opera made Verdi famous.

By 1942, decisions by Laughlin and Schwartz were seriously undermining Delmore’s literary career.

Schwartz’s career theme was alienation—Verdi’s, the opposite, even though suffering and sorrow belonged to Verdi’s life and art.

Verdi had been hit with loss of wife and children. Schwartz, according to Delmore’s biographer, mourned the death of James Joyce, his favorite baseball team (the Giants) not doing well, and Adlai Stevenson losing to Eisenhower in the 1952 election—Schwartz said president Eisenhower would be like “Julius Caesar.”

1847, Verdi’s opera Macbeth opened.

With the poor reception of Vaudeville for a Princess in 1950, Delmore’s career as a poet is nearly over. A book of essays never appeared when Delmore was alive. His fiction was good—but didn’t sell. The public thought of him as a poet, or a critic—but the only poetry really known of Delmore’s was published in 1938.

1851 Rigoletto

1853 Il trovatore

1853 La Traviata

1857 Simon Boccanegra

1959 Summer Knowledge, Delmore’s Selected Poems—reprinted old ones, a few new ones—is published.

According to the Atlas biography, in the late 50s “Editors were magnanimous and deferential to his reputation…Poetry encouraged him to submit verse and paid for it in advance (an unprecedented gesture for Poetry…both William Maxwell and Howard Moss at The New Yorker isolated what was publishable from the disorderly manuscripts he submitted…the quarterlies regularly accepted his work, whatever its quality…

1961 Successful Love (stories) is reviewed by Time and Newsweek. Delmore attends the party in which Norman Mailer stabs his wife. By now Delmore’s life is torn by paranoid episodes and poverty.

1865 Don Carlos

1966 Delmore dies on July 11th, (the birthday of Verdi’s son)

1871 Aida

1874 Requiem

1887 Othello

1893 Falstaff

1901 Verdi dies.

But enough bad news about Delmore Schwartz.

I said a revival was coming. What about that?

Thanks to the work of Ben Mazer and the kindness and receptivity of the Schwartz estate and the publishing house FSG, the Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz should make an appearance as early as next year—Mazer is finishing up his monumental task as we speak, not only collecting Delmore’s poems but discovering ones never seen before.

Mazer has also asked for new essays on Schwartz—which will be coming out even sooner, from Madhat Press.

There is also The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz, already recently published, from Arrowsmith Press, Ben Mazer, editor.

Schwartz produced enough work—not just poems—and was personally involved in so much of 20th century letters, even if he is judged, finally, as a minor poet—and this is open to argument, let the arguments begin—he must be seen as a major literary figure who has too long been neglected and out of print.

There is plenty to cheer about in the career of Delmore Schwartz:

Here he is, writing to Ezra Pound:

“you seem…to have slowed up…in the old days you were in the middle of everything. Now you seem to have your gaze trained on Jefferson and Social Credit…and a phenomenon like Auden…does not seem to exist for you…” (1938 letter)

“I have been reading your last book, Culture. …A race cannot commit a moral act. Only an individual can be moral or immoral… I…resign as one of your most studious and faithful admirers. Sincerely yours…” (1939 letter)

Go, Delmore!

Here he is, in his essay “The Isolation of Modern Poetry,” correcting T.S. Eliot:

“It is said that the modern poet must be complex because modern life is complicated. This is the view of Mr. T.S. Eliot, among others. ‘It appears likely,’ he says, ‘that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.'”

“But the complexity of modern life, [Delmore points out] the disorder of the traffic on a business street or the variety of reference in the daily newspaper is far from being the same as the difficulties of syntax, tone, diction, metaphor, and allusion which face the reader in the modern poem. If one is the product of the other, the causal sequence involves a number of factors on different levels, and to imply, as I think Mr. Eliot does, that there is a simple causal relationship between the disorder of modern life and the difficulty of modern poetry is merely to engender misunderstanding by oversimplification.”

Delmore is right. In fact, Poe, in pointing out how complex civilization had become in his day, asked for brevity in the face of greater hurry due to modernity—which is quite different from difficulty.

T.S. Eliot is wrong. Thank you, Delmore.

Here is Delmore, in another essay, instructing Yvor Winters—who attempts to theoretically isolate every element of poetry:

“One does not start with meter, nor with the explicit statements, but with both, taken together. Their relationship is one of reciprocal modification; each ‘characterizes’ the other, and they cannot be separated, a fact upon which Winters himself insists. This fact is often forgotten. One is offered examples of sublime verse and nonsense rhymes with the same vowels or in the same meter, in order to show that meter is not expressive. This is the error correlative to that of Winters. Mr. Eliot himself was once guilty of it, in a lecture. He read several verses of Tennyson, and then lines with the same meter and rhyme-scheme from a nonsense ballad of Lear. The audience giggled; Mr. Eliot concluded that here was indeed a problem, and then passed hurriedly on to another subject.”

Delmore not only cuts down Winters, he humbles Eliot. Delmore was a real critic.

Here is a poem from the sonnet sequence in Vaudeville, which has both clarity and mystery, and speaks to something not only important to Delmore and to poets, but to all of us:

How Each Bell Rings And Rings Forever More

This life is but fireworks at the fancy shore
Among the summer people, drinking gin,
Chilled by the vanity and the senseless roar
Of breakers broken quicker than a pin,
By the moon broken, soaring and unheard,
–Thus we are tossed! by powers from afar,
By puns on rocks in Christ’s most obscure word,
Or, when the moonlight glitters, by a star!

Look well and you will see there is no stay:
No one takes back a word, but once for all
What has been said can never be unsaid
No matter what trash and newness every day
The fresh years bring and break and take away:
This is the poet’s power, this is his dread.

Let the revival of a writer in the middle of it all, on every level, begin.


Renaissance Tower Paintings | Fine Art America

Inside my contemplations

I find the most wonderful things.

Not songs [fools]

But how singing sings.

You told me a red wine you were drinking

belonged to your novel, so I couldn’t have it.

What was I thinking?

Our son’s breakfast fell from his plate

as neat rows of friends (hundreds)

looked up at the high towers of Harvard.

Pancakes, syrup and the richest cream:

I will have it, silly wife—

This is my dream.

Entertainment is entertaining

and entertainment formulas abound.

Choose a topic, violence, a plot.

Or choose the sweetest sound.

What is a prime number?

What is a prime minister?

Note the leaves of my dream

scattered on the ground.

I was the most arrogant adolescent;

I knew simplicity and youth were good.

[I just like it dad!]

The mathematics of failure

is damn glad it’s misunderstood.


Genius | Song Lyrics & Knowledge

The old woods have passed away.
Cloudy domes, tall storms,
Tower above the night sky—
A strip of glowing horizon
Where a thousand cities lie
Is all we see of our sky tonight
Lost in turgid, earthy light—
Vapor in the air, flames on the ground
Combine to keep the stars from sight—
Solemn bells in the distance sound—

Rain. Mist. Smoke and distant bells—
The air’s alive over the scene.
In their agitation, in their hoarse
Metal excitement, the bells
Beat upon the vaporous air—
The world whispers below.
The light of a thousand towns
Sends sulfurous shafts skyward
Into the darkness, the agitated storm—

The world is on fire.
Our desire
Makes everything warm.


Concrete Cutting: Treating Tree Roots Under Concrete Footpaths

When you reach a certain age

you feel like you’ve died—

even though you have not died.

Life seems like an extremely

well-made film with a subtle plot

you have little interest in.

It’s too highbrow for your taste—

yet the film is covered

in accident and filth.

The filmmaker is a genius

but you have no idea what

he is trying to say.

A series of minor decisions by a large committee,

which includes a lover you no longer

love, have made their mark—

and there’s nothing more you can do.

You find the excitable spoken

in a foreign tongue. Whatever is earnest

and clear makes you laugh.

You always thought the end

of your life would be brutally sad

and missing her would crush you.

Why then do you feel a strange

and delicate sense of revenge

In the middle of this helplessness?

Why do you care

Although you should not care?


Jean-Marc Nattier (1685 – 1766, French) | LA CONCHIGLIA DI VENERE

There is something faintly comical
and hopelessly masturbatory about love.
Sex made me weary; it made me laugh.
It’s difficult to make desire last
unless it cannot be.
When I couldn’t have you
you made more sense to me.
When I lost you
I found you singing in my poetry.
Please don’t think
I don’t take love and you seriously.
Laughter saved me
from the awful weight
of love. And as for hate…?

I did well, too.

When I laughed a little bit at you.


500+ Abstract Art Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

A great melancholy came about

when one small cloud blocked the sun.

Did I feel this melancholy—

or was it felt by everyone?

I may as well observe

it was the end of a long weekend

at the end of summer

and I desired the sun to shine.

But one small cloud interfered

and the sun was no longer mine.

The cloud represents vanity—

or is it, instead, the sun?

Am I concerned with symbols—

or is it everyone?

We spoke of poetry for days:

What can be said, and how?

Your poem once brought me to tears.

What does that matter now?


Reaching For The Stars - Abstract Energy Art Painting Painting by Modern  Abstract

Because nobody talks to you

without an agenda of their own,

you listen to me, as I confess

with a certain charm on the telephone.

I prefer to walk down the street

covered in trees and the sun above

clinging in private to thoughts of love.

But when you call, I listen thoughtfully

as if I were composing poetry

and trying to find a plot

in all you say, whether or not

I know you or can see you.

I have finished with my own words

and now yours and the sound of your voice

surround me. How did I find

a way out? I heard you. I was kind.

The wolves and the wild cold,

the sad universe getting old,

Were forgotten. I listened as if

we were both in a small skiff

under the stars on the sea.

At that moment I knew you were listening to me.


Step into an Impressionist painting in France

Don’t tell me what you want—
Don’t tell me what you need.
Love will love those who love—
Until the indifferent fates intercede.

You worry about education,
The pills, the rumors, the weed,
Love will love those who love
Until the indifferent fates intercede.

I took you right into the zoo
When it was time for the animals to feed.
Love will love those who love
Until the indifferent fates intercede.

We look at the past in the past:
The trip to Key West with the Swede.
Love will love those who love
Until the indifferent fates intercede.

Your reputation is good.
Don’t be embarrassed by your greed.
I am going to be nice to you
Until the indifferent fates intercede.

I could tell you I love you forever
And list my every need.
Love will love those who love
Until the indifferent fates intercede.


Walter MacEwen - Vanity | Classic art, Victorian art, Art

She used to say, “love has an expiration date”

and “love is finally as unreliable

and uncharitable as hate.”

What could I do?

She believed it—so it was already true.

I watched as the inevitable took place:

by unseen degrees, the passion

left her face.

She would say:

“Love is madness. Isn’t that Plato?”

My favorite philosopher, but I pretended,

after a helpless pause, not to know.

What could I do?

She believed it—so it was already true.

We’ve all been there: you love someone

so much you cannot argue with them;

you lack energy, and when you try,

you lose the argument if you look in their eye.

Your reaction only makes it worse.

You fight the inevitable

with charming verse

she ends up mocking

gently, while pulling up her stocking.

Small gestures take on great

significance. She’s right. Love is hate

you realize, oh God, as you begin

to hate, what can I do?

She believed it—so it was already true.

The passion lasted almost three years

watered with an underground spring of tears.

What could I do?

Believing the worst—it was already true.


Walk In The Woods Paintings | Fine Art America

The poet will ask the creatures of the wood:

“Do you love her?” and their answers

will be more proof that poems

need not be written. “But do you love her?”

chirps the busy wren.

“Do I need to write this down?”

“That depends on too many things.”

“How shall I start my poem?”

Is your poem the kind of poem that sings?”

The poet cannot decide what form

his poem will take. The wren

has confused the poet again.

Poems exist because the woods are deep

and poets never finish conversations there.

The poet returns by the path along the river

catching burrs and petals in his long black hair.


The Grave (poem) - Wikipedia

There is no way to give and receive

properly; this is the great dilemma facing all.

When I’m invited and I must pick

a gift I feel defeated and sick.

Any civil, obligated exchange

makes me feel insufficient and strange.

Life is our gift but life

was given for what reason? She kissed me

three times. If I kiss her back twice, my lack

will tire out excuses, but counting out three

will be very dull of me.

And if my response is to kiss her four

times this might lead

to weariness and need

and she might not kiss me anymore.

Giving involves so much anxiety

Person after person closes up.

I always find it odd

when people stop giving, yet God

allows lives to be plundered

even though they prayed, obeyed, and wondered.

Now that I have lived awhile,

Gifts resemble a superficial smile.

We must work so hard

for a gift of glass, a shard.

I wrote poems to her who did not write poetry

and it filled her with absence and jealousy.

Do I count myself misunderstood

if my gifts were greater than her good?

She represented something better

than my kiss, than my letter:

She was God’s face. When I gave,

I filled with poems my own grave.

She received my poems with her eye

and then on my birthday

she did something sly—

she sent me a photo of flowers

she picked and arranged;

the picture of her bouquet

was a poem I could never throw away,

flowers I could never smell or touch.

A gift lasts forever

or isn’t very much.

She had figured out the gift to give

which duplicated mine.

I’m an idiot (who lost her). Her gift was a secret sign

she was more intelligent than I was; she was more divine.

Her gift was the best, but I failed to see

I’m a pitiful poet and should give up rivalry.


VARIOUS ARTISTS - Fly Me To The Moon / Various - Music

In that famous Frank Sinatra song
a dactylic is required, and “Jupiter” is pretty strong.
Poetry, I love you, because pop songs can be wrong.

“Yesterday” was the only song
To ditch “scrambled eggs” and come out really strong.
Poetry, I love you, because pop songs can be wrong.

There I was. Me and this dipthong.
Sounds were too important. I gave up on the song.
Poetry, I love you, because pop songs can be wrong.


KB, Author at

If you don’t believe in the divine,

all the better. It’s nothing like

what you think it is, anyway.

You don’t remember when you

glimpsed perfection; perfection

exists, but is never remembered.

Memory is for judgment and improvement,

a mere sorting mechanism for guards

and clerks or poets hurting for a word.

We cannot remember the divine.

Tasting but not tasting because the sweet

taste doesn’t stay. If you know what that’s like—

my divine hints might be working.

Pride, like memory, cannot know the divine.

Like the beauty you hate that someone else has

the divine beats down your pride. Sexuality

exists only because of the hidden deity

you kissed in a dream but do not remember.

The earthly things you worship

are laughed at by God. But once,

when we kissed, when we looked

at each other and were one,

I thought I saw Being lying

and heard the crying sun.


Black And White Office Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

You resented their joy—

why were they happy-go-lucky

in the damn office?

In the workplace of missing dreams,

diets and cheap perfumes?

They had no reason to be happy

in those sterile rooms,

and following the long commute

and passwords failing, you certainly were not glad.

They say that love is mad,

but what of happiness where there should

be none? Isn’t that lunacy?

You stare at your computer handsomely

and think of what to do.

You darkly ponder their laughter.

You never realized

their joy was just for you.


Are we really sick? Yes. - by P.E. Moskowitz - Mental Hellth

The mind makes the involuntary sad.

We attempt to change things and fail.

Attempting to lose weight

we end up as big as a whale—

afloat in irreconcilable seas.

We decide at once to explore

why racists are happy.

We torture ourselves more and more.

We move around in the batter’s box

to break our slump

because that’s what Pete Rose

told us to do.

Because I am limited

I acted in a limited way,

didn’t you?


Uttermost Accessories Vortex Modern Abstract Art 31317 - Yaletown Interiors  - Coquitlam, BC

When hurricanes kiss the northeast

in September, making New England

warmer than it’s supposed to be—

I love this, the way John Keats loved poetry.

Warmth and love, the refinement of verse,

these had no trouble finding my soul,

or did my soul already contain these?

It is like the wind, which is more,

and yet less, than air; do I breathe air

when whatever it is, is stopping there?

Breeze inside of breeze, as if

the weather already existed. A breeze

picks up from the south; we predict,

we predict, we predict.

We are not surprised. We are not surprised.

We are not surprised.

The hurricane makes sure our ears have no eyes.


Isthmus: Dan Rifenburgh: 9780972943277: Books

Paper Boats Collected Poems of Daniel Christopher Rifenburgh
Introduction by Richard Wilbur
Lazy Bayou Press 2021
Houston TX
166 pp

Reviewing is a perilous occupation. Reading a book in private, we can think anything we want, and most books are read in private.

Beyond selling books, the review is a reading of a book in public, for the public—and if the review is honest it should behave as if it were a reading in private. This is dangerous.

A private reading is an amateur reading—and amateurs tend to get into fights.

How much public does a book need? If a creed seeks converts, its book dies unless it is public.

The mother reads a book aloud to her child, but once the child can read, reading is mostly a private thing.

No particular book of poetry is read very much, anymore—and the poems which are read, Poe, Shakespeare, Rumi, are no longer reviewed.

Students have no choice but to be a public for a book in school—a book presumably there because it has merit.

The amateur occupation of reviewing books outside the university is a lost art.

The deck is stacked. Poetry is either in the university or professionally sold.

Reviewing is either puff, or not done at all.

When the amateur reviewer meets a book with fine poems, like Paper Boats, Collected Poems by Daniel Christopher Rifenburgh, the only thing to do is quote one before there’s any trouble:

“Skip Tracer” pg. 72:

It’s 11 a.m. and I know what
He’s doing.
He was late at a singles bar
Last night. The women were

Depressing, but the band was loud.
Anyway, the gin and tonic,
And, this morning, the head full of cotton.
At 9 he called my mother’s house

In Florida, pretending to be a friend.
At 10, my last employer, that sod
Who, firing me, earnestly
Recommended God.

At 10:30, the electric company
Which powers that town I last saw
As amber lights in my rear-view mirror.
He’s on his tenth cigarette now,

Punching his thousandth button.
He’s not finding me.
I am in this poem,
Praying a prayer for him,

That he finds himself,
That we all find ourselves,
And can stand it.

Daniel Rifenburgh is hiding in his poem.

This is the most honored tradition in lyric poetry.

Petrarch did it rather obviously—you get the poet/poem together. Some object to this as “self-obsessed” or “shallow” but this objection misses the point. First, as a reader, you get more bang for your buck—you get both the verse and the source.

This is a Renaissance trope. You see it in Leonardo da Vinci—he says, “trust your eyes, not hearsay.” Post-renaissance, we don’t trust authority—we trust the experience of the amateur inventor/poet/scientist.

Shakespeare added to the Dante/Petrarch tradition with a certain slyness, where Shakespeare the man hides in his more complex and puzzling Sonnets.

Rifenburgh is doing this in the poem just quoted.

Rifenburgh’s Collected Poems is full of touchstones; many involve, to some degree, other poets. The third poem in the book is “after Rilke.” Poets are part of nearly every poem. I won’t bother to list them. There is no doubt from the poems Rifenburgh has lived a life, but in his poems a scholarly joy prevails.

The poet belongs in the company of great poets—this is what the scholar-poet (of which Rifenburgh is clearly one) understands; there is an island, and that “stacked deck” we mentioned before (you are either a university poet with a slight chance of fame, or not) drives the ambitious poet towards that island of poets—Neruda, Coulette, Villon, Vallejo, Poe, Milosz hiding in those cliffs in the sea.

What makes the first poem in the book, “To My Opposite Number In Samarkind,” delightful as a letter to a friend, is precisely what pulls it from poetry—the desultory, opinionated, friendly, meandering treasure trove of familiarity and inside jokes hinders what matters: the stand-alone unity of the poetic.

I describe a crossroads which is difficult to comprehend: I will spend hours with you on a walk, or over dinner, but this same quality in your poem—I refuse you. This is difficult to grasp, but it describes one of the most important poetic principles.

The poem “Hawthorne,” (pg. 37) features one of the loveliest and most delicate couplets we have ever had the fortune to read:

To seal the lid,
Lightly, with a period.

Richard Wilbur, in his introduction, mentions the beauty found in the third poem of the volume, “Turf Tract.”


The poem moves fluently, and with great accuracy of tone, through a sequence of moods (including defensive mockery, irony, slangy idealism, disgust, rueful mimicry), and ends with a poignant lyric vision in which the “fleet hooves” of horses embody the beauty, striving and brevity of life.

They say poems on poems shouldn’t be written.

I say rather these are the best poems, and “Turf Tract” is an example—it uses the last word Shelley wrote, and this holds the whole poem together.

The second poem in the book, “Sestina: My Father’s Will,” has a dramatic clarity as it puts the poet’s father on stage. It is a sestina. No one can resist a sestina. Except me. Nothing prevents the sestina from reading like the plainest prose. An overrated form—even should all the fathers in the world protest.

“LSD & All” pg 18 looks back at the 60s, and this sequence of impressions is fleetingly wonderful:

The musicians die, one by one,
Like birds departing
For new latitudes of the sun.

Those times passed, too, for time
Has such a passing will.
Like great, slow millwheels

The decades roll.
Where the six o’clock chronicles
Appear on the screen and unscroll,

It’s a cooler eye is cast now
And that music
Lies deep under the hill.

The poem also includes an anecdote of the poet getting drafted and blowing up a used car on a tank range; masculine details inhabit Rifenburgh’s poems, which have not only a scholarly air but a sense of adventure and male camaraderie. I occasionally wish the poet would trust his simple, pure, poetic instinct more, the power of which the solemn lines above strongly attest. Not that we can’t have anecdotes of blowing up a car on a tank range. Details are delightful and necessary. And certainly, as Wilbur points out, presenting different moods is something this poet does exceptionally well.

We find this very quality (a strong poetic voice) in his poem dedicated to Wilbur, called “Voice” on pg 33:

Today I am proud of all poets everywhere,
Such is the mix of memory, muscle and air.

For my money, the best poem of the book may be the one on page 60.

Donald Justice Before A Soft-Drink Vending Machine

He’s put his two quarters in the slot
And pressed a button,
Then another
But, nothing.

Again he presses them,
Muttering, putting some muscle
Behind the heel of his hand,
The ire rising in him, finding

Its level, faltering,
Spent finally in a last muted
Jab and last muted curse, the eyeglasses
Edging further along the bridge of his nose.

He’ll not kick the machine
Nor report to the office across campus
For a refund. Upstairs
The students will be reconvening

To their workshop,
Sheaves of sestinas
On the table, their own
And those of past masters before them.

For a moment he stands speechless
Before the looming, mechanical cheat,
Full in the glare of its red-blue lights, there
In the otherwise dark passageway.

The two vertical masses
Front each other, so,
Then the poet turns and heads off
Toward what he can hope to know.

This is a mysteriously great poem, and by mysteriously I mean that it happened right in front of Rifenburgh, we have no doubt, so it belongs self-evidently to life, not poetry—and yet it triumphs as a poem on so many levels that it seems like a gift bestowed either by a higher power or pure accident, and, either way, it makes a mockery of creativity, human will, and even poetry itself—which is the point, I think, increasing by duplication the greatness of the poem.

The befuddled act is lovingly described before the students enter (they, too, are putting something—sestinas—in a slot) and then we go back to the “dark passageway” of poet and machine in their slightly comic, banal, face-off. There is nothing heroic about modern poetry or its workshops, and yet the modern Donald Justice poem (of which Rifenburgh’s poem itself is a glorious example) has an unmistakable poignancy, precisely in the way it is not heroic, except in its quiet, unspoken resistance to the encroaching machine-future.

Sometimes the machine—technology—is preferable. In “Homage to Henri Coulette” (pg 74) we get this stanza:

Poet, they will hand you a shovel,
A gun, a broom
And think it a favor.

“On A Portrait of John Keats” (pg 96) is the next great poem in the book.

It ends:

If you could go
Into his listening,

You would.

After reading “The Dead” on pg. 122 we must come face to face with the fact we are reading an extraordinary poet.

The dead don’t care for us.
They grimace as we file past,
Regretting they were once tender toward us.

They won’t assist us with probating their wills,
Much less carrying their heavy coffins.

Their wax faces are a reproach,
As if we are doing something (what,
We don’t know) quite wrong.

The dead sail on the morning tide
For Elysium,
Tennis racquets in hand,

Accusing us from the deck rails,
Leaving worm-holes trailing through
The pulp of our days, vacancies

We cannot fill with wine,
Nor with remorse,

And, from this shore,
One cannot even get at them
To slap them for their insolence.

No, it’s like this:
The dead repose long leagues from us.
Among golden isles and gentled hills,

Insufferably poised,
Marvelously self-contained,
And impossible to kill.

This poem has as much sublime wit as any poem ever written; with its light touch it mourns, laughs, destroys and resurrects.

Donald Justice (well, a poem of his) makes another appearance in “An Ice Cream Truck Goes By.” (pg 136) Poignancy and wit abound, perhaps a little too self-consciously this time, but it’s a strong poem.

“After Justice” is a rather long elegy for Justice and pulls out all the stops:

The moon tires of being the moon and becomes
A woman in shape of a guitar, a woman
Strumming goodbye at a bus stop, goodbye to the moon

There’s more than enough feeling in the poem, but it seems to miss the mark, because of excess of feeling, perhaps. The poem occurs on pg 154 and by now Rifenburgh has set the bar very high, if one has read the book straight through.

The casual yet poignant Donald Justice deserves the perfect elegy—somewhat casual, somewhat poignant. But there he is, angry, suppressing his anger, standing in front of that vending machine…

As for Rifenburgh, I’ll give Anthony Hecht the penultimate word, who spoke truthfully, I am sure, when he wrote:

“Mr. Rifenburgh’s work deserves wider notice, particularly when so much of scant merit is greeted with acclaim.”

Daniel Ribenburgh is a poet’s poet.

He talks to the great poets.

And is one of them.


Storm Clouds Are Brewin' Painting by Methune Hively

It is poetry’s duty to make sure beauty does not fade away,
To join time and night, to make certain
Donna enjoys pleasures before day
Spreads the infinite colors on the curtain.

Poetry will hunt down Donna, replace with words
And ideas her delicacy of face and hand,
Write “her lovely memories are birds,”
While showing their wings’ shadows criss-crossing across the sand.

“Escape is impossible, but if there is no escape,
There is no bondage. The great blue holds us.”
I spoke this and made certain she heard.
Her reply? “We need something to discuss.”

She disagreed, was sweet and kind
In her disagreement, so I felt I was right.
But of course I understood I had been blind.
I fought her in my mind last night.

It is poetry’s duty to make beauty articulate.
It is poetry’s duty to make an end of words.
It is poetry’s sublimity to seize cunning wit
And hide it in the throats of hidden birds.
Donna travels. Rome sacrificed itself.
Every Greek citizen set their clock in sorrow
That she might be ambassador. Now each tale
Swears she wears white for a white tomorrow.

Donna gives us leave to go.
This is why we are not permanent,
Why the tear quickens, why we are not slow.
We have hurried here to find out what the symbol meant.

We have a chance to attach ourselves to this.
To have pure beauty, without a look, without a kiss,
And to be no longer tormented by the storm
Where things are sometimes cold and things are sometimes warm.


Poetry today is crying out for criticism. There is hardly an honest word said about poetry since Ezra Pound said he didn’t like the Russians or Thomas Brady said he didn’t like the Red Wheel Barrow and Thomas Brady doesn’t count because that was me.

Poetry is both the easiest and the most difficult thing to do. The shame of failure is two-fold: 1. Unable to do something which is easy 2. Bitter to discover our vanity had convinced us of immense self-worth, since actually writing great poems is a million-to-one long shot. Failure in poetry is unacceptable. Reviewers, take heed.

It is probably unwise to preface a review of young poets with these words—can young poets handle the truth? Do they deserve it?

Yes and yes.

Youth has everything going for it, especially failure, which is the best path to success. Every poet deserves a chance to understand failure. Also, truth is hardly the proper word—unless I mean “true to myself.”

I wrote (and still write) bad poems. The seduction is the ease of writing the inconsequential in a therapeutic trance. Also, poetry exists in a well (there is puffery but no true public) and therefore poetry expects a rescue crew—not condemnation.

To attempt honest criticism is the fantasy of a crank; honest is a goal of no possible joy—the expectation is kindness and cheering on. To fail to meet this expectation is both to fail to please and to fail generally.

Better to say nice things. The bad will fade away on its own.

But the bad does not fade away at all. It repeats itself in subsequent generations in the form of millions of poems (puffed with great effort) in millennia going forward.

There is a duty, then.

A reviewer ought to be a critic who flushes out poison.

This can be done in a generous spirit, with learning and elan. The poison can be flushed out without having to look at the poison.

The duty can be a cheerful one, then.

Poets, be not afraid.

The first poet in 14 International Younger Poets (from the new and exciting Art and Letters press) is Avinab Datta-Aveng. He has the most pages in the volume. Perhaps because he has a book coming out from Penguin. We are not sure. His first poem has an intriguing title: “My Mother’s Brain.” The title could be tender, tragic or cheeky, depending.

It is a very impressive poem. It features excellent lines:

Unremembered line in my mind

Muttered mother I only heard murder

And an outstanding ending:

…small birds make
A line at the mouth of the gutter
Rushing with rain water.
Crowds clamor to see the view,
The unbearable beauty of the rest
Of the world renewed each time
By what you will never utter.

Greatness hits us right from the start!

Now I’d like to say a word about meaning.

As far as the meaning of poems, there are three kinds.

We don’t understand but understand we are not supposed to understand.

We don’t understand but we believe perhaps others do understand—we believe we may be missing something.

We understand.

A poem which reminds me of “My Mother’s Brain,” Bertolt Brecht’s “Vom armen b.b.,” belongs to the first type. The narrator smokes his cigar, intimates he is not a good person, says he was carried by his mother in the womb from the black forest to the town. We don’t finally understand exactly what the poem is trying to say, but Brecht makes it clear he doesn’t understand, either.

I put Datta-Areng’s poem (it is more complex than Brecht’s poem) in the second category. Unlike one and three, two might possibly be annoying to one without a good dose of negative capability.

Blake Campbell’s “The Millenials” is my favorite poem in the volume. The idea is realized and the versification is exquisite. I have italicized the best parts:

What tempts us to this world
That light has half-erased—
Distraction’s abstract toxins, love
Distilled for us to taste?

No silence here, no slumber;
No slackening this tide
Of lies and knowledge. We are left
Unable to decide

Between them. Sudden flashes
Scorch most of what coheres.
At once the distance shrinks and grows
And flickers with the years.

The cold blue light we live in
Unreels us by the yard
In strips of snapshots someone else
Will find and disregard.

To prove this triumph of “The Millenials” is no accident, from Blake Campbell’s”Prism:”

You say I’ll surely ace it. How the sun
Spends its abundance brightening your eyes,
Your beauty I have yet to memorize
From every angle. How could anyone?

This is not just good; it is Best of All Time good.

I should say something about rhythm.

A poet usually decides between “forms” or prose. “Free verse” is an unfortunate term—it clouds the topic.

T.S. Eliot and Ben Mazer, two masters of poetic rhythm—good for both verse forms and other kinds of poetry—dismissed free verse. Eliot: “it can better be defended under some other label.” And Eliot: “there is no freedom in art.” And Ben Mazer, in a remark after a poetry reading: “it all rhymes.”

The masters of poetic rhythm typically do not wish to discuss prosody.

“Scansion tells us very little.” —Eliot. And again, Eliot: “With Swinburne, once the trick is perceived, the effect is diminished.”

Leaving-out-punctuation is a trick to make prose sound like verse. As with the Swinburne-trick, however, a trick won’t sustain great poetry; rhythm is the secret, and everything besides is nothing but embellishment: rhyme, mood, syntax, idea. A certain completion involving the other elements is great, but without a rhythmic identity uniting the poem, it is dead. This is nothing but a reviewer’s opinion, but can it hurt to offer it?

Formalism—as it survived in the mid-20th century—seems to be finding its way back into poetry.

“Formalism,” as a precise term, like “free verse,” deludes us, as well, however. Check out every masterpiece of poetry. Shelley’s “Ozymandias” is far more like a pop hit by the Supremes than a lump in a museum. Rhythm, not form.

To repeat: poets see two paths: forms or free (prose). But the third way is rhythm—bursting the “forms” or breaking out of “prose;” this aspiration to music (which is what it is) is not properly defying prose, but visual art—the temporal counter to the spatial. If the poet is not able to struggle with these opposing and dancing vectors (music, speech, idea) in their mind at once, a dreary prose results.

I’m happy to report that none of the poets represented here suffers from the affliction of dreary prose.

Editor Philip Nikolayev, in his modest introduction, calls these poets simply poets “he is lucky enough to know.”

Philip Nikolayev keeps very good company.

The urgency of speech, whether in William Blake’s “Tyger” or Raquel Balboni’s “

Relics in disguise foamy mouths through the screen
you can always break into my room through the porch

You can always break into my car with your steel fist.

from “Twin Cars” is the engine. We may think Blake’s tyger is described, or Balboni’s porch, but it never is. Prose is the launch-pad and poetry rockets towards an image it never reaches. As Mazer says, “It all rhymes.” Emerson called Poe “the jingle man” pejoratively. But now we can finally begin to see Emerson’s remark as praise—as, in the early 21st century, poetry is refined into one of those narrow categories John Ransom said was Modernism (division of labor) itself. Romanticism is beginning to return (Swinburne hiding in the backseat perhaps) precisely in this way.

Describing something perfectly in a poem? To quote Blake Campbell, again, “How could anyone?” But rhythm can be perfect. It simply and actually can.

All the poets in 14 International Younger Poets have their individual charm.

Zainab Ummer Farook resembles William Carlos Williams.

Flamboyant in the shade of a clean slate,
we had three of our walls painted pink

Emily Grochowski, Gertrude Stein.

Avoided writing.
A void in writing.
A voided writing.

Chandramohan S, Marianne Moore.

Now, the history of humankind
Snores in my language.

Susmit Panda, Seamus Heaney

I found a curious bronze head by the lake,
and, baffled, showed it to the village folk

all lands glimmer upon the brows of kings.

Justin Burnett, Creeley, but “Witchcraft Heights,” more Williams.

In winter I stuck out from the snow—
Freezing in the gutted grot,

Regretfully, I recall
That innocent numbness,

When white adhered to white,
And I hid.

Sumit Chaudhary, Robert Penn Warren, Marvin Bell, Auden.

feeling from dazzle so far removed
into the arms of things that move.

Paul Rowe, Dylan Thomas.

upon the crumpled glass of Aegean twilight;
volcanic wasps rise, sulfurous effusions,
mercurial breath that carves the crater, admits the flood,
shapes the ochre crescent, mirrors what’s above.

Shruti Krishna Sareen, Baudelaire.

In a riot of colour, the lawn is ablaze
The red silk cotton tree seen half a mile away
Hanging brooms of bottle brush scarlet sway
The waxy crimson poppy petals glaze

Andreea Iulia Scridon, Plath.

When they listen to my somniloquy,
the angels weep in compassion for my misery.
They erase the veins on my legs,
put back together my head,

Kamayani Sharma, Mark Strand.

His face slipping out of doorways ajar,
Like keys falling from Manilla envelopes.

Samuel Wronoski, Jorie Graham.

Otherwise, the day was practical and made of minutes
when nothing happened whatsoever.

Blake Campbell, Bishop, Ransom, Roethke.

The sleeping earth retains her tiny lives,

And even stripped of leaves, the paper birch
Subsists on what has been and what is lost.
But what in other living things survives.

Raquel Balboni, Leslie Scalapino, Ashbery, Eliot

To get to the end of the endless thinking and write it
down again from the beginning.

Avinab Datta-Areng, Geoffrey Hill

On a terrace an old man squints
At the sun, as if trying hard
To pay attention to his genealogy,
To the point at which a rupture occurred.

The resemblances I mention are by no means definitive—it only applies to this volume and springs from my own limited knowledge; poetry is a world in which you don’t need to know a poet directly to be influenced by them, or, occasionally, be them.

Every poet must ask themselves: am I in the wave? Or is the wave me?

In the context of this question, 14 International Younger Poets is a delight.

Thomas Graves, Salem MA August 17th 2021


Fountain at Mariinsky Park, Kiev, Ukraine

The fountain’s sound entertained us downtown—
Where you chose a green bench for us to sit on.
The occasional loud bus blared behind us—where vines
Tried to hide the street. You said the small white flowers were scentless.

We sat facing eight vertical streams laughing on a small green.
The cloudless sky slowly grew dark as we
Emptied our minds of what was in them, but no,
Minds are never empty, though conversation wanes
When what is brought out perhaps should not have been said.
Reasons for speaking and not speaking
(The flowers were scentless!)
Will plague us until we’re dead.


Thomas Brady | Scarriet

Was it morals or misunderstanding?

I see you coming in for a landing

But always missing.

You liked her, but there wasn’t any kissing.

They would stop you in the street

Or they would agree to meet

If you asked, but you hardly tried.

You judged and hid what you thought inside—

As wildly negative body language betrayed

The docile egotist that you were.

You thought you were better than her.

Your standards were so high

The muse passed you by.

She could have helped you, but you

Knew you were lonely and you knew your loneliness was true.

You defined yourself as so much better

So that even towards yourself you were bitter.

And when you forgave yourself, at last,

You struggled in bad poems to understand the past.

You could have loved the one you wanted

Had you not hated everyone you wanted.

Both beautiful and ugly, you didn’t see

The one you wanted was the one writing this poem—oh God it’s me.


Art Classes and Workshops | Home | Beach Art Center | Florida

My soul was soothed
By a scene of a family,
Men and women with hats on
Playing cards by the sea—

Perhaps Uncle Martin did not want to be there;
Maybe Aunt Grace hates her job, Martin, and life.
But this was no concern of mine,
This strife.

All seemed so happy there!
With two children playing in the green water:
Their freckled son,
Their dimpled daughter.

How I longed to be them:
Forever on the land.
Forever by the water.


The Art of Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing  Overboard the Dead and Dying - Typhoon Coming On), 1840...

When new technologies emerge
And a new generation is on the verge
Of becoming ascendant, the old one
Remembers the airplane, the ship, the sun.
The old infrastructure provides
Robert Frost with the new. Big Tech rides
Into its new being, a product
Of itself. We neither guess nor predict. We are.
The sun loses out to a distant, communicating star.
The ship still brings things here,
But there’s a different wavelength to the beer.
The poet and the professor now work for IT.
I don’t know them. And they don’t know me.


black, white, train, fog, lonely, woman, sad, female, black and white, girl  | Pikist

The only point to life is the aesthetic one,
A melody decided upon
In the way you speak, in the way you move your arms.
How will you support your breasts?
Will you shave today?
No one is looking over your shoulder,
No one is thinking of you quite the way you actually are.
They want you to convince them of something,
Anything, as long as you look at them directly
And tell them first that nothing is wrong.
They would be hypnotized, politely,
At the train station on some autumn afternoon.
They don’t really have any place to go.
As long as you can be artistic, you’ve won.
As long as you can draw the idea quickly, they will love you,
The one who is not really there,
The one they don’t really know.
The only thing is, you can’t linger,
You have to let them get to their destination
And be distracted by the distances.
You must already be there and help them in that way.


Gilded Boxes of the Italian Renaissance – Laura Morelli: Art History, Art  Historical Fiction, Authentic Travel

I give you my box of years.
Limit is the source of all our tears.
We are limited in so many ways
But the limit most limiting is our days.

You were thirty-nine.
We danced and drank wine.
There are less years in your box.
Pilfered by the crow and stolen by the fox.
Now you are fifty-three.
You are no longer beautiful to me.

First there was hate and blame,
Until looking in the mirror I admitted
My face was not the same.
You had every right to turn the page
Because of my old age.

Now look in the box,
The old, beautiful box!
The box holds less years:
Mozart, regrets, rondos, tears.


Thousands protest against COVID-19 health pass in France | Reuters

Defend Yoko Ono and Jimmy Carter to the death.
Know every -ism is everywhere
and when pressed, can give an example.
Permit not one risk, germ,
joy, or idea-which-destroys-another-idea to exist.
Feel personal grievance and pain at
the expense of any reasoning which
might get to the bottom of grievance and pain.
Glory in the authority of psychiatrists,
news anchors, health care experts, popular TV
actors, chefs, nature scientists, and far-left rich people.
Understand more than anyone and censor
anyone if they don’t shut up.


Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il Guercino - Old Master Paintings 2010/04/21  - Realized price: EUR 1,042,300 - Dorotheum

There is so much wrong in the past,
So much unfinished revenge that waits.
The historian would be killed
Should he truly venture there.

One thing keeps the historian from harm.
Art protects; taste, refinement, these are
The army, the security, the police.
Simple learning will lead one to
The howling hounds, the shameful facts.

And therefore when you plunge into
The smoky realms of art, do not be surprised
When you find bitterness and authority,
Secretive wit, deranged hostility,
Each seminar a genteel lesson in power
Which to learn requires hidden knives,
A good sharpened branch for your research,
Several magic numbers,
A cry to match theirs,
A philosophy that murders.

The gloom of Baudelaire is no affectation,
No writer’s tic. The horror of the plot
Is no show, no accident. The appalling
Lack of taste covered up in taste,
The dead floating in a beautiful web,
Is the unforgiving labyrinth you must learn from
To defend you from the more simple disgust,
The straightforward terrorists of mere learning.
Do not imagine Emily Dickinson will be sweet
Or invite you in or tell you a single thing.
Those who love Minerva must not look.
Silences, odors, perfumes, the good
Who are now exiled, may they inspire you!
In a den of dissembling serenity determine
Who they are, who they are, who they are.


2019 Gualala Salon and Salon des Refusés – Gualala Arts

I think if I hold very still,
The Battle of Waterloo,
The Salon des Refuses,
World War One and World War Two,
Will pass by without harming me.

The elegance of passivity
Is praised in poetry
And even in books of history
Florid scholars agree:
If he had done nothing
He would have been saved.

But when it came to you
I couldn’t wait. I had to do
Something. Drowning,
I swam until I reached you—
Waiting, private, frowning.


File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the  Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

This was no ordinary woman.
She grabbed me on the shoulder
Saying, “What, man, are you afraid of girls?”
True, I had been afraid of women,
And used Ovid’s sarcastic wisdom,
The trick of fancy and the vision
Of women most men indulge in
To overcome tales of love
Which that Italian fanatic once trilled nicely of:
Freezing and burning together,
Devoted to the death of all ordinary senses
For adoration’s sake.
To abandon ourselves to woman’s grace
Is to become something else, like Elvis, to shake
In a music of ecstasy
Which the popular mind winds frivolously.
But I was humble, too, and not outspoken—
I had lived some years, had my heart broken,
And so with Ovid and Dante’s ghosts and experience at my side
I was fully prepared to simply smile
And turn away, or stare her down, or even deride
This unfashionable effrontery
Which, in fact, humbled me in school once
When I was a romantic dunce—
Then the girl was just being cruel.
But this one was furious and amorous and everything at once
And she looked me in the face and my defenses fled
And I thought, “Is she mad?”
What’s that hauteur from?
Then I thought, “I’ll humble her in bed
If that’s what she wants. What does she want
And who the hell does she think she is?”
She was beautiful and had the lips
Which only become more beautiful in mockery
And eyes made, it seemed, to gleam in mockery,
And her closeness made my mind weak:
Had I insulted her? No, I knew this was amour,
The kind that makes Ovid plan and Petrarch poor
And Mars give up his arms for Venus
And mistily tugs at roaming Odysseus.
A challenge directly from an entrancing woman,
A come-on, a dare, a love more than human,
A sorceress hurling modesty and decorum to the wind
In hopes of ruining and pleasuring a male.
She was mad, radiant, in full sail
And tired of being the passive woman,
An altar piece, a substitute for a male vision,
The butt of a man’s sarcastic wisdom.
She repeated her gibe and kissed me on the lips
And I became Helen and she, a fleet of ships—
Tall of sail, roaring, armed for war,
Far away from everything on the ocean.


7 Amphibious ideas | snake art, snake, chinese painting

Cold clear stream,
Shadowed by trees—
I had a dream
Which made my soul freeze.
Snakes of all colors—
Bright, fine, colors—
Were swimming upstream
In my dream.

Swimming upstream
In my dream,
Swimming upstream
In my dream.

I was careful
As I stood by the stream,
I was fearful
As I looked at the stream.
I saw the snakes swimming,
Swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming,
Hideously, sinuously, swimming
In my dream.

The snakes were as long as I.
I wished to step back.
I sensed an attack
In my dream.
I feared an attack.
I tried to step back
In my dream.

All at once my reason for a feeling flew.
All at once my reason for a feeling flew.
I stepped in the stream,
On a stone in the stream.
I made a small, triumphant cry.
And the snakes went by
With invisible eyes.

I was in the middle of the stream
In my dream.

I was not unhappy to be in the stream,
To be standing on a rock in my dream.

But with the fright of a dream
Inside another dream
I looked down to my horror,
O! Horror of horror!
A giant snake curled
Under the stone where the clear water swirled,
A giant snake, asleep,
Right under my feet,
In the middle of the stream.
The giant snake
Asleep in the clear stream.

My life threatened,
The dream ended.

The snake of my dream haunts me,
Its silent form taunts me,
The snake which had no intention of swimming upstream
In my dream.


Clouds / Renaissance Art Prints - Global Gallery

In a cloud of love,
I am able to see
My desire’s end.

In a passion too intense—
For friendship—
I see my friend.


Photos at Charles Sumner Statue - Mid-Cambridge - 0 tips

A man must partly give up being a man with women-folk” —Robert Frost

This is like taking off a tight dress that I love” —Ruth Lepson

What is poetry? Obviously it is more than the poetry, but to what extent?

To make it a great deal more than the poetry, the poetry is paradoxically diminished—and this is the soul of modern art, which is the mother of modern poetry—whose name is freedom: art is self-sufficient; moral and aesthetic concerns are excluded. Nothing defines the poem except the poem. No standards exist.

The pure intelligence of the reader enjoys the modern poem.

Living With People

Talking is something.
And tables, talking at tables.
Eating and painting and what walls.
What are they asking.
What am I looking at.
A person talking and eating.
I’m looking at the eyes
that don’t look at me.
The foot-tapping,
the hungry person,
what is being eaten.

This is the first poem in Ruth Lepson’s New and Selected Poems. It is a wonderful honor and privilege to review a poet’s selected poems; one needs to be a critic, not just a reviewer, to review a selected; you are not only reviewing poems, but a life.

What do I mean by “the pure intelligence of the reader enjoys the modern poem?”

As I stated, I’m reviewing a life—it might be a tad reductive to say I’m reviewing the poet as a person.

And yet one could answer that age-old question ‘what is poetry’ by saying ‘it’s an expression of what the poet likes.’ And to keep it simple we can include what they dislike as what they wish to be gone and so it all comes under the category of ‘what the poet likes.’

To review a book of poems is to say: here’s what this person likes.

But I do think ‘person’ (and what they might enjoy) is reductive—I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say I am reviewing Ruth Lepson’s life. A unique life.

It takes “intelligence” to understand a life.

Let’s read this poem, again:

Living With People

Talking is something.
And tables, talking at tables.
Eating and painting and what walls.
What are they asking.
What am I looking at.
A person talking and eating.
I’m looking at the eyes
that don’t look at me.
The foot-tapping,
the hungry person,
what is being eaten.

“Living With People” is full of life.

“Talking is something” nearly defines poetry itself; a poem is a “talking” which is a “something.”

But none of this pedantry exists in Lepson’s line.

Only someone else’s “pure intelligence” could find it, and the line could denote something else entirely; in a dry sort of way it could mean, “Talking is really something. What would life be without talking?” But it doesn’t have to mean this, either.

Yet obviously, and pleasantly, without any coercion, it hints at a life to begin a poem, “Talking is something.”

“And tables, talking at tables” introduces ceremonial life (eating at table)—as well as (and this is rather subtle, I admit) a ceremony of poetry (its tradition of word-resemblance: talking, table.)

After introducing all this in just the first two lines, the poet adds even more: “eating” (biology) and “painting” (art, work).

It now seems reasonable to contain all of it: “walls” and with all that is now going on—“talking” at “tables” in a ceremonial fashion, a consciousness of biological function, of art, of work—it doesn’t feel unusual that doubt and wonder should enter: “what walls./What are they asking./What am I looking at.”

And with these questions, naturally, a bit of alienation (too strong a word, probably—there’s no hyperbole or pretense in the poem) arrives: “I’m looking at the eyes/that don’t look at me.” This could indicate elaborate social anxiety, or rivalry, or could be merely the observation of someone’s eyes at an angle.

“The foot-tapping” introduces the impatience of the world, the worm in the garden, time, ambition, hostility, sorrow.

And finally, the moral question (or is it moral?): “what is being eaten.” And all that involves.

This is what I mean by the “pure intelligence” reading a modern poem.

This poem, like most modern poems, “tells” us nothing. And yet “Living With People” is a history of the world. Not just Ruth Lepson’s world. The world.

One could peruse “Living With People” and think one need not write another poem, again, ever; it says everything.

And yet in terms of poetry and its tradition, it is a marvelously plain and simple poem.

Deceptively so.

If one were just settling into a seat at a poetry reading and were distracted to a slight degree, and one heard “Living With People” read out loud, one’s response might very well be, “Wait? What? Tables. Walls. Eaten. Huh?”

To be honest, “Living With People” would not lend itself well to a recital before an audience. A performance requires the opening bars of the familiar song eliciting cheers from the crowd, followed by the middle of the song continuing at some length until the climax of the expected conclusion.

“Living With People” is an example of modern poetry—it is more than poetry, it is free of ‘having to be poetry’ and to the degree that this is so, as a poem qua poem, it is diminished.

“Living With People” introduces us to Ruth Lepson as an extremely sensitive person who appreciates dining and conversation. It is more than just a poem. The poem quietly shows us the poet. The person. The life.

To understand even more fully what I mean when I say “pure intelligence” is necessary to read modern poetry, it might help to glance at an example of pre-modern poetry.

The classical poem lacks the freedom of the modern poem. The “old” poem tells us exactly how to read it. It cuts a path through the rock—and this is the path we must follow.

Here’s a random excerpt from Bennett Cerf’s An Anthology of Famous English and American Poetry (Conrad Aiken edited and introduced the American side) published by The Modern Library (Random House), the 1945 edition which restored the poems of Ezra Pound (he had been censored in the earlier edition):

Go, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
Hadst thou but song
As thou hast subjects known,
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie,
And build her glories their longevity.

This is a completely different world. (One stanza from Pound is enough to see this.)

We wrestle with the syntax unfolding the poem in strict and narrow terms.

Pound’s poem is trying to sing. It is tradition-bound.

This book belonged to my father growing up; I happened to find it recently as I was going through old poems of mine.

Compared to Pound, Lespon is free.

It feels like Pound is imprisoning himself in poetry to get free of life—while it feels like Lepson is looking honestly at the prison which is life—by becoming freer in her poetry.

Here is the most purely “aesthetic” poem in Lepson’s book:

Where Seagulls Fly

It’s good to walk the dog
When he finally meets
The black cat down the street.
Years, each tiny lesson.

The way seagulls seem to fly at times
against the wind and into the clouds.
It’s a white day, white and gray.

It’s good to live where seagulls fly,
thick clouds over the gray house.
Spring wind, first night on the porch,
dandelions white,
close to the end of something.

Even when Lepson rhymes (almost never) she’s subtle; “Seagulls” shows her usual reticence awash in strange joy (“It’s good to walk the dog,” “It’s good to live where seagulls fly”) with her typical socially-charged ambiguity (“dog…meets…cat…tiny lesson”) and Lepson’s characteristic hint of stoic heartbreak (“Spring wind…close to the end of something”).

“Where Seagulls Fly” is from Lepson’s third collection of poems, I Went Looking For You, and from that collection onward, she becomes more voluble, leaving behind the minimalism of her second work, Morphology.

Morphology features charming one-line poems such as

The film is a train

I Went Looking For You contains Lepson’s Anne Sexton poem (Ruth took a class with her).

I quote it in full:

Anne Sexton on the Cover

Your cigarette could be a piece of chalk.
(You were telling us This class was saving your life.)
Bracelets handcuff you, hands raised to heaven.

Puffed up hair, full of smoke. Your eyebrows plucked,
pleading. You’re smiling, shoulders bare,
yet your legs are crossed tightly, snakes coupling.

Your dress: swirls of chocolate and vanilla, mud and snow.
Fingernails short, fingers long,
limbs, long, desire, long, longer than
a garden party at which you are this evening’s star.

Your name, plastered across your lap on the book jacket,
wraps you in a golden bow. Today in Harvard Square,
the statue of seated Sumner wore an apron of snow.
I was tired of the gender of things, you wrote.

A glass of booze next to you, nearly empty.
It’s summer, you’re divorced, the thick ring,
it’s huge stone slid to the side
on your right hand now.

But if I hadn’t known you, what would I see?
A long, thin, woman, hopeful, sad, poised
against rejection. Or a strong one,
politic, sure of her next move.

They want blood, you said after your last reading.
Voyeurs. I’m never going to read again, and it was true—
I immerse myself in your biography; you were
famous for your false self, I’m looking for you.

Lepson mentions a number of poets in her book; memorable, indeed, is this sustained focus on Sexton.

I Went Looking For You might be my favorite section from Ruth Lepson’s Selected. It also has the poem “Motion Sickness, Preoccupation,” of which I’ll quote just a bit:

The woman next door listening
to the Moonlight Sonata and, simultaneously, a soap opera.


I felt like a sack of sugar, leaking. Your girlfriend
looked like a cross
between Barbara and George Bush.

I Went Looking For You ends with this poignant poem, which finds the poet more accessibly autobiographical than usual (or at least it feels that way):

The Day Of Our Divorce Hearing

you treated me to lunch, a spaghetti place.
We had never been so kind to each other.
When you said I’m still a slob, we laughed.
After lunch, we stood in the parking lot.
You said, you have the last word,
but I said, No, I’m tired of being
the one who sums things up.

You get the last word.
But you couldn’t think of one.
So off you went to our silver car,
I to our red one.
It’s three years later.
And even that’s just a story now.
Lately I don’t feel as if I lived with you.
But I remember our kindness that day,
when it no longer mattered.

Again, we see the uncanny ability of the poet to say not just a lot—but to rip the veil from life—with a few words.

She has little to say about her relationships—were her partners brilliant, bookish, workaholics who failed to appreciate her? This is from “Another Sunset,” the fifth poem in the book:

You read on the beach
about medicine and art;
you sweat all over the magazine;
you cover your eyes
with it: there is pressure
over the bridge of your nose.
Meanwhile, I am drowning.
You have no notion,
and after I drown,
I walk back and don’t say
too much about it.

“You sweat all over the magazine” at the beach artfully describes an obsessive reader.

Lepson doesn’t “say too much about it.” She doesn’t rant or complain in her poems. Instead we get scintillating poetry like this, also from her first collection, Dreaming In Color:

“now that you left…this is like taking off a tight dress that I love.”

Probably the strongest burst of emotion we get from the poet of almost surreal restraint is this one—from Ask Anyone, her fourth collection—from an untitled poem towards the end of the Selected section, before we get to the new poems:

“I’m peeling carrots and I almost start crying isn’t that funny…I was doing everything for you I’m not really peeling carrots am I isn’t that funny fuckhead”

As we can see from this, she is not always a poet of restraint.

Nine new poems grace the last part of On The Way, New and Selected, including “Motet for Mom.”

From Ben Mazer’s introduction: “Ruth’s mother was a Lithuanian Jew, a mathematician, a sculptor, and a Hebrew teacher…”

To quote briefly from “Motet for Mom,” a delightful dialogue:

“Do you believe in God, Mom?”
“A little.”

Lepson is not quite the pure poet at the end of the book that she was at the beginning; she offers passing opinions on John Kennedy, Longfellow, solitary confinement, and factory farming—she’s earned that right as a poet of brevity, subtlety and grace; I don’t mean to imply that when she speaks her mind momentarily here and there it mars the book in any way—it would be insulting to say it shows “development”—she is at the height of her powers (one that honestly approaches ‘major poet’ status) throughout the book.

Her new poems are more explorative, intellectually forceful, and extroverted, even as they retain Lepson’s beautiful, grounded, melancholy. From “Evenings:”

I don’t want to be original.
Life’s too white these days, it’s
all I can do to concentrate on that.

Comparisons swim by like swans.
They’re too far away.

The publisher, MadHat Press, is to be congratulated for bringing out this volume—for me it puts Ruth Lepson in the company of Creeley and Sexton.

To end my review of this beautiful book, Ruth Lepson deserves the last word. This is how “Evenings” ends:

Flickers of dreams
Surface in the evenings.


Trump Cites Ralph Waldo Emerson's King Quote on Twitter - Bloomberg

You must decide. You are either a man, a woman,
Or a poet.
If you lift a brick as a man, you are a slave.
If you lift a brick as a poet, hope is yours.

If you write poetry as a poet
Nothing can stand in your way.
If you write poetry as a man, you are a slave.

The man is always telling you what to do.
There is a man behind every act you do.
To be a man is to be among men,
To be working for, with, against, over, other men.

The relationship of rivalry
Is the chief relationship.
It is the motion which propels inert matter.

A unity, a singularity, the One
Of our utopians, is without motion or matter.
Find me one who talks of the One—
And I’ll find you a crackpot.

People like us, Lesbia, who are common,
Deceive, and expect others to do so.
It is how the world is made interesting.

Otherwise dullness would prevail;
We would all be watching Waldo Emerson read aloud
His essays on Public Television
And by law the world would gradually shut down.

So even while Emerson said, “The more he talked
Of his honesty, the faster
We counted our spoons,” the opposite occurs;

Men with megaphones not only get our attention,
They get our spoons and melt spoons
To make bigger megaphones. Thank God there are
Two status quos! Otherwise the One would tyrannize.

These two—the material and the spiritual—
Overlap, but are not entirely one—
And for this we can be thankful.

If they overlapped entirely, and were, in fact, one,
A low-paid poet could never feel important;
A wealthy philistine would always feel miserable.
But they are distinct enough, these two.

No matter where in the world one lives,
A million dollars is a million dollars,
A poem translated from Czech into English is a
Poem translated from Czech into English.

Happy and dual and easily understood world—
How thankful we are that the justice of perception
Has divided the world into two status quos.

Miserable me!
I don’t care about money.
And I have never felt compelled to enjoy a Czech poem,
Whether in English or in Czech.

But Lesbia! If one writes as a woman—
Now there’s the end of everything.
To be a woman is to be a truism.
But this doesn’t matter to anyone.

Women who are poets can now, for the first time,
Be safely both, and who can resist
An intelligent woman talking politics or sex
And also about herself, all at once? I can’t.

Who can withstand this rhetoric, Lesbia?
And what if the woman, learned in politics, inserts
An obscure aspect of medieval religious history into her poem?
I am done.

I am burnt to a crisp. I surrender,
I will never read William Cullen Bryant again.
It is over. Carry me out. Resuscitate me, Lesbia!

Scholarship, Progress, Theory, Sensuality, Love, Politics and Feminism
Have made a conflagration of me.
My veins are filled with smoke.
A crisped lily rolls in ashes over my brow.


Antechamber Wall Art | Fine Art America

What brings you unannounced into my room?
Were you not ushered in by my mistress,
Who sits each day as serene as the evening,

Who lounges in her seat by the luxurious door
During my dull and never ending afternoons?
Do you believe you can enter my apartment

Like this, without a sound, with no introduction,
Just because you wish to look upon my evening
Of contemplation where nothing ever happens?

Where is she—she, who swoons between dusk and dusk?
She listens every night for a stranger to come
Who might have a smoothness in the throat

To evoke what passes for talk of the muse.
But in the morning she weaves drops of dew
To make a net of pearl for children

Whose rhetoric promises poems
Written by lovely, tortured persons growing old.
Some say my mistress is my muse

As well as one who reposes, pale and watchful
For the visitor of the sudden, deft knock
Wishing entrance without the usual prelude.

She maintains a disdain lovely to behold.
Never in doubt, she sits in my front room,
Lovelier than the dullest evening which finds

Women serpentine in long dresses. But she is not my muse.
She is my mistress, my usher. Her fragility is touching
And I love her more than— Did she forget to announce you?


huariqueje | Modigliani, Modigliani art, Amedeo modigliani

He came to my house
And laid his beautiful blue shirt on the floor.
He had blue eyes.
He was tall. Don’t embarrass me.
I’m not going to say anymore.
I don’t remember what was said.
During his embarrassing stay
There was perfect music once—
A violin on a hill—
At midnight in my bed.
I think I teased him
By mentioning other men.
That was a good strategy,
More than sufficient
To confuse his poetry.


Irvine Museum showcases California women artists – Orange County Register

Now you understand.
What an introvert can do.
During long off-hours
They practice. You
Size up the poem they wrote
To you as a quick note—
Not quite knowing
Where it is going.
You do like to talk.
But when you walk
With the introvert
Something happens to your mind.
The introvert is kind
Without meaning to be kind.
Their strange attention is new.
The introvert is doing something to you.
Books, music and movies
Were yours, but now you spill your beer
When the introvert comes near.
The introvert kisses you.
It’s a pleasant fear.
You will do nothing.
The introvert looks at you.
Nothing. Nothing.


House at night Painting by Daniel Murray | Saatchi Art

I am an introvert on an extrovert’s ride.
“Shall we move to the country?
You decide.”
“We are moving and you will
Need to do the following.”
I am living here still.
“We will have dogs and anyone can come
Into the house.
Won’t that be fun.”
The house falls down
As she chats on the phone.
She does the taxes.
I’m never alone.
There was romance at first, even a kiss,
But now she’s moved on.
2 AM in the dark
I’m writing this.


fireplace pic | Aesthetic art, Renaissance art, Classic art

The old are like poets—famous, covered in such light
We cannot see them, only their fame.
They ask, “how old?” You hear the old person’s name.
But unseen the dream of that seasoned mind.
They dream. The world surrenders. Old age is kind.
Strong and busy in the midst of life
We pity the old, but the old are glad.
They dream somewhere. It is we, the young, who are sad.
Uncertainty hangs over the expression of love.
The young exaggerate. They face the pitiless stars above.
“You’ll be old, too,” the distance of the stars say.
The poet disagreed, dreaming a short distance away.


Muriel Rukeyser with fellow poets Randall Jarrell, Wallace Stevens, Alan  Tate, Marianne Moore in 1955 | Jewish Women's Archive
Randall Jarrell with friends. Was Modernism revolutionary—or snobby?

Everyone seeks respectability—even the outlaw and the ruffian seek it on some level, even if they don’t say so.

The desire for respectability lies at the core of civilized life. The desire for respectability is so ingrained, we hardly wish to admit to ourselves naked emperors are everywhere, though inside all of us know this to be true.

This operates powerfully in Letters—where all poets are potentially critics—and most critics have a burning desire to be respected as poets.

No one who seeks a literary reputation today will dare to speak above a whisper against two things in particular—nothing is considered greater, nothing more honored, in Letters, than The Four Quartets (1943) by poet/critic T.S. Eliot (who won the Nobel Prize in 1948) and the literary criticism of poet/critic Randall Jarrell. Poetry and the Age is Jarrell’s iconic book of criticism published in 1953.

This could change.

Reputations rise and fall—in minutes.

This has been true for quite a while, however: The agony of the poet has been acute for 100 years.

For 100 years a discussion of poetry has been replaced by “why isn’t poetry read?”

There was a time, shortly before World War Two—around the time many people alive today were born—when T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Randall Jarrell were unknown—and if you “weren’t there,” it is hard to understand that names as common now as Cartier, Chanel or Gucci were obscure, and it was very likely they would remain obscure.

Crazy luck, hard work, networking, all the accidents of the “luckily met” and unpredictable outside influences bubble up into notoriety and fame.

Critics hesitate to trace or embrace this winding truth; it is easier (since they “weren’t there”) to assert, “Why, he’s…he’s…Ezra Pound! He wrote this! And that!”

Given the current political climate (I hear Walt Whitman was just cancelled) and given that Jarrell, Eliot, and Pound were conservative white men, any fame they have is still in jeopardy—as it always is, of course, for all of us.

Which is why we work hard, have children, write poems, criticize, talk.

Talking and poetry are very close to each other. Talking can take the form of sealing a publishing deal, composing a poem, or writing a critical essay. And inevitably proper names are attached.

In conversation, there is “the poetry” and “my poems” and every person in Letters means the second when they talk about the first.

Great poets are found by fame, after working for a long time alone.

The minor poets network, form cliques, and bash the great poets. Fame is like food, only more so—there is only so much to go around, but occasionally fame can feed a few if they are lucky to be merely standing next to it.

A minor intellect seeking fame is an embarrassment—unless it is successful; then it goes from humiliation in the street to a “literary revolution” which makes it on to a syllabus.

The minor poet or poet-critic in a state of fame-seeking arousal inevitably exhibits circular and contradictory reasoning in every instance—this is how we know (if we read carefully) what is going on. They will hate romantic poetry because it is romantic poetry. They will say criticism is dull as they impute criticism in a manner as dull as humanly possible. They will cry out in despair that no one reads widely anymore—as they habitually name-drop the same handful of their poet friends.

Or wishing desperately to solidify their reputation (a radical one) in old age, they will write heavy-sounding, pontifical nonsense:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation. *

* What stands out is the helplessness of the weak and circular reasoning: we perhaps speculate today perpetually on tomorrow. Or, time exists but a time machine doesn’t. To prevent too much “time present” abstraction, the poet reaches out for a “rose-garden” and the “unheard music in the shrubbery, And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses Had the look of flowers that are looked at.” But it’s too late. We know for certain this isn’t the T.S. Eliot of Prufrock; this is an old poet twenty years past the peak of his powers.

Randall Jarrell demonstrates in his criticism better than anyone the phenomenon I sadly describe (“the look of flowers that are looked at”)—Jarrell was poised between two ages—the success of the Modernist Revolution in real terms (young Eliot’s haunting compositions) and the success of the Modernist revolution in institutional terms (“Four Quartets,” the Nobel, the college syllabus), the institutional success threatening to wipe out the earlier one with its flood of cheap radicalism and ambitious credentialism.

Additionally, Jarrell exhibits the ambition of a brilliant writer in the thick of the Modernist ascendancy tantalizingly close to the first rank but clearly confined to the second (no one reads his books of poems; some who are influential read his criticism). Randall Jarrell had connections: Robert Lowell, John Ransom—but he knew who the real stars were (aging but established): Whitman (the only one who was dead), Pound, Eliot, Williams, Stevens, Bishop, Moore, and, of course, Frost—and here was a wrinkle.

Frost, like Auden to a much lesser degree, (no we don’t mean a wrinkled face) was more famous than every Modernist poet combined. Robert Frost wrote the kind of famous rhyming poems the public still adored—the same public the Modernist revolutionaries hated, but were now courting in the college syllabus (an end run appeal).

Jarrell was torn. (Rereading Jarrell today we can see how much this ruined him.) Jarrell hedged his bets, placing a lot of chips on Frost even as he heaped adoration on WC Williams.

Keats was rumored to have been “killed by a criticism” (it wasn’t true) but Jarrell was, in fact, hospitalized for depression by a negative review of his poems. The Romantics were tougher—they fed on virtuosity and Nature. The Modernists lived on reputation, experimental-poetry-with-something-to-prove, and reviews.

To attempt to love both Frost and Williams is to be unconscious as a critic. It keeps one from being clear; one ends up repeating innocuous observations instead of really reading the work: writing whole reviews in which the subject’s poems are not quoted, gushing that Whitman, Frost, and Williams are “American”—as if calling some American poet “American” in a positive sense can possibly mean anything.

Jarrell lovingly reviews Frost but with all sorts of hesitancy and qualifications—he knows he is taking a risk by praising a poet ordinary people (the kind who have never heard of Ezra Pound) like. “Frost has limitations of a kind very noticeable to us.” Jarrell takes pains to examine what he considers lesser-known Frost poems. He quotes this “least familiar” poem and afterwards explores its philosophical weight, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep:”

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

How can one reconcile Jarrell’s (somewhat guilty, true) admiration of “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” (he compares it to “Housman) to his schoolboy crush on Paterson (Book I)? “I read it [Paterson] seven or eight times, and ended lost in delight.”

No one who likes Frost could possibly like Williams:

“Stale as a whale’s breath: breath!/Breath!”

“Clearly!/speaks the red-breast his behest. Clearly!/clearly!”

To understand Frost, we need to ask: Is poetry really nothing but this: Wisdom which rhymes. Or is it rhyme which is wise? Unconscious critics don’t ask these questions.

There is nothing to understand about “Stale as a whale’s breath: breath!/Breath!” There just isn’t. God save us from that wheel barrow. From those plums.

Poetry is refined talk. Conscious refinement in itself is a boon in many ways to society. To clobber refinement for some “primal truth” is the stuff of revolution—which ends in nightmare.

Poems we unconsciously like should be a red flag. Admiring “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” is a conscious activity—to admire Williams is to be unconscious.

Those born in the late 19th century (Thomas Eliot was born in 1888, WC Williams was born in 1883) were swept up in the exciting novelty of the age (cinema, looser sex, the Russian revolution, the automobile, the Great War)—and therefore were impatient (loose sex, cars, and movies make one impatient) to be revolutionary artists.

Radical art of the early 20th century! Old people never understand—but now they really didn’t understand. The 1960s truly began in the 1920s.

By the time Jarrell publishes Poetry And the Age WC Williams is 70 years old and just beginning to get a respectable name for himself—“The Red Wheel Barrow” is ancient history.

What else to call it? It was “the age;” it swept people along and it swept the arts and everything else along with it—it had nothing to do with choices; the poets had to be this way. They had to write poetry that was different. And they did. And no one read it. But the revolution could not be stopped: You will either read our poetry, or you will listen to us complaining that you ought to read it and if you don’t read it, we will take over the schools and become professors—and make you read it. And this is exactly what happened. The revolution succeeded even as it failed. The “old” was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the “new,” by revolutionaries who robotically obeyed “the age”—even against their will. They were sorry they didn’t rhyme often enough, but they couldn’t help it. It was the “Age” of Jarrell’s title. The “Age” must be fed.

Randall Jarrell describes the revolution in poetry of his time—and its failure. He is a bitter revolutionary:

“Since most people know about the modern poet only that he is obscure—i.e., that he is difficult, i.e., that he is neglected—they naturally make a casual connection between the two meanings of the word, and decide that he is unread because he is difficult. Some of the time this is true; some of the time the reverse is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry. But most of the time neither is a cause—both are no more than effects of that long-continued, world-overturning cultural and social revolution (seen at its most advanced stage here in the United States) which has made the poet difficult and the public unused to any poetry exactly as it has made poet and public divorce their wives, stay away from church, dislike bull-baiting, free the slaves, get insulin shots for diabetes, or do a hundred thousand other things, some bad, some good, and some indifferent.”

We (the modern poets) Jarrell insists, are not obscure; we (and he smiles sadly and whimsically) are not read—for no reason that anyone can tell.

In the same essay he writes: “If we were in the habit of reading poets their obscurity would not matter; and once we were out of the habit, their clarity does not help.” He’s in a philosophical quandary. Plainly, “obscurity” and “clarity” are nothing and everything to him.

Jarrell is a regular mess. He knows something is wrong, but is sure nothing is wrong.

“The general public [in this lecture I hardly speak of the happy few, who grow fewer and unhappier day by day] has set up a criterion of its own, one by which every form of contemporary art is condemned. This criterion is, in the case of music, melody; in the case of painting, representation; in the case of poetry, clarity.”

It’s difficult to know whether or not Jarrell comprehends how much he is like a dog chasing his tail. He is certain contemporary poets (of which tacitly he is one) are not obscure, but even if they were, it would not matter, but he understands they are not read (in fact they are condemned!) and he does not know why they are not read, except they seem to be condemned for lacking clarity. Yet clarity is not a factor because this is not what makes poetry popular. Jarrell’s indulgence in self-torture is touching, if not horrifying.

“Is Clarity the handmaiden of Popularity, as everybody automatically assumes? how much does it help to be immediately plain? In England today few poets are as popular as Dylan Thomas—his magical poems have corrupted a whole generation of English poets; yet he is surely one of the most obscure poets who ever lived.”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is obscure? The popular poems of Dylan Thomas are not obscure, but rather than debate this, it’s better to concede Jarrell’s point: “obscurity” is only a matter of education—the obscure is only so to the unlearned. Yet—this is but a truism. Something else is bothering Jarrell. What is it?

Here’s a clue:

“Many a man, because Ezra Pound is too obscure for him, has shut forever the pages of Paradise Lost.”

If we were to arrest Jarrell and seize his papers we would see what sort of spy-mission he is on.

Jarrell’s lament is that not enough people read contemporary poetry. But he doesn’t stop there. He points out that Shakespeare is difficult (obscure). He repeats a survey which says that half of Americans don’t read books.

He doesn’t come right out and compare Milton to Pound. And yet he does, anyway.

Milton is Beethoven and Pound is a toy trumpet. And yet. Jarrell mourns that no one reads Milton. Jarrell mourns that no one reads Pound. The message for new audiences interested in poetry, students, anyone who is not enamored of the old, great poetry and yet is curious about poetry in general is this: The damned stupid public understands neither Milton nor Pound. Milton is dead. The damned stupid public will mock you even more for loving what’s gone. But Pound, at least, is…alive. He’s…new.

In his essay, “The Age of Criticism,” Jarrell complains that too many writers are writing criticism but he doesn’t point out a single good critic. On page 81 we get an elaborate anecdote in which Jarrell takes a condescending tone towards a poet who asks Jarrell about Paterson: is it really any good? We are supposed to think, as we read this, “Of course Paterson is good!”

On page 82 we get, “To the question ‘Have you read Gerontion?'[Eliot 1920]—or some other poem that may seem difficult to people—I’ve several times heard people reply: ‘Well, not really—I’ve read it, but I’ve never read a thorough analysis of it, or really gone through it systematically.” Jarrell’s point is that too much criticism has addled the brains of readers who would otherwise be reading T.S. Eliot (Eliot! Pure! In the flesh!) like mad. Jarrell seems unaware that no one read the Modernists (in their little magazines of the 1920s) until they began to seep into the university—on the backs of criticism. What happened, of course, is criticism took on a life of its own—failing to properly reward the leaders of the revolution. And this has made Jarrell either melancholy, or ambitious for the sake of the revolution he hopes will make famous those in his generation, too.

In another anecdote, this one on page 15 in the book, a worldly and wealthy gentleman on a ship to Europe asks Jarrell who his favorite American poets are and Jarrell says “Oh, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost.” In short, the gentleman, who Jarrell otherwise highly admires, answers, “I don’t believe I’ve heard of them.” We are supposed to believe this a very great tragedy.

Why does Jarrell tell this story? Is he trying to say Frost and Eliot are equally obscure? In the mid-20th century Frost was a hundred times better known than T.S. Eliot. And it’s probably still true.

Is Jarrell pretending to hate the briar patch of “obscurity”—where all great poets now reside?

We need to read the first page of the book, from the essay, “The Obscurity of the Poet,” to find the answer:

“When I was asked to talk about the Obscurity of the Modern Poet I was delighted, for I have suffered from this obscurity all my life. But then I realized that I was being asked to talk not about the fact that people don’t read poetry, but about the fact that most of them wouldn’t understand it if they did: about the difficulty, not the neglect, of contemporary poetry. And yet it is not just modern poetry, but poetry, that is today obscure. Paradise Lost is what it was; but the ordinary reader no longer makes the mistake of trying to read it—instead he glances at it, weighs it in his hand, shudders, and suddenly, his eyes shining, puts it on his list of the ten dullest books he has ever read, along with Moby Dick, War and Peace, Faust, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. But I am doing this ordinary reader an injustice: it was not the Public, nodding over its lunch-pail, but the educated reader, the reader the universities have trained, who a few weeks ago, to the Public’s sympathetic delight, put together this list of the world’s dullest books.”

To the “delight” of the working-class “Public,” even the “educated reader” finds Paradise Lost dull.

We almost think Jarrell is delighted by this, as well, perhaps in a fit of schadenfreude, because, after all, no one reads his (Jarrell’s) poems, but we are not sure. (He actually inserts an original poem into the first essay of the book.)

But recall again Jarrell’s words: “Many a man, because Ezra Pound is too obscure for him, has shut forever the pages of Paradise Lost.”

The prize was almost won—the Modernist revolutionaries of the 1920s were coming into their own—but then suddenly everyone stopped reading poetry!

Or, as Jarrell complains in his essay, “The Age of Criticism,” everyone is writing only criticism. The “literary quarterlies” each contain “several poems and a piece of fiction”…the rest is criticism. The rest is criticism. The words have a dull uneasy sound; they lie on the spirit with a heavy weight.” Jarrell says the criticism is good and bad—but in the essay he quotes not one word of any of it, but Jarrell makes it pretty clear that it’s almost all dull—and the quarterlies should be printing the poems of Ezra Pound, instead.

How would Jarrell have reacted to what came after him—he complained there was too much criticism. What would he have thought of the rise of Theory? Or the rise of poetry, where no readers exist who are not poets, and every poet has the ambition of a Randall Jarrell and every day poems are published which sound like this?

“Stale as a whale’s breath: breath!/Breath!”

“Clearly!/speaks the red-breast his behest. Clearly!/clearly!”

He would have been horrified, and I don’t think he could have seen this coming because he made the mistake so many intellectuals make—he underestimated the people; he looked down on them; he made judgments based not on merit and the long view, but on the sorts of distinctions which thrill us in the moment.

He made the mistake of thinking William Carlos Williams was better for people than the New York Daily News. It’s not. Jarrell was a utopian, a snobby one at that—and this made him blind to grounded, democratic principles. Look at this brilliant passage, which shows that he should have known better than to think, in terms which are nothing but pure snobbery, that the Modernist poet was going to save the world:

“When Mill and Marx looked at a handful of workingmen making their slow firm way through the pages of Shelley or Herbert Spencer or The Origin of Species, they thought with confident longing, just as Jefferson and Lincoln had, of the days when every man would be literate, when an actual democracy would make its choices with as much wisdom as any imaginary state where the philosopher is king: and no gleam of prophetic insight came to show them those workingmen, two million strong, making their easy and pleasant way through the pages of the New York Daily News. The very speeches in which Jefferson and Lincoln spoke of their hope for the future are incomprehensible to most of the voters of that future, since the vocabulary and syntax of the speeches are more difficult—more obscure—than anything the voters have read or heard. For when you defeat me in an election simply because you were, as I was not, born and bred in a log cabin, it is only a question of time until you are beaten by someone whom the pigs brought up out in the yard. The truth that all men are politically equal, the recognition of the injustice of fictitious differences, becomes a belief in the fictitiousness of differences, a conviction that it is reaction and snobbishness or Fascism to believe that any individual differences of real importance exist.”

Yes, Mr. Jarrell, “individual differences of real importance exist,” beginning with Shakespeare put beside WC Williams. The assumption that a person who reads the New York Daily News cannot understand Lincoln or Jefferson is nothing more than a snobby assumption on your part—nor did these “workingmen” pass on WC Williams because Williams was “obscure” or “difficult” or Williams had too much in common with Abraham Lincoln. They rejected him for more basic reasons, which anyone, even a professor, or a great critic like yourself, should be able to understand.


Funeral of the Virgin Mary from the predella of the Annunciation ...

To live is to kill.

From the moment of our birth

We write our will,

And in it, see our less than worth:

To those we’ve left: we leave sorrow.

We would have left less tomorrow.

If the goal is smaller funeral lines,

Don’t die famous or young; no one pines

Old age leaving wealth—

The older you are, the less they care for your health.

The ones they desperately mourn

Are children recently born;

They hardly lived, and did not kill

In the way all living does—they leave grief in their will—

Grief that kills.

No song can explain this grief.

So little Shakespeare; so many wills.

As we live, the years

Kill us; more pain and less tears.

If the will we leave

Is generous, heirs do not grieve;

It matters what things

We inherit; each testament and will brings

Sorrow or greatness—

I did love you, but I grieved less

Because you lived and therefore killed.

Life is never empty, it is filled

With those we infected; our life

Took air and sun

And everything that’s precious from everyone.

Our life meant someone could not

Live, we came at the end of a plot

Conceived by death—

We breathed. Every breath

Was, for the world, another death.

We left the world noisier, we drove,

We spread germs, we wove

The sleeve of death for all to wear;

We chased down death in our outward care.

Let me read the will I left behind:

I leave a broken heart to those perceptive and kind,

Sighing thoughts for a sighing mind

And sorrow

To the sensitive who live tomorrow.

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