Had I dreamed you, poet,
I would have known you,
And lost in what the old poets found, thought
How uncanny! How strange! How sweet!

But instead I saw your ambition living on the stage,
I saw you sniffing creative writing meat.
My voluntary powers of comparison intact,
You suffered slings under the light
Of my ambitious mind.

Beauty requires shadows, poet,
But I lent you none.
You were the labyrinth, poet,
And I was the cruel sun.


Was April T.S. Eliot’s cruelest month?

On April 30, Ron Silliman (6-4) pitched the New Jersey Williams to a 3-1 victory over London, dropping the Eliots to 12-9.  At the time, it looked like April had been good for Thomas Stearns Eliot, for 12-9 is not a shabby mark (.571).

On May 1, Matthew Arnold (who had just been signed) threw a complete game shutout against New Jersey. In May and June London is 38-13, a .745 winning percentage.   The Eliots are 11-1 against the Williams this year.

Who can stop these guys?  London leads the Scarriet AL with 50 wins and 22 losses.  The next best record in Scarriet Poetry Baseball 2010 belongs to the New England Frost, second in the AL at 42-30.  The Philadelphia Poe owns a slim lead in the NL with a 41-31 showing.

The Eliots have won 18 of their last 22 games with a microscopic team ERA of 1.73 during that span.  The Frost, who added Jesus Christ (4-0) to their pitching staff, are 15-7 in their last 22 games, with a slightly better ERA than the Eliots in those 22 games, and yet London has increased their lead over the Frost from 5 to 8 games, thanks to London’s current incredible run.

The Eliots pitching staff: Bertrand Russell 11-3, James Frazier 11-3, Tristan  Corbiere 8-3, Winston Churchill 8-2, and Matthew Arnold 5-5 (with 2 shutouts).  Sir Edward Howard Marsh is 2-0 in relief.

Lady Ottoline Morrell is batting almost .400 from the leadoff spot, while Arthur Symons, John Donne and Aldous Huxley are providing the power.

But it’s been the pitching and defense which has been miraculous.

Vivienne Haigh-Wood is playing well at second, providing excellent double-play defense with shortstop Rudyard Kipling.

“I’m proud of my team, ” Eliot said yesterday.  “It is a long summer, though, and anything can happen.”


What thoughts I have of you tonight, Jorie Graham, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a Fullbright self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into your volume “The End Of Beauty,” dreaming of your enumerations!
What marbles and what marimbas! Whole workshops stopping in your volume! Poems full of husbands! Wives in the paragraphs, a baby in the caesura!–and you, Helen Vendler, what were you doing down by the iambics?

I saw you, Jorie Graham, mother, fashionable grubber, poking among the discourses, eyeing the poetry prizes.
I heard you asking questions of each: who smelled my students? What price betrayal? Are you my winner?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant derailments following you, and followed in my imagination by the editor of the American Poetry Review.
We strode down the open stanzas together in our solitary fancy tasting insinuations, possessing every parenthetical, and never passing the denouement.

Where are you going, Jorie Graham? I close the book in an hour. Which way do your locks point tonight?
(I touch your Pulitzer and dream of our odyssey in the committee and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through Cambridge? The blurbs add light to light, lights out in the classrooms, we’ll both be happy.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past the little shops outside of Harvard Yard?

Ah, dear mother, husky-voiced courage-teacher, what America did you have when Ramke and Sacks quit poling the ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?


cat god.jpg

When you make yourself into a god, you always have problems.

The English Romantics were anti-religious egotists.

We got the genius of beauty (Keats and Shelley) but also the quixotic anti-intellectualism of Byron (who bragged from Italy of reading no English magazines), the bucolic bathos of Wordsworth and the goth-pedantry of Coleridge.   (It can be argued that the two friends, Wordsworth and Coleridge, invented both modern and post-modern letters and culture between them.  Throw in Poe to fill in some popular and professional niches, and there you have it.)

English Romanticism was foul and fair, golden-tongued but satanic-milled, a Tory workshop-empire of mercenary, merchant, soldier and mad king, the opium-trading empire America sometimes, in its better moments, defined itself against.

Southey and Coleridge dreamt of going to America to live on a commune like Brook Farm; this noble communist impulse was strong among intellectuals and artists during the Romantic era, both in England and America.

In places like India and China, the people there were on England’ s farm whether they wanted to be, or not.

Randall Jarrell could not have been more wrong in his dyspeptic, “modernism is dead” essay, “The End of the Line” (1942) when he claimed that Modernism was not a counter to Romanticism but an extension of it.   T.S. Eliot was an extension of Shelley?  Er…I don’t think so.  Jarrell was actually giving too much credit to Modernism; Eliot seems increasingly like nothing more than a Victorian with an added drop of the sordid picked up from the 19th century French.

Thomas Mann’s early 20th century trope that the artist was a misfit and art was essentially a symptom of disease is well-known.

Modernism’s rejection (see T.S. Eliot’s essays) of overly emotional and egotistical Romanticism played into the whole notion that the once-revered Romantic artist was a clown, a fop, a seducer, a low-life, a dabbler, an amateur, not only quixotic, and deluded, but even irresponsibly vicious, and worse, a bad-dresser, bad hair, and finally, unwashed.  To Eliot, the Romantics were not in the least respectable.

It’s no surprise Mann and the Modernists were closer to the Nazis than the Communists, especially during the “low dishonest decade” of the 1930s before the war.

Influential reactionary Fugitive and Writing Program founder John Crowe Ransom (a friend of Paul Engle’s), who defended the ways of the Old South with “I’ll Take My Stand” (1930), was a suit-and-tie poet who called for a new university professionalism of poetry criticism in his 1937 essay, “Criticism, Inc.”

The early to mid-20th century Modernist poets were suit-and-tie men.

Harvard-connected Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot were not exceptions because they were poets who wore suits and worked in offices, as many have naively pointed out, they were the rule: the Thomas Mann/Modernist and reactionary professionalism counter to Romanticism’s fevered amateur-ism.

And, it goes without saying, that mad-scientist Post-modernism and its post-war, nutty-professor manifesto-ism, is nothing more than an academic extension of reationary, professional-crackpot Modernism.

The mad scientist (Modernism) descends to the mere nutty professor (Post-modernism).  But all very professional, of course.



Where is a shore for my song?
Born at sea, fed by longing,
Born of endless spaces
Where weather hurls itself headlong
With melody shrieking at the fore,
A harmony of winds upon the flanks,
Stunning silence just behind
And silence above, small crying below,
A crying like an oozing from the flow of water
Of a small green island, green trickling
Water which descends gushing among
The little complicated water ways of rock
And wandering banks of fallen overgrowth
Of my tiny imagined island in the sea.

I am the venus of poetry not spotted yet by Botticelli,
The unthinkably large thing, out, out
In the universe alone.

Where is the store for my song?
It goes everywhere,
It spills over the mountains of the moon,
Flows wasted over desolate orbs which circle
The icy bounds of the dark outer universe,
Trapped in asteroids’ silence,
Their journeys through miles meant for some other god.

Where is a home for my utterance?
It sings to immense distances, howling
With the storms which triumph over dying stars,
Throwing its lyrics into the long
Bowels of the silence and the distance, dark
And cold, not seen, not heard, not echoed
By even the coldest mountain tops
Into lost and ruined valleys of stone and snow.

I know as much as you but I am dead to you.

Let me bring my face closer to the pines,
The ships which hurry with their bounties,
The seasons, the blue air, the mothers with their children,
Let me press my eyes closer to the breathing air,
Let me stick my tongue into your atmosphere,
Let me put my nose nearer to the buildings,
Shrouded in wispy clouds, let me push my hands closer
To the day, let me arrive on earth, even to fail!
I promise not to break anything.

Let my voice have a try beneath this dome,
Where poets flourish decidedly only in death,
And genius is usually lost among the leaves,
Where this one’s meter died within his scenery,
Where this one’s assonance died of luxury,
Where this one’s rhyme was killed by pedantry,
Where this one’s poetry died under the carpet,
Where this one’s poetry was smothered by wit,
Where her poetry was over-mathematical,
Where his poetry was detained by a story,
Where a rush of sudden feeling ambushed hers,
Where his was too pleasant,
Where hers had no intensity in its melody,
Where his had no harmony when most intense,
Where hers was too reflective,
And his poetry was spoiled by sighs,
And her verse was trivial,
And his poetry was not understood,
And her poetry was ruined by its rebuke,
His poetry had too many odors,
Her poetry took off for the moon,
His verse had too many pauses,
Her poetry overslept,
His poetry believed the blurbs,
Her verse had no verse,
His poetry died in purple liquid,
Hers died in the plains,
His died upon a glacier,
Hers was a fiddle with no bow,
His was a bow with no fiddle,
Her poetry had too much ale,
His chant trampled his thought,
Hers killed her roses,
His died by its own monument,
Hers died in the mouth,
His died in the brain,
Hers had no house,
His had no sun,
But mine I feel will succeed,
Mine will be heard,
Like the murmuring of bees is heard,
And the single sigh of a lover is heard,
For the earth is kind because
There are echoes, and every sweet thing
Has a chance to touch the tongue,
To find the tip of the desperate tongue,
Or the heart, just as red,
Or the eye, the eye which strikes long distance,
Or the ear, your ear,
Which now listens to my song.


Hilton Kramer and his magazine the New Criterion’s sniffy attitude towards popular culture is well known.

Here’s what is not well known.

Conservatives have been betrayed by Hilton Kramer.

What Hilton Kramer has been ultimately doing is giving a conservative legitimacy to Modernism.  This was always the whole sneaky agenda from the beginning, when Kramer left his full-time position at the NY Times and started the New Criterion with Samuel Lipman in 1982.

Hilton Kramer’s whole raison d’etre was to forge an insidious alliance between the cretins of Modernism and decent folk who found themselves aligned with conservative beliefs.

The New Criterion professes ignorance of how the real high-brow culture of 19th century Romanticism, its Greek & Roman revival, its great musical composers like Brahms & Dvorak, Beethoven, its great poets like Heine and Keats and Shelley, the greatness of Poe in that tradition, how all that beauty and ecumenical  greatness was hijacked by hateful, crackpot, narrow Modernist con-men like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, John Dewey and William James.

It’s fine to appreciate the sort of abstract art found in the little New York art galleries advertised in the New Criterion; one can certainly adore Modernism and Abstract Art if one wants, but to pretend that High Modernism somehow represents the sole legitimate fine arts culture of our time is a lie—one that needs to be confronted and rejected, whether one is a liberal or a conservative.

The New Criterion, despite its free market rhetoric, is heavily subsidized; I doubt there’s much editorial freedom for change possible; its template is well-established, but nonetheless we make sincere a plea to Mr. Roger Kimball and anyone else involved in the production of that magazine to take a fresh look at so-called High Modernism and then join the rest of us in the real world who love fine arts and popular culture. We still hold out hope, that in the long run, this betrayal can be overturned.




What we strain—with our souls—to say
Cannot be articulated anyway,
Except in vague gestures understood
By ceremony and the common good.
Do not panic about your fate–
The poetry prize arrives too late.

The happy do not heed fame.
After burying you,
Doctor and mourner will be buried, too,
With furious indifference the same.



He became apprehensive of the poem exciting derision, and so interwove sundry touches of the burlesque, behind whose equivocal aspect he might shelter himself at need.

Let us call this thing a rhymed jeu d’esprit, a burlesque, or what not? — and, even so called, and judged by its new name, we must still regard it as a failure. Even in the loosest compositions we demand a certain degree of keeping. But in this poem none is apparent. The tone is unsteady fluctuating between the grave and the gay — and never being precisely either. Thus there is a failure in both. The intention being never rightly taken, we are, of course, never exactly in condition either to weep or to laugh.

We do not pretend to be the Oracles of Dodona, but it does really appear to us that Mr. ____ intended the whole matter, in the first instance, as a solemnly serious thing; and that, having composed it in a grave vein, he became apprehensive of the poem exciting derision, and so interwove sundry touches of the burlesque, behind whose equivocal aspect he might shelter himself at need. In no other supposition can we reconcile the spotty appearance of the whole with a belief in the sanity of the author.  –EA Poe

A Worldly Country

Not the smoothness, not the insane clocks on the square,
the scent of manure in the municipal parterre,
not the fabrics, the sullen mockery of Tweety Bird,
not the fresh troops that needed freshening up.  If it occured
in real time, it was O.K., and if it was time in a novel
that was O.K., too.  From palace and hovel
the great parade flooded avenue and byway
and turnip fields became just another highway.
Leftover bonbons were thrown to the chickens
and geese, who squawked like the very dickens.
There was no peace in the bathroom, none in the china closet
or the banks, where no one came to make a deposit,
In short all hell broke loose that wide afternoon.
By evening all was calm again. A crescent moon
hung in the sky like a parrot on its perch.
Departing guests smiled and called, “See you in church!”
For night, as usual, knew what it was doing,
providing sleep to offset the great ungluing
that tomorrow again would surely bring.
As I gazed at the quiet rubble, one thing
puzzled me: What had happened, and why?
One minute we were up to our necks in rebelliousness,
and the next, peace had subdued the ranks of hellishness.

So often it happens that the time we turn around in
soon becomes the shoal our pathetic skiff will run aground in,
And just as waves are anchored to the bottom of the sea
we must reach the shallows before God cuts us free.

–John Ashbery

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.’

—sample of verse from Edgar Poe



Poets love silence.
In silence they do best,
As the heart needs the song
To put the heart at rest.
The agitated heart
Sees an image at dawn
Which vanished yesterday
And is forever gone.
The agitated heart
Longs to hear the sound
Of a loved one’s voice
Now sleeping in the ground,
Or the agitated heart
Would leave the world behind
For the Plaza Port Royal
Where silences are kind.


We had to let a lot of things go.
Our safety.  Our principles.  The cat, sleeping,
the hamper that I came to know,
The joy that would tap upon our door
and leave us just like that,
cinnamon and sun and overflow;

Ceiling staring down and Kim
in the kitchen mixing spices;
the clutter; the TV and the radio
turned down low;
the escargot; the spit; the illustrated vices,

A replica that would lie silent in the corner
and occasionally go,
my captain, who made rhymes,
yours, who pushed plastic trains;

Gods who would kiss us and tell us
all they loved sometimes,
mom, who would stand, for an evening,
worried when the journey was slow;
intense pleasure doing nothing;
whaling vessels in classic novels;
we had to let a lot of things go.

Our youth; the popsicles that grow;
matters just beyond reach; fires on the porch;
ropes in the tool-shed; chimes that chime faintly and low;
you, the first one to speak—because you would always know,

I, who had to hope, because I wasn’t able to concentrate
entirely on the path or where, slightly
off the path, you and I were supposed to go.
You saw him, once; his big toe.

Art-shows in the shadows, the sun standing
perfectly still to make bright maps
for the understanding, fast, then slow;
the holding of breath in immense places;
the day we saw lying on our backs;
the priest who said, “off you go, off you go;”
someone in the distance claps
or laughs, there is always something,
there is always something we don’t know,
off in the redwoods, there he was, with someone;
places for our games, and designs we couldn’t show;
the path that virtue struggled against;
we had to let a lot of things go.

The violent triumph over us of someone we didn’t know;
Moths, leaks, letters.  The movement of verses to-and-fro.
Players, positions, horses, scattered ladders,
money floating in space, meetings,
rocky hills we rolled down, ignorant of woe.

Decisions we made at dawn;
sleeping without dreaming;
planning all night each song
cancelled the next morning,
the night’s invitation to lie down,
to lie down and stay, without
saying yes or no.

Playing with memory, making memorial play,
stopping at the middle of the court to
turn back for the ball,
to run back, and retrieve the ball,
the calculations behind the tree;
vibrations, stamina, the try alone, a moon desultory;

Observing the singular crow.
After the job and the dream, another hallway,
The loss of loss, the poem’s end, the question,
You must have seen, you must have known,
but now, remembered in sorrow,
we hardly remember—but no,
There is the fish, yes, the fish in the brown stream;

The routine we never quite got to know;
The jar and the glass and the folder;
We had to let a lot of things go.


de niro.jpg

One of my best buds (the guy in front)

I don’t belong to some fake-y past.  I have friends.

I am attending the most prestigious MFA in poetry program in the world and I have studied under the most prestigious poets.

I don’t feel there is anything preventing me from becoming a highly successful poet, unless something as petty as paying back student loans gets in the way, and it won’t, for my training has been at the best program with the best instructors.

Some whisper their connections, but I am not ashamed to yawp with pride mine.  Prestige is not for the resentful bookworm, it is for the poet who can bed beautiful women with a beautiful blurb.  Beauty is no longer a property of poetry, but I still know beauty when I see it and I resent neither the loss of beauty in poetry nor its presence in my life.

I admit Scarriet’s Marla Muse has caught my eye, that I text and twitter and facebook her constantly.  OK!  I want to ravish her!  She has a…smell…which excites me!  Ever since her coverage of March Madness…ever since she interviewed Camille Paglia, ever since I saw her…she’s like a beauty from a horror movie…ancient…yet alive…the aura of classical ruins haunts her form and yet she glitters with life…hers are the most singularly slender fingers I’ve ever seen…her knowledge of ancient languages is vast…despite the prestige of my MFA poetry program I don’t know any foreign languages.  I also have no money.  I’m in debt, in fact, very much in debt.  Did I tell you I have two MFA poetry degrees and I am working on a third, from three equally prestigious MFA poetry programs?   Seth approved them all.  Seth, the late lawyer…and now expert in matters poetical, critical, MFA-ical…Seth advised me that if I played my cards right…but enough!   Where is Marla? Where is Marla Muse?


I currently have two songs stuck in my head at once: We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel and Have You Seen Her? by the Chi-Lites.

“We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning” goes immediately into “why oh why, did she have to leave and go away?”  Over and over again.  Someone please help me.

These two songs are joined at the hip in my brain.  I can’t dislodge them.  Even listening to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier last night did nothing to help.

The Joel song, which I dislike, entered my brain first.  I was driving my son to school and from the car radio I heard the first strains of the song (which I hate) and announced, “Oh my God, this is We Didn’t Start the Fire…I hate this song…”  and with impish glee the boy, who has been diagnosed with ADHD but strangely misses nothing around him, quickly said, “No, no, don’t turn it…”  By the time I found myself explaining to him some of the history references in the song, it was too late: Song You Hate Stuck In Your Head had happened.

I don’t know where the Chi-Lites song came from.  I can’t remember the last time I heard it.  A day after the Billy Joel song became a fixture in my auditory cortex the falsetto phrase from Have You Seen Her?, “why oh why, did she have to leave and go away?” inserted itself right after “we didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning” and so has it remained in my frontal lobe loop: “We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning…why oh why, did she have to leave and go away?”

Imagine my pain and torture.  Not only are two songs in my head, one of which I hate, the other—which I only like a little, but is nothing like the first, and which grows bizarrely from the one I dislike—but I am beset with figuring out why the second song attached itself to the first.   Was it some failed attempt to escape the Joel song by another?  Are the two songs related in some intricately musical manner that escapes me?  Are the lyrics of the second song trying to say something to the first?  Did I once, on some day long since forgotten, hear both songs in sequence?

There is something post-modern about this kind of suffering, but it perhaps also represents a challenge to all composers and poets: the writer’s block which afflicts us is not a blank page—the blank page would be a welcome state of things—the affliction comes in the form of a page already full of experiences, a brain full of words, words, words and tunes, tunes, tunes, a fecundity overwhelming all originality.

Or, is the clutter a gift, the very stuff of creativity?  Looking through others’ trash is a boon to the imagination, is it not?

But how in the world can trash stuck in your head allow anything worthy to emerge?

How often do we meet very skilled and talented people who can play and recall and recite all sorts of information, but find it utterly impossible to create something new themselves?

Is there a faculty, a capacity, a knack, to resist data, to not remember things, and is this faculty or knack a crucial component of creativity?

Is there a faculty or a knack some of us possess to escape the pit of catchy music, the pendulum of knowing and clever pedantry?

Is knowledge the escape from knowledge?

Is imagination the escape from the imagined?

Is seeing the escape from the seen?


lilly ann.jpg

When you were lovely I loved you,
Lilly Ann,
For the bliss of loving loveliness
Is the plan for man,
Lilly Ann.

When you were lovely,
Lilly Ann,
I sought your love,
Even as the raven
Fed on the dove,
Even as man fed on man,
Lilly Ann.

If you beg upon your knees,
I will not love you, even at my ease,
Not if the lion lies down with the lamb.

For you are not lovely now,
And that was the plan,
Lilly Ann.


Well, how do we measure this progress?  

Few believe in absolute progress.  Material progress exists, even in our scientific age, only for some, and moral progress, or increase in global happiness, is impossible to calculate.

Since poetry belongs to moral, but not material progress, it seems safe to say that progress in poetry cannot be affirmed at all.

There has been much talk, however, of modern poetry’s progress in terms of both its expressiveness and its detached scientific ability—to investigate the wider world and language itself.  Story and sermon fitted to rhyme has given way, it is said, to a deeper and more nuanced universe.

It is not the place here to dispute these ubiquitous claims, but it should be pointed out that even if these claims are not openly called “progress,” the rhetoric certainly participates in this idea; but if the progress of poetry is not real, what of this rhetoric?

Something has to give. 

Has poetry improved, or not?

Is there any scientific evidence that poetry qua poetry is responsible for scientific progress?  No.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Beyond a certain beauty and harmony we get from a composer like Bach or a poet like Keats, the virtue of poetry operates immediately, with no mediation of any kind.

Let’s look briefly at the other arts.  In purely objective terms, has sculpture, music, painting, or the drama, as artistic, expressive modes, improved?  Anyone familiar with the riches of ancient, middle ages, renaissance, baroque or romantic art can answer ‘no’ without hesitation.  Any person answering ‘yes’ is prejudiced towards his own time.

However, can certain kinds of expressiveness improve?  Here, without pause, the answer is ‘yes.’  Progress in specific areas of art is possible.

There are perhaps pinnacles.  Music has not progressed in any qualitative manner since Bach, sculpture since the first century Rome, or possibly Michelangelo.   Painting?  New styles have emerged, but can painting be said to have improved since the renaissance?  No.  Has Shakespeare in the drama been eclipsed?  No.

When art does improve, the chief reason is technological improvements in the means of producing the art, with underlying cultural changes also a factor.

The thing about poetry, however, is that there is no technology to improve. 

We may as well admit that of all the arts, poetry is the least likely to improve,  it is the art form which has improved the least, and that a very strong argument could be made that in over two thousand years, it has not progressed at all.


The professional hates the amateur. 

Poetry was for amateurs before the man in the photo above came along (John Crowe Ransom).  He put Modernism into the university and professionalized poetry at the same time. 

The Romantic artist was an amateur.  Beethoven and Keats didn’t need no credentials; their only credentials were symphonies and odes.  Modernism changed all that. 

The amateur creates commerce.  The professional controls it.

The amateur is hot Sturm and Drang.  The professional is cold New Criticism. 

The professional is passion deferred.  The amateur is passion right now. 

The amateur is “I’ll show you!”  The professional is “It has been said…” 

The professional is the person of obligation, responsibility, work, connections, and material reward.  The amateur is the irresponsible, inspired bum. 

The professional is the sly method.  The amateur is the sly method exposed.  

The professional is the explainer.  The amateur is the explained. 

It takes 100 years for the professional to absorb the amateur.* 

*Pound agrees with Stendhal that it takes 80 years.  So be it. 

One always betrays the other and they can never be friends—even in the same person.

Take Franz Wright.  His ‘professional’ side and his ‘amateur’ side are at war; the poor man has to keep apologizing for both: the amateur Franz Wright to his professional colleagues, the professional Franz Wright to his fans and friends.  My guess is that most of the time it is his professional side that does the bulk of the apologizing and feels the most guilty, so it must be a pleasurable vent when he ventures onto Scarriet to scold us for our amateur status, allowing the professional Franz Wright, who spends most of the day hiding, a chance to shine.   Same with Bill Knott, the adored amateur poet, who came on Scarriet recently to wax professionally indignant over copyright law.  Seth Abramson, another professional, came here recently to claim that the MFA/professionalization of poetry was not a game of Modernism or New Criticism, not a system created by Ransom, Tate and their friends, but was rather some kind of courageous neo-Romantic movement—against all historical evidence.  It’s easy to see why Abramson would rather his beloved MFA system be identified with amateurs and Romantics than with professionals and New Critics.  It’s for the same reason that finds Franz Wright with a divided and irritable soul.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  We want to have our cake and eat it.  We want to be both professional and amateur, but it’s impossible, for it’s the whole role of both to cut out the other.

Despite the professionalization of poetry that has occured since Ransom’s academic Modernist/New Criticism coup a couple of generations ago, the artist-as-amateur, beholden to no creds and nobody, still lingers as a Romantic ideal.  In our hearts, we all know we’re amateurs and that history will eventually judge us that way, and so professionalism is sought after by almost everyone—but still loathed.  

As  academic, anti-Romantic Ransom put it in 1937, in his now-famous essay (thanks to us): “Rather than occasional criticism by amateurs, I should think the whole enterprise might be seriously taken in hand by professionals.  Perhaps I use a distasteful figure, but I have the idea that what we need is Criticism, Inc. or Criticism, Ltd.”



Away from comfort went I,
To take nature by the fist.
I wasn’t shy.
Meet me at the very end of the peninsula
Where weather and sobriety are your friend.
First, throw away your maps.
Take the one road to adventure,
The one road.
I troubled civilization with my words,
Finding in my words civilization,
Not the Latin test
But words of mine.
The mothers and fathers wondered
Why I was silent.
I have no energy for this conversation.
I remember my froth and the helpful sun,
How she brought food and a candle
And I succumbed.



W.S. Merwin belongs most properly to Anglo-New Criticsm.  Merwin began his career as a houseboy for Robert Graves, a formalist who knew the Fugitives; later Graves would advocate mushroom-use as Poetry Professor at Oxford in the 1960s.  Merwin was also at Princeton when Allen Tate started one of the first Writing Programs there.  Merwin knew Hughes and Plath.  Later Merwin dropped punctuation as he found his style, making a name for himself as a kind of serious, quiet radical in the 1960s and 70s in the U.S. 

The Anglo-New Critic has faith in unparaphrasable prose meaning and this essentially defines the poetry: prose which cannot be paraphrased.  

We can detect in this faith the New Critical dictum that form is an extension of content.

Agendas, beliefs, meanings have merit, so much merit that they have the power not only to utter prose meaning but to shape poetic effect; here is the hard-headed Brit’s belief in practical, hard-nosed common-sense, but there’s a hippie mystical element as well, this very belief that prose doesn’t need anything but itself to will itself into poetry. 

The fact is, most “practical” Brits are just a little muddled, their practicality somewhat grim, isolated, daft and headstrong, and so the style is rather easy to come by: prose that is slightly muddled, worldly, and proudly distant, with a strong element of grass-shirt emotional naturalism—this fits the bill exactly.

Let me demonstrate.   I’m just writing this off the top of my head:

I found you walking
you tricked my ideality into
believing the river
the sea-grass at
the sea-entrance near
the rock carvings which faced
the sea was a journey’s end 
just out of sight the surf
beyond where the beach fog
bends into the night
can be heard behind
the rough curtain every
plover hiding in the grasses
crying where the feeding
ground darkly gathering it is
night and I might go
where I can see small fish
worms crabs
in pools clear as light
before the morning
burns itself into the sand

There it is: Merwin-ism.  I would have done a bit better if I had been naked and slightly intoxicated, lying in a lagoon, but you get the idea.


I was looking for a clue
To prove it was really you.
It was disappointing that your gestures
Your conversation, your worries
Were ordinary.

My loves and dreams had come due.
I was looking for some little clue
But I saw in how you moved your hands,
Your conversation, your stories
Only ordinary worry.

My loves are actually few.
I hoped it was really you;
You spoke to me, and that was really good,
But in your smile I didn’t see genius or love that understood
My sad hurry.


In this lyric hour
I make a promise to the muse
She knows I will not keep:
I will pretend that shadows live;
She will make a promise to weep
As if she were moved by a dead flower
Or dead girl in an old romance,
A Victorian circus of grief,
Where sleeping passions are enough.

And now I almost glance
Over my shoulder at the muse,
But like Orpheus I know
If I look behind I will lose;
I must look straight ahead
Or peer at the page instead,
Where the shadow-poem will take shape
Without regard to words–the ones we use every day,
But words which behave like the wind
Or shadows which stand in our way.

I do not ask that love emerge,
Stepping with shadow-like step from shapes
That flicker and die,
Confusing, but somehow pleasurable to the eye,
Like a tune we cannot follow
Because it is lost in sorrow
And a dream the composer had
Beyond music. No, I am glad

That my poem is a mere shadow
Thrown upon the page,
Escaping detection of readers, who, by common sense
Know that my nostalgic trance
Will never stand up to the scrutiny of the age
Which looks through cunning glasses
At any shadow which passes
For a tired, 19th century poem
Where my muse once had a home

Before she promised to me
A storm, a sailor, a sea,
All made of shadows,
Rescued by a shadow called grace
With a shadow for a heart and a shadow for a face.


Is the great debate between Mainstream and Postmodern poetry—as laid out by Don Paterson in his introduction to New British Poetry, Graywolf Press, 2004, for instance, simply a matter of audience?   

Is there one Postmodernist poem that would appeal to the woman depicted above?   Can anyone find such a poem?   I don’t think it exists. 

Was there a day when all poets wrote to this woman, and was that the day when poetry was truly popular?   We could be cynical and proclaim this woman belongs to a time now dead.  But is there not something timeless in the soul of humanity depicted in this painting?  And should not poetry appeal to it?   And if not poetry, then what?  

Look at her.  If your poetry is not for her, who is it for, then?



We have, now, in American poetry, a new self-consciousness manifesting itself not in schools of thought or types of poetry, but in social prickliness—the birth pains, we can only hope, of a new era where the shackles of old Modernism and incestuous Workshop-ism can at last be thrown off.

For we live in an age in which the ‘I’, central to western civilization (and Anglo-American civilization in particular — for what other language capitalizes the first person singular pronoun?), has collapsed into a mere ‘i’, a mere letter, the Self nothing more than one of the billions of ‘yous’ who cohabit the earth.  Yet it is a false proclamation, no doubt owing more to the understandable but ultimately lamentable disinclination to correctly operate the ‘shift’ key than to an epochal change of consciousness.

We have decided at last that we do want the “I,” and are even thinking of capitalizing “You”; for the experiments which have banned the human — the found poem, the deconstructed text, the well-wrought urn of pedantic New Criticism, the sordid materialism and cryptic theoretical aspects of the avants, the cunning and predatory alliances formed in academic conferences and chairs — all of these are giving way to a healthy and humorous atmosphere inhabited by actual persons. To which, hearkening back to the sanctuaries we often attended as young persons, we can only offer an exuberant and heartfelt “Selah!”

We find that emblematic of this ‘new spirit’ are the poems of William Kulik, translator of Max Jacob, master of the prose poem, and professor of a “happy band” of students at Temple University in historic Philadelphia. Kulik’s poems remind us of nothing less than the movies of silent film star Buster Keaton, for in both, the protagonist faces a malevolent world — a world deteriorating in ways that defy reason, a dreamscape of dangerous happenings – yet both Keaton and Kulik’s protagonist (each poem usually has a central character, seemingly modeled on the poet himself) never get rattled, never get flustered, but maintain a cool, good humored imperturbability in the face of events which would drive most personages clear round the bend. Keaton maintains a stone face as houses collapse on him (Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928), as he is vamped by Fatty Arbuckle dressed as a nurse (Good Night Nurse, 1918, shockingly neglected), and as he plays cards with aged and grotesque Hollywood legends of yore (Sunset Boulevard, 1950). In the same way, the protagonist of Kulik’s poems keeps his sense of good humor even in dire situations—whether prostrate on the ground tormented by a sadistic policeman (“Flexible”), ridiculed on stage by yahoos in a theater that reminded us of the 1973 film Theatre of Blood (“This Old House”), or observing as a swinging 1970s party inexorably disintegrates into a hellish landscape (“The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite”). This determination to maintain one’s good humor, to appreciate and enjoy this short life we’ve been granted, is a spirit we find most congenial, whether in our own dire age or the dire ages past and future. For is not every age dire? No walking down the street muttering in despair with shoulders slumped for Keaton or Kulik — both have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, the bomb a comely XX-chromosomed being rather than a thermonuclear device.

For is there anything better to get one through a dark night of the soul (assuming one has already settled to one’s satisfaction the most pressing metaphysical questions) than thoughts of sexual bliss? “Yes,” we hear a wag retort, “sexual bliss itself!”  Yet we beg to differ. For the realm of sexual fantasy will always satisfy more qua fantasia than any and all attempts to realize that fantasy in the harsh light of physical reality.  For the reality can never match the fantasy— unless of course one has a nigh unlimited supply of funds and leisure time to stage manage one’s most breathless imaginings. And yet — and yet — even then we suspect that the reality would not match the dream (although we must sheepishly admit that we would certainly like to try, in the manner of, say, Terry Southern, to put this idea to the test).

William Kulik made a splash in Scarriet’s March Madness, an expansive merriment which simultaneously mocked and revered a popular paradigm; we at Scarriet ‘discovered’ Kulik through March Madness, through a list-like winnowing, and lately Kulik has made ‘an appearance’ on Scarriet’s Hot 100 (part 2) a very popular essay the popularity of which proves people care about people, they love lists because let’s face it, what is all temporal art but a list?

There is no depth in temporal art, per se, and if there is depth it is only from the list (the shallow construct of popular culture and mass media, top 40, etc)— the list is the fantasy, and the so-called ‘depth’ the reality which chases after the list itself, and which is only ‘reality’ finally, to scholars who proclaim seeming truths in retrospect.

The fantasy is finally what drives all of us, what gets us up in the morning (or the afternoon), that which is the true food of poets.  The shallow list has its significance in its very shallowness, in its construct as a ladder or reaching upwards into, and within, a realm of delirious fantasy, the realm where actor and poet are one.


When he gets on a roll, Tony Hoagland is very entertaining, almost like a warm-up act for a big name comic; but then he’ll veer suddenly towards the more serious—like films with famous comics that display the comic’s sad, sentimental side: behind the laughter there’s a wound needing love, honesty and affection.

The themes of Hoagland’s poems, such as ‘men are such clods, will women ever really love them?’ are perfect stand-up comedy material.  Hoagland is not fully ‘stand-up,’ though, because he can’t get the non-poetry guys who have been dragged to his readings by their pretty poet girlfriends to laugh along; Hoagland cannot reach that audience; I imagine if he could, he would be making millions with his comedy, and not merely a thousand here or there with his poems.  But comedy has that problem, too; if you really connect with the males in the audience, there might be some females in the audience who hate you, and vice versa.  Comedy is about hate as much as it is about laughter. 

If there’s no one being ridiculed in some way, there’s no comedy.  We all know that all men are not clods, but the comic goes with this idea and we laugh because…well maybe all men are…we don’t finally know and our implicit ignorance is what unconsciously makes us laughwe are being ridiculed—for our intellectual nature which is trapped in categories.   We laugh at ourselves by participating in categories; we are those failures being ridiculed the moment we accept the comic’s categories: men, women, whites, blacks, Democrats, Republicans, etc.  To laugh is to intellectually surrender to an abstraction—this is the basis of all humor.  It is the lowest form of communication: low, but powerful.  Humor is the intellectuality of the unlearned, and humor’s intellectual force is all the more powerful for not being understood as such. 

I saw the poet Hoagland read in Salem, Massachusetts the night before last at the Salem Athenaeum.  

Salem State College, which sponsored the reading, also was in the middle of a student invitational poetry seminar; college students read their poems before Hoagland took the stage. 

The difference between the students and Hoagland, the U.  Houston professor, was startling.  The students’ poems were heartfelt, some were even metaphorically interesting, if somewhat artless and sentimental.   The chief difference between the students and Hoagland was that Hoagland exploited categories: the student poets (they were all female) read poems about some particular man; Hoagland poems were about men, or some category, and thus his poems rose to the level of humor, and when they weren’t humorous, they were metaphoric in a very grandiose way; in one Hoagland poem which recalled an ex-lover’s sexy body, a graveyard was the analagous relic: bodies, graveyards…Hoagland’s abstractions are…palpably abstract.  Thus, funny.

Hoagland confessed that he was a bad poet for many years, didn’t learn anything from Iowa in the 1970s…”my teachers told me my poems didn’t work…I knew they didn’t work!”  Another insight about Iowa in the 1970s: “I couldn’t believe how depressed and serious everyone was…this was before anti-depressents!   How many poems could people write about Italian statuary?  I knew I didn’t want to be a funereal poet.”

Bad poetry in the 1970s was serious poetry unintentionally funny; and why?  Because it couldn’t avoid the landmine of the grandiose; the details kept sliding away into categories and abstractions.  Like visiting an ex-lover’s body in one’s mind and comparing this mental visit to visiting a graveyard?  We’ve all seen it, known it, done it, and poets who were writing in the 1970s espcially know this, and Hoagland, by his own admission, was writing this bad stuff in the 1970s, and he also realized he didn’t want to be too serious.

Enter the Iowa poem of the 1980s: Billy Collins and Mark Levine and Dean Young and Tony Hoagland.  The serious poets who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two and the Bomb and the Vietnam War gave way to a Ironic, Smart-Aleck, “What, Me Worry?” Generation who grew into poetic awareness during the goofy, corporate 1970s, and learned from O’Hara and Ashbery and Koch, the funny guys from the 1950s, when TV comedy was on the rise and things were relatively prosperous and stable.

The invention of the funny Worskshop poem of the 1980s was the bad 1970s Workshop poem diligently pursued until it worked as comedy.

Hoagland is overtly 1960s as well; this is where Hoagland parts ways with a sophisticated, apolitical, and essentially 1950s poet, like Ashbery.  Ashbery kids in a blank sort of way; Hoagland wants to talk about what’s real, man.  Hoagland is exciting in a curious, engaged, politically and socially sincere, albeit somewhat naive, 1960s kind of way.

I reflected on why Hoagland and many other poets have taken on a 1960s sensibility even as society at large has passed it by, and then it struck me: the demographics of the 60s was such that half the population was under 30, and what is the MFA teacher’s audience?  Twenty-somethings.  Voila!  The MFA is a demographic microcosm of the 60s.




How did that happen?
How did I fall in love with you?

Comparison lives in a cul de sac.
Loves are too numerous,
For the sake of loyalty
Beauties are too few.

Hair which reveals the neck,
Or falls across the breast
Aims to impress all—
And tortures the rest.

Desire is at a loss,
Desire exists to die.
The best find gratification
In the worst—who cannot fly.

In beauty and love,
Count, set levels, calculate
The cost not invested
In life that will not wait.

I was coddled by hate
And murdered by affection.
It seems I want an answer
In every direction.

To the sensitive poet,
The world’s an ugly hell,
Not a world of pain–
So I’m doing pretty well.

I want you above all others,
Above all others, you
Can save me from the sun,
The sky perfectly blue…


See how the sun tarries in the west!
As if the giver of life were stopped at time’s behest,
As if day himself feared his sister, night,
As if day, like a child, desired always music and light.

But our lamp at home is glowing,
Our hearts are filled with love;
We confessed it in the going
Of Apollo, god, above!

Why does he linger on his horizon,
Surrounded by fretful clouds of red?
Isn’t he weary to be gone,
Like us, to his glorious bed?

See how the sun pauses, like a lately hunted deer,
With luxurious growth at his feet, and all his family near.
Is there anyone to chase the proud god away?
Has the sun conspired, at last, to always have the day?



Now, in my living mouth,
Hear the living poem cry.
An ode for the dying south—
An ode to make you sigh.

You may sigh for love
Softly, and no one hears;
But for Mexico and my verses
I’ll allow you real tears.

Mexico and my verses
Are lasting and abstract
Just as God is:
Ah, cold fact!

Facts will be taken from you
And you will live in spite of these.
See? Death approaches
With her singing armies.


Middlebury, VT (Scarriet News) –The crowds were immense in this mountain town of Vermont as the New England Frost’s Breadloaf Park hosted the starting pitching debut of Jesus Christ for Robert Frost’s ballclub.

Man Ray (1-8) of the New Jersey Williams, the New Jersey ace who has not pitched like one this year, was Christ’s mound opponent, and almost stole the show with a brilliant performance.

Christ was shaky in the first, giving up two hits and a walk, as the Williams took a quick 1-0 lead.  A spectacular catch by the Frost’s Thomas Hardy in center prevented further damage.  Then Christ settled down, retiring 13 straight batters between the third and the seventh innings.

The Williams’ infield of Spicer, Snyder and Creeley turned four double plays behind Man Ray’s pitching as the New Jersey visitors took a 1-0 advantage into the ninth.

With two down in the bottom of the final frame, and pinch runner Rupert Brooke on first, Billy Collins fouled off five straight pitches against Man Ray, who needed just one more strike for a complete game shutout victory.  Ray was throwing nothing but fastballs to Collins, and then Williams catcher Yone Noguchi called for a curve. Man Ray threw one and it hung like an old-fashioned art exhibit and the poet Collins was all over it.  Billy Collins launched a tremendous shot into the late-afternoon, Vermont  sky, over everything, “past steeple and hill” as Frost put it in the post-game interview, the homerun “past steeple and hill” Frost kept saying, and I suppose this will be known forever as the homerun “past steeple and hill.”   The homerun gave Jesus Christ and the Frost a 2-1 victory.

Meanwhile, the red-hot Rapallo Pound are now tied with the Frost for third place in the AL, and the even hotter, first place London Eliots have won six straight.

As Collins was rounding the bases, though, after his tremendous homerun in the ninth, he wasn’t thinking about Pound or Eliot—he was thinking about all those fans in Vermont, and Robert Frost, and his pitcher, Jesus Christ.

ASK TIRESIAS! William Kulik in the APR


… to learn that a man has said or done a foolish thing is nothing; a man
must learn that he is nothing but a fool, a much more ample and important

“Woman in the red hat, second row…Those what?…Trojan war
heroes? What were they really like?…Glad you asked. I’ve always wanted to pull the plug on some of those guys—take Achilles: a brat and a whiner right down the line, like an NBA star who sulks if he can’t get everything he wants. And some patriot! Hiding out as a woman. Hero my ass. HE was the first draft-dodger,  like his buddy Odysseus, trying to prove he was an idiot to keep from going to war. What about who? Penelope? Was she faithful? That broad? Don’t get me started. The tapestry act: what a scam. Lady, you believe that you got to have been born yesterday…Next question; man in the front row…You want to what? Hear it from the horse’s mouth, how I got to be blind? OK, it was like this. Word. No myth bullshit: I’m out for a stroll after a three retsina lunch when I come upon a pair of sacred snakes fucking—Delphic reptiles, if memory serves—and got me a nice set of titties for the next seven years…you heard right. So pissed I’d seen them they changed me into a woman. (Ovid nailed this one, though take it from me most of the time he’s full of shit.) And I’ll tell you, just as I did the boss’s old lady, Big Hera herself—may she strike me deaf if I’m lying as she did blind when I told her what she didn’t want to hear. That Zeus was right: women get more out of sex than men do. Much more! Or haven’t you noticed? Look: a man comes once, maybe twice an hour, maybe a couple different times a day, let’s even say three, maximum. Correct? Let me tell you when I was a woman I’d come fifteen, maybe twenty times a half hour, several times every day. And, let me add, without the fears I had when I was a man: could I get it up; would it be hard enough, et cetera…Next question. You sir: can I what? Tell you if you’re going to land that new job? Sorry, no prophecies today. Come back Tuesday…You, madam: do I have any advice about selling your home? Do I ever! Glad you asked.

 —William Kulik


I remember poetry
And then I write it down
Before its loveliness can flee
Back to thoughts clouding up the sky
Or prose lost in the stretched muddy ground.

I remember poetry
Flying in pieces inside my head.
The universe may be a mystery;
I prefer the mystery of myself instead.

I remember poetry.
Look, reader! This is what I found!
Growing from granite, a tender tree,
Growing with a terrible sound.


Combat love,
Steel your breast against its call,
You won’t be able to resist it if you are soft,
You won’t be able to resist it at all.

I met a man as cold as a knife;
But he stood on sentiment and sorrow
Horrified that one slip
And he’d be a puddle tomorrow.

Sorrow is not like love,
Sorrow is OK.
Be a child now
As you were yesterday.

I was once a child,
Who threw a great big fit
And when I got older
I became a poet.

Am I in this poem?
Who shapes my speech?
Are the Greeks close to me
Or too far out of reach?

Who will I be when I leave this poem?
Am I a poet now?
How will I speak when I leave this poem?
Oh you will show me how.

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