TONY HOAGLAND, STAND-UP COMIC?

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.

Peace.

56 Comments

  1. Bob Tonucci said,

    June 6, 2010 at 11:09 am

    The 1960s sensibility is also consistently championed by Camille Paglia (PBUH).

  2. thomasbrady said,

    June 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Bob,

    Paglia’s a teacher, too. If you’re a teacher, your classroom will tend to be the same age as the U.S. Baby Boom demographic of the 60s: young, curious, questioning authority…

    The women students poets who read were all immersed in social pain and anxiety…they were ripe for Hoagland’s sweet, wise, funny hippie-ness…

    And then a middle-aged woman in the audience, radiating maternal experience rather than ’22 year old model good looks,’ asked a question during the Q & A phase of the evening (Hoagland was very generous with his time and did not seem in a hurry to leave) which referred to a book she was reading, “The Anthologist” by Nicholson Baker, and she specifically asked Hoagland what he thought about “rhyme.” This kind of threw Tony a bit, for at first he said, “well my poems do ryhme, they’ve got internal rhyme” but he didn’t pursue that and did acknowledge, well, no, I don’t rhyme, and admitted he couldn’t pull it off, and then he defended ‘not rhyming’ by saying it was a reflection of the 20th century/21st century, and further, he said—and this was such a simple and beautiful question by this woman, because it forced Tony to show us how his mind works (if you really want to see how someone’s mind works, innocently put them on the defensive)—that rhyme equaled ‘faith in progress’ and because in the 20th century we have lost faith in “progress,” we no longer rhyme, and are more interested in “improvisation and surprise.” Which is ridiculous, of course, because “progress” was never so manifest than in the 20th century; tell someone living during the Black Death, or during the U.S Civil War, or any of the horrors prior to the 20th century about “progress.” Religiosity, if it was more prominent in earlier ages, did not preach “progress.” The idea of “progress” grew intensely in the 20th century as medicine and travel and communications expanded enormously. One could never back Hoagland’s assertion with facts, but then “progress” is such a huge term that anyone, if they tried, could make a case that there is/is not “progress.” There was a sort of pessimistic clique (the Modernists) who were anti-science and doubted progress, but this was a sour exception to the rule in the 20th century. Secondly, why “surprise” is less possible with rhyme is still another piece of nonsense. Hoagland is good at what he does, but what he does really doesn’t involve ‘making sense.’ There may be reasons for not rhyming, and good ones, but it is dishonest to say those reasons exist because we live in the 20th century. Can you imagine a poet explaining his rhyme to an audience in a prior day, saying, “I rhyme because I live in the 18th century…yes, ladies and gentlemen, we live in a time here in the 18th century where I know that when I get up tomorrow, things will be better than they are today…and that’s why I rhyme!” One can quickly see the absurdity of Hoagland’s thesis if one uses a century as an example which does not begin with 2…

    Tom

  3. notevensuperficial said,

    June 7, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    a reflection of the 20th century/21st century

    Tom, perhaps Hoagland (also) meant something less “ridiculous” than that the contemporary writing and acceptance of unrhymed verse is a sign of ‘loss of faith in progress’, which sounds like merely a preliminary (soon-abandoned?) stab at illuminating the obscurity of end-rhyme’s provenance and meaning.

    Rhyme passes into and out of custom wrapped into a myriad of co-factors its comfort and reasonable-ness are influenced by and, in turn, influence.

    I can easily imagine someone of the Scriblerus group saying, “Well, of course my end-lines rhyme – that’s how we do ‘poetry’.” Not only do Virgil and Homer not end-rhyme, but almost nothing in the centuries-long literary traditions they’re parts of end-rhymes — but Pope’s translations of them sure do. Is there much English poetry of the “18th century” that doesn’t end-rhyme?

    I think Hoagland was struggling ex tempore to suggest that, for example, the unity and coherence of ’18th c. English poetry’ is not accidental, that end-rhyme (among numerous shared technical and thematic ‘choices’) only appears mistakenly to us even to have been ‘chosen’ in the way that Eliot ‘chooses’ sometimes to rhyme and, much more often, not.

    Not that the only possible frameworks for ‘choosing’ to end-rhyme are either: a) absolute freedom, unhinged to any social context; or b) absolutely robotizing determination by cultural/historical context. But surely what feels right along the lines of end-rhymes is somehow historically contextual. Your blogicle above quite depends on the historical conditioning of poetry, right?

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 7, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      not,

      So it’s convention v. rationale?

      Pope rhymed unthinkingly, whereas Eliot, precisely because he sometimes rhymed and sometimes did not, thought about the matter?

      And can we then say Hoagland who never rhymes, also does so unthinkingly?

      Tom

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 8, 2010 at 1:01 am

        So it’s convention v. rationale?

        No, Tom; as was carefully rejected: not a) or b).

        ‘Thoughtfully’ and “unthinkingly” – at least as poets choose – are equiprimordial, dialectically entwined, mutually implicating.

  4. notevensuperficial said,

    June 7, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Here’s a Latin poem that does rhyme:

    Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio,
    Concupiscentiae et libidinis exterminatio –
    Caritatis et patientiae,
    Humilitatis et obedientiae,
    Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.

    This limerick was written – or, at least, earliest recorded that I’ve heard of – in the Breviary of the Angelic Doctor.

  5. Tom said,

    June 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    “Is there much English poetry of the “18th century” that doesn’t end-rhyme? ”

    Loads and loads, piles, even, of blank verse.

  6. notevensuperficial said,

    June 8, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Loads and loads, piles, even

    Yes, other (?) Tom, that was foolishly axed.

    These lines from Thomson are an apposite loadling of Augustan blank verse:

    Let no presuming, impious railer tax
    Creative Wisdom, as if aught was formed
    In vain, or not for admirable ends.
    Shall little, haughty Ignorance pronounce
    His works unwise, of which the smallest part
    Exceeds the narrow vision of her mind?
    As if upon a full-proportioned dome,
    On swelling columns heaved, (the pride of art,)
    A critic-fly, whose feeble ray scarce spreads
    An inch around, with blind presumption bold,
    Should dare to tax the structure of the whole.

    Thomson’s fabulous artificer being something more than a poet, and something less – and the critic-fly often in the same proportion to ballooning domes of work, perceiving only their shit-likeness.

  7. Tom said,

    June 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Good one. Always worth watching out for the plank in one’s eye, of course. Although it’s sometimes hard to see the wood, even quite a large one, what with all the full-proportioned trees heaving around the place. This isn’t really working, is it?

    It’s not clear to me that this:

    “Sincerely sure that nothing’s true,
    Unladen by theory or thought,
    She knows it’s true she’s right, while you
    Are not.”

    Is creative wisdom, and that this –

    “No waking more delicious than pulling
    you in this heat, airless weightless
    cotton body blown in between
    towers like a sentinel of purity.
    You matter less in sleep, your straight
    legs cast in sleep, your rigid
    high-mindedness deputised without
    trouble. All angels of my Saturdays
    are waylaid in bed, this one
    cusping over a brown image
    stolen helplessly from the room.”

    – tender and doubtful love-lyric, is automatically ripe for satirical gawking. There’s no sense in returning the credulity with which notionally fashionable verse is received by flapping our hands in stupid dunce-like approval of the most base and malevolent attempts to diminish its prestige.

    In seriousness, what do you think of this http://humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/review/pdf/brady.pdf essay of Brady’s?

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      Andrea accuses Don of confusing culture and politics, but that’s exactly what she does. Why is she surprised that a hard-headed, working class leftist like Patterson might call obscure ivory tower poetry a bunch of crap, and why should she be shocked that he be even more indignant when obscure ivory tower poetry is called ‘revolutionary’ by people like Andrea Brady? She can’t defend the poetry she favors on its merits; all she can do is make vague, empty political gestures. That’s the bottom line here.

  8. Tom said,

    June 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I find Andrea Brady quite a bit more argumentatively foxy than that. I don’t think she’s performing “surprise”, is she, in that piece?

    I absolutely agree that defending “bad” writing by appealing to its “good” politics is superficial, cheap, bogus. I’ll look again at Brady’s published criticism with a mind to this, but my impression is that she doesn’t do that much. Isn’t she doing it in that piece exactly in order to contest claims, made by Paterson, whose virtues depend on precisely that disreputable feint?

    What I like about the piece written against The Don is her rebuttal of the notion that the poetry scene – in a British context anyway – neatly divides into an academic establishment of self-electing avantgardists, and a generous community of poets, mainstream by right of inheritance and accessibility; formless charlatans and earthy rhymsters parping at eachother over the battlements. There’s much more to it than that. What do you make of that stanza of Brady’s I quoted above? It doesn’t seem to me that poem can be easily dismissed as self-evidently bad poetry, or without literary merit, certainly not by the criterion of ivory-tower obscurantism. It’s as lucid and ambiguously sweet as the Donne it recalls (though perhaps that’s not saying much!).

    In her more recent interviews, it seems to me, she’s started mounting a sophisticated critique not only of this model of interpretation and commitment, but also approaching with critical probity the writing of the troupes with which she’s been previously identified. On that basis I think she’s worth taking seriously. Throwing soggy doggerel and generic criticisms derived from rudimentary and unexamined premises her way doesn’t advance the case against writers playing the art game for advantage very far. But then, I’m no fun.

    We’re in the wrong thread, here!

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 8, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      But Paterson never says all academics are postmodern, as Andrea charges, for instance, nor does Paterson say postmodern poetry is not allowed to exist, etc.

      Andrea is merely stirring up a clear stream: it’s Paterson’s anthology and he, as the editor, has a right to defend his choices, and if that involves denigrating an important segment of influential academics who have, in his view, betrayed poetry, the larger political fight which Andrea is interested in depends upon her proving that Paterson somehow is not expressing his taste but oppressing and censoring the Postmodernists, and there’s no sane person who could believe that. The issue is the editors’ taste, and they can defend it any way they see fit. Her beef with the editors of this anthology would have been more interesting if she had compared the actual poetry of the two schools; instead she pretends that Paterson’s all for teacups depicting the queen, which is clearly rot and just a cute way for her to argue.

      As for comparing the two schools of poetry—if they exist—I have a radical thesis. We ought to have clarity first and foremost, unless it is clear ‘why it is not clear’ and if these two criteria are not met, we have no art. Art of any kind has more clarity than its surroundings, not less. “Jabberwocky” is not clear, yet the poem is delightfully clear since ‘why the poem is not clear’ is clear. Andrea B. would never call “Jabberwocky” experimental or revolutionary, for these terms are for her finally not democratic, not clear; she does not aspire to an open spirit of inquiry in a truly democratic sense; her intellectual reasoning is quite simply obscure and, finally, fraudulent. She acutely felt the ire of Paterson’s introduction even though it wasn’t specifically directed at her, and it’s clear to me why. She is merely a defender of reaction. Modernism and Postmodernism are essentially reactionary if one studies their history and their advocates and their theories, and all reactionary movements have their diversionary defenses in the form of ‘leftist’ pawns, and this merely is her role, as far as I can see.

  9. Marcus Bales said,

    June 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Frost Was Wrong

    Frost was wrong.
    Free verse is not like playing tennis without the net;
    it’s like playing tennis without
    racquets, balls, or court.

    Nothing’s long
    Or short; nothing’s in or out, no match, no game, no set,
    no point: it’s just running about,
    not playing a sport.

    Every shot
    is brilliant, each return a marvel, each grunt or curse
    will punctuate and guarantee
    another great play.

    Girls as hot
    And boys as rich as they claim to be online: free verse
    means that anybody can be
    anything they say.

  10. thomasbrady said,

    June 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    As I wrote in a poem published recently on this site, “comparison is a cul de sac.”

    It is vain to compare free verse to tennis without net, ball, racquet, or court because comparison never gets at the thing itself.

    All metaphoric reasoning is suspect for this reason; the free verse poet has nothing to lose by saying with a yawn, “Well I don’t equate poetry with tennis, exactly. Sorry.”

    Free verse only gains, finally, by these sorts of attacks, and for the simple reason that free verse does not exist at all. Quite obviously, something which has no real existence, like free verse, will always gain by any act of comparison.

    In reality there is no free verse here, and formal verse there.

    The comparison works something like this: We exert ourselves more when there is a net; where there are rules, we take joy in the definition of accomplishment and failure precisely measured; without measure and definition, our motions are meandering and without purpose; less definition encourages less effort. But exertion and rule and measure are, by their very nature, actual, not comparative. The uses of the metaphor itself are finally in vain.

    Formal verse will always lose (ironically) by such a comparison—precisely because free verse evades, through its non-existence, any terms the formalist might bring to bear against it.

    The comparison is faulty, and because this fact—the faultiness of the very act of comparison itself—escapes our reasoning, a sort of optical illusion makes sure the unspoken faultiness attaches itself to the player (formalism) in the game who is trying a little too hard to win.

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 10, 2010 at 1:55 am

      Tom, Frost sneers his simile, but what if one takes the ‘likeness’ to disclose something constructive about ‘free’ verse?

      “Free” in this phrase doesn’t mean no rules, but rather ‘prosodic rules that arise from within rather than from without’.

      In the tiny ambit of his quip, Frost doesn’t seem to accept that rules can arise from within – or to be aware of what that odd seeming contradiction might mean. I’d ask him: do The Snow Man and Anecdote of the Jar – poems not yet cliches when (I’m guessing) Frost first read them – really not succeed at playing ‘netless tennis’ with him as he reads them?

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 10, 2010 at 3:21 am

        What would rules look like that arose from within rather than from without? Wouldn’t they be rather like buying 20 copies of a newspaper to be sure that what was printed was true?

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 10, 2010 at 3:12 am

      Thomas said: “As I wrote in a poem published recently on this site, ‘comparison is a cul de sac’.”

      You were wrong then, too.

      Thomas said: “It is vain to compare free verse to tennis without net, ball, racquet, or court because comparison never gets at the thing itself.”

      Bah. It’s the sneer of the competent at the incompetent, and you can tell by the wriggles that it hit its mark.

      Thomas said: “All metaphoric reasoning is suspect for this reason; the free verse poet has nothing to lose by saying with a yawn, ‘Well I don’t equate poetry with tennis, exactly. Sorry’.”

      That’s ok, buddy – I do equate poetry with tennis, roughly, and that’s why the comparison is so apt. You may regard what you do as Calvin-ball, which is, of course, charming in small children, but don’t you think it’s time you tried grown-up games?

      Thomas said: “Free verse only gains, finally, by these sorts of attacks, and for the simple reason that free verse does not exist at all. Quite obviously, something which has no real existence, like free verse, will always gain by any act of comparison.”

      This is just silly. Free verse is the accepted descriptor, even though it is an oxymoron. We still speak of “military intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp” and we know what the phrases mean, even though we laugh at them on another level. Part of the ridiculousness of free versers’ justification for writing free verse is revealed in their ineptitude in choosing a name for what they do, and we can laugh at that, too, but in the end we have to call what they do SOME thing, so we might as well call it free verse, since that lets us sneer at it with its practitioners’ own term.

      Thomas said: “In reality there is no free verse here, and formal verse there.
      The comparison works something like this: We exert ourselves more when there is a net; where there are rules, we take joy in the definition of accomplishment and failure precisely measured; without measure and definition, our motions are meandering and without purpose; less definition encourages less effort.”

      Yes, that’s a fine elaboration of Frost’s dictum and my extension of it. You’ve shown you understand pretty well the meaning of Frost’s comment. Well done.

      Thomas said: “But exertion and rule and measure are, by their very nature, actual, not comparative.”

      But this is also just silly. It is precisely because there is a metaphorical similarity between the rules of tennis and the rules of poetry that the comparison works so well. Of course there is not an identity between those rules, but Frost said the one is “like” the other, not that one is identical with the other. All metaphors and analogies break down at some point just because they’re NOT identities. But so what? Metaphors are a good starting place.

      Thomas said: “Formal verse will always lose (ironically) by such a comparison—precisely because free verse evades, through its non-existence, any terms the formalist might bring to bear against it.”

      This is simply wrong on the face of it. Free versers may play Calvin-ball all they please, but that only further establishes that they are practicing self-absortion without self-knowledge. They ONLY want to “win”, and they’re willing to simply change the rules every time their previous rules have trapped them somewhere they don’t want to be. Where there is no possibility of excellence, of honest comparisons based on agreed grounds, there is narcissistic childishness: self-absorption without self-knowledge.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

        Poetry, Poems, and Poets Umped by a Winner

        What would rules look like that arose from within rather than from without?

        Well, practical epiphenomena of the “rules” of meter and end-rhyme and commonsensical, everyday reference would “look like” they do in The Snow Man and Anecdote of the Jar.

        Of course, ol’ just silly Stevens is among the incompetent, a player of Calvin-ball, practicing self-absorption without self-knowledge, a scribbler who ONLY want[s] to “win” by writing ‘poems’ like An Ordinary Evening in New Haven – a ‘poem’ where there is no possibility of excellence.

        And that Calvin-baller Celan – willing to simply change the rules every time [his] previous rules have trapped [him] somewhere [he] do[es]n’t want to be – what a loser!

  11. Seth said,

    June 10, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Mark Levine’s poetry bears no similarity whatsoever to Tony Hoagland’s — and to link Dean and Tony for any reason other than the fact that they’re friends would likewise be absurd. Collins got his Master’s (and PhD.) at California-Riverside, not Iowa, and did nearly all his higher-education teaching in New York City. So not sure what your point was there. Unless you’re referencing (and BOLDING!) poets you’ve never read — again.

    S.

    • Al Cordle said,

      June 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      I suspect Tom has read these poets more carefully and with more distance than you, Seth.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm

      Seth,

      The Iowa Poem of the ’80s, which I termed it—not meaning, of course, that only at Iowa was this being done—certainly could have been influenced by, or could have influenced Collins, even though he didn’t go to school at Iowa. My “point” was not precise locales, but that ‘funny’ became attractive in contemporary poetry at a certain point in time, and that this trend resulted from ‘bad’ writing being pushed to a certain limit, ‘bad’ in specific terms of what was not critically permissible in the Iowa milieu previously.

      Tom

  12. Marcus Bales said,

    June 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Notevensuperficial said: “Well, practical epiphenomena of the ‘rules’ of meter and end-rhyme and commonsensical, everyday reference would ‘look like’ they do in The Snow Man and Anecdote of the Jar.”

    That’s silly – like saying the rules of baseball look like a game of baseball. My question is, just what are those rules that you say arise from within rather than without? Elucidate the rules used to write The Snow Man or the Anecdote of the Jar that arose from within them.

  13. notevensuperficial said,

    June 10, 2010 at 11:39 am

    That’s silly –

    That does seem to be your incomprehension reflex, Marcus – or does it only indicate belligerence?.

    Look again at this phrase in the sentence you typed: practical epiphenomena of the ‘rules’.

    The point is that the lucidities of The Snow Man and of Anecdote of the Jar are not largely dependent on externalizable, imitable rules – “rules” like regularity of meter and closeness of end-rhyme.

    (More prosaic, less prosodic ‘rules’ are obvious: for example, “snow” in the former poem refers to ‘ice crystals falling/en from clouds, considered both individually, in discrete groups, and collectively’ is an example of the ‘rule’ of everyday reference of word to thing. Other ‘rules’ that Stevens – let me scarequote – ‘follows’ are those of verse number in stanzas and (usually) the syntactic unities of everyday English.)

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Notevensuperficial said: “Look again at this phrase in the sentence you typed: practical epiphenomena of the ‘rules’.”

      Ok, you’re saying “An example of such rules are …” and I’m asking not for an example, but for an elucidation of those rules – not to be shown a game of baseball, but to be shown the rule-book.

      Notevensuperficial said: “The point is that the lucidities of The Snow Man and of Anecdote of the Jar are not largely dependent on externalizable, imitable rules – ‘rules’ like regularity of meter and closeness of end-rhyme.”

      Yeah, you’ve said that, more or less – but you’ve also said that there ARE rules they follow, rules that “rise from within”. Well, then, WHAT are those rules? Elucidate those rules, please.

      Notevensuperficial said: “(More prosaic, less prosodic ‘rules’ are obvious: for example, “snow” in the former poem refers to ‘ice crystals falling/en from clouds, considered both individually, in discrete groups, and collectively’ is an example of the ‘rule’ of everyday reference of word to thing. Other ‘rules’ that Stevens – let me scarequote – ‘follows’ are those of verse number in stanzas and (usually) the syntactic unities of everyday English.)”

      So, you’re saying that he used the rules for prose to write his piece. Fair enough. Why not just call it prose, then – prose lineated to simulate a poem-like construction, but prose nonetheless?

  14. notevensuperficial said,

    June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    you’re saying that he used the rules for prose to write his piece

    Again – no, Marcus, that’s not what I said nor said that I said.

    When Pope writes – in verse you should agree is ‘poetry’ -:

    Through Lud’s fam’d gates, along the well-known Fleet,
    Rolls the black troop, and overshades the street,
    Till show’rs of sermons, characters, essays,
    In circling fleeces whiten all the ways:
    So clouds replenish’d from some bog below,
    Mount in dark volumes, and descend in snow.

    – he means by “snow” to refer, as Stevens does, to the cold white stuff from above that piles up in winter. That’s not one of the rules for prose, nor is forming stanzas in regular numbers of lines,.nor, as you can see from those lines of Pope’s poetry above, is using the “syntactic unities of everyday English”.

    That is, none of the three “rules” in those parentheses that you quote – two attaching both to Pope’s poetry and to, say, journalistic prose; one only to what we’d both, I guess, call “poetry” – can be mistaken for rules for prose and not for poetry.

    The ‘rules’ that a free-verse poem ‘follows’ that arise from within it (and its companions in that author’s work, perhaps in a community of like-writing poets) are ineffable.

    I’m guessing that indicating the ineffable involves a paradox that you’d reject absolutely – which would be in keeping with refusing to read plain statements carefully, which you keep doing.

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      Well, I guess if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit is you vade mecum. Tinkerty-tonk.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 10, 2010 at 10:03 pm

        I responded to this think-thonk over on Ye Olde Threade.

        I’ll add here that “bullshit” is an entertainingly risky brickbat for you to fondle, Marcus. “Brilliant” being more entertaining, but, unhappily, less risky.

  15. thomasbrady said,

    June 10, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    The Frost remark is a little like saying ‘free verse is like eating with a fork— without a fork.’

    If there’s no net, then it’s not tennis.

    Frost’s remark is without merit.

    Without a net, it’s some other activity, and so what if it is?

    Earlier this year my family and I played at a public court that didn’t have the nets put up yet; we banged the ball around and had a great time; we were practicing tennis, hitting the ball as accurately as we could, but we were not exactly playing tennis. We were certainly being ‘sportive.’

    Human beings are radically adaptive and ‘sportive’ can take all sorts of forms.

    In tennis, one can say with certainty that one MUST hit the ball over the net.

    In poetry, one can say with certainty…what?

    What is the equivalent in poetry of “MUST hit the ball over the net?”

    Could poetry merely signify “make a spectacular shot?”

    A “spectacular shot” is equivalent to, “one HAD to do that to achieve that shot and one DID” and only AFTER the spectacular shot is it clear what HAD to be done.

    But there is no MUST.

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 10, 2010 at 7:53 pm

      Tom, contrary to what you put on Ye Olde Threade, it was me who advanced “sportive” in (I meant and plainly said) direct contrast to Marcus’s “sport” – one can’t be confident that the distinction makes a difference to Marcus.

      Here, you illustrate that difference: an adjectival predication indicates a characteristic at once exhibited by essentially different categories, where a noun picks out something essentially similar – at least, as adjectives and nouns are usually used.

      Carpentry could be sportive; putting on make-up could be sportively done, or saluting an ‘officer’ — none is a “sport”. To call poetry a “sport” is, I’ll repeat myself in agreement with you, an error.

      (“p” also stands for ‘precise’, “m” or “l” ‘precise’.)

      However – and again – I think you’re wrong about metaphor in general and Frost’s simile (to an extent) particularly.

      Marcus and I are correct to insist on the usefulness of necessarily limited metaphoric language. Sure, every metaphor is imperfect, but that’s no argument that a well-made one doesn’t pick out a similarity between different things – maybe quite different – that you’d want to discern.

      In the case of “tennis”, playing without a net – even trying to keep score without a net, but certainly playing without one -, well, why not? It’d still be “tennis”, just like counting points in ‘team’ tennis is still a kind of “tennis” – as I see things, hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racket off a wall is a kind of “tennis”. Not enough in these cases is different enough from a Wimbledon final (for me) to say, ‘no, I’m not playing tennis this afternoon; I’m doing something essentially different’.

      (I’m sure that in each case another perspective could come to a different conclusion, while retaining the idea that “tennis” is, properly, not a prime substance, a category of one and metaphysically a unique instance.)

      As I said before, I’d say to Frost that ‘taking away the net’ in poetry doesn’t mean that there are no rules.

      Perhaps a way to answer Frost – and you – is to say that free verse is “like” playing tennis on an uneven surface – same game in every other way, but the ball always comes off the ground unpredictably – unpredictable to both players. (That is: so would it be fair to count points? or do we count them like we count chips at poker?)

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

      I would say that you must write in meter. English without meter is prose, not poetry. It might be poetic, but it’s not poetry.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 10, 2010 at 9:44 pm

        The genie is out of the bottle. Poetry is a state of mind more than a thing.

        The imitative arts, like the dyer’s hand, are governed by what they imitate, so drama, for instance, will depict actions, the pictorial arts will depict pictures, etc

        Can we agree on this principle? Arts are governed by what they imitate?

        Are there any rules for music? No, because it doesn’t imitate anything. But music, in most cases, certainly has what we could call meter, does it not?

        If a person has a hankering for meter, music is the first place they go.

        Here’s the million dollar question: what does poetry imitate?

  16. thomasbrady said,

    June 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Yes, Marcus said ‘sport’ and you countered with ‘sportive,’ true, but I thought he agreed with your counter, so I was using it as an accepted term…

    Now, on to your analogy…

    Playing tennis on an uneven surface so that bounces would be unpredictable to both players? Wouldn’t that just be kind of pointless? You seem to be making a huge concession to Marcus with that analogy…free verse = a ridiculously silly version of tennis. If every time you hit the ball it zinged in some unpredictable direction, wouldn’t the players quickly tire of not having any control over their shot’s rebound? True, more exertion would be required to hit the ball, since rebounds would be highly random, so in that sense, tennis-speed and tennis-skill would still operate, but the game would shift towards the reactive and away from the planned, though players would still have to play a ‘good game of tennis’ in order to succeed on an uneven surface…more luck would be added, giving a slight advantage to a lesser player, perhaps, though reaching random rebounds would tax the tennis player even more…

    I think your analogy demonstates the problem with metaphor…it APPEARS to effect a profitable COMPARISON between two things, but I would maintain this is a mere ILLUSION…for when one attempts to MOVE the comparison in any direction, to expand the METAPHORIC model, it becomes a fish out of water, (if you’ll excuse the metaphor)…as is happening here, with your attempt to embellish the poetry/tennis metaphor…metaphoric comparisons, as I am trying to demonstrate, can actually hinder, distort, even hide the truth…and perhaps this is why metaphor is popular…hiding the truth is what people love, and even need to do…

    metaphors can certainly be useful in explaining ‘the way’ something behaved or looked, but to say that metaphor is the essence or soul of poetry, much less the heart or soul of reasoning or philosophy, is to confuse a tool for the art, for reason, itself…

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 10, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      Sure all metaphors break down, but they’re a good place to start — and they’re vivid and they can be meaningful, even significant, and occasionally important.

      What’s not metaphorical about Frost’s comment is the underlying requirement that tennis has rules and poetry has rules, and when you change something significant in the rules, such as adding the forward pass to rugby, you change the game to American football, or when you expand the field to a surrounding oval and there are no foul balls you’re playing something closer to cricket than baseball, and so on.

      Games may change, but when they do they change because the rules and the name of the game, and even the sort of game it is, changes. What you want to claim is that the nature of poetry has changed, but the name has remained the same, and I think that’s wrong. I think you’re writing prose — perhaps artful prose, perhaps art in prose — but prose nonetheless when you’re not writing in meter.

      If you declare your intention to perform an action, say, change a tire, and when you get to the tire you stick a knife in it, you can say, if you please, that you’ve changed the tire — but you haven’t done what was expected. When you say you’re going to write a poem and you don’t employ meter, you turn off your audience, and that’s why retirees still quote Tennyson and avoid Merwin, Ammons, Ashbery, and all that sort of thing.

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      wouldn’t the players quickly tire[?]

      Not if they were enjoying the game.

      Do poker players “tire” of bad beats? Not if they’re real players – or real gamblers.

      Like with poker, you could say you lost one game because of “luck” – but if you lost 60% of the time to the same opponent – and you were reasonable! – you’d agree that that player was better at ‘dimple tennis’.

      This comparison – tennis and cards – might get at why I’d quite limit my acceptance of Frost’s simile’s utility: poetry is game-like – but, ultimately, without quantifiable winners and losers.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 10, 2010 at 11:19 pm

        Notevensuperficial said: “ ‘… wouldn’t the players quickly tire[?] …’ Not if they were enjoying the game.”

        Well, of course, “enjoying the game” is one thing, and “enjoying mastery of the game” is another. If all free versers claim is that they’re enjoying the game, well, then, off you go to enjoy your meaningless and childish games, and more power to you, in the same spirit the Olympics go on without worrying about the Special Olympics. If you’re not actually interested in playing the game better, whether it is a game-game or an intellectual game, whether it is sport or sportive, then you’re doing what tennis players call “hitting around”, where it’s actually bad sportsmanship for both players to try to win. They just hit the ball within the other player’s ability to hit it back.

        It’s not really “enjoying the game”, though, since they’re not playing the game – they’re just playing at some of its aspects.

        Similarly, it seems as if you may be arguing that, by discarding meter, contemporary writers are just “hitting around”, metaphorically – they don’t want to “play the game” at all.

        Notevensuperficial said: “This comparison – tennis and cards – might get at why I’d quite limit my acceptance of Frost’s simile’s utility: poetry is game-like – but, ultimately, without quantifiable winners and losers.”

        Sure there are winners and losers – they’re the people whose poems continue to be read, and those whose don’t, respectively. The problem with poetry is that judgement takes a long long time. What the modernists did was try to to do what Wordsworth had done, and Dryden before him, and get rid of a mannerist style. Unfortunately, they threw the metrical baby out with the Victorian style bathwater, and they offered nothing to replace it. In fact, if you read their letters and essays, you can see that they hoped that something would replace it, but nothing did, and nothing has.

        Now all we’ve got is this lineated prose, where the virtues of the writing are the virtues of prose, and the writers have been so long away from meter that they cannot even read metrical poems without sneering about it being di dum di dum di dum jangle, much less use any of the metrical techniques in their own work.

  17. notevensuperficial said,

    June 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    We’re conversing like we were playing three-way tennis now – with a Mercedes-Benz-hood-ornament-shaped net.

  18. notevensuperficial said,

    June 11, 2010 at 5:54 am

    Mastery of the game of reading comprehension is yet a third thing, Marcus.

    If all free versers claim is that they’re enjoying the game

    This premise is nowhere warranted. ‘Enjoying the game’ and ‘enjoying mastery of the game’ are not so easily separated, in the terms you’ve presented them: “hitting around” without hitting a winner requires as much “mastery” as ‘hitting unreturnable shots’.

    playing the game better

    Can you quantify this qualitative distinction, in the case of poetry? Or is the ‘winning/losing’ analogy between tennis and poetry ultimately to be . . . um, ineffable?

    it seems as if you may be arguing that

    [the usual suspect:] No. That those who speak the rhythms of their lines irregularly are “just ‘hitting around'” is your idea. Some free versers are slovenly; others choose words, line breaks, breathing/speaking rhythms, and so on with as much care as some rhymsters.

    Not employing meter is no more a sign of absent ‘seriousness’ than counting syllables and hunting for similar sounds is a sign of its presence.

    judgement takes a long long time

    In fact, it doesn’t end, so thumbs up / thumbs down for this poet or that is surely persistently provisional. Which historical perspective makes “winners and losers” into bullshit yuppie talk.

    What the modernists did

    One thing Eliot did was to put his energy into bringing back to ‘serious’ attention John Donne from a couple of hundred years of Dryden-and-Johnson-authorized opprobrium, during which Donne – a scrupulously metrical rhyming mother wit – was known for his meaningless and childish game-playing – in a word: his Calvin-ball.

    The “nothing” the modernists “offered […] to replace” the “metrical baby” they “threw out” includes, in my small reading, The Waste Land, the Duino Elegies, Cane, Mythistorima, An Ordinary Evening in New Haven, The Heights of Machu Picchu, Lunar Baedeker and Time Tables, and Briggflatts — all “lineated prose” that “winners” will safely ignore before long?

    cannot even read metrical poems without sneering

    Whom are you talking about, Marcus? Anyone of whom this is true is an imbecile – as idiotically counter-literary as, well, someone who dismisses all irregular, unrhymed verse as ‘lineated prose – possibly “artful” lineated prose, to be sure’.

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      Notevensuperficial said: “ ‘Enjoying the game’ and ‘enjoying mastery of the game’ are not so easily separated, in the terms you’ve presented them: “hitting around” without hitting a winner requires as much “mastery” as ‘hitting unreturnable shots’.”

      That’s not the case. The game is more than the strokes. Any shot may be a winner if the opponent is out of position. That’s why there is a court, lines, a net, etc. The analogy is with the game, not with the hitting around – it’s a comparison of two different types of games, an observation that if you change the rules you change the game. So the question isn’t whether discarding meter changed the game, it’s what it changed the game to. And what it changed the game to is: prose.

      Notevensuperficial said: “Can you quantify this qualitative distinction, in the case of poetry?”

      Sure: poets whose poems continue to get passed around and read are the winners; those whose don’t are the losers. The judgment is, however, seldom rendered in the lifetime of the poet. That’s what makes free verse so attractive to the people who want to make a living out of it through teaching and grants: there’s no technical side to free verse. There’s no meter, nothing to make a poem sound awkward or poorly-constructed; nothing to prevent you from saying you intended to do it that way even if someone does venture a critical remark. If you can politick together a claque you can get a job teaching others to do the same.

      Notevensuperficial said: “That those who speak the rhythms of their lines irregularly are “just ‘hitting around’” is your idea. Some free versers are slovenly; others choose words, line breaks, breathing/speaking rhythms, and so on with as much care as some rhymsters.”

      Most free versers are slovenly indeed; some choose their words carefully, I agree – but the careful-choosers are using the tools of prose to do so when they don’t write in meter. Writing in meter is the difference. It doesn’t matter where you place your words on the page if you’ve discarded meter – you’re just exercising an arbitrary, whimsical, or capricious choice in ending a line here or there. No one reads free verse aloud with any reference to the placement of words or to line breaks. Often the emphasis is on words that are not emphasized by visual placement, and the words that are placed where one could argue their placement makes them significant are often words that are insignificant in the specific poem. The claim you’re making is simply not true in practice.

      Notevensuperficial: “Not employing meter is no more a sign of absent ‘seriousness’ than counting syllables and hunting for similar sounds is a sign of its presence.”

      Here we can agree. I am not suggesting that ‘seriousness’ is the test for whether something is poetry or not. Good heavens – what a disaster that would be! I’m saying the test is whether meter is employed. Where there is meter you have poetry – not necessarily good poetry, but poetry. Where you don’t have meter you have prose – not necessarily bad prose, but prose. The distinction is not an attempt to valorize one or demean the other. Like a distinction between a historian and a geographer, the distinction is not to determine which one is better, but the nature of the endeavor.

      Notevensuperficial said; “In fact, it doesn’t end, so thumbs up / thumbs down for this poet or that is surely persistently provisional.”

      Sure – “Your garland briefer than a girl’s.” – so what? The judgments change, and reputations wax and wane – certainly. You may enjoy Marlowe more than Donne, and if you’re teaching a poetry course spend a good deal more time on the one than the other, and influence your students to or away from one or the other, sometimes unintentionally, if you have a contrarian student who grows up to teach his or her own classes. You cannot tell; all you can do is go with your own educated taste based on your own reading, and stand whatever ground you’ve chosen. But you can choose your ground; and you can change your mind.

      Notevensuperficial said: “One thing Eliot did was to put his energy into bringing back to ‘serious’ attention John Donne from a couple of hundred years of Dryden-and-Johnson-authorized opprobrium, during which Donne – a scrupulously metrical rhyming mother wit – was known for his meaningless and childish game-playing – in a word: his Calvin-ball.”

      I think you misunderstand the nature of Calvin-ball. Calvin-ball is changing the game to your own advantage when the current rules leave you at a disadvantage. The essence of Calvin-ball is not that it is a game, but that it isn’t – it’s short-term selfish self-interest reified in what outside of Calvin-ball would be regarded as cheating. In Calvin-ball cheating by changing the rules in the middle of the game is not just accepted but encouraged. It’s a ‘Special Olympics’ mechanism that allows incompetence at, say, running fast, to declare arbitrarily that standing still is the new standard on discovering that someone else runs faster than you do, or the like. Calvin-ball is childish, but it is not meaningless – it changes ‘cheating’ into ‘winning’ in the interests of short-term selfishness. That a child invented it and plays it with his imaginary friend ought to clue us all in to its symbolism.

      Notevensuperficial said: “The “nothing” the modernists “offered […] to replace” the “metrical baby” they “threw out” includes …”

      Well, nothing at all in the way of a replacement for meter, in your list. If you read their letters and essays you’ll see that they were desperately hoping that something would be invented in practice that replaced the “old meter” with a “new meter”, and they struggled to find one, and no one has. It’s been 100 years. It’s time to declare the experiment a failure, provisionally, of course, because perhaps some genius among us, or to come, will find a way to write poetry without meter after all. But all anyone has done since Pound “broke the pentameter” is write prose-with-line-breaks, which is simply prose, after all. The line breaks are irrelevant to any reading of the poem, and no one pays those line breaks any heed.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 11, 2010 at 5:39 pm

        That’s not the case.

        I think you miss the local point, Marcus. Enjoying the game of “hitting around” entails keeping the other player in each particular ‘point’ – that’s the definition of “hitting around”, as you’ve said. Keeping the other player in the point necessarily involves “mastery” – as it were, a hitting-around winner is a shot that should be relatively easily returned.

        caveat: Discounting cheating, which, in “hitting around”, would mean throwing a shot, ‘missing on purpose’. There’s a brilliantly-written game-theoretical “amusement”-section [Greene’s word] involving this kind of cheating (at checkers) in Our Man in Havana.

        if you change the rules you change the game

        Again, if the rules aren’t changed too much, the same “game” can have two (or more) versions. Poetry – not a “game”, but game-like – has many versions in the history of even a single language.

        We disagree whether ‘meter’ is a version-distinction or a (larger) literary-categorical distinction.

        Sure:

        You haven’t offered a metric or, really, a parameter of quantity. What you’re talking about – popularity – is not absolutely quantifiable (except at “0”), and, as (I think) you’re trying not to say, popularity is not essentially relevant – though it is indicative of and tangential to – the value of poetry to those who value particular poems or (perhaps we’d agree) the value of poetry in some particular language to every mind constituted by that language.

        I’m not suggesting that ‘seriousness’ is the test for whether something is poetry or not.

        Here’s what you did say that provoked the quotation (further) annotated “Good heavens”: If all free versers claim is that they’re enjoying the game, well, then, off you go to enjoy your meaningless and childish games[.]

        “Seriousness’ is, indeed, one of your “test[s]”, Marcus.

        The distinction is not an attempt to valorize one or demean the other.

        Well, you’re bravely declining “to demean” “prose” – but you’ve scorned “free verse” – not just “bad” “free verse” – and you’ve identified “free verse” as a sub-category of “prose”.

        Neglecting this syllogism – a) free verse is a kind of prose, and b) free verse is shit; therefore c) some prose, by virtue of being the kind of prose it is, is shit – is, in your terms: Special sophistry.

        judgements change [. . .] all you can do […] is stand whatever ground you’ve chosen

        On this we quite agree – your cliches match mine most harmoniously — but this provisionality is exactly why I reject (what I take to be) absolute talk of “winners and losers”!

        the nature of Calvin-ball

        I don’t think Calvin-ball is an ongoing parable about the villainy of cheating, Marcus. I think it’s a disclosure of the simultaneous craving for order and delight in chaos (delight in order and craving for chaos?) Hobbes doesn’t stick with calling Calvin on his cheating; Hobbes recognizes that will is the rule-foundation, so Hobbes retaliates by obeying the rule of rules: pragmatic (I think: not enlightened) <b.self-interest.

        Can there really be such a ‘rule of rules’? I think Calvin-ball is a way better comparisand for free verse than netless tennis.

        [Calvin-ball is not at all like the Special Olympics, which are not at all “arbitrary”. I’m guessing your contempt here is not in earnest.]

        In the paragraph you quote, I meant to mean that Dryden’s scolding use of “metaphysics” – and Johnson’s landing on “metaphysical” with both heels – are examples of rule-changing that I’d call Calvin-ballistic: don’t import “nice [subtle] speculations of philosophy” [Dryden] into “amorous” verse, where they’re un”natural”.

        Given the collisions of intellect and Eros in Augustan verse, I’d call their animadversion to Donne: Calvinnaballistic.

        nothing at all in a way of replacement for meter

        “[R]eplacement” being beside the point. Those poems/books are, I’m suggesting, the peers – as poetry, which you say they’re not even – of the best metrical poetry of the Metaphysicals, the Augustans, the Romantics, the Victorians.

        —–

        phew Tom, I hope this blah blah is close to as entertaining to you to read as it is to blah.

  19. thomasbrady said,

    June 11, 2010 at 11:13 am

    But metrical poetry is sneered at.

    If academic poets these days really read and enjoyed metrical poetry, they couldn’t help but write metrical poetry, at least some of the time, but they don’t.

    There is some kind of class war, or something going on…

  20. Marcus Bales said,

    June 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Notevensuperficial said: “Tom, contrary to what you put on Ye Olde Threade, it was me who advanced “sportive” in (I meant and plainly said) direct contrast to Marcus’s “sport” … Carpentry could be sportive; putting on make-up could be sportively done, or saluting an ‘officer’ — none is a “sport”. To call poetry a “sport” is, I’ll repeat myself in agreement with you, an error.”

    Frost’s observation is, of course, an analogy. It says something like this: “If free verse were a sport, then writing without meter would be like tennis without the net – it would so change the game that it would be a different game.” The point is the radical changing of the rules, not a claim that poetry is a sport.

    Notevensuperficial said: “In the case of ‘tennis’, playing without a net – even trying to keep score without a net, but certainly playing without one -, well, why not? It’d still be “tennis”, just like counting points in ‘team’ tennis is still a kind of “tennis” – as I see things, hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racket off a wall is a kind of “tennis”. Not enough in these cases is different enough from a Wimbledon final (for me) to say, ‘no, I’m not playing tennis this afternoon; I’m doing something essentially different’.”

    This must be mistaken: if you say you’re going to play tennis and someone observes that the nets haven’t been put up yet on the courts, and you reply that you’ll go anyway, I think that everyone will understand that you’re not going to play tennis, after all. You will engage in some of the activities tennis requires – you’ll be on a court, with balls and racquets, and you’ll hit the ball back and forth, but no one would reasonably say, not even you, that you were “playing tennis”. You might say you were “hitting around” or even “playing tennis without a net”, but the lack of a net profoundly changes the game. I’ve never said “I’m going to play tennis” when I’ve gone out to hit ground-strokes against a wall. I have said, and everyone I know has said, “I’m going out to hit against the wall”.

    Notevensuperficial said: “As I said before, I’d say to Frost that ‘taking away the net’ in poetry doesn’t mean that there are no rules.”

    Taking away the net changes the game so profoundly that it’s another game. It doesn’t mean there are ‘no rules’ but it does mean that many of the old rules are irrelevant. There could be no net serves; there would be no way to judge whether the server were going to hit the ball hard on a serve or so soft that it would bounce twice before the receiver could hit it, if there were no net to require at least a certain force imparted to the serve; a cross-court shot could be at any height; and myriad other issues. The game would be a different game. And that is what Frost was pointing out: that tennis without a net is not tennis any more; and poetry without meter is not poetry any more.

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Frost’s observation is, of course, an analogy […] not a claim that poetry is a sport.

      Marcus, the “sport”/”sportive” comparison was made, of course, in response to your [p]oetry is an intellectual sport, which observation is, of course, an identification of categorical belonging.

      This must be mistaken:

      If you look at the parenthetical paragraph following the quotation that you’ve annotated “mistaken”, you’ll see that your objection has been anticipated. We disagree –

      profoundly changes the game

      – in the sense that I don’t think the game is “profoundly change[d]” enough to call it not-tennis, exactly. — and you do. Fair enough.

      An example you raised elsewhere: rugby. There’s a variety of rugbies – in fact, living in Europe, I heard American football called ‘your rugby’, ‘American rugby’, and ‘the rugby with armor’. There’s a variety of tennises: 5-set vs. 3-set, unlimited games per set vs. first-to-7, 1-on-1 vs. 2 against 2, and so on.

      That taking the net away makes you see ‘not-tennis’, and, likewise, taking away the meter makes you read ‘not-poetry’ – well [shrug] that’s the definitional – if not conversational – impasse.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 12, 2010 at 3:12 am

        You’re conflating the how to play tournament rules and the rules that affect whether the game is tennis or not. You could play a Swiss-system tournament if you pleased, but the rules of the tournament and the rules of the game are two different sets of rules, governing two things. No one appeals to the tournament rules about how many games will be played if they discover the net is an inch high or the lines are not parallel on the court, or the like.

        The underlying point is that Frost is making an analogy between free verse and tennis. He’s saying that as the lack of a net is to tennis, so the lack of meter is to poetry. It changes the game. Your notion that taking the net away doesn’t change the game reflects, perhaps, an unfamiliarity with tennis so great as to beggar belief. Even people I talked to at work today who don’t play tennis recognized immediately on their own without prompting that without a net it wouldn’t be tennis at all. I think you’re just being bloody-minded about this. You know perfectly well that taking the net down changes the game from tennis to something else, something we don’t even have a name for, except perhaps “pre-season hitting around” or the like. But you can’t play a game of tennis without the net, and I think you know it.

        But Frost didn’t go far enough, in my view. Free versers don’t just take down the net, they discard the court, balls, racquets, and all the accoutrements of tennis, and instead play golf. But the CALL it “tennis” and that’s the peculiar thing.

  21. Blah Blah Blah said,

    June 11, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    But metrical poetry is sneered at.

    Poetry period, is sneered at, not least of all by you Tom.

    I am with notevensuperficial, there’s good freeverse and bad freeverse, same as there’s good and bad metrical poetry. It’s a spectrum, with poetry like the later Yeats and Shakespeare doing brilliant metrical poetry at one end, and then the poems of Tom Brady at the other.

    It’s telling that the certitude in prose of Brady, is matched by the unexciting, pedestrian and dull metrical squibs he posts here. Stuff that is so woeful, if it wasn’t from his own pen, he would demolish it as rubbish.

    This is the bottom line here Tom. You are simply not very talented at writing poetry. Because you can’t do it, you’ve tried to argue poetry is some kind of statistical science, which accounts for your tedious and shallow arguments that have turned you into a laughing stock. The ‘poems’ of Thomas Brady do not pass the hyper critical, mean-spirited test of Thomas Brady the critic – this is the comedic paradox and why no those who do have a sincere, living connection with poetry, think you are a jerk trapped into being a bitter bore by another talentless jerk at Harriet.

  22. Blah Blah Blah said,

    June 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Forgive me Tom, that was uncalled for. I apologise. I am the jerk.Whatever I think about your poetry, it’s obvious reading back what I wrote, that calling you a bitter bore reveals only I am guilty of the charges laid by me at your door.

    It’s just that the poems you leave here, are not really poetry. They are attempts at sounding a certain tone, and are boring because they are poems about American po-biz, itself a fairly shallow activity.

    Hoagland, just looking at this picture. That smug smile, stupid sunglasses as if he thinks he’s in the mafia and not a square academic – and the damning proof, the dyed hair.

    His poetry is lite, born of a comedic impulse, saying little and, like you, he compensates for his lack of talent by concentrating on trying to explain it all in prose. Instead of his one-trick pat poetry-lite poems talking, we have a person trying to pass off their gravity as an ‘educator’ teaching Creative Writing MFA’s. Another in the sausage factory of po-biz with little originality and watching him read his poems, the non MFA student audience is left wondering where the poetry stops and where the prose begins. Bullshit baffles brains. Reading out the telephone book with a straight face and then delivering a fifty thousand word apologia for why what you think what you have just witnessed, is not what you have witnessed, but a recital of poetry.

  23. Blah Blah Blah said,

    June 11, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    You should try writing about your life. At the moment all the reader knows about you, is nothing at all; yet you happily wade into other poets willy nilly, detailing all their biographical data, making cases using, in a large part, their biography, and yet think you can do all this as some anonymous, detached, remote being without broadcasting anything about you the person, or acknowledging any human flaws or faults or anything at all about yourself.

    You talk of all these poets, and yet try to make the case your own life is irrelevent. You have never told anyone anything about yourself. And the one time you did with Steven Augustine, is the one time you came across as a real life human being the reader could connect with, away from all this game playing waffle about what poetry is.

    Poetry, is, actually, just bits of human life and experience plucked off the whole and formed into language contextulized as a poem. The thing is, you have to know how to do it to make it work as a poem that is a real poem and not some bland assemblage of words from a person thinking to write poetry one need give nothing of themselves. Your poems are not poems, because they are only about poetry, and poems about poetry are the most pretentious pooh to read, which even MFA educators getting paid to read them, are put to sleep when doing so.

    Your poems are pretentious and up its own hole, and your criticism is a theoretical ping pong based on no real knowledge of poetry as a living, human thing. The only readings you write of, are the ones in Harvard that you find dull and boring, which is because most of the poets you’ll see who read there, are dull and boring poets. You have been very unlucky.

    Imagine, going to witness fifty poets over six years, and not one of them moved you, and you thought poetry was that, boring people sounding dull, sermonizing, middle aged men with dyed hair, sunglasses and doing poems involving masturbation, to a class of teenage women.

    Then, imagine witnessing someone like Paul Durcan give a lecture on his freind, the poet Michael Hartnet, as I did a few years back and the memory of it seared into my brain as the most poetic experience I’ve yet witnessed; who’d make Hoagland, in comparison, seem like a two year old speaking baby talk and trying to hold an audience of astrophysicists.

    This would inject you with real poetic excitement, because Durcan was not talking about some dry abstract thing, but real life, and the sport was to make the language hold you because it was so poetic. Imagine a room full of Durcan’s few freinds and many enemies, wanting him to be rubbish, but having the honesty to admit, he was top class. When you are operating at this level of poetic torque and experience Tom, then your prose and poetry will improve.

    When I started out, at the open mic nights, the rule seemed to be that you would witness a parde of duffers, and the night became an excercise in staying the course, sitting through a lot of rubbish, and inevitably the last poet on would be the one who made it all worthwhile. But if you’d given up just before s/he came on, quitting because you’d decided it was all rubbish, like you have done, it seems – you’d never get to experience the real poetry that, unbeknownst to you, you were only a fraction away from colliding with.

    That’s poetry, and you know it when it happens. But you’ve given us no reason to suppose you yourself have met it yet – hence the debate being all inconsequential, dry point scoring in robotic prose.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 11, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      Blah Blah Blah (Des):

      I said up-thread in ‘a reply’ mode something which may have got lost, so I’ll repeat it here for you:

      “The imitative arts, like the dyer’s hand, are governed by what they imitate, so drama, for instance, will depict actions, the pictorial arts will depict pictures, etc

      Can we agree on this principle? Arts are governed by what they imitate?

      Are there any rules for music? No, because it doesn’t imitate anything. But music, in most cases, certainly has what we could call meter, does it not?

      If a person has a hankering for meter, music is the first place they go.

      Here’s the million dollar question: what does poetry imitate?”

      Before we discuss what poetry imitates, I was going to say what fiction, or the novel imitates…it imitates a drawer full of someone’s letters, or someone’s diaries…

      This is the ‘real life’ that you lust for, and that you think poetry should communicate, but if I want ‘real life’ I’ll go for that memoir or that drawer full of letters or that journal or that autobiographical novel or that gossip…I think poetry is something different…you obviously don’t agree….

      A little biography goes a long way…a photo, the fact of one’s age…and I suppose we would all rather stay under wraps unless we’re 25 and beautiful…if you want to be an author and sell books, you know the first thing any agent or publisher will ask you, don’t you? They ask ‘who are you? Can you sell yourself?’ more even than your work…you have to sell yourself…

      it’s cruel as hell, I guess…

      I don’t think I invade anyone’s privacy…I just use what’s out there as minimally as I can…I don’t go looking for ugly photos or get into anything that’s not necessary…I think I’m pretty delicate about the whole business…you seem a little resentful and sort of philosophically thick…I get the idea you project a lot, but don’t really see very much…I think that’s why you get banned a lot…you’re a child who doesn’t ‘get it’ and will just blurt out hurtful things even as you protest others saying hurtful things….you’re a ‘two-poster’…you post and then you apologize for your post…you blurt…you don’t think about what you say…there doesn’t seem to be an editor/critic in your soul…you’re one of these ‘poetrypoetrypoetrypoetry’ types…just my take…

      and you also seem to have this deep resentment of America, too, like…‘who do these Americans think they are? Don’t they know how important the Brits are?’ I dunno, most intellectual Americans worship the Brits…I wouldn’t worry about it so much…

      Tom

  24. thomasbrady said,

    June 11, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    There were Mass. state college UG students reading with Hoagland that evening as part of what was billed as a “seminar week,” basically recruiting for graduate MFA programs and these students, lovely, sensitive young people, read bits from diaries, touching bits about their dead grandmothers and so forth…

    With a lot of feeling, and not much work, free verse ‘poetry’ lends an easy frame of significance to the writing of anyone with the least sort of communication/observation skills…

    What’s happening on a practical basis is the MFA has become a glorified English Comp…it’s basically a feel-good business practice…and this is the real-world, practical equivalent to what Marcus is talking about in terms of ‘quit the bullshit, if it’s not meter, it’s prose, don’t matter where you break your lines…’ And Marcus’s argument here is irrefutable…but there are practical, institutional reasons why his argument is ignored…

    But Marcus is not going to win any points with metaphoric reasoning…’get your rackets, everyone! we’re going to play tennis!’ The best way to find out what X really is: 1. What is X’s origin? 2. What is the rationale for X? Saying what X ‘is like’ is good for explaining X to your neighbor who has no idea what it is, but for philosophically getting at X in actuality, use 1. and 2.

  25. notevenanargument said,

    June 11, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    irrefutable

    QED

  26. Blah Blah Blah said,

    June 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    I don’t accept the starting point/assumption, that based on a premise all Art is ‘governed’ by what it imitates, that poetry has to be ‘imitating’ something to be ‘poetry’.

    I do think much of what many accept as ‘poetry’ is merely prose masquarading as poetry, imitating it and fooling a majority. Like a dodgy accent in a movie can fool the majority around the world who watch it, except the few whose accent it actually is in real life. And this cod ID (prose pretending to be poetry) not fooling the few whose real ID it is, our suspension of disbelief will be incomplete, as we cannot accept the actor’s portrayal of one of ‘us’, when s/he is failing to sound like what even the local idiot sounds like.

    As a sophist, I could adopt your position as a rhetorical pose for the purpose of debate, and argue its veracity in character as a critic sporting with opponents who I’d actually be agreeing with. I may even trounce the opposing performers, flying a false flag and fabricating bogus truth (telling lies) – making eminently plausible ABC arguments which fool the reader into thinking this position – that poetry has to be ‘imitating’ something to be ‘poetry’ – is held by to be my sincere belief. But personally, as a human being alive to others remotely only through language: not only do I refute the premise that poetry has to be imitating something to be poetry; but counter it with the wholly opposite starting point. That the guarantee of genuine poetry is its blatantly obvious originality, imative of nothing but itself.

    The defining feature in the work of a creator who starts from the premise that art needs be imitating something to be Art – as your own attempts at poetry testify – is unoriginality.

    Our theories of what poetry is, are founded on what we observe of it in others, or what we know and write, or try to write of it ourselves. If we have only written false flag and unreal ‘poetry’ that is only prose masquarading as ‘poetry’, then we are engaging in intellectual masturbation and will draw few readers, except contributing readers also writing prose under the mistaken belief it’s poetry, or knowing it is prose and not caring because they enjoy or are driven to it.

  27. thomasbrady said,

    June 11, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Blah, Blah, Blah, (Des),

    Even though you are outside the ivory tower, you still exemplify the uptight attitude of po-biz. You might as well be in the ivory tower. You’re one of them, by osmosis. Listen how seriously you take yourself: You tell me: “You are a just a masquerader doing a fake accent! But I see through your fake accent! I (and my tribe, my brother and sister scribes) are authentic and absolutely original! You can’t imitate me! I’m real and original! You are merely a fake, with all your theories of how this imitates that!” It sounds to me like you have no interest in philosophy, aesthetic or otherwise.

    Your ‘accent’ idea does have some merit, however. I’ll admit you’ve hit on something there. Have you ever listened to Ezra Pound? He sounds like a pirate. He’s putting on the most absurd accent I’ve ever heard. Or, T.S. Eliot. What about his ridiculous accent? I slide into accents all the time to make my friends laugh. The American actor Paul Schneider played Keats’ friend Brown admirably, my American friend spoke French so well non-French speakers could understand him—I don’t how good his ‘accent’ was, but his French was remarkable; so you can see the matter is rather complex, isn’t it? It’s not simply a matter of: here’s an authentic accent belonging to Mr. Desmond here and over here is me, Tom Brady, this theoretical faker.

    Surely we can live together better than this.

    If authentic prose ‘masks itself as poetry,’ isn’t that prose still authentic? You seem to be really leaning on this ‘original’ and ‘authentic’ idea, but I’m not sure you’ve really thought it through…

    Tom

  28. Blah Blah Blah said,

    June 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    At least you sound more interesting now Tom.

    All I am doing is delivering the debate as poe-faced and seriously as you do your mega-theories based on semantic wordplay. And I have been acting out of order because you wind me up and I succomb to unpleasant atacks, saying stuff that is cruel and on reading back feel a tint of shame; but then think, sod it, this gaffe is just a practice pen in which to whack out the waffle.

    It’s unforgivable to slag off someone else’s poetry who is sincere, and to be honest I do feel a bit shabby, but I’ve been reading this blog as a lurker since last I participated and felt passionate about what I saw as a deriliction of ability and duty with all the blogs focus on this one trick pony about institutionlized abuse of poetic standards. And then, now, even saying that, I am aware of how outrageous it sounds, that someone would try and tell you how to tun your blog. I suppose the root of my ire lies in the fact I was never given equal access to the admin pane; and thought you were treating me like an idiot by stonewalling my request for stats, knowing full well what I wanted but acting daft. All my bitterness towards you stemmed out from that one simple issue of wanting to know the traffic, because I wanted to see what effect my writing was having, if any.

  29. notevenanargument said,

    June 12, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Can’t – well, won’t – resist.

    bloody-minded

    Marcus, “taking the net away doesn’t change the game” is: just … not … what … I … said.

  30. Marcus Bales said,

    June 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Well if that’s not what you said, why are we arguing? Glad to hear I’ve persuaded you.

  31. notevenanargument said,

    June 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    why are we arguing?

    Because – at the distance of metaphor – I do say that “tennis” is a flexibly-enough-defined category where to include ‘netless tennis’ and you don’t, and, more directly, because I think “poetry” is a flexibly-enough-defined category that it contains ‘free verse’ and you don’t.

    If you must confuse ‘doesn’t change the game’ and ‘doesn’t change the game profoundly enough for it to be in a different category of “game”‘, then you’ll not persuade a cat to chase a mouse.

  32. Marcus Bales said,

    June 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I can only suppose you don’t play much tennis if you think tennis-without-a-net is not a profoundly different game than tennis. Think of just the serve — you could scud the ball practically along the ground, and it would bounce twice before anyone could hit a return. And that’s just the serve! It’s a profoundly different kind of thing without a net — It’s not even really a game when one side has all the advantage, is it?

    The metaphor is devastating for anyone who knows enough about tennis to imagine trying to play a game without a net.


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