“SO HAVE THE CRITICS NEARLY ALWAYS BEEN AMATEURS” -J.C. RANSOM

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.”

101 Comments

  1. Bob Tonucci said,

    June 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    If you get paid for doing something, you’re a professional, if you do it for free you’re an amateur?

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 15, 2010 at 12:26 am

      amateur

      Not “for free” – for love. — which priority in the “pro” might – surely, often does – somewhat vanish in her/his desire for and direct experience of compensation.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    June 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Not quite. Paid book reviewers and other kinds of journalists were not professional critics, according to Ransom. University professors, such as himself, were. Ransom was arguing that criticism needed to be professional and the university was the place to make that happen.

    The amateur appeals to the public, and can even get quite rich doing so.

    The professional appeals to his or her colleagues and can be quite poor, but the professional doesn’t have to ‘beg’ for his bread.

  3. Marcus Bales said,

    June 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    My father used to define ‘professional’ as ‘Someone who performs with excellence even when he doesn’t particularly feel like it.”

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm

      That may be great for a dentist, but not necessarily a poet.

      Inventors, even in the field of dentistry, tend to go against the ‘professional’ grain; the inventor sees through or beyond the way the ‘professionals’ do their work, and so the creative person by nature tends to be an “amateur,” tends not to “fit in” with the professional way of doing things.

      Amateurs can be hopeless crackpots or professionals can be criminals, but the point is not to say ‘which is better.’

      What Ransom said, specifically, in “Criticism, Inc.” was artists can’t do criticism (too narrow), philosophers can’t do criticism (too general) but the university professor is just right (as Goldilocks might put it) for the job.

      The university professor traditionally trained students in philosophy, history and languages and if the student was then creative enough to write original poetry, they’d try the commercial route.

      Secondly, critical acumen sprang naturally from study and imagination.

      There was no need to specifically professionalize the poet and the critic.

      But this is what a bunch of poets (modernists), who failed commercially, did. They published in little magazines no one read which went out of business in a year or two. The ‘Great Modernists’ only became ‘great’ after Ransom’s friends usurped the means of ‘production’ (university textbooks and prizes). Poetry and criticism, with a great deal of tweedy fanfare, was made an essentially ivory tower function, even as MFA Writing programs gradually turned into commercial cash cows—thus making everybody happy.

      It was a stunningly successful revolution.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 15, 2010 at 1:36 am

        Thomasbrady said: “That may be great for a dentist, but not necessarily a poet. Inventors, even in the field of dentistry, tend to go against the ‘professional’ grain; the inventor sees through or beyond the way the ‘professionals’ do their work, and so the creative person by nature tends to be an “amateur,” tends not to “fit in” with the professional way of doing things.”

        Probably you’re not someone who’s ever been a professional at something, would be my guess – it doesn’t sound as if you’ve never had to produce excellence of any kind, on a daily basis for either love or money. What you find, when you have to do the thing over and over, if you’re any good at it, is that invention just happens. A little faster way to do this, a little better way to do that, and you get a little better at it mundanely, until if you keep working at it, you get pretty good at it indeed. That’s the sort of excellence I’m talking about.

        The notion that the only way to be an excellent dentist, poet, line chef, or salesman, or mechanic, electrician, carpenter, farmer, embalmer, or whatever is to invent a whole new way to do the things you must do day by day to is to disrespect practically everyone doing a good job of any kind in the world, and, and worse, it’s flat wrong.

        Thomasbrady said: “Amateurs can be hopeless crackpots or professionals can be criminals, but the point is not to say ‘which is better.’”

        But the point is indeed to say which is better – would you rather have a professional surgeon or an inspired amateur cracking your chest open to work on your heart?

        Thomasbrady said: “ … a bunch of poets (modernists), who failed commercially, … published in little magazines no one read which went out of business in a year or two. The ‘Great Modernists’ only became ‘great’ after Ransom’s friends usurped the means of ‘production’ (university textbooks and prizes). Poetry and criticism, with a great deal of tweedy fanfare, was made an essentially ivory tower function … It was a stunningly successful revolution.”

        Certainly your Tweeds took advantage of the changes wrought by revolutionary changes in the technologies of delivering entertainment to any people, and discovered that they could sell the MFA degree with great success to help fund themselves within academia, but the institutionalization of professions, the creation of something like a union shop, had been going on for hundreds of years. The professionalization of poetry, both at the originating and the critical end, comes as no surprise. Further, the resistance of the professionals to outsiders who do not invest in becoming a member of the club can’t come as any surprise, either.

        The difference between surgeons and poets, of course, or nearly any of the other professions (not all, though, by any means – consider teaching!), is that there are pretty straightforward ways to tell who’s an apprentice, who’s a journeyman, and who’s a master – at least if you know enough to look at the right things.

        But in modernist and post-modernist poetry there is no way to tell whether one poet is a better poet, or one poem is a better poem, than another. There are no external rules, as my distinguished colleague from superficiality has accurately pointed out. Where there are no external rules there can be no excellence, because no one can tell what’s good and what’s bad. That doesn’t prevent the union from arbitrarily creating prizes and awarding them, of course, to legitimize their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ students, in hope of receiving reciprocal preferment.

        Which is why excellence in free verse is as ineffable as are the rules for writing free verse. But we can eff the ineffable easily enough by noticing that the system of preferment really does work: it’s not how well you can write poetry, it’s who your mentor is and how well you can schmooze him or her, and how useful you can make yourself. Don’t worry about quality – they’ll find a way to declare your work to be the most amazing stuff they’ve ever seen, if they like you. If they don’t like you, well, then you’re effed.

        And that’s not ineffable at all.

  4. Seth said,

    June 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    This is just an absolutely enormous heap of bullshit.
    S.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 15, 2010 at 12:25 am

      Seth, I’m so used to this now. It’s kind of like having a conversation in Alice’s Wonderland. I point to the documentary evidence, quote Ransom’s seminal essay, mention the well-documented record of the New Critics’ and Modernism’s failure to win over the public and their subsequent infiltration of the university, and instead of a response to any of these facts, either in agreement or disagreement, or some combination of both, the response is: shoot the messenger.

      Glorious.

  5. June 15, 2010 at 3:20 am

    .

    The Problem With Poetry
    (apologies to Billy Collins)

    The problem with poetry is the students,
    the academics and teachers and critics
    who study and read, measure and balance
    every word and line, meter and rhyme
    against all ever written before.

    Those judges and jurors who never did,
    never saw, never felt, never understood
    exactly what the poem was written for.

    Copyright 2009 – Leftover Stew, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  6. thomasbrady said,

    June 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Marcus,

    Your defense of professionals is admirable, of course, even virtuous, and if the argument for you is the professional ‘does it better’ than the amateur, the discussion can be brought to a close right now.

    Whether you are more professional than I am, or have more professional experience is a point to be debated, perhaps, but I’ll concede that field to you at once before asking you a few questions, if I may be permitted.

    First, your views on free verse dismiss a great deal of professional opinion. I wonder if you find this to be the least ironic?

    Second, do you really mean to say a person skilled in the surgeon trade favorably compares to those who first took it upon themselves to learn the inside of a human body and all its functions? All early explorers, inventors, scientists of various fields, who struck out into the wilderness before there was even a profession for what they were doing, are these men and women inferior to the local bus driver?

    Third, do you really consider a professional a skilled island unto themselves? Does not the surgeon always belong to a larger medical establishment—which could possibly be insisting on a great deal of unnecessary surgery, all performed very profitably and very professionally, of course? And is not the context of professionalism always wider, so that the professional medical establishment exists, for instance, within a larger society, which may possibly fail to provide optimum health and nutrition which then in turn impacts what the surgeon ultimately does or does not do as a professional?

    Fourth, you say poetry has been professionalized for centuries. How do you mean? In what way? In the same way it is today? Can you give any specific names? Can you point to any documentary evidence?

    Thanks.

    Tom

  7. Marcus Bales said,

    June 15, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Thomasbrady said: “First, your views on free verse dismiss a great deal of professional opinion. I wonder if you find this to be the least ironic?”

    Since I hold that ‘professional’ means ‘doing it better and consistently’, I don’t find it ironic that my views on free verse dismiss a great deal of opinion – because the only sense that that opinion is ‘professional’ is in the sense that ‘they get paid to hold those opinions’, and not the sense of ‘professional’ that I’m arguing for.

    Thomasbrady said: “Second, do you really mean to say a person skilled in the surgeon trade favorably compares to those who first took it upon themselves to learn the inside of a human body and all its functions? All early explorers, inventors, scientists of various fields, who struck out into the wilderness before there was even a profession for what they were doing, are these men and women inferior to the local bus driver?”

    Adventurers and entrepreneurs, even if they’re in the knowledge biz, are a different sort of professional, when they’re professionals, than professionals in an established field.

    What I’m hoping to find out is whether you’re suggesting that there can be progress in art the way there can be progress in science, sport, business, and the like. If you do hold that, I’m going to ask you what kind of scale and which instruments you use to measure that progress.

    Thomasbrady said: “Third, do you really consider a professional a skilled island unto themselves? Does not the surgeon always belong to a larger medical establishment—which could possibly be insisting on a great deal of unnecessary surgery, all performed very profitably and very professionally, of course?”

    Ah, you’ve been listening to The Car Guys! Why do you need your master-cylinder replaced instead of just new pads? The mechanic has a boat payment due! No doubt such things happen – but certainly not ‘a great deal’. That’s why we get second opinions. And you’re ugly, too. I tell you, I get no respect.

    Still, I’m prepared to accept, on behalf of society as a whole, a little of that sort of chicanery going undetected in the interests of proficiency – because not only do you have to get good, you have to stay good: use it or lose it. It may be that some appendices (appendixes?) are taken out that don’t need to be, and the like – I understand entirely the notion that to someone with a hammer in his hand every problem looks like a nail – but it seems to me that way up in the 90th percentile of surgeries are justifiable for reasons other than the surgeon’s lifestyle requirements or the hospital’s rent being due. I don’t mean to sound too hard-nosed, but that’s why there’s malpractice insurance. Let the victims sue; let the surgeons beware of unnecessary surgeries that turn around and bite them in the ass instead of making their boat payment.

    Part of the argument against poets and poetry critics being real professionals is that they don’t need malpractice insurance – because even if they make a very bad mistake, everyone is long dead before future generations find out about it, and by then, who cares? Sam Gwynn illustrates this nicely:

    Ballade of the Yale Younger Poets of Yesteryear
    RS Gwynn

    Tell me where, oh, where are they,
    Those Younger Poets of Old Yale
    Whose laurels flourished for a day
    But wither now beyond the pale?
    Where are Chubb, Farrar, and Vinal
    With fame as fragile as a bubble?
    Where is the late Paul Tanaquil,
    And where is Lindley Williams Hubbell?

    Where’s Banks? Where’s Boyle? Where’s Frances Clai-
    Borne Mason? Where is T. H. Ferril?
    Dorothy E. Reid or Margaret Ha-
    Ley? Simmering in Bad Poets Hell?
    J. Ingalls’ Metaphysical
    Sword (hacking critics’ weeds to stubble)?
    Young Ashbery (that is, “John L.”)?
    And where is Lindley Williams Hubbell?

    Where’s Alfred Raymond Bellinger
    (If you’ll allow me to exhale
    Him avec un accent français)?
    Where’s Faust (Henri) or Dorothy Belle
    Flanagan? Where is Paul Engle
    (To rhyme whose surname gave me trouble)?
    Hath tolled for all the passing bell?
    And where is Lindley Williams Hubbell?

    Prince of all poets, hear, I pray,
    And raise them from their beds of rubble.
    Where’s Younger Carolyn Forché?
    And where is Lindley Williams Hubbell?  

    Thomasbrady said: “Fourth, you say poetry has been professionalized for centuries. How do you mean? In what way? In the same way it is today? Can you give any specific names? Can you point to any documentary evidence?”

    I’m sorry – I certainly didn’t mean to say poetry has been professionalized for centuries, and I hope I didn’t really. I said that professions have been professionalizing for centuries, and that the process finally got to poetry is no surprise.

    Still, if you insist that I have to argue that poetry has been professionalized for centuries, I think I could at least point, in English, to Dryden’s coterie, the court poets of the 17th century, and what of Keats’s sonnet to the Shakespeare claque at the Mermaid Tavern. Though he put it so much more romantically in his naïve way! – not to mention the Oxbridge influence that waxed and waned and waxed again. How are those really that different from the MFA mills?

  8. Franz Wright said,

    June 15, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    You’re really going to make me cry if you don’t cut it out, you guys.
    You can’t really believe that after some years of permanent open-season on me, you little weenies are getting to me? You are the fleas Yeats spoke of having to deal with–and like them, you will be utterly forgotten. FW

    • Bob Tonucci said,

      June 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      OK, you’re a big dog and we’re fleas. Fleas do what they gotta do, but what can one say about a big dog who comes to where the fleas are and rolls around? I guess he’s doing what he’s gotta do too.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

      “You are the fleas Yeats spoke of having to deal with–and like them, you will be utterly forgotten.” FW

      Utterly forgotten, kinda like the work of James Wright?

  9. Franz Wright said,

    June 15, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    P.S. There IS no “amateur” FW, not as a writer, my little weenies. I’m pro through and through (and have already sold my papers to a very prestigious university for definitely pro dough). You guys are too much, FW

  10. June 16, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Last word on self-published poets (read AMATEUR), in no particular order:

    Alexander Pope
    William Blake
    Walt Whitman
    E. E. Cummings
    Ezra Pound
    T.S. Eliot
    Edgar Allan Poe
    Robert Bly
    Lawrence Ferlinghetti
    Robinson Jeffers
    Alfred Lord Tennyson
    Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Robert Service
    Carl Sandburg

    Not to mention,

    R. Kipling
    H. D. Thoreau
    W. E. B. DuBois
    W. Cather
    T. Hardy
    N. Hawthorne
    E. Hemingway
    V. Woolf
    O. Wilde
    D. H. Lawrence

    Jeez…go figure! We even know their given names, these complete unrecognized unknowns (read AMATEUR) who first self-published.

    Bah! You’re all full of shit!

    .

  11. thomasbrady said,

    June 16, 2010 at 2:26 am

    Gary,

    The writers on your list may have self-published at one point or another, mostly early in their careers, but many were also part of important organizations, institutions and even governments. T.S. Eliot, for instance was associated with Harvard U, Bloomsbury, Lord Bertrand Russell, the lawyer/art collector, British intelligence agent John Quinn, the wealthy publisher Scofield Thayer, another wealthy publisher who produced the first production of Dracula on Broadway, an almost infinite maze of important persons with titles and uinversity, government, royal connections, and D.H. Lawrence was connected to very influential Aldous Huxley, the list just goes on…so yes, some of these guys may have ‘self-published’ a little, but the story is much more complex. Again, as I said, ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ often blur in their boundaries, but no famous person is an island, famous simply because they ‘self-published.’

    Tom

  12. thomasbrady said,

    June 16, 2010 at 2:33 am

    Did you notice FW demonstrates perfectly what I said.

    We have been berated by the ‘professional’ FW.

    He can’t resist. He has to have his fix.

    The amateur FW comes here to get his ‘professional’ diamorphine rush.

  13. notevensuperficial said,

    June 16, 2010 at 3:09 am

    What you find, when have to do the thing over and over, […] is that invention just happens.

    That’s quite true.

    Is it accurate, though, to associate “do[ing] the thing over and over [until, then while,] invention just happens” with ‘professional as opposed to amateur‘? I’m thinking particularly of the adjectives stemming from and, in turn, associated with these appellations: “professional” – ‘proficient; done with integrity’; and “amateurish” – ‘fumble-fingered; untrustworthy’.

    Compare, for example, Dickinson and Tennyselbowson. While Tennyson has fine lines, well-done imagery, and so on, (for me) it’s the inspired amateurity of Dickinson that’s not only ‘capable; practiced’, but also in a different league of beauty than Tennyson is (except in excerpts from long poems).

    (You could say that their projects were completely different: that Tennyson is trying to sustain a voice over a long series of ‘breaths’, where Dickinson is (almost) only giving voice in bursts. But that wouldn’t affect the pro/amateur distinction with respect to ‘integrity’.)

    As far as I can tell by the way the distinction is being proposed, Dickinson was, for a handful of years, a busy “amateur”, where Tennyson was a “professional” poet. But Dickinson is – for me – easily the greater poet. How useful is the distinction ‘pro/amateur’ if it implies a parallel distinction of ‘better/lesser in quality’?

  14. notevensuperficial said,

    June 16, 2010 at 3:56 am

    Marcus, you predicate each of these distinctions of “poets” and/or “poetry”:

    excellence
    pretty good at [writing poems] indeed
    excellent […] poet
    one poet is a better poet, or one poem is a better poem
    quality
    ‘doing [poetry] better’
    proficiency
    get good […] stay good
    malpractice

    What kind of scales and which instruments are used to detect gradations on those scales in the cases of poems being more or less excellent, good, better, disclosive of quality, proficient, and well-practiced?

    Marcus, you say that:

    in modernist and post-modernist poetry there is no way to tell whether one poet is a better poet, or one poem is a better poem, than another.

    What are the external rules by which you can tell whether one Shakespearean sonnet is “better” than another, or whether Shakespeare is a “better” or “worse” sonnet writer than Meredith?

    What are the scales and which are the instruments used to detect gradations on those scales for quality of equally (nearly) perfectly regular sonnets?

    Marcus, you assert that:

    [a]dventurers […], even if they’re in the knowledge biz, are a different sort of professional […] than professionals in an established field.

    What are the external rules for discerning an adventurer from a non-adventurer among any practitioners in the “field” of poetry?

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm

      Notevensuperficial said: “Is it accurate, though, to associate ‘do[ing] the thing over and over [until, then while,] invention just happens’ with ‘professional as opposed to amateur‘? I’m thinking particularly of the adjectives stemming from and, in turn, associated with these appellations: ‘professional’ – ‘proficient; done with integrity’; and ’amateurish’ – ‘fumble-fingered; untrustworthy’.”

      You may say that someone is professional and mean something very good or very bad; likewise with amateur. Context guides how we interpret the words. I liked that you pointed out that amateur means “for love”, though I’d add it’s mostly when it’s used as a noun. As an adjective it is similar in meaning to amateurish. Still, we must be careful not to make the mistake of using a word without making as clear as we can what we mean by it, by providing adequate context for the reader to interpret from, or by simply defining it: “… and when I say ‘professional’, I mean …”, and the like.

      Notevensuperficial said: “Compare, for example, Dickinson and Tennyselbowson. While Tennyson has fine lines, well-done imagery, and so on, (for me) it’s the inspired amateurity of Dickinson that’s not only ‘capable; practiced’, but also in a different league of beauty than Tennyson is (except in excerpts from long poems). “

      I’d argue they were both professional poets: Dickinson in my sense, and Tennyson in both mine and Franz’s – he got pro dough, after all. The point is that being a pro in Franz’s meaning doesn’t preclude being a pro in mine, not vice versa. But we do have to be careful to say how we’re using the word ‘professional’. Of course, there’s that dismissive meaning of professional, too, the one we use when we mean that something that ought to be left to those who do it for love is being done for remuneration.

      Notevensuperficial said: “ … What kind of scales and which instruments are used to detect gradations on those scales in the cases of poems being more or less excellent, good, better, disclosive of quality, proficient, and well-practiced?”

      Ah, hoisting me on my own petard!

      I was prepared to allow for a softer notion of ‘scale and instrument’ than something like a meat thermometer that lets us read off the number of poetry units there are in a chunk of text. Mostly I wanted to make sure we didn’t talk about ‘progress in poetry’ in the modernist/postmodernist sense, where anything that is claimed to be ‘new’ is automatically superior to anything previous, for no reason beyond its claim of newness. So perhaps you’ll allow me some such softer notion now.

      First, I hold that writing in meter takes a different sort of skill than writing in prose, a skill, or lack of it, that native speakers can hear or see clearly when they encounter a bit of metered text. So the scale is ‘ability to write in meter’. At one end of the scale is that wince at hearing the language belabored for the sake of the meter, and at the other end the nod and smile of appreciation for the melding of sense and style. A scale open to some interpretation, to be sure, but one that has been in use for thousands of years in thousands of languages.

      Second, the instrument is the native speaker of the language, and sometimes the educated speaker of that language as a secondary or tertiary language, though not often. It takes a lot of listening and reading to get the requisite feel for that ambiguous scale we just talked about – the more time and effort because of that ambiguity.

      There will be lots of chances to dispute whether this or that poet or poem gets a bigger or smaller smile of appreciation, or a sharper wince of dissatisfaction, and there are the occasional Dickinsons, Clares, and Hopkinses, and even Swinburnes whose work is so rough or so refined that doubts are raised about whether the work is wince-inducing or smile-producing, but for the most part metrical skill is obvious to the native speaker, and refinements of that skill are obvious to those who have spent not just a lot of time listening and reading their native language, but listening and reading pretty specialized texts.

      It’s not a perfect system, and it’s nothing like science – there’s no way to measure to see if 99.9987% of the ball bearings are 99.9999986 round. There will be lots of room for disagreement about whether this or that poet is preferred by this or that reader, or critic, but for the most part just getting talked about is a win for the poets. No one really knows, or can know, which poet or poem will be well-regarded in 100 years, or what the cycle of regard and lack of regard will be. We don’t know, and we ought not worry too much about it. The best we can do is read and talk about the poems, and the more time we spend reading and talking about the poems the better off we, and the poets, will be.

      One of the interesting things about the theory behind modernist and postmodernist poetry is the abandonment of meter and an aversion for ‘the good line’ – how often I’ve heard accomplished poets fervently thank their luck that they were working during a time when no particular proficiency is required to be well-known as a poet. Almost without exception, when pressed, they admit that if they had to write in meter and try to produce ‘the good line’ or ‘the memorable line’, they’d just quit and find another hobby. I think that’s a serious indictment.

      Another interesting thing that I find is that in 35 years of reading the stuff out there in the pobiz sphere, I almost never find myself nodding and smiling and appreciating the interesting and creative use of the language to say something in a nice melding of sense and style. There’s no one I want to imitate, no one I want to steal from, no one I care to read more than once. I have all these books I’ve bought at poetry readings, feet and feet of them on my bookshelves, and I never refer to them. I never take one down and reflect on when and where and who – they are entirely unmemorable. And that pisses me off.

      There’s something wrong with poetry that is entirely unmemorable, and I think what’s missing is that there is nothing that makes the weenies who can’t write in meter and can’t write a good line, quit.

      Notevensuperficial said: “ [a]dventurers […], even if they’re in the knowledge biz, are a different sort of professional […] than professionals in an established field.What are the external rules for discerning an adventurer from a non-adventurer among any practitioners in the “field” of poetry?”

      This is such a good question I’m going to put it off until I think about it more.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 18, 2010 at 2:23 am

        they were both professional poets

        Marcus,I guess the sense that you mean that Dickinson was a pro is the meaning “‘doing it better and consistently'”. That’s a pretty eccentric meaning of “professional” – I mean, with no explicit connection to institutions of legitimation.

        I’d prefer to understand her to have been an “amateur” who wrote poems as well as any pro has, and to use her poems in her life as an example of how professionalization is not the only way, nor always the way, actually ‘to practice excellently’.

        You see what I mean? – the distinction “professional/amateur”, in the sense that it indicates, neither ‘consistency’ nor ‘seriousness’, but rather a stamp – a stamp-filled passport – of approval, deserves undermining, albeit without destroying principles/parameters of quality that legitimation processes might also reward (in addition to perpetuating themselves ideologically, that is).

        a softer notion
        some such softer notion
        scale [from] wince [to] nod and smile […] open to some interpretation
        the requisite feel
        that ambiguity
        skill is obvious […] refinements of that skill are obvious
        nothing like science
        No one […] can know
        don’t know and […] ought not worry too much about it

        No problem, Marcus; I have much tolerance for appeals to ineffability.

        We disagree about the definiendum of the (mutually admittedly notional?) scalar unit: ‘ability to write in meter’. – because, of course, we disagree about the reflexive axiom ‘poetry in English = metrical verse’.

        a serious indictment

        Devastating, the way you phrase it. – I’d only point out that books of pre-Modernist poets are bilging with bulge that’s metrical: sonnets, couplets, blank verse, et al. – material boring enough, I think, to uninterest you thoroughly in its metrical regularity. As with Meredith, mostly neither winces nor nods and smiles, just paroxysms of oks and shrugs and what happens next?..

        I’d also mention that, of best-loved poems of mine, there are regular, rhyming poems that are not smooth, that don’t read or speak easily (to me), poems of Pindaric difficulty that demand attention without gentling or de-nettling by way of easy rhythm. (I’m thinking of Donne and Keats.)

        a nice melding of sense and style

        I’m sure you know these poets, but let me bring up Stevens, Oppen, Bishop, Creeley. Not rhymsters, not measurably metrical (that I can count), and I’m not interested in line-segment historical causality (in which I don’t ‘believe’) — but plenty (for me) to read more than once. And – you might disagree – lineated with discipline and relevance . . . Well, hell, you will disagree with that last assertion.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 18, 2010 at 3:48 am

        Notevensuperficial said: “… ‘doing it better and consistently’ … [i]s a pretty eccentric meaning of “professional” – I mean, with no explicit connection to institutions of legitimation.”

        We’re talking poetry here, still, right? I mean, what kind of institutions of legitimation are you referring to in an historical sense? Sure, we have them now, since Ransom, but before that it wasn’t ‘institutions’ unless you mean ‘families of influence’ and other patronage. In your sense of requiring explicit connection to institutions of legitimation nearly everyone in the poetry anon world-wide was an amateur until the 20th century; or if you spread the net of ‘institution’ or ‘legitimation’ wide enough then everyone was a professional. But such width is counterproductive, either way – why bother with distinctions without a difference?

        Was Villon a professional? Was Virgil, Dante, Homer, Sappho? In some cases we can only speculate. Even your beloved Stevens was a lawyer and insurance company administrator who, the story goes, when he died and was on the cover of Time as a poet, some colleagues are reputed to have been shocked: “Wally? Wally wrote POEMS?” And as I recall ‘Harmonium’ was was published in an edition of only 1500 copies after he was 40, and sold only a hundred copies before being remaindered. Scarcely pro in Franz’s eyes – how about in yours? Remember, ‘Harmonium’ contained most of the poems that later made Stevens famous in academia – it’s not a matter of it being a beginning book.

        Notevensuperficial said: “I’d prefer to understand her to have been an “amateur” who wrote poems as well as any pro has, and to use her poems in her life as an example of how professionalization is not the only way, nor always the way, actually ‘to practice excellently’.”

        But the sort of professionalization you’re objecting to here seems obscure to me, when it’s clear from Dickinson’s attempts to get published that she was hoping to be recognized as the professional she thought she was: serious, committed, diligent, talented, fluent, all that. And what did ‘professional’ mean with regard to poetry in her day, anyway? Whitman? Wilcox? Tennyson? Swinburne? What were the ‘institutions of legitimation’ that would have rcognized any poet as a professional, then?

        Notevensuperficial said: “You see what I mean? – the distinction “professional/amateur”, in the sense that it indicates, neither ‘consistency’ nor ‘seriousness’, but rather a stamp – a stamp-filled passport – of approval, deserves undermining, albeit without destroying principles/parameters of quality that legitimation processes might also reward (in addition to perpetuating themselves ideologically, that is).”

        I can see that that’s what it has come to mean as people have tried to change this or that set of tasks and skills into ‘a profession’ in order to limit access to the field and, by limiting the number of practitioners, raise prices. But until the 20th century poets had not yet hearkened to the siren song of professionalization. We must use the term differently to apply to Dickinson than to apply to Franz, mustn’t we?

        Notevensuperficial said: “I have much tolerance for appeals to ineffability.”

        I’m not saying it’s ineffable; I’m saying it’s difficult to keep our terms straight – a very different thing.

        Notevensuperficial said: “… books of pre-Modernist poets are bilging with bulge that’s metrical: sonnets, couplets, blank verse, et al. – material boring enough, I think, to uninterest you thoroughly in its metrical regularity.”

        I agree that Sturgeon’s Law applies to poetry: ‘90% of everything is crap.’, and that it applies as well to poetry as to prose. What I’m critiquing in the last 100 years of free verse in English is the abandonment not only of meter but of the attempt to be memorable, too. Oh, there are a few lines here and there, the occasional title or phrase, but they are mostly 50-100 years old already, and fewer and fewer as we go along,.

        The point about overly-regular metrical regularity, rhymed or not, is that it is as indicting as re-lineated but rhymed prose is: it’s relatively easy to point to its badness. It’s also relatively easy to point to its brilliances. It provides something like an agreed-to standard of minimum competence – something that you cannot offer in free verse, by its very nature. What free verse is trying to do is be prose. I ask, why not go all the way and just call it the prose that it wants to be? What is the practioner getting out of it honestly? I say nothing. What the practitioner is getting out of it is credit for being able to do something that he or she simply cannot do: write in meter. They call themselves poets in the same way that some modern tyrannies have ‘presidents’ and call themselves ‘democracies’: for the PR value to cover the deception.

        Notevensuperficial said: “I’m sure you know these poets, but let me bring up Stevens, Oppen, Bishop, Creeley. Not rhymsters, not measurably metrical (that I can count), and I’m not interested in line-segment historical causality (in which I don’t ‘believe’) — but plenty (for me) to read more than once. And – you might disagree – lineated with discipline and relevance . . . Well, hell, you will disagree with that last assertion.”

        Yes, I will. If you were to relineate any of their poems and show them, with the words and meaning unchanged except for the relineation, to almost anyone, except perhaps scholars of their work, I doubt you’d find that anyone noticed your relineation of their work, unless you went to great trouble, such as changing “Sunday Morning” to dimeter or the like. Try it – take the last word or two in each line and make them the first word or words in the next line right through a poem and show it to someone with no linguistic or body language trickery to indicate there might be a trick at all, and see if they notice the difference. I’ve done it, and only people really really familiar with the original, and sometimes even then only when they’ve recently read the original, notice.

        From this I conclude that with the very best will, with discipline and whatever you mean by ‘relevance’ (perhaps an attempt to add emphasis to, or to de-emphasize, this or that word or phrase, I suppose) neither the discipline nor the attempts at relevance succeed in being more than idiosyncratic. These folks are writing prose – all the virtues of their writing are prose virtues. They proudly declare their intentions to discard anything ‘poetic’; they are working hard to excise ‘poetry’ from their work, and yet they demand to be called ‘poets’ on the basis of the very work from which they have excluded the virtues of poetry.

        It is a puzzlement.

        Or it would be, if they weren’t ‘professional’ in Franz’s sense.

  15. June 16, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Thomas Brady said:

    “Again, as I said, ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ often blur in their boundaries, but no famous person is an island, famous simply because they ‘self-published.’”

    Surely you don’t refer to Mr. Blake,

    Or Miss Dickinson,

    or to me.

    .

  16. thomasbrady said,

    June 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Even Blake and Dickinson had connections.. after her death, Emily had well-connected folks looking after her reputation…

    Who you got, Gar?

  17. June 16, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I got Franz, man. My biggest fan. Check it out:

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=33532264&postID=2101371389197153718

  18. thomasbrady said,

    June 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    That’s a pretty long comment stream, Gar. And still an amusing one, by the way. But can you just quote/point to the pertinent passage?

  19. June 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    The last and fourth from last.

    And please stop calling me a fish.

  20. thomasbrady said,

    June 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Oh…thanks, Gary B. I see the medicated and the mendacious are at it again…this is priceless:

    “I am the son of James Wright. I personally knew as a child Theodore Roethke and John Berryman. I have published over twenty books. My father and I have the historical honor of being the only parent/child Pulitzer Prize winners in poetry. You little fuck. Do not ever, to me, or to anyone else, behave as if you had a right to speak to me in a personal manner, as if we were friends. You aren’t my friend.”

    LOL

    At times I find myself rooting for poor, hateful, deluded Franz, with Gallaher’s boring, prissy response to him and Gary…that poem you posted…’we’re all human!’ is the worst thing I think I’ve ever read…you don’t seem to have a clue about your own work…what an irony…because you are the last person who should be self-publishing… you have no self-editing abilities…none…why a person of your discernment, who occasionally comes up with a good poem, would put that wretched, turgid, cliche-ridden ‘poem’ out there is so pitiful…I’ll take Franz’s rage over mediocrity any day…

    The madhouse that is the last 100 years of American poetry is killing us all… Scarriet is one of the last outposts of sanity…

    “I personally knew as a child…”

    LOL

    Did they even let Roethke and Berryman near children…?

    LOL

    • June 19, 2010 at 12:44 am

      Thanks, ol’ buddy. I think you have just illuminated the very point of my poem:

      “We hurt them anyway!
      Aren’t all of us but human, after all?

      It’s just that some of us
      are more human than others.”

      I appreciate that you took the time to read the poem, anyway.

      GBF

      Been fun.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 19, 2010 at 8:55 pm

        To err is human, to forgive, divine.

        I forgive you for writing the hackneyed:

        We hurt then anyway!
        Aren’t all of us but HUMAN, after all?

        IT’S JUST THAT SOME OF US
        ARE MORE HUMAN THAN OTHERS.

        If you forgive me for not appreciating your poem, you, too, will partake of divinity.

      • Bob Tonucci said,

        June 19, 2010 at 9:53 pm

        Don’t jump ship, Mr. F., we’re all Scarrieteers here. Scar-riet: issuing forth life, poetry, amniotic fluid, the whole She-bang. I like your poem, it expresses well the frustration I often feel at still saying and doing things I regret even at age 50. Here’s the poem in full:

        Human

        I know that you’ve transgressed
        for haven’t I, as well?
        You have sinned, as have we all
        for aren’t all of us but human?
        All feel the sorrow and the rage,
        the joy and pain.

        We’re all sometimes selfish and petty,
        thoughtless or vain,
        but also forgiving, often kind.
        We help others try and understand,
        feel sympathy and pity.
        But still we get angry!
        We hurt them anyway!
        Aren’t all of us but human, after all?

        It’s just that some of us
        are more human than others.

        Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns, Gary B. Fitzgerald

      • June 20, 2010 at 1:36 am

        .

        Breezy Night

        Chimes blend evening breeze with song.
        Up late tonight past bedtime. Troubled.
        The sleepy wind blends me with scent
        of Jasmine.
        I finally begin to relax, to smile.
        I can hear the music now.
        I look back on my day, a long one.
        Well, I managed to get by again,
        managed to survive.
        Now out here in the night
        with the dark and the flowers,
        I listen to the chimes and consider
        the wrongs I’ve done to stay alive.

        Anyone with no regrets
        must be senile.

        Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD – 77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  21. thomasbrady said,

    June 18, 2010 at 3:02 am

    There’s also the sense that professional means ‘fixed’ or ‘rigged’ and amateur is ‘fair and clean because there’s nothing extra at stake.’

    Obviously you want to pay someone for the job they do and for what they are worth.

    But there is a point when money itself starts to become the only aim and the job therefore becomes not a love, or a desire, or anything virtuous in itself, but a means to an end apart from the job.

    Socrates and the sophists is a story of a philosopher who wouldn’t sell out against those who did. Isn’t that what the greatest literary text of all time, the Platonic dialogues, is finally about? The Amateur v. the professionals?

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 18, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      The Amateur v. the professionals?

      Not a bad way to characterize one plane (of many) of perspective into Plato.

      I don’t remember – but I’d be surprised if there weren’t – a moment in one of the dialogues – for example, the Gorgias – when a character challenges Socrates in this way:

      It’s true that professionalization means introducing an interest – namely, material survival/prosperity – to the pursuit of true answers to questions like ‘what is beauty?’, ‘what is bravery?’, and ‘what is a person?’, and true that that interest – let’s call it “money” – often ends up competing with, diluting, and corrupting any pursuit of true answers to any questions. But is it really a fait accompli that ‘doing something for money’ necessitate a dilution of integrity, to and beyond the point of outright crookedness, on the part of the practitioner? Is it impossible to pay a stonemason to teach one stonemasonry and still get that stonemason’s best transmission of whatever skill and knowledge she or he could have imparted in otherwise optimum conditions?

      Of course, Socrates, or you, could attack the craft analogy: stonemasonry is critically different from philosophizing – and from writing poems – in these ways: a), b), and c), which differences disable the parallels between stonemasonry and philosophy, or teaching – or poetry – from showing us anything useful. (Though I’d argue that, in this case, the craft analogy takes on this criticism without dissolving into impracticality.)

      But the question remains: is philosophizing, or is teaching something, or is writing poems, for money necessarily generative of conflict-of-interest-governed diminution in quality of the concomitant philosophical investigation, tuition, or poems?

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm

        Yes, this is the tennis/freeverse analogy, but this time you’re on the other side, arguing the analogy works in spite of its analogical weaknesses.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

        notevensuperficial,

        Yes, I probably would say philosophy is different from masonry…free public education for all—that ideal, anyway—which comes from ‘The Republic’ and other philosophies, means philosophy/reading/writing for all, not stone-masonry for all.

        It all finally comes down to: the greater good. What’s good for society? What’s best for the Republic? Pursuit of happiness ultimately makes society better…and happiness means proportion, harmony, beauty, art, strength, delicacy, decency, love, sanity, philosophy, wit, common sense, utility, frankness, fresh air, exercise, sweetness, mercy, affection, accomplishment, in short, pleasure, happiness…

        Tom

  22. thomasbrady said,

    June 18, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    When Marcus calls the most amateur poet who ever lived, Emily Dickinson, a professional, all bets are off.

    Professional— (etymology: having something to say about a subject) —is an older word than amateur— (etymology: loving a subject.)
    The scorn of the professional for the amateur comes from the idea that it takes ‘more than love’ to do something well. We don’t care if love is involved; we want to know if there’s been enough training. But the distinction is silly, since both love and training ought to be involved.

    Interestingly, the word ‘amateur’ is about as old as the United States. Edgar Poe used the phrase “Our Amateur Poets” in reviewing a couple of American poets he found wanting; one was Thomas Ward; of him Poe writes:

    “He is characterized by Mr. Griswold, in his Poets and Poetry of America, as a gentleman of elegant leisure. What there is in “elegant leisure” so much at war with the divine afflatus, it is not very difficult, but quite unnecessary, to say. The fact has been long apparent. Never sing the Nine so well as when penniless. The mens divinior is one thing, and the otium cum dignitate quite another.”

    The other poet Poe reviewed under the title “Our Amateur Poets” was William Ellery Channing, the nephew of the well-known Unitarian Minister of the same name, son of a Harvard medical school professor, Harvard student (never graduated) first biographer of Thoreau, and himself a builder and denizen of a log hut in Illinois in 1839, supported by Emerson in hopes that he would be the first great Transcendentalist Poet, hopes put to rest by a highly negative and highly professional Poe review in 1842. http://www.eapoe.org/works/criticsm/channgb.htm

    Poe was America’s first professional critic. Poe’s definition of the professional poet demanded keeping, consistency of theme, good taste, originality, ideality, smoothness of versification, and other qualities which professionalism demanded. As a journalist paid for his labors, Poe seemed to measure professionalism in the poet generally in the following two ways: 1. Merit 2. Public reputation.

    John Crowe Ransom wasn’t so wrong to ask for professionalism in poetry; but he was a cad in every other way, for he professed ignorance of all pervious examples of professionalism in criticism. He opens his essay by writing: “So have the critcs nearly always been amateurs” and names not one.

    Mr. Ransom was making a cunning case for university professionalism, pretending professionalism in poetry could exist nowhere else. It was, like every Modernist manifesto, highly unprofessional.

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 18, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “When Marcus calls the most amateur poet who ever lived, Emily Dickinson, a professional, all bets are off.”

      First, I’m sure there are many thousands, perhaps millions, of competitors for the title of ‘most amateur poet who ever lived’ – people who wrote and died entirely unknown, whether justly or not. What Mr Brady seems to be fumbling for, here, is something like “the poet best-known for being described as ‘amateur'”.

      Second, what I actually said was:

      “But the sort of professionalization you’re objecting to here seems obscure to me, when it’s clear from Dickinson’s attempts to get published that she was hoping to be recognized as the professional she thought she was: serious, committed, diligent, talented, fluent, all that.”

      I’m questioning what my colleague in superficiality might call ‘professional’ by offering some additional thoughts.

      I don’t say that Dickinson ‘is’ professional, I say that she thought of herself as the sort of professional I’ve been describing: someone who is ‘serious, committed, diligent, talented, fluent, all that.’ I find it hard to imagine that any admirer of Dickinson’s work would argue that she was other than ‘serious, committed, diligent, talented, fluent, all that.’ But that, I’m trying to argue, is what professionalism in its least derogatory sense is all about.

      Of course, once money and prestige and trophies start to be on offer from institutions, you’re going to get the sort of people who are in it for the money, prestige, and trophies, and who want to be in charge of the institutions giving such things out, the better to reward their friends and punish their enemies. That’s the kind of professional Franz is talking about, if I understand him correctly: the kind that gets ‘pro dough’.

      They, like Bob Etheridge, the Congressman (D-N.C.) who, having recently entirely lost his way regarding the notion of ‘professional representative’, manhandled some kid with the temerity to think that a Congressman ought to answer questions asked by constituents, have a strong impulse to shout “Who are YOU?” is based on a false sense of what professionalism really is – at least in my view. So, it might have been that Emily might have left us, given her family’s centrality in the contemporary culture of the time, instead of the persistent image of a reclusive hermit who obsessively published her books in editions of one, hand-sewing the pages together and putting them in a drawer, a tradition of a foul-mouthed entitlement-junkie from the lucky-sperm club, if only she’d gotten the breaks.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 18, 2010 at 7:45 pm

        Marcus,

        I stand corrected. “the poet best-known for being described as ‘amateur’”. That is better. You’re right.

        I think Poe would have sternly judged Dickinson an amateur for the reason that she wasn’t at commerce with society; I think he would have been that strict. Poe was easily annoyed by half-rhymes and hyperbolic metaphor, and he was so earnestly professional when it came to judging poets that, in the judgment of our most professional critic, Dickinson may indeed have won the prize of ‘most amateur poet of all time.’

        And yes, the congressman serves the people, not himself, and the poet and the critic belong completely to the people as well.

        Tom

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm

        [political-economic rant]

        Etheridge, a conservocrat (his website pimps him as a “moderate, pro-business Democrat”), was fending off an ambush by an ultracon operative – a garden-variety Wall Street Pravdan accumulation apologist interested in neither conversation nor good governance -, not a “constituent”. It was the FoxGoebbelsite ambusher who was the:

        entitlement junkie.

        All prosperity – all opportunity for entrepreneurialshipness – in America rests on a foundation of thoroughly socialized infrastructure. Entitlement junkie exactly picks out the categorical definiendum of it’s-my-money Teabaggers who practice the faith of “it’s free if you don’t ‘think’ about the conditions for the possibility of its existence”.

        A better example of entitlement junkie? Slick Meggie Whitman, who made a grand fortune “CEO”ing an internet outfit without ever paying anything like a commensurate share of the cost of building/maintaining/upgrading the telephony infrastructure of America. If she really believed that consumers and taxpayers should get what they pay for, or that “market forces” bring this desideratum into existence, then she’d pay – and be proud to pay – dividends from her personal fortune to everybody who paid their phone bill from, say, 1945 to 1990.

  23. notevensuperficial said,

    June 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    what kind of institutions of legitimation

    In the case of Tennyselbowson: you’re kidding, right, Marcus?

    Family fortune (no guarantee of significance in poetry circles, even of one’s own time, but surely a leg up in the way of otium cum dignitate); Cambridge (again, no guarantee, but a leg up in poetry/publishing circles; I think it was from Cambridge, and a Cambridge prize, that Tennyson first got ‘noticed’ by, for example, Coleridge); Poet Laureate.

    None of these three institutions of legitimation guarantee that one write good poems or be remembered for one’s poetry – indeed, most rich people don’t have the ambition to write great poetry (I’m guessing), and lots of students went/go to Cambridge without writing any poetry, but for Tennyson, leisure and the Cambridge Apostles (and other networks) were – I’m not implying any deviousness on his part! – certainly vehicles for legitimizing his poetic talents.

    You try to pass off families of influence and other patronage as being otiose – but patronage in the history of poetry means exactly “institutions of legitimation”.

    Villon? Patron-ed as a student, he made of himself a professional criminal, to my small knowledge. The poetry I’d call amateur and great. (Danielo Arnaldo: that‘s a great professional poet.) Virgil? Definitely a professional poet. Dante? A professional political operative; I don’t know about his taking advantage of monetary opportunity by way of poetry – I don’t remember that he did (?). ‘Homer’? No such person as ‘the hostage’, was there? Psappho? Quite cultural-anthropologically controversial: ran a girl’s school, entailing inculcating students in the art of poetry? availed herself directly of praise-patronage or other occasional versifying-for-hire?

    Dickinson? A rich, connected father – a Congressman, right? -, and never had to wash clothes for food money. Also never tethered to nor encouraged by a husband/household. And she contacted at least one poetry big shot and actually was, albeit minutely and post ‘correction’, published. But she ‘made a living’ in no way from poetry, but rather, she lived and wrote poems, she worked mostly in isolation from the kind of conversation we’re taking advantage of here, that is, mostly (that’s known) without encouragement or able criticism or monetary inducement/corruption or network or community –

    – Dickinson was a serious, committed, diligent, talented, fluent amateur. Where’s the contradiction in terms there? – except by way of eccentric definitions?

    the sort of professionalization you’re objecting to

    I’m not objecting to any specific sort of professionalization, Marcus – as I said, I’m objecting to identifying “pro” with ‘good’, an identification that pro-generating institutions of legitimation would try to make essential to their reproductivity.

    Wally’s an interesting case. As I understand the story (from Parts of a World), he wanted to be a professional poet: to study literature (/languages?) at Harvard, to be some kind of bohemian, maybe to become a professor of English (or of “poetry”?). But his father crowbarred him out of that fantasy and into law school – using exactly the leverage of pecuniary interest -, from where he showed talent and interest in the insurance racket and made a comfortable life in which he could professionally investigate/administer claims and amateurly write his poems. I don’t think his success, in his lifetime, as a poet stemmed from a) his success at Hartford Indemnity, or b) his poetry-world connections.

    I’d call Wally’s ‘amateurism’ an interestingly mixed case. – as I would that of Catullus.

    a very different thing

    No, Marcus: softer notion, scale […] open to some interpretation, requisite feel, that ambiguity, nothing like science, et al. all refer to difficulties in keeping terms straight in the sense that difficulty indicates reference to objects of thought that are not ultimately perfectly definable, though they can be talked about carefully and with considerable delineation — which I’d meant to argue of the ‘rules’ embedded in and constitutive of free verse.

    over-regular metrical regularity

    I should say that, in (slightly) aspersing Meredith’s verse, I’m not saying he’s overly regular, but rather that his metrically regular sonnets are, for me, usually dull. Shakespeare’s sonnets are (mostly) quite regularly metrical, and they rhyme generally properly – and they’re than-which neither other sonnets nor free-verse poems of roughly equal length are better poems. For me, the metricality of the verse is a sign neither of quality nor of “poetry”.

    The two questions adducing comparison of Shakespeare’s and Meredith’s sonneteering remain unanswered: what are the external rules, what are the scales, which are the instruments by virtue of which one achievement could be called better than the other?

    whatever you mean by ‘relevance’

    I took the discernment from you: arbitrary, whimsical, capricious, or irrelevant.

    I had thought you had meant, as you say now, that the line breaks in, say, The Snow Man, are irrelevant to the meaning of the . . . word-array, that the last word in some particular line could be ‘moved’ to the first position in the next line without changing the meaning of the text.

  24. thomasbrady said,

    June 18, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Yea, I think the one thing I’d like to see is Marcus defend a rudimentary rationale for verse…is it merely for reasons of standard, of a net and boundaries on the tennis court, a recognizable coin, so to speak, with which to trade verifiable accomplishment? Or, is there something intrinsically good in verse? Many before us have praised the material harmony and fitness of verse as something good for the soul… would you agree with this, Marcus? I think you need to fill out your thesis a little…does poetic prose, for instance not share important qualities with verse? As illustrious a defender and writer of verse as Shelley said that poetry was more than just metrics. I would think that some compromise could be effected between yours and notevensuperficial’s positions…

  25. notevensuperficial said,

    June 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    compromise

    I don’t think that’s possible – or desirable – on Marcus’s terms, Tom. If it’s English and it’s not metrically regular, it’s just Not a Poem, by definition.

    It’s important to understand that Marcus is not saying that prose texts can’t be, say, ‘good for the soul’, or ‘good for the community’. He (if I might presume that accurately) is saying that The Snow Man is lineated prose and not a poem, however well it stands up, in terms of soul-nutrition, in comparison to any of the sonnets of Modern Love – or, indeed, to any of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

    To make my “position” even clearer, I don’t have a thing against meter or rhyme in poems. There’s no short poem that I know, in any language, that’s better than Shakespeare’s sonnet 73.

  26. Marcus Bales said,

    June 19, 2010 at 4:27 am

    Thomasbrady said: “I think Poe would have sternly judged Dickinson an amateur for the reason that she wasn’t at commerce with society…”

    There’s commerce and there’s commerce – she was a member of a wealthy and prominent family. She read the periodicals, she listened to the conversations, she was part of a prominent household often full of other prominent people talking, in a culture that valued conversation as something like ‘the internet’ of the day. She was a lurker. Well, what of it? That is one kind of commerce with society. She also tried to get her poems published, and some were, as edited by Higgenbotham. She was trying to be a professional on her own terms, such as they were, such as women poets were allowed to be at the time. She was no political firebrand, but she worked hard and long and diligently, and with a lot of talent, at her poems. She, no less than Tennyson or any of the others born into wealthy enough families to have the leisure to spend time writing poetry, became an accomplished poet through practice, as any poet does.

    The professional/amateur distinction you and my colleague in superficiality seem to continue to make is the ‘earned one’s living from writing/teaching poetry’, which is to my eyes indistinguishable from Franz’s, type of ‘professional’, while seeming to take no notice at all of my suggestion that there is another sense of professional that is meritocratic- rather than economic-based. Or if not actually meritocratic-based, then at least intention-based. I say this to forestall the instant arguments arising in your mind pointing out that the Marjorie Flemings of the world are perfectly seriously intentioned without having the least conscious merit.

    The advantages of the relatively rich in terms of leisure and education that allow those of them so inclined to write poetry have to be distinguished from the professional poets who get ‘pro dough’, whatever that happens to mean in the context of their own contemporary economic standards. People whose families supported them, and people who had day jobs unrelated to poetry by which they supported their poetry-habit, so they had the leisure to write are professional in my sense, not in that seemingly shared by Mr Brady, my colleague in superficiality, and Franz, it seems to me. People who had patrons, and people who joined or organized coteries to publish their works by subscription, are more nearly professional in something closer to the contemporary understanding of ‘making a living from it’.

    But since neither are the two terms mutually exclusive, we have to be careful how we use them to avoid the mistake of using a word in two senses to make an argument, as in the famously flawed syllogism “Some dogs have floppy ears / My dog has floppy ears / Therefore my dog is SOME dog!”

    I’m arguing for a sense of ‘professional’ that is volitional and intentional, and has nothing necessarily to do with earning a living, but which does not exclude earning a living from a given activity, instead of using ‘amateur’ precisely because there are too many unfortunate connotations to amateur that mean lesser competence. It seems to me that ‘professional’ means, when used appropriately to mean, what it means when we distinguish professional from amateur athletes, or even golfers: that the professionals are playing the same game, but better, and with the same passion for the game an amateur may have, AND they’re getting paid for it. There is also the meaning of ‘professional’ illustrated by ‘he did a professional job’, or ‘he did the job like a professional’, which is closer to the meaning I’m trying to suggest for people such as Dickinson. That is to say, that they are performing the same activity, but better than an amateur would, and they are probably not getting paid for it.

    notevensuperficial said, “In the case of Tennyselbowson: you’re kidding, right, Marcus? Family fortune (no guarantee of significance in poetry circles, even of one’s own time, but surely a leg up in the way of otium cum dignitate); Cambridge (again, no guarantee, but a leg up in poetry/publishing circles; I think it was from Cambridge, and a Cambridge prize, that Tennyson first got ‘noticed’ by, for example, Coleridge); Poet Laureate.”

    Again, it seems to me that the matter of family support is not the same kind of thing as contemporary institutional support. One may feel a perfectly legitimate entitlement to lounge around on the family money writing poems that one cannot reasonably feel lounging around writing poems on grants, scholarships, fellowships, and teaching.

    notevensuperficial said, “… You try to pass off families of influence and other patronage as being otiose – but patronage in the history of poetry means exactly ‘institutions of legitimation’.”

    Not otiose in the least! Family support is something a family member is in fact entitled to by virtue of being a family member, while the patronage of an unrelated rich person, or grants, fellowships, scholarships, and jobs teaching others how to live modestly well writing such grants, fellowships, scholarships, and lineated prose, too, is a different sort of thing, one that no one is entitled to.

    notevensuperficial said, “I’m not objecting to any specific sort of professionalization, Marcus – as I said, I’m objecting to identifying “pro” with ‘good’, an identification that pro-generating institutions of legitimation would try to make essential to their reproductivity.”

    I’m carefully distinguishing one sense of ‘professional’ as ‘good’ in order to avoid the ‘professional/amateur’ distinction that is so imprecise and provocative.

    notevensuperficial said, “… ‘softer notion, scale […] open to some interpretation, requisite feel, that ambiguity, nothing like science,’ et al. all refer to difficulties in keeping terms straight in the sense that difficulty indicates reference to objects of thought that are not ultimately perfectly definable, though they can be talked about carefully and with considerable delineation — which I’d meant to argue of the ‘rules’ embedded in and constitutive of free verse.

    Here, at least, we can agree – except that you never did actually argue that. You said, instead, that the rules of free verse are ‘ineffable’, which is a different thing entirely. If you now have changed your mind, and agree that the rules of free verse are not ineffable at all, but rather only as difficult to talk about as the rules of poetry, welcome to the club – but if so, then I’m going to ask you again to take a whack at the rules of free verse.

    notevensuperficial said, “… For me, the metricality of the verse is a sign neither of quality nor of ‘poetry’.”

    I agree it is no sign of quality; but I argue that the distinction between poetry and prose has long been, and remains, whether the text is written in meter or not. No matter how vivaciously you argue that if a tail is a leg a dog has five legs, I must insist that calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. Calling a piece of lineated prose a poem doesn’t make it a poem.

    notevensuperficial said, “… what are the external rules, what are the scales, which are the instruments by virtue of which one achievement could be called better than the other?”

    Ah, not only unanswered, but until now unasked!

    I’m not arguing that language in meter is better; I’m saying it’s poetry. Poetry is not, and ought not be used as, a value-laden term. It’s not the case that if you write good enough prose your text becomes poetry. Poetry does not mean ‘better language’, it means ‘language in meter’ – and when we use the word ‘poetry’ to mean ‘good’, we are mistaken.

    thomasbrady said, “Yea, I think the one thing I’d like to see is Marcus defend a rudimentary rationale for verse…is it merely for reasons of standard, of a net and boundaries on the tennis court, a recognizable coin, so to speak, with which to trade verifiable accomplishment? Or, is there something intrinsically good in verse?”

    I am arguing there is nothing intrinsically good in verse. One may write as badly in verse as one may write in prose, and one may write in prose as well as one may write in verse. I am arguing that the careless use of the term ‘poetry’ to mean ‘the good stuff’ is mistaken,

    thomasbrady said, “Many before us have praised the material harmony and fitness of verse as something good for the soul… would you agree with this, Marcus?”

    No. There is nothing intrinsically good about meter, any more than there is anything intrinsically bad about lack of meter. What’s bad is careless use, or even venal use, such as: calling prose ‘poetry’ because that way lies fellowships, grants, and teaching gigs.

    The essays, letters, and recorded comments of the major players in the effort to cease to write in meter and still call the text ‘poetry’, Amy Lowell, FM Ford, Pound, Williams, Eliot, et al., show them all expecting that if they could but ‘break the pentameter’, as Pound put it, then some other way to write something that was distinctively different from prose would arise from the practice of people who had discarded meter. But it didn’t happen, and later in their careers all of them bemoaned the fact that it didn’t happen, and criticized the lameness and the sameness of the stuff being cranked out and published even in the 20s and 30s. Bynner and Ficke even parodied and hoaxed such stuff at the time, and still people kept cranking it out. And who can blame them? It’s easy to do – far easier than to acquire any competence in writing in meter!

    thomasbrady said, “…does poetic prose, for instance not share important qualities with verse? As illustrious a defender and writer of verse as Shelley said that poetry was more than just metrics. I would think that some compromise could be effected between yours and notevensuperficial’s positions.”

    No, poetic prose does not share important qualities with verse, unless by that you mean the rules of grammar. But again such a claim is too broad to be worthwhile. If you think that poetry and prose share ‘important qualities’, what are those qualities? If you leave it to me to define the important qualities shared by poetry and prose, I’ll say ‘grammar and vocabulary’ and add again that such a claim is too broad to be worthwhile.

    notevensuperficial said, “I don’t think that’s possible – or desirable – on Marcus’s terms, Tom. If it’s English and it’s not metrically regular, it’s just Not a Poem, by definition.”

    That’s right – if writing is in meter (and, again, I don’t mean any particular meter – it just has to be regular, repeating, and recognizable) is a necessary and sufficient measure of whether a piece of writing is poetry. That definition says nothing at all about its quality or merits as a piece of writing. It may be very bad indeed, or very good indeed, and still be poetry, just as prose may be good or bad.

    There is a lamentably careless tendency to use ‘poetry’ as a metaphor for ‘good’ and prosey’ or ‘prosaic’, though not often the word ‘prose’ itself, to mean ‘bad’. I’m trying to avoid those uses in order to allow the conversation to focus on what’s good or bad about a piece of writing without falling into the trap of using the terms ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’ as valorizing terms.

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 20, 2010 at 1:40 am

      commerce

      Definitely not to be underestimated, Marcus. What I’ve read is that Dickinson was an absolutely avid follower of periodicals – weekly/monthly newspapers, as it were -. A pet theory of mine is that it wasn’t so much a romantic crisis that triggered the ’60-’66 explosion of poems from her pen; I call her a War Poet – to push the point, as much a War Poet as Tyrtaeus.

      lurker

      A fair term – I’d emphasize even more than Marcus has that Dickinson tried her best, as she saw – could see? – it, to be a published poet, to participate fully (as did, say, Whitman) in the collective American ‘poetry’ conversation. I’d say that she tr[ied] to be a professional, but not on her terms, but rather on the terms that Higgenbotham and Whitman (somewhat) shared. (And at least a few (mostly forgotten) American women of that time, too.)

      What she did do on her terms – the fascicles, the “complete” that we read now – to me, this work is “amateur” – as I’ve said, not in the pejorative sense: ‘what an amateur!’, ‘New Year’s Eve is amateur night at the bars’. – rather, a productivity largely out of the circulatory and distributive systems of legitimation and, yes, material ‘compensation’.

      earned one’s living

      Yes, that’s the way I’d discern “professional” from “amateur” in terms of writing poems in some particular community.

      But the meaning of “pro” that Marcus foregrounds is fine, too, as a way people ordinarily talk about, say, “professionalism”: ‘proficient + serious, done with integrity’. As far as

      seeming to take no notice,

      I did block off the reasonable connections of “consistency” and “seriousness” – effective, though not at all sufficient, criteria of professionalism -, but I still think to use “professional” as opposed to “amateur” in this volitional and meritocratic sense is eccentric.

      I, anyway, don’t mean to damn with faint praise by calling Dickinson an “amateur”, but rather to call into question the, yes, political-economic systems of legitimation selecting ‘in’ and (mostly) ‘out’ marginal artists, scientists, theorists, and so on. I picked her name rather than, say, Anne Finch to highlight criticisms I’d make of the “pro/am” distinction because Dickinson is so strongly, today, accepted by the professionals – and by me.

      Not otiose in the least!

      I didn’t make myself clear enough, Marcus. I meant that, when you said before that it wasn’t ‘institutions’ unless you mean ‘families of influence and other patronage’, I thought you were pooh-poohing exactly the meaning of ‘institutions’ that one would need to account for: ‘ok, what “institutions” other than “families of influence” and other patronage act to legitimize being a poet, those two categories being merely redundant iterations of institution in this context’.

      a different thing entirely

      You retreated to a position of difficult to talk about in order to dampen the petard of scales, instruments, and external rules.

      I’m sticking with “ineffable” – though I did spend/waste time beginning, at least, to indicate “rules arising from within free verse” and “external rules that attach to free verse”. You dismiss/ed those tentativities as mischaracterizations or, worse, feints.

      Language like softer notion and requisite feel is used to disclose the “ineffable” without calling it, in a hard way, impossible to put precisely into words.

      unasked

      No, Marcus, I wasn’t, there, talking about language in meter [being] better than prose. I was talking about achievements (all) in metrical poetry.

      I was asking this question – which I had asked earlier: what scales, instruments, and external rules – which scales, instruments, and rules are not ineffable – are used to explain whether and how Shakespeare’s sonnets are better or worse than Meredith’s?

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm

        Notevensuperficial said: “What she did do on her terms – the fascicles, the “complete” that we read now – to me, this work is “amateur” – as I’ve said, not in the pejorative sense: ‘what an amateur!’, ‘New Year’s Eve is amateur night at the bars’. – rather, a productivity largely out of the circulatory and distributive systems of legitimation and, yes, material ‘compensation’.”

        The problem I have with this appellation is that amateurs, even the best of them, don’t accumulate a body of work. The ‘gifted amateur’ takes up an endeavor, discovers a gift for it, does extraordinarily well for a season or so, and then moves on, though he or she perhaps occasionally revisits the field, but less and less often, as the unpracticed gift atrophies, and other interests predominate. They are forever amateur – they never turn pro, they never do as well as they could do for as long as they can, just well enough to amaze for a while. I think Dickinson turned pro. She didn’t turn pro for the money, but she didn’t get into poetry just to show she could do it, to amaze and amuse her companions, and then give it up for serious pursuits. She made it her serious pursuit. It takes nothing away from her poetry, or from her as a person, to describe her as a pro in the way Notevensuperficial suggested:“the meaning of “pro”… as a way people ordinarily talk about, say, “professionalism”: ‘proficient + serious, done with integrity’.

        Notevensuperficial said: “… I meant that, when you said before that it wasn’t ‘institutions’ unless you mean ‘families of influence and other patronage’, I thought you were pooh-poohing exactly the meaning of ‘institutions’ that one would need to account for: ‘ok, what “institutions” other than “families of influence” and other patronage act to legitimize being a poet, those two categories being merely redundant iterations of institution in this context’.”

        The family wealthy enough to support someone lounging around writing poems doesn’t give a damn whether those poems are good or not, or are PC enough, or are anything, in fact. There is no requirement that a certain number of poems be written, nor that they be published on any given schedule, nor even that they are ever seen at all. Imagine the drooling lust such an entitlement program would provoke in a free-verser! They are already writing things that have no requirements at all except that the writer claim they are poems – that arrangement would free them from having to produce anything at all! What could be better for people who have chosen to do almost nothing than to do nothing at all?

        But alas for our contemporaries, institutions don’t view them as entitled family members, and require, instead, that they do at least the work of schmoozing their peers and exchanging blurbs and publishing small books of text. No one cares what happens to those books after they’re published, so they’re not even remaindered, they are pulped.

        That’s the distinction I’m drawing: between the family that supports a family member irrespective of whether they write poems or not, simply because the family member is a family member, and the institutions that distribute money on the basis of cronyism. You’re not entitled to be someone’s crony – you have to earn it.

        That’s why I suggested that developing a relationship with a patron is the same as developing a relationship with a grant-making organization. It takes a different skill-set than writing does – whatever you are writing.

        Notevensuperficial said: “I’m sticking with ‘ineffable’…”

        That sort of fundamentalism is your best strategy. Unfortunately, though, it is vulnerable to an opposing fundamentalism: poetry is language in meter; everything else is prose. You can’t persuade me, and I can’t persuade you – we’ll just have to see who can yell the loudest.

        Notevensuperficial said: “I was asking this question – which I had asked earlier: what scales, instruments, and external rules – which scales, instruments, and rules are not ineffable – are used to explain whether and how Shakespeare’s sonnets are better or worse than Meredith’s?”

        I’m not trying to distinguish better from good or good from bad or bad from worse. I’m simply trying to distinguish poetry from prose, so we can go on to talk about what makes work good, bad, or indifferent. But as long as you’re willing – and you seem endlessly willing – to use ‘poetry’ as a value-laden term, the moment you call a piece of work ‘a poem’ you have valorized it, and named it ‘good’. Once you do that – and you seem willing to do that – then we’re back to ‘anything is art that an artist says is art’, which only pushes the question off a little further to ‘who is an artist?’ which is answered in turn by ‘anyone is an artist who says he or she is an artist’, which means that anything is art that anyone says is art. Once you go there, you have abandoned any meaningful sense of ‘good’ or ‘better’ or ‘bad’ or ‘worse’, and you are stuck where contemporary art is now stuck: in a sea of warm fuzzy and endlessly-reproducing MFA poets.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 22, 2010 at 12:20 am

        [a response to Marcus’s post of June 20, 1:08 pm]

        a body of work

        A look at the best-guessed dates of the bulk of Dickinson’s poems reveals a not-lifelong period of incandescence (inflorescence?) – not a career as a poet, but rather a life from which poems emerged. To be word-builderish, Dickinson didn’t profess “poetry” in any institutional way – her attempts to get published were minutely rewarded but, in the main, she didn’t attach to herself any social legitimacy as a “poet” – quite unlike Tennyson. (Dickinson’s family didn’t support her materially nor – much – encourage her as a “poet”; they supported her as a slowly cracking spinster, which was nothing like the case of Tennyson’s familial “support”.) She also didn’t “profess” in the sense of organized study/promulgation, nor announce expertise that could be challenged (like a Master of Whatever or a master whateverer). For me, it takes nothing away from her to describe her as a perfectly serious amateur.

        I think this semantic distinction has been milked dry.

        fundamentalism

        No, Marcus.

        Though this drowner-hugging-a-swimmer might be your best strategery, it’s not accurate to call “sticking with ‘ineffable'” an appeal to a foundation – certainly not an inarguable one! To the contrary, one point has been – through the whole of this defense I’ve indicated of “free verse” – that the “rules” of some particular ‘freely’ versed poem can’t be translated into a formula, that they are themselves relations rather than objects.

        “[P]oetry is [exclusively] language in meter” – about this, if you agree to the interpolation, we do continue to agree to disagree.

        I returned to “ineffability” to make the point that you also resort to the impossibility – sometimes – of saying exactly what one is indicating when talking of scales, instruments, and external rules with respect to poems. You use this language: softer notion, open to interpretation, requisite feel, that ambiguity, nothing like science — which you deny is gesturing towards the “ineffable”.

        I’m not being ‘fundamentalistic’ in “sticking with ‘ineffability'” – I’m being clear where, I think, you’re being eschew-worthily obfuscatory.

        to distinguish poetry from prose

        Sure; point made, taken, disagreed with.

        But what you’re responding to specifically here has nothing to do with what you – or both of us – call “prose”. You’ve talked about excellence, better, quality, proficiency, and malpractice in terms of “poetry” – poetry.

        Well, what are the scales, the instruments, and the external rules operating when making such qualitative discernments between the metrically regular sonnets of Shakespeare and Meredith?

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 22, 2010 at 3:14 am

        Notevensuperficial said: “A look at the best-guessed dates of the bulk of Dickinson’s poems reveals a not-lifelong period of incandescence (inflorescence?) – not a career as a poet, but rather a life from which poems emerged. To be word-builderish, Dickinson didn’t profess “poetry” in any institutional way – her attempts to get published were minutely rewarded but, in the main, she didn’t attach to herself any social legitimacy as a “poet” – quite unlike Tennyson.”

        Yeesh – I think you’re right, this has been milked dry, once we get to insisting on ‘social legitimacy’ as a necessary element of ‘professional’. Where did that come from? By that standard, few professionals qualify. Social legitimacy?

        Notevensuperficial said: “…’sticking with ‘ineffable’ [is not] an appeal to a foundation – certainly not an inarguable one! To the contrary, one point has been – through the whole of this defense I’ve indicated of “free verse” – that the “rules” of some particular ‘freely’ versed poem can’t be translated into a formula, that they are themselves relations rather than objects.”

        WhatEVer, dude. You’re arguing that you can’t say what the rules of writing free verse in general are, and you can’t say what the rules of any particular free verse poem are, and you’re tossing off ‘ineffable’ at every opportunity. That’s priest-talk; that’s behind-the-veil talk; that’s fundamentalism; that’s bullshit. You can’t say because you don’t know, and you don’t know because there are no rules. Anything anyone who claims to be a poet says is poetry you have to acknowledge as poetry – and a category that is so broad that anything at all fits into it is no category at all. The whole argument is trash. Ineffable indeed.

        Notevensuperficial said: “Well, what are the scales, the instruments, and the external rules operating when making such qualitative discernments between the metrically regular sonnets of Shakespeare and Meredith?”

        Once again, my distinction between poetry as language in meter and prose as language not in meter has nothing whatever to do with the quality of either. It seems to me that it’s important to get rid of the ‘poetry is the good stuff’ idea, and substitute a relatively clear-cut definition so that we can go on to talking about which poems are good, bad, or indifferent.

        You seem to be trying to use my criticism of the notion that there can be anything scientific about the scale, instruments and rules for making discernments of any sort among poems to mean that I believe that there are such scientific scales, instruments, or rules. But you seem to have missed entirely that I was criticizing the notion that there are such scientific scales, instruments, or rules, and have clutched in error at the notion that I am putting forward instead of denigrating the idea that there are such scientific scales, instruments, or rules.

        However unscientific the discussion must necessarily be, it doesn’t have to be illogical or unreasonable. The field is not science, it’s art. The modernist reaction to the physical sciences, and to new ideas in mathematics, were to try to understand and use the ideas and the terms used in science in the arts. That failed miserably because there is no equivalence between the arts and sciences. The sciences are trying to explore the physical without emotional involvement, and the arts are trying to explore emotional involvement. The postmodernist reaction was to toss science overboard altogether, and revert to a fundamentalist position that there is nothing out there, and all that matters is what we believe. We can only hope the postmodernists will apply that principle to their lives as to their art, so they get their Darwin Awards quickly

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 23, 2010 at 3:21 am

        Where did that come from?

        I used the phrase “institutions of legitimation” in order to pick out what I mean by ‘professional as opposed to amateur’ – at the same time, and subsequently, pointing out and agreeing with others’ pointing out that each term has other useful meanings.

        Institutions of legitimation: structures or constitutions of “social legitimacy”. Socially legitimate – in one of a few ways – is quite what people usually mean when they call a plumber a ‘real pro’, or when they say that some activity was accomplished ‘professionally’.

        Is the phrase social legitimacy really – yeesh – so magnetic of incredulous theatrics?

        WhatEVer

        I did begin to tease out the poetic internal government of The Snow Man – to impregnable incomprehension and, as here, wan stridency.

        priest-talk

        That would be a conversationally circummurred way of characterizing: softer notion, scale [from] wince [to] nod and smile, open to some interpretation, requisite feel, that ambiguity, skill is obvious, nothing like science, No one […] can know.

        One could also use these phrases in an unmystical way:

        [h]owever unscientific the discussion [might] be, it [wouldn’t] have to be illogical or unreasonable

        – which a ‘logical, reasonable’ conversationalist might accept of some particular use of ineffable (‘impossible to define incontrovertibly’ – especially by way of slogans).

        seem to be trying

        Wrong again, Marcus.

        You were not busy with your discernment of ‘poetry’ from ‘prose’ when you advanced these predications of poets and/or poems qua poets and/or poems: excellence, excellent, pretty good, better, quality, proficiency, malpractice.

        Likewise, you were not talking about the difference(s) between ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’ when you implied that, apart from “modernist and postmodernist poetry”, there might be [some] way to tell whether one poet is a better poet, or one poem is a better poem, than another – you were talking about poets and poems qua poetry.

        You still haven’t explained, given your assertion that there are “better poet[s]” and “better poem[s]”, what the scales, the instruments, and the external rules are, by virtue of which these qualitative distinctions can be understood.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 23, 2010 at 4:31 am

        Notevensuperficial said: “I used the phrase “institutions of legitimation” in order to pick out what I mean by ‘professional as opposed to amateur’ – at the same time, and subsequently, pointing out and agreeing with others’ pointing out that each term has other useful meanings.”

        But this means that your view of ‘professional’ is always and only a matter of acclaim or compensation, and not so much a matter of competence or commitment. To have a reputation as a professional is enough – one need not be competent in or committed to a field, so long as one has good PR. As long as ‘institutions of legitimation’ are willing to certify you as a professional, you are then a professional. But this is the problem with what Mr Brady called ‘foets’ and ‘foetry’, if I understand his terminology correctly. You’re saying that the Jorie Grahams of the world are perfectly legitimate professionals so long as they can somehow keep the ‘institutions of legitimation’ certifying them. You have no dog in the fight about competence, integrity, diligence, to say nothing of any standards of excellence – so long as one can be certified as a professional one is, in your view, a professional. How very postmodern of you. How priestly.

        Notevensuperficial said: “I did begin to tease out the poetic internal government of The Snow Man…”

        And I pointed out that if you put the last word or two in each line at the beginning of the following lines, straight through the poem, you do it no harm at all. In fact, most people not pretty intimate with the poem wouldn’t even notice the changed line breaks, and even some of them wouldn’t, either. That argues strongly that the line breaks are irrelevant to the poem, and, thus, that there is nothing resembling ‘the poetic internal government’ of the poem. If the line breaks don’t matter, then it’s prose.

        Notevensuperficial said: “… You were not busy with your discernment of ‘poetry’ from ‘prose’ when you advanced these predications of poets and/or poems qua poets and/or poems: excellence, excellent, pretty good, better, quality, proficiency, malpractice. Likewise, you were not talking about the difference(s) between ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’ when you implied that, apart from “modernist and postmodernist poetry”, there might be [some] way to tell whether one poet is a better poet, or one poem is a better poem, than another – you were talking about poets and poems qua poetry.You still haven’t explained, given your assertion that there are “better poet[s]” and “better poem[s]“, what the scales, the instruments, and the external rules are, by virtue of which these qualitative distinctions can be understood.”

        When I speak of ‘poetry’ I refer to ‘language in meter’. I’ve said that the scale you ask for is ‘competence to write in meter’, the eternal rules are the rules of meter, whatever they may be in a given time and place and language, and the instrument that uses the scale and the rules is the human audience for poems.

        On the other hand, you have fallen back on “It’s ineffable”, the refuge of scoundrels, to try to explain the rules of free verse. Once again, to say ‘It’s ineffable’ is to surrender the field. You may as well admit you’ve got nothing – no rules, no scale, no instrument, and be done with it.

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 23, 2010 at 5:26 am

        always and only

        Marcus, don’t you even read the sentences you copy?

        Here; I’ll type them again for you to copy without comprehension (?) again: “at the same time, and subsequently, pointing out and agreeing with others’ pointing out that each term has other useful meanings“. Each term being “professional” and “amateur”; other meanings meaning ‘in other contexts than the one I’ve specified as primary in my usage, which “other meanings” are not less practical or true for being, in my usage, secondary’.

        Institutions of legitimation represent something less than ‘absolute or objective truth’, but something more than mere PR.

        Acknowledging an instance of legitimation doesn’t condemn the acknowledger to accepting it rotely – a critical apprehension of both the reputation and its social constitution would be the consequence of sensing the effect of legitimation as such.

        Institutions of legitimation are diminished – often fatally, as with Graham’s prize-giving effectiveness, that I can tell – when they come into the perspective of “institutions of legitimation”.

        It’s a priestly dimness that needs this kind of gradual, then sudden, increase in candle-power.

        And I pointed out

        And you (still) pointed out something incorrect.

        [in response to “by virtue of which these qualitative distinctions can be understood”] ‘competence to write in meter’, rules of meter, human audience for poetry

        You have proposed the first two, Marcus, but I still don’t see how they’re criteria that, employed properly, come to a qualitative distinction, which is embedded inextricably in terms like “competence”: How is it, specifically, that you can tell the difference in “competence” between Shakespeare’s sonnets and Meredith’s? I mean, given the relatively similar expertise of those sonnets as to their metricality?

        And now, naming as an instrument, either of measurement or judgement, of poetry, poetry’s human audience?

        “The instrument that a critic uses to make qualitative distinctions between two or more poems is: her or his membership or participation in a human audience.”

        ??

        refuge

        Where is the explanation in these expressions of yours?: softer notion; scale [from] wince [to] nod and smile; open to some interpretation; requisite feel; that ambiguity; skill is obvious; nothing like science; [n]o one [,,,] can know.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 24, 2010 at 10:05 pm

        Notevensuperficial said: “… Institutions of legitimation represent something less than ‘absolute or objective truth’, but something more than mere PR.”

        Such institutions are nothing more than mere PR in today’s po-biz, though – which is the point I’m getting at. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg; and calling a text a poem doesn’t make it a poem.

        Notevensuperficial said: “You have proposed the first two [‘competence to write in meter, rules of meter, human audience for poetry’], but I still don’t see how they’re criteria that, employed properly, come to a qualitative distinction, which is embedded inextricably in terms like “competence”: How is it, specifically, that you can tell the difference in “competence” between Shakespeare’s sonnets and Meredith’s? I mean, given the relatively similar expertise of those sonnets as to their metricality?”

        Once we’ve agreed on the relatively similar expertise of those sonnets as to their metricality, we’re done – we’ve agreed (using my definition of poetry but not, I understand, yours) that they’re poetry. Now, how do we tell if one group is better than the other, or one poem is better than the other? That’s a different question than whether the poets are similarly expert, or their poems demonstrate similar expertise.

        My goal is to carefully distinguish between the ways ‘poet’ and ‘poem’ and ‘poetry’ are used – to distinguish the modern/postmodern valorizing use from the descriptive use of ‘language in meter’. The difficulty of discussing a text as ‘a poem’ when the phrase ‘a poem’ connotes ‘superior language’, and saying it’s not very good, is that there is, in that use of ‘a poem’, a cognitive dissonance to saying ‘this poem is not very good’. Free versers count on that cognitive dissonance to validate their endeavor and valorize their work.

        In the beginnings of the free verse movement most of the people concerned hadn’t read much free verse – what they’d read was poetry, language in meter. They had been pretty well-educated, for the most part, in how language in meter works, and had read a lot of examples of language in meter. Now, however, I know retired university professors who have spent entire careers declaring that they have never read Tennyson, and are determined never to do so; people who have only read free verse, who have not only very little, but really no idea at all of what language in meter is, does, or was intended for. They’ve been teaching students for generations. The culture of literature in the US is the culture of free verse; free versers have now usurped the terms ‘a poem’, ‘poetry’, and ‘poet’ so thoroughly that anyone daring to write something other than free verse is referred to dismissively as ‘a formalist’, and not as a poet at all.

        I think too much ground has been ceded to the free versers.

  27. thomasbrady said,

    June 19, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Were the 1919 Black Sox professionals? No, they were criminals. If a professional cheats, they are lower than an amateur. Were Ransom and his friends professionals? Nah, not really. They were cheats, obfuscators, not honorable persons of letters. Professional should certainly not mean ‘cheap respect.’ If Dickinson was not able to be a professional because of sexism, then sexism prevented her from being a professional; and, sadly, she was not a professional. She, alas, did not contribute to society. This is not a rebuke to Miss Emily, only a request we keep our terms clear.

    I think we have to keep our definitions based on what is good for society, not on hair-splitting, milk-and-water argument.

    Marcus argues that calling prose poetry doesn’t make it poetry. Fine. Let us make a distinction between verse and poetry. ‘Verse’ is an unfortunate term, especially when placed beside ‘poetry.’ Either the versifiers must move up in terminology or the poets, down. Since I doubt the poets will voluntarily give up ‘poetry’ or ‘poet,’ it is up to the versifiers or the formalists to come up with something new. Perhaps metrics, metrical writer. Search other languages, loot from the caverns of all language some term that will advertise the exotic thrill of what versification can be.

    Didn’t some metrical writers use the term ‘ballads’ or even ‘songs?’ Yes, all the time. Today, however, the formalists keep calling their work ‘poetry.’ That’s dumb.

    I also don’t see why it wouldn’t be useful to emphasize the full palette of the person of letters; the ability to write criticism, essays, short fiction, poetry (exotic prose), sonnets, ballads, songs, odes, and so forth…insist that Letters or literature be all of these things and make the writer who specializes feel unwanted; rebuke the narrow, worship the all-round.

    And I absolutely do think there is something intrinsically good in the pursuit of musical language.

    Oh, and finally, there’s nothing “regular,” by definition, to verse: http://www.eapoe.org/works/essays/ratlvrs1.htm

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 19, 2010 at 10:28 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “Marcus argues that calling prose poetry doesn’t make it poetry. Fine. Let us make a distinction between verse and poetry. ‘Verse’ is an unfortunate term, especially when placed beside ‘poetry.’ Either the versifiers must move up in terminology or the poets, down. Since I doubt the poets will voluntarily give up ‘poetry’ or ‘poet,’ it is up to the versifiers or the formalists to come up with something new. Perhaps metrics, metrical writer. Search other languages, loot from the caverns of all language some term that will advertise the exotic thrill of what versification can be.”

      Rot. Let the free versers call what they do prose, since they have eliminated meter, which for 2500 years and more has distinguished poetry from prose. They are proud of not writing in meter, and good for them – but to let them usurp the term is to let them usurp whatever social value goes with it. Let them find their own term, and earn their own social value by being good at it. Poetry is language in meter; language not in meter is prose.

      Thomasbrady said: “Didn’t some metrical writers use the term ‘ballads’ or even ‘songs?’ Yes, all the time. Today, however, the formalists keep calling their work ‘poetry.’ That’s dumb.”

      Maybe you’re right. Maybe formalists ought to call what they do “The Real Poetry” or “The Original Poetry” in order to distinguish their product from the fake stuff on the market.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 19, 2010 at 11:28 pm

        “Let the free versers call what they do prose”

        They won’t, Marcus. Not in a million years. That’s my point.

        Which is kind of funny when you think about it. “Poetry” doesn’t sell, but the free-versers (who write prose) want it.

        Your wish seems one that ought to be granted.

        But look at it from the free-versers’ perspective: what can they possibly call ‘the things’ they produce? Things? There’s no name for the ‘things’ they produce. Essays, perhaps? Brief Essays By W.S Merwin. ‘Free Verse Essays?’ It just won’t fly. If you take a term, let’s say, like ‘lyric prose,’ what do you call the pieces themselves? Prose Lyrics? Prose Lyrics by Billy Collins. People will say, “Prose lyrics? That doesn’t sound very appetizing!”

        If we might get right to the heart of the matter, the two kinds of writing we are really talking about are the artificial and the natural, natural being how people talk. Fat novels are consumed by dullards because the dullard recognizes human speech. The free verser and the formalist, however, both present artificial speech. This similarity, both in the popular mind, and scientifically, is what makes it poetry.

        As Poe says in “The Rationale of Verse,’ great verse has both harmony and melody. No one ever discusses this, and here’s the thing: one versifier in a million can bring real melody to their verse. It’s probably the most difficult thing to pull off in all art. Music can do it quite easily; music has that additional charm, not just rhythm, but melody. Poetry, in most cases does not, but the best verse can, and I think the poets today have lost that ability, and so mere artificiality is what finally makes itself felt to the public in both free verse and the so-called verse which the amateurs make today. But given the artificiality of the endeavor, even well done, verse will not be tolerated for long upon perusal (a long poem does not exist in the modern era), and most of it, the verse that is not done well, (because it is so hard to do) is painful to the reader. Who is a professional verse poet today? What English speaking person on the planet currently makes their living by writing verse? The creature does not exist. So, either verse is too minor and artificial a product, or no writer today can do it well enough.

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 20, 2010 at 1:25 pm

        Thomasbrady said: “The [free versers] won’t [let what they write be called prose] … Not in a million years. That’s my point.”

        They won’t have to – future generations will. The free verse experiment is an abject failure. It’s produced a hundred years’ worth of squashy crap, and that’s about all we need. I prefer my crap crisp and well-crafted.

        Thomasbrady said: “But look at it from the free-versers’ perspective, what can they possibly call ‘the things’ they produce? … Prose Lyrics?”

        Good enough. How about ‘flash fiction’? Or ‘diary entries’? Just not ‘poetry’!

        Thomasbrady said: “If we might get right to the heart of the matter, the two kinds of writing we are really talking about are the artificial and the natural, natural being how people talk.”

        I disagree. All art is artificial. The moment you start selecting these details and eliminating those details, you’ve got the map and not the terrain. You cannot provide the complete experience you had to another person – the best you can do is provide a map and hope that they’ll find the terrain for themselves.

  28. thomasbrady said,

    June 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Marcus,

    You wrote in your reply to notevensuperficial:

    “The problem I have with this appellation is that amateurs, even the best of them, don’t accumulate a body of work. The ‘gifted amateur’ takes up an endeavor, discovers a gift for it, does extraordinarily well for a season or so, and then moves on…”

    This “body of work” idea is very suspect. If you want to compare Poe and Dickinson as ‘professionals,’ the former is a thousand times more ‘professional’ than the latter—precisely because he ‘moved on’ so often, not bothering to “acumulate a body of work…” Poe invented and mastered so many genres because he ‘moved on;’ his pedagogical value was precisely in ‘showing an example or two to demonstrate all sorts of various insights’ rather than merely “accumulating a body of work” in one area as she did… Dickinson basically did one thing: wrote a lot of poems which were very similar, some of them terrific, some of them wretched, while Poe produced Criticism, fiction, poetry, scientific treatises, secret writing treatises, essays of all kinds, journalism…Poe was the Ideal Professional…Dickinson was an inspired amateur…

    Then to me you just wrote: “All art is artificial.”

    But there are degrees of artificiality. As works of art, an epistolary novel is less artificial, an autobiographical novel is less artificial, a common sense essay is far less artificial than a poem by Ashbery or Keats.

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “This ‘body of work’ idea is very suspect. If you want to compare Poe and Dickinson as ‘professionals,’ the former is a thousand times more ‘professional’ than the latter—precisely because he ‘moved on’ so often, not bothering to ‘acumulate a body of work’…”

      I agree that to use the ‘body of work’ notion in the way that one of my professors used to joke he graded papers – by throwing the stack of papers down the stairs, and giving the higher grades to the ones that went the furthest – is a suspect idea, which was the joke, of course. Poe left a ‘body of work’ in literature; so did Dickinson – to my mind that makes them each a pro. That Poe’s body of work is diverse and Dickinson’s is all poems is not an argument that one of them is superior, any more than throwing their respected collected works down the stairs and giving the nod as ‘better’ to the one whose book goes further is. Each is an acquired taste, just as every other artist is an acquired taste. I’m not all that in favor of ranking in the first place (not in favor of ranking ‘in the first place’! hoot hoot), though I am in favor of saying “Read this!” to people until they find something that they can acquire a taste for.

      Thomasbrady said: “But there are degrees of artificiality. As works of art, an epistolary novel is less artificial, an autobiographical novel is less artificial, a common sense essay is far less artificial than a poem by Ashbery or Keats.”

      I still disagree. Journalism is fiction by selection. Lab reports are fiction by selection. The trick to any sort of representation is not only what to put in but what to leave out in order to provide the audience with a reasonable facsimile of the thing itself so that they can recognize it if they’ve experienced it, or recognize it when they get to it. There is no such thing as ‘natural’ writing or even ‘non-fiction’ writing, in a philosophical sense, though of course we distinguish between different sorts of intention by the writers.

  29. thomasbrady said,

    June 20, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Marcus,

    Leaving aside what we may or may not ‘like,’ the definition of a professional writer has got to come down to pedagogical elevation of a nation’s Letters. If school children studied nothing but Dickinson, they would be semi-illiterate; I must respectfully disagree; Poe v. Dickinson on the ‘professional question’ is not simply a matter of “acquired taste.” You are a tiger when it comes to rhyme, but a pussycat when it comes to pedagogy.

    On the second point, you are flying in the face of nearly all commentary on the subject when you claim all writing is equally artificial. So Wordsworth, TS Eliot, and almost everybody is wrong to complain of ‘artificiality’ in poetry?

    You would have an ally in Valery, I suppose, who believed the more artificial, the better, but you seem to be going further by saying the question is moot, that it’s all artificial, but there is something called natural speech, there is something called popular taste, and these are factors, whether you want them to be or not.

    Tom

  30. Marcus Bales said,

    June 21, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Thomasbrady said: “Leaving aside what we may or may not ‘like,’ the definition of a professional writer has got to come down to pedagogical elevation of a nation’s Letters.”

    When it comes to pedagogy, there is little reason to distinguish amateur from professional writer – it’s a matter, instead, of two things: first, inculcating common cultural references, and, second, finding a way into each student’s consciousness with a writer with whom that student resonates. You want to make sure the children are familiar with the range of literature, and try to find something within that range that they can use as a point of entry beyond mere ‘familiarity with a common cultural heritage’ – you want them to fall a little in love with some writer so you can use that writer as the camel’s nose under the tent of their ignorance. Doesn’t work in most cases no matter how hard you try. Most people are just not that into art.

    Thomasbrady said: “On the second point, you are flying in the face of nearly all commentary on the subject when you claim all writing is equally artificial. So Wordsworth, TS Eliot, and almost everybody is wrong to complain of ‘artificiality’ in poetry?”

    Don’t forget Dryden. But those folks were talking about trying to revitalize a moribund style. Eliot went too far, and threw out the metrical baby with the Victorian bathwater. But he, Wordsworth, Dryden, and countless others in historical cycles before them, objected to the worn-out modalities of the style of art dominant in their youths. They were not arguing that only some writing is artificial and other writing is natural – they were arguing that times had changed, and the idioms of the immediately prior generations had lost their metaphorical and linguistic punches. They argued that what was needed was a new style. Though they often couched their proposed revolutions in style in terms of ‘the speech of the common man’, they did definitely not mean that there is a way to make art out of language with some kind of ‘natural speech’. They wanted to replace one artificial manner with another – one that sounded better, more contemporaneous, to them. But look at it: the tone and manner and style of the Eliotic generation is nothing like the ‘natural’ speech of the common person. Polyphilopgrogenitive, my ass. Yeah, that’s what you hear a lot of in the local saloon.

    Thomasbrady said: “You would have an ally in Valery, I suppose, who believed the more artificial, the better, but you seem to be going further by saying the question is moot, that it’s all artificial, but there is something called natural speech, there is something called popular taste, and these are factors, whether you want them to be or not.”

    The difference between what’s art and what’s natural has something,
    but only something, to do with boundaries. What’s natural has no
    boundaries: it goes on and on. Art is boundaried. The artist, the
    poet, creates the boundary, and presents what’s inside as art. Merely
    framing the natural, though, is not enough. The framer must intend to
    make art in order to claim to make art — and that intent has to come
    across to the audience within the work, not merely because of the
    possible claim to art that a frame can, but does not necessarily all
    by itself, make.

    Art requires that a good deal more self-knowledge and intellectual
    honesty comes across through the work than a mere frame can provide.
    Art is not merely overcoming technical difficulties, or finding a way
    around them, or art would be merely technique. Art is a complicated
    complex of intention and reception of that intention coming across
    from artist to audience through a made thing. Some three-dimensional
    objects are art; some are not. Some painted surfaces are art; some
    are not. Some collections of words are art; some are not. Some
    movements through space are art; some are not.

    Art is artificial. That word, “artificial”, though, is a word that
    can bring unhelpful connotations with it, like comparing artificial
    daffodils with real ones. It seems to imply inferiority. Well, art is
    inferior to nature; it is inferior to experience. It is a good deal
    less than the natural, a good deal less than the experienced. Art is
    a presentation of an interpretation of a perception of reality, not
    reality; it is a map, not the terrain. No matter how eloquently we
    may speak of the container of art holding the soup of reality, the
    yap is not the tureen. Art is a human comment on reality, not reality
    itself, and that’s why art must be regarded, by definition, as
    artificial.

    Sometimes a poem, or a painting, or work in some other medium seems
    to flow so easily that the artist believes he or she is in possession
    of some natural force, or is possessed by it. But I hold that it’s
    more likely that those events happen when the artist is practiced
    enough in his or her techniques and ideas that the experience does
    indeed feel “spontaneous”. But “spontaneous”, is different from
    “artificial” and “natural”. I think “spontaneous” is a good term for
    that marvelous concatenation of circumstances that produces a piece
    of art almost whole, in a continuous rush of effort — but it’s still
    not “natural” in the sense that breathing is natural.

    I think it’s important to distinguish two different uses of the
    notions of “natural” here. Confusion ensues if we’re not careful to
    keep in mind that when we call someone “a natural” with regard to a
    skill set such as baseball or poetry, we mean a different thing than
    calling a tree fallen across a ravine “a natural bridge”. To call
    someone “a natural” at baseball or poetry is using “natural”
    metaphorically — not as a claim that there are people who, by virtue
    of their hard-wired genetic abilities are baseball players or poets —
    as if there were some deliberate end-point to evolutionary
    development that resulted in baseball players or poets. It’s simply
    not true: there is no endpoint, there is no intention, there is no
    boundary to evolution; it is natural. Boundaries created
    intentionally by humans who take a set of skills applied to a
    particular set of problems, and label them “baseball player” or
    “poet” are artificial, and the tension between the boundaries and the
    skills can, but do not necessarily, create art. Not only is not every
    boundary art, not even every intentional boundary is art.

    Why do we not call, for example, basketball “art” but we do call
    ballet “art”? What distinguishes sport from art? Why is the
    spontaneity of basketball not considered art while the practiced
    choreography of the dance is? Why do we think of the practiced
    choreography of the Harlem Globetrotters as at least artful, while
    the spontaneity of ballroom dancing is not? Why do we not call, for
    example, a bridge “art” but we do call a mobile “art”? What
    distinguishes engineering, if anything does, from art? Can basketball
    or bridge-building rise to the level of art from time to time?

    That “it just poured out” is not good evidence that one’s poem is
    “natural” or that there is a “natural way” to write poetry. One may
    happily find from time to time that one’s facility has become so
    practiced that one can write out a whole poem “as if it were
    dictated” or “as if an afflatus” had taken one or the like. But happy
    as those occurrences may be, amazing as the experience is, that such
    effusions happen is not evidence that there is a “natural” way to
    write poems that trumps the “artificial” way of writing. If that were
    the case then every revision would necessarily be a worsening of the
    original. Those who want to make a claim for “natural” art are pretty
    much obliged to reject the very notion of revision. It is by
    practice, by writing and more writing and revision and more revision
    in pursuit of deliberately creating a frame and content that not only
    expresses one’s meaning, but that gets that meaning across to one’s
    intended audience, that transmutes the effort, the intent, and the
    content into art. Sometimes it all comes together easily; more often
    not. But that it comes together easily sometimes is not evidence that
    only then one is creating art.

    Art is a made thing as opposed to a found thing. Not every made thing
    is art, but all art has to be made, not found. We don’t say that the
    cliffs of Dover are art, nor the Grand Canyon, for example — well,
    there might be some religious folks who say that God is the Artist
    and so they are art after all, but that, too, is a metaphor, not a
    useful beginning for criticism, or a definition, of art.

    Some will say “But we’re part of nature too”, and that the urge to
    explore through making is an important aspect of human nature. But
    “human nature” is different from “nature” in the sense we’re talking
    about when we distinguish “artificial” from “natural” — another
    merely terminological confusion. Even if we agree that it is human
    nature to create boundaries, it is implicit in “create boundaries”
    that there exists some larger unboundaried area. I hold that not
    every boundary is artful, however intentional.

    To say that making art is artificial, though, is not to say making
    art is unnatural. The term “unnatural” usually carries with it some
    seriously negative meanings, while the term “artificial” is much more
    ambiguous with regard to negative meaning. This seems to be a matter
    of connotation: many people think of “artificial” as “unnatural” in
    the sense of “unnatural acts”, in the sense of something prima facie
    bad, because they unknowingly, or deliberately, substitute
    “unnatural” for “artificial”. That’s a pretty significant
    substitution, it seems to me. But I don’t mean art is “artificial” in
    any such sense. Rather I mean art is artificial in the sense that it
    is “human-made” as opposed to “found in nature”.

    An airplane is an artificial bird, though it doesn’t fly like a bird;
    a submarine is an artificial fish, though it doesn’t swim like a
    fish; a poem is an artificial person, though it doesn’t exist like a
    person. A lot of misunderstanding about what poems are, and what they
    can do, and what they can’t do, may be cleared up by keeping in mind
    that a poem is as artificial as a plane or a submarine: that it is a
    made thing intended to do something artificially that made things
    don’t do naturally.

    Art is artifice, an artificed thing, an artificial thing. The very
    notion that a poem can “be natural” is absurd. The best you can do is
    to create the illusion of naturalness by artificial means — by
    picking this word instead of that, this phrase instead of that, this
    tone or manner or mode or style instead of that, by creating a
    “voice”. To create and then speak in such a “voice” is the essence of
    the artificiality, of the artifice, of art: it is a creation of the
    intention to express and get something across, something important,
    or significant, or both, using one’s medium.

  31. thomasbrady said,

    June 21, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Marcus,

    You wrote:

    “When it comes to pedagogy, there is little reason to distinguish amateur from professional writer – it’s a matter, instead, of two things: first, inculcating common cultural references, and, second, finding a way into each student’s consciousness with a writer with whom that student resonates. You want to make sure the children are familiar with the range of literature, and try to find something within that range that they can use as a point of entry beyond mere ‘familiarity with a common cultural heritage’ – you want them to fall a little in love with some writer so you can use that writer as the camel’s nose under the tent of their ignorance. Doesn’t work in most cases no matter how hard you try. Most people are just not that into art.”

    I don’t think you’re aware of the depth of Poe’s pedagogy; it’s similar to Plato’s; it involves more than “art;” Poe had a Socratic view of art and art’s illusion; I agree with you that art is artificial, that it’s a made thing and not a found or natural thing; Poe, like Socarates, like any good political philosopher, was ‘building’ a republic, and this vision guides everything else, whether it’s a grammar or prosody textbook (and Poe wrote on grammar, prosody, scientific subjects, not just ‘art’) or a political treatise or a satire or an essay on aesthetics, or a poem that jingles. (How does it jingle? Does it jingle well?). The idea is not just giving a man fish (“common cultural references”) but teaching him how to fish (to see through sophistry and pedantry, to love harmony and truth and beauty, etc) Another example to add to Socartes and Poe would be Bach’s well-tempered clavier, a lesson on scales and keys that was so pedagogically powerful it also happens to be the most beautiful music ever written, perhaps…Bach isn’t natural!

    You also seem happy to believe that Wordsworth and others agree with you. You’re very polemical, but that means you ought to know who your friends are. For instance, I am your friend. William Wordsworth is not.

    You mentioned Dryden and others, but you included Wordsworth when you disagreed with me and said they were not supporting common speech, or the natural, they were just looking for a “new style.” Do you really believe this?

    Let me quote a popular poetry textbook’s introduction (“Understanding Poetry,” Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks) third edition, 1961. This is how the book opens:

    “Wordsworth called the poet a man speaking to men. Poetry is a form of speech, written or spoken.”

    Later on in the introduction, we get this:

    “By the very nature of the human being, the ordinary citizen in the ordinary day speaks much of what we might call incipient poetry—he attempts to communicate attitudes, feelings, and interpretations, including ideas. And poetry in this sense is not confined to the speech of the ordinary citizen. It appears also in editorials, sermons, political speeches, advertisements, and magazine articles—even if it is usually not recognized as poetry.”

    Later in the same intro: “all poetry…involves a dramatic organization…every poem implies a speaker of the poem…”

    And it sums up: “poetry has a basis in common human interests…the poet is a man speaking to men…every poem is, at center, a little drama…”

    This view is ubiquitious, Marcus, and has been for at least two generations now; this textbook is not in any way, shape, or form, supporting your idea that poetry is metrical language.

    Professors Brooks & Penn Warren strongly disagree with you. And from whence do you think that disagreement springs?

    I completely agree with your ideas on natural and artificial, by the way, but if I may say so, I just don’t think you are fully aware of what you’re up against!

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “…You also seem happy to believe that Wordsworth and others agree with you….”

      Wordsworth, like Eliot after him, and Dryden and countless others before him, wanted his own kind of poetry to be the dominant kind of poetry so that he could continue to write the kind of poetry he wanted to write without being marginalized for it. I think he’d agree with that.

      Thomasbrady said: “You mentioned Dryden and others, but you included Wordsworth when you disagreed with me and said they were not supporting common speech, or the natural, they were just looking for a “new style.” Do you really believe this?”

      Dryden, Wordsworth, Eliot, and all the previous rest before them weren’t looking for a new style – they’d more or less created one, and they were trying to get it accepted as the new style in place of the old style..Their rhetorical reasons were to get back to the ‘common speech’ — for that matter, Sophocles,criticized Aeschylus and the old style, and Euripides criticized Sophocles and HIS old style, and they, too, did it in the name of ‘common speech’, two thousand years earlier. It’s always ‘the common speech’ that the new style claims to be associated with. But the old style has always itself rebelled against an ‘old style’ in order to get closer to ‘the common speech’. The problem is that common speech keeps changing, so the literary arts have to keep changing with it.

      My objection to the Ford-Lowell-Pound-Eliot-Williams revolution isn’t to their rhetoric about the common speech, but to their going too far by claiming that meter, instead of an outmoded style of speech within meter, was the problem.

      Thomasbrady said: “Let me quote a popular poetry textbook’s introduction (“Understanding Poetry,” Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks) third edition, 1961. … this textbook is not in any way, shape, or form, supporting your idea that poetry is metrical language.”

      You’re right – it was written by the theorists of the Ford-Lowell-Pound-Eliot-Williams (and Warren, btw) type of poetry. On the other hand, Brooks and Warren don’t argue that language with meter is outmoded or ought to be discarded. They argue that we readers must take poetry as we find it – as, essentially, poets say it is. If poets write in meter, then as a reader you’ve got to know enough about meter to appreciate what the poets are doing. If they don’t, then you’ve got to know enough about the theories behind free verse to appreciate what the poets are doing. All very well, as far as it goes – but I argue that it doesn’t go far enough. Of course in the late 50s when this book was being prepared for press, the free verse movement was flourishing, and at the same time people such as Frost, Auden, Hecht, Larkin, Wilbur, Snodgrass, et al., were publishing widely-appreciated language in meter, and Yeats and Robinson had only just died about 20 years back. They took poetry as they found it. They didn’t really argue that poetry was or wasn’t ‘language in meter’ – they took for granted that poetry was what poets said it was.

      It was all very exciting, then, but the Brooks-Warren book is primarily about eliminating the Affective Fallacy from poetry criticism, and not about what poetry is or is not. As Brooks and Warren looked at it, there was no break between ‘formalist’ and ‘free verse’ poets – there were just poets, some of whom used one mode, some of whom used another, and some of whom used both. The goal, as Brooks and Warren saw it, was not to try to define poetry, but to try to refine poetry criticism, so that biographical detail and the critic’s own emotional response to a given poem, ceased to be the dominant mode in poetry criticism. Brooks and Warren weren’t worried about what was, or would be, the dominant mode in poetry itself; their attitude seemed to me then, and seems to me now looking at their work, again, in retrospect, to be concerned with how to read what poets said were poems, not with proscribing one or another approach to writing poetry.

      Thomasbrady said: “Professors Brooks & Penn Warren strongly disagree with you. And from whence do you think that disagreement springs?”

      I think professors Brooks and Warren are largely indifferent to my thesis, or would be if they were alive. Further, contemporary critics and poets, for the most part, feel that Brooks and Warren got it wrong – that there is and ought to be a strong element of the critic’s emotional response to the poem in the critic’s evaluation of a poem, and that biographical detail, far from being irrelevant, as Brooks and Warren argued, is of the essence – if, in their postmodern view, they thought there was any essence at all.

      My argument is mostly with the postmodernists, who have taken the worst of modernism and emphasized it, and who have thrown out the most reasonable and moderate parts. Which generation of poets was it that needed to, finally, institute the “Jorie Graham Rule”, after all? Was it Brooks and Warren’s? was it Frost’s and Robinson’s and Yeats’s? Was it Wilbur’s and Hecht’s and Larkin’s? It was the people who figured out that the po-biz was a way to make a living without having to gain any expertise in anything; who discarded the notion that there is better and worse writing, that there is good and bad anything, that art is what anyone says it is. They discovered that they could get jobs and live pretty well by blurbing each others’ work, recommending each other for tenure and awarding each other prizes and publication. Cronyism won the day, not any particular theory of poetry – the cronies simply picked the very easiest way to crank out text (and are at it still today with flarf and its derivatives) so that there was a book to point to as evidence of work by the writer. But of course it had long since ceased to matter if the work was good or bad – that it existed at all was enough.

      The claim that poetry is language in meter strikes at the root of the corruption, by claiming that the work as published is a fraud – that it isn’t poetry at all.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 21, 2010 at 8:10 pm

        Marcus,

        I was part of the “Jorie Graham Rule” movement because Po-Biz stunk and I, like most, smelled a rat.

        I noticed that foets would often defend themselves by saying, “Hey, what’s the problem? Poets have always stuck together.”

        It got me thinking: what if foetry is not just a recent Jorie Graham thing; what if it’s got a long history?

        Turns out, it does.

        Post-modernism may be the best of Modernism thrown out and the worst of Modernism kept, as you say, but to respond to your observation that Jorie Graham’s generation was the first charged with foetry, here’s why: Post-modernism is critiqued and questioned, but Modernism is untouchable. No one dares to question Modernism. It’s so untouchable that Leftist scholars worship it in the face of its overt fascism. It’s the strangest thing in the world, and I’m not sure why Modernism gets a free pass.

        Maybe you, or someone else, can help me out.

        We can leave the question of Modernism’s free pass aside for the time being, or ship it off to the Bermuda Triangle of Mysteries never Solved, but here’s the thing: Poets should never stick together.

        If poetry doesn’t have a public, if poetry is controlled by a relatively small group who stick together, who are able to award and validate themselves, knowing human nature, is it any surprise that poetry itself will become watery, diluted, weak, and controlled by self-awarding, strong personalities?

        Take democracy out of the equation, and perhaps you’ll get geniuses who aren’t forced to ‘dumb down’ their work, and who will produce, in an ivory tower environment, works of pure genius.

        Or, you’ll get the result you observe when you write, “It was the people who figured out that the po-biz was a way to make a living without having to gain any expertise in anything; who discarded the notion that there is better and worse writing, that there is good and bad anything, that art is what anyone says it is. They discovered that they could get jobs and live pretty well by blurbing each others’ work, recommending each other for tenure and awarding each other prizes and publication. Cronyism won the day, not any particular theory of poetry.”

        When you impose good/bad on writing, you set up the ‘critic-villain’ trope; it’s one thing when the professor tells a student, ‘this is bad,’ but when the poets are all professors, who is going to tell them their poetry is bad? This is why, I think, the notion that a poet would be a professor, and contemporary poetry would flourish within the university was heresy for so many years. John Crowe Ransom and his friends changed all that (by the way, the first edition of “Understanding Poetry” came out in the late 30s, about the same time that Iowa became the first Creative Writing Program university).

        When I asked you ‘from whence did this idea of poetry = ordinary speech spring’ I did not mean Brooks & Warren, but Wordsworth, for he may have been working up a ‘new style’ in poetry, but the accompanying philosophy was much more powerful and influential: the poetry standard you rightfully demand, Marcus, is undermined precisely by this philosophy: ordinary people don’t use meter, therefore meter should wither away. I’m asking you to recognize the Wordsworth-Eliot-Brooks movement that is making your dreams irrelevant.

        I agree with you that Brooks & Warren and their ideas are finally not that important and one cannot finally blame them for destroying poetry, but they were following through on the agenda which gave license to watering down poetry in the name of ‘well this is what the ordinary people want.’ (And what finally happens to Art and Education governed by the ‘ordinary?’)

        And when push comes to shove, it’s not the theories of poetry that matter as much as how poetry is motivated to be made, in what system it operates; is poetry being made within a wider context of pedagogical uplift by a fully independent, highly critical, highly philosophical writer, like Poe, or is it being made in a narrow, precious, completely self-interested manner where poets-who-only-practice-poetry gather together in back-scratching cliques who ride manifestos and movements in which the ‘new’ conveniently becomes an excuse to be ‘revolutionary’ and ‘experimental’ in ways that are completely obscure and fraudulent?

        Marcus, Poe was such a force, such a powerful counter-example, that he had to be abused by Ransom, Brooks and Warren and a host of other Modernists—and he was.

        Poets have to care about their society. If they stick together as poets, they’ll end up becoming foets. This is the Socratic critique. Philosophy (of poetry) can’t be controlled by living poets banding together in self-interested guilds (which is what they are now in the univeristy). True criticism is necessary. Not that the poets in the university don’t have a ‘philosophy.’ Of course they do. They got it from Wordsworth. It’s just that it’s more a shallow ‘defense’ than a disinterested philosophy.

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 21, 2010 at 9:58 pm

        Thomasbrady said: “… I noticed that foets would often defend themselves by saying, “Hey, what’s the problem? Poets have always stuck together.” It got me thinking: what if foetry is not just a recent Jorie Graham thing; what if it’s got a long history? Turns out, it does.”

        I’m not sure how far you’re going back, here, when you say ‘it’s got a long history’, but it’s one thing to have a sort of ‘Poetry Manufacturer’s Association’ whose members are poets whose works have met with commercial success, who hang out together down at the Mermaid or the Rose, and encourage and criticize one another (though Dryden no doubt thought Rochester went too far by hiring thugs to beat Dryden up); but it’s another when a group the members of which are self-selected rather than thrown together as the result of individual commercial success, decides who wins the prizes, who gets published, who gets the blurbs, and who gets recommended for tenure.

        Thomasbrady said: “… Post-modernism is critiqued and questioned, but Modernism is untouchable. No one dares to question Modernism. It’s so untouchable that Leftist scholars worship it in the face of its overt fascism. It’s the strangest thing in the world, and I’m not sure why Modernism gets a free pass.”

        Because Modernism allows us to write free verse, which is considerably easier to do, instead of writing in meter. Once you question the ‘breaking of the pentameter’ you more or less commit yourself to writing in SOME meter, if not in pentameter – and it’s hard to do at all, and harder to do well. Not only that, but it doesn’t take an expert in the ineffable to tell whether you’re doing it well. So long as my colleague in superficiality, and his associates, are allowed to say that the rules for writing and judging free verse are ineffable, and get away with it, so long will Modernism be untouchable. Since no one but those experts in the ineffable can tell what’s good or bad (not that they can really tell, but they pretend they can, and hire their friends), their cronyism will prevail.

        Thomasbrady said: “Poets should never stick together.”

        They should stick together out of friendship and mutual admiration, but they should not, however, be allowed to do the kind of ‘sticking together’ that makes them the sole judges of what in poetry is good and what’s bad, who’s in and who’s out, and particularly not who gets published, or who, because of prizes awarded and publication history, get jobs awarding prizes, publication, blurbs, and so on.

        Thomasbrady said: “… When you impose good/bad on writing, you set up the ‘critic-villain’ trope …”

        Long may it live. It’s not good for a poet to feel insulated from criticism – though I hasten to say that I can’t approve of Rochester’s notion of criticism.

        Thomasbrady said: “… When I asked you ‘from whence did this idea of poetry = ordinary speech spring’ I did not mean Brooks & Warren, but Wordsworth, for he may have been working up a ‘new style’ in poetry, but the accompanying philosophy was much more powerful and influential…”

        Aeshylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, again – the new poetry always claims to be closer to ordinary speech, better able to be understood by new generations, and so forth. Wordsworth was just stealing what Dryden said about Donne (was it Donne? Or was he claiming to have made poetry better than the outmoded style of Johnson and Beaumont and Fletcher?). It’s always the same story, though: as the language changes poetry changes – always, that is, until Ford Maddox Ford, a child of privilege who had been subjected to famous poets chanting their Victoriana at him, decided that the problem wasn’t that the subject matters needed updating and the language ought to be zippier, but that it was meter itself that caused the problem of tedious subjects and out-dated idioms. Pound and Lowell, those opportunists, realized right away what this meant: it meant that you didn’t have to be able to write poetry to be known as a poet. Immediately they picked up Ford’s cry and as clever lad after clever lass discovered that your diary entries were really poetry, they for the most part quit bothering with the poetry part and focused on the diary part.

        Thomasbrady said: “… Poets have to care about their society. If they stick together as poets, they’ll end up becoming foets. Criticism is necessary.”

        Well, so long as anybody’s diary entries and letters home from camp and lists of what to get from the store and received spam and such are counted as fine poetry, so long will the general public not give a rat’s ass who’s a poet and who’s not. Where there is no demand for differentiation there will be no honest criticism. That’s why I urge everyone who thinks that the status quo is appalling to declare wherever they can that poetry is language in meter, and everything else is prose. It cuts at the root of the freeversist’s self-justification to say he or she is writing prose, and he or she ought to have the decency, at long last, to finally admit it.

  32. Look and Learn said,

    June 21, 2010 at 6:14 am

  33. notevensuperficial said,

    June 22, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Sophocles criticized Aeschylus and the old style, and Euripides criticized Sophocles and HIS old style, and they, too, did it in the name of “common speech”

    Marcus, where do these ‘criticisms’ occur?

  34. Marcus Bales said,

    June 22, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Of course we have very few of the hundreds of plays by the most famous Greek tragedians, but there is a lot of talk about them and the structure of the plays, the number of characters, the type of characters, the type of language used, the commentary from Aristophanes’s “The Frogs”, through Aristotle and Plato, and Diogenes Laertes, among others, on the evolution of Greek tragedy.

    The beginnings of tragedy were in improvisation, but bit by bit the poets developed the satyr play into something more significant. The plots changed from the ludicrous language and near plotlessness of the satyr play, and some kind of dignity or weight, a change signaled by the poets by a change from one kind of meter to another – trochaic tetrameter to iambic trimeter spoken in groups of lines. The tetrameter was held to be more of a dance meter, but as the chorus developed into dialog with its head man and later with actors and then dialog among actors, and iambic trimeter was used because it seemed to work the best in their minds to convey the weight and significance that the tragedy form was evolving to produce.

    While the alternation of song and speech, sung lyric meters vs. spoken meters, chorus vs. actor(s), remained the essence of Greek tragedy, you can see the playwrights moving from formalized chanting by a chorus to interaction between actors in dialog, little by little, each playwright criticizing the previous ones by fiddling with structure, meter, number of characters, kinds of interaction, even kinds of characters.. At first, there was only the chorus, usually alternating meters to indicate happenings or commentary, and then the principal voice of the chorus was introduced, often speaking a different meter than the rest of the chorus, and then the ‘first actor’ was introduced into the structure, and the actor v chorus dichotomy was invented, and then the second actor was introduced, and there could be actor vs. actor tension, as well as tension between chorus and one actor or chorus and both actors, and later other actors were added, and later still slaves, and even women, were introduced as characters.

    Who is responsible for which step in the evolution of a Greek tragedy from an improvised communal song and dance to a presentation by a chorus for an audience that might have participated some, to a presentation by a chorus to a non-participating audience, and so on as above, there is some debate. Thespis is said to have developed the first actor and that actor’s interaction with the chorus; out of the previous structure where a head-man of the chorus speaks one meter while the chorus speaks another (though this is not a strict rule – some meters were used to indicate states of mind by whoever was speaking them). Aeshylus, as I recall, introduced the 2nd actor, and then Sophocles added a third (and once even a fourth) actor, and enlarged the chorus. Then Euripides used strong female and intelligent slave characters, and also provided something like inner lives and motives for them.

    • notevensuperficial said,

      June 23, 2010 at 4:16 am

      there is some debate

      There sure is.

      The contest in The Frogs is between Aeschylus and Euripides. Sophocles is brought up at the end, by Aeschylus, as deserving of the seat (reserved for ‘best tragic dramatist’) while Aeschylus returns to life to visit and help Athens – neither Aristophanes’s Aeschylus nor Euripides seem to me to act competitively towards Sophocles in this play. Aristophanes is characteristically quite subtle – as well as broad – in this comedy: Euripides derogates the artificiality of Aeschylus’s poetry, but it’s the perceived greater usefulness of Aeschylus’s advice, compared to Euripides’s, to the Athenians that carries the day for Aeschylus in Dionysus’s judgement.

      There’s also a major substantiation of Aristophanes’s depiction of Aeschylean/Euripidean artistic tension: Euripides’s (uncontroversially identified) ridicule, in Electra, of Aeschylean “recognition” as specifically played out in The Libation Bearers.

      But, despite its long pedigree, the line-segment, ‘Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance’ analysis of the evolution of tragic drama in the 5th c. has always struck me as being unnecessarily coarsely grained and, even on the face of it, inaccurate. An example:

      Then Euripides used strong female […] characters

      Then“? Clytemnestra? Antigone??

      And a true-to-life historical awareness of early 6th-5th. c. tragic drama without, say, Phrynicus (supposed by some to have introduced the first ‘actor’ pulled away from the chorus – supposedly “pulled away from” – and the first women characters)? Ok, you just happened not to have mentioned this source of controversy – how about Agathon, (historical) winner of the dramatic contest decided on the day of Plato’s (fictive) Symposium?

      Would you accept a ‘Big Three’ theory of Elizabethan/Jacobean dramatists/dramatic conventions? Why accept Aristotle’s rapid notebook-discussion of “tragedy” as even remotely conclusive, much less ‘scriptural’?

      — All by way of saying that I don’t think the evolution into – and, sure, some day, out of – existence of literary “Modernism” and the posties is really graspable by any but the most . . . involved of 3-D flow charts of ‘influence’.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 23, 2010 at 5:25 am

        Notevensuperficial said: “… Would you accept a ‘Big Three’ theory of Elizabethan/Jacobean dramatists/dramatic conventions? Why accept Aristotle’s rapid notebook-discussion of “tragedy” as even remotely conclusive, much less ‘scriptural’?
        —– All by way of saying that I don’t think the evolution into – and, sure, some day, out of – existence of literary “Modernism” and the posties is really graspable by any but the most . . . involved of 3-D flow charts of ‘influence’.

        Scriptural? Well, now – I was making a different sort of point! I was arguing that many generations of poets have critiqued the previous generation or generations as outmoded, and have tossed out old idiomatic conventions without tossing out meter. I was arguing that Wordsworth wasn’t doing anything new in attacking old idiomatic conventions and trying to substitute those he preferred. And I was arguing that such critiques, such tossings-out, are almost always made in the name of getting back to the common language or to roots or closer to reality, or the like.

        As for the … involution … of the 3-d flowcharts, well, it’s uncontroversial that modes of poetry do get worn out, and are replaced by new ones, and that the reason to replace them is that they are worn out, and that the new ones really are somewhat closer to the language of real men, though still awfully far away, given the demands of art and artfulness, and that it worked more or less that way for thousands of years until the Ford Lowell Pound Eliot Williams group failed to distinguish between idiom and meter, and threw out the baby of meter with the bathwater of Victorian idiom.

        Are you disagreeing with that, or only with my lack of precision, and my ignorances, in recounting the politics of poetics in the 6th and 5th c. BCE?

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 25, 2010 at 12:41 am

        such critiques […] are almost always made in the name of getting back to the common language

        The history of western poetry is well-stocked with knowing artificiality. Is “getting back to the common language” rightly “almost always”-ed here?

        – Appeals to “common language” are apt in the cases of Wordsworth and Pound, but among just their respective contemporaries, did Keats take pains to use everyday diction and commonly-acceptedly fluent syntax? or Eliot or Stevens care almost exclusively ‘to say things a person might say in the pressure of an actual situation’ (as I paraphrase Pound from memory)?

        involution

        Good synonym for ‘intrication’. inexquesimulvolution ?

        new [modes of poetry] really are somewhat closer to the language of real men

        True, this claim of verisimilitude was made by Wordsworth and Pound, but I simply think there are too many counter-examples in the history of “modes of poetry” in western civ to let this suspiciously ‘progressive’ generalization stand.

        And lots of even Pound’s fans – among whom I am – reflect his dicta about poetry only containing ‘what people would, in the pressure of some real situation, actually say’ back onto his own poetry and say, “Really, Ez?”

        disagreeing

        That the Modernists “failed to distinguish between idiom and meter” – absolutely yes.

        That the Modernists “threw out the baby of meter with the bathwater of Victorian idiom” – yes, because this filmy shell of a true perception: a) conceals – should fail to conceal – the complicated inheritance of Victorian poetry by, for one example, Eliot; and b) doesn’t begin to address the complexity, the involutions, of other influences on the Modernists.

        lack of precision

        An irascibilitated bridling at over-simplifying line-segment history on my part.

        Similarly, it also makes me aggressively corrective when philosophy folks use expressions like Plato’s idealism versus Aristotle’s realism or Cartesian rationalism versus British empiricism versus German synthesis – shells of easy distinction that should fail to conceal continuities, affinities, and inward tensions in their several seeds.

  35. thomasbrady said,

    June 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I do agree with notevensuperficial re: Dickinson, that she didn’t ‘profess’ what poetry was, (profess is the etymology of professional) so she wasn’t professional; it was her non-critical, non-pedagogical nature that helped her, I think, to make the occasional striking poem as the inspired amateur that she was.

    Dickinson’s fevered little masterpieces would have never been written had she been an editor or a school-teacher or a textbook writer. That’s just my feeling. And because she was an inspired amateur, she was invisible to her society. I read once that one of her poems appeared as having been written by Emerson, who was nothing if not a professional, though he was also a man of leisure to some degree, as well.

    I wonder what notevensuperficial and Marcus make of Socrates’ dream at the end of his life, which told the philosopher to compose verses, to “cultivate and make music,” and Socrates said verse requires story as well, and this skill Socrates lacked—he had to borrow the stories of Aesop to make verses.

    (Socrates also said philosophy was the highest music, but music in the popular sense was verse. His dream, in a sense, was exhorting him to do what he was already doing.)

    I think Marcus will always run into this philosophical or professional difficulty: you make meters, but what then? Meters of what? Meters saying what? And how can meters possibly exist on their own, saying nothing, and if they can’t, then meters cannot be all that poetry is, and once this is conceded, the cat is out of the bag.

    For let’s go further: the most perfect and lovely meters, if expressing trash or descriptions or thoughts that are vulgar or inane or preachy, will these lovely meters succeed as poetry? They will not.

    Marcus is quick to say that good verse is not superior to good prose; the key is that we recognize the difference. But here’s the rub. I assume that to recognize the difference also means, as writers, that we cultivate the difference, because merely recognizing does not go far enough. But if we cultivate this crucial difference—and here is where Marcus puts so much of his rhetorical weight—if we cultivate this difference, how are we to fill our meters with good material if we are traveling away from prose in our verse? The beautiful thing said in prose will inevitably be wrecked if distorted into the music of verse, so it seems we injure ourselves to bend to this task, I mean the one where we cultivate the difference between meters and prose.

    We need to go a step further, as professionals, and say what verse best does, and what is its rationale? To persist in long, wearying, tedious tracts written in meters, is this the goal? If form is crucial, shouldn’t we ask for a length, such as 100 lines tops, let’s say, for a piece of verse? And what is the goal? Science in verse? Story in verse? Humor in verse? Sadness in verse? Beauty in verse? Wisdom in verse? And how shall the professional man of letters unpack his portfolio? One-tenth verse, nine-tenths prose? How much essay, how much whimsy? We cannot talk vaguely of this subject if we wish to be professional. Poe talked precisely of this issue and was hung for it. The moderns don’t talk about the subject in this way at all, except in ways that never quite hit on the main point. Let’s not treat verse shabbily, let’s be nice to her, but let’s not be too vague and pedantic about the whole thing, either.

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

      Thomasbrady said: “I do agree with notevensuperficial re: Dickinson, that she didn’t ‘profess’ what poetry was, (profess is the etymology of professional) so she wasn’t professional; it was her non-critical, non-pedagogical nature that helped her, I think, to make the occasional striking poem as the inspired amateur that she was. Dickinson’s fevered little masterpieces would have never been written had she been an editor or a school-teacher or a textbook writer.”

      You guys need to meet some smart, accomplished, confident women, and put this view to them. They’ll soon set you straight about what male chauvinist piggery you’re professing here.

      Thomasbrady said: “I think Marcus will always run into this philosophical or professional difficulty: you make meters, but what then? Meters of what? Meters saying what? And how can meters possibly exist on their own, saying nothing, and if they can’t, then meters cannot be all that poetry is, and once this is conceded, the cat is out of the bag.
      For let’s go further: the most perfect and lovely meters, if expressing trash or descriptions or thoughts that are vulgar or inane or preachy, will these lovely meters succeed as poetry?”

      But just here, you see, you fall back into the trap of thinking ‘poetry’ is ‘the good stuff’ – and it’s not. Further, poetry can be about ANYthing – there is no requirement that it be beautiful, noble, inspiring, or what have you. It may be as disgusting as Homer’s account of a man being killed by a spear-thrust through his mouth, if you please, without losing the name of ‘poetry’.

      Thomasbrady said: “Marcus is quick to say that good verse is not superior to good prose;…”

      You’ve got even this wrong. I am quick to say that poetry is not superior to prose, unqualified by adjectives. It is your propensity to adjectival qualifiers, even if only fingers-crossed-behind-your-back mental ones, about poetry that I am trying to point out.

      Thomasbrady said: “… how are we to fill our meters with good material if we are traveling away from prose in our verse?”

      Any material is good material – you have the freedom of all the material in the universe. Use it wisely, Luke. How you present that material, as poetry (language in meter) or as prose (language not in meter) is your choice. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you cast your material in meter, or, simply CALL it ‘poetry’, that you’ve thereby made it any good!

      Thomasbrady said: “The beautiful thing said in prose will inevitably be wrecked if distorted into the music of verse,…”

      Art is not a zero-sum game. You don’t wreck anything by saying it in prose or poetry, though probably you’ll say it differently in each.

      Thomasbrady said: “We need to go a step further, as professionals, and say what verse best does, and what is its rationale? To persist in long, wearying, tedious tracts written in meters, is this the goal? If form is crucial, shouldn’t we ask for a length, such as 100 lines tops, let’s say, for a piece of verse?”

      I think this is a smart-guy malady, the notion that the only way to get things done is to order them done from the top down. Lenin did it, for example, and Mao for another, and it turned out very badly indeed. What you need to do is write more poetry and fewer manifestos. Remember the dictum: Big Manifesto, Small Audience.

      Thomasbrady said: “And what is the goal? Science in verse? Story in verse? Humor in verse? Sadness in verse? Beauty in verse? Wisdom in verse? And how shall the professional man of letters unpack his portfolio? One-tenth verse, nine-tenths prose? How much essay, how much whimsy? We cannot talk vaguely of this subject if we wish to be professional. Poe talked precisely of this issue and was hung for it.”

      Take a lesson. No one wants to be dictated to about what they can and cannot do, even if it is good for society, good for their work, or good for them, personally. People will experiment. Let them. Some of the experiments will succeed, whatever ‘success’ may mean in the context of the attempt, and some will not. So what? It’s impossible to be right all the time – or even most of the time. The best you can hope for is what you so derisively offer Dickinson:

      “…the occasional striking poem … fevered little masterpieces …”

      Even Homer nods. No one is good all the time, and particularly not if you take account of all the failed attempts that never see the light of day, if the poet has any brains. It is simply not the case that once you’re ‘a poet’ every golden word is, well, golden. Poetry is work, just like any other difficult endeavor, and there are going to be days, weeks, even years, when you can’t do it very well. Okay, so what? Do it anyway, if that’s your passion, and work through the slump. But don’t imagine that the crap you produce during a slump is as good as your fevered little masterpieces!

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 23, 2010 at 4:30 am

        male chauvinist piggery

        Eh?

        I repeated say that Dickinson is a great poet – “amateur” having nothing to do with ‘greatness’ in my opinion of her poems.

        I also nowhere say or even distantly imply that her exclusion from, and neglect by for decades, institutions of legitimation as a ‘poet’, even less a ‘great’ one, had any justified connection to her having been a woman.

        I don’t think anything Tom has said can reasonably be construed to be patronizing: fevered? She’s famously, belovedly, passionate; nowadays, Higgenbotham’s discomfort with her first-hand intensity is rather to his ridiculousness, isn’t it? little? They are mostly short poems.

        What can have inspired this gust of moist chivalry?

      • notevensuperficial said,

        June 23, 2010 at 4:34 am

        My mistake again – misappellative chauvinism, for sure.

        Higginson. Whom I meant here and earlier – and I guess you did, too – and not “Higgenbotham”.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 23, 2010 at 5:00 am

        Notevensuperficial said: “Higginson. Whom I meant here and earlier – and I guess you did, too – and not “Higgenbotham”.”

        Thank you, and sorry for not looking it up the first time.

  36. thomasbrady said,

    June 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Marcus,

    Come now, I’m not being chauvinist towards Dickinson; just observing a truth. Why would a “smart, accomplished, confident woman” not agree with the truth? Is there some secret professional aspect to Dickinson hidden from the world that only you know about? Please do share. You’re a bulldog when it comes to meters, but a lamb when it comes to other literary matters, it seems. I must confess this trait in you is almost charming. “Even Homer nods.” Yes, exactly. I’m not saying anything about Miss Emily that we don’t already know. But in terms of our amateur/professional topic, she’s an amateur. By your definition, a professional doesn’t “nod,” right? You judge a professional not by their bad/good poetry ratio but by the pedagogic and critical impression they make in Letters: Poe’s is a vast professional contribution to American Letters, dear Emily’s is relatively small, but this is not to take anything away from Emily’s masterpieces, nor to flatter women.

    No, I never said ‘poetry is the good stuff,’ you’re reading that into me. I was explicitly agreeing with you that verse and prose are abstractly equal, but we still need to reason this all out a little better; let me try:

    We need to introduce a third into our duality to chemically ‘bring out’ what we’re trying to say here.

    We need to take this verse/prose split and add a third element which is ‘whatever it is the writer wants to say, whatever effect the writer wants to make upon the reader,’ the sort of ideal expression that is floating just above the nuts and bolts of our language and wants to ‘get into it’ in the best way to ‘say best what it wants to say.’

    So we have V, P, and the third element, which we’ll call X.

    You say that “poetry can be about ANYthing.” That’s a Manifesto that will get you a very small audience indeed. It simply hasn’t anything to recommend it. This is why the new formalists sell the fewest books of all. They think they can put ANY subject into verse, and the result is the boring twaddle of the new formalists, which has done more to kill verse than anything the free-versers have done. There is a foolhardy belief that because X cannot be defined, it follows that X, even when added to V, can be ANYthing. Nope. It can’t. This is part of poetry’s skill. To know when X ruins V because of the nature of X. Here’s THE question all poets must wrestle with, but you are implying that X and V are unrelated (which is exactly what your ANYthing implies) so that you take X and then skillfully add V and as long as V is done skillfully enough, X will be just fine. No. This doesn’t work. The ‘breaking the pentameter’ experiment failed; you are correct, there; but you know what also failed? The New Formalism’s belief that meters rock! And we can put meters to ANY subject! That might work for Ogden Nash, but not for serious poetry. Sorry.

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 23, 2010 at 4:55 am

      Thomasbrady said: “Come now, I’m not being chauvinist towards Dickinson;… Miss Emily … she’s an amateur … dear Emily’s is relatively small, … “

      You just keep doing it.

      Was van Gogh a professional? He was in something of the same situation Dickinson was in:: he didn’t sell many paintings in his lifetime, he was supported by his family, he has a reputation for very odd behavior, and so on. Would you refer to van Gogh in the same terms as you refer to ‘dear Emily’? Would you dismiss him as an amateur, dismiss him as ‘dear Vincent’, dismiss him as having little impact on his artistic circle, or his society in his lifetime, argue that his output was small compared to, say Titian’s, or talk about his ‘little pictures’? And if you did, would you be able to say with a straight face that you were not dismissing him with those terms? This whole treatment of Dickinson, and not just by you and my colleague in superficiality, but by generations of critics, is wanting. No one refers to “Willy’s little masterpieces” speaking of Yeats, or “Wally’s little masterpieces” speaking of Stevens, or “Welly’s little masterpieces” speaking of the Duke of Marlborough’s military victories.

      Thomasbrady said: “No, I never said ‘poetry is the good stuff’,…”

      You used poetry as a value-laden term, and not as a desriptive term for a sort of text that could be either good or bad. Your entire approach is informed by the notion that ‘poetry is the good stuff’.

      Thomasbrady said: “We need to introduce a third into our duality to chemically ‘bring out’ what we’re trying to say here….”

      Do you realize you’re practically quoting Eliot, here, from ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, in which he speaks of the piece of platinum that is a catalyst for two gasses?

      Thomasbrady said: “…You say that “poetry can be about ANYthing.… Nope. It can’t.”

      Ah, do you, then, have the list of acceptable subjects to wave in your hand as Joe McCarthy waved his blank pages asserting he knew who all the communists were in the State Department? And if your pages aren’t blank, do, please, make a list of the acceptable subjects for poetry. Or would it be simpler to ask you for a list of unacceptable subjects? Either way, if you’ve got one list or the other, give us the exhaustive absolute no exceptions list.

      Thomasbrady said: “This is part of poetry’s skill. To know when X ruins V because of the nature of X. Here’s THE question all poets must wrestle with, but you are implying that X and V are unrelated (which is exactly what your ANYthing implies) so that you take X and then skillfully add V and as long as V is done skillfully enough, X will be just fine.”

      The skill inheres in finding a meter that does what the poet intends to convey or suppor, or mock and undercut, or any manner of other intentions, the tone and manner of the subject. Can the poet get it wrong? Of course. So what? Sturgeon’s Law, again. But artists deserve to be judged on their best work.

      Thomasbrady said: “… The ‘breaking the pentameter’ experiment failed; you are correct, there; but you know what also failed? The New Formalism’s belief that meters rock! And we can put meters to ANY subject! That might work for Ogden Nash, but not for serious poetry. Sorry.”

      This simply dismisses 2500 years of poetry. Are you really saying that all that language in meter in all those languages is crap? Are you really saying that the only kind of poetry we should be reading or hearing is free verse?

  37. thomasbrady said,

    June 23, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Marcus,

    Letters is more professionally oriented, because you ‘profess’ in Letters, while in painting there’s a tendency to ‘do;’ without the ‘doing’ of painting, the ‘professing’ is rather empty; so the amateur painter is always more respected than the amateur poet. Van Gogh was an amateur, I’d say, like Emily, and like Emily, a fevered genius. Yeats? I guess when all is said and done, his work is not that far from Emily’s, there’s a lot of inspired doggerel. Membership in the Golden Dawn—is that amateur or professional?

    Of course I’m not saying 2500 years of verse is crap. But you have to remember that ‘times change’ and poets keep refining towards language that ‘fits their time’ as you have been at some pains in pointing out; for, even Wordsworth, who bluntly and explicitly insisted that poets ‘speak like men,’ was just, in your words, developing a ‘new style,’ and here I think you gloss over a radical new philosophy that had profound implications for modern mankind, but no matter—since you and notevensuperficial don’t acknowledge that Steven’s Snowman has a very recognizable metric pattern, I suspect there’s a huge disconnect here about the very matter at hand: verse. Poe was specific and minute on this point over and over in his reviews and in his essays like “Rationale of Verse,’ but moderns not so much—they tend to throw out brief, crude examples that don’t even support what they’re saying as they rush past on the choo-choo train of manifesto.

    Perhaps it’s time to discuss Eliot’s ‘Reflections on Vers Libre,’ Marcus, because here is the Waterloo of the formalists; here, in fact, is your Waterloo. What do you make of this little essay? As you know, Eliot begins by saying free verse does not exist, because all lines scan. He also looks at three things; meter, rhyme, and pattern. The distinction between meter and pattern is rather interesting; Eliot steals this notion from Poe, actually (I’m the only one in the world who has noticed Eliot’s secret swiping from Poe’s criticism) Do you agree with Eliot in this essay? If you do, you dig your own grave (perhaps). I would really like to hear your thoughts on it. (and notevensuperficial’s, too, of course)

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 24, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      Thomasbrady said: ”Letters is more professionally oriented, because you ‘profess’ in Letters, while in painting there’s a tendency to ‘do;’ without the ‘doing’ of painting, the ‘professing’ is rather empty; so the amateur painter is always more respected than the amateur poet. Van Gogh was an amateur, I’d say, like Emily, and like Emily, a fevered genius. Yeats? I guess when all is said and done, his work is not that far from Emily’s, there’s a lot of inspired doggerel. Membership in the Golden Dawn—is that amateur or professional?”

      But if you ‘profess’ in letters, then what do you call what Dickinson was doing? She was writing poems – professing in letters. Frost, too – hardly any prose, and what there is, is pretty elliptical. Yeats, though, wow – in the teeth of “A Vision” you say Yeats ‘professed’ nothing?

      This is the confusion I was trying to avoid by suggesting that ‘professional’ has more to do, in arts and letters, which is very close to a gift economy, with something other than with whether the artist is paid for the art, or makes his or her living from creating the art.

      And why are you continuing to dismiss Dickinson with ‘Emily’, but forbear calling Yeats ‘Willie’ or van Gogh ‘Vinnie’?

      Thomasbrady said: ”Perhaps it’s time to discuss Eliot’s ‘Reflections on Vers Libre,’”

      For anyone lacking a copy, here’s a link: http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/tseliot/works/essays/reflections_on_vers_libre.html

      There are some errors in the text. The most significant one: “And as the so-called vers libre, which is good is anything but ‘free’,” The first ‘is’ ought to be printed ‘if’.

      Thomasbrady said: ”… Eliot begins by saying free verse does not exist, because all lines scan.”

      This is very like saying that bullets don’t exist because the proper term for that thing you put in a firearm is ’round’ or ‘cartridge’. Any line may scan, but that doesn’t mean it was written in meter, or can be read as meter. Meter is a pattern in a text that is regular, recognizable, and repeating, and not – not! – how any individual line happens to scan.

      This is part of the fundamental misunderstanding Eliot either had, or professed to have for rhetorical purposes, in common with Ford, Amy Lowell, Pound, Williams, Warren, et al..

      Thomasbrady said: ”He also looks at three things; meter, rhyme, and pattern. The distinction between meter and pattern is rather interesting; Eliot steals this notion from Poe, actually (I’m the only one in the world who has noticed Eliot’s secret swiping from Poe’s criticism) Do you agree with Eliot in this essay?”

      Eliot’s confusion is that he distinguishes pattern from meter. Meter is pattern, not distinct from it, in this context; if Poe distinguished it, too, then Poe, too, may be confused, though I’d like to read what Poe had to say about it before I am bold enough to say so positively. Do you have a link to what you’re referring to in Poe’s work?

      A good deal of what Eliot is saying in this, apart from the confusion between pattern and meter, is what I’ve been saying, too, except I’m more willing than Eliot to say that if you don’t master meter all you’re doing is writing prose.

  38. thomasbrady said,

    June 24, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Marcus,

    I don’t think Emily professed much as a professional in Letters. She made haunting observations in the poetry…but that’s different. Yeats…I don’t know; I’ve never been impressed by his professing.

    Dickinson is not a very pretty word; when Miss Dickinson becomes even more revered than she is at present and is finally known with one name, like Homer and Virgil, I think she will be called Emily. I am paying her the highest compliment. And isn’t Dante known by his first name? Willie or Vinnie just doesn’t cut it in that respect. There are too many well-known Willies and Vinnies. Willie Mays. Vinnie the Rat.

    Here’s Poe’s Rationale of Verse http://www.eapoe.org/works/essays/ratlvrsd.htm

    Poe says that verse does not have to necessarily have a regular pattern. But pattern is not really in his vocabulary. Time and equality are his key terms.

    Poe, as usual, takes a profound step into singularity. His take is that there’s one law of verse, and that’s equality. And that all the variations exist to preserve equality as the ear eventually grows tired of the monotone—and yet the ‘mono’ is what we all seek. It begins with the spondee: two syllables of equal length, then two spondees, then three, and then it goes forward in ever-increasing complexity, but always with equality as the ruling principle.

    Poe eventually reaches a point in the essay where he cannot possibly agree with Eliot that all lines scan. All Eliot is saying, is that we can divide any line into some pattern of long and short syllables, but you are right, Marcus, this does not mean that we have established a meter or a music or a rhythm. Eliot is being quite devious.

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 25, 2010 at 12:57 am

      Thomasbrady said: “I don’t think Emily professed much as a professional in Letters. She made haunting observations in the poetry…but that’s different. Yeats…I don’t know; I’ve never been impressed by his professing.”

      Now you’re being as devious as Eliot. Now you’re saying that one is only a professional if one has professed in prose, has written a manifesto, has written essays explaining his or her kind of work, has examined the work of others, is, in short, a critic? Only critics are professional? There can be, then, it appears, no professional poets, in your view, because by writing poems you’re not professing anything – or if you are, it’s not the right kind of thing to make you a professional. Bullets, cartridges.

      Thomasbrady said: “Dickinson is not a very pretty word…”

      There you go again. Snodgrass is not a very pretty word, either, but you don’t call him “Willie”, either, I’ll bet. No one picks the prettiest name that a poet has and uses that as a reference – the convention is to use the poet’s last name. When you call anyone by their first name in a situation where it is common to refer to them by their last name, it will be inferred that you are trying to demean or diminish that person, Tommy.

      Thomasbrady said: “Poe says that verse does not have to necessarily have a regular pattern. But pattern is not really in his vocabulary. Time and equality are his key terms.”

      It appears from reading Poe’s essay that the combination of ‘time and equality’ are for all practical purposes ‘pattern’, even though he doesn’t talk about pattern. He does distinguish rhythm from meter:

      >>Thus by “a dactylic rhythm” we express a sequence of dactyls. By “a dactylic hexameter “ we imply a line or measure consisting of six of these dactyls.<<

      He does about ‘measure’, which may be broader, distinguished as it is from ‘line’ in this sentence, though. It’s unclear whether he is saying we can tell what the meter of a poem is from any single line of that poem, or whether we have to look at the poem as a whole, looking for ‘measure’ rather than ‘line’ to determine what meter the poem is in.

      EAPoe said: “To return to equality. Its idea embraces those of similarity, proportion, identity, repetition, and adaptation or fitness. … It is sufficient that the fact is undeniable — the fact that man derives enjoyment from his perception of equality. Let us examine a crystal. We are at once interested by the equality between the sides and between the angles of one of its faces: the equality of the sides pleases us; that of the angles doubles the pleasure. On bringing to view a second face in all respects similar to the first, this pleasure seems to be squared; on bringing to view a third it appears to be cubed, and so on. I have no doubt, indeed, that the delight experienced, if measurable, would be found to have exact mathematical relations such as I suggest; that is to say, as far as a certain point, beyond which there would be a decrease in similar relations.”

      This appears to show that Poe is thinking of the overall pattern of the crystal, and not of any one side alone. You can’t have similarity, proportion, repetition, or even fitness if you have only a single example of something. So Poe seems to mean that that set of characteristics sums to meter in a way that Eliot was trying to elide or confound, because it doesn’t seem possible that Eliot could write meter as well as he did, when he did, and be confused about it.

      Thomasbrady said: “Poe[‘s] take is that there’s one law of verse, and that’s equality. And that all the variations exist to preserve equality as the ear eventually grows tired of the monotone …”

      Well, I say there is one law of poetry and that’s that it must be in meter – and I’ll be happy to adopt a good deal of Poe’s characterization of meter as “similarity, proportion, identity, repetition, and adaptation or fitness”.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 25, 2010 at 10:45 am

        Marcus,

        Poetry can ‘profess,’ but I just think that ‘Because I could not stop for Death/he kindly stopped for me,’ the sorts of observations Dickinson makes in her poems and the way she makes them, are sometimes wonderful—but amateur. I admit this is difficult to define. I do think a study of poetry must begin with a study of poetry; I would never commence any study of poetry by having my students read quirky contemporary poems. I would begin with Plato, of course. My definition of ‘professionalism’ in poetry would largely proceed from Plato—that sort of inquiry. Ovid and Horace and Virgil are all professionals, obviously. True professionals are those who make themselves professional, who force themselves to be studied. I probably wouldn’t ever teach Emily Dickinson.

        As much as I revile John Crowe Ransom, I would teach his essays. Poe would be an absolute necessity in any study of poetry, obviously. Eliot, for his essays, hardly for his poetry. Pound: no way, complete amateur…total imposter. I might study Pound’s letters to his girlfriends; Pound’s correspondence might make my syllabus, but that’s it. His work is trash.

        I hope this gives you some idea, Marcus. I’m glad you see Poe is a nice antidote for Eliot…

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 25, 2010 at 12:15 pm

        Thomasbrady said: “Poetry can ‘profess,’ but I just think that ‘Because I could not stop for Death/he kindly stopped for me,’ the sorts of observations Dickinson makes in her poems and the way she makes them, are sometimes wonderful—but amateur.”

        You can’t have it both ways – either poets, judged on their best work, are professing in their poetry just as much as any manifesto-writer or critic, or they’re not. If one does, then they’re all professionals in the sense you yourself are distinguishing here. You’re working suspiciously hard to dismiss and diminish Dickinson’s accomplishments, here, while maintaining a façade of how wonderful ‘dear Emily’ is. It’s false not just on the face of it, but all the way through.

        Thomasbrady said: “… My definition of ‘professionalism’ in poetry would largely proceed from Plato—that sort of inquiry. Ovid and Horace and Virgil are all professionals, obviously. True professionals are those who make themselves professional, who force themselves to be studied.”

        Ah, the ‘true Scotsman’ fallacy! “Scotsmen eat their porridge with salt.” “Really? My friend Sandy McTavish is a Scotsman, and he eats his porridge with sugar.” “Well, all TRUE Scotsmen eat their porridge with salt!”

        And you compound that with the notion that professionals are people who force themselves to be studied – perhaps by holding their breaths until they turn blue, or in the more classic way of offering studiers a choice of being a live studier or a dead non-studier? What do you mean by ‘force’, in other words?

        Thomasbrady said: “I probably wouldn’t ever teach Emily Dickinson. As much as I revile John Crowe Ransom, I would teach his essays.”

        What’s Ransom got on you — pictures showing you holding Emily Dickinson down while Billy Collins removes her clothes, or something?

        So Ransom is a professional in his essays because he forces you to study him, but Dickinson is an amateur in her poetry because she has not forced you to study her?. Why do you study her, then? Or is this your admission that you really don’t know much about Dickinson?

        Thomasbrady said: “Pound: no way, complete amateur…total imposter.”

        Here, again, you’ve given us reason to believe your appellation of ‘amateur’ is intended o be demeaning and dismissive, in equating it with ‘imposter’. Now your reckoning of Dickinson as an ‘amateur’ looks even more suspicious.

  39. Franz Wright said,

    June 25, 2010 at 5:18 am

    More wisdom from Thomas Brady (who he?)–who has contributed some examples of his own verse now and then, which are the most pitably anachronistic doggerel I have yet come across on the internet. In his poems, he shows no evidence of awareness that we are not living in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. His name is not evident anywhere else–but he sure seems to have lots of bigtime ideas. Thomas his delusional sense of publication in places like this, whereas the crackpots of the past has to be content with their family albums. How anyone can even take him seriously enough to respond at length(*except people like Seth, who don’t know any better) is a measure of the depths to which writing has sunk in the past thirty years.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

      Here’s an amateur, if there ever was one. Never heard a coherent pronouncement; only bile.

      I’ve connected dots between Fugitives, New Critics, Modernists, and the Writing Industry no else has, I’ve connected dots on Poe’s death no else has, I’ve connected dots on Eliot and Poe’s criticism no else has, I’m think I’m doing OK, Franzie, and my poetry will outlast yours…

      But rave on, sir, rave on…

  40. thomasbrady said,

    June 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Marcus,

    I’ve really struck a nerve with you and Emily Dickinson. Are you related to the family, or something?

    Look, I think I’m making a worthy and significant distinction here between professional and amateur in Letters. You seem to be saying, professional, good, amateur, not so good; I fail to see how that holds any interest.

    Emily Dickinson is, without a doubt, an amateur, in that she doesn’t give us a body of work within a body of work. Her poems use a similar template, their quality is extremely up and down, and there’s no supporting prose. Unless we’re talking about a poet like Shakespeare, supporting prose just happens to be an important element in the professing of any poet. I don’t think I’m saying anything odd or radical here.

    Ransom says things in his essays which need response. The professional is not necessarily correct, but the professional is able to make debate significant and necessary in the long run in the way they participate in and impact discussion and action in Letters and pedagogy.

    I would also posit that any poet whose main rhetorical thrust is metaphoric is not a professional, either, for metaphor defers professing; metaphor is an important tool in the amateur artist’s tool box, but if not used carefully and sparingly, it screams amateur. Just another observation I’ll throw out there.

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      June 25, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “I think I’m making a worthy and significant distinction here between professional and amateur in Letters. You seem to be saying, professional, good, amateur, not so good …”

      My criticism is that it is you who seem to be saying ‘professional good, amateur, not so good’, because you seem to be determined, on the evidence so far, to dismiss the woman (Dickinson) with the ‘amateur’ title and privilege the man (Ransom) with the ‘professional’ title even when you admire the woman’s work and strongly disagree with the man’s.

      Thomasbrady said: “Emily Dickinson is, without a doubt, an amateur, in that she doesn’t give us a body of work within a body of work. Her poems use a similar template, their quality is extremely up and down, and there’s no supporting prose. Unless we’re talking about a poet like Shakespeare, supporting prose just happens to be an important element in the professing of any poet. I don’t think I’m saying anything odd or radical here.”

      That sounds pretty radical to me – especially given how little we know about the ancient world writers you seem most to admire, how little body of work within a body of work they provided, or how much of any work of theirs survived. You keep moving the goalposts on what ‘professional’ means to you, and, while very revealing about your view of women in the arts, it’s also frustrating in the task of trying to understand what you’re really trying to say.

      Thomasbrady said: “… the professional is able to make debate significant and necessary in the long run in the way they participate in and impact discussion and action in Letters and pedagogy.”

      But that is so much in tune with Ransom’s own views – which makes me wonder why you think you disagree with him. This is precisely the sort of thing Ransom would say: that we need to have professionals such as Ransom and his cronies in the academy making debate significant and necessary in the long run, to participate in and have an impact on discussion and action in letters and pedagogy, instead of making art. Write essays, articles, and books of criticism; write manifestos; get a job teaching and discourse to your students; but don’t bother much with making any art! Criticism is an art, too, in fact, yeah, that’s the ticket, criticism is not only an art, it’s the superior art, the art with the broader view and the greater depth, the real art, yeah, why are we bothering with these amateurs and their lack of supporting prose? Kant! Hegel! Nietzsche!

      Thomasbrady said: “I would also posit that any poet whose main rhetorical thrust is metaphoric is not a professional, either, for metaphor defers professing; metaphor is an important tool in the amateur artist’s tool box, but if not used carefully and sparingly, it screams amateur.”

      Well, now it’s perfectly clear that you mean ‘professional’ to be a valorizing term and ‘amateur’ to be a dismissive one.

      • thomasbrady said,

        June 25, 2010 at 3:38 pm

        Marcus,

        I find it hard to believe that someone of your professional demeanor in terms of metrics and poetry should take this low, baiting road when it comes to my opinion of Emily Dickinson…”to dismiss the woman (Dickinson)”…you’re kidding, right? Are you really making the claim that I am dismissing Dickinson because she is a woman? That is so cheap, so unprofessional of you…though I’m holding out hope you’re just having a laugh…

        I didn’t let Ransom into the academy…don’t blame me…but he’s in there, now…my disgust with Ransom is very well known…I vastly prefer the inspired amateur-ism of Dickinson over the professionalism of Ransom…so by calling Ransom the professional I am NOT as you say, merely saying the professional is good and the amateur is bad…quite the contrary…

        I’m really not sure what’s going on with you, but let me say it again, and this is pretty simple stuff…

        Dickinson is an amateur, and I strongly admire much of her poetry.

        Ransom is a professional, and I find him repellent, but his influence and ideas need to be examined.

        This is what I’m saying, and here you are accusing me of hating Emily Dickison (because she’s a woman???!!!) and saying professionals are good and amateurs are bad.

        I’m not sure how you are reading X and saying it is Y…

        Tom

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 25, 2010 at 4:20 pm

        Thomasbrady said: “… Are you really making the claim that I am dismissing Dickinson because she is a woman?”

        Yep. All I know is what I read on your blog, though, so perhaps you’re in postmodern ironic mode and are having a laugh at my expense. I’m an old guy who used to be smart and is now merely over-educated; you seem to be about 17 and smart enough, but with a very narrow slice of education that makes you look like one of those folks with a hammer who find that everything they encounter is a nail. One of the things I’m trying to point out to you here is that careful language and attention to tone can help you in your assault on whatever nail you happen to be perceiving at any given moment. And if you are taken aback by my mild protest about your manner and style with regard to ‘dear Emily’, I guess it’s a good thing your blog has attracted what appears to be a drunken Franz Wright instead of a sober Wendy Cope, UA Fanthorpe, or Gail White. Hell, even through the fuzzy blur of their mix of po-mo and wicca the social circle at Wom-Po would have pantsed you for the obvious piggery of ‘dear Emily’!

        Thomasbrady said: “Dickinson is an amateur, and I strongly admire much of her poetry. Ransom is a professional, and I find him repellent, but his influence and ideas need to be examined.”

        So what you’re saying now is that even though, if you were designing the syllabus, you wouldn’t teach Dickinson but would teach Ransom, because the former is an amateur and the latter is a professional, you’re really saying ‘Amateur good, professional bad”?

  41. Jem Asbrae said,

    June 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Great work Thom.

    I knew you’d crack it in the end and return the trusty shield of truth and warm-hearted words of Amercumberkisha,to sweet and low the rumble, safe, underthrumbic drone on all the blogs, a page and we merely characters who never were, never was, never will be’s, failures in everything, jerks, lowlifes, disgraces, global mugs and nothing we do is of any worth, we’re all gonna die anyway, I hate you, you hate the world and so what chance does this universe have of gonna be saved from Satan Thom?

    What’s gan dan toon tha man wiv divint tha knews why eye man, wotzfuckinwrungwivyer, divvint nae naw chooz gan dan toon tha why eyes wiv man, woddya playin at, four fokz ache dan gan nivvin abb oot tha tan flan yizza nae trippin ye Krooked Mockerfian dizza naw why tell ye saw for woot man, pull yersen together for feck sake, ye plucky upper four wiv ye naw mine nae any more, not new, naw why eyes man.

  42. thomasbrady said,

    June 25, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Marcus,

    Thanks for the ‘tone’ lesson.

    Wendy Cope will fall in love instantly with me, I’m sure…

    I’ll call her my little amor..

    Tom

  43. Marcus Bales said,

    June 25, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    From a review and recent article, “Ardor and the Abyss”, by James Longenbach in The Nation, about a book about Emily Dickinson:

    Lives Like Loaded Guns
    Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds
    By Lyndall Gordon

    “When Gordon says that Austin’s betrayal of Sue was “the only drama in Dickinson’s life that’s not of her making,” she means to emphasize that Emily Dickinson was an extraordinarily powerful woman, an artist who was intimidated by nothing—the opposite of a fear-driven recluse, the opposite of the lovelorn spinster that some of her family members were driven to concoct for the world. The drama of her brother’s marriage is familiar, but the Dickinson family happened to include among its members one of the most brilliant poets in the English language. Shakespeare, Blake—who else is as rivetingly inexplicable yet as charismatically inviting? The great virtue of Gordon’s biography is that it makes Dickinson the person—sister, friend, seducer, adversary—seem as scary as her poems. The inevitable liability is that Dickinson the maker of poems remains as elusive to us as she was to the people who knew her best.”

    http://www.thenation.com/article/ardor-and-abyss?page=full

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm

      There seems to be a trend recently to dress Emily up and take her out: The Amherst recluse was, in reality, “strong” and “seductive,” a real, hot-blooded woman, says the new Dickinson revisionism.

      I find it faintly silly.

      All the speculation in the world isn’t going to change the fact that what we essentially have is a lot of odd little poems with funny dashes. Such literature could never be the basis of any nation’s literature, much less a part of any rigorous classroom.

      Dickinson’s work will always have a piquant interest for amateurs, but the current glorification seems a bit overdone

      The fact is, American poetry has been wandering in the wilderness since the Civil War, and the attempt to crown a great American poet (Dickinson, Whitman, Eliot, Stevens, Pound, Ginsberg, Bly, Ashbery) has proven…well, embarrassing…

      • Marcus Bales said,

        June 27, 2010 at 3:13 am

        Thomasbrady said: “There seems to be a trend recently to dress Emily up and take her out: The Amherst recluse was, in reality, “strong” and “seductive,” a real, hot-blooded woman, says the new Dickinson revisionism. I find it faintly silly.”

        You’ve got your view of “dear Emily”, and you’re not going to consider any others. But in fact there are such steel magnolias as Dickinson is being compared to and described as, and the power and insights evident in the poems argue strongly that if she used her insight into humanity in her social circle that she would have been formidable indeed. Perhaps you’ve never met any of these sort of people, male or female, or if you have, you’ve never run afoul of them. I don’t wish it on you, but I do wish you’d see it in action some time.

        Thomasbrady said: “All the speculation in the world isn’t going to change the fact that what we essentially have is a lot of odd little poems with funny dashes. Such literature could never be the basis of any nation’s literature, much less a part of any rigorous classroom.”

        There you go again, demeaning and diminishing and dismissing. How you can say you admire Dickinson and what you call her amateur status when you say this sort of thing about her is baffling. You are clearly saying one thing and meaning another — you cannot really admire what you dismiss with such a sneer. You sound like all those freeversers who say they really really admire all the poems written in meter, but who can’t quote any and don’t recognize them when one is quoted to them.

        Once again I’m confused by the profound difference between your dismissive and demeaning tone and manner with regard to those you say are ‘amateur’ and your claim that you really intend to praise them. The cognitive dissonance there amounts to passive aggression.

  44. notevensuperficial said,

    June 27, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    [Thanks for the links to the Eliot and Poe essays.]

    Eliot’s confusion is that he distinguishes pattern from meter.

    I don’t know what Eliot does mean by “pattern” – at least, I can’t tell from Reflections on Vers Libre.

    I think Marcus is wrong to pick out one pattern – meter – from the many patterns to be found in poetry and make of it the definiendum of “poetry”. But ok, that’s a conversation that might’ve already been had as much as it can have been.

    What does Eliot mean, for example, when he says:

    But repetition of effect is a question of pattern.

    Is the set of “repetition[s] of effect”, considered as a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, “pattern”? Surely “meter” in that set!

    At first – because of how I value and tend to read poems -, I thought he meant, by “pattern”, ‘pattern of imagery and reference’: a semantic coherence determining some particular poem by virtue of that poem’s use of language to describe or tell or indicate.

    But no – sound patterns seem also to be referred to with “pattern”, as with the humming nasals in Eliot’s Miltonic line:

    Murmur of maternal lamentation

    Eliot says that he “can define [vers libre] only in negatives”, that is, the “absence[s]” of “pattern, rhyme, and metre”. To repeat prosily, what does Eliot mean here by pattern?

  45. thomasbrady said,

    June 29, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Marcus,

    You write

    “Once again I’m confused by the profound difference between your dismissive and demeaning tone and manner with regard to those you say are ‘amateur’ and your claim that you really intend to praise them.”

    What, ho? It’s all or nothing, then? Every word Emily ever wrote shouts to the heavens and vibrates every hill…or..let’s dismiss her entirely? Are those the choices? You have an indignant fit and throw all reason to the wind because I’m somewhere in-between?

    She’s an amateur, an inspired amateur, as simple as that. She tied her poems into odd bulks with string. Her clumsy syntax, clunky rhyme, clanky rhythm, metaphoric excess, grammatical oddness, her whole expression is fitfully quaint. Her best poem, “Success is counted sweetest,” is a perfect copy of Shelley. “There’s a certain slant of light” and ” I hear a Fly buzz” are thefts of Tennyson, “I Felt A Funeral in My Brain” is Clare, “The Soul Selects Her own Society” is Beddoes, “A Bird Came down the Walk” is stolen from one of the letters of Keats, “The Brain–is wider than the sky” is a dash of Blake, and “Because I could not stop for death” is waxworks of Donne. If you read Palgraves every night and write 2,000 little things with “infinity” and “eternity” and “death” in them, and you possess a little bit of the divine poetic spirit, and then you die, and some male chauvinist Modern “discovers” you—the family guilt—and the poetic politics—might win your fame—if I don’t fall in love—dear, marcus, I’m—not—to blame.

    Tom

  46. Marcus Bales said,

    June 29, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Why, yes, it is all or nothing if you’re going to divide the world up into two classes and pick a class. You want nuance and subtlety, don’t divide all poets into ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ and say that one is bad and one is good. If you do, and then you describe someone as an amateur, on what grounds do you say their work is not good? It’s good by definition — YOUR definition.

    What your opinion of Dickinson looks like is an attempt to damn with irrelevant praise: she didn’t do any of the things you think are so horrible that professionals do, but she didn’t write very good poems, either, but since some tiresome people keep saying her work is great you feel obliged to dismiss it by creating an amateur status that sounds as if you mean well but that really demeans whoever you award that status.

    I’m not opposed to categories (you may recall ‘language in meter is poetry; language not in meter is prose’, but maybe not). However, I recognize that there are a lot of people out there who believe that calling something ‘poetry’ means it is ‘the good stuff’. That means I have to carefully point out that when I say free verse is prose I’m emphatically not saying it is ill-written. Perhaps if you were to elucidate your distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ with greater care I’d be able to understand what you’re talking about.

    Right now, however, it appears that you’re using that distinction as a club to beat Ransom with, and on the backswing you’re whacking away at Dickinson. If there’s no good in being a professional because Ransom has poisoned the well, and there’s no good in being an amateur because Dickinson has shat in the nest, well, what are you trying to say is possible?

  47. thomasbrady said,

    June 29, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Marcus,

    You are falling into vague extremism as you accuse me of doing so.

    What in the world has you so worked up? I’m baffled.

    One can have a go at Ransom or Dickinson, one can attempt distinctions between professional and amateur without concluding “there’s no good in being a professional” and “there’s no good in being an amateur…” Show me where I’ve said, or even implied that, and I’ll turn Scarriet over to you.

    What is your real opinion of Dickinson’s verse? How many of her poems reach YOUR standard of good poetry?

    Tom

  48. Marcus Bales said,

    June 30, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Sorry, I’ve done my time as an internet moderator, so don’t try offloading Scarriet on ME!

    The distinction you’re drawing between professional and amateur, though, which seems to be closer to Franz’s than to mine, seems designed to distinguish between two categories in order to demean one group as ‘professionals’, and dismiss another group as ‘amateurs’.

    My question is, now, so what are you looking for? What kind of half-assed amateur or semi-professional would be acceptable to you?

  49. thomasbrady said,

    June 30, 2010 at 2:12 am

    marcus,

    It’s not about me ‘accepting’ this or that person as an amateur or a professional. I think I said in the beginning that Dickinson’s amateur status allowed her to write brilliantly in her own unique way. Both amateur and professional have their advantages. The professional poet, the professional poet-teacher of our time, has had a debilitating effect on our Letters; my ideal would be an academy dedicated to the classical and the dead, to languages, to disinterested philosophy, and outside the academy would be where contemporary poetry resides, built and criticized by an intensely trained liberal arts public, thrilled to discover for itself the new poets, instead of waiting for a professor-poet to give another professor-poet a prize. In other words, a truly professional academy of the past existing beside a truly amateur market of the present. Ideally, there would be friendly rivalry between the two areas, but also a healthy distance. Inside the academy the great minds of the past would get their due, while outside the academy the new poets would take wild risks, succeeding or failing by the public’s response. Society would benefit from the best of ‘old learning’ together with the best of public-square risk-taking. Ransom’s dream of entrusting every aspect of poetry to the academy has resulted in a toxic mixture, a hybrid featuring all the worst of professionalism together with the all the worst of amateurism.

    Tom


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