VENDLER GOES BALLISTIC

The Poetry March Madness Committee stayed here well into the night, in the first of many meetings.

It’s already started.

The Best American Poetry 2010 March Madness Tournament may be the most visible contest between major contemporary poets ever. 

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering is becoming intense, and poets’ emotions are running high.  It goes without saying that Scarriet will bring you every piece of delicious gossip and every rumor swirling around this unprecedented event. 

Helen Vendler is denying that she stormed out of a Poetry March Madness committee meeting when she learned that her friend, the poet Jorie Graham, was being placed as a lowly 16th seed in the East division of the tourney.

“I was very civil,” Vendler said.  

One March Madness committee member was heard to say, “Jorie’s BAP poems are dreary.   Half-breathless, half-insouciant magnification of desultory, cryptic observance in her now-famous sly, line-mangled, parenthetical parlance is just not a winning formula anymore.  Frankly, I find it tedious. What used to seem dignified and mysterious now seems self-important, almost school-girlish.”

“Jorie’s poetry is boring,” another member was overheard to say on the stairwell later that night, “she’s lucky to be in this tournament.”

What some people are saying is that it isn’t so much Graham’s rank that has Vendler upset, but the fact that Graham may have to face Galway Kinnell’s sonorous “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone” in the first round, if that poem is chosen as the no. 1 seed in the East, as most feel it will.  Critics say Kinnell’s poem will be hard to beat, and no poet wants the embarrassment of an early exit from this single-elimination tourney.

The Graham entry has not yet surfaced, though most believe it will be “On Difficulty,” chosen by John Ashbery for the first volume back in 1988. 

“This is all speculation right now,” David Lehman, obviously ruffled by the incident, said after the meeting.   He admitted Vendler did exit the meeting abruptly, but would not comment further. “We want this to be fun, and good for poetry.  We don’t want this to become a battle of egos.  I have the greatest respect for Helen Vendler.  And no, I have no idea whether Ashbery will be a no.1 seed.”

Reached the following morning, Vendler was in good spirits and wished all the poets the best of luck.

A poet gets only one poem to fill one of those 64 seeds.  In other news, Billy Collins was sending out thousands of surveys to help him decide which one of his many BAP poems should enter the tourney and bring him a championship.  “I know Billy well,” a friend said, “and he really wants this bad.  He wants a No. 1 seed and he wants to go all the way.  He wants a title.  The BAP has been good to him and he’s been good to the BAP.”

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BEST AMERICAN POETRY: THE ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR

STEPHEN DUNN

You probably want banners hanging from the ceiling and cheerleaders and crowds, 7 shirtless dudes with chests painted A-S-H-B-E-R-Y, don’t you? 

We’re not going to give you that arrested development, adolescent, cheap beer drinking crap. 

The Athletic Department can tape up a knee only so many times and all the athleticism in the world can’t stop a blind official calling an offensive on what was clearly the play of your life. 

Look, physical strength and grace is the fastest shortcut to glory and nothing compares to that sort of flight, but the physical is fickle, fragile, and short-lived and the accompanying ballyhoo is, let’s face it, a lot of wind. 

THIS road to the final four has lasting value; on THIS road, the athlete is a judge and the judge is an athlete, and two-bit luck and the mere fickleness of a referee can do no harm, and there’s much less stupid hollering.  

The best games are played in your head and immortality does not live in limbs or the loud, it lives in poetry, hungry in its cave, my lame friends.

The best poems in the U.S.A. have been collected in volumes by poets of vast talent in the Best American Poetry series since 1988 and Scarriet is holding a tournament of the best of the best.

We want to tell you about a poet who is grabbing headlines in play leading up to qualifying for the tourney. 

STEPHEN DUNN IS CRUSHING THE OPPOSITION AND IS HEADED FOR A NUMBER ONE SEED.  LOOK OUT FOR THIS DUDE.  YOU MAY BE LOOKING AT THE CHAMP RIGHT HERE.

But it’s a big tournament with lots involved. 

64 poets will be in the hunt, and every one in the tourney will have a shot at no. 1.

 Stay tuned…

RON SILLIMAN: AN APPRECIATION

Who rocks poetry on the web every day?
Over the hills and far away?
Selflessly and without pay?
For the good of poetry alway?

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SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON HAIKU MOUNTAIN


FLASHBACK

The 1920 Olympics of Poetry took place on Haiku Mountain, but Americans dominated.

“We don’t require a big mountain to compete,” the Committee said.

“Skiing is skiing, whether it’s a long or short slope;” Committee president T.S. Eliot said in a prepared statement,  “the rest is chaos.”

Agreeing with Mr. Eliot were Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, W.C. Williams and Marianne Moore, who won gold in Wearing Cool Skis and Snow Ball Fighting.

Ms. Moore: “As Olympians, we are less than competitive, but what’s all this fuss I hear?  Why should we risk our lives skiing down Byron’s Slope or Mt. Keats? One could get killed.”

The winners of gold, who went down Waste Land Hill on their hands and knees wearing fine woolens, were also the judges!  That was new in Olympics history, but Scofield Thayer’s The Dial magazine, which sponsored the event (no one could locate an actual copy so Lady Ottoline Morrell lent us one) told us, and we quote:  things were all very modern since about 1910 or so, the War had killed His Majesty’s poets and everybody had to write awful poetry in America so the King wouldn’t feel bad, and now everyone could just shut up, please.

Thankfully, we listened to Mr. Thayer and his friends.  Harriet Monroe got involved in Olympic pie-making, Pound was given a gold medal for a gold image of a gold coin in a sunset, Frost won gold for snow, someone built a really neat snow fort on Black Mountain, Ruth Lilly donated some money, Jorie Graham won silver sledding down a hill on her hair, and John Ashbery shocked eleven people when he won gold by spinning very fast in one place.


…………   .. Jorie Graham, shared SILVER.  Sledding with Bin Ramke.

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POP GOES THE WEASEL

Trying to link esoteric with libido, I thought —

…………….All around the cobbler’s bench
…………….The monkey chased the weasel
…………….The monkey thought ‘twas all in fun
…………….“Pop, goes the weasel!”

Whether it’s peek-a-boo or Pandora’s box or the apple in Eden, the hidden and the forbidden are part of the danger and delight of life. The surprise, even (and especially) recurrent, is a nearly endless source of joy to children. Pandora’s box postulates a time, like Eden, when there was no evil in the world. It imagines that the parts of experience we don’t want to face can be hidden away safely and yield a world of constant pleasure.

But curiosity….

This Jack-in-the-Box had the lovely yin-yang and the French tickler Punch to help the linkages. The tornado like a father hunched over the bed. The sublimation of desire; the substitution of wisdom for a hot date or wet dream. The sterile oneness of the good libido; the wetted beast of the other. We sense danger in the dark, behind the trees, around the corner. We chase our bliss and corner it thinking it’s all in fun and then……“Pop, goes the weasel!”

By the way, as I was told the story, Hope remained in the bottom of the box as a consolation, but later they told me Hope was the last and greatest evil of all.

W.F.Kammann

POETRY IS A RELIGIOUS WAR, ALWAYS WAS, AND STILL IS

I heard this!

THE GREAT UNSPOKEN TRUTH of poetry is that it is and always has been a football or a sweaty microphone in the politics of religion.

Poetry has never been poetry.

Poetry has always been Gilgamesh or Homer, the Bible or the Koran. Alexander Pope, John Keats, Hitler or Gertrude Stein.

Poetry has always been news reports from mankind’s long religious war.

Shakespeare, the subversive Catholic, Milton the Protestant secretary, the pagan revolt of the Romantics, the secular intellectualism of the 20th century, it can all be traced to religious war.

Strands of poetry today represent splinter groups: nature religion, bad grammar religion, anti-religion religion (an impossibility), sex religion, the religion of humor, and it is probably this splintering, more than anything else, that has made poetry a current historical footnote.  (“Why doesn’t anyone take poetry seriously these days?”)

Just as cults are dwarfed by the major religions, poetry that is splintered and cult-like in its concerns tends to fall by the wayside.

Religion always makes big news and always resides in private and intimate spaces as well, and so when a poet does make headlines, they tend to do so from a religious point of view, and they also tend to get swallowed up if their ‘religion’ is of the shallow and cult-like variety: prominent, but obviously aping what is already out there: Ginsberg, for instance (60’s radical rebellion) or Mary Oliver (nature religion).

A poet writing today is not just competing with all the poetry of the past, but with all religion, as well.

Robert Frost is probably the last poet to succeed as ‘a poet’ rather than as some minor priest in the religious war, and this was probably due to the fact that his poetry acheived that rare balance; his poetry was not challenging religious principles at all, and yet seemed vaguely religious at the same time, in a manner that neither religious nor secular types could quite put their finger on—and thus his success.   Frost didn’t make the Church nervous, didn’t make churches nervous, didn’t make Church-haters nervous, or church-haters nervous; Frost was writing stuff in which all could say, “Poetry, OK.  I can live with this.”  Easy to formulate, but not easy to pull off.

Most of this ‘New England success’ was due to historical placement more than Frost’s blockbuster talent; Frost wrote in an age of great change, and he managed to evoke timelessness with his New England winter toughness at a time when New England could still symbolize America (now it can’t).

The heroic grandiosity of the World War Two era also created a window in which America was allowed ‘one great poet’ (Frost) for awhile.

Now we’ve entered an age of great religious and political suspicion, an age no longer distracted by something as heroic and unifying as World War Two; in this splintered religious time, poetry is naturally splintered, too.

Poetry cannot lead, it can only reflect and follow, the religious climate of its time.

The last great religious poem was probably ‘Ode To Psyche’ by Keats.  (Or anti-religious, but so completely and beautifully so, religious, for all intents and purposes).

Since Keats, poetry has, to an increasing extent, dwelled like small mammals living a hidden, furtive life, dwarfed by a world in which major religions rule, as they always have, close-to-the-ground, influential, terrifying and banal.

What is left to us? What can we write or do?

FOR TOM: NIT-PICKING APPLES


…………………………………………………………………….Winslow Homer, Picking Apples

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……….Old Foreplay for New Women Including Men

……………….O, how wrong you fierce suitors have it
……………….stripping off the dark, secret wraps
……………….that lighten length and breadth
……………….and scenery on earth—
……………….the furtive root grabs downward
……………….only because great tentacles of hot
……………….rival might lift our silt-lapped
……………….limbs much harder still,
……………….like sunlight
……………….prying up the whole orchard’s sap!

……………….No, the weight of things is just
……………….another flight,
……………….like Leda’s modest thighs
……………….giving plain wings the chance
……………….to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.

……………….As the arrow by the playful string
……………….the heady soul is ever fired by
……………….the archly absent body—
……………….draped arabesques of trembling skin
……………….and shining pubis so defying gravity
……………….even the most upright Jove
……………….or holy Galileo
……………….bearded like our father’s angel
……………….tumbles to the maiden yet again,
……………….so hotly does the dreaming quiver
……………….fletched in abstract plumage
……………….hunger
……………….even for a single pomegranate kiss
……………….that scatters weight
……………….like rubies!

.

PIG

Why is contemporary poetry such a vexation?

 

Poetry, one of our favorite writers once said, should be a passion, not a study.

But why shouldn’t poetry be a study?  What’s wrong with poetry and study?

Poetry and study are oil and water.

Study’s observational rigor demands factual results, not happy ones.

Poetry, contra study, seeks happy results, not factual ones.

Modern poetry, however, has turned the truism upside down.  Seduced by the apostles of modernism, William James, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, and John Dewey, among others, our poets don’t care for poems which are happy results so much as poems whose results are in the broadest sense, true—which ought to be an improvement, and in some ways, is an improvement.

On the other hand, poetry lost its public when it began to use study rather than passion as its guide.

The public demands poetry full of whimsy, passion, froth, delight.   The public will pardon the poet when he calls a chicken a pig, as long as the poet does not appear to be great and wise while doing so, or mumble into his sleeve while doing so, or pretend to be some priest of the yellow-skinned moon while doing so; the poet must not do so while counting every feather on the chicken.

The public does not like a lot of mumbo jumbo.  A line or two of folly is fine, but pretentious stretches of more than that will not be tolerated, never mind entire landscapes of bombast like “The Four Quartets” or Canto Number One. Forced to read the entire Cantos, out will come the pitchforks and torches.  Oh, and deriding the public of pitchforks and torches will only sever relations between poet and public further.  ‘Torches and pitchforks’ is a metaphor.  The public is smarter than that—or not.   It is those who blame the public rather than the poet who are most far gone.

The public will not put up with too much fooling around; the public prefers the poem of the happy, or finished, or beautiful result.

Poets fell out of public favor when they began to engage the world for the world’s sake and lost sight of poetry as a certain instrument with certain uses for happy results.

No one consciously made poetry into a study; they merely embraced Dewey’s idea of experience as the key to aesthetics.

As far as the public goes, how could experience leave poetry so bereft?   One would think experience is the one thing the public qua public understands.  The public may not know its Sacred Wood, but the wood of experience it knows.

Dewey said two crucial things re: the public, art, and experience.  He said 1) experience was crucial and 2) the public did not associate art with experience.  (Yes, like all modern poetry theorists, he blamed the public.  Bad move.)  It’s right here in the very first paragraph of Art As Experience, first published as a book in 1934:

“In common perception, [that’s the public, by the way] the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting or statue in its existence apart from human experience.”

Dewey’s whole strategy, his whole philosophy of art,  is laid out in that single sentence.

Dewey’s intelligence was such that he could discuss painting and poetry at the same time, but he rode painting’s wave; the “New York School” of poetry followed in Dewey’s wake, but ironically, poetry, like a great sea, dissolved Dewey’s ideas—his wordy formulations triumphed alongside paint and clay but crashed and burned in the theoretical sky of that wordy art, poetry.

The brainy theorists of modernism pushed poetry ahead too quickly for public taste.  The fine arts are erected in the public square; museums force public taste to follow its lead, but taste in poetry dwells more privately and cannot be shaped by cultural fiat.   A Ginsberg is no match for a Warhol, a Pound is no match for a Guggenheim, in forming public taste.

Despite all its braininess, scientists pay no attention to modern poetry, just as they pay no attention to Dewey’s “experience;” after all, our experience on earth is that the sun, not the earth, is moving; science has proved the opposite; a poem describing an experience of the sun moving across the sky would not be modern, per se.   Poets can experience a poem as they write a poem—the very writing of a poem is an experience, and the reader shares in this experience, but this is not unique to moderns, nor does it signify the poem in question will be good.

The experience of language which reader and poet share is facile.  The free-association style of Ashbery, for instance, produces an experience on many levels, a complex experience which is open-ended and arbitrary, and due to the remarkable nature of language, is an experience which is actual in every sense, even if ol’ Ashbery is half-asleep and absent-mindedly laying on linguistic paint as randomly as he can.  If we grant this experience—reading stream-of-consciousness writing in a trance—is a genuine experience—and I don’t see how it is not a genuine experience—then Dewey’s “experience” becomes less than advertised.  If the act of reading meets the experience test, any experience within the reading experience (if such a thing does exist) will not actually be able to distinguish itself from its surroundings.

If the experience of poetry is the experience of reading, if mechanically these two are the same, if the reading experience is what greets all readers of poetry and no poetry would be experienced without the reading experience, it is safe to say that poetry’s unique qualities (whatever we dare say they are) cannot possibly belong to experience, per se.  Poetry cannot distinguish itself as poetry from the experience of reading, or any experience at all without having qualities which somehow set poetry apart from the experience of reading, and thus all other experience.

The more expansive poetry’s subject matter and formal properites become, the more poetry disappears into the reading experience, for it is the reading experience which is actually expanding, not poetry.

As poetry is currently defined, reading

Pig

is a reading experience precisely the same as reading poetry.

Reading Pig is fraught with ambiguity: why pig?  What does not only the word, but the fact that someone wrote pig mean?  Pig contains an infinite number of associations—once associations begin to flow, there is no end to that meandering river, and so in this sense Pig contains as much associative knowledge as a play by Shakespeare and thus generates as much experience, for associations, potentially infinite, are the key to any reading experience.

Experience has nothing to do with the happy result of a poem.  The term, as used by Dewey and the modernists, is empty.

A FOETRY VALENTINE

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……..THE BALLAD OF JORIE GRAHAM

……..I love poetry, but it depends
……..If the manuscripts are my lovers’ and friends’.
……..If they are my friends’ my heart sings
……..With the joy sweet poetry brings.
……..How easy it is to decide to love
……..What poetry and friendship thinks is enough.
……..I am lonely without friends.
……..Poetry? It all depends
……..On the joy and the happiness of my friends.
……..My friends write poetry and poetry depends
……..On something beyond itself.
……..Do not talk to me of abstract things.
……..Why do you think poetry sings?
……..Why do you think it is?
……..Why do you think I write things new?
……..Do you think it is for him? Or you?
……..You may read what I write.
……..But he is my day and my night.
……..If you could be one of my friends
……..You would understand how even genius depends
……..On love. If you were holding my hand
……..Now, hypocrite reader! you would understand.

IT’S CURTAINS FOR YOU…CORDLE…CURTAINS…YA SEE?

We don’t read Harriet anymore.  It’s too dreary, too artsy-fartsy-friends-puffing-artsy-fartsy-friends, too boring.   But our man Gary Fitzgerald was kind enough to email us today to let us know that John Oliver Simon has not forgotten us.

Thanx, Gary Fitzgerald, John Oliver Simon, u rock.

Harriet, the Poetry Foundation Blog, who banned Thomas Brady, Alan Cordle, Desmond Swords, and Christopher Woodman at one stroke on September 1, 2009, is going through a little identity crisis at the moment: how shall I moderate?  How shall I banish?  Are those who post on my site a community?  Can posters police themselves?  What is my responsibility towards them, if any?

Before we start equating the firing on Fort Sumter (THE UNION IS DISSOLVED!) to the sarcastic squabbling between Kent Johnson, Michael Robbins, and Henry Gould and the current crop of boy scouts and girl scouts on Harriet, let’s remember that once a self-infatuated twit, always a self-infatuated twit.

Boyd Nielson suggested in a comment on a Harriet post recently that Harriet is a private blog  and can therefore ban and delete as she pleases. But instead of embracing this reality, Boyd Nielson continues, Harriet is failing to make her authority transparent, hiding behind proxies such as ‘thumbs up/ thumbs down voting’ and ‘report this comment’  to punish, to delete, to ‘hold for moderation’ and ultimately to ban, in a faceless manner that  is irresponsible, cowardly, and weak.

Scarriet (ya got somethin to say, say it)  is blissfully free of this.

To Harriet’s “identity crisis,” and to all the winding, administrative hair-splitting discussion it might elicit, we say: pffft.

Self-important Harriet, and other blogs like it, will 1) banish, 2) delete posts reporting the banishment, and 3)  delete posts complaining of those deletions and 4) practice this for infinity, a black-hole-ish, whirling cesspool of censorship.

Paul McCartney will play a concert for Harriet, and their devoted acolytes will sing:

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell onto a limb,
And the first one said to the second one there, I hope that you can swim!
Banned on a whim!  Banned on a whim!

Private enterprise is wonderful and Harriet’s status as a private club allows her to throw bums to the curb with impunity.  But merely being private is not the great thing, by any means.

Private enterprise is not wonderful because it allows Harriet, the private club, to throw to the curb whomever she chooses, for if it stopped there, ‘private’ would be synonymous with ‘tyranical.’

Scarriet’s existence fills out the formula of private enterpise as something truly good.  The private by itself is not good, nor is the private masking itself as the public good, either.

It is only competing private entities which allow for something truly wonderful: real freedom, real debate, sweet discovery, hot thrills, trembling chills, and freezing kisses, warm and exciting.

Ya got dat?…Travis…ya dirty rat…

AN APERITIF FOR THE FEAST OF SAINT VALENTINE

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…………………………………LEGS IN THE AIR

…………………………………Do not dare to breathe
…………………………………a word against the men

………………………………...your willing white wings

…………………………………support
…………………………………and speed
…………………………………as they descend
…………………………………cupped in your dark, swelling web.

…………………………………When otherworldly lovers grub
…………………………………for too much light
…………………………………and knowledge
…………………………………it’s your proud-beaked perfect flight

…………………………………that staggering tricks them out again
…………………………………to clever little fever pigs
…………………………………like dildo gods

…………………………………who still breathing quick celestial air

…………………………………yet grunting lie
…………………………………in righteous muck—

…………………………………rutting like men in beauty’s ruin!

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“A TERRIBLE CONJUNCTION:” MARRIAGE AND AMERICAN POETRY


“A poet should not marry” –old saying.

The unhappy marriage, or the marriage that never happened, is the marriage of American poetry.

Emerson’s livelihood came from marrying a woman he knew was dying and suing his wife’s family for the fortune after her death.

Longfellow found his wealth in marriage, and sorrow when his wife and the mother of his children burned to death while melting wax to seal a letter.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman never married.

After the death of Edgar Poe’s wife, his life was marked by marriages that never quite happened.

Also, Poe’s immense reputation was ruined in 1846 by rumors involving love outside the marriage contract.

Whitman (Helen, not Walt) almost married Poe until others got in the way, including the most powerful media mogul in the U.S. at the time, editor and owner of The New York Tribune, Horace Greeley.  Imagine CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, the New York Times and the New York Post combined: that was Horace Greeley.   Unfortunately for Poe, Greeley was friends with Rufus Griswold.

In a stunning letter Horace Greeley wrote to Griswold in January, 1849 :

“Do you know Sarah Helen Whitman ? Of course you have heard it rumored that she is to marry

Poe. Well, she has seemed to me a good girl, and— you know what Poe is.

Now I know a widow of doubtful age will marry almost any sort of a white man, but this seems to me a terrible conjunction.

Has Mrs. Whitman no friend within your knowledge that can faithfully explain Poe to her ? I never attempted this sort of thing but once, and the net product was two enemies and a hastening of the marriage; but I do think she must be deceived. Mrs. Osgood must know her.”

Poe scholars have been beating the bushes recently for the real story behind the scandalous relationship of Poe and Frances Osgood, and what’s coming out is that their relationship was no dime-store romance or starry-eyed love affair, but something far more complicated.   It turns out Osgood was probably, like Elizabeth Ellet and Margaret Fuller, more foe than friend.

The middle-aged Poe was the kind of tied-to-his-desk, scornful genius who had no interest in the sort of tawdry relationship which his enemies (and the gullible with their dime-store imaginations) have drawn up for him.  True, Poe recited poems in his soft, charismatic voice at literary salons, and as steward of American Letters he did take an interest in a literary society which included women, but he was not a romantic in life; he was an editor looking for a magazine and an American who hated in his blood puffery and British “ill will” towards the United States.  Poe even wrote in a ‘throwing-off-the-gloves’ mood, that America would take its quarrel with Britain “into Africa,” which is quite an ambitious, multi-layered, and belicose thing to say.  That stern anglophile, Emerson, must have been appalled.

Britain and America’s divorce was still an ugly one in the middle of the 19th century. Poe’s famous quarrel with his own northern brethren—New England writers—is not nearly as important as has been claimed.

Poe, in fact, was always reaching out to Boston authors.

In 1842, Poe wrote to the abolitionist poet James Russell Lowell: “Dear Sir,  Learning your design of commencing a Magazine, in Boston, upon the first of January next, I take the liberty of asking whether some arrangement might not be made, by which I should become a regular contributor.”  Lowell’s magazine was launched, and Poe was a regular contributor— while Lowell’s unprofitable venture lasted.   Poe and Lowell remained good friends.

As editor of Graham’s, on at least two separate occasions, Poe asked Longfellow to contribute to the magazine.

Poe wrote to Joseph Snodgrass in 1841, “You are mistaken about The Dial.  I have no quarrel in the world with that illustrious journal, nor it with me.”

It wasn’t New England that was the problem; Poe did resent, but more in the name of democracy, Northern monopoly in American Letters—a reasonable  complaint.  The larger shadow was that Britain was in a cunning position to enjoy U.S. difficulty on the slavery issue—which, after Poe’s murder—did blow up into the holocaust of civil war: a divorce inside of a divorce.  The American civil war gave birth to a creature of Poe-like dimensions in politics: poet and Poe fan Abraham Lincoln.

The best known marriage in 19th century Letters occured in Europe, when Elizabeth Barrett, who had been corresponding with Poe, eloped with Robert Browning.   Later, we can see by reading the letters, that Elizabeth Browning, with many others in Europe, hoped for a divorce between south and north in America over the slavery issue; to those like Barrett Browning, this was a simple moral issue; to others, and this would include those like Poe and Lincoln, it was more complicated and meant loss of unity, and thus a destruction of, the United States.

Margaret Fuller eloped with an Italian count in Italy after dallying with the hearts of Hawthorne and Emerson (though Emerson was like Poe; women found it impossible to dally with a heart of high seriousness set against mere romance).

In a letter on Poe to Elizabeth Barrett Browning just after Poe’s death, Fuller, friends with Emerson and Horace Greeley—the publisher of Griswold’s “Ludwig” obituary—shows herself to be Griswold-like:  “…several women loved him, but it seemed more with passionate illusion which he amused himself by inducing than with sympathy; I think he really had no friend.”

In another odd twist, Osgood published a poem in the Broadway Journal in 1845 when Poe was the editor there, called “To the Lady Geraldine,” in which a gossipy woman is attacked.  “Geraldine” is not identified, but “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” was the name of a famous poem published in 1844 by Barrett, before she met Robert, and in that poem she refers to Wordsworth,—the old poet wished to visit her, but could not, on account of her health—Tennyson, whom she adored, and Robert Browning.   Barrett had not eloped with Robert yet in 1845, and Poe was pictured as one of the many male poets hungering after Barrett’s affection during this time.

Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to Elizabeth Barrett.

A marriage of sane and profitable domesticity versus insane and passionate divorce (Osgood, for instance, was separated from her painter husband during the time of her Poe-scandal in the period around 1845) was the ruling trope in Letters during the tumultuous pre-Civil War, Poe and Barrett era during the 1840s.   Poe wished for domestic bliss, not wild affairs; he wished for a growing America, not one torn apart by the slavery issue.

As a Southerner acheiving great fame in the North in 1845 and then crashing and burning in scandal in 1846, Poe is a symbol of America’s failed marriage as a nation.

In the 20th century, what does marriage and romance between poets symbolize?

T.S. Eliot’s marriage to an Englishwoman was an impetuous “burning of boats” in Eliot’s own words, to leap from America to England.   Reading “Prufrock,” one is not surpised at the poet’s disastrous marriage.

W.H. Auden marrying—to help someone escape the Nazis.  That might be the most symbolic marriage of the 20th century.

The tragedy of  the English Ted Hughes and the American Sylvia Plath doesn’t transcend what it is; that tragedy and the tragedy of Hughe’s subsequent marriage is a mere festering of flesh: petty, personal, stupid, wrong.

The most famous marriage among the Beats ended in a stupid “William Tell” death.

Further on in American literary history, we have the marriage of American, Jorie Graham, and South African-born Peter Sacks, a relationship best known for something even more petty: an act of foetry with partner Bin Ramke.

How sad that in Letters, the landmark history of marriage is the landmark history of the broken.

Surely happy marriages in Letters exist; we just don’t know about them.

Unfortunately for the muse of love, the “NO” of Maud Gonne, the Irish patriot, refusing the William Butler Yeats of dubious politics, rings more profoundly, down the years, in the annals of literature, than any affirmation.

Had Whitman married Poe, perhaps it would have all been different.

WHAT DO POETS THINK ABOUT BEFORE THEY WRITE THE POEM?

.

I know that when I think of anything with a design to make some design of it in order to present it to the world as poetry, I first make a simple observation of some problem that is bedeviling me, that is making me unhappy in my life, and thus as a poet, I always begin as a philosopher.  I always think of hindrances to my happiness.

For instance, I might reflect upon my forbidden desires—not morally, or sensually, but philosophically.  I will not rebuke myself for my desires, nor will I desire my desires; I instead consider my desires good and the forbidden nature of them bad, establishing this as a starting point, and then I proceed to resolve the conflict between desire (good) and desire’s forbidden aspect (bad).  I do not let myself get distracted by the object of my desire, for poetry is not really made for such an exercise; the stirring of desire can be hinted at in poetry, but picturing the forbidden will at once lead to the desire itself, the image invoking desire; but the desire, to be treated philosophically, must remain a mere component of the poem.

The following poem came about precisely in this way.

What I love, what I hate

What I love, what I hate
are both together, in orbits, flying—
People will tell you what they are
But people are always lying.
Sated with what I love
Can make me sick,
What I hate
May stab, but be a good stick.
All I can say of
What I love, and what I hate,
Is what I saw yesterday,
Dead, at the gate.
All I can see of
What I love, and what I hate,
Is hate is always—here,
And love is always—late.
What I love I detect in you,
Hopeful, confused,
Trying to be true
To what is gradual and late:
The reason for our love,
An understanding of our hate.
If  you would know, at last, our fate,
Meet me tonight at the mountain gate,
We’ll stare into the evening
And laugh.  And wait some more.  And wait.

…………………………………………..

FOR BHANU KAPIL: ON TIME & ART DECO


The old hand-carved Goethanum in Dornach, Switzerland, destroyed by fire in 1923.

Bhanu Kapil,
Quite seriously, we do appreciate your noticing, and hope you’ll feel free to come in whenever you think either we’ve lost it or got something worthwhile on the hook. We’ve treated you harshly, for sure, but schools of poetry have never been nice to each other, and if you think about it we’re cheerleaders compared to the axe men operating in the poetry rags at the time of John Keats or E.A.Poe, or even fearful little hatchet men like Travis.

But you are making heavy going of it on Harriet, for sure, and you and your friends are emerging as not only conservative but passé!

Here’s a huge historical parallel to back up that statement.

Goethe emerged as a giant of almost everything at the beginning of the 19th Century, and changed forever the western perception of composition and color. Indeed, his seminal input altered the whole thrust of European art away from delineation, representation, and order toward a shimmering new spiritual dimension. As an example, even architecture moved away from it’s right-hand man, the right angle, an unnatural design element that had up to that point lifted human structures out of nature, up over the trees, and was preparing it for the modern skyscraper. The Goethe impulse softened up the right angle so that organic forms began to appear in every detail from the leafy scrolls on your mirror to the early round box for your radio — i.e. Art Deco.

But that came much later.

In the latter part of his own century, Goethe’s impulse reached a kind of apotheosis in the work of the Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. Initially entrusted with the formation of the Goethe Archives, a huge task, he was secretly working late hours down in the stacks as a closet-theosophist. And when he came out and published “Knowledge of Higher Worlds,” he utterly astonished everyone at the time, and his movement became the cutting edge for thinkers — recently we had occasion to link Yeats with Aleister Crowley through The Golden Dawn, for example, all part and parcel. Steiner’s own most “modern” of movements came to be called Anthroposophy, but today most people have never even heard of it.

Except for the schools, Waldorf Schuler, which still remain a viable alternative in most Germanophone communities and are right at this moment enjoying a huge new interest in the U.S. — even if the architecture is embarrassing.

And to be sure, even for contemporary followers, some aspects of this movement are intensely embarrassing because the fundamental design elements now look very much like kitsch! The aversion to the right angle in the architecture and furniture of the 30s, for example, that’s just retro. And what started out as the philosophical and religious cutting edge, Spiritual Science, now smacks of sceances, table rappings, and conjuring up previous lives — and the art just says “Art Deco.”

With all due respect, you and your friends are the same, Bhanu — like Anthroposophists you and your “post-modernist” colleagues, or whatever you call yourselves now, are convinced you’re the contemporary cats whisker whereas in reality you’re just a backwater. Yes, you’re starting to look just as dated, naive and parochial as Steiner’s most noble edifice, the Goetheanum!

Pacé Goethe and Steiner, great men who took great risks but in the long run failed to lead the revival they were so sure they were heralding, largely because of the slavish imitation of their followers. Pacé your Modernist ancestors in the same way, a few of whom were great too but who you’re now dragging down into the mire of repetition, absurdity and oblivion.

You’re movement is already a footnote, and in the poetry eyes of the world a very brief and silly one.

And with a beautiful name like you’ve got, Bhanu Kapil, you’ve likely got some models of sublime artistic endurance in your heritage. How could you opt for something so limited, as if “new” meant better?

What’s happened to your superior philosophy of the unimaginable dimensions of time?

NEWS, NEWS, READ ALL ABOUT IT: ANNIE BUNDLED OUT OF HARRIET!


Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.

“Who cares for you?” said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her; she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

~

Robert Burns and J.D.Salinger have indeed been blathered, and despite Annie Finch’s best intentions, both on Harriet and Scarriet, and our own attempt to bridge the divide as well (we were yet again deleted for our efforts!), Harriet remains in the dumps, otherwise known as denial.

Here’s what Harriet sounded like last summer:

Great to see this here, posted ipso facto in honor not only of of Salinger’s deathday but also of Robbie Burns’ birthday two days earlier–for those who don’t know, a huge national and global celebration of the poet and of Scotland. It’s one of my favorite Burns poems (I have another posted for the occasion at my blog AmericanWitch http://annieridleycranefinch.blogspot.com/)

This has one of the best singing tunes of any of his poems imho, and it is one of the relatively few where female sexuality is celebrated in its own right..it really feels like a poem that could have been written by Jenny herself, coming through dew-wet fields early in the morning to slip into bed after a night out. Thanks, Travis!

POSTED BY: ANNIE FINCH ON JANUARY 31, 2010 AT 11:37 AM

This is, in fact, a comment Annie Finch posted on Harriet a week ago in a vain effort not only to make a discussion on Burns and Salinger more relevant but to breathe some life back into the moribund Poetry Foundation community.

And did she succeed? Did she strike a chord, arouse some enthusiasm for poetry, get some rewarding feedback?

Hardly. The following is the only subsequent comment after Annie Finch’s generous, warm, independent and sexy brave effort:

Just because Salinger died.

Stephen

POSTED BY: STEPHEN STURGEON ON FEBRUARY 1, 2010 AT 1:28 PM

In other words, a good kick up the backside!

~

And as if that weren’t 52 Pickup enough, here’s the latest spectacle in The Poetry Foundation’s limelight, yes, right up there to welcome you on Blog:Harriet’s masthead. And you bet how Travis Nichols is glad-handing the regulars —  tailors, courtiers, and suckers!

FRED MOTEN
5
At circle time on Thursday, Lorenzo declared that when he makes smores for Julian (which I wasn’t aware that he’d ever done) he makes them with bricks, sticks and snow.

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FRED MOTEN
4
A lot of it is just trying to figure out how to say something. How to read. Not how to offer a reading, or even an interpretation, but a performance of a text, in the face of its unintelligibility, as if one were forced/privileged to access some other world where representation and unrepresentability were beside the point, so that the response to the terrors and chances of history were not about calculation, not bound to replicate, even in a blunted and ethically responsible way, the horrors of speculation, where new materialities of imagination were already on the other side of the logic of equivalence.

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FRED MOTEN
B 3
Dear Evie,

Remember when we read together in November, and afterwards you asked me about a particular poem of mine, and seemed to wonder, rightly, why my reading of it didn’t acknowledge or account for the spacing of/in the poem? I figured that question was a statement and you were right. Philip’s theater is this fragmentation of the sentence and the word, where every fragmentation is also an augmentation, bespeaking multiplicity.

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FRED MOTEN
Backlog 2
The commitment to repair is how a refusal to represent terror redoubles the logic of representation. The refusal of our ongoing afterlife can only ever replicate a worn-out grammar. The event remains, in the depths. The event-remains are deep and we stand before them, to express them, as their expression.

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FRED MOTEN
Backlog
I didn’t stop logging, I just stopped posting. I think I got waterlogged from not being able not to try to get too deep. I got into some kind of double trouble from blowing bubbles, I guess. Anyway, here’s some more stuff, along the lines I promised, though I might want to make another promise now. The other thing is that this is driven by the chance to see some of Hong-An Truong’s film and installation work and from reading Gerald Barrax’s poetry and from a friend sending me the catalog from the Xenakis exhibit at the Drawing Center in New York. I just wanted to mention these not in order to provide the key to what I’ve been trying to write but just to commend them all to you because they are beautiful! As is Beth at the Jordan Lake School of the Arts, refuge for the new X-Men, where the superkids go to play. OK: back to my misbegotten ideas on poetics, in approximately 300 word installments.

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HOW MANY KINDS OF POETRY ARE THERE?

First and foremost, there is this kind:

(found on the internet)

Twas the night of Thanksgiving and out of the house
Tiger Woods came a flyin’, chased by his spouse.
She wielded a nine iron and wasn’t too merry,
Cause a bimbo’s phone number was in his Blackberry.
He’d been cheatin’ on Elin, and the story progressed.
Woman after woman stepped up and confessed.
He’d been cheatin’ with Holly, and Jaimee, and Cori,
With Joselyn, and Kalika. The world had the story.
From the top of the Tour to the basement of blues,
Tiger’s sad sordid tale was all over the news.
With hostesses, waitresses, he had lots of sex,
When not in their pants, he was sendin’ them texts.
Despite all his cryin’ and beggin’ and pleadin’,
Tiger’s wife went investin’ — a new home in Sweden .
And I heard her exclaim from her white Escalade,
“If you’re gettin’ laid then I’m gettin’ paid.”
She’s not pouting, in fact, she is of jolly good cheer,
Her prenup made Christmas come early this year.

…………………………………………………….Anonymous

 

Next in level of popularity, there is this:

THE DEATH OF THE OLD YEAR

Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,
And tread softly and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.
Old year you must not die;
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old year you shall not die.

He lieth still: he doth not move:
He will not see the dawn of day.
He hath no other life above.
He gave me a friend and a true truelove
And the New-year will take ’em away.
Old year you must not go;
So long you have been with us,
Such joy as you have seen with us,
Old year, you shall not go.

He froth’d his bumpers to the brim;
A jollier year we shall not see.
But tho’ his eyes are waxing dim,
And tho’ his foes speak ill of him,
He was a friend to me.
Old year, you shall not die;
We did so laugh and cry with you,
I’ve half a mind to die with you,
Old year, if you must die.

He was full of joke and jest,
But all his merry quips are o’er.
To see him die across the waste
His son and heir doth ride post-haste,
But he’ll be dead before.
Every one for his own.
The night is starry and cold, my friend,
And the New-year blithe and bold, my friend,
Comes up to take his own.

How hard he breathes! over the snow
I heard just now the crowing cock.
The shadows flicker to and fro:
The cricket chirps: the light burns low:
‘Tis nearly twelve o’clock.
Shake hands, before you die.
Old year, we’ll dearly rue for you:
What is it we can do for you?
Speak out before you die.

His face is growing sharp and thin.
Alack! our friend is gone,
Close up his eyes: tie up his chin:
Step from the corpse, and let him in
That standeth there alone,
And waiteth at the door.
There’s a new foot on the floor, my friend,
And a new face at the door, my friend,
A new face at the door.

……………………………………Tennyson

The two most popular versions of poetry, then, are poems of Humor and Elegy.   The anonymous joke-poem now popular on the internet appeals to the spirit of satire and fun.

The 19th century boasts triumphs of melancholy and sadness, like “The Raven,” a poem which itself was quickly satirized.

Is it an accident that the two most popular versions are two defining moods on opposite ends of the human emotional scale: jest and buffoonery on one hand, quiet, dignified sorrow on the other?

The next level of popularity are probably the twin types of Wisdom and Love.

Poems with a simple, yet philosophical message tend to be sonnet-length;  Shakespeare’s sonnets can be found in this category, and, most recently, perhaps, Frost’s famous “The Road Not Taken.”

Poems of “wisdom” have been on the wane these last 50 years, or at least successful ones of this type, as anything resembling the didactic has been banned by the sophisticated indirectness currently fashionable.

“Do Not Go Gentle” is more a pleading than a piece of advice, but more recently the wisdom bird has been spotted in the poetry of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, for instance.  This may be the essence of both these poets’ appeal: plain-spoken wisdom.  So perhaps this class of poem has not disappeared, after all.

The Love poem, like the Wisdom poem, seems to have declined among the critically acclaimed in the modern, and especially post-modern eras.   You just don’t find MFA grads expressing “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways” sentiments in poetry.

From Petrarch through Auden, love was nearly the sole subject of the lyric.  In poetry today, how far has love fallen?  Opening at random one of those big anthologies, I find this ‘Song’ from Thomas Stanley (d. 1678), and here are the first two of its five stanzas:

I prithee let my heart alone,
Since now ’tis raised above thee,
Not all the beauty thou dost own,
Again can make me love thee;
 
He that was shipwrecked once before
By such a siren’s call,
And yet neglects to shun that shore,
Deserves his second fall.
………………………………………Thomas Stanley

 How delightful that we get not only the Love poem, but a Wisdom poem, too.    This makes a kind of sense in the popularity scheme we are constructing, with Humor and Elegy on the top tier and Love and Wisdom existing together on the second.

Characteristics of the genres can certainly mingle, and many an ambitious bard has probably sought to conciously use Love and Wisdom and Humor and Elegy all in the same poem in order to produce a masterpiece of popularity: one comes to mind right away, in fact: Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress.”  It has the properties of all four, does it not?  It is elegaic: it mourns the swift passage of time; it is a love poem, certainly; it surely has an archness, which is a part of its appeal, and it contains a common-sense argument, as well, and thus is also a wisdom poem.  And as the centuries pass, “To His Coy Mistress” is moving up the ladder of most popular poem of all time.

Is it possible that contemporary poems do not stick in the mind for the simple reason that without one of these four types to guide it, Humor, Elegy, Wisdom, or Love, the popular taste feels immediately at sea, no matter how skilled the versifier?    Might this be some kind of natural law?

Let us, again, open another book at random, this time to a poem from a contemporary; here is the first stanza, from “Victim of Himself” by Marvin Bell:

He thought he saw a long way off the ocean
cresting and falling, bridging the continents,
carrying the whole sound of human laughter
and moans—especially moans, in the mud of misery—
but what he saw was already diluted, evaporating,
and what he felt were his teeth grinding
and the bubbles of saliva that broke on his tongue.

………………………………………………Marvin Bell

Bell is certainly no slouch as a poet, but reading this, why is it pretty certain this poem will never be popular?

.

1922: NOSFERATU & THE WASTE LAND

I was neither living nor dead.”

“One must be so careful these days.”

“That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout?”

“Footsteps shuffled on the stair.”

“What is that noise?”

“Are you alive, or not?”

“bats with baby faces in the violet light”

……………………………………………………..T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

The successful Broadway version of Dracula, which opened in 1927, starring Bela Lugosi in his first English-language role, was produced by Horace Liveright, the first book publisher of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”

Unfortunately, Liveright couldn’t pay royalties to Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe, due to the poor performance of the publishing side of his business.

Modernist writers were not big sellers.

Liveright orignally made his fortune marrying into International Paper (a marriage that didn’t last due to his philandering and drinking) and he founded Modern Library in 1917, which published cheap imprints of European modernists.

Florence, who out-lived her husband Bram Stoker by 25 years, sued the German makers of  Nosferatu (1922) for stealing Bram Stoker’s story, won, and had nearly every copy of the film destroyed.

Liveright struck an unusual deal in publishing Eliot’s scary poem.  The negotiations were led by the pointy-bearded Ezra Pound and his influential, modern art collector, lawyer, John Quinn, British spy (and friend of  ‘The Beast,’ Aleister Crowley, who also worked for British intelligence against German and Irish interests — have a look at this).

Eliot didn’t like how much his friend Scofield Thayer, who ran The Dial, was going to pay him for “The Waste Land,” so here’s what Pound and Quinn came up with for the grim banker.

Before Pound had even begun editing the poem, The Dial agreed to award Eliot its annual, $2,000 Dial Prize for “The Waste Land.”

The Dial then also agreed to purchase 350 books at a discount from Liveright—who would then use the publicity generated by The Dial Prize to help publicize “The Waste Land” and market the books at full price.

Eliot also published the poem in his magazine, The Criterion, in October 1922. The Dial version came out in the same month, and Liveright’s book a little later in December.  Eliot’s earnings from “The Waste Land” in 1922 exceeded his salary at Lloyd’s. Friends Leonard and Virginia Woolf published the poem at their press in 1923.

Bram Stoker was rumored to belong to the Golden Dawn which also housed “the wickedest man in the world,” Aleister Crowley. Bram Stoker, a Protestant Irishman and monarchist,  believed Ireland should remain with the British Empire—the greatest vampire of all?

Was it the spirit of FOETRY which hovered over the birth of “The Waste Land…?”

Definitely creepy.

THE GREATEST STANZA OF ALL TIME IS…

The stanza is the aria of poetry.  If the line zings, the stanza sings.  The stanza is poetry’s true voice, where the poet displays not just melody, but harmony, as well.

The stanza presents not just an image, but an image moving into another.

The stanza is the line out for a spin on the racetrack.

The stanza is the line on the dance floor, the line proposing marriage.

The stanza is the beginning, the middle and the end of the meal.

If a line is a puff, the stanza is the whole cigarette.

If the line skitters, the stanza is the release, the fall, and the landing.

The stanza is the full-length portrait of Painting, the torso of Sculpture, the pillar, the room, of Architecture.

We like poets of the line.  We study poets of the poem.  We  worship poets of the stanza.

Lines can be dropped into letters or conversations or prose.  Stanzas raise the curtain on the muses.

Lines are bites.  Stanzas are plans.

The art of the stanza takes many forms.  It can beat a folk tune in 4/4 time:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

………………………………Andrew Marvell

Or, it can sound almost symphonic:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

……………………………………………………..Edgar Allan Poe

The most remarkable stanzas have a unique design, and are more than simply couplets joined together.

The line exists as a unit of sound/meaning.

The stanza, though it has more parts, and can be pedantically categorized (tercet, quatrain, ballad stanza, Ottava Rima, Spenserian, etc) exists independently as a unit of sound/meaning, as well.

We might say that the “free verse” revolution of the 20th century was not so much a joyous act of freedom as it was an anxious flight from the stanza.

The poetic line did not become important in a vacuum; the shackles were real, and those shackles?

The stanza.

The sociological explanation invariably ignores this, equating ‘old’ poetry with ‘old’ times and ‘new’ or ‘modern’ poetry with ‘new’ or ‘modern’ times.  But this is to push history aside for a vain celebration of the present.

The ‘modern’ poets were not celebrating the ‘modern,’ for the poems never know if they are ‘modern,’ or not.  The poems only know what they are as poems, in terms of line and stanza.

A poem can never say it is modern in a way that history will be convinced.

In the middle of the 19th century, with the rise of prose fiction and prose journalism, poetry was poised to improve on the stanza.   Poe’s ‘Raven’ was a sensation as music, with its unique stanza.   Poe was once accused of stealing his stanza-idea from Coleridge, but Poe said in his defense that the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s” stanza was different in 19 ways, and—we doubt that anyone is surprised—Poe listed every one.

Poe understood (oh that rascal understood everything) that with the rise of prose (Poe was leading the charge with short fiction, essay, prose poem, science fiction and detective fiction) poetry had only technique to save it and the stanza was the key to poetic technique.

Poe saw the tidal wave of prose coming.

Some modern poets pondered protection in houses of stanza and thought, “No way.  This tidal wave’s too big.”

Many modern poets built their poems on sand, and others, rather than be drowned by prose, tried to breathe in prose.

The poets turned into fish.

And drowned anyway.

Is it surprising that the poets most popular in the 20th century, such as Dylan Thomas, Millay, Frost, and Plath, were adept at the stanza?

Millay’s marvelous sonnets—what are these but stanzas?

Plath’s “Daddy” has one of the most original and interesting stanza schemes ever produced.

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