In a move sure to turn the Scarriet Baseball Poetry League world on its ear, the New England Frost announced today that it has signed Jesus Christ.

They got together in a room, Frost read Christ “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” and it just blew Him away.  Christ has agreed to pitch for the New England Frost, currently in third place in the American League, behind the London Eliots and the Amherst Emily.

Jesus really got along with Mr. Frost,” a spokesman for the New England ballclub said, “Christ isn’t asking for any money.  He just wants to do this.”

Frost has always admired the Sermon on the Mount.  Frost certainly has the conservative credentials to pull something like this off.

But, more to the point, will Christ help Frost’s ballclub?


Christ has a fastball clocked near 100, and He has a pretty good curve to go with it.

New England Frost fans were ecstatic.

One sampling from a young wag: “I always thought we were a good team, but now I’m sure we can win it all!”

Frost’s starting five is currently Louis Untermeyer (5-6), Carl Sandburg (6-4), E.A. Robinson (4-5), Anne Sexton (4-3) and Bobby Burns (6-2).   Christ will probably step in for former ace Untermeyer, anthologist and Frost friend who has been less than sharp lately.

Francis Palgrave has recently joined the Frost, as has Omar Khayyam, Seigfried Sassoon, Maxine Kumin, Bernard de Voto, James Wright, and son Franz.

The New England Frost are certainly poised to make a run for the pennant this summer.

You can say that, again!

Meanwhile, over in the Scarriet National League, talks between the Philadelphia Poe and Socrates are said to be showing signs of progress towards a crucial deal, with the ancient philosopher (and starting pitcher) almost convinced that Poe is more scientist than rhapsode.  Socrates has looked over Poe’s work and is said to like what he sees.

Meanwhile, the two hottest teams in Scarriet’s Baseball Poetry League are the London Eliots in the AL, and the NL’s Brooklyn Ashberys.

Amen!  Play ball!


I leave details—to paintings,
The scrutiny of the world—to paint.
With smudges painters make history;
I give you only plaint.

The orphan has a story,
But today he only cares
For an abstract painting
And its hidden wares.

You can see a world
In shapes dark and light—
But first, things must happen
For your delight.

I had to tell the painter to stop.
I’m the poet. I know
How to put the blue morning in bed
With nature blooming and human beings low.

I sleep upon your bed
With no reason or sin.
I don’t know anything about this holiday
Except I get to sleep in.



I was so happy, I was so proud
In the slow sunlight dream of life.
Whether life was murmuring, or it was loud,
Whether I slumbered, or was in the midst of strife,
I did what had to be done
For my children and my wife,
Always stopping to think what would be best,
Though Liberty, with heaving breast,
Often stood before me, flag hoisted, leaning into my ear:
“I am a picture, but a beautiful picture, and your destiny is here.”


Poetry is contumely when it isn’t love,
For everything is proud
But love.  Love isn’t loud.
Love waits for me at the gate,
Holding a book of verses.
Love never curses.
Love is satisfied with her state.
Love loves me.
Alas, poetry
Is contumely when it isn’t love.
Love has nothing but song
For me all day long.


In my dreams I do not read.
I talk with the famous
At tables where others interfere
With the beloved person
Who is talking with people I see on the train—
As if they could take him,
As if they could expose my hopes as vain.
I will tell you a secret if you come to my table
Near the part of the restaurant where the stairs
Once trailed downward to the stars.
The restaurant is precarious in the dream,
As if management decided outer space
Would be the proper place
For poetic guests to meet face to face.
So here was the famous poet and I,
With those others getting in the way,
A man with a ponytail, two women, a poem,
And it says what I always thought to say.


1. John Barr …because we left him off last time…
2. David Lehman …the BAP gig…he makes dreams come true…
3. Dana Gioia …venerable gadfly, anthologist, poet…
4. Helen Vendler … she anoints, holds up creaking High Modernist edifice…
5. Billy Collins …about as ‘Robert Frost famous’ as one can get these days…
6. Robert Pinsky…the most visible of all the U.S. laureates…
7. Seamus Heaney…rhymes, is  Irish, but  welcomed by Harvard…
8. David Orr…the NY Times poetry reviewer…pleasantly independent…
9. John Ashbery…critic-proof… writes about nothing…nice niche to have…
10. Paul Muldoon…too clever by half, but got’s dis New Yorker gig…
11. Louise Gluck…understated poetry…Yale Judge…
12. Dan Chiasson…the safe, mainstream voice of the hour…
13. Stephen Burt…Vendler’s heir…sweetens ‘difficult’ poetry…
14. Alan Cordle…better to be feared than loved…
15. Adam Kirsch…boy wonder…a critic’s critic…
16. Stephen Berg…APR founder…
17. Rita Dove…a Chubb Fellow at Yale…
18. Rae Armantrout…Language Poetry wins!
19. Jorie Graham…of the Jorie Graham Rule…less avant, more p.c. with age…
20. Ron Silliman…po-biz’s web curator…
21. Ilya Kaminsky…the International King of Translation is here!
22. D.A. Powell…tweets or something…
23. Franz Wright…spiritual mist with a fist…
24. Derek Walcott…Oxford was so close…
25. W.S. Merwin…the oil spill has moved him way up the list…
26. Charles Wright…an Academy Chancellor with many prizes…
27. Peter Gizzi…the inscrutable lyric poet—with a Nation gig…go figure…
28. Kevin Young…very connected…
29. Martin Espada…also connected…
30. Charles Bernstein…Language Poetry, you go!
31. Seth Abramson…MFA defender at large…
32. C.D. Wright…knew Frank Stanford… Brown University…
33. Forrest Gander…married to C.D. Wright…translator…
34. Cole Swenson…she’s Cole Swenson and you’re not…
35. Kay Ryan…current U.S. Laureate…
36. Donald Hall…living legend…
37. Christian Wiman…Poetry gig…
38. Frederick Seidel…cuz he’s creepy…
39. Jane Campion…because she got Keats…
40. Fiona McCrae…Graywolf publisher…
41. Sherman Alexie…smoke goes up…
42. Anne Carson…check out her new ‘book-in-a-box…’
43. Garrison Keillor…no Ezra Pound in
Good Poems…
44. Jerome Rothenberg…ethnopoetics is good for you…really
45. Charles Simic…laureate, Paris Review gigs done…he’s writing!
46. Harold Bloom…revealed: Jahweh is Harold Bloom…
47. Camille Paglia… Break, Blow, Burn is shockingly…New Critical…
48. Tree Swenson…, Copper Canyon, National Poetry Month…
49. Tony Hoagland…hated by all good avants
50. Elizabeth Alexander…she read at the inauguration and you didn’t…
51.  Meghan O’Rourke…Slate and Paris Review
52.  Alice Quinn…ex-New Yorker, her Bishop book got buzz…
53.  James Tate…master of the truly funny poem…
54.  Mary Oliver…everyone loves a nature poet…
55.  Rosemarie Waldrop…isn’t there another Waldrop?
56.  Mary Jo Salter…Leithauser…(memo to self: Power Couples list)
57.  Michael Palmer…paints the translation dance…
58.  Glyn Maxwell…Masters from BU, at London…busy bloke…
59.  Dorianne Laux…married to a poet, not a pipefitter…
60.  Michael Dickman…he’s workin’ it…
61.  August Kleinzahler…says what he’s thinking…
62.  Zachary Schomburg…”I want my poems to confuse the reader”
63.  Dean Young…Koch me if you can…
64.  Christian Bok…poetic precision that’ll make you cry…
65.  Keith Waldrop…National Book Award…
66.  Annie Finch…intuitive, feminist metrics…
67.  Marilyn Chin…a nice little war in Poetry letters section…
68.  Joshua Clover…a Walt Whitman chosen by Jorie Graham…
69.  Lucie Brock-Broido…poetry director at Columbia…
70.  Joan Houlihan…anti-anti-foet…
71.  Jeffrey Levine…is Woodman’s poem still up?
72.  Clark Coolidge…a living Beat…
73.  Ben Mazer…put Landis Everson on the map…
74.  Philip Nikolayev…Fulcrum editor…
75.  Maya Angelou…she’s famous and you’re not…
76.  Leon Wieseltier…New Republic’s literary editor…
77.  Christopher Ricks…Oxford, Tennyson, Bob Dylan…
78.  Rosanna Warren…Robert Penn Warren’s little girl…
79.  Simon Armitage…documentaries, translations…
80.  Matthew Zapruder…Verse became Wave
81.  Dara Wier…often misspelled Weir…
82.  Donald Revell…Colorado Review editor…
83.  Maggie Dietz…Favorite Poem Project, Slate
84.  Ray Gonzalez…U.Minnesota professor…
85.  Matthea Harvey…neo-Romantic school…
86.  Alice Fulton…5 times in BAP…
87.  Jon Stallworthy…Norton anthology editor…
88.  Reb Livingston…was  no. 2 in Scarriet’s March Madness!
89.  Katia Kapovich…a Witter Bynner from Billy Collins…
90.  Marjorie Perloff…avant critical goddess…
91.  Albert Goldbarth…MFA, Iowa ’71 and used it well…
92.  Frank Bidart…from Lowell to Chiasson…
93.  Gary B. Fitzgerald…sharpest tongue on the internet…
94.  William Kulik…best poet at this moment?
95.  Natasha Tretheway…blends history and poetry…
96.  Steven Cramer…believes in the line…
97.  James Fenton…journalist/poet Brit…
98.  Susan Schultz…Tin Fish Press
99.  Daniel Nester…a certain raffish charm…
100. Ted Genoways…the new Bin Ramke!

Bonus #101.   George Romero…for naming a character in his latest zombie flick, “Survival of the Dead,” Seamus Muldoon… 



Scarriet:  Hi, John.  I’ve always wanted to interview you.  What do your poems mean, anyway?

Ashbery:  I don’t know.

S:  OK, let’s move on…let’s talk about your ballclub, the Brooklyn Ashberys.

A:  Sure.

S:  Three weeks ago, your team was 8-20, in last place in the Scarriet  American League, 11 games out.   Since then, you’ve moved to within 2 games of .500, winning 15 of 20, and now you trail the first-place Longfellows by just 6 games, with a little over two-thirds of the season to go.  What happened?

A:  We’ve been doing better…

S:  Why?  Was it the addition of Al [Albert Camus] and Sal [Salvador Dali]? Look at their numbers since they’ve been in your lineup: Dali, 12 homers in May, Camus, 26 RBIs.  And what about [Andy] Warhol’s turn-around?  He made that crucial throwing error to go 0-6, but since then he’s 4-0.

A:  Andy has turned it around…

S:  You swept the first place Lowells.  How did that feel?

A:  It felt pretty good…

S:  You knocked them right out of first, capping a 16-4 run last week…Andrew Marvell threw a shutout in that series, and 2 games later, recent acquisition Rae Armantrout picked up a win in relief while getting the winning hit in extra innings in a 7-6 thriller!

A:  It was thrilling, yes.

S:  And this weekend you came into Philadelphia and split a 4 game series with the Poe—Wittgenstein blanking the Poe in game one.  That must have made you feel great!

A:  It did.

S:  This has to be so amazing for you, watching Lord Bacon pitch…seeing Marvell out-duel Shelley as your team wins 2-1…What do you think of all this?

A:  Frank needs to get on base more…

S:  O’Hara!  I was going to ask you about him.  He’s not doing much at the top of your lineup so far this season…James Tate has picked it up, though…

A:  Yes.

S:  O’Hara seems a little impatient at the plate…

A:  We need him to score…(starting to cry)

S:  Are you OK, John?

A:  I’m fine, I’m fine.

S:  Well, congratulations on a fine season so far…it’s a lot of pressure…poetry and…I know you want to win…OK…thanks, John!

A:  Thank you.

Now here’s the Standings with Top Performers so far…


1. Camb Longfellows  29-19  GB –    Top hitters: A. Manzoni, Dante, W. Irving,  Pitching Leaders:  Horace 7-3, G.W. Greene 6-2, Ticknor 5-3

2. Bos Lowells        28-20  GB 1  Hitters: R. Browning, Chaucer, J. Pierpont,  Pitchers: Henry Adams 6-1, O.W. Holmes 4-2

3. Phil Poe              27-21  GB 2   Dostoevsky, Alfred Hitchcock, Fanny Osgood, Pitchers: Pope 6-4, Lord Bacon 6-1

4. NY Bryants        26-22 GB 3   Thomas Cole, James Fenimore Cooper, Pitchers: Abe Lincoln 5-4, Alexander Hamilton 5-4

5. Concord Emersons    25-23  GB 4   Swedenborg, Carlyle, Thoreau, Pitchers: William James 5-4, W.E. Channing 5-2

6. Maine Millays         24-24  GB  5   George Dillon, Shakespeare, Euclid, Pitchers: Philip Sidney 6-2, Sophocles 4-3

7. Brklyn Ashberys     23-25  GB 6   W.H.Auden, Dali, Camus, Sartre, Pitchers: Wittgenstein 5-3, Andrew Marvell 5-4

8. Hartford  Whittiers      21-27  GB 8   Dickens, Alice Walker, Pitchers: William Lloyd Garrison 6-5, Richard Wright 2-1

9. Tenn Ransom       20-28  GB 9   Andrew Nelson Lytle, L. Trilling, Pitchers: Randall Jarrell 6-2, I.A. Richards 4-3

10. NJ Ginsbergs    17-31 GB 12  Bob Dylan, Pitcher: Mark Van Doren 6-4


1. London Eliots           30-18  GB –   Top Hitters: Donne, Aldous Huxley, Top Pitchers: B. Russell 8-2, Churchill 5-1, Corbiere 6-2

2. Amherst Emily          29-19  GB 1    Plath, Keats, Austin Dickinson, Pitchers: Higginson 5-4, Virgil 6-3, Sam Bowles 5-1

3. Hartford Stevens      26-22 GB 4   Mallarme, Hollander, Pitchers: Santayana 5-3, Vendler 6-2, Debussy 3-1

4. NE Frost           26-22 GB 4   Larkin, Wordsworth, Donald Hall, Pitchers: Carl Sandburg 6-4, Bobby Burns 6-2

5. Rapallo Pound         25-23 GB 5   Ford M. Ford, W. Lewis, Villon, Pitchers: R. Wagner 4-0, Olga Rudge 4-1, Sade 2-0

6. Iowa City Grahams     24-24 GB 6   Robert Pinsky, Donald Justice, Pitchers: Ramke 6-4, Winters 5-4, Sontag 3-1

7. NJ Williams      22-26  GB 8   Gary Snyder, R. Duncan, Pitchers: P. Whalen 6-3, R. Silliman 4-2, Stravinksy 3-0

8. Brklyn Whitmans    21-27  GB: 9   William Rossetti, Ferlinghetti, Pitchers: Oscar Wilde 7-4, Swinburne 6-3

9. Camb Cummings   20-28 GB 10   A. MacLeish, J. Dos Passos, Pitcher: Sigmund Freud 4-0

10. NY Moores        17-31 GB 13   Lincoln Kirstein, Pitcher: Stevie Smith 2-0

The Brooklyn Ashberys have been on fire since adding Dali, Camus Sartre, and Ionesco.

The Cambridge Cummings have been lifted by the addition of Freud.  

The Rapallo Pound adding Sade, H.G. Wells, and Blavatsky to their pitching staff has paid off handsomely so far.

The Concord Emersons continue to win despite poor performances from Marx and Nietzsche.

The Tennessee Ransom has struggled recently despite Aristotle in the middle of the lineup.

The London Eliots are a monster since the addition of Churchill and Huxley.

The Cambridge Longfellows have quietly moved into first, getting good contributions from foreign writers and splitting 8 tough games with the Philadelphia Poe.

The Boston Lowells remain hot, despite getting swept by the surging Ashberys.

 Poe has taken 7 of 8 from Emerson.   Jingle that.


A poem’s a little flame
That dies unless we fan it—
Not so much with a reader’s love,
But that the government ban it.

The poem as publicity stunt
Should be planned for hours;
Or you can be like Wordsworth—
And write poems on flowers.

Emerson smote the amateur
Obsessed with rule and rhyme;
That crap about the Soul
Gets them every time.

Emerson’s godson, William,
Performed a nitrous oxide test,
In a trance, at a seance,
And Gertrude did the rest.

Free verse! What a scream!
At Lady Ottoline’s dance
The professor fell for the banker
At a glance.

The parish of rich women
Which by abstract art was fed,
Gave their souls to ‘Poetry,’
By their silken tresses led.

Ransom insisted Romance
Should not be amateurish:
My colleagues, poetry is something
Colleges should nourish.

Poetry isn’t famous
Unless on trial for smut.
Baudelaire, Joyce, Ginsberg.
Not me! What?

Robert Lowell bore in on Iowa and God—
Then ran to Allen Tate’s wife,
Sounding out the names of the women
In Tate’s other life.

Mark Van Doren, Columbia prof,
Assigned the pornographic penguin a book.
William Blake effed me! Ginsberg
Said, when interviewed by Look.

Ted Hughes was not prepared
For what a woman could do.
And judging by that anthology,
Neither were you.

The poem as publicity stunt.
Will make us famous once more.
The first time was on
In two thousand and four.


Where they pitch and hit poetry and poetry runs,
Where poetry conquers love and love’s sons
In this park where umpires, dressed in black,
Take the time to write down the strikes from way back,
You accumulated the data and wrote it down
Noting how writers would show the players the town
Where all would end up in a tavern of candlelight song,
The newspaper the next morning getting half the lyrics wrong.
I saw the rosters but there wasn’t enough ink
To put in every poem and still have time to think.
You prepared for this season and looked everything up,
Keeping extra pencils in the plastic insignia cup,
The fans forming in long lines among the trees
Wanted their teams to win and sometimes went on their knees
By radio and television and poetry book.
You should have turned back when she made that look,
But you know, I saw her and I saw how she felt.
She cut out an infield for me from an old piece of felt
In the time it took you to go from first to third.
A poem is just a list because I number every word.


I see my thoughts reflected here
In poetry dreamy and clear:
Does the mountain really love the lake?
Or is this only a poet’s mistake?
Should the bashful love the shy?
Or should like let like pass by?
I would write her a line but this
Might be less efficient than a kiss,
As the intellect, used by desire,
With its over-thinking douses the fire.
Can we ever learn too much?
Can thinking ruin passion’s touch?
Having been with those books all day,
The learned wants to be away
From learning and ruins with desire
All that meant to put out the fire,
As the lover, with intelligent lip,
Frightens his mistress with a sudden grip.
All is lost!  As if the lofty mountain
Used mere bulk to love the fountain.



When it comes to post-grammar school writing, you can’t choose your education; it chooses you.

When you walk into that classroom on that first day you have absolutely no idea how good that writing teacher or that English teacher is going to be, or how interesting, or supportive, your fellow students are going to be, anymore than how it might go when you strike up a conversation with a stranger in a cafe’.

Nor can any institution guarantee the quality of its teachers or its students.

Outside the institution, there are no guarantees either. When you discover, as a reader, a poet you find interesting, you might enjoy the first dozen poems, but that doesn’t mean the next 100 by that poet won’t be highly disappointing, and there’s no telling how, or even if, that poet is finally going to add significantly to what you hope to do as a poet or be as a person.

Writing is a dice roll.  You may spend five years immersed in a book that leads nowhere.  You may spend ten years with a certain style of poetry that leads nowhere.  That secretive poet you’ve loved for years may finally have nothing to say.

It’s the equivalent in the 18th century of going to sea.  Good luck.

You can train yourself in a job that has a certain salary, but you can’t train yourself to be a poet and expect any salary from ‘writing poetry,’ and therefore the only thing poetry education leads to is more poetry education.  Let’s think about this for a second.  The only result from “learning how to make x” is learning how to teach someone else “how to make x,” and x does not exist as a commodity, or really exist at all.

In institutions of higher learning, those teaching poetry cannot even say what it is.

If you said that a poem has a content or a form unique to itself, this would not be true, and the “professionals” who teach the poem are the first ones who will tell you this.

There is no content or form which is unique to a poem; no one can say, with any certainty at all, what makes a poem unique.

Identifying a poem in the old sense of having a certain distinguishable form would be greeted with gales of laughter by the professionals who currently own its teaching and dissemination as a critical product.

The “professionals” would be the first to say that a poem cannot be defined, this non-entity which is “taught” so that someone else might “teach” it again, with “teaching it” not even definable, since “it,” as all professionals agree, is not definable.

Nor does learning poetry have any ancillary benefits that can be defined; if one plays soccer, for instance, or jogs, and it never leads to any income or any definable result, we can say for certain that the exercise involved is a benefit; not so, however, with learning poetry, for it more often than not, leads to ill health: lack of exercise, lack of sunshine, too much coffee or alcohol, an exaggerated sense of importance, low self-esteem from material want, and book-wormish mania.

Writing, in very rare  instances, can be a great career, but half-attempts will inevitably fail and full-attempts which are unsuccessful will inevitably fail miserably, and especially so, in poetry, which none can define.

No amount of institutional professionalism can prevent, by one iota, the issues addressed here, and professionalizing what, at bottom,  is a psychosis, will probably lead to even more unhappiness.

Here, my friend.  Have a croissant.


The Rapallo Pound, in seventh place and 7 games off the pace in the Scarriet Baseball Poetry League (AL), is making some serious moves to contend against clubs like the first place London Eliots, red-hot since adding Winston Churchill and Matthew Arnold to their pitching staff, the Hartford Stevens, the Amherst Emily and the New England Frost.

Ezra Pound, in an expletive-laced tirade, announced to the world that he was not able to sign Thomas Jefferson (who refuses to play for a team with Bentio Mussollini in right field) but that he was putting Francois Villon in at shortstop to replace the slumping Yeats,  benching H.D. at second for Gustave Flaubert and making significant changes in his pitching, by signing the Marquis de Sade, H.G. Wells, Helena Blavatsky, and Wassily Kandinsky.

The Rapallo Pound now has a pitching staff which is genuinely scary. 

Harriet Monroe, Hugh Kenner, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukovsky are a combined 12-19 with an E.R.A. over 5.  The only bright spots have been Olga Rudge at 4-1 and Richard Wagner out of the bullpen (3-0).

“I will continue to have talks with President Jefferson,” Pound asserted yesterday, “and I have not the slightest doubt that Sade, Wells, Blavatsky, and Kandinsky will improve our pitching.  I like Villon and Flaubert in the middle of my infield.  Now, no more questions please, and to hell with you all.”


I should have remembered what you said over there
In that park next to the train station,
You left people staring and I was baffled
At what came over you but still I was more concerned
About getting out of there because I was embarrassed
And I remember how my first girlfriend had no fear
Of freaking out on me in public, which was not how I was raised
And I decided at that moment she wasn’t for me,
Not caring anymore for our private love.
A delicacy in public matters is a sure sign of intelligence.
Privacy of intent is nothing but ignorance.
Now you accuse me of not listening to you
But I left that scene in a hurry, and I was frightened!
Petals in a box. Perfume of rue.



Advice to the Young MFA

Remember to respect the outer form,
The thunder defines the lightning-storm
To the blind, or rain on the face—
Put in the sensual when you make your case,
But do not presume sudden light
Bursting from dark cloud will light up the night.
The reader is a worm in the earth,
Not an eagle in the storm.
And so, for what it’s worth,
Your reader’s like a beauty in a fast-food uniform,
In thrall to her practical side;
Say anything good and they’ll know you’ve lied.

Say what does not offend.
Pretend, pretend, pretend.
Praise what you do not really like.
Cover up the mike.
Rimbaud will tell you a story,
Magnificent and gory,
A fantasy, a lie,
But with an image to arrest your eye
And leave you dumbfounded,
And thus your errant ideas
By imagism will be pleased,
And all your philosophy grounded.
Whatever you do, don’t write verse,
You idiot, nothing could be worse.



A bene placito

May is the sexiest month,
Flowers thrusting out from their leaves,
Odors everywhere.
Doctrines of sweetness impart their theories
From swart clusters of trees.
The idea of the bee is immediate,
The worm makes haste in the cool rain.
Under the tree of incense I recognize one I’m seeking:
Placing a rose near her bosom,
She lisps from the optimistic anthology,
As I listen for the liked, the loved, my green name.

The bright lion seeks applause;
His barbarous nation trails after poetry, Italian,
Hides its stench with French,
Gives out aid for favorable trade,
Rules opium and the waves.
Our country’s symbol is the lion.

Are there rules for people who don’t like rules?
No.  People who don’t like rules don’t like rules.
Verifiable rules enforced by society rule us
And we, at times, sense their benefit to us,

As we move, seeing, through the unseeing crowd.
But the crowd doesn’t like rules and would break them,
If they could, were it not for the ubiquitous nature of rules.
We often dream of breaking rules ourselves,
For we feel rules violate something deep in our nature,
Even as they protect us from ourselves, and from each other.

We don’t like rules.  Nobody likes rules.
We don’t like poems, either.  Those, too, are for fools.

A large rat has crept into the candy shop,
Her family growing beneath
The shop-keeper’s nose.

We are going to celebrate the rats
Who live there, hidden from the sky.
We have a job to do and will do it until we die.

Upon entering the building,
I feel somehow it’s not where I belong,
Though the water fountain is in order,
The elevator stops where it should,
And the young fashionable apprentices are busy
And half-busy, at their seats.
Their desks contain sweaters and ballpoint pens and sweets.

Was that the spring of my sin?
I remember to this day
How sadness couldn’t come in.
I was frightened by that happy day.

I took a cloth
And covered April
With dripping May.


They don’t have Yeats!  Only Keats!  The Modernists don’t sell candy. 

Yeats on Keats:

His art is happy, but who knows his mind?
I see a schoolboy when I think of him,
With face and nose pressed to sweet-shop window…
Shut out from all the luxury of the world,
The coarse-bred son of a livery stablekeeper…

Here’s the whole poem which makes it quite clear this is unfortunately Yeats’ actual opinion of Keats.

Yeats, also wrote, “A line will take us hours maybe; yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstinting has been naught.”

The key here is “A line will take us hours…”

This puts Yeats (despite some Romantic impulses) squarely in the Modernist camp—he was closer to his friend Pound than he was to any Romantic.

Keats, on the other hand, said writing poetry should “come like leaves to a tree.”  He didn’t say, ‘the poet should make it look like his poetry comes as naturally as leaves to a tree.’  No, Keats meant the poetry should, in fact, come as naturally to the poet as leaves to a tree, and Keats added that the poetry should appear almost as a “remembrance.”

The Modern poet sees, then consciously and unsentimentally presents what he sees (“no ideas but in things”).

Keats, on the other hand, says poetry should express the poet’s “highest thoughts.”

If high thoughts, memories, prodigious natural talent, youth, luxury, desires, and passion belong to the Romantics and the neo-Romantics, what is left for the poor, bitter Moderns?

Snobbery.  Elitism.  Puritanism.  Jealousy.

We see these qualities in Yeats’ indictment of Keats.

“Who knows his mind?”  asks Yeats of the “coarse-bred” Keats.

Here is the (supposedly) conscious artist, Yeats mocking the (supposedly)unconscious one, Keats.

The modern mind mocks the romantic mind, finding it vague, sentimental, inexact and invisible.

The youth in today’s MFA, the neo-Romantics who celebrate their frenzied exstence in a luxurious world, are hated by the ‘new Modernist’ old farts, who, ostensibly of animistic zeal in their avant impulses, in reality, resent all that animism stands for: joyous Romantic frenzy.  Or so a certain current theory goes.

Those who love the best of the Romantic poetry cannot stomach most modernist poetry; the former, at its best, had philosophy, while the latter, at its best, had mere manifesto.   Keats was highly conscious, but his conscious was in dialogue with his subconscious, and we suggest that all great artists carry on this inner conversation.   We only know the existence of subconscious and conscious by this dialogue, which spills out and forms the poetry: the reader overhears the two talking.   How can the unconscious exist to us but when the unconscious makes itself known to our conscious?

The Moderns rejected this, thinking to give the conscious mind control of things (literally control of things, or things in control, which is animistic, come to think of it).  But the drab, inartistic nature of this Imagiste experiment quickly became apparent as High Modernism withered in its ‘little magazine existence,’ pretty much unread.

Who knows his mind? indeed.

The English Romantics woo’d, assimilated, and mated with  previous eras, courting the Greeks, the Enlightenment, the earlier German Romantics, the East, Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, while the Moderns cut off history like a furious murderer with a knife.  One can see it in Tate and Ransom’s essays ridiculing the keepers of history in the English Departments, who, according to them, paid scant attention to objective poetic forms—but was Modernism really a formalist enterprise?   Of course it wasn’t.  Tate and Ransom’s prose has a certain steely, Sadean power.  But who reads their poetry?

To understand the Modernists, one simply has to read the New Critics, starting with perhaps the most important critical document of the 20th century, Eliot’s “The Sacred Wood” (1920).

On the very first page of the introduction to that book, what does Eliot do?  What the Modernists and the New Critics made a career of doing, of course.  He attacks the Romantics.

“To anyone who is at all capable of experiencing the pleasures of justice, it is gratifying to be able to make amends to a writer whom one has vaguely depreciated for some years.”

Eliot begins as nobly as one can begin, talking of the “pleasures of justice” and reaching out to a writer from the past, the 19th century poet and critic Matthew Arnold.  But after saying he’s re-read him and is starting to appreciate him more, here’s what Eliot then quotes from Arnold:

it has long seemed to me that the burst of creative activity in our literature, through the first quarter of this century, had about it in fact something premature; and that from this cause its productions are doomed, most of them, in spite of the sanguine hopes which accompanied and do still accompany them, to prove hardly more lasting than the productions of far less splendid epochs.  And this prematureness comes from its having proceeded without having its proper data, without sufficient material to work with.  In other words, the English poetry of the first quarter of this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not have enough.  This makes Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth, even, profound as he is, yet so wanting in completeness and variety.

Eliot then adds to Arnold’s words, “This judgment of the Romantic generation has not, so far as I know, been successfully controverted…”

No “justice” for Byron and Shelley, apparently.  (Wordsworth, the dullest of the Romantics, and the most resembling a Modernist, at least is called “profound.”)

The dismissal of whole swaths of literary history, especially the Romantics, by Pound, the Moderns, Winters, and the New Critics is well known.  And here we see T.S. Eliot choosing to lead off his most important critical work by quoting Arnold calling Shelley “incoherent,” Byron “empty,” and strangely damning one of the greatest literary periods in human history.

Yeats hates Keats.


The animistic poets do not know where the poem is going as they write it, tapping into their subconscious so they might avoid the dry, pre-planned poem which does not surprise or engage the subconscious of the reader.  The animistic poet is typically the Romantic poet, the post-modern poet, such as O’Hara and Spicer, and the young, neo-romantic MFAers.   These are the true post-modernists.

The classical poet, on the other hand, plans the poem.  This tradition includes the Modernists, the new Modernists, or (horrors!) faux post-modernists, who merely pretend to be animistic.  This group tends to be anti-MFA and cries for less, not more, in the publishing/production landscape.

This, with apologies to Seth Abramson, is the essence of today’s po-biz divisions.



1780-1790  Philip Freneau  (The Indian Burying Ground)

In spite of all the learn’d have said;
I still my old opinion keep,
The posture, that we give the dead,
Points out the soul’s eternal sleep.

Not so the ancients of these lands —
The Indian, when from life releas’d
Again is seated with his friends,
And shares again the joyous feast.

His imag’d birds, and painted bowl,
And ven’son, for a journey dress’d,
Bespeak the nature of the soul,
Activity, that knows no rest.

His bow, for action ready bent,
And arrows, with a head of stone,
Can only mean that life is spent,
And not the finer essence gone.

Thou, stranger, that shalt come this way.
No fraud upon the dead commit —
Observe the swelling turf, and say
They do not lie, but here they sit.

Here still lofty rock remains,
On which the curious eye may trace,
(Now wasted, half, by wearing rains)
The fancies of a older race.

Here still an aged elm aspires,
Beneath whose far — projecting shade
(And which the shepherd still admires
The children of the forest play’d!

There oft a restless Indian queen
(Pale Shebah, with her braided hair)
And many a barbarous form is seen
To chide the man that lingers there.

By midnight moons, o’er moistening dews,
In habit for the chase array’d,
The hunter still the deer pursues,
The hunter and the deer, a shade!

And long shall timorous fancy see
The painted chief, and pointed spear,
And reason’s self shall bow the knee
To shadows and delusions here.

1790-1800  Joel Barlow  (The Hasty-Pudding, excerpt)

Ye Alps audacious, through the heavens that rise
To cramp the day and hide me from the skies;
Ye Gallic flags, that o’er their heights unfurl’d,
Bear death to kings, and freedom to the world,—
I sing not you.  A softer theme I choose,
A virgin theme, unconscious of the Muse,
But fruitful, rich, well suited to inspire
The purest frenzy of poetic fire.

Despise it not, ye bards to terror steel’d,
Who hurl’d your thunders round the epic field;
Nor ye who strain your midnight throats to sing,
Joys that the vineyard and the still-house bring;
Or on some fair your distant notes employ,
And speak of raptures that you ne’r enjoy.
I sing the sweets I know,—the charms I feel,—
My morning incense, and my evening meal—

1800-1810  John Quincy Adams (The Wants of Man, excerpt)

“Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long.”
‘Tis not with me exactly so;
But ’tis so in the song.
My wants are many and, if told,
Would muster many a score;
And were each wish a mint of gold,
I still should long for more.

1810-1820  Francis Scott Key (Defence of Fort McHenry, excerpt)

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

1820-1830  William Cullen Bryant  (Thanatopsis, excerpt)

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

1830-1840  Lydia Huntley Sigourney (Indian Names, excerpt)

Ye see their unresisting tribes,
With toilsome step and slow,
On through the trackless desert pass,
A caravan of woe;
Think ye the Eternal’s ear is deaf?
His sleepless vision dim?
Think ye the soul’s blood may not cry
From that far land to him?

1840-1850  Edgar Poe (The Raven, excerpt)

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

1850-1860   Stephen Foster  (Old Kentucky Home, excerpt)

Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.

1860-1870  Walt Whitman (O Captain! My Captain! excerpt)

O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring.

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red!
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

1870-1880   Sidney Lanier  (Hymns of the Marshes, excerpt)

Over the monstrous shambling sea,
Over the Caliban sea,
Bright Ariel-cloud, thou lingerest:
Oh wait, oh wait, in the warm red West,—
Thy Prospero I’ll be.

1880-1890  Ellen Wheeler Wilcox  (Delilah, excerpt)

She touches my cheek, and I quiver
I tremble with exquisite pains;
She sighs – like an overcharged river
My blood rushes on through my veins;
She smiles – and in mad-tiger fashion,
As a she-tiger fondles her own,
I clasp her with fierceness and passion,
And kiss her with shudder and groan.

1890-1900   Ernest Fenollosa  (Fuji at Sunrise)

Startling the cool gray depths of morning air
She throws aside her counterpane of clouds,
And stands half folded in her silken shrouds
With calm white breast and snowy shoulder bare.
High o’er her head a flush all pink and rare
Thrills her with foregleam of an unknown bliss,
A virgin pure who waits the bridal kiss,
Faint with expectant joy she fears to share.
Lo, now he comes, the dazzling prince of day!
Flings his full glory o’er her radiant breast;
Enfolds her to the rapture of his rest,
Transfigured in the throbbing of his ray.
O fly, my soul, where love’s warm transports are;
And seek eternal bliss in yon pink kindling star!

1900-1910   John Whitcomb Riley  (Little Orphant Annie)

You better mind yer parents, and yer teachers fond and dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, ‘an dry the orphant’s tear,
‘An he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the gobble-uns ‘ll git you Ef You Don’t Watch Out!

1910-1920    Robert Frost  (The Road Not Taken)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

1920-1930     Dorothy Parker (A Very Short Song)

Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad-
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.

1930-1940  Edna Millay  (Sonnet XXX)

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be.  I do not think I would.

1940-1950   E.E. Cummings  (Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town, excerpt)

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

1950-1960   Allen Ginsberg  (Howl, excerpt)

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

1960-1970    Sylvia Plath  (Daddy, excerpt)

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

1970-1980    John Ashbery  (Daffy Duck in Hollywood, excerpt)

But everything is getting choked to the point of
Silence. Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky
Over the Fudds’ garage, reducing it–drastically–
To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin on
A Gadsden Purchase commemorative cover.

1980-1990     Dana Gioia  (My Confessional Sestina, excerpt)

Let me confess. I’m sick of these sestinas
written by youngsters in poetry workshops
for the delectation of their fellow students,
and then published in little magazines
that no one reads, not even the contributors
who at least in this omission show some taste.

1990-2000    Billy Collins  (Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey, excerpt)

Something will be missing
from this long, coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray,

the glossy gardenia drooping
in its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning core of an apple.

Nothing will be as it was
a few hours ago, back in the glorious past
before our nap, back in that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly after lunch.

2000-2010   Franz Wright (A Happy Thought)

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.


I was reading “The Franz Wright Critique of the MFA Generations” on John Gallaher’s blog where Seth Abramson and Curtis Faville went toe to toe and Franz Wright threatened John Gallaher with a lawsuit, and I saw pro-MFA and anti-MFA sides agreeing that the 1920’s was the best decade of American poetry.  Not only does Abramson, for all his current creative writing program expertise, seem ignorant of the program era’s history, but everybody, even avant MFA advocates, are certain the 1920’s was the best decade for poetry.

Just a brief side note: MFA-defender Seth Abramson said something great on Gallaher’s blog: Ambramson mocked the non-MFA poet as someone who writes “Coleridge knock-offs on napkins to get laid.”   This speaks volumes.  Note the Romantic reference, (Coleridge) the bane of T.S. Eliot, the Modernists, and the New Critics.  Note the professional’s disdain for love (getting laid).  Note the academic’s contempt for bread and butter (napkin).  Note the ivory tower sneer at mixing art and life (writing poetry on a napkin).   Abramson is absolutely a New Critical animal.

As for the 1920’s, love of the 1920’s might seem a little odd, but think about it: who was the architect of the creative writing era?

Paul Engle.

Who were Engle’s professional associates and influences?

The Fugitives (a member of the Fugitives chose Engle’s college thesis for the Yale Younger in 1932) and the Rhodes Scholar-Fugitive’s friends, the Modernists, Eliot, Pound, Williams, Tate, Ransom, Burke, Warren and Brooks.

What’s important to remember is that Tate, Ransom and Warren were not just poets who got jobs as university professors, they were the first poets to ever get university jobs because they were poets.

Frost was a famous poet and became a college teacher because he was Robert Frost, and that did help start the ball rolling.

Longfellow was a professor at Harvard, but he was hired because he knew lots of languages, not because he was a poet.

In the middle of the 19th century, less than 50 years before Ransom was born, the Professor of Poetry at Oxford delivered his lectures in Latin.

Ransom, Engle, Tate and Warren created the system, the very conditions in which poets became alternatives to scholars of history or languages to teach English in the universities.

The heresy of amateur poets, with little or no history or language credentials, teaching their amateur poet pals as core English in major universities was sold to the deans, presidents, chairs and trustees as a necessity due to their pals’ poetry’s modern relevance.

The Modernists’ modernism was the pre-condition to themselves  teaching and being taught at the university.

That no one can agree what modernism in poetry even is, much less why it’s important to English degrees is a fact uttered too late.

The camel has long occupied the tent, the New Critics, championing the Modernists, have long since occupied not only the English departments but made out of  one revolution another, the university Creative Writing program, the two revolutions, in actuality one, since poets teaching their friends at university in the name of  modern relevance—languages and history pushed aside in the great ‘relevance’ stampede—naturally flowered into ‘creative writing teaching,’ because what else could Paul Engle, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren and their ever-increasing band of friends teach, anyway?

They couldn’t teach languages and they couldn’t teach history.   They couldn’t teach classical poets because languages had that covered, and they couldn’t teach Romantic poets because the English professors had that covered, so their credentials for teaching were: their friends! They were experts at that.   They were experts on poets who were riding a “modernist revolution” in little magazines read by six or seven people.

T.S. Eliot, it turned out, was the godfather of both Modernism and New Criticism.  He found fame in the 1920’s.   Modernism and New Criticism was the coin that paid for and built the Creative Writing Program era which, in 2010, is humming along on the aspirations of thousands of would-be poets.

This is why po-biz today is still in thrall to the 1920’s.

So Scarriet has decided to decide this thing here and now: What was the best decade for American poetry?



Andrea Brady, as quoted on Digital Emunction, humbly makes it clear she’s better than you:

I’m per­fectly aware that my poetry isn’t going to change the world because it is “far from a mass move­ment,” as I wrote some­where: it’s not part of the class strug­gle, ener­gized by direct action or likely to inspire it. I can carry on writ­ing it if I think it will be avail­able to future read­ers as a record of a pecu­liar dis­si­dence. At times that in itself has seemed like a major accom­plish­ment. At my most opti­mistic, I hope it encour­ages its readers—who, as read­ers seek­ing out this kind of work, aren’t likely to require encouragement—to think crit­i­cally about pol­i­tics, or per­haps to be inspired by such think­ing to par­tic­i­pate in col­lec­tive efforts to over­come the tyran­nies of cap­i­tal­ism. As a reader myself, I’ve been inspired by poetry to do what else I have done; and I would include, among my polit­i­cal acts, teach­ing, con­ver­sa­tion, and col­lab­o­ra­tion. I think I share with other Cam­bridge types the belief that engag­ing with 300 or more stu­dents every week in debates about lit­er­a­ture, pol­i­tics, rights and forms and lan­guage, is a polit­i­cal and eth­i­cal activ­ity. When I teach dif­fi­cult late mod­ernist poetry (includ­ing the most recent poetry writ­ten by my peers) along­side the tweedy canon, I hope I am not being a hope­lessly nar­cis­sis­tic self-advertising git. I con­sider it my ped­a­gog­i­cal duty to those stu­dents, to exam­ine with them the full range of alter­na­tives to the regal dis­courses of jargon and bathos and greed. They can take what they want. I say this not because Archam­beau has thrown the typ­i­cal stink-bomb at the politi­cized poets who are also ghosts in the uni­ver­si­ties’ ivory machine, but because lec­tur­ers, who spend their work­ing hours immersed in cri­tique and neg­a­tiv­ity, can be a very masochis­tic bunch when it comes to describ­ing the pol­i­tics of their work. I think it’s worth pro­claim­ing pub­licly that that work is a kind of activism, which pro­motes cre­ative, intel­li­gent, belligerent… well, yes, resistance.

What’s so pathetic about this is that poets don’t  defend their art anymore, even in a pedagogical or idealistic manner (Shelley’s “Defense,” for instance).

Poetry is, if I might be really direct and simple about it, the essence of prose combined with the essence of music; what could be a more powerful cultural force?  It happens that Advertising in various guises is, in fact, a powerful cultural force, and though we don’t call it poetry, it is using poetry’s power.

But look at this quote by Andrea Brady above, a typical pedagogical expression of a contemporary poet-intellectual’s immersion in the philosophy of dissent and dissidence and resistance.

She begins by using the word “poetry” self-pityingly.

“I’m perfectly aware that my poetry isn’t going to change the world.”

Then she goes on to boast in very vague terms about how her politics will change the world.

She goes on to talk of “political acts” and “language” and “resistance.”  Poets such as her want to have their cake and eat it.  They are poets only nominally; the philosophy of “dissent” is really their bag.

The problem is this: if dissent is not specific, it is merely quixotic, and when persisted in, becomes a blinding, killjoy philosophy.   If to resist the “tyrannies of capitalism” is the ruling animus of one’s aesthetics, how is this anything but a path away from the main point?  It is a truism to say resistance drives critique, and in fact drives all Letters, all science, all expression, all art, since, if we were content, and had no need to resist, we would never exert the effort in the first place, but it weakens, even invalidates all human enterprise to foreground dissent itself, since dissent is the default background of the whole activity.  To argue that the good ‘resist’ what the bad ‘make’ is bad reasoning, since the ‘bad’ are really ‘resisting’ too, if the ‘good’  could only see it.  We’re all “resisting” something all the time.

Andrea Brady rails against “regal discourse,” and, in the act of heroically “teaching difficult late modernist poetry,” puts herself (blindly, as it turns out) in opposition to the “tweedy canon.”

But platitude is her doom; she is caught helplessly in the web of her own making, unable to see that the New Criticism is both the “tweedy canon” and also the inventors of “difficult late modernist poetry.”  And the guy who influenced the New Critics, T.S. Eliot (his and Pound’s reactionary politics fit right in with the Southern Agrarian New Critics) was as “regal” as they come.

“I hope,” she says, “I am not a hopelessly narcissistic, self-advertising git.”

Dear, I’ve got bad news.



When the girls in the sky
See the clouds going by
They try not to sigh
But I think I
Prefer the sun.
They want to sing
That everything
Is useless.
They want to cry
That everything high
Is useless.
They want to say
That every day
Is useless.
I think it’s funny
All the way down.

When I sent a letter
To my lover who was better
They said I should let her
Go away for a while
To the sun.
I want to sing
That everything
Is useless.
I want to cry
That everything high
Is useless.
I want to say
That every day
Is useless.
I think it’s funny
All the way down.

When the girls told the boys
To stop making noise,
To cease with their joys,
The one who made them quiet
Had the sun.
She will not sing
That everything
Is useless.
She will not cry
That everything high
Is useless.
She will not say
That every day
Is useless.
I think she’s funny
All the way down.


Some are rooting for the Philadelphia Poe to win the Scarriet Baseball Poetry Championship because Poe represents a ratiocinative aesthetic ideal which avoids those inevitable crudities of didactic impulses of overt morality; but whether Poe can actually win on the field is another question.  The New Critics would, on first blush, seem to support Poe since they were 1) from the South and 2) rejoiced in the nuts and bolts of text-ism, but in their actual writings the New Critics damned Poe (together with the Romantics, of which Poe was not quite one, really).  The Philadelphia Poe got revenge for this back in April when, hosting the Tennessee Ransom, they blanked them in four straight games on their way to a 9-0 start.

But something is changing in the Scarriet National League

The Hartford Whittiers have added Henry Louis Gates Jr, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, and Alice Walker to their pitching staff.  The Whittiers visited Philadelphia last week and took 3 out of 4 from the Poe, every game well-pitched and decided by one run. 

The Emersons have added Karl Marx to their attack since the Poe visited Concord and swept them. 

The Tennessee Ransom has since put Aristotle in the middle of their lineup.

The Cambridge Lowells have moved ahead of the Philadelphia Poe into first place and the surging Longfellows have caught Poe in the standings.

Enter the Longfellow War.  Poe harassed Longfellow re: plagiarism, but the dignified Harvard professor never responded with a word in his defense.  A fellow writing as Outis did, but many feel this was Poe himself.  Poe routinely lobbed rhetorical bombs at New England writers.  When Poe was invited to read his poetry at the Boston Lyceum, some in the audience said they were mesmerized; others, not friendly to begin with, claimed he was drunk.

So, it was quite the occasion this weekend when the Philadelphia Poe traveled to Cambridge to take on the Longfellows.  “Poe Sucks” and “Drown Him in the Frog Pond” signs were everywhere.  The Redsox/Yankee rivalry is a polite affair compared to this one.  Would the Poe silence the bats of Cambridge as they had Tennessee? 

Here are the results from the weekend.  The atmosphere was that of a continual riot.  The games could barely be played.  Fights were constant.  The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are known for their lengthy five hour contests.  Each Longfellow War game took at least eight hours to play. Scalpers were getting $1,000 per ticket.  In the four games this past weekend, there was a total of 23 runs, 75 hits, 11 errors, 7 hit batters, and 8 brawls.  Both teams won 2, with the Poe scoring 23 runs, the Longfellows 20.

Bloody noses abounded.  Dante’s grand slam in the 9th gave the Longfellows a 9-5 win in game 4.  Richard Henry Dana scored the winning run for Cambridge in Game 2 on Thomas Moore’s passed ball (the Poe claimed interference on the play) in the Longfellows 4-3 win.  Fanny Osgood’s 5 hits paced the Poe’s 10-4 romp in Game 3 behind the brush-back pitching of Lord Bacon, and Thomas Moore homered to support the pitching of Alexander Von Humboldt in Game 1, as the Poe prevailed 5-3, in a fight-interrupted game that went from one in the afternoon to midnight.

Of the brawling contests, Commissioner Bloom called for “more order,” while Player Rep Paglia said, “Oh, let them have fun and play.”


Poe and Longfellow are now 19-13, one game behind the first place Boston Lowells, (20-12) who dropped three of four to the New York Bryants.(16-16)  The improving Ashberys (11-21) won 3 of 4 from the Whittiers in Hartford.

Briefly in the American League: The London Eliots took 3 of 4 from the New York Moores, with Winston Churchill and Matthew Arnold winning for London, as the surging Eliots now share first place with the Amherst Emily at 20-12.  The Hartford Stevens (19-13) are hanging tough in second-place, splitting their 4 game series at the New England Frost (18-14). The Cambridge Cummings (11-21) got the best of the Pound, (15-17) taking 3 of 4, as the Cummings continue to win since acquiring Freud and Darwin.


Love hasn’t got a chance
If you don’t.  Better dance,
Your mind and mine.  Romance
Possible right here, reader.
Well yes you saw this
Between the shelves of tedious pedantry
And the dimly lit closet of bliss
Where nature advertises: Breeder.
You have more free will than you need.
Millions want you and wait in the airport of your seed.
Generations die unless you create them now.
This is the love poem, but more important,
The poet who doesn’t know how.
Reading this to the end
Is neither possible nor necessary,
Since ‘this’ is not defined.
Not another word.  It’s all absurd,
Trust the utter mystery is kind.


Players’ Rep Paglia on Shelley: his sublimity, his atheism, his fastball.

MM: Marla Muse here, and we’re back with Scarriet Poetry Baseball League Players’ Rep Camille Paglia.  Camille, you seem to view the current state of poetry in academia with a jaundiced eye.

CP: During the past quarter century, humanistic principles and honest practical criticism could more reliably be found among low-paid adjuncts faithfully teaching service courses at community colleges than in the vain, showy professoriat of the elite schools.

MM: Body blow!!!

CP: I don’t agree with the assessments (pro or con) of contemporary poetry by most of the leading poetry critics and reviewers. Those who turn their backs on media (or overdose on postmodernism) have no gauge for monitoring the metamorphosis of English.

MM: Poetry has perhaps become too precious, too affected?

CP: Any poetry removed from popular diction will inevitably become as esoteric as eighteenth-century satire (perfected by Alexander Pope, starting pitcher, Philadelphia Poe), whose dense allusiveness and preciosity drove the early Romantic poets into the countryside to find living speech again.

MM: Poetry has a religious dimension for you as well.

CP: I sound out poems silently, as others pray.

MM: Wow!

CP: The concentrated attention demanded by poetry is close to meditation. Reading a poem requires alert receptivity, perpetual openness, and intuition.

MM: Absolutely.

CP: The sacred remains latent in poetry, which was born in ancient ritual and cult. For Donne, (London Eliots) God is an eternal, transcendent judge and king. For Wordsworth, (New England Frost)  the divine suffuses nature and manifests itself in numinous moments of intensified consciousness. For Roethke, (starting pitcher, Cambridge Cummings) the divine is a ghostly Muse who emanates from his own psyche—a pattern seen differently in “Hamlet”, with its purgatorial stalking father.

MM: Then the religious aspect of poetry is present in secular poetry as well?

CP: Poetry’s persistent theme of the sublime—the awesome vastness of the universe—is a religious perspective, even in atheists like Shelley (starting pitcher, Philadelphia Poe). Despite the cosmic vision of the radical psychedelic 1960s, the sublime is precisely what poststructuralism, with its blindness to nature, cannot see.

MM: So you feel strongly about this religious aspect of poetry.

CP: Poets have glimpses of other realities, higher or lower, which can’t be grasped cognitively.

MM: Beyond cognition, yes.

CP: And commentary on poetry is a kind of divination, resembling the practice of oracles, sibyls, augurs, and interpreters of dreams.

MM: Wow, criticism has a spiritual aspect as well?

CP: Criticism at its best is re-creative, not spirit-killing.

MM:  But Camille, poetry isn’t “just religion,” is it? What else is it?

CP:  Like philosophy, poetry is a contemplative form, but unlike philosophy, poetry subliminally manipulates the body and triggers its nerve impulses, the muscle tremors of sensation and speech.

MM:  Okay, a kind of “physical philosophy.”  That’s where the baseball comes in, obviously. What else?

CP: Poetry, which began as song, is music-drama: I value emotional expressiveness, musical phrasings, and choreographic assertion, the speaker’s self-positioning toward other persons or implacable external forces.

MM: Yes, implacable external forces – “the inherent difficulty of things” – or as my kids say, “Physical reality is a b—ch!”

CP:  Marla, I’m reminded here that we live in a time increasingly indifferent to literary style, from the slack prose of once august newspapers to pedestrian translations of the Bible. The Web (which I champion and to which I have extensively contributed) has increased verbal fluency but not quality, at least in its rushed, patchy genres of e-mail and blog.

MM: So true.

CP: It’s poetry on the page—a visual construct—that lasts. The eye too is involved. The shapeliness and symmetry of the four-line ballad stanza (descending from medieval England and Scotland and carried by seventeenth-century emigres to the American South and Appalachia) once structured the best lyrics of rhythm and blues, gospel, country and western music, and rock ‘n’ roll. But with the immense commercial success of rock music, those folk roots have receded, and popular songwriting has gotten weaker and weaker.

MM:  Tell me about it! Camille, we’re almost out of time—anything else you’d like to add?

CP:  Artists are makers, not just mouthers of slippery discourse. Language, the poets’ medium, should not be privileged over the protean materials of other artists, who work in pigments, stone, metals, and fibers. Poets are fabricators and engineers, pursuing a craft analogous to cabinetry or bridge building.

MM: Beautifully said.

CP: The poem is a methodical working out of fugitive impressions. It finds or rather projects symbols into the inner and outer worlds.

MM: That external, physical reality again.

CP: Poetry is not just about itself: it does point to something “out there”, however dimly we can know it. The modernist doctrine of the work’s self-reflexiveness once empowered art but has ended by strangling it in gimmickry.

MM: Yes, so much poetry is so obscure and subjective that it is ultimately undecodable by a reader.

CP:  I maintain that the text emphatically exists as an object; it is not just a mist of ephemeral subjectivities. Every reading is partial, but that does not absolve us from the quest for meaning, which defines us as a species.

MM:  In the remaining minutes we have, can I ask you a little about the Scarriet Baseball Poetry League itself?

CP:  Sure.

MM:  Camille, what do you think of all the riots in the games (both on and off the field), pitchers plunking batters, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, manifestos pinned to outfield walls, the unusual dimensions and features of home parks (like the spreading chestnut tree in Longfellow Park, growing in rightfield)?

CP: I think it’s wonderful!

MM:  But Harold Bloom, the Commissioner’s office, has said—

 CP: Oh, Commissioner Bloom just talks for the sake of talking…he knows all of this is great for the game…players and fans need a certain amount of freedom to express themselves…

MM:  OK…thanks, Camille…but I don’t think we’ve heard the last about this from Commissioner Bloom

CP: Yea, whatever…again…love your dress!

MM:  Thanks so much, Camille, and good luck in running Scarriet poetry baseball this season alongside Commish Bloom.

CP: Thanks, Marla.

MM: And we go now to “60 Minutes” which is already in progress….

Part 1 of the interview can be found at

FOETRY! (who was that masked man?)


And what has he done with my poetic reputation?

find out here


MMMarla Muse here!  I’m speaking with Scarriet Baseball Poetry Player Rep Camille Paglia!  Camille, thanks for meeting with me today on this murky mountaintop!

CP: You’re welcome, Marla.  Nice dress!

MM:  Thanks!  Sappho wore it.

CP:  I knew it looked classic.

MM:  Camille, what are your goals as the Scarriet Baseball Poetry Player Rep this season?

CP:  Well Marla, I believe that custodianship, not deconstruction, should be the mission and goal of the humanities.

MM:  Custodianship does seem to be the spirit of Scarriet Baseball Poetry

 CP:  I love baseball!  I love poetry!  My attraction to poetry has always been driven by my love of English.  What fascinated me about English was what I later recognized as its hybrid etymology: blunt Anglo-Saxon concreteness, sleek Norman French urbanity, and polysyllabic Greco-Roman abstraction. The clash of these elements is invigorating, richly entertaining, and often funny, as it is to Shakespeare, who gets tremendous effects out of their interplay. The dazzling multiplicity of sounds and word choices in English make it brilliantly suited to be a language of poetry—and baseball! It’s why the pragmatic Anglo-American tradition (unlike effete French rationalism) doesn’t need poststructuralism: in English, usage depends upon context; the words jostle and provoke one another and mischievously shift their meanings over time.

MM:  Yes!  To fan.  To strike out.  How weird is that?  Now, in your approach to poetry, what “method,” if you’ll forgive that term, do you espouse?

 CP:  I believe that close reading, or what used to be called “explication of text,” not only is the best technique for revealing beauty and meaning in literature but is a superb instrument for the analysis of all art and culture. Through it, one learns how to focus the mind, sharpen perception, and refine emotion.

MM:  Do tell!

CP:  My secular but semimystical view of art is that it taps primal energies, breaks down barriers, and imperiously remakes our settled way of seeing. Animated by the breath force (the original meaning of “spirit” and “inspiration”), poetry brings exhilarating spiritual renewal. A good poem is iridescent and incandescent, catching the light at unexpected angles and illuminating human universals—whose very existence is denied by today’s parochial theorists. Among these looming universals are time and mortality, to which we are all subject.

MM:  I’m certainly subject, especially every morning when I first look in the mirror!  Camille, what in your background has prepared you to be Players’ Rep?

CP:  The foundation of my literary education in college and graduate school in the 1960s was a technique known as the New Criticism, which studied the internal or formal qualities of poetry. I was impatient with what I regarded as its genteel sentimentality, its prim evasion of the sex and aggression in artistic creativity. Urgent supplementation was needed by psychology as well as history, toward which I had been oriented since adolescence, when I began exploring books about Greco-Roman and Near Eastern archeology.

MM:  Interesting, Camille, because Thomas Brady, the sitemeister of the world-famous poetry site Scarriet, is a fierce opponent of the New Critics.

 CP:  The New Critics’ admirable reaction against a prior era of bibliographic pedantry had eventually resulted in an annihilation of context, an orphaning of the text. New Criticism was also hostile or oblivious to popular culture, the master mythology of my postwar generation. For that I had to look to bohemian artists like Andy Warhol or dissident academics like Marshall McLuhan and Leslie Fiedler. But the New Criticism, attuned to paradox and ambiguity, was a sophisticated system of interpretation that has never been surpassed as a pedagogical tool for helping novice as well as veteran readers to understand poetry.

MM:  Hmm, so the New Criticism wasn’t all bad then?

 CP:  The destruction of the New Criticism by the influx of European post-structuralism into American universities in the 1970s was a cultural disaster from which higher education has yet to recover. With its clotted jargon, circular reasoning, and smug, debunking cynicism, post-structuralism works only on narrative—on the longer genres of story and novel. It is helpless with lyric poems, where the individual word has enormous power and mystery and where the senses are played upon by rhythm, mood, and dreamlike metaphors.

MM:  Yes, post-structuralism, a disaster. How few persons kept their sanity in the 1970s!

CP:  Poetry and poetry study were steadily marginalized by pretentious “theory”—which claims to analyze language but atrociously abuses language. Poststructuralism and crusading identity politics led to the gradual sinking in reputation of the premiere literature departments, so that by the turn of the millennium, they were no longer seen even by the undergraduates themselves to be where the excitement was on campus. One result of this triumph of ideology over art is that, on the basis of their publications, few literature professors know how to “read” anymore—and thus can scarcely be trusted to teach that skill to their students. Cultural studies, for example, despite its auspicious name, has been undone by its programmatic Marxism and is a morass of misreadings or overreadings.

MM:  I know you have a deep affection, even love, for the artist and poet.

CP:  I revere the artist and the poet, who are so ruthlessly “exposed” by the sneering poststructuralists with their political agenda. There is no “death of the author” (that Parisian cliché) in my world-view.   There’s no death of the hitter, or the pitcher.  They are timeless.

 MM:  Yes, absolutely.  Will you defend the integrity of all the players involved in Scarriet Baseball Poetry?  Even the author of the whole concept himself, Thomas Brady?

CP:  Authors strive and create against every impediment, including their doubters and detractors.

 MM:  There are so many!  Doubters and detractors, I mean.  But I understand Thomas Brady is a fan of yours.

CP:  I know.  He wrote me a poem once.  Poets speak even when they know their words will be swept away by the wind. I lost his poem.  But look, Marla, in college Greek class, I was amazed by the fragments of archaic poetry—sometimes just a surviving phrase or line—that vividly conveyed the sharp personalities of their authors, figures like Archilocus, Alcman, and Ibycus, about whom little is known. The continuity of Western culture is demonstrated by lyric poetry, which from its birth in ancient Greece has played so significant a role in the emergence of nationalism, spawning in turn our concept of civil rights.

MM:  Ah, yes, the Hartford Whittiers!  But that whole tradition is imperiled now?

 CP:  As a student of ancient empires, I am uncertain about whether the West’s chaotic personalism can prevail against the totalizing creeds that menace it. Hence it is critical that we reinforce the spiritual values of Western art, however we define them.

MM:  “Chaotic personalism,” I like that!  I like to say the East is Confucianist and meditationist, the West is confusionist and medicationist.  Tell us some more of your background, Camille.

CP:  At Harpur College (my alma mater at the State University of New York at Binghamton), I took courses in Metaphysical poetry and John Milton from an expert in seventeenth-century literature, Arthur L. Clements, whose close readings and innovative integration of Western and Asian religions made a deep impact on me. I had what can only be described as a conversion experience in the classes of Milton Kessler, a poet who had been a student of Theodore Roethke at the University of Washington. I took or audited four of his courses: “Introduction to Poetry,” “Visionary Poets,” “Poetry as Play,” and “The Confessional Poets.” Kessler’s theory of poetry was based on sensory response and body rhythms. Partly because he had been trained in voice and opera, he endorsed emotional directness and amplitude in art. His classroom explications were dramatic, celebratory, and ingeniously associative, bringing EVERYTHING to bear on the text. That intense way of reading poetry was definitely not the norm in graduate school. The first paper I submitted at Yale (“Exoticism in Wallace Stevens”) came back with the dismissive note that it was a “qualitative appreciation, which we find so often in reviews of contemporary poetry.”

MM:  That reminds me, Camille, of a story Page Smith used to tell. He submitted a thesis and it was rejected because it was too interesting to read—he was told to make it more dry and boring!

CP:  The next stage in my comprehension of poetry came from Harold Bloom, whom I did not know (I had never taken his seminars) until I was drafting the prospectus for my doctoral thesis, then titled “The Androgynous Dream” but later called Sexual Personae. Hearing of my psychoanalytic topic via the grad student grapevine, Bloom summoned me to his office and offered to be my advisor. He announced, “My dear, I am the only one who can direct that dissertation!” And of course he was right.

 MM:  Yes, and Harold Bloom is, of course, Scarriet Poetry Baseball Commissioner this season.

CP Bloom’s massive, interdisciplinary erudition and electrifying insights into the spiritual dimension of literature were exactly what I needed for the development of my work. He was then the scholar who had revolutionized Romantic studies with his extraordinary books on Blake and Shelley. It was several years before he published The Anxiety of Influence, the book that made him an international celebrity.

MM:  It sounds like you and the Commish have always been in agreement.

CP:  Though he was tartly skeptical of my zeal for mass media, I found Bloom’s thinking otherwise completely in sync with the neo-Romanticism of the sixties’ cultural insurgency. Both Bloom and Kessler, with their profound empathy and fiery, prophetic temperaments, seemed to me more visionary rabbis than professors.

MM:  Are there any differences you have with the Commish?

CP:  The case of Sylvia Plath illustrates the signal differences between Bloom’s critical code and mine: he has colorfully rejected her work, while I have elsewhere called “Daddy” a central poem of the twentieth century.

MMPlath is playing terrific outfield this year for the Amherst Emily in the AL for Scarriet Baseball Poetry.  Camille, what drew you to this job?  What made you decide to take it?

CP:  My attentiveness to the American vernacular has made me restive with the current state of poetry. I find too much work by the most acclaimed poets labored, affected and verbose, intended not to communicate with the general audience but to impress their fellow poets. Poetic language has become stale and derivative, even when it makes all-too-familiar avant-garde or ethnic gestures.

MM:  Yes, stale and derivative.

CP:  Poetry’s declining status has made its embattled practitioners insular and self-protective: personal friendships have spawned cliques and coteries in book and magazine publishing, prize committees, and grants organizations.

MM:  Yes, that drum is beaten at Scarriet daily!

CP:  Our most honored poets are gifted and prolific, but we have come to respect them for their intelligence, commitment, and the BODY of their work. They ceased focusing long ago on production of the powerful, distinctive, self-contained poem. They have lost ambition and no longer believe they can or should speak for their era. Elevating process over form, they treat their poems like meandering diary entries and craft them for effect in live readings rather than on the page.

MM:  Right, so true!

 CP:  Arresting themes or images are proposed, then dropped or left to dribble away. Or, in a sign of lack of confidence in the reader or material, suggestive points are prosaically rephrased and hammered into obviousness. Rote formulas are rampant—a lugubrious victimology of accident, disease, and depression or a simplistic ranting politics (people good, government bad) that looks naïve next to the incisive writing about politics on today’s op-ed pages.

MM:  κάνετε θαυμάσιο τον πιό θαυμάσιο!  Camille, we must break for a commercial, but we’ll be right back after this word from Silliman’s Blog….

Part 2 of the interview can be found at



Was there ever a day
You came a day early?

Or was there always a plan
To the day, the word, the shaking of the hand?

I was proud, proud constantly
That you never came
To shock or surprise me,

Always coming the day precisely
You said you would come—the same.

You would never believe
How nice it was that I never saw you grieve;

Before that happened, you would leave,
The planned day would be over

And you would be gone.   You are not a rover,
Nor am I, mother.

You came on time
And went before I would show you a rhyme.

If you planned against plan and came on a day
Not expected, and I showed my face, and asked,
I don’t think you would stay.

Mother!  This is what I thought today.



“Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how; everything is happy now.” -JRL

The Philadlphia Poe no longer have the best record in our baseball league.  The Boston Lowells, after sweeping the New Jersey Ginsbergs in a 4 game series in Boston, are now atop the National League  with a 19-9 record.

The Ginsbergs, since sweeping the Poe and starting the season at 8-4, have dropped 14 of their last 16 games, and seem unable to beat the  blueblood New England teams, like Lowell’s and Emerson’sBob Dylan and William Blake carried the Ginsbergs early with phenomenal hitting, but secondbaseman Gerald Stern has made a dozen errors and Baraka, Bukowski, Stern, Kerouac and Corso have been very inconsistent at the plate, leaving runners stranded in close losses.  The Ginsbergs would probably do better in the more 20th century-inflected AL, as opposed to the more 19th century NL.  Ditto the Ashberys, in last place in the NL with an 8-20 record.  But since adding Dali, Sartre, Ionesco, Camus, J.L. Austin, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes, the Ashberys have won 6 of 10.  James Tate broke out of a hitting slump to lead the Ashberys to their first series win, over the Maine Millays, in Brooklyn, at the Ashberys home park.

The Lowells, meanwhile, have won 15 of 19.   Henry Adams is 5-1,  Charles Eliot Norton is 3-1, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a recent acquisition, just threw a shutout, and the Brownings, Mark Twain, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Pierpont, and even Lowell’s abolitionist wife, Maria White, are producing runs.

Now everyone wants to play for the Lowells, thinking they may be for real.

Martin Luther King, (quoted Lowell in his speeches) Edmund Spencer, Rutherford B. Hayes (Lowell made speeches in support of Hayes‘ successful run for the presidency), Francis Parkman, William Gladstone, (the British p.m. was a friend) Ring Lardner (Lowell was America’s first successful humorist), Leslie Stephen, and Virginia Woolf, have all been signed in the last 24 hours!

“Virgina Woolf is my goddaughter,” Lowell said with a wink.  And it’s true.

Scarriet has also confirmed that Gary B. Fitzgerald has just signed on as a relief pitcher with the Boston Lowells.

James Russell Lowell apparently loved the poem Fitzgerald just published on Scarriet.

Congratulations, Gary!  You’re in the big leagues, now.

Go, Lowells!

The NL Standings

1. Boston Lowells 19-9
2. Philadelphia Poe 17-7
3. Cambridge Longfellows 17-7
4. Hartford Whittiers 16-12
5. Maine Millays 15-13
6. Concord Emersons 13-15
7. New York Bryants 13-15
8. Tennessee Ransom 12-16
9. New Jersey Ginsbergs 10-18
10. Brooklyn Ashberys 8-20











Scarriet: When did you start writing poetry?

Gary B. Fitzgerald: My earliest memory is from the 5th grade, 1962. I was ten years old. I remember hearing an announcement on the school’s public address system that a poem by someone named Joyce would be read that morning. I assumed it was some girl in the 6th grade and was disappointed and jealous that my poetry had not been selected to be read to the school. I remember the words…”I think that I shall never see; A poem lovely as a tree.” As far as I was concerned, my poetry was better than this crap. Of course, the poem was not by a classmate. The “Joyce” was in fact, Joyce Kilmer and the reading was of his famous poem, “Trees.” It wasn’t until high school that I finally learned who Joyce Kilmer really was and the significance of his work.  I still think mine was better.

S: Who taught you the most about poetry?

GBF:  Seagulls and sparrows, eagles and owls.

S: What do you think poetry does best?

GBF: What does a bird do best?

S: Can you elaborate?

GBF: Well, I am being a little facetious, but birds, of course, make excellent symbols. Just look at the four I chose. They can symbolize freedom and joy, humility, strength or courage and wisdom. What birds do best, of course, is sing, as a poem should, fly, as a poem should, and inspire us by their seemingly effortless beauty, as a poem should.

S: Has poetry ever served any serious romance function in your life?

GBF:  Surely, you jest.

S: Is poetry “timeless,” or must it be understood in terms of time and place?

GBF: Only timeless poetry is timeless. But that’s easy. Living hasn’t changed all that much and death is still death.

S: What’s more important to poetry: nature, philosophy or music?

GBF:  Yes.

S: What’s the longest poem you’ve read in one sitting?

GBF: An eight-liner I wrote that took three weeks to finish.

S: What’s your take on Language Poetry?

GBF: I haven’t read enough to form an opinion. I don’t get out much.

S: How important are rhyme and meter to you?

GBF: How important are food and air to you?

S: Are you concerned with poetry’s role, or lack of one, in American society today?

GBF: Let me answer that with a poem. I wrote this around ’92, which was ten years before I owned a computer and at least twelve before I discovered internet poetry blogs. I have been encouraged by all the interest in poetry on the web, but I still think this poem fairly accurately reflects poetry in “American society” today.

My Old Friend Joe

My old friend Joe can take a stone
and a chunk of flint that’s brownish-red
and striking with precision form
a perfect, pointed arrowhead.

With an ancient skill he quickly shapes
a tool of stone with a glancing wave,
with an edge so fine and thin and sharp
that with it I would gladly shave.

My poor friend Joe, whose time is spent
in efforts quaint and obsolete,
shaping stones for hunting game
that bullets now make into meat.

So poor old Joe makes his useless stones
and time wasted it may be,
but I understand because I’m like him…
I write poetry.


I remember—as if it were a dream!—that sad day when I sat
Alone during the holiday in the summer upon a wooden seat
In a deserted cafe near my home, thinking of friends and relatives
Somewhere else in the sun, bored, beside a television, themselves, too,
In retreat from the world and its festivities—the leisure programmed by the day.
The newspaper rang out its old headlines of tragedies new in silence beside me,
And I ordered another coffee from the waitress who seemed sad like myself
And far away, like myself, from where she was.  But the coffee was coffee
And the sun came into the open door and the windows like it always has,
Oblivious in its majesty to all human, temporary ill.  Summers before had found me
Like this, away from celebration and sun, feeding on my thoughts in solitude,
Trying to be ageless and bright and constant like the sun, defying time with time
Doing nothing.   I was remembering.  And remembering my remembering.
But I feared the night, the night when I would have to confront the moon,
The moon, entrancing with her subtle light, her deft rule over the darkness
When I would go to my bed and sleep and dream a dream which, I was sure,
Would forsake the dream I dreamed during the day when I was happy to sit and recall
Things under the sun.  I was afraid that dream would tell a secret about my life
And time and my place in it among things, intending to be
Part of my fate with others, partners in making me feel that
Nothing will stand in for me or come again or let me sit in relaxed and hopeless
Melancholy dreaming in daylight about others’ sad lives.  No, I feared the night would
Look me in the face in the middle of my dream as I lay oblivious on my bed
And tell me to rise and walk to the end of the world to confront myself at the end.
Protect me from this dream, O constancy!  Let me remember back!
Let me not look forward to where subtle fate is pushing me with its want, its love
In night time ecstasies!  I remember there was nothing I could do then
To make others happy, to reach out to them in their lonely, sunny days!  I remember
Many things quite well and my exquisite leisure well, well, well!  I am already having
Trouble remembering the waitress’s face.  And the moon’s face.  But not my dream.
It is night.  And almost time for the dream.  And I am so tired.  Can it be I will
Remember forever?  I want to remember forever!  I will do well, perhaps, to remember.
Oh Fate, be kind to me!  Did I not serve you with my passivity and my secrecy?
Was I not indifferent, like you, to the sun?  Did I not obey you with sleep
And did I not remember your cruelty?  Look at me now as I write this!  I am dreaming!
I am somewhere else!  Everything is far away!  See, subtle Fate, I obey you!   The sun, Fate.  The cafe.



Scarriet recently exposed the current poetry avant-garde scene as a mere elaboration of that quaint old device: the found poem.

The philosophy of the avant-garde is simple (naturally): whatever makes sense unintentionally is poetry.

It is a truism that accident and surprise found by the roadside can be not only charming, but, to the creative intellect, extremely helpful.

However, mere accident or surprise is not, therefore, always poetry.   Is punning poetry?   Of course it isn’t.

Is everything poetry?

To those who write for Harriet, it apparently is, and it seems this is how Harriet will make their everlasting monument.

The public pays no attention to poetry; but no matter: everything is poetry, and therefore the public is paying attention to poetry, and Harriet’s endless ‘poetry news’ stream will be proof of this, if nothing else.

If Allen Ginsberg takes a dump, it is poetry.  Poetry is boundless—and great.  Isn’t that wonderful?

Since Harriet banned all comments on their blog, it seems they are determined to fill the world with poetry—or at least with a sizable stream of “poetry news.”

Here, for instance is one of Harriet’s recent “poetry news” items:

Sharpie Poet talks Newspaper Blackout

Austin Kleon, whose book Newspaper Blackout is at number 16 on the bestseller list this week, talks about his materials and methods on Words Pictures Humor :

Well, after doing a bit of research, I found out people have been finding poetry in the newspaper for over 250 years. The farthest back I can trace it is to a guy named Caleb Whitefoord, a wine merchant, writer, diplomat, and former next-door neighbor to Benjamin Franklin. In the 1760s, he’d read the newspaper across the columns, to come up with all kinds of funny juxtapositions, like, “On Tuesday both Houses of Convocation met : / Books shut, nothing done.” He’d read them aloud in the pub, and on occasion have them printed up as broadsheets. In the 1920s, the Dadaist Tristan Tzara cut up a newspaper, tossed it in a hat, and read the words he pulled out to make a poem. Then, in the early 1960s, Brion Gysin and William Burroughs take up the cut-up technique, and it just goes on and on from there…

I guess such long history shouldn’t be any big surprise: as Walt Whitman said, “The true poem is the daily paper.”

Memo to Harriet:

To call “funny juxtapositions” poetry is a pleasant stretch, for young children, perhaps, during a ‘found poem’ lesson, but for grownups to persist in believing that every “funny juxtaposition” is poetry, is, to say the very least, embarrassing.

Edgar Poe’s “The Raven” was published in a daily newspaper and it made Poe world-famous.  “The Raven” was not a found poem.  It was not an accident.

But soldier on, ye poets!

Funny juxtapositions will make for greatness yet!


The Rapallo Pound don’t have a great team.  They are 12-14 in the AL with 103 runs scored and 118 allowed.  

What can you say about a pitching staff with Hugh Kenner as the ace?   On Sunday the Pound beat the Stevens 2-1 and Kenner (3-3) not only won the game on the mound, he got the winning hit. 

Olga Rudge is 3-1, James Laughlin is playing surprisingly well at third, Richard Wagner (1-0) has just joined the club, and talks are underway with Basil Bunting. 

James Joyce (lf) and William Butler Yeats (ss) lead a potent attack, but defensively Joyce often seems asleep out in left and Yeats isn’t exactly patient with grounders.

Harriet Monroe (1-4) isn’t happy with Pound, and though Zukovsky (2-2) logs a lot of innings, he doesn’t seem capable of winning consistently.

But the biggest blow to the Rapallo Pound this season has to be the inability to sign Socrates.   After weeks of secret discussons at Brunnenburg Castle in Merano, Italy, Socrates has left the table.  The philosopher would have joined the Pound as their ace.

Socrates’ agent, Plato, announced that talks were finished.  “My client feels Mr. Pound is no philosopher.  He’s a wheeler-dealer.”


bob poetry

A page from the official rule book.

This is Bob Poetry and Art Prose with Scarriet Sports Highlights!

Brought to you by…Silliman’s Blog…the place to go… when poetry’s on your mind.

Bob: “OK, Art, let’s get right to it.   The big story this week has to be Sigmund Freud.”

Art: “Oh boy, Bob, what a story.”

Bob: “The Cambridge Cummings are bottom dwellers in the American League with only 4 victories in 20 games.  Their pitching staff is just not scaring anyone: T.E. Hulme, Vladmir Mayakovsky, A.J. Ayer, Scofield Thayer.  The Cummings team E.R.A. is around 5.  The team is demoralized.  So E.E. Cummings says, “Enough is enough” and he goes out there and gets Freud…Freud!  Can you believe it?”

Art: “The Cigar guy!  Freud.”

Bob: “Cummings gets Freud.”

Art: “Sigmund Freud!”

Bob: “Look in the dugout… and there’s Cummings and Freud next to each other, chewing the fat, like they’ve known each other all their life.  Amazing.”

Art: “Sigmund joins ‘em in Iowa City.”

Bob:  “The Cummings open up a four game series in Iowa City with their two new acquisitions…Freud and Charles Darwin…”

Art:  “Don’t forget Charles Darwin.”

Bob: “Yea, Darwin’s in their rotation now, too.  So Mayakovsky is scheduled to pitch against the Iowa City Grahams and the Grahams are tied for third in the American League with a 12-8 record, and Iowa City has an old Iowa City guy on the mound, John Berryman…and Mayakovsky throws a shutout!  The Cummings win!  Then they split the next two and now it’s Freud’s turn to pitch.”

Art:  “Let’s pick up the call of the game…”

IOWA CITY BROADCASTER….   “Two outs…and now Freud’s coming up…they’re not pinch hitting for Freud…he’s staying in the game.  Freud, with a one hitter so far, stands in…still no score here…in the top of the ninth…here’s the first pitch from Sacks…there’s a fly ball…to left…pretty deep in the corner…this one could…it’s a homerun…a homerun for Freud!  I don’t believe it! Freud pumping his fist as he rounds the bases! The Cummings lead, 1-0!”

Bob:  “That was the call from Iowa CityFreud finished off the Grahams in the ninth, striking out the side, as Freud shut out the Iowans 1-0 and homered for his team’s only run, as the rejuvenated Cummings took 3 out of 4 against the Grahams in Iowa City.”

Art:  “The Cummings improve to 7-17, and I think they’re on their way, Bob.”

Bob: “The other big stories we’re watching.  Over in the National League, the Tennessee Ransoms continue to play well with Aristotle in the middle of their lineup. They took 3 of 4 from the Ashberys, who have made some good pickups recently: Cage, Dali, Ionesco, Camus, Christopher Smart…”

Art: “But the Ransoms proved to be too much as Tennessee got the better of Brooklyn.”

Bob:  “Let’s talk about London!”

Art:  “Back in the AL, T.S. Eliot picked up Winston Churchill and Matthew Arnold.”

Bob:  “Dover-Beach-Arnold and We’ll-fight-them-on-the-beaches-Churchill.  Wow.”

Art:  “Ron Silliman ruined Churchill’s debut in the Williams’ Jersey Shore ballpark, beating the Prime Minister 3-1 as the Eliots and the Williams opened up a 4 game series, but the Eliots took the next 3 from the Williams, as Matthew Arnold shut out the Williams in game 2 of that series.”

Bob: “What a statement from London’s Matthew Arnold!”

Art:  “ I like the London Eliots now, Bob, I really do…the Eliots in second place in the AL now… only one game behind the Hartford Stevens

Bob:  “I don’t know if Eliot has the hitting, though…check out his lineup…obscure Elizabethans, obscure French poets…

Art:  “You make a good point there…the Eliots are not scoring a ton of runs right now…but I like London in the American League…which is really up for grabs…

Bob:  In the National League, the Philadelphia Poe began the season 9-0, as their pitching, led by Alexander Pope, was dominating, but Poe is starting to struggle…and how about those Hartford Whittiers?  They have revamped their pitching staff, adding Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison!

Art:  And the Poe play the Whittiers next!  That should be an interesting matchup…probably the biggest one in the National League…in the AL, the series to watch this week…the Concord Emersons travel to Tennessee to take on the Ransoms!

Bob:  “Thanks, Art!   This is Bob Poetry.”

Art:  “And I’m Art Prose.  For both of us, this is Scarriet Poetry Sports!”



Harriet has shut down comments to its blog.

What follows is Harriet’s explanation, with comments from Scarriet:

What’s New at Harriet

First of all, we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who made National Poetry Month on Harriet such a great experience.  [No…Thank YOU…]

We had some of the most lively and engaging discussions over the past thirty one days, as well as profound stand-alone pieces.  True, it was a lot to take in over a quick month, but we’re confident the posts will remain touchstones for future conversations.  Thank you, writers and readers, for all your efforts.  [No…REALLY…Thank YOU.]

And now, we’d like to lay out what’s in store for Harriet[‘lay out what’s in store’  What ugly terminology.  Don’t like the sound of this…]

Asked to describe how poetry has changed over the past ten years, Ron Silliman wrote on our site that the ongoing revolution in communications technology has upended the power dynamics of the community as well as the way poets interact.  [Whatever that means…ALL BOW DOWN TO THE NEW GOD OF C-O-M-M-U-N-I-C-A-T-I-O-N-S  T-E-C-H-N-O-L-O-G-Y! ]

“Poets blogging,” Silliman wrote, “is just a symptom.”  [just a symptom.  … a symptom’ of what?]

Over the past four years we’ve been privileged to be a part of this revolution.  [ahh, the privilege of revolution!]

From the early long-form journals on Harriet to the group blog, the style and format have evolved to match the moment, and we’re grateful for everyone who has participated, posters and commenters alike.  [yes…eternally grateful, no doubt…]

Recently, though, we’ve noticed that the symptoms of this revolution have changed.  The blog as a form has begun to be overtaken by social media like Twitter and Facebook.  [Twitter and Facebook???  LOL]

News of the poetry world now travels fastest and furthest through Twitter (as the thousands of followers of @poetryfound, @poetrymagazine, and @poetrynews can attest), with the information often picked up from news aggregator sites rather than discursive blogs.  [“News of the poetry world:” Damn those discursive blogs!]

Also, anyone involved in the more dynamic discussions of poetry, poetics, or politics in the past year knows that more and more of the most vibrant interactions have been found on Facebook.  [Facebook.  LOL]

We saw this happening last month as our National Poetry Month posts traveled far and wide through various status updates, wall postings, and links.  [FAR AND WIDE?? golly!]

Setting aside the troubling issues of privacy and coterie this brings up, it would be foolish to deny it as a fact of the revolution.  [The “revolution” of “coterie.”]

As Craig Santos Perez recently joked, “it’s true, facebook killed the blogger star.”  And while that’s obviously not completely true (check out our new blogroll for evidence to the contrary), we feel that the new terrain calls for a new Harriet.  [Harriet jumps into Facebook river.  See ya…]

Starting this week, then, Harriet will transition into a space we hope will better serve the various poetry communities we’ve come to know over the past four years.  [Harriet wants to “better serve” Facebook and Twitter.  LOL]

This new version of Harriet will feature on the main page a daily news feed with links and excerpts from other outlets around the world.  [Harriet evolves into a nothing which exists only to link to something else.  Vive la Revolution!]

We hope to point to the vibrant discussions happening online, as well as vital literary journalism, essays, and criticism.  [“We hope to point to…LOL]

In addition to this news aggregation, we will spotlight poetry communities and events.  [Harriet, the Community Calendar.  Yawn]

These features, which will appear under the name “Open Door,” will use multimedia journalism to showcase unique interactions between poets and poetry readers around the world. [Multimedia journalism!  You don’t say!]

Look for “Open Door” features on the The Interrupture performances in Seattle, poetry night in Iraq, and circle dancing in Iceland in the coming months.  Click on the side bar link for a more in-depth description of this new feature.  [Harriet’s got discount plane tickets, too!]

In addition to news and these Open Door features, Harriet will begin a new life on Twitter.  Each month a new poet will take over the Harriet Twitter feed and provide daily posts about his or her life, work, and interests.  Sign up to follow this month’s writer, D.A. Powell, at @harriet_poetry. [Celeb Twitter!]

The posts and discussions of the past will all remain archived on the site, but in this new stage Harriet itself will no longer feature comments. [yea, who needs ‘em?]

This isn’t a decision we’ve come to lightly, but it has become clear over the past few months that it is time for Harriet to move on from this discussion model.  [Twitter is calling!  LOL]

The space was designed to be forward thinking and experimental, and so we look forward to continuing along that path.  [to Twitter.  LOL]

We’re grateful for everyone who has participated over the past few years, and we hope that the energy and thought that went into the best comments can be put into the wide range of other available and worthy outlets in the poetry world.  [for we, Harriet, are no longer worthy!]

We’re excited to follow Harriet on this new adventure, and we hope you are too.  [What is this ”adventure” again?  Kill discursiveness and embrace Twitter?  Gosh…thanks.]

Together we believe we can continue to highlight the new voices Harriet Monroe set out to find when she began Poetry back in 1912.  [“Together we believe…”  This never bodes well…]


Catherine Halley and Travis Nichols

So here’s the question:  What happened to Harriet?

It seems Harriet is like an investor in clover leaf highways in the 1950s. 

Unable to bring substance, they are now latching onto mere technology as the answer.

The patient, poetry, has long been sick, the illness due to the obscurantism of the modernists, and Harriet believes the best cure for the patient is to block discursiveness.  Well done, Doctor!   

My hunch is that Harriet’s April (the ‘no comments’ experiment) saw hits go way down, and, disturbed, perplexed, perhaps even angered at this turn of events, Harriet decided poetry must really be dead…after all, Harriet offered all these articles from all these interesting poets…but interest was minimal and Harriet’s experiment was a failure, precisely because readers were not allowed to comment.  Harriet realized in horror that readers were not really interested in Harriet’s offerings—they just wanted to hear themselves talk.  

“We’ll show you…” has been Harriet’s reaction.  No one read Harriet in April because everyone was on Twitter!   That’s what Harriet told itself.   Blame it on the technology.  

The problem isn’t with Harriet or po-biz.  The problem is that damn ‘technology revolution.’  It’s all Twitter’s fault.


Everyone was reading Scarriet.


Continue the folly
That you are on.
For soon, soon, all folly will be gone.
Continue the kisses in the awful night;
Soon your sweetheart will be gone from sight
And the freezing wind will continue on
Through her skeleton
And her name and her hair will be lost in the ground
And not one sign of folly be found.

Continue the plea
That seems but a fool’s.
Write that sweet poetry
Scorned by the schools,
For I tell you the schools are already dead.
Write rhymes to your lover instead.

Make her a Beatrice,
Who haunts like the moon,
For she will be dead
And away from you soon.
Make her a lady to be adored like the sun,
For she, and her blurbs, will soon be gone.


Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens.  Frost is currently third in the AL race.

The surprising Hartford Stevens have won 5 straight and have the best record in the Baseball Scarriet American League.

Led by hurlers George Santayana (5-0) and Helen Vendler (4-1) and the bats of Valery, Mallarme, John Hollander, and James Merrill, Wallace Stevens is sitting pretty with a 14-6 record.  No team in the 2010 Scarriet Poetry Baseball League has more wins than Hartford. (AL)  The Whittiers play for Hartford in the NL.

Since losing 8-3 to Scofield Thayer, starting pitcher for the Cambridge Cummings, the Stevens have outscored their opponents 31-9.

We caught up with Hartford owner/manager Wallace Stevens and asked him a few questions in his Hartford home:

Scarriet:  So how does it feel to own a baseball team?

Stevens:  I like baseball.  It’s gentle… compared to some of the… other sports.

Scarriet:  Are you surprised by your team’s early success?

Stevens:  Well, my old teacher (at Harvard), George Santayana (Hartford’s ace pitcher) told me if that if I could sign Helen (Vendler) and Marjorie (Perloff) to our starting rotation and fill the roster with people like Lewis Carroll and Paul Valery and MallarmeSatie, the musician…that we could probably beat anybody…

Scarriet:  So never underestimate intelligence and charm?

Stevens:  (Laughing) That’s right.   We don’t have a lot of real big names, like Keats…Shakespeare… Dante and Horace…but our team does have a lot of great, great talent.

Scarriet:  Did you hear that Mr. Cummings just signed Freud and Darwin?

Stevens:   I heard that was in the works.  Did he sign them?  Really?  That’s extraordinary.

Scarriet:  Well, let’s talk more about your team. Did you expect John Hollander and James Merrill to hit like they have?

Stevens:  Oh, well, the Americans on this club really get along with the Europeans…it’s a very happy bunch…we just signed Toulouse Lautrec, and he was making everyone laugh in the clubhouse yesterday…we’re having fun…I’m really having fun.

Scarriet:  That helps you win?

Stevens:  Oh, yes, absolutely.

Scarriet:  What if Vendler had decided to play with the Iowa City Grahams instead of your ballclub?

Stevens:  I didn’t have to convince Helen to play for me.  She practically begged!   She didn’t have to, of course…I adore Helen.   She was the first name that came up when George (Santayana) and I talked about putting together our team.

Scarriet:  She’s pitching today.  Are you excited?

Stevens:  It’s a thrill to watch Helen pitch.  I’m very excited.

Interview by Marla Muse


One of the obstacles to suspending one’s studies
In order to finally appreciate good poetry as a mature person
Is the general feeling that poety is a useless item.
No matter how many times we read a critic extolling
The “virtues” and “uses” of poetry, no matter how eloquently
And how often such a defense is put (whether self-interested or not)
Let the argument be psychological, scientific, spiritual, political,
Even economic, the feeling (a universal one) remains:
Poetry is not a useful art, it is not a practice
Which furthers the world in a material sense, nor does the practice
Of it alone deserve any direct material award.
This humbling fact prevents the student from ceasing to be a student.
The inner voice which keeps insisting that poetry is trivial
Prevents the reader from securing his unspoken right–
And it is a right, ironically enough, in the highest political sense–
To enjoy poems, instead of learning from them.

For learning (aside from learning the mechanics of the art itself,
Which should be poetry’s chief study, if we are honest)
Is continued, with the unconscious hope that all this education
Will some day make it matter more, since poetry itself,
Says the student to himself, is of so little use in itself.
This is not to imply that poetry is without content, without history,
Without a potentially endless learnable context;
The point is, that these do not define poetry, per se.
The poem qua poem does not find them necessary.

Another obstacle is the belief (now a cliche) that we’re always learning.
It is one of those sentiments expressed, as a matter of procedure,
Everywhere we look: just one example is the talented person
Who humbly protests during an interview or an award ceremony:
“I still have so much to learn.  I’ll be learning until the day I die.”
This is true, but at some point the show must go on.
The rehearsals end and the performance begins.  The performance
Is an entity to be judged or enjoyed; it has a necessarily
Finished or completed existence.  The painter cannot add
More paint, the director cannot shout out to his actors
In the middle of the performance, the poet cannot
Amend a line while the published version is scanned by a reader.

But as the distinction becomes more and more blurred
Between the study of poetry and the enjoyment of poetry,
The result is precisely what we would expect in poetry now:
Poems with an unfinished quality, as if the poet did not want
The process to end, was reluctant to let his poem go,
As if the poet could, in fact, have continued writing the poem
Forever, so that the length of the poem (the ultimate form of any
Poem being its length) is determined by “rehearsal time,” not by
The “poem’s time.”  Anything can happen in rehearsal.
That’s the point of rehearsal.  Learning is always artificially timed.
A professor must always determine how much time there is to
Cover the subject.  “Sorry,” the professor says,
“We don’t have time to talk about that.”


Seen from afterward the time appears to have been
all of a piece which of course it was but how seldom
it seemed that way when it was still happening and was
the air through which I saw it as I went on thinking
of somewhere else in some other time whether gone
or never to arrive and so it was divided
however long I was living it and I was where
it kept coming together and where it kept moving apart
while home was a knowledge that did not suit every occasion
but remained familiar and foreign as the untitled days
and what I knew better than to expect followed me
into the garden and I would stand with friends among
the summer oaks and be a city in a different
age and the dread news arrived on the morning when the
plum trees
opened into silent flower and I could not let go
of what I longed to be gone from and it would be that way
without end I thought unfinished and divided
by nature and then a voice would call from the field
in the evening or the fox would bark in the cold night
and that instant with each of its stars just where it was
in its unreturning course would appear even then
entire and itself the way it all looks from afterward.

HARVARD, April 30, 2010. Jorie Graham was worried about the oil slick.  She said it was “extraordinary” that W.S. Merwin was coming to visit the “campus” and especially during “these days.”  She told everyone to be very quiet.  Then she had eight of her poetry students, all in a line, recite, robot-like, Merwin’s old poetry from the early 1960s.   The poems all sounded alike and they were read in the same sort of monotone, with slight feeling, and the students looked and sounded a bit uncomfortable—whether it was from Jorie Graham’s presence or from the oil slick moving towards the Louisiana coast, it was hard to tell.  It wasn’t from the poems themselves, however, which rolled off their tongues, understood, or not understood, in this line or that.   The recitations had a certain degree of quiet elegance, even when uttered with an air of disdainful Crimson confidence; Merwin’s poetry is always quietly elegant, if not much more.

The audience was certainly quiet; there was hardly a peep for the hour and a half presentation.  No one seemed to register any feeling or thought, for there was very little feeling or thinking expressed in the room, not when Merwin made his ‘man is destroying the earth’ pitch, which was expected, nor when he later apologized for sounding ‘preachy,’ which he ‘hated,’ because his father was a minister, he said, and he (the poet) had always rebelled against that vibe.

The audience was very quiet; it was a respectful ‘let the old guy rant’ silence, and Merwin felt it, no doubt, which was why he later apologized.  It was Jorie who set the tone, however: “Oh!  The oil slick!”  “Turn off your cell phones, please, while my students read their poetry of homage!”  It was really quite horrible.  And then in-between: Joanna Klink’s actual introduction of the poet, endless and cliche-ridden, with her smiley-faced: “Merwin has won every prize.  He’s won them all!” 

The poetry, frankly, didn’t help.  It couldn’t rise above the oppressive occasion.  Most of the time the audience hadn’t the faintest idea what the poetry was saying.  Merwin’s poetry doesn’t say very much; it drifts from one simile to the next, the metaphors not explaining or embellishing, as with Shakespeare; Merwin’s metaphors compare and philosophize in a highly mystical way; Merwin’s poetry is existential; it’s all about what not-knowing feels like, and, when read without punctuation, that disembodied voice can be very effective, since disembodiment is really what Merwin is about—there’s really very little actual life in Merwin’s poems.  (I had heard Shakespeare’s work read at a noisy cafe open-mike the evening prior and the contrast was startling.)  Merwin has a wonderful, human, dramatic speaking voice and when he reads his poetry aloud, he reads very much with punctuation; his voice rises,  falls, and pauses in all the right places, and thus humanizes the poetry, which scatters the mist from it and reveals its depressive quality, its humorless, dull, reflective, passivity.  I looked around at the young faces in the room and noticed they were blank, and bored.

When the students read Merwin’s early 1960s poetry, I counted the word “like” until I lost count.  The passage quoted above was selected for its special excellence from “The Vixen,” a more recent book (1996) in a review by Richard Howard.  This passage does not contain the word “like” at all, so in that regard Merwin cleaned up his act; he rid himself of that indulgence; one hears in the excerpt from “The Vixen” verbs rather than simile.  But it’s still virtuous, vague, metaphysical, sleepy Merwin.

The evening was boring.  As soon as Merwin stopped reading, his Harvard hosts surrounded him. 

This was a Harvard event. 

It was certainly not open-mike Shakespeare, while the dishes rattled. 

It was more about comfort than rattle.

At one point in that deathly silence in the Thompson room at the Barker Center, when Merwin first stood up and picked up Jorie’s reference to the oil slick, he sort of looked over at her and her little group, and said, with a little shrug and a smile, “This is nothing new.  Man has always been destroying the earth.”

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