What do these two people have in common that would most help them to succeed in a poetry career in America?


1.) They’re both men.

2.) They’re both polite.

3.) They’re both good looking.

4.) They both like to have a good time.

5.) They both have extremely limited vision.

6.) They both work in fields unrelated to poetry.

7.) They both have been banned from Blog:Harriet.



  1. thomasbrady said,

    September 28, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Limits are imposed not only by generic tyrants and dictators, but by profit-taking managers, agents, and institutions who manage best in limited cultural landscapes and limited environments.

    We are all familiar with the agent or manager who browbeats or controls the artist.

    Ideally, the artist becomes manager; the philosopher becomes king.

    A rather coarse but telling example: As Paul McCartney has explained it, the Beatles, after their early success, learned how to use the recording studio, going from artists making rock n’ roll hits and touring in ‘mass hysteria’ venues in a narrow ‘rock n’ roll’ genre mandated by ‘rock n’ roll’ producers, to making music wider in scope, more sophisticated, more classical, and appealling to more types of people–and this only happened because the Beatles, the individual artists themselves, became their own managers.

    It didn’t hurt that the 1960s was blessed with cross-over appeal and the market for music was wide-open, so that a rock n’ roll band like the Beatles could have a ‘ hit’ with a song like ‘Yesterday,’ but the point is: managers tend to limit, artists to broaden, horizons.

    In the film, ‘Bright Star,’ one of the many wonderful scenes has Keats giving a poetry lesson to Fanny, and, as one who loves to design clothes, she asks Keats to explain the “craft” of poetry and Keats abruptly scorns the very idea, saying that when one jumps into a lake, one enjoys the sensuality of the water—there is no “craft” to that enjoyment; if one is immersed in a lake—one does not ‘work’ on experiencing the lake; poetry “should come as leaves to the tree or it had better not come at all.” Here is “genius” speaking, and this should be the first lesson. Before one understands the ‘means,’ one must understand the ‘end.’ The craft is led by the poetry, not the other way around. Fanny, who we love so much in the film, gets it, of course. It’s the same way for dresses; if you love dresses, you’ll ‘see’ dresses in your mind, and then you’ll figure out how to make them, but if you don’t care enough to ‘see’ dresses in your mind, you probably shouldn’t go into dress-making.

    Now, what does Keats have to do with the Beatles, in my example above, and with the general idea of limitation?

    It is this.

    The Beatles, in that brief window of time when they hadn’t succumbed to fighting amongst themselves, worldly problems and drugs, indulged in music of all types.

    The market wants to pigeon-hole the artist: the Beatles served their purpose as teen idols, the Monkees were created in a media laboratory to replace them in 1966, and so the Beatles forged ahead with ‘Sgt Peppers,’ released in the spring of 1967.

    The Beatles were supposed to be the enemy of ‘stuffy’ Classical music, but they began to use it, whether the market, or whether their record company wanted them to do so, or not.

    The 60s youth movement, for a magical moment, was turned on its head: ‘we want the new’ was replaced by ‘we want everything (including the old).’

    A young, hip vanguard decided they weren’t going to be told how to be new by Madison Avenue, etc. One didn’t have ‘to rock’ to be cool; classical music, or Indian music, or folk ballads could all be played; there didn’t have to be a ‘movement’ or a ‘fad.’ One could transcend movements and fads and pigeon-holing and niches and enjoy it ALL. But not indiscriminately—the individual SELECTED from everything what he or she felt to be the best. There was no one ‘hip, new sound’ that ‘all the kids’ HAD to like.

    Keats is like classical music, and in po-biz, they don’t play classical music. Not that old stuff. Not in professional writing institutions.

    Poets just do NOT write like Keats anymore. No MFA poetry program in the country will accept a student who wants to be the next Keats. You will not find this written anywhere, but it’s one of those things understood implicitly by all involved. No creative writing teacher is going to guide your effort to write the next ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci.’ This does not mean that if you happen to ask any Poetry MFA professor what he thinks of Keats, he will not say, “Oh Keats is wonderful! I would give my right arm to be able to write like Keats!”

    I never thought the common complaint against cookie cutter poems written in creative writing programs was valid, because there is so little actual ‘method’ to workshop poetry; students get little guidance—they write what they want. The Writing Programs seemed almost the opposite of cookie cutter sameness. I did know, however, that a student does NOT go into a writing program to write, or try to write, like Keats.

    The recent film, “Bright Star,” got me thinking of Keats, again.

    The Beatles went back to classical music, but contemporary poets, the professional ones, the academic ones, NEVER go back to Keats.

    Suddenly I realized why. The writing programs do not teach students how to write poetry, and yet…and yet…there is A STYLE, a recognizable style which…God forbid it EVER sound like Keats…which is cultivated by DEFAULT, because it is the very LACK of specific pedagogy in poetry writing programs which forces the institution to approve an anti-historical approach, a style which is deliberately anti-historical, and this is why Keats is rejected, NOT because he is Keats–because everyone knows Keats is good–but because Keats is historical, just as classical music is historical.

    WHAT, exactly, did the MFA in Poetry replace? It replaced the English degree, in which HISTORY is studied, in which the student studies poets like Keats—and understands him to be the best, because history always involves SELECTION. NOT LIMIT, but SELECTION, which is different.

    The writing student, however, does not SELECT, for if he did, he would not be true to himself as an artist; he would be like the mere English major, SELECTING bits and pieces of history to study.

    The (modern) artist is implicitly different because he LIMITS his study to HIMSELF, if he is sincere; if he SELECTS, he is drifting into pedagogy, into study, into methods (plural), into historical ideas, which is dangerously close to what the English Major does.

    The writing student, by contrast, follows the ‘Program Era’ mantras, “Write what YOU know” and “Find YOUR Voice.”

    The Creative Writing Programs readily admit they don’t teach poets how to write or what to write, and yet there’s a caveat: the student cannot write with an historical voice, for that would not be sincere, and sincerity is the soul of the creative writing student: writing what they know, and finding their voice.

    A poet can write a poem using an historical subject, but there needs to be some personal connection: if one writes the historical plight of a tribe, the poet should belong to that tribe; the poetry springs from the core of the historical individual, not from an individual who freely selects from historical topics or genres or styles.

    Hovering behind the Creative Writing Program Freedom is ONE (unspoken) Rule: Do NOT select from history.

    Write what YOU know.

    Keats is on the other side of the historical divide from YOU; this is why Keats is not allowed, and BECAUSE historical selection is not allowed, this is WHY, even though there is no mandate on HOW to write in the Poetry Writing Program, a certain kind of sameness DOES exist in Writing Program poetry, since every student is careful NOT to sound historical, which, in itself, is limiting.

    Here’s the solution to the paradox of Writing Program’s reflexive, institutional sameness.

    Every student is writing from THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE, and in this sense there IS great VARIETY in Workshop Writing (at least one would think so) AND since no creative writing instructor tells the student precisely how to write, or what to study, NO cookie cutter sameness SHOULD exist at all.

    But here’s the rub: This Workshop ‘variety’ is produced without absorbing—in fact, intentionally NOT absorbing—history.

    Creative writing students learn to NOT write a certain way, and they do so from watching EACH OTHER–since there are no MODELS to follow and no SPECIFIC CLASSROOM EXAMPLES given to them by their instructors.

    This deliberate NOT following of models seems liberating, but is, in fact, crippling.

    Since one cannot write in a vacuum, one cannot NOT write in a certain way except by writing in a certain way—which becomes, by default, the Writing Workshop way, a way never shown and never taught, but which yet manifests itself, powerfully and ubiquitously: thousands blindly imitating each other by what they are NOT doing (never sounding too much like history).

    If each writing student were a learned genius, ‘writing what they know’ SHOULD create a new and fervent writing style, but ‘what they know’ finds expression in the mere content of the poetry, not the poetry itself, and I say ‘mere content’ because the ‘(mere) what the student knows’ finds its place in the content—for what we ‘know’ is our experience, the experience of our lives, not the experience of our writing poetry—which the Creative Writing Program more or less explicitly claims not to ‘teach.’ Thus the Creative Writing Style is ‘What the student knows’ dwelling in mere content without Poetry—because Poetry exists historically and, such Poetry, the Creative Writing Program, in contrast to the English Degree, does not teach and, therefore, the Poetry in this case (the Writing Program style) invisibly allows the reader to see ‘What the student knows’ without the inspiration of Poetry, without the history of Poetry, without the life of Poetry.

    The Workshop Style is a default style arrived at through NOTHING!!, a NOTHING which serves what the individual, ahistorical student “Knows.”

    Thomas Brady

  2. David said,

    January 15, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Of course, it goes without saying that the poet should write what he or she knows, in the sense that a poet ought to put his soul into the making of his poem. However, every aspiring poet should also be taught that the object of Poetry is Beauty, not the presentation of his own experience. If the object of Poetry is subjective experience, then poetic form is left to personal whim. But if the object of Poetry is Beauty, then the poet must select (or borrow or adapt or invent) the most fitting form in which to limit (with an eye to Beauty) the expression of his deeply felt experience.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm



      Poe says the same thing in his aesthetic philosophy, found copiously in Rational of Verse, Philosophy of Composition, Poetic Principle, and his numerous marginalia and reviews, not to mention, “Eureka,” his fiction, and his poetry. It’s the principle of Shakespeare: his plays depict real events, but the language is always beautiful.

      The word ‘beauty’ scares Moderns, and Creative Writing Workshop instructors especially, because they think it implies a narrowness which obliterates the personal, the true, the real. This rejection of beauty, this unwillingness to really see the connection between truth and beauty, is because moderns miss the irresistable logic in my little essay above; they don’t ‘get’ Socrates and have instead listened to his abusers. They don’t realize that Beauty is not a narrow term at all, it is a very wide expanse—even if you can carry it in your pocket, and hold it in your hand.


  3. David said,

    January 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm


    Elsewhere I posted a link to a recent post on my blog, wherein I quoted a passage from Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition”. That passage brought to my mind a favorite picture of the Virgin Mary, which in turn made me think of the great Latin hymn of Mary’s sorrows, “Stabat Mater”. The “Stabat Mater” (whose author is unknown) is recognized as a masterpiece of metrical poetry. Unfortunately, the English translations of the “Stabat Mater”, in my opinion, are not very good poems. I don’t know Latin, but I’m studying various literal translations with a view toward writing my own version of this great religious poem, which so beautifully demonstrates the principles articulated in Poe’s essay.


    • thomasbrady said,

      January 15, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      I’m looking forward to your translation; I’m not familiar with “Stabat Mater.”

  4. Anonymous said,

    August 3, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Not my problem -S-

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