WHY CAN’T WE JOKE ABOUT POETRY?

Is poetry today—not the old poetry of Keats or Tennyson or Frost—but the poetry of the present moment, the MFA/Writing Program/Pulitzer/ Bollingen/Nobel Prize/Poetry Foundation/Academy of American Poets/MLA Conference/museum-curated/university-driven/MacArthur Genius Fellowship/National Endowment for the Arts/Naropa Institute/Poetry Society of America/Poets House/Chicago Poetry Project/Bowery Poetry Club/poetry, has this poetry become a church, a religion, one more vast and august and sacred and interconnected than anything dreamed of before?

Defending this vast religious network is natural to those it subsidizes and supports, but what happens to critical thought when all its energy is put into defending a nebulous subsidizing entity that defines itself against all sorts of normative constructs making up what we might call ‘real life?’  

Is a member of a church or religion capable of real critical thought, capable of laughing at his or her organization and their own identity created and nurtured by that organization?

Is poetry today a prisoner of ill-humored religious demagoguery, cut off from public life in a luxury motel of perpetuating self-interest, in which poets read and educate each other in a superficial, pyramid-scheme environment of self-bred banality?

What is poetry that exists only for itself?  What use is poetry for a select few who define themselves against those who are not subsidized by it?

The MFA poet would, of course, reply, in a defensive rage, that it is not his fault that the rest of the world cares not for poetry and that his MFA existence is not for itself alone.  The MFA poet would reply that he fully intends to reach out to the non-poetic world when his apprenticeship and professional training is at an end.  For after all, the whole MFA apparatus is part of the culture and receives its funding from the education sector of the nation’s economy, and the whole point of education is to educate and serve the non-educated, and not become an end in itself.  The MFA poet and the support system implicitly operate on this pedagogical assumption, but if the rest of society never finally benefits from poetry that it never reads, and if the poetry consumed by its own MFA producers never rises above a self-stroking function, then this whole pedagogical assumption should be questioned, at the very least, and steps should be taken to break down the wall that separates the initiated and the non-initiated, since both have a stake in the game.

The MFA poet naturally does not wish to entertain the possibility that his apprenticeship might become an end in itself, that his training may become a trip down a black hole of self-delusion, with a membership in a prickly, defensive cult.

Because here’s the thing: one can defend the mentorship of the young poet and all the benefits of MFA education, but the fact remains that two separate worlds exist: the MFA world and the real world.  Poetry has no public today.

The defensive, humorless posture of po-biz is perhaps a symptom of 1) the vast subsidized, insular nature of po-biz itself and 2) the great divide between po-biz and the real world. 

Is it too late to save poetry?  Is it too late to de-professionalize poetry and give it back to the people?  Will poetry remain a humorless, over-examined, mad-hatter, reactionary cult forever?

This is not a critique of the poetry itself, but of the delivery system.  Slam is stand-up comedy/political rant and has about as much to do with poetry as American Idol.  Outside of the academy, poetry has no real existence in the grown-up world.  Inside of the academy…well, that’s the problem: it remains inside the academy.  It never leaves.  The non-educated go in to get their MFA— and never come out.   Poetry never gets a chance to be tested in the real world, to learn from the real world, to be written in the real world.  An MFA-trained poet can go into the prisons and the schools, but this is not the same thing as poety written in the real world; this is merely a good-will gesture, a mere band-aid, self-congratulatory gesture.   It is the same gesture made by the avant poet who produces something incomprehensible in the name of ‘progress.’  It is insincere.  It is a trick.

This is not to say that well-meaning and good elements do not exist in po-biz today.  This is not to say that the faithful do not have good intentions.   Of course there is good already in place.  But for the good of society at large, sometimes systems must be able to question the very essence of their existence in a good-natured way, in new ways, in ways that playfully expand horizons and question assumptions.  Poetry should keep people out of prison in the first place.  We must face the idea that professionalizing poetry could be killing it.

This is not a new complaint.  It is basically the same complaint Dana Gioia made, and many before him, including Plato and Sidney and Shelley and Keats and Arnold and Edmund Wilson.  It is a plea that poetry be truly used for a good end, not a bad one.

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26 Comments

  1. thomasbrady said,

    April 19, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I thought we’d have a real discussion going in hot 100…it started out so promising…I can’t understand why people want to stay beneath a rock…I think it’s just that poets today are all professionalized and associated with a university and they don’t want to get in trouble…I guess it’s understandable…scarriet comes across as maverick and ultimately un-professional and so the ‘professional’ element, which is really all that’s left, every last blade of grass has been clipped, is only equipped to thrive in a very specialized, self-stroking, artificial atmosphere…then there’s slam/pub poets like desmond swords who are only in it for the politics…the ‘amateur poet’ of old simply doesn’t exist anymore…they’ve all been absorbed by the university…and the university demands a certain type of behavior…franz was highly insulted by what s. wrote about him in the hot 100 comments, but he’s not coming back to defend himself…i think that would validate scarriet in a way…scarriet would then exists as a platform for a real debate between franz and someone else…but franz does not want to validate scarriet…he just wants to attack it…he’s the attack dog for the poetry establishment which reads scarriet in silent horror…that’s good enough for me, really, that scarriet is the gadfly that says what people think but cannot say, it’s read…i can see that by the blog stats… but those who read it cannot say anything because what it says about them is true…

  2. wfkammann said,

    April 19, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Here’s some more perspective from David Alpaugh

    February 21, 2010
    The New Math of Poetry

    By David Alpaugh

    It’s hard to figure out how much poetry is being published in America. When I suggested to Michael Neff, founder of Web del Sol, that anyone can start an online journal for $100, he pointed out that anyone can start one via a blog for nothing. If current trends persist, the sheer amount of poetry “published” is likely to double, quadruple, “ten-tuple” in the decades ahead.

    Who is writing all this poetry? In quieter times, the art’s only significant promoters were English professors who focused on reading poetry for its own sake. Today colleges across America have hundreds of programs devoted to teaching men and women how to actually write the stuff. Those in charge of undergraduate and M.F.A. programs have cast themselves in the role of poetry-writing cheerleaders who are busy assuring tens of thousands of students that they are talented poets who should expect their work not only to be published but to win awards as well.

    The notion that writing and performing “poetry” is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can’t pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a “chapbook” for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of “publication.”

    The new math is stunning. Len Fulton, editor of Dustbooks, which publishes the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, estimates the total number of literary journals publishing poetry 50 years ago as 300 to 400. Today the online writers’ resource Duotrope’s Digest lists more than 2,000 “current markets that accept poetry,” with the number growing at a rate of more than one new journal per day in the past six months. Some of these journals publish 100 poems per issue, others just a dozen. If we proceed cautiously and assume an average of 50 poems per publication per year, more than 100,000 poems will be published in 2010.

    But hold on to your pantoums, your prose poems, and ghazals. If journals merely continue to grow at the current rate, there will be more than 35,000 of them by 2100, and approximately 86 million poems will be published in the 21st century!

    As stunning as those estimates are, they are likely to prove conservative. That’s because Duotrope’s editors “do not attempt to list all the poetry journals that are currently publishing” and, more important, because the rate of growth will almost certainly continue to rise as technology makes it easier for editors to accommodate the increasing number of poets clamoring for publication.

    For those who protest that most of these thousands of journals can be dismissed as marginal—that we need pay attention to only a handful of “prestigious” ones, like Poetry and The New Yorker—may I suggest that there could be a few Blakes or Dickinsons swimming with the guppies in that wide prosodic sea? If a truly titanic poet were to appear, wouldn’t one of the less visible but more adventuresome journals—Retort Magazine, say (“we favor the cutting edge over the blunt of the handle, the avant-garde over backward walking”)—be more likely to be his or her publisher than would status-conscious professional journals like Ploughshares and American Poetry Review?

    Perhaps serious readers should just ignore literary journals altogether and focus on poets talented enough to achieve book publication. Won’t that make reading manageable in 2010 and in the years ahead?

    Alas, books, too, are victims of the new math. Fifty years ago, the Yale Younger Poets was the only poetry-book contest in America. If this year’s 330-plus contests continue to grow at the rate of just a half-dozen new ones per year, more than 50,000 prize-winning volumes will have been published by the end of this century. Add the hundreds of non-prize-winning chapbooks and collections with similar growth rates, and poetry books will easily top 100,000 by 2100.

    What about anthologies? Aren’t responsible editors who love great poetry eagerly reading all this verse, panning for gold? Hasn’t it always been and isn’t it still the mission of the anthologist to discover and present the best poetry available?

    That may have been the goal in the days of Francis Turner Palgrave, Louis Untermeyer, Oscar Williams, Donald Allen, and Hayden Carruth; but the new math of poetry can fill us with only sympathy for the plight of editors attempting to gather honey from the acres of poetry that dot.com our literary landscape today.

    Were a conscientious anthologist of this year’s poetry to spend just 10 minutes evaluating each published poem, he or she would need to work 16,666 hours, which means it would take eight years to assess the eligible poetry for a 2010 anthology. If the current rate of growth continues, an anthologist trying to do that in 2100 will spend 141 years reading what promises to be that year’s minimum of 1,760,750 published poems.

    Faced with this runaway math, we should not be surprised to find editors abandoning their noble search for the best poetry available, in favor of more practical, defensive selection strategies. Consider the titles of this baker’s dozen of contemporary anthologies (culled from the hundreds that show up on Amazon.com):

    We Used to Be Wives: Divorce Unveiled Through Poetry

    Language Poetries: An Anthology

    Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry

    Intimate Kisses: The Poetry of Sexual Pleasure

    Place of Passage: Contemporary Catholic Poetry

    American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement

    How Much Earth: An Anthology of Fresno Poets

    Christ in the Poetry of Today

    Sanctified: An Anthology of Poetry by LGBT Christians

    Taste: An Anthology of Poetry About Food

    Kindness: A Vegetarian Poetry Anthology

    Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

    Rubber Side Down: The Biker Poet Anthology

    Restricting anthologies to LGBT Christians, language poets, or residents of Fresno, or limiting subjects to vegetarianism or sexual pleasure reduces submissions to a manageable level and makes it easier to market books. The sociology of the poet, the school of poetry, or subject matter trump the art itself. Who can deny that there are more people interested in sex, food, Christ, or rock ‘n’ roll than in ars poetica? Still, when the difficult questions “Is this an exciting poet? An original poem worth presenting to readers?” become “Is this a good biker poem?” or “Does this poet really unveil divorce?,” the likelihood that great poetry will emerge is much diminished.

    Such “anthologies” are less harmful, however, than those that actually pretend to select the “best.” David Lehman and the guest editors of Scribner’s Best American Poetry (hereafter known as BAP) have been protesting for years that they are just trying to publish a bunch of decent poems. Yet year after year, their title continues to make its glittering promise, with a cynical wink at sales.

    The notion that a guest editor or team of screeners would read 100,000 poems is absurd. A look at the journals BAP routinely draws from gives a good clue as to methodology. In BAP 2008, for example, just 10 of the 2,000-plus journals and magazines available for consideration accounted for 37 of the 75 poems selected—49 percent. As in past issues, BAP 2008 privileged Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, and a dozen or so other recurring publications. The probability that such a sliver of journals would continue to yield the lion’s share of the “best” American poetry year after year were objectivity in play is unlikely.

    Given that guest editors are faced with the impossibility of reading even a fraction of the poetry being published, it should not shock us if they favor the work of students, friends, and colleagues. Although Robert Hass freely admitted (in his preface to BAP 2001) that he had included the work of “friends,” he neglected to note that one of those friends was his wife. Few have been as generous toward associates as Lyn Hejinian (BAP 2004), who included 13 language-poetry colleagues whose work she had previously published and promoted as editor of Tuumba Press.

    BAP editors recognize the need to throw in a maverick journal or obscure poet or two each year to make it look like they are fulfilling the grand promise of their title. Although Scribner wants readers to believe that they are purchasing the “best,” David Orr, in The New York Times Book Review, could be describing the entire series when he writes that the poems selected for 2004 “run the usual gamut from very good to slightly dull to what-were-you-thinking.” Pinning the word “best” on such a “gamut” could win an award for Best Chutzpah.

    Each year, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses (“best”—there’s that word again) anthologizes a few dozen poems (along with fiction and essays). Here’s Pushcart’s own description of its nomination process: “Little magazine and small-book-press editors (print or online) may make up to six nominations from their year’s publications.” Editor Bill Henderson informs me that Pushcart received “4,000 to 5,000″ poetry nominations for its 33rd edition.

    Of course, many literary journals and presses don’t bother to nominate—especially if they’ve noticed this zinger at the end of Pushcart’s description of its modus operandi: “We also accept nominations from our staff of distinguished Contributing Editors.” There are a whopping 232 of them listed for 2009, most employed by college writing programs.

    No surprise that 28 of the 30 poets in the 2009 edition chosen by the creative-writing professors Phillis Levin and Thomas Lux are college teachers or retirees, in most cases from writing departments. A little Googling turns up multiple collegial and personal connections between winning poets and “Distinguished Nominating Editors.” One “winner” boasts a nomination by his wife (she uses her maiden name). Another had been instrumental in procuring a reading gig for one and a judging gig for another of his “nominators” at his university. Pushcart Press and its distributor, W.W. Norton, would probably like to see 50,000 M.F.A. program “nominees” and 5,000 “Contributing Editors,” all of them using the book as a required text for their writing classes (and in the years ahead probably will). As for the poetry, Orr’s “very good to slightly dull to what-were-you-thinking” applies even more so here than to Best American Poetry.

    Online, the most visited anthology (millions of hits per month) is Poetry Daily, which reprints a poem each day from books or journals. Extrapolating, that means it will publish 36,500 poems in the 21st century. Much impressed by prizes, university position, and po-biz power, the site’s editors routinely ignore excellent poems by independent poets in favor of weaker ones by M.F.A. pros and po-biz heavies. Like its hard-copy cousins, Poetry Daily makes no serious attempt to present the best American poetry to the thousands of readers who visit its Web site daily.

    Keep in mind that, when it comes to the new math of poetry, we can see only the tip of the iceberg. Unfathomable are the countless self-published chapbooks and collections printed each year, to say nothing of the millions of personal Web sites, blogs, and Facebook pages where self-published poetry appears. I remind readers who believe that such poetry can be dismissed unread that William Blake self-published his Songs of Innocence and Experience, Walt Whitman his Leaves of Grass, A.E. Housman his A Shropshire Lad, and that many of the poets who appear in prestigious journals today routinely self-publish their chapbooks.

    The most common rebuttal to this critique can best be summed up as “The more the merrier.” Instead of complaining about an embarrassment of trinkets, we should shout, “Hallelujah!” Doesn’t the test of time always separate the silver and gold from the dross so that great poetry can emerge, if not for current readers, then for future ones?

    My answer is that time has never been asked to test the astounding number of poems being published today, let alone what promises to be published in the future. To truly survey 21st-century poetry, future English professors will have to limit the scope of their courses so severely as to invite laughter. Professor X might specialize in the month of May 2049 while Professor Y concentrates on the first week of September 2098.

    Like golf, poetry is becoming a sport that multitudes pursue and enjoy—and if it were simply a matter of more and more men and women writing poetry, I would be cheering along with the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, poets in the schools, poets in the prisons, and hundreds of other state and local advocates. Exercising language at its highest level is an absolute good, and (Plato be damned) in an ideal society everyone would write poetry.

    But there’s a difference between writing and publishing. Golf, after all, has an agreed-upon scoring system that lets every player know his or her standing, stroke by stroke, game by game. Mediocre amateurs cannot deceive themselves (or be assured by pros) that they are contenders. None of the golfers who end up on the green with Tiger Woods or Annika Sörenstam are there because of collegial or personal connections, or a judge’s subjective judgment, bias, or laziness. They are there because their scores prove them to be superior golfers.

    Perhaps the most sinister fact about the new math of poetry is that it allows the academic oligarchy that controls poetry to impose a nonaesthetic, self-serving scoring system without attracting notice or raising indignation. Since no one can possibly read the vast number of poems being published, professionals can ignore independent poets and reserve the goodies—premiere readings, publications, honors, financial support—for those fortunate enough to be housed inside the professional poetry bubble.

    Marginalizing independent poets and the diversity of life experience they bring to poetry may help bolster M.F.A.-teaching careers; but how healthy is it for the art? Almost all of the world’s great poetry has been written by independents, and most of the poets writing today (myself included) remain unaffiliated with any institution. Still, when it comes to the major awards and premier publication essential for wide readership, there seems to be little room at the top for independents. Apparently “Where does this poet teach?” is an easier question for committees to answer than “How good is his or her poetry?” (Kay Ryan, poet laureate of the United States, is the exception who proves the rule.)

    If Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” were published next week by The New Formalist, Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl” by Gnome: the online journal of underground writing, and Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” by Women Writers: A Zine, but none of those three poets held teaching posts in creative-writing departments, I’d wager that their poems would not appear in The Best American Poetry 2010 or The Pushcart Prize XXXIV or make their way into a Norton anthology. Three of America’s most widely read, genuinely loved poems would be published—but the event would be more like a funeral than a birth.

    On my desk is a worn college anthology titled Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose. Donne, Herbert, Herrick, Jonson, Marvell, Milton—all of the great poets of that century, and all of the minor ones (as well as some now considered unreadable) are represented there. The hundreds of poets who are at this moment contemplating editing yet another poetry journal or anthology need to ask themselves if they will introduce readers to future Eliots, Bishops, Ginsbergs, or Plaths—or merely add more lineated prose to what Beckett would call “the impossible heap.” “The weeder is supremely needed,” Ezra Pound warns, “if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden.” The new math analyzed here suggests that poetry is on Miracle-Gro and is rapidly becoming a jungle.

    Every now and then someone asks me, “Who are the best poets writing today?” My answer? “I have no idea.” Nor do I believe that anyone else does. I do have an uneasy feeling that a Blake and a Dickinson may be buried in the overgrowth, and I fear that neither current nor future readers may get to enjoy their art. That would be the most devastating result of the new math of poetry. The loss would be incalculable.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 19, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    This is an interesting question: can excellence fly under the radar due to sheer numbers?

    Example 1: Could the greatest athlete exist somewhere without anyone knowing it, or soon knowing it? I doubt it. Even though the number of athletes dwarfs the number of poets, the objective detectability and worth of a great athlete would make it impossible for greatness in this category to go unnoticed.

    If a 7 foot tall monster basketball player, for instance, existed anywhere on the planet, hiding among 7 billion humans, he would be found. If a woman who could run a mile in 3 minutes existed somewhere–anywhere–she would come to light.

    Example 2: Then there’s stuff like physical beauty: rather easy to detect, but there is too much of it for all the beautiful specimens to be ‘counted.’ Super models or actors or any beauties that get national or international attention represent a millionth of a percent of all the really attractive people in the world, so here, in this case, it is due to sheer numbers that human beauty cannot possibly be accounted for, on any sort of global scale.

    Is poetry closer to example 1 or example 2?

    Three things must be considered: 1) the amount of objective worth displayed in the subject, 2) the number of subjects and 3) the ability to detect the objective worth in the subject.

    If there is no objective worth, we can put an end to the issue at once.

    If there is objective worth which can be detected, we must ask ourselves how much excellence in terms of numbers probably exist? For instance, if we take a random group of 1,000 poets or a random group of 1,000 poems, how many are likely to be excellent enough that we shouldn’t want to miss it?

    And thirdly, how likely is it that a really excellent poet or poem will fly under the radar?

    There are many, many people who couldn’t name one poet. These people obviously don’t count. This is another issue altogether which has nothing to do with the ‘new math’ problem, and, in fact, mitigates it.

    So, of the people who care for poetry, how many of them are missing, because of numbers alone, great poetry? Numbers are one thing, but the super-sensitive system of detection and communication among like-minded people in modern, civilized society may more than make up for the large numbers. If a great poem is more like a 7 foot monster of a basketball player and less like a pretty boy or girl, then we can say with pretty good certainty that great poets and poems are not escaping our notice. There are no more Billy Collins’s hiding somewhere. Billy Collins, because he is good, was discovered. I believe that good poetry is discovered and that if it is not, it is because it is ubiquitous like human beauty, not because of the numbers which makes it invisible. My hunch is that excellent poetry is more like the 7 foot basketball player than the merely attractive person.

    • wfkammann said,

      April 20, 2010 at 2:20 am

      Remember Twain’s story about the best this and that?

    • Marcus Bales said,

      September 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      The problem with saying that a great poem is more like a 7-foot monster of a basketball player is that it’s got to be written by someone who is a pretty good poet, and those people, for the most part, just stop writing poems after their encounter with the PoBiz — and if they do keep writing, they don’t bother the PoBiz with it.

      More importantly, though, is there are no objective standards such as “7-foot” is in basketball (and even that is no guarantee) by which to measure any poem or poet. The subjective standards aren’t standard. I imagine that 100 judges of a 1000 poems would have only slight, if any, overlap as to which were the best poems, and the overlaps would not be dispositive — they’d be scattered all over the 1000-poem landscape. No poem would appear on the list of every judge, and no poem would appear on more than 20% of the lists, or so I suppose.

      It’d be an interesting experiment. Where can we get some grant money to try it? We’ll publish all the poems that appear on 5 or more judges’ lists in — a chapbook, probably. I don’t think we could get enough for a book. I volunteer http://www.vanzenopress.com to publish the book if we can get the money together to pay the judges.

      Marcus

  4. April 19, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Ultimately, there are as many different perspectives on this topic of debate, as people with an opinion on it.

    I spent the first three years of my writing life, 2001-4, age 34-37, studying for a degree in Writing Studies and Drama, and still have notes from September 2001; made during the first session on day-one, my own personal Ground Zero – when the forty or so in that year’s writing cohort, took turns telling one another what we hoped to get out of our being there.

    One of ‘us’, X, a nineteen year old student from Wolverhampton, in the industrial heart of middle England, all potenitality, keen, alert and facing positively forward into a Film and Writing Studies B.A., planned to gain skills which would further along his dream of being a filmmaker.

    Three years later, in the final session, X’s confidence of purpose and prospective path had reversed into doubt and confusion.

    Robert Sheppard, the poet who created and runs the writing programmes at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire, twelve miles from Liverpool, a mile from the Merseyside border – was asking us for one thing to say to one other about what we had got out of being there.

    X said the one thing he’d learnt, is that he didn’t want to be a writer. At least, not at that point in his life, at 22. He’d decided instead to join the army.

    I remember admiring his honesty.

    ~

    Have you ever attended writing classes Tom?

    You should give it a go, just to see what happens. As a creative exercise, to see if your own certainty is questioned.

  5. April 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    One of the most useful classes I attended was in the final year. The course was structured so you elected half your modules each year after the first, and though I arrived to it uncertain and somewhat cynical, thinking the bumf in the prospectus was non-specific bland outcome speech of positive pedagogical waffle: it did actually work for me.

    By the time I finished the three years, I knew exactly where I wanted to go and why. My ‘unsupported learning’ had been achieved and it was a lighting of fire in the head (the Irish word specific to poetry -imbas- means), not the filling up of a bucket.

    I was the exception. The majority were exiting into vaguer paths and many were keen to get it over with. To stop the pretence we were in training for some real writing career once the final bell sounded.

    In fact. I will post up my final self-assessment to give the readers a flavour of the other side of things, here in Europe Tom.

    Have a lovely day.

  6. April 19, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Yeah, sorry, I’ve been drinking again. The initial point I was on about in the above comment, was a class that did me good in the final year. It was a poetry class and Sheppard had brought in Go Rose by Edmund Waller.

    The usual routine in most writing classes Tom, is that the students had what we call ‘writing bursts’ of between five to fifteen or even twenty minutes spontaneous composition, as a group. (There’s a doctoral thesis, probably written, about the dynamics of this collective writing activity).

    By this point in proceedings, the pecking order in the cohort was fixed. In the poetry class, there were only seven of us, four of whom had been shanghied on the first day out of the short story class the other 37 in our year had signed up for.

    There was a young, beatiful and very talented girl doing a teacher qualification, who’d been writing poetry since she was a child and who wrote very real stuff, along with a chubby girl who had opted for the poetry class because she found herself half-enjoying it in the second year.

    The other four, had switched at the last minute, and were the ‘outsiders’ to our cosy threesome, there not for love but because they were not that bothered about if they did poetry or short story. Who knows the reality of mind and what they really thought.

    The final act of any writing class, is usually the ‘read-round’, when the students who choose to, read out our guff. By this point, I was learning about timing. Choosing one’s moment to make the most impact.

    What Heaney in Stepping Stones describes in reference to his own group, as ‘trumping and self-trumping’. You knew who had thought what about their own efforts, by how keen they were to read it out.To volunteer first meant you were keen to show off your genius, satisfied with what you’d produced. After three years of this, we’d all settled into our perch and anyway… I knocked out a response to Go Rose, that was, as everyone elses’ effort, a light-hearted response. Then, to challenge myself, I wrote a piece I didn’ty have to read out, something more hinest about the general topic of Love.

    I ended up reading both out and after the class, Friday 5pm, my head on fire, I continued my thoughts over a coffee in the deserted canteen, and the most ‘real’ poem popped out, whose nucleus, essentially, was birthed in a creative writing class. Everything you are against Graves, saw out something I will defend to my final breath as a real love poem.

    Attested by the fact I tried it out on a woman at a party a few weeks later and her face, stunned silence as the proof in the air brought to me some self-enoblement. The exercise whose point is to feel good about yourself, pulled off.

    LROVSE

    Underneath it all
    We talk
    Over and above what is,
    So why not stay a while
    And let me dream
    Of life with you.

    I will not make a hollow pledge
    Of empty words
    Which promise something
    I can’t give

    The wind
    The sea
    Or starlight’s shimmer
    On your hair:

    The bond I undertake to seek
    Exchanges comforts
    Found in understanding

    With being understood
    Although, when I gaze
    Upon your form

    I see emotion as a mirror:
    You, the one love
    Who will never truly stand
    Before me.

    Your flesh can be
    Only touched in dreams
    When reality comes alive
    In epic tales, played out nightly

    Or in that half snooze state
    I sometimes get to fool around in.

    A world where my desire for you
    Can be indulged.

  7. April 20, 2010 at 1:04 am

    ENG 381 REFLECTION (April 2004)

    When I started here I wanted to do everything I am doing now, but didn’t have a clue how to go about doing it. During the first year and a half of study numerous fragments of knowledge had been grasped which acted as pieces of a jigsaw randomly falling, or rungs on a ladder in darkness leading somewhere I couldn’t yet see. During this year and a half I plodded away, not knowing where I was going, but working hard and keeping faith in my instinct that I would get somewhere worth going. The lights came on at the start of the second semester in the second year, the switch being Drama 2001 – Modernism module. With this light I saw enough of the jigsaw had fallen into place to discern a clear thread connecting all my writing and drama modules, which allowed me to pull them together by tailoring assignments to pursue the knowledge I am genuinely interested.

    The rungs of the ladder had led me to a solid platform from which I could look down and retrace my steps. This was a fundamental breakthrough, the exact moment of which is still vivid in my memory. I won’t bore you with the details, save to say that the essence of my learning has been an understanding that knowledge does not exist in isolation, and all the modules I’m on have effectively synthesised to converge on a single path.

    Last year after finishing the scriptwriting module, I subsequently watched lots of theatre and attended various workshops with playwrights and other folk from theatre world, basically soaking up as much information as I could. Stephen Jeffries explained to me how he started out with a touring company, thrown in at the deep end, having to write to deadlines and come up with shows. He writes his plays, using sequential index cards, which he uses to plot out his story. He pins them on a board at home and the gestation period from start to finish can be anything up to eighteen months, as he assembles his cards like a jigsaw. He gave the impression that much of his connection with his creativity was on an unconscious level, which hit a chord with me. The Royal Court literary manager, Jenny Wharton (“I am a writer but I haven’t written for ages.”) showed me how to structure plot arcs through group brainstorming, but revealed far more about the politics of London theatrical establishments than passing on any creative writing tips. Mark Ravenhill explained how he got into writing plays as a teenager, telling me that his initial reason for writing scripts was so he could get men to take their clothes off. He now likes to work with young people, which has resulted in some highly explicit and controversial works, much of it driven by sexuality. I also worked for the Dublin Theatre Festival this October and came into contact with numerous Irish and European writers, actors and directors, gleaning as much as I could and adding this information to what I’d already accumulated through straight academic study.

    I’ve read numerous writers on writing, from Jonson, Ibsen, Chekov, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Osborne, Miller and more contemporary writers, right through to others who’s names and writings I’ve forgotten, but non the less have still left their imprint of knowledge on my unconscious. I’ve also delved into performance theory as espoused by Schechner, Turner, Goffman, Blau, Geertz and many others, trying to grasp the sense behind their flow charts, wheels and diagrams. My other modules have incorporated the general study of social and cultural theorists espousing views, positing positions, shaping, forming and adding to debates we generate in our search for understanding. Indeed it was Claude Levi Strauss himself who said “I forget everything as soon as I write it down”1 which I hope demonstrates that I was not intending to be flippant in my earlier remark. Strauss’s basic argument though is that there is a basic need in human beings to make sense of their surroundings by way of intellect, which I suppose is what we are all trying to do in one form or other. I chanced across an entry in my journal, which seems to run along the same line of thought.

    “The quest for a simple understanding or synthesis of numerous elements into a single entity” 2

    The sum total of all this boils down to the belief that I have grasped the basics of Aristotelian dramatic theory as put forward in the sacred work Poetics, citing tragedy as the highest form and bestowing on the world the cult of trinity in dramatic belief. Many writers today specialize in writing books about Aristotle’s three point plan, padding it out to a couple of hundred pages, adding to the hundreds already in existence and hoping that university writing departments will make it required reading. However, the writer whose advice has most impressed me is Stephen King, who says that his reply to the question “how do you write?” is “One word at a time.”3 He says that this answer is invariably dismissed but it is this simple, and all the various theories I have read relating to the creative impulse, including Aristotle, is captured in a line from Kings story, The Stand.4 A creator is

    “…a person with the urge to stretch out his hand and shape the world into some rational pattern.” p354

    A modern day social psychology theorist could argue that Aristotle was partly influenced in his belief that tragedy was the highest form, because his mentor Socrates was executed by the polis after being voted too cute in his learning. Supposedly, the noble Socrates could have accepted banishment, but chose instead to die on principle, leaving us ample evidence with which to construct a case. However the one piece of information which sums up the essence of Greek thought was the legend on the sign above Plato’s academy “A Credit in Mathematics Required,”5 The Greeks had started playing spatially with integers which seemed to yield all the answers and, in the words of Greek historian HDF Kitto, were tempted to, “leap across the chasm” 6 by evolving a mystical doctrine of square numbers. God was 1, Justice 4 and so on, working their way up attempting to boil down the whole of existence and morality into to a mathematically based system, using a dialectic similar to Aristotle’s, the essence of which is summed up by King. The strict meters of epic Greek poetry give us as clear understanding of their belief in order as the essence of goodness. This combination of time place and information was such that western civilisation has been built upon this legacy. A fifth century BC civilisation, whose ideals were drawn from their own bible of Homer’s poems, with the central concept of arte in all things, (loosely translated as excellence.)

    This aim has filtered down through universities over the past five hundred years, but in a much more fragmented form, so that the original Homeric understanding of the word is now lost to the modern student, like many ancient ideas. After the sophists put paid to the all rounder the world moved on to become a place of specialization and it was no longer as profitable to be moderately skilled in many things. So the golden age passed and we look back on a place we never knew and say, “They were as close to perfection as it gets.”

    Two thousand five hundred years later we’re at a college where you can become a teacher, gym instructor, fitness expert, sociologist, psychologist, and a hundred and one other things, all by acquiring the appropriate specialized knowledge. In my own case, I have happened to chance lucky with my studies because, somewhat pleasantly surprised, I’ve found that the spiel in the college prospectus wasn’t just a string of empty words and that writing and drama modules have indeed, as if by magic, “overlapped” nicely.

    Towards the end of second year therefore my knowledge was such that I came to the conclusion that in order to meaningfully progress with any ideas I had about writing plays, I would have to find or create a real life performance environment in which to develop. Common sense dictates that you can only go so far with an idea in your head which you intend to come to life on stage, screen, radio or any other media, so the corollary of this demands that words be lifted off the page and put in the mouths of performers. This is an argument few would dispute and my development as a budding playwright had reached this point by the start of third year. As the Drama degree is built round a theoretical core, there is, understandably, no actor training structure in place and anyone wanting to hone their performance skills has to work out a regime of their own.

    All these thoughts coalesced at the end of my second year and it dawned on me that I could quite legitimately use the various rooms in college and the Rose theatre to train in. I haven’t done sustained vocal work before and after a few weeks the benefits were starting to show. It was around this time that I knew I had reached a self supported learning state and had gained the confidence needed to present my ideas to others. I did this and effectively took the next step, writing and performing within a collaborative venture. The details of this process are comprehensively covered in another document.

    The more I study the more I understand my own pattern of learning and I am now much less reliant on the supported learning structures of the second and first years. We are told in the first year that fundamental principle behind tertiary education is to propel students toward this self supported learning state, and I believe I have reached that point. Obviously, each student packs his or her own bags through college and by the third year we are effectively getting our kit in order for walking out the door. Depending on the effort put in, some will be rushing out confused, with only the basics hastily thrown in at the last minute and immediately discard their light load as excess baggage before drifting off to chase dreams elsewhere. Some will be better equipped with instruments of learning stowed away in apple pie order hoping the world will be kind to them and others will at various stages in between, but everyone will be on their own, which is why I realise the importance of being able to continue education outside of a classroom structure.

    The classes of ENG 381 therefore have naturally been a lot more geared toward this departure than the basic kit list inventories and inspections of the previous module. To quote Helen Newal, writing teachers, can only “show us so much,” help us select our stationary tools as it were. After this it’s down to each individual to delve into the pencil case and start writing, because writing is, by its very nature, a solitary activity. Too stretch the metaphor slightly, I felt therefore that I could go to the shops unaided and although I attended the classes it was obvious to me that I had reached that unsupported learning state I heard about in the first year but had no idea if I’d get to or not. That I have achieved this is a credit to the teaching skills of Helen Newall, who is one of the more competent tutors I have had during my time here. Her no nonsense and intelligent approach embodies the PG Woodhouse idea of teaching being a drawing out rather than a putting in, and with a subject such as writing studies this is perhaps even more keenly the case. Unlike the sciences, literature has no empirical methods beyond a belief that the writer should be aware of certain basic formulaic structures. The effective incorporation of these structures into one’s own writing is, I imagine, an ongoing process of trial and error and comes with constant practice, or doesn’t come at all.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    April 20, 2010 at 3:21 am

    des,

    We need tools to navigate because our senses lie to us. Science and philosophy began 2,600 years ago in Athens when stars were to seen to have moved and were called planets, and physics was born. Laws of physics were discovered—universal laws—and these laws explain a reality we cannot see directly.

    Literature, too, obeys laws. Literature, also, is a measure for navigation. Literature, like science, helps us to know what we cannot see. Most of what we see and know in life escapes our vision, and literature helps us navigate life by providing greater sight.

    None of this has anything to do with the teaching of writng, which is a mere con. It is an insult that anyone might teach someone else how to write after they have acquired the tools of grammar and poetic form. Once you know grammar and prosody, the only thing left to know is everything which has nothing to do with writing; teaching writing at this point is nothing but a redundancy. “Here’s what you might write about…try sitting down and writing about this…” This is hand-holding idiocy. After learning grammar, there is nothing more to learn about ‘writing,’ and if one is taking a ‘writing course’ at this point, one is not really learning ‘writing,’ but allowing another person (a ‘writing teacher’) to fill one up with suggestions for writing topics—which is NOT writing. Writing, once the tools (grammar) are acquired, is now sufficiently understood, and if one is to become a writer for the queen, one goes into training to learn how to write in order to please the queen, but one is not then ‘learning to write’ anymore. This point should be understood. If someone wishes to take my money to teach me writing, I should instead punch them in the nose, and tell them to teach themselves how to write. Of course there are advantages in following the path of ‘how to learn to write;’ you may eventually get to know someone who will be a friend in the ‘writing field’ and give you a good review of your book, or, you may one day get yourself a job in the ‘teaching of writing’ con; but let us be quite clear what this whole business of ‘writing school’ is: it is a crock and an insult practiced by sophists, some well-meaning, some not.

    The world has less good work, not more, because of the whole ‘teaching of writing’ con, since cons are just ways to get money from people for what they could do themselves.

    Tom

  9. April 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I take it you have no experience of writing achool then Tom?

    Your essential theory is sound: No one can ‘teach’ another person how to write. All one can do is encourage another to write by whatever methods work.

    My difficulty with your approach, as I’ve said before, is it’s too negative. You are unwilling to recognize that some people will have a gift at creating the conditions in which neophyte writers can draw out from themselves, writing.

    You are too dogmatic and have the certainty of one who has never experienced the other side you damn. Your arguments are all spin, psychological pyrotechnics from, what comes across as, a bitter writer.

    You go on about exposing the creative writing con, the writing school con, but in the same way as David Icke or Glen Beck tell us Obama and the Queen of England are child-slaying satanists and it is us the idiots for not listening to their conspiracy theories.

    I just think you sound like a text book and not a person who has gained knowledge from experiencing the real thing. You are a youing man, keen to make your mark in the world of Letters and have decided to hitch your star to the Foetry wagon. Fair play, a good strategic move, but ultimately it won#t bring you many fans. People will read out of curiosity, but will not become acolytes because you’re theories are too depressing.

    Habe a lovely day.

  10. April 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Read Kwame Dawe’s latest Harriet post Tom, and get with the programme.

    “I need money to run the projects I run, and it frustrates me because I know the programs are very good, I know that they make a huge difference, I know that what I need is not a huge amount of money, and I know that there is money out there, but it does not go to these projects.

    I need a building. It could cost about a million to have this building. It will be a building with a large reading room, a library, several workshop spaces, an outdoor reading space, several small offices, excellent lighting and wall space for art, and lots of windows with natural light. It has a name: it is the Palmetto Poets’ Place.

    From this headquarters, armies of poets who go into schools all around the state to teach students how to write poems and how to read poems, and who give them a taste of the excitement of poetry will have some home to find refuge after a long day in the trenches. Right now, they never get to regroup, they simply go back to their hovels wherever they are.

    In this place, children will gather in multitudes to take part in summer camps, writers workshops, and readings by children’s writers all the time. Children will talk about that poet’s place, and how cool it is.”

    Why can’t you be more like this, with a Vision for AmPo, Tom?

  11. thomasbrady said,

    April 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Swordsie, you tend to make things too complex. My method appears ‘negative’ to you, but it’s not ‘negative’ at all; it’s simple. Your mind has a tendency to translate ‘simple’ into ‘negative,’ and thus your ‘nice’ meter leads you into quicksand. I have cut to the essence of the whole ‘writing school’ matter, whereas you are cautiously nice about all the whole issue, and thus founder. Art requires taking away the stone and finding the statue; it is not some elaborate ritual of admiring rocks. Of course what you say will always be true: yes, Michelangelo’s hammer performs a ‘negative’ function.
    Tom

  12. thomasbrady said,

    April 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    des,

    why do you go on about children-eating satanists? You brought it up; I never speak such rot. where’s that coming from, please?

    i spoke to a man who is attending college to be a teacher in the U.S. and he hates the program; he told me when he taught in Africa, the poor children wanted desperately to learn and even though there were not enough books and they had to share them, they would never make an excuse about not doing their homework, they wanted to learn, learn, learn. So now this man is trying to ‘better’ himself by getting an education degree in the U.S. and he is appalled at the college students getting high-priced education degrees in the U.S., they don’t care about learning…they just want to get their degrees and they do as little work as possible, and the instructors make the students get together to research class presentations, which is great for the professor, because when the students are giving their group presentations in class, the professor doesn’t have to teach. The students fill up the class time with their presentations and the instructor just has to grade them. Education majors who are planning to teach second graders learn as much as a second grader should know, or perhaps a third grader, plus a lot of high-sounding psycho-babble/education theory and they are all set. Poetry becomes part of the curriculum in a cynical way. Poets in higher education, whether as creative writers themselves or as instructors, or as education majors who will teach kids about poetry, adorn themselves with all sorts of special powers, that ordinary people are forced to admire, most of this is pure vanity…sure, teaching poetry to kids is great, who could be against that? But it’s not that simple, unfortunately. Education as some touchy-feely, artsty-fartsy poetry garden party…woo hoo. The problems are bigger than that. That won’t save the world. I think of those kids who are so desperate to learn, and then I think of the higher ed con game in america…it’s sickening. I dunno, des, you calling me naive, that’s pretty funny…do you know what the education system in america wants to do to my son, because he wriggles in his seat? Give him high powered drugs. That’s ‘expert-driven, professional’ education in America.
    tom

  13. April 20, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Well, why don’t you just kill yourself Gravesy baby, and make a very powerful statement about how contemporary American values led you to take such drastic action.

    You spoke to an African guy who damned the whole American educational culture, and offer it as…what exactly?

    We know this. The university I attended was very similar, full of kids expectant to become TV presenters and famous personalities, but so what? Let us have our dream. Why mock us?

    Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t pay for my education because it was state funded. It was the final option of an uneducated 35 year old who had failed at everything I’d turned my hand to up till the point I tried writing, as a last ditch attempt to re-invent myself as I approcahed middle age.

    I know, i thought, instead of being a bum working in an office, reading and writing all day for buttons, I could try reading and writing all day for nothing, but at least be reading and writing for my own personal human benefit, instead of for the material benefit of the lawyers I worked for as an underpaid savant genius, assimilating vast swathes of information in various white collar ‘carousel frauds’ that were based on tax avoidance by selling high value goods such as spirits or computer chips, through multiple off the shelf, ‘shell’ companies whose only purpose was to fox the authorities.

    An exercise of finding needles in haystacks, because out of the million pieces of paper, there might be only a handful of incriminating pieces of evidence from the swathes of documents produced solely to fox and fool a reader.

    Mind numbing work, but excellent training because it gave me the discipline of writing.

    And once I started writing my own stuff, on the second of January 2001, after a year of having it in my mind but never being able to write a sentance as I sat at work, computer on, lever arch files full of witness and law enforcement statements, open next to me, start at page one and slowly plod on through to page 300,000, precising down the information into a story, essentially, of what the evidence told the reader – I was unable to stop.

    I’d done the hard part, of spending years learning how to fous the mind and so when I started writing my own stuff, I quickly lost interest in ‘work’ writing and instead jacked in my poorly paid job and relocated to Cork in Ireland, signing myself into a homeless hostel and onto welfare, in March 2001, three months after starting to write for my own self.

    Then, six weeks later, I needed to have a tooth out and went to my home town of Ormskirk in Lancashire, England, to get it done, and whilst there, discovered my home town university, Edge Hill College, had been running a writing programme for six years.

    This was fate, I thought, and so went up to ask about getting on it. Having no high school diploma, I thought it would be all pie in the sky, but I was informed that if I passed a six week ‘fastrack’ course starting in two weeks, which targeted people like me, on welfare, to get back into education – then I could forgo having to do two years study to get my high school diploma, and start in September of that year.

    So, for me, once the decision to follow my heart had been made, the secret levers of the universe were activated and the doors just opened.

    It was far better for me to be in this environment, in my home town, surrounded by 70% young women doing something brand new and exciting, than to hang round in cafes finding out the harder way.

    It’s all a question of attitude, and in the writing world, who cares who writes what, or if people waste their lives fooling themselves. It’s you who seems hooked up on grading everybody and putting them in boxes. Chill out. Let the world be happy, because for all your intellectual cod, the bottom line is, in the grand cosmic scale, even Shakespeare is wholly unimportant.

    I know I cannot change you, but at least I can give the readers someone to like and be a fan of. Someone whose work they can feel good about spending money on, when I get round to offering my poetry for sale.

  14. thomasbrady said,

    April 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    “Chill out. Let the world be happy, because for all your intellectual cod, the bottom line is, in the grand cosmic scale, even Shakespeare is wholly unimportant.”

    I Am, Too

    In vanity they lived,
    With vanity they died,
    Calling their vanity poetry, once, in pride.
    I, to correct them, have put my vanity
    By their vanity’s side;
    But see how vanity cures vanity—
    Now they who would have condemned their vanity,
    My vanity deride.
    I should have been silent, like this laborer, Time,
    Who builds and destroys
    Whether that mother weeps in prose,
    Or this child laughs in rhyme.

  15. April 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    ‘I thought that poem was self-righteous and shallow. It was a rant against ‘Vanity.’ Were there elements of drama and poetry in Brady’s poem and presentation? Absolutely. There is certainy talent and good there. He is a poet. But the total effect was self-righteous ranting.

    The message was: “I’m good and certain vague nameless, 2-dimensional villains out there are bad.” I have to say I didn’t find it moving at all. But that would be fraud, on my part, to let that pass, for me not be honest about it. Bet a lot of people where he read were not honest about it. It’s the reason the world is corrupt. But what’s so horrible and evil about this, is that then Brady’s standard becomes a poetry standard and now 2-dimensional, ranting politics has insidiously set up a claim, and then I am heavy faulted because I didn’t like the poem, and I’m called an unfeeling, contemptuous git. Now, magically, I am the enemy, I am on the side of ‘Vanity.’ I say ‘magically,’ because it is magic. It’s the magic that kills us and dooms us, guilt by association, it’s the menace and the horror of fraud.

    You’ve got me all wrong’ Tom

  16. thomasbrady said,

    April 21, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Come on! That poem has at least 4 dimensions! Maybe 5! Maybe 6! Maybe 7!

    • Wfkammann said,

      April 21, 2010 at 4:21 pm

      Maybe not! The real issue, once we’ve gotten past the adolescent delusions of grandeur, is do we really have anything worthwhile to say. When you listen to Franz Wright’s story or Desmond’s you see a self criticism based on hard knocks. If you remain facile and superficial and not brutally self critical you’ll never write anything worth reading.

      • thomasbrady said,

        April 22, 2010 at 2:36 am

        funny farm creds, eh?

  17. April 21, 2010 at 5:17 am

    UR Too

    In vanity were we lived,
    With vanity where we died,
    Calling our vanity poetry, once, in pride.

    You, to correct them, have put my vanity
    By their vanity’s side;
    But see how vanity cures vanity—
    Now you who would have condemned my vanity,
    Their vanity derides.

    I should have been silent, like this laborer, Time,
    Who builds and destroys
    Whether the mother weeps in prose,
    Or her child laughs in rhyme.

    Very dimensionally perspicacious, a keen mental perception and apprehension of – what Marty Mulligan perfromance MC slams out as, rhymin ‘n timin -

    Rhyming and Timing

    This is our land
    This is Spar land
    This is Ireland

    rhymin ‘n timin

    Watch this Reader US, a ‘performance’ duo, one reciting and one silent, both ‘artists’, like here, defecating, and tossing fecal matter into into a uniquely excited audience.

    That is unreal.

    That is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.

    Fucking nuts.

    tell me what happened up there

    I don’t know if it’s real shit or not.

    That’s what I wanna know, in case he tries to smear me with shit.

    No, it can’t be.

    Is it real shit?

    It fuckin is.

    It’s a shame innit?

    They call the police for that kind of shit, you know what I’m sayin..

    ye yeah

    That was a joke you know..

    there’s lots of barstaff going..

    She got it.

    ~

    Well that was fucking awsome.

    ‘I think they are great’, one of the audience says at the end of this lengthy view, that is a bit like experiencing the final scene of an execution documentary, but with a harmless, poetic impact of real shit being thrown and the obvious question: is it Art?

    It really does have an impact in a wholly reactionary way that all true intellectuals questioning for truth and justice rather than power and privilige, understand and face to, as psychological entities living as printed fecal beings, or not, on the page time has already forgotten, Thom.

    The video is 7 min 42 seconds of pure ‘shit’

  18. thomasbrady said,

    April 21, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    People with no imagination do a lot of stupid things.

  19. April 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    It’s only shit Tom, proper ‘crappy’ stuff lashed out by two stone-mad artists, high on drink and/or drugs, definitely not tenured, I’d imagine, but more in your gang of radical passionate thinkers who divide opinion at the most visceral and primitve levels of critical understanding.

    I stumbled across a funny spat last night, performed within the pages of the Nation, between two former close intellectuals who fell out over the fine print of their far more significant and read ideas about contemporary happenings in the sphere of geo-political America.

    Noam ‘n Christopher Hitchens, his one time fan who fell over himself to lambast and try and get smart with, all because they thought differently about how the world should run.

    Imagine you and I maxed up ten thousand times our current wattage and brilliance – you Hitch and me Noam, well, it put our very minor grumbles in perspective Tom, and led one to understand it doesn’t really matter if, like Noam you can clip drop one’s younger rival for the most cleverest intellectual on the planet crown.

    They both claim the other is talking rot, Chomsky says Hitchens:

    ‘… condemns the claim of “facile ‘moral equivalence’ between the two crimes.” Fair enough, but since he fabricated the claim out of thin air, I feel no need to comment.

    A classy drop, don’t you think?

    ‘waste no more time on these shameful meanderings’ Noam says as the parting shot, and it is wise advice to follow Tom, because if these two titans are at it, being right in that classy, more real in word and deed than thou O opponent in the forum of Letters, well you and I, the intellectual pygmies by comparison, are very insiginificant, so cease writing immediately and sign up for writing school with Berrigan the second, or some of the people at Harriet out-performing you and aye, please.

    Do you like Simon Armitage Tom?

    The English editor-poet who is one of the many to custode Ted Hughes memory? Both Yorkshire, and very good Simon is.

    I stumbled across his thirteen part seventeen page 9/11 TV poem commissioned by Channel 5 and broadcast five years after the attacks. It won the 2006 Royal Television Society Documentary Award, and rightly so. Not so much for Rufus Sewel reciting it in the lavishly made film here on youtube, but for being the real thing, in print where I read it first before discovering the visual rendering of these words:

    Out of the Blue

    1.

    All lost.

    All lost in the dust.
    Lost in the fall and the crush and the dark.
    Now all coming back.

    2.

    Up with the lark, downtown New York.
    The sidewalks, the blocks.
    Walk. Don’t walk. Walk. Don’t Walk.

    Breakfast to go:
    an adrenalin shot
    in a Styrofoam cup

    Then plucked from the earth,
    rocketed skyward,
    a fifth a mile
    in a minute, if that.
    The body arrives
    then the soul catches up.

    3.

    That weird buzz
    of being at work
    in the hour before work.

    All terminals dormant,
    all networks idle.
    Systems in sleep-mode,

    all stations un-peopled.
    I get here early
    just to gawp from the window.

    Is it shameless or brash to have reached top,
    just me and America
    ninety floors up?

    Is it brazen to feel like a king, like a God,
    to ge surfing the wave
    of a power trip,

    a fortune under each fingertip,
    a billion a minute, a million a blink,
    selling sand to the desert,

    ice to the Arctic,
    money to the rich.
    The elation of trading in futures and risk.

    Here I stand, a compass needle,
    a sundial spindle
    right at the pinnacle.

    Under my feet
    Manhattan’s a simple bagatelle, a pinball table,
    all lights and mirrors and whistles and bells.

    Brilliant isn’t it Tom. Anothe succesful poet out of our league. You’d have to have been published by Faber and Faber in your early twenties and never put a foot wrong, to understand his poetic outlook. Straightforwardly enough, he’s not a Conceptual agitator, but world class English poet.

  20. thomasbrady said,

    April 22, 2010 at 2:39 am

    you’ve put it all in perspective, des! a job well done!

  21. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 22, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Thanks Desmond, the link to the complete poem is below.

    http://www.aboutrufus.com/out_of_the_blue_simon_armitage.htm

  22. Minjie said,

    April 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Another great place to discover new poems is the new spoken word poetry album “Poetic License: 100 Poems/100 Performers” featuring Jason Alexander, Patti LuPone, Michael York, Kate Mulgrew, Paul Provenza and 95 other top performers reading a poem of their choosing. If you know anyone who claims that they don’t like poetry, you should get them this album so they can hear the magic that you already see on the page.
    For more info, to read the amazing reviews, or to purchase the album, visit GPRRecords.com.
    “Poetic License” is available for purchase and preview on iTunes. Here’s a link to Part 1 of the album: http://bit.ly/poeticlicense_itunes

    More info:
    Said Trav S.D. on his blog Travalanche:
    “Three of my favorite poems happen to occur all in a row: Poe’s Annabel Lee, Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Tennyson’s Ulysses — it’s like back-to-back hits on the poetry Top 40. Furthermore, the indiscriminate mix of bold-faced names and literary classics produces more than usual interest. Florence Henderson reads Longfellow! Barbara Feldon reads Margaret Atwood! And a long list of others: Christine Baranksi, Jason Alexander, Cynthia Nixon, Charles Busch, Michael York, JoBeth Williams, Paul Provenza, Richard Thomas, Kate Mulgrew, etc etc etc.”

    More Links:
    Twitter:
    http://www.twitter.com/gprrecords
    Facebook:
    http://bit.ly/PoeticLicenseFanPage
    Web Site:
    http://bit.ly/gprrecords


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