MARGARET ATWOOD “BORES” INTO FRANZ WRIGHT’S “BRIGHT” IN FIGHT WHICH WILL CUT IT TO EIGHT.

BORED by Margaret Atwood

All those times I was bored
out of my mind.  Holding the log
while he sawed it.  Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded.  Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled.  It
wasn’t even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details.  Myopia.  The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover.  The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the greying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would.  The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes.  Such minutiae.  It’s what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows.  He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail.  Why do I remember it as summer
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else.  Perhaps though
boredom is happier.  It is for dogs or
groundhogs.  Now I wouldn’t be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.

Richard Howard selected this Margaret Atwood poem in 1995.  As editor that year, he made his own rule that he would not select poems from poets who had appeared three times previously in the Series, and so, we got an Atwood in 1995, instead of an Ashbery or an Ammons, and so if a Canadian should happen to win the Scarriet All-Time Best American Poetry Tournament, we can all blame Richard Howard.

Franz Wright was not born in the United States and there is something German Romantic about Franz.  Billy Collins picked Wright’s “A Happy Thought” for his 2006 volume, and Billy’s as American as they come, vigilant in his satire of old poetic styles, Roman, French avant garde, Romantic, and Billy likes jazz, and is just a melting pot of humor and wit.  So that’s good.

OK, we’ve seen what Atwood’s got. 

Wright comes out of the tunnel—into the light, ready to play!

Marla, listen to that crowd!

I love crowds. 

Wright knows this could be his last game, in this single-elimination playoff, but he says he’s going to play this like it’s any other game,  like it was his first.

This is to play in the North final.

A Happy Thought

Assuming this is the last day of my life
(which might mean it is almost the first),
I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.

Prepare for what’s known here as death;
have no fear of that strange word forever.
Even I can see there’s nothing there

to be afraid of: having already been
to forever I’m unable to recall
anything that scared me, there, or hurt.

What frightened me, apparently, and hurt
was being born.  But I got over that
with no hard feelings.  Dying, I imagine

it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
but surely no more shocking or prolonged—
It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

Beautiful, hopeful poem.

Wright will make uncanny shots and then miss easy ones.  Let’s see if he’s consistent enough to bring down the tenacious, novel-made-into-major-motion-picture, Booker Prize winning Margaret Atwood.

Wright is playing like he’s possessed!  In a trance, almost, not forcing anything, a long jumper, from waaaay outside…swish!

Wright’s playing with ice in his veins…He’s hitting everything…!

First half, big lead for Wright…

But as we start the second half…oh…another miss…Wright can’t make anything fall…his big lead dwindling…Atwood’s poem has more details and that’s starting to add up for the Canadian….!

Marla, the pictures used for the two poems…Atwood’s may have been more emotionally effective…

That does a play a part, Tom…the photo used for Wright’s poem may have been a little too literal…as you know, these are factors that the poets can’t control…[Richard] Howard may be out-coaching [Billy] Collins here a little bit…

Atwood showing emotional toughness…her poem has all those rich details…Wright trying to find some image he can fall back on…Atwood scores…and we’re tied!  I don’t believe it! 

We’re going into overtime! 

It’s “Now I would know” against “then bright, so bright.” 

What a contest!

Who are you rooting for in this one, Marla?

I soar, I don’t root.  I’m not paid to root, Tom.

Okay, Marla, it’s going back and forth here…

And we’re tied!  Second overtime!

No one’s “bored” by this one!  

Tom, shut up.

Sorry, Marla.  Are you a Dame, by the way, Marla?  Is Margaret a Dame?

Tom, please…earthly titles?  Ha!

These poets want it, and they want it badly.   Both poems…so courageous…and deep…it’s like a couple of badgers tearing at each other…

What a game!

Seconds left, and we’re tied, at the end of the third overtime!

Atwood at the free-throw line.  She has two shots.  If she makes one, she wins.

First shot…

No good!

Here’s the second one…

Good!!!!!!! 

Atwood wins!!!!!

O, Canada!

Damn you, Richard Howard!

There’s nothing left to say…

Atwood is in the Elite Eight.

50 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    March 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    We were questioned about our picture accompanying the Atwood poem. That’s not a young Atwood. It’s merely a portrayal of an adolescent girl who we imagine is the “bored” one in the poem, and who much later comes to realize she shoudn’t have been bored. It is that spirit, expressed in that face, with which we contemplate the poem.

  2. Danteday said,

    March 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    That’s not boredom in that face. What you see there is the hurt that resulted in Franz Wright’s poem.

    The light at the end of the tunnel you associate with Franz Wright’s poem is entirely misplaced as well. “Hopeful poem,” you call it, “beautiful.”

    What poem were you reading?

    What Franz Wright is describing is clearly something you have never experienced, just as the hope in Margaret Atwood’s poem is something entirely outside even your wildest imagination.

    You insult both poems with such inappropriate illustrations.

    And how dare you make these two uniquely sensitive poems compete with each other in a contest. What do they have in common except that they appeared in the BAP?

    What did you hope to gain?

  3. thomasbrady said,

    March 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Danteday,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Did you want Wright to win?

    Could you explain again how I “insulted” both poems?

    And what is the Wright poem explaining that I have never “experienced?” Could you explain that, too?

    Thomas

  4. Danteday said,

    March 24, 2010 at 2:26 am

    I am interested in these two poems equally, and feel it’s wrong to make them fight against each other in the first place. It’s insulting to make combatants out of such poems, even as a joke.

    Both poems are highly ironical. The fact that you take them literally insults their intelligence, so to speak. “A Happy Thought” is NOT a happy thought at all, nor is there light at the end of the tunnel in the simplistic, positivist sense that you are suggesting. “Bored” is NOT about being bored either, which is the whole point of the poem. It’s about concentration, super-human commitment, intense vision even, as the imagery throughout the poem makes clear. The imagery, in fact, testifies AGAINST the narrator’s insistence that it was boredom she was experiencing.

    “Boredom is happier,’ says the grown up woman at the end. “It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn’t be bored.”

    Both poems are about how human beings move away from instinctive responses toward a deeper perception of what life has to offer if you’re ready and willing to accept it. You reply with knee jerks, indicating your own life hasn’t moved very far in that direction.

    You clearly only know what you know, and one wonders why you bother with poetry.

  5. Danteday said,

    March 24, 2010 at 4:59 am

    Perhaps I should have been more candid. I have been following this discussion for some time and am sorry to see that no one is left who is still challenging it.

    There was a particularly relevant exchange right here: https://scarriet.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/ashbery-and-heaney-fall-in-first-round/#comment-1150

    It’s interesting to note that Franz Wright came in on the same thread. Now that one of his poems has come up again, perhaps he’ll say more about how he feels about Scarriet.

  6. thomasbrady said,

    March 24, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Danteday,

    Thank you for your observations.

    Either you take the march madness competition seriously—which you shouldn’t—or, you do not take it seriously, and therefore you can see that it’s merely a platform to discuss and promote poetry.

    If you are publishing a poetry anthology—these are useful, are they not?—don’t you have to include and exclude certain poems, which are, essentially, competing with each other? Life competes with itself.

    As for the Atwood, I agree with your observation, but why, then does the narrator use the term ‘bored?’ The poem may be ‘ironic,’ saying ‘bored’ isn’t really boring, but that’s very clear in the poem; my reading did not go against that; the poem surely plays on the trope of ‘being bored.’

    As for the Wright, you haven’t explained your reading, yet. Poems that say the opposite of what they are saying are not necessarily the stronger for it, but I’ll listen to what you say. Multiple readings are not discouraged here.

    Thanks again,

    Thomas

  7. March 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Keeping in mind that Franz Wright is a devout Christian, a Roman Catholic, in fact, Mr. Brady’s take on this poem may be more accurate than he is given credit for.

  8. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 25, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Gary,
    I think it was the photo of the girl just above that propelled me to come in as Dante. A portrait of boredom? I saw anger, outrage, abuse, the rawest, most impossible sort of hurt. I came in because I felt so angry at Scarriet for having chosen a photo like that at all, what is more thinking it might be an appropriate illustration for Margaret Atwood’s poem. I felt I was an intruder just by looking, that I was trespassing on somebody’s private body.

    As it turns out, I was more right than I ever imagined. The photo is the mug shot of a 19 year old woman who bludgeoned her father to death and will remain in prison for the rest of her life. http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/sirens/2009/aug/07/girl-admits-killing-father/

    pace: OED. [L. ablat. of pax peace]. (in stating a contrary opinion) with due deference to (the person named).

    ~

    In all Franz Wright’s poems there is this feeling too, and one which I very much respect. There is an impossible hurt there as well, and I only read his poetry because he lets me. But I wouldn’t dare speculate what the details might be, or even the exact feelings behind them. How should I presume to know such hurt, how should I presume to be familiar with that sort of suffering?

    Only in one way – to tap my own personal reservoir of darkness. To make sense of it in relation to the details of my own struggle.

    The cross is similar, Gary. I look at the cross, the feet alone are enough, and how should I presume?

    You don’t have to be a Catholic, or even a Christian, to know hurt, or to know that acknowledging such hurt is a kind of light — “bright, so bright.”

    A happy thought? Not in the sense of the light at the end of that tunnel in Scarriet’s photo, which is a crass cliché.

    Christopher

  9. thomasbrady said,

    March 25, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Christopher,

    Thanks for that research. I didn’t know that.

    The pictures are not meant to replace, or stand in, for the poems.

    The one who said, “Life, friends, is boring” committed self-murder. I saw, too, in her face, pain and sorrow, and…boredom. Boredom is a horrible thing. My selection of that face was purely instinctive. It felt right. It made the poem more powerful for me.

    Maybe Atwood can tell us her opinion.

    Tom

  10. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 25, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    You write:

    I saw, too, in her face, pain and sorrow, and…boredom. Boredom is a horrible thing. My selection of that face was purely instinctive. It felt right. It made the poem more powerful for me.

    But did you see any of this in the poem? Yes, you find boredom “horrible,” but so do a lot of speed freaks, gamesters, adolescents and attention-challenged cyber freaks, yet they don’t associate it with the pain and sorrow so vivid in that face.

    In fact, do you see similar pain and sorrow in the imagery in the poem itself — anywhere? Or any of the emotions you “instinctively” saw in that face? Do you see anything that might indicate abuse, emotional or otherwise, or outrage?

    Or did you just see the title and say to your self, “ah yes, boredom,” and click on the first unhappy young female face you found on the net? If so, you did a great injustice both to that suffering young woman and to Margaret Atwood’s poem.

    And the same goes for “A Happy Thought.” Do you still feel that that photo of the light at the end of the railway tunnel expresses what you experience when you read Franz Wright’s poem? Or did you just say, “ah, light,” and head for Photobucket?

    These are serious questions, Tom. You were brilliant on Billy Collins’ stanzas, and know your prosody inside out, but does a poem ever touch you?

    Did Billy Collins’ poem touch you? Or is that not the point?

    Is that not what you’re concerned with when you evaluate poetry?

    C.

  11. thomasbrady said,

    March 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Christopher,

    Yes, poems ‘touch me.’ Why do you keep going on about this? Shall we put on blindfolds and cuff each other? Poems are made of words and this is how they enter my eyes—as words. Once they get inside my brain and ‘touch me,’ I am at a lost to say how they do so—I can only record the recording; I cannot record my heart; I cannot presume to tell what lives there.

    I also do not presume to know the whole truth of what lies behind that photo.
    Are you saying that photo should not be allowed to exist? Here are the lines that are important to me in this light:

    “All those times I was bored
    out of my mind.”

    “I could hardly wait to get
    the hell out of there to
    anywhere else.”

    I think there’s a high-stakes intensity here; I believe I’m seeing and supporting that intensity with my choice of picture.

    I find Atwood’s poem intense enough that it can stand up to that picture. That’s the way I see it.

    I respect that you see it a different way.

    Tom

  12. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 25, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    That’s still not an adequate response, it seems to me, Tom. I still feel you haven’t accounted at all for how you could have “instinctively” seen the “pain” and “sorrow” in the battered face of the girl in the photo and felt what you saw there “made the poem more powerful for me.”

    Do you see any of that face in the body of the poem? Does the following imagery support any of this, for example?

    ……………………………………………It
    wasn’t even boredom, it was looking,
    looking hard and up close at the small
    details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
    the intricate twill of the seat
    cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
    pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
    of dry moss, the blackish and then the greying
    bristles on the back of his neck.
    Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
    I would. The boring rhythm of doing
    things over and over, carrying
    the wood, drying
    the dishes. Such minutiae. It’s what
    the animals spend most of their time at,
    ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
    shuffling the leaves in their burrows. He pointed
    such things out, and I would look
    at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
    the nail. Why do I remember it as summer
    all the time then, although it more often
    rained, and more birdsong?

    This is extremely important to me, because I feel you aren’t in the end truthful with poems. I see you judging them in terms of what you call “positions,” and not in terms of what the poems actually say — and if what a poem says is really “powerful” it’s going to stretch you to your limits even if it’s as simple as “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” — or “Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey” for that matter.

    In a sense I feel you don’t actually read poems at all — you just evaluate them.

    I remember you’re saying quite recently that you had no feeling for metaphor. Is that perhaps the problem? Is it that you can’t read the language of poetry as different from the language of prose?

    Is it that for you the word “bored,” for example, can only say what you “know” already, and that even when used poetically the word can speak to you only as it’s defined in the dictionary?

    Or “happy?”

    Christopher

  13. thomasbrady said,

    March 25, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Christopher,

    I know I’m disagreeing with one of the best, Aristotle, but yes, I think metaphor is highly overrated as a poetic device. I feel metaphor can, when used sparingly, embellish, but it’s not the heart of the matter.

    Let’s say right now I turn into a dog.

    Is the dog (or is it ‘a’ dog) my metaphor, a metaphor for myself? No, I’m really a (‘the’) dog.

    The ancient myths of metamorphosis…I’m curious…do you think that was metaphoric, or a process….?

    Is metaphor an intellectual response to metamorphosis, or magic, perhaps? Is it a modern response to what is essentially magical?

    Tom

  14. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 25, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Jim Crace precedes his 1999 novel, Being Dead, with a poem by Sherwin Stephens (actually written by Crace himself).

    Don’t count on Heaven, or on Hell.
    You’re dead. That’s it. Adieu. Farewell.
    Eternity awaits? Oh, sure!
    It’s Putrefaction and Manure
    And unrelenting Rot, Rot, Rot,
    As you regress, from Zoo. to Bot.
    I’ll Grieve, of course, Departing wife,
    Though Grieving’s never Lengthened Life
    Or coaxed a single extra Breath
    Out of a Body touched by Death.

  15. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 26, 2010 at 12:39 am

    I don’t quite follow you here, Bob. Did you mean that to show that Tom was right, “metaphor is highly overrated as a poetic device,” the poem not containing a single metaphor, or did you mean it as an illustration of what he says about metamorphosis: “Rot, Rot, Rot,/ as you regress, from Zoo. to Bot?”

    I don’t know this novel, but I suspect it’s going to prove Sherwin Stephens (Jim Crace) very wrong. With a title like Being Dead, the novel has got to end up by being about being alive!

    ~

    Tom argues that he only knows what he knows. My argument is that poetry, through special uses of language quite beyond prose, persuades, tricks, cajoles, entertains and wrenches us into perceptions that we have never had before. Those perceptions may be just flashes, hunches, tiny little glimpses of things we never imagined before, or they may be profound changes in our whole way of being. But they’re real — indeed, we may even say “I never guessed that before,” “I had no idea,” “My God!”

    Poems have the potential to educate us in ways that our ordinary, common-sense lives can’t, or haven’t — at least so far.

    Both “Bored” and “A Happy Thought” are poems like that, and my argument is that Tom’s illustrations indicate that for him neither of these poems has anything new to offer him, just the same old boredom, the same old light. That he doesn’t even bother to look.

    Christopher
    .

    P.S. And of course there’s poetry in prose, and vise versa too, and there’s poetry in life. We’re walking down a street in the city and see a Ferrari parked by the curb, or a Buick Roadmaster, just sitting there. And we gape. Pure poetry. Who could ever have believed that something as pedestrian as a car could be so beautiful? And if we’re into cars, or just like things, we know we’ve had a glimpse of transubstantiation, the sort of flesh only angels get to live with in heaven.

    That’s poetry too. Or a face, a young girl way out at low tide, an epiphany some of us say. And we’re never the same again, and bit by bit we become human and, as in Margaret Atwood’s poem, understand why the humdrum’s not boring.

  16. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    No message, just thought it was a neat poem and wanted to put it up, and this post seemed to me the closest fit!

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      March 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm

      What’s “neat” about it, Bob? I have no doubt the poem serves its function very well in the context of the novel, but in itself, what does it do to “interest” you personally so much? For that’s the most important question for any poem. Why is it important? Why is it valuable? Why is it memorable?

      Is it because it articulates a thought or perception you’ve never been able, or allowed yourself, to think before? That human life really does end up in biological dissolution?

      An extremely important realization, I’d say, and without which any religious or philosophical conviction remains meaningless.

      I’d say human consciousness has always begun from here, Bob, including everything that Margaret Atwood writes about in “Bored!”

      Get back to me on this.

      Christopher

  17. Wfkammann said,

    March 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Yes, become “a Mensch.” Much more than flesh and cleverness, Tom. Your a good dancer; especially the side step.

  18. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 26, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Yes, “neat” was a bad word to use, sounds like Jerry Mathers as “The Beaver.” Succint is more like it, compact, making its point with a forceful conciseness, like a devastating blow to the body. The poem will brook no argument on the terms that it establishes….

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      March 27, 2010 at 2:33 am

      I suspect that’s precisely what Jim Crace needed Stephen Sherwin to say right at the beginning of his novel. I suspect that Jim Crace also wouldn’t feel insulted if I said that that’s the major weakness in the poem, that it brooks no argument.

      Being dead. That’s it.

      Franz Wright’s poem is about being dead too, but if you look at it carefully you will see it undermines it’s own terms brilliantly. Even “bright, so bright” is equivocal.

      Which I think all effective poems do, both in the details and in the overall statement or position.

      The quality that poetry thrives on most is uncertainty, I’d say. When a poem doesn’t have it we sometimes call it Victorian. Or Hallmark.

      C.

  19. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 27, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Tom writes:

    “I think metaphor is highly overrated as a poetic device. I feel metaphor can, when used sparingly, embellish, but it’s not the heart of the matter.”

    The world is not with you enough, Tom, it’s obvious, otherwise you’d stop saying things like this. You’d know too much.
    .

    The world is
    not with us enough
    O taste and see

    the subway Bible poster said,
    meaning The Lord, meaning
    if anything all that lives
    to the imagination’s tongue,

    grief, mercy, language,
    tangerine, weather, to
    breathe them, bite,
    savor, chew, swallow, transform

    into our flesh our
    deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
    living in the orchard and being

    hungry, and plucking
    the fruit.
    ……………………………..Denise Levertov

    .
    Before you begin to know you have to get fed up with thinking you already know everything, you have to get really, really, really bored with what you think you know. You have to get so horribly bored you stop saying and doing the same old things over and over again.

    That’s what the girl found out in “Bored,” and I think you should look into it.

    ~

    Before you do metaphor you have to do the world.

    Christopher

  20. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 27, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Tom and Bob,
    My previous comments are hard to reply to, I know, just as it’s hard to define or evaluate a poem like “O Taste and See.” Like “The Red Wheelbarrow,” “O Taste and See” has become a touchstone whose function it is to orient modern readers in the relationship between the inner world of self and ideas, and the outer world of things. They’re the new shorthand of poets, so to speak, 2 different languages inscribed upon the Rosetta Stone of contemporary poetry.

    You can be cynical about them but you can’t deny them. Like The Gettysburg Address in our history, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in our international affairs, they’re there for everybody, and you use them with the assurance that everybody knows what you’re talking about — within the confines of their own understanding and maturity, of course.

    What you could do, on the other hand, is comment on what I say about Jim Crace’s, Margaret Atwood’s, and Franz Wright’s poems, all three of which are available on this thread. Do you find my readings sympathetic? And if not, what would you like to say yourselves?

    Christopher

  21. thomasbrady said,

    March 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Christopher,

    You did make me see the Franz Wright poem in a new light. If the “bright” in that poem is painful to the senses, then it’s not a happy poem at all, but a description of limit and pain. Question: Is it a better poem because your reading eclipses mine, a stronger poem because it can mean two things? It’s the nature of language to have multiple meanings. You put ‘bright’ on the blackboard and ask a class to say what it means and some will say ‘light’ or ‘happy’ and others might say ‘painful.’ This kind of ambiguity is natural in language and thus when I find it in poems I usually see it as a weakness, as a sign that the poet wasn’t able to control his language, because ambiguity is a default occurance; it takes no skill to be ambiguous with language, it just happens, and it happens all the time. I was ‘moved’ or ‘touched’ by the Wright poem because I thought it was expressing a happy thought of life after death…Sucker! Boy, he fooled me! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been ‘moved’ or ‘touched’ by that sentiment at all. Let’s call the professors in and have a huddle: “No, we’re sorry, Mr. Graves…WRONG! The poem has multiple meanings…”bright” can mean light, but it can also mean pain…Mr. Wright is describing a worm’s existence, one that crawls away from light…but also a man’s existence who stares, an idiot, upon the light and becomes blinded…” But my view, Christopher, is, that if we give the professors enough time, they will find the Book of Revelation and the History of the War of the Roses in Franz Wright’s poem and make fools of us all. You didn’t see Jesus and the Lamb and the seven burning stars…? I saw them immediately!
    If all that material were in Franz Wright’s poem, would it be able to move, to breathe, to see? Would it be able to, lickety-split, slip into our hearts? No, it would sit there and fester with all its “knowledge.” It would die. If poems turn into ‘arguments’ about what’s in them or not, I can see how most people who want to be ‘moved’ or ‘touched’ by poems would just walk away from it all and say to the disputants and the wise men, ‘you can have it. I don’t want to argue about what’s in a poem all day, thanks.’ Isn’t that what Whitman was saying to the ‘learned astronomers?’ Perhaps Whitman was confusing science and poetry, but when Whitman took his walk in perfect silence beneath the stars, was he looking for…’Sucker! You missed the whole point! We must study the stars, moron!!’?? I was having a Walt Whitman in silence beneath the stars moment with the Franz Wright poem, just a blissful moment, and it gave me pleasure, and sure, I suppose there will always be a learned astronomer to tell me differently, but I think there has to be a point where we say, ‘this is a poem, it’s not the stars, it’s not life’ and none of us can look at everything at once, and so if we always feel we have to watch out or we’ll ‘miss’ something, like reading a poem is crossing a busy street… where you’re always thinking ‘am I going to miss something somebody else saw…?’ I resist that, I look with pleasure at a poem, not with wariness, and the first way to resist the bullcrap element is to realize that if the poet needs you to see all these things and do all this work for him, the poet is wrong, and the reader is right. What the reader takes away from the poem is the poem, the poem is not what the poet thinks we ought to get.

    Thomas

  22. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I think you better read the poem again, Tom — because the pain I was talking about had nothing to do with eye strain.

    A Happy Thought

    Assuming this is the last day of my life
    (which might mean it is almost the first),
    I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.

    Prepare for what’s known here as death;
    have no fear of that strange word forever.
    Even I can see there’s nothing there

    to be afraid of: having already been
    to forever I’m unable to recall
    anything that scared me, there, or hurt.

    What frightened me, apparently, and hurt
    was being born. But I got over that
    with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine

    it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
    but surely no more shocking or prolonged—
    It’s dark as I recall, then bright, so bright.

    Your mind is so on rails that if somebody says “death” to you you hear fairy lights. What Franz Wright actually says, comparing dying with being born, is:

    …………………………….Dying, I imagine

    it will be the same deal [i.e. as birth], lonesomer maybe,
    but surely no more shocking or prolonged—
    It’s dark as I recall [i.e. he recalls birth], then bright, so bright.

    A “happy thought” indeed.

    Where are you when you read poems?

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      “It will be the same deal”

      What does that mean, Christopher?

      • Christopher Woodman said,

        March 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm

        i.e. the same struggle, the same raw deal, the same crap — and even lonesomer, if you can imagine

  23. thomasbrady said,

    March 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    There’s this perception that poets are these sweet, benevolent creatures always looking out for the well-being of their readers, working their little fingers to the bone for the sake of their readers, working from noon to night in the vineyard and in the kitchen to give the reader a little sweetness and if anyone says anything against a poem or a poet they must be this horrible, evil person.

    The critic is the nasty brute who insults the poet, the poor poet who slaved away in the orchard and the field and over the stove to bring a drop of goodness to mankind. Right?

    Isn’t this how we see it?

    Now I look at that Levertov poem, and I’ve never seen it before. She has worked in the orchard from noon to night and slaved in the kitchen and I better like this poem. And if I say anything against her poem, I’ll be put in the stocks, I will. That nice lady baked me a pie! And what did I, do? I said I didn’t like the pie! You can’t say that! What a nasty person I am, not like to like the poor lady’s pie.

    The reality’s quite different, though, isn’t it?

    The poet’s like the spider sitting in her web, and you, the little fly, get stuck in those words covered up in the stickiness of obligation. The poet will cry and you’ll be a mean man, and if you don’t like the poem all the mothers and the grandmothers and the children will hate you forever.

    The critic, however, eats grandmothers for breakfast.

    No, the reality’s different. The truth is quite, quite different.

    The handsome critic gives you no obligation to like what he or she is saying. The critic doesn’t trick you with ambiguous meanings and lure you in with confusing words all smothered with the stickiness of horrid obligation. The critic explains it and you take it or leave it. There’s no trickery. The critic’s whole purpose is to untangle trickery and wash away the stickiness of endless obligation in Letters and polite society. The critic says there’s a web here and a web there and here’s the flower upon which you want to land. And we agree or disagree–without any sticky obligation to love something.

    Now is it really true that none had ever tasted and seen until Ms. Levertov?

    Is it really true?

    Buzz, buzz

  24. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Ms. Levertov did not invent this idea — it’s as old as Zen, even as old as the Tao. Denise Levertyov merely wrote the poem at an oportune moment, and of course had considerable talent as a poet as well as a rich soul, and subsequent readers, including me, did the rest.

    You make the same silly remarks about William Carlos Williams, describing the moment in which he wrote “The Red Wheelbarrow” as “pretentious.” He just wrote a nice little poem, that’s all — it was we who did the rest!

    You’re so stuck in your anti-modernist position you’re incapable of reading even as simple a little poem as “The Red Wheelbarrow” with an open mind. You just strike out at it blindly with your anti-modernist schtick.

  25. thomasbrady said,

    March 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    “old as Zen, even as old as the Tao.”

    So this is how you defend Levertov?

    But on the other hand, ‘Red Wheel Barrow’ is a ‘nice little poem.’

    So, either I’m picking on a ‘nice little poem’ or I’m ignorant of the great, old, magnificent truths of Zen and Tao…. I can’t take a look at a poem and say…’You know what? This poem does nothing for me. For me, this poem is a failure…’ for if I say this, I’m an apostate, a fiend, a devil…’striking blindly with my anti-modernist schtick’ as if I’m somehow against all that’s ‘modern’ because I reject certain poems…I don’t care what ‘big ideas’ they are supposed to represent, or what ‘nice little’ aspects I’m supposed to appreciate…if I don’t like a specific poem, I don’t like a specific poem…and there’s no harm in that…

  26. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    You twist everything, Tom. You’re only interested in arguing, and have no interest in dialogue — a spoiled child.

    I quit.

  27. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 27, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    You twist everything, Tom — I never said this about Levertov. I said it about the simple, ancient truth upon which the poem was based. You said she invented it. I said she didn’t.

    I said “The Red Wheelbarrow” is a simple little poem in the sense that it was not pretentious in its inception. You said William Carlos Williams was writing “pretentious modern junk” when he wrote it, and he obviously wasn’t. He just wrote it — the poem’s subsequent role as a touchstone of modernism had nothing whatsoever to do with his intention.

    But you never listen. You’re only interested in arguing, and have no interest in dialogue — a spoiled child, you’ll say anything that suits your philosophical position.

    And you’re proud of your intransigence too. You’re proud to be perverse.

    I don’t understand why you pretend to like poetry at all — all you like to do is pigeon-hole it.

    Indeed, you stuff it in the hole before you even read it!

    ~

    I’m exhausted. I don’t need this and I quit.

  28. thomasbrady said,

    March 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    “He just wrote it.”

    Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps we should all quit and go home. Let’s just live. I’m all for that.

    Except…I’m not happy.

    Perhaps I’m too much like this fellow…

  29. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    And now for something completely different….

    THE EWART ORGANIZATION

    Gavin Ewart

    The Chairman’s a charming graduate.
    He does no work. He just inspires everybody.

    The Deputy Chairman makes a few decisions.
    He’s very good at speaking after dinner.

    The Managing Director shouts down the telephone.
    His worries affect the lining of his stomach.

    The executives wear dark suits, collars and ties.
    They live their lives in memos of meetings.

    The sales force whizz round the country in cars.
    They sell soap even when the roads are icy.

    The men on the factory floor are bored to extinction.
    They’re not alive, they go through the motions.

    The secretaries are picked for their nubile attractions.
    They type, varnish their nails, tell everything often.

    There’s a lot of life in the Ewart Organization.
    Needless to say, I am the Chairman.

  30. Desmond Swords said,

    March 27, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    The point of discussing

    I’m all poem’d out

  31. thomasbrady said,

    March 28, 2010 at 12:02 am

  32. Desmond Swords said,

    March 28, 2010 at 5:49 am

    . take no notice Bob, i’m a Fan of your poetry.

    . i haven’t read much of it, but what i have: Brilliant, Love, Fantastic, Soul: No, no it is not minor, but major baby. same as gary’s poems have: Bodily Life Force Sourced Now – bravo! lettered Fitzgerald, sheesh!- now: BLFSN.

    Ogham, in four divisions of five Letters, the Beith-luis-nin alphabet of an ancient fourth century AD island, gary baby – thats yo erin go blogger I know to be truthfully Irish American – so patriotic with a box of matches, you could be a very safe bet, at least two-to-one, possibly a royal flush, when push came to shove and ‘fuck off’.

    You remind of James Kelly, a poet from Kerry in the south-west, home of the name Fitzgerald. My name, Kevin Desmond, is essentially – Fitzgerald – because the Fitzgeralds were the Earls of Desmond, Deasmhuman and the largest potentates on the island, for three hundred years, from the Normans arrival to their fall during the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland.

    Me and you have the same poetic itch, switch and datum-point: Tuatha De Danann island of Ireland (before, bro) the conversion into what it is now. A brash trashy place full of slappers and gansters, skangers and mingers, begorrah dopplegangers and RTE.

    Contemporary Irish culture, for this **** flyting in Dublin Gary, BLFSN – gra agus siochain mo chara – the longest string of Gaelic word one’s spun thus far in one’s career as a **** Gary you ****.

    Art Organization

    Gaz Fitzgerald: Twentieth

    Chairman’s pet graduate,
    does no work – charming everybody

    Deputy Reader – decide if he is
    good at speaking after dinner

    or not: Managing Director material

    shout down a telephone
    ‘worries of stomach effect’

    line in the literature blogs: Letter
    executive with spectacle lens – collaring

    casually, as always, a suit, the sweater
    anorak and live legend, living in memos

    meetings, selling country-force – whizz
    about the place, rounded, grounded

    being country of the cars, Dolly Parton

    soap-soul even when the selling
    of icy men on the factory floor-road

    bored yourselves to extinction: Bob
    I’m not alive, you know that, don’t

    you?- go through the motion of play
    and perform – rehearse executive

    telling everything secretary – picked
    for your nubile skin and attraction

    to type ratio, varnish often and nail
    needless to a nailed organization

    say, often impaling with a cross
    on the lot of life – organization –

    ‘I am the Chairman of you’ – too
    too silly to take kinda seriously

    organization -baby!- yeah

  33. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 28, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Midnight Lamentation

    Harold Monro

    When you and I go down
    Breathless and cold,
    Our faces both worn back
    To earthly mould,
    How lonely we shall be!
    What shall we do,
    You without me,
    I without you?

    I cannot bear the thought
    You, first, may die,
    Nor of how you will weep,
    Should I.
    We are too much alone;
    What can we do
    To make our bodies one:
    You, me; I, you?

    We are most nearly born
    Of one same kind;
    We have the same delight,
    The same true mind.
    Must we then part, we part;
    Is there no way
    To keep a beating heart,
    And light of day?

    I could now rise and run
    Through street on street
    To where you are breathing-you,
    That we might meet,
    And that your living voice
    Might sound above
    Fear, and we two rejoice
    Within our love.

    How frail the body is,
    And we are made
    As only in decay
    To lean and fade.
    I think too much of death;
    There is a gloom
    When I can’t hear your breath
    Calm in some room.

    O, but how suddenly
    Either may droop;
    Countenance be so white,
    Body stoop.
    Then there may be a place
    Where fading flowers
    Drop on a lifeless face
    Through weeping hours.

    Is then nothing safe?
    Can we not find
    Some everlasting life
    In our one mind?
    I feel it like disgrace
    Only to understand
    Your spirit through your word,
    Or by your hand.

    I cannot find a way
    Through love and through;
    I cannot reach beyond
    Body, to you.
    When you or I must go
    Down evermore,
    There’ll be no more to say
    -But a locked door.

  34. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 28, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Backdropp Addresses Cowboy

    Margaret Atwood

    Starspangled cowboy
    sauntering out of the almost-
    silly West, on your face
    a porcelain grin,
    tugging a papier-mache cactus
    on wheels behind you with a string,

    you are innocent as a bathtub
    full of bullets.

    Your righteous eyes, your laconic
    trigger-fingers
    people the streets with villains:
    as you move, the air in front of you
    blossoms with targets

    and you leave behind you a heroic
    trail of desolation:
    beer bottles
    slaughtered by the side
    of the road, bird-
    skulls bleaching in the sunset.

    I ought to be watching
    from behind a cliff or a cardboard storefront
    when the shooting starts, hands clasped
    in admiration,

    but I am elsewhere.
    Then what about me

    what about the I
    confronting you on that border
    you are always trying to cross?

    I am the horizon
    you ride towards, the thing you can never lasso

    I am also what surrounds you:
    my brain
    scattered with your
    tincans, bones, empty shells,
    the litter of your invasions.

    I am the space you desecrate
    as you pass through.

  35. Desmond Swords said,

    March 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    A Bullet Cowboy

    dressed dripping red, bleached
    sunsets target you, heroic Fox

    boy – broadcast the names aye
    of the dead

    dead trail of desolation name: Me

    watching from behind a cliff

    when the shooting starts,
    hands clasped in admiration,

    on that border you always are
    trying to cross – anonymously

    grave of broken glass, poor
    scholar, papier-mache cross,

    and the dust, bent pauperized
    cardboard storefront

    elsewhere you an aye blooms,
    the I confronting you

    from the horizon – anonymity
    rides toward your thing

    unamed
    you will never possess

    aye the brain, lasso graves
    surrounding you: My bomb

    scatters your empty rhetoric
    anonymous tincan shell-litter

    boned trash of our invasions,
    assualt, assay in Letters.

    I am the space you desecrate
    as you pass through beating

    Faer the sound of clubby aye
    and killing, cracking skulls

    laconic you – I ought to be
    that beer-bottle thrust

    porcelain ivory barb, storm
    key, code and y’all Sloppy

    Bob.

  36. Desmond Swords said,

    March 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Bray Anonymous David
    Lesson: Beckham listens

    to you and I breathless and old,
    his face’s worn away
    back to earthly mould.

    How lonely shall we be,
    what shall we do within
    shall without David, you?

    I can barely beleive
    he thought of: Me first,

    will die should aye discover
    our better:

    But what else can one do
    to make it, David Beckham?

    The fan of me and you, alone
    who’d sweep bodies – clear

    mostly parts, of one same kind;
    Of one same whole.

    true delight,
    the same crude mind.

    We must part – part
    there a way for our keeper

    beating hearts’ aye, goal
    of day rising – light all there

    now risen and run
    through street on street
    to a realm within – will

    without direct – beat
    you, that we might meet,
    so that a living voice

    can sound beyond Faer
    and rejoice Within our love
    that this too, too shall be

    done: Faer at the weigh-in
    gate of heavenly frail light

    the body from light is made
    Faer only in decay, in death

    we graduate, trade what is
    being lost, for what is learnt

    David Beckham
    I think I think too much

    I think I think too much
    of death’s high noon

    and your lasso cross tatoo
    when I hear-see-touch-taste
    smell your spirit calming

    in the conspiracy class – room

    portion, part and whole
    of this patch where eloquence

    renders logical the oh suddenly
    Faer who’d suddenly come

    drop in from the ether;
    countenance be so gray,
    grading by your fame

    Nobody who’d stoop, no body
    I knew
    who you were in the first

    place, may you be a place
    flourishing and perishing

    flowers in bloom, fading
    imbas – dropped and lifeless

    face the weeping hour
    safe can find some limited,

    brief, neverlasting life, our
    mind alone knew disgrace

    faer spread through our word,
    by your faer hand, scripting

    beyond the body in love
    you cannot find
    live happily ever after, no

    more to say but crooked, faer
    butterfly and nom de guerre

    door to Anonymous hawk
    fly

  37. March 29, 2010 at 5:34 am

    […] he’s not at all happy with what’s happening at Scarriet either, and feels he might be happier back in the PFoA fold. True, there’s no commentary […]

  38. April 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

    […] he’s not at all happy with what’s happening at Scarriet either, and feels he might be happier back in the PFoA fold, he’s that old. True, […]

  39. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 30, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Vers de Société

    by Philip Larkin

    ‘My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
    To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
    You’d care to join us?’ In a pig’s arse, friend.
    Day comes to an end.
    The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
    And so ‘Dear Warlock-Williams: I’m afraid’ –

    Funny how hard it is to be alone.
    I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
    Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
    Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
    Who’s read nothing but ‘Which’;
    Just think of all the spare time that has flown

    Straight into nothingness by being filled
    With forks and faces, rather than repaid
    Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
    And looking out to see the moon thinned
    To an air-sharpened blade.
    A life, and yet how sternly it’s instilled

    ‘All solitude is selfish’. No one now
    Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
    Talking to God (who’s gone too); the big wish
    Is to have people nice to you, which means
    Doing it back somehow.
    ‘Virtue is social’. Are, then, these routines

    Playing at goodness, like going to church?
    Something that bores us, something we don’t do well
    (Asking that ass about his fool research)
    But try to feel, because, however crudely,
    It shows us what should be?
    Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

    Only the young can be alone freely.
    The time is shorter now for company,
    And sitting by a lamp more often brings
    Not peace, but other things.
    Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
    Whispering ‘Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course’ –

  40. Poem/Link support said,

    April 20, 2011 at 9:05 am

    It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers

    While I was building neat
    castles in the sandbox,
    the hasty pits were
    filling with bulldozed corpses

    and as I walked to the school
    washed and combed, my feet
    stepping on the cracks in the cement
    detonated red bombs.

    Now I am grownup
    and literate, and I sit in my chair
    as quietly as a fuse

    and the jungles are flaming, the under-
    brush is charged with soldiers,
    the names on the difficult
    maps go up in smoke.

    I am the cause, I am a stockpile of chemical
    toys, my body
    is a deadly gadget,
    I reach out in love, my hands are guns,
    my good intentions are completely lethal.

    Even my
    passive eyes transmute
    everything I look at to the pocked
    black and white of a war photo,
    how
    can I stop myself.

    It is dangerous to read newspapers.

    Each time I hit a key
    on my electric typewriter,
    speaking of peaceful trees

    another village explodes.

    Margaret Atwood

    http://treegappoets.blogspot.com/2010/04/bombs-thing-art-of-war-part-i.html

  41. September 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    “…Maestro von Ochsenstein…. [was] famous for his unwillingness to bear the company of anyone who bored him — he had the idea that he was a kind of lonely Don Quixote who waged a constant and solitary war against an invisible concept he called The Vulture! — The Monster! — The Beast that feasts on Everything! — Endlessly! Destroying Everything! Boredom! — The most horrifying element — More horrifying than the most deadly disease because it’s a living Death! — a Scourge! — an Abomination! and as such he wouldn’t tolerate a boring cook in their home, a boring maid, a boring driver, a boring butler or even a boring dog — anything that Maestro von Ochsenstein had any contact with could not bore him — Period! …” — from the novel His Secret Little Wife by Fredrica Wagman

  42. December 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Five O’Clock Shadow

    This is the time of day when we in the Men’s ward
    Think “one more surge of the pain and I give up the fight.”
    When he who struggles for breath can struggle less strongly:
    This is the time of day which is worse than night.

    A haze of thunder hangs on the hospital rose-beds,
    A doctors’ foursome out of the links is played,
    Safe in her sitting-room Sister is putting her feet up:
    This is the time of day when we feel betrayed.

    Below the windows, loads of loving relations
    Rev in the car park, changing gear at the bend,
    Making for home and a nice big tea and the telly:
    “Well, we’ve done what we can. It can’t be long till the end.”

    This is the time of day when the weight of bedclothes
    Is harder to bear than a sharp incision of steel.
    The endless anonymous croak of a cheap transistor
    Intensifies the lonely terror I feel.

    John Betjeman

  43. thomasbrady said,

    December 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light!

    “I’m exhausted. I don’t need this and I quit.” —Christopher Woodman


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