ANOTHER POETRY HOT 100!

1.  Anis Shivani  —BS Meter.
2.  Ted Genoways —16.66 minutes of shame: time to lose that beard?
3.  John Casteen III  —the resolve of a great institution.
4.  John Casteen IV  —poet and friend of poet at no. 2
5.  Alan Cordle  —He told you so.
6.  Billy Collins  —youtube 3-year-old’s “Litany” has over 200,000 views.
7.  Rae Armantrout  —She won a prize, or something.
8.  Charles Bernstein  —He was published by a major press, or something.
9.  Ron Silliman  —His blog is still delightful, though mute…
10.  Seamus Heaney  —elegaic metaphors oozing over the bogland.
11.  Yusef Komunyakaa  —“until it forms a vision”
12.  Stephen Burt  —the Vendler flirt.
13.  Robert Pinsky  —Sounding larger all the time.
14.  Cate Marvin   —Forget Petrarch, these are different times.
15.  Jorie Graham   —Do I dare to feed a homeless man?
16.  John Barr  —-We don’t need no stinking blog.
17.  Garrison Keillor   —-goooood poems.
18.  David Orr   —The level-headed Times poetry critic.
19.  James Franco  —Allen Ginsberg as Hollywood heart-throb?
20.  Harold Bloom  —The onanist pedant in all of us.
21.  Anne  Carson  —we concede she has a certain style.
22.  Mary Oliver  —DH Lawrence & David Thoreau had a baby.
23.  David Lehman  —Father knows best.
24.  Robin Blaser  —The Renaissance lives!
25.  Paul Muldoon  —New Yawkuh.
26.  Louise Gluck  —Yale Younger gig.
27.  Tony Hoagland  —Frankness inside of frankness.
28.  John Ashbery  —Sweet, doddering, lovely.
29.  Helen Vendler  —Unpretentious, like a Wallace Stevens T-shirt.
30.  Lynn Behrendt  —Greatest Asshole poem ever.
31.  W.S. Merwin  —The Spill Is Gone.
32.  Jennifer L. Knox  —Don’t mess with her.
33.  Marjorie Perloff  —Avant goddess.
34.  Donald Hall  —A Quality Quietist
35.  Maya Angelou  —Give ’em hell, Maya!
36.  Dean Young  —who can forget his loss at the buzzer to Buzbee?
37.  Matthew Dickman  —seedy and surreal.
38.  Cole Swensen  —writes in Paris, works at Iowa…don’t be jealous.
39.  Kent Johnson  —From Japan to the New Chicago School.
40.  John Gallaher  —Blog-Prof with somethin’ to say…
41.  C.K. Williams  —Whitman, Williams, Williams, Whitman…
42.  Dana Gioia  —The Daddy of “Poetry’s Broke. Yea. It is.”
43.  Jerome Rothenberg  —I Vant To Suck Your Avant.
44.  Zachary Schomberg  —Making artsy-fartsy cool.
45.  Bin Ramke  —Ram on.
46.  Derek Walcott  —Homeric and no cleric.
47.  Vanessa Place  —O “maggoty claw!”
48.  James Tate  —just the fates of the pates: not related to allen tate.
49.  Frank Bidart  —a more intense Richard Howard.
50.  Robert Hass  —I wish they all could be California poets.
51.  Dan Chiasson  —suffered through the Paris Review earthquake.
52.  Glynn Maxwell  —mom was in original “Under Milk Wood.”
53.  Sherman Alexie  —Lost his Supersonics.
54.  D.A. Powell  —wearing the Bidart mantle with lyrical aplomb.
55.  Mary Jo Salter  —why do they call it the Norton anthology, anyway?
56.  Brad Leithauser  —remember neo-formalism?
57.  Martin Espada  —the lyrical in-your-face school
58.  James Fenton  —remember when the US cared about Britain?
59.  Simon Armitage  —CBE!  Crikey!
60.  Keith Waldrop  —friend to many poets
61.  C.D. Wright  —the awards keep coming
62.  Meghan O’ Rourke  —plunging into the Paris Review abyss
63.  Fred Seidel  —ice verse
64.  Jim Behrle  —the art of poetry and getting laid
65.  Dara Wier  —spelling tip: far from the misty mid regions of…
66.  Matthea Harvey  —the neo-romantic’s neo-romantic.
67.  Alice Fulton  —studied with the best minds.
68.  Ange Mlinko  —first spied her on the green pastures of Harriet…
69.  Adrianne Rich  —found fame on facebook recently…
70.  Richard Wilbur  —Old-timer rhymer
71.  Robert Kelly  —‘kel-ly’ is more enjoyable to say than any other word…
72.  Charles Wright  —one of those poets you’re supposed to like…
73.  Ilya Kaminsky  —Articulate translator
74.  Adam Kirsch  —but genoways was nice to me, genoways published me!
75.  David Beispiel  —the new gioia?
76.  Nick Lantz  —someone loves his poetry.
77.  J.D. McClatchy  —Yale, Yale, Yale!
78.  Susan Wheeler  —practically a BAP regular, teaches at Princeton.
79.  Daniel Nester  —unlike Behrle, this guy gets laid…
80.  Forrest Gander  —burning bright in the forest of c.d. wright…
81.  Kevin Young  —not the athlete; Brock-Broido’s former student.
82.  Susan Howe  —the brahmin language poet.
83.  Seth Abramson  —no one is more earnest.
84.  Charles Simic  —the postcard novelist.
85.  Jon Stallworthy  —editor from Oxford University. ahem.
86.  Reb Livingston  —thrilled us in March Madness.
87.  Elizabeth Alexander  —remember the inauguration?
88.  Natasha Trethewey  —historically-minded poet.
89.  William Logan  —fabulous, amusing critic, sucky poet.
90.  Eliot Weinberger  —a serious man.
91.  Joshua Clover  —Jorie’s successful student.
92.  Julianna Spahr  —looking for justice.
93.  Donald Revel  —Let the revels begin.
94.  Rosanna Warren  —daddy is only pulitzer-winner in fiction & poetry.
95.  August Kleinzahler  —a punishing poet.
96.  Marilyn Hacker  —a force to be reckoned with.
97.  Richard Howard  —glad he’s no longer with Paris Review.
98.  Rita Dove  —Doth thy poetry soften and delight?
99.  Kay Ryan  —Yesterday’s laureate.
100.  Peter Gizzi  —master of puzzling lyric; leader of the ‘huh? school.’

HOW WOULD IT BE IF I LOVED

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How would it be if I loved any heart,
Any mouth, any hands, any ears,
Tasting kisses of whatever lips pursued my lips
And I pursued this universal love for years?
How would this condition me to grasp what is mine
In this moment, my Eurydice, before, in the dark
Your face disappears forever?

Shall I surrender to what philosophers know:
All flesh is one, as I turn and watch you go?

ARE YOUR POLITICS STEEPED IN ANCIENT THOUGHT?

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Commie Plato and Nazi Aristotle Hold Forth

If you are a learned person, your poltical ideas are like expensive wine: they have fermented a long time in the deep-delved earth; your arguments are subtle, winding, ever-fresh and powerful, as they trickle among the ancient stones where the blood of the first gods is still moist.  Your political ideas have nothing to do with sound-bites on television or what some political hack did last month or what the gullible learned in History 101.

In Plato’s day, poetry was politics in every sense.  Hyperbole?  Well, even if it only seems that way because Dame History reveals to its students what is not apparent to mere hedonists in the span of a mortal life,  is it less a fact?  No, it is a fact.  Today, poetry is merely pursued as office politics: how many pulitzer prizes do you have?

By the time we get to post-modernism, the artist gives up all claim to political importance; with Andy Warhol, the artists said, “We’re silly.”  This was the final chapter in a book that began in the late 19th century with “art for art’s sake” and the unfolding of the self-consiousness of the niche-artist in divison-of-labor capitalism in the 20th century.

The Modernist “revolution” was played out in Paris cafes between the two world wars.   What sort of “revolution” happens in cafes?  Who are we kidding?

Museum exhibits became the tool of artistic revolution beginning with the Salon Des Refuses, sponsored by the reactionary government of Napoleon III.

What sort of “revolution” is possible in a cafe?  In a museum?  In a gallery? In a concert hall?

Think of all the major art movements in the last 150 years which begin in galleries and exhibitions and magazine-spreads and interviews and almost immediately settle into museums and are published as official canon material.

The “new” does not belong in a museum, and putting it there is no “revolution” against the old, but rather a “revolution” agasint the new, because everything becomes immediately ripe for the museum; the difference between old and new is obscured in all sorts of shallow ways, destroying the ability to see and decipher old art.  Art dwindles into trend.  Art is headlined into obscurity.

The modern art and poetry movements have been reactionary, retrograde, elitist vulgarities, manufactured and artificial, puffed and hyped, bought and sold with stunning rapidity.  Before the people even see it, the modern poem is in the canon, the modern painting is in the museum, proclaiming itself as historical and legitimate.

This tendency for governments, revolutions, atrocities, genocides, ideologies, to emerge full-blown overnight, has been a blight upon our age; the tyrants want change and want it now.

Slow down, people!   Your “innovation” might not be so innovative, dudes.  “Non omnis moriar,” cries the past.

Moderns don’t like to study the past because it humbles them too much.  The moderns see the ancients thinking what they (the moderns) thought was new and in more articulate and far-reaching ways than they (the moderns) ever dreamed, and the moderns give up in despair: they take another hit of LSD or they watch a TV marathon while giggling uncontrollably.  It’s kind of sad.

In America the problem is even worse, because the stinky British (as opposed to more learned cultures) have this “Masterpiece Theatre” hold on the American intellectual consciousness—if it has a British accent and if it has read a few books, American intellectuals swoon in admiration.  Henry James and T.S. Eliot are America’s greatest writers—because they became British.  Poe is the most reviled American author among American intellectuals—because the French love Poe and the British (including—surprise! Henry James & TS Eliot) hate him.  Americans are not very good with languages, and therefore French gets them rather worried and English is oh-so-comfy, even when intellectually vicious and empty of thought.

The British have still not gotten over the fact that the French and the Americans beat them in the American Revolution and for decades afterwards, the Brits thought it only a matter of time before the empty-headed Americans with all that forest-land would came running back to Mommy.

Meanwhile, the British have played Americans in ways only possible for a bitter parent to play a child.

The British intellectual, bred on running an Empire for centuries, can be two things at once: a passionate iconoclast and tweedy conservative.  The British intellectual can be both, even though it may make little sense at first blush. Americans cannot.   The American intellectual is either completely Left or completely Right.   And one finds that the more radically Left or the more radically Right the American intellectual is, the more of an anglophile that American intellectual is.  If the American intellectual favors Aristotle, for instance, they have a tendency to be conservative.  This is not because the American intellectual reads Aristotle and is trained, thus, to be conservative.  No, the American intellectual learns his conservatism from the British intellectual’s reading of Aristotle.

In conclusion, I shall close with words from Martin Seymour-Smith, the influential British intellectual (and companion of the poet Robert Graves) who many Americans have probably never heard of, but they should, because Americans swim in his kind of thought:

Aristotle, whatever he may have thought about war or peace or the benefits of Greek culture or about the convenience of hundreds of thousands of people, was quite powerless, and could not possibly have done anything but supported what may be called a nationalist program.  Besides which, notoriously—and this is relevant—his work contains no objection to the practice of slavery, which meant that—rather like those who believe that Jesus Christ spoke English—he assumed the natural superiority of Greeks (he had the disadvantage of not having heard of the superiority of England, just as, although to become the chief inspiration to the most pious of Christian philosophers, he was denied the benefits of paradise on the grounds that he made the seriously rational error of being born before Christ—and not in England to boot.)  To point this out is not, however, to point any triumphalist and “politically correct” finger at Aristotle.  Political correctness is the sullen revenge of the spiteful, intolerant, and ill-willed dunce upon all the liveliness in the world.  It is no more than the humorlessly insincere resort of minds so mediocre that, for them, a revival of Stalinism is preferable to the pain of a glimpse of self—it is the last sigh of the beast that Nietzsche identified as ressentiment.  Such minds take their grim notion of pleasure—like the fantasised erections of centenarian eunuchs—in combing what little they wish to know of history for figures who seem not to conform to the artificial standards of twentieth-century government at its most inept.

We owe to him, too, the distinctions between the glutton and the mean man, the lover and the friend, the buffoon and the wit; our notion of moderation begins with what he said.  Could anyone have done better?  The syllogism—and many of the subtleties associated with it—is his: the argument that runs, so familiarly to us, in the form of, “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.”  It is from Aristotle, originally, that we get the realization that the assumption implicit in I saw a policeman calling at number six this morning, I wonder what the she has done wrong is false and malicious.  That all the known political parties of the world proceed by these methods, treating those they aim to rule as mindless scum—a source of cash with which they may take the world to the brink of disaster—is no tribute to their respect for Aristotle.

—Martin Seymour-Smith

POETRY IS WHERE YOU TELL ALL

Poetry is where you tell all.
It takes no talent or skill.
Make yourself small
By telling all.

Poetry does not take learning.
It is but a fury, a burning,
A passion which makes you small
By telling all.

You enter rooms watching your back,
Your life in place, your pride intact.
But you must burn, crash and fall
By telling all.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY AS CREATIVE WRITING INSTRUCTOR

Student : I’m writing the best I can.  Just as you do.  But it’s so terribly difficult.

“Professor” Hemingway: You shouldn’t write if you can’t write. What do you have to cry about it for? Go home. Get a job. Hang yourself. Only don’t talk about it. You could never write.

Student: Why do you say that?

Prof. Hemingway: Did you ever hear yourself talk?

Student: It’s writing I’m talking about.

Prof. Hemingway:  Then shut up.

Jeez, Hem, a Paul Engle you ‘aint!  That’s no way to build an MFA program!

UNCLE KEVIN V. THE WORLD

 

Ted Genoways, the alleged glory hound, bully

Danielle Steele, get out your typewriter.  This will be your best novel yet, and you won’t have to make anything up.

Setting:  The University of Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson, UVA founder, modeled UVA’s architecture on Rome.  Violence and chaos reigned on campus when the nation’s first nonsectarian university opened in 1824.

Edgar Poe, one of the first students due to the fact that he was the charge of wealthy guardian John Allan, experienced first-hand the madness, writing to Allan, “You have heard no doubt of the disturbances at the College. Soon after you left here the Grand Jury met and put the Students in a terrible fright—so much so that the lectures were unattended—and those whose names were on the Sheriff’s list traveled off into the woods & mountains, taking their beds and provisions along with them.  There were about 50 on the list, so you may suppose the College was very well thinn’d. [the college had 135 students].”

And, again from Poe in the same letter: “Dixon made a physical attack upon Arthur Smith…he struck him with with a large stone on one side of the head, whereupon Smith drew a pistol (which are all the fashion here) and had it not miss’d fire, would have put an end to the controversy.”

So much for Thomas Jefferson’s self-governing experiment. 

Poe quietly learned what he could at the UVA, leaving without a degree, and left rural and aristocratic VA for the metropolitan north, where he earned fame in Letters, rejecting greased palms and superficial prestige, earning his bread the old-fashioned way, with genius, honesty and hard work.  Poe had no degree, and is remembered for what he wrote, not for prizes or awards.  What an odd idea!

Thomas Jefferson, the gentleman farmer (and slave-owner) liked the fact that Virginia had no cities—he liked things aristocratic and rural, except when he was shopping in Paris; never one to visit the north, the soft-spoken Jefferson would no doubt have smiled knowingly to himself had he lived to see Virginia leave the Union in 1861.

But the UVA did eventually go on to glory, though one of its bumps in the road was hosting T.S Eliot’s infamous speech against the Jews in the 1930s.

Kevin Morrissey, who took his own life on July 30, was, by all accounts, an honest and hardworking managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review. Morrissey had a job which he could not give up; he had a mortgage to pay; UVA was his ticket in a Virginia landscape of UVA and little else.   Morrissey had expertise and experience, but he was a man without a degree in the very heart of the credentialing industrial complex, the University of Virginia, whose president, John Casteen III, brought in a salary close to a million, and where everyone in town, it must have seemed to Kevin, had a masters degree.  Kevin’s position was sort of like one of the servants who ran Monticello…you run Monticello, but you’re a…servant.   You are a servant because you don’t have an MFA.  These are strange times in which we live; the analogy is a strange one, but true.

Outgoing UVA President John Casteen III was an English major at UVA in the 1960s, earning a Ph.D., where he moved on to be an English professor at U Cal, Berkeley in the 1970s.  Casteen traded in that heady experience to be admissions dean back at UVA; in the 80s, Casteen worked as Education secretary under VA governor Chuck Robb during the Vietnam vet and future intelligence committee senator’s ‘cocaine and playboy bunny affair’ days.  In 1990 John Casteen became the president of UVA.  He and his staff raised a lot of money for the college.

In 2003 Ted Genoways was hired as editor of the VQR as president Casteen gushed that the 31 year old had “energetic intelligence and visionary thinking.”  Mr. Genoways has an MFA from UVA and the masthead cites his poetry prizes first and foremost.   Using half-a-million dollars of $800,000 that was sitting in a VQR fund when he arrived, Genoways added color photography and splashy graphics to the magazine.  He also tapped into international crisis journalism with the extra cash, to give his magazine a prize-winning look, as well.  I’m not just a poet, I also report on Afghanistan.  The “on-the-ground” reporting in the VQR is hardly blockbuster; the magazine reads like dull AP wire, with strategically placed photos of the posed natives in crisis, taken by young, attractive photographers for their CV’s, who then fly around as heroes to plush speaking engagements at universities sponsored by media corporation clubs, such as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, for which Genoways spoke in 2007 at U Cal Berkeley.  The VQR’s readership is tiny, and trying to turn a school magazine into a National Geographic or a Washington Post with a temporary influx of cash, plus a big salary for Genoways playing ‘great poet plus ace reporter’ on the taxpayer’s dime, is quixotic at best, and corrupt, at worst.

John Casteen IV, the president’s son, is also a poet, and a friend of Genoways, and Ted Genoways published himself and his friend John in the VQR Poetry Series, formerly the University Georgia Press Series, the competition series which Foetry.com exposed as corrupt; Genoways taking over the disgraced press to disgrace it in his own way.

The bullying by editor Genoways no doubt stems from his missionary, megalomaniacal quest to manufacture credentials out of thin air and create importance out of nothing. 

Grab for the brass ring, if you must, but should you step on people while you do?

The president’s office failed to respond when Genoways treated Morrissey like a servant, ordering Kevin to stay home for a week and not speak to his fellow workers.  This is barbaric, and should have resulted in Genoways’ immediate dismissal.

After Morrissey’s death, Genoways hired a high-powered lawyer named Lloyd Snook, who has been debating former VQR employees on-line, charging there is a grand conspiracy to punish Genoways. 

In 2009 Genoways befriended a wealthy 24 year old UVA donor, Alana Levinson-Labrosse, who recently became VQR staff and Genoway’s office buddy.

Are you still with me, Ms. Steele?

Maria Morrissey, the late managing editor’s sister, is defending her brother’s memory and called Genoways to clarify whether he (Genoways) did indeed email Kevin right before he died to berate him (which seemed to be his usual practice) for endangering the life of a reporter in Mexico.  Genoways, too busy to answer his own emails, pawned that task off on Morrissey.

How is that reporter in Mexico doing, I wonder?

Has Genoways saved him yet?

This tale of woe, reported by Dave McNair in a well-researched article, began with foetry—and became something far worse.

Prediction: Ted Genoways will continue his career as a successful editor.  Because… he has the creds. And that’s just the way it works these days.

 

DOES WILLIAM BLAKE ROCK, OR WHAT?

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Rouze up O young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings!  For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.  Painters! on you I call!  Sculptors!  Architects!  Suffer not the fashionable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works or the expensive advertizing boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ & his Apostles that there is a Class of Men whose whole delight is in Destroying.

—William Blake, Milton

But why have we forgotten the great iconoclast who Blake admired (and who T.S. Eliot reviled)?

John Milton?

I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known rules of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs.

—Milton, Sonnet XII

Milton believed that every individual was naturally inclined toward mental slavery.  Not everyone acted on his or her natural inclinations, however, and in fact a virtuous life should be a continuous act of resistance to slavish temptations.  For Milton, virtue was not innate but had to be actively produced, manufactured through the battle against vice, just as good is created by the fight against evil, and freedom is won only through incessant internal and external war against our natural tendencies to slavery.

—David Hawkes, John Milton, A Hero of Our Time  2009

THE ANTHOLOGIST BY NICHOLSON BAKER: A HATRED OF POUND, A PLEA FOR THE FOUR-BEAT LINE

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This rather lightweight novel, featuring almost no plot and a great deal of first-person discussion of poetic prosody, received mostly positive reviews in 2009.

Only Tom Deveson of the London Times savaged Baker’s latest as cutesy and trivial (and unfair to Pound—but this is the least of its sins).

David Orr, who praised the book, pointed out the New Yorker (and Paul Muldoon) got undue attention from Paul Chowder, the protagonist of the book, a poet and anthologist who assaults the reader with the minutiae of his drab life and his opinions of poetry.  Orr is right: Chowder does not seem like a real player in po-biz, hardly mentioning any magazines which publish poetry, save the New Yorker; Chowder seems only a witness from a certain learned distance, like the novelist Baker, himself.

I can almost imagine Garrison Keillor writing a book like this, though Keillor’s protagonist wouldn’t be quite so nerdy and reclusive.  Still, there would be that fondness for popular poetry, that slightly self-effacing humor.  It’s the way other kinds of writers who like poetry talk about poetry: fondly yet ruefully, eclectically yet blithely, sentimental yet wisecracking.

Nicholson Baker is charming in the sort of way he always is, if you like that sort of thing; I did not find his digressions very interesting; well, more accurately, I didn’t find any skillful blending of the story with the opinions of poetry, and as a true poetry lover, I kept skipping over the little fictional interludes (drab) to hear the opinions of poetry (somewhat less drab).

At one point, poetry is described as a kind of rhythmic sobbing.  Well, no, but a nice try.

Is this a novel of ideas?  I suppose not, since none of the reviews discussed the book’s ideas.  Perhaps this says more about the book reviewing industry than anything else: “Charming book!  Loved it!  Profound!  But it will make you laugh, too, outloud, even!  Have no fear, reader!  Buy this book!”  Simon Schama writing in the London Financial Times was not quite this bad—but almost.

The only idea in the book, for me, worth mentioning:  Traditional ballad meter, with 4 beats per line, is the true music of English poetry despite the fact that snobby scholars insist it belongs to iambic pentameter (5 beats per line).

Baker’s prosodic discussions are extremely simple—too simple by half.   His gallant failures did not make it necessary to chase down my copy of Poe’s “Rationale of Verse,” since Baker’s formulae caused me to merely smile at their simplicity; I felt no need to refute them.

Poe appears in The Anthologist only as one of numerous, unconnected incidents: Paul Chowder pictures himself meeting Poe in a laundromat.  A dull meeting, remarkable for having no relevance to anything at all.

I wonder if Baker knows that Rufus Griswold, Poe’s famous nemesis, was the most important anthologist of his time, producing a best-seller not only with his Poets and Poetry of America anthology, but with his Female Poets of America anthology—which included women involved in the lives of these two literary men in all sorts of interesting ways.

Oh, wait, forgotReal life.

Baker writes…uh, what is it called… fiction.

THE FISH

As a boy I learned to accept the fishes’ death.
On fishing trips with my grandfather I silently hoped the fish
Would live.  After a long drive from the lake,

When the trunk was opened,
The pickerels would still be breathing,
Their gills quivering in the murderous air.
I sensed my grandfather’s indifference;
My sorrow brooded without sound on my lips.

The pity I felt
for the fish who solemnly lazed in streams,
Inscrutable monsters who lived in the flood!
My pity moved against me like a flood,
Weakening everything but memory,
Death disguised in dreams,
Dreams of dream lakes, peering within.

Fishing in dreams, fish
Of strange dimensions, the writhing
Of colors hidden partially by the dark.

Before I learned to fish, when sex
Was only something disguised in dreams,
I dreamed of two creatures,
One fat, one long, fighting to the death
In a wooden container of water, barely large enough to hold them.

I founded my religion in a pond.
You could see a boy hunched over on summer days
Salamanders hiding in the slime.

I feared for the safety of worms
We used for bait.  Fish devoured worms, and so I felt
Less pity for fish, and then less pity for all.

I stood frozen once, when I saw a minnow
In the mouth of a snake.

Does anyone know what anything is just before it happens?
I remember feeling sex for the first time.
Poetry hinted at sex; sounds of words
Saying what was underlying, as when serpents
Sense what the child knows, or when the child knows
The unkind are near by.

Here’s the brook, the forest, the hungry trout,
The dream of sex which is not sex,
The hungry sweetness of desire,
The sunlight, the mist, the mad-life child.

You returned from the woods with your books,
You brought your books back; poetry failed you;
Poetry in books was too full of silences;
The blades of grass were louder.

Sex, the adolescent feeling sex,
Suddenly coming for the first time
While just lying on the bedroom floor, alone;
You live with it, marry it,
It keeps you company,
And poetry, lying before you in piled books,
Becomes your companion too.

If we could get back
To the dream of sex which is not sex,
The meadow, the arms, the face,
The whispers, the explanations, mother, father,
Brother, sister, the conquering, the sand,
The water, the coughing, the poetry;
The light just above you as you look up;
You’re a fish, swimming towards him,
The boy in the boat with his grandfather;
He is listening to his grandfather tell a joke;

You will interrupt, you will startle the line;
You will be pulled up on the boat;
You will die; you will die, slowly,
And the boy will no longer know what to think.
But the idea was to die for him.
The idea was to save his life.

DOES THE LOCAL EXIST?

In his 1977 book, The Unsettling of America, Culture & Agriculture, Wendell Berry, the Sierra Club poet from Kentucky, invokes Thomas Jefferson:

“In the mind of Thomas Jefferson, farming, education, and democratic liberty were indissolubly linked.”

Farming and education?   Please explain.

But Berry uses Jefferson’s own words to build his case:

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.  They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting bonds.  —Thomas Jefferson

This is Emersonian bullshit, from the euphemism “cultivators of the earth” for farmers, to the assertion that same farmers are the most “virtuous,” “independent,” “vigorous” and “valuable” people on the planet.   In fact, plantation owners (Jefferson was one himself) could be inserted more honestly.

Using a traditional icon (Jefferson) as a platform to build a radical thesis is a common strategy, but an inexcusable one; selective use of history is not history; it’s haranguing.

Here’s Jefferson updated (Berry riffing on Jefferson just quoted)  in modern Berry-speak:

There bonds were not merely those of economics and property, but those, at once more feeling and more practical, that come from the investment in property, but those, at once more feeling and more practical, that come from the investment in a place and a community of work, devotion, knowledge, memory, and association.    —Wendell Berry

Without getting into Jefferson’s  hypocritical politics (Berry slyly making acknowledgement of those with “not merely those of economics and property”) we are now in safer waters with a vague list of simple virtues which plantation owner Jefferson, a conservative Southern Agrarian like John Crowe Ransom, or a California Beat like Gary Snyder or Ron Silliman, can applaud: “a community of work, devotion, knowledge, memory, and association.”

“Work” and “devotion” are things the plantation owner will value. 

“Knowledge, memory, and association” can probably work for the plantation owner, too: plantation-knowledge, plantation-memory, and plantation-association, even though, with terms such as these, we are more in the realm of education and the now ubiquitous idea of local poetry and quaint regionalism—worlds away from Jefferson’s “economics and property” of plantations, colonial politics, Great Britain, and the United States.

Sure enough, Berry shifts into a discussion of education, and how Jefferson values it for discovering “genius” but how a “practical” approach relating to the “land” is better.

Berry quotes Jefferson again: “I consider the class of artificers the panders of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are overturned.”

Now Berry adds: “[Jefferson] held manufacturers in suspicion because their values were already becoming abstract, enabling them to be ‘socially mobile’ and therefore subject pre-eminently to the motives of self-interest.”

Berry looks at land grant-colleges and how “agri-business” has corrupted the spirit of the original 1862 legislation, the Morrill Act, which set aside land for colleges of “agriculture and the mechanic arts,” and also the 1887 Hatch Act, which reads, in part: “to assure agriculture a position in research equal to that of industry…”

Here is Berry’s knock-out punch (from the same chapter of his 1977 book):

“The standard of [the land grant-college’s] purpose has shifted from usefulness to careerism…The legislation calls for a system of local institutions responding to local needs and local problems. What we have is a system of institutions which more and more resemble one another, like airports and motels, made increasingly uniform by the transience or rootlessness of their career-oriented faculties and the consequent inability to respond to local conditions.  The professor lives in his career, in a ghetto of career-oriented fellow professors.  Where he may be geographically is of little interest to him.  One’s career is a vehicle, not a dwelling: one is concerned less for where it is than for where it will go.”

“The careerist professor is by definition a specialist professor.  Utterly dependent upon his institution, he blunts his critical intelligence and blurs his language so as to exist ‘harmoniously’ within it—and so serves his school with an emasculated and fragmentary intelligence, deferring ‘realistically’ to the redundant procedures and meaningless demands of an inflated administrative bureaucracy whose education purpose is written on its paychecks.”

“Education is relieved of its concern for truth in order to prepare students to live in ‘a changing world.’  As soon as educational standards begin to be directed by ‘a changing world’ (changing, of course, to a tune called by the governmental-military-academic-industrial complex,) then one is justified in teaching virtually anything in any way—for, after all, one never knows for sure what a ‘changing world’ is going to become.  The way is thus opened to run a university as a business, the main purpose of which is to sell diplomas—after a complicating but undemanding four-year ritual—and thereby give employment to professors.”

Berry could be talking of the study of literature and MFA programs.

The crucial questions, though, are these:

Why does Berry feel an “airport” is just like any other, but a “farm” or a “plantation” is unique?

Is it naive to think that among the educated, the local should exist, can exist, or even does exist?

Is Berry too easily dismissing the “abstractions” of the “socially mobile” for what he feels are the more solid aspects of life on the farm?

SENTIMENTAL RHYME

Could it be Aneri loves me?
Should my despised sentimentality
Newly shadow me and mock me?
Would I then, on my knees, forgive
Rhyme and passion, crying, “Now this is how I wish to live?”

Would I see love’s haughty spell
Consign my former haughtiness to a sentimental hell
Where Aneri waits, her sweet secret to tell?
Now she tells the muse my doubting is forgiven,
For I am not in hell; rhyme’s precisely heaven.

Certainly lovely Aneri
Would be happy and rarely
Would she and I fail to see
The lovely muse inventing, for love’s sake, rhyme
In this place, this time.

BACKSTORY

 

The cook was in the kitchen searching for a recipe for grilled octopus. Done with Batali, Beard and Bobby Flay, she was about to reference the elusive Julia Child when her nephew appeared. “I want my money to grow,” he grumbled. “No dear,” she gently chided, “You must say ‘I want to grow my money.’” He frowned while she looked out the window as a young woman in a Duesenberg replica hit a button and the tent-peaks on several miniature castles she was towing on a flatbed rose up and tipped their green hats revealing golden busts of famed prophets, chief among them Mohammed, his face veiled, Jesus looking soulfully at a light from above and Gautama Buddha extending his hand which held a ball, symbolic of earth and the four billion of us who crowd its surface. The cook’s brother Steve, recently empowered and in no need of salvation, had eyes only for the young woman and, once inside her blouse, embarked on a vigorous search-and-grab mission. She seemed to relent long enough for him to shut the door behind them, the same one she kicked open minutes later revealing a sordid tableau: he on top mashing her pretty round breasts while she struggled against his weight, legs flailing, her face twisted into a grimace equal parts contempt and disgust. At last with a huge upward thrust she got him off her and turning sharply, aimed a kick that caught him in his Adam’s apple and down he went, gagging and immobilized while she flung her dress on, burst out the door and sped off in the Doozie with the prophets still exposed. The nephew watched his father panting on the floor and shook his head in contempt and disgust. “Maybe now you’ll stop referencing the Marquis de Sade and help me grow my money.” “Good boy,” chirped auntie-the-cook watching chopped tentacles curl in melted butter over medium heat as she pondered the strange magic of an age of transition when yet another noun became a verb while active and passive quietly changed places

A William Kulik Premiere

WHEN AROUSED BY SWEET DEAR LOVE

When aroused by sweet, dear love,
I have no hope of doing anything that’s good—
Happy in my soul to feel the racing of my blood—
That’s not to say if I could
Be heard, or even understood…
But I’m happy to feel a lightness. When I was a child I stood
In tears as my escaped balloon fled to its doom above.
Today the words, tomorrow the grave, and if I should feel my love,
I will feel her in my arousal, love aroused by the dear and the sweet;
She loves me strongly in her mind, and I love her, not moving my feet.

THE WUSSY POETS

wussy.jpg

CATULLUS (Foul-mouthed gossip)

TRISTAN CORBIERE (Sickly & sarcastic)

RALPH WALDO EMERSON (Sage, married into money)

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW (Professor, married into money)

ROBERT FROST (Teacher, Grump)

WALLACE STEVENS (Got his ass kicked in Key West)

JOHN CROWE RANSOM (Academic, his ashes reside on Kenyon campus)

ALDOUS HUXLEY (Pampered aristocrat, extremely near-sighted)

T.S ELIOT (Bank Clerk)

PAUL VALERY (Wretched Pedant)

W.H. AUDEN (Disowned a poem when someone didn’t like a line)

ALLEN GINSBERG (Slept until noon-ish)

PHILIP LARKIN (Smut addict, librarian)

FRANK O’HARA (Wrote poem about Lana Turner)

JOHN ASHBERY (Wrote poem about Daffy Duck)

THE MANLY POETS

HOMER (War Correspondent)

JUVENAL (Satirist)

LI PO (Mountain recluse)

HAFIZ (Party Animal)

DANTE ALIGHIERI (Exile)

FRANK PETRARCA (Lover)

PHIL SIDNEY (Soldier, Spy)

BILL SHAKESPEARE (Screen Writer)

CHRIS MARLOWE (Killed in Bar)

JOHN MILTON (Government Official)

ALEX POPE (Gardener)

LORD BYRON (M.P.,seducer, funded Greek independence)

P.B. SHELLEY (Rogue, drowned sailing)

JOHN KEATS (Medical Student, dead at 26)

SAM COLERIDGE (Trading Co. Official, Opium Addict)

BILL WORDSWORTH (Hiker)

ED POE (Secret Code Writer, Horror Writer)

LORD TENNYSON (Tobacco & Whiskey Stinking)

ARTHUR RIMBAUD (Rock quarry foreman, weapons dealer)

FORD MADOX FORD (Womanizer, War Propaganda Office Director)

RICHARD ALDINGTON (Soldier)

PAUL ENGLE (Fundraiser)

EZRA POUND (Traitor)

JAMES DICKEY (World War Two Pilot)

BILLY COLLINS (Best-Selling Author)

GARY B. FITZGERALD (Self-published, talks shit on blogs)

MODERNISM’S HITS AND MISSES

The HITS

1. Skyscrapers Useful.  Spectacular.  Yet, like almost every aspect of Modernism, a certain irony in the success: Modernism’s brutal, in-your-face archicture is the very face of what Modernism was supposed to be protesting: big, industrial take-over.

2. T.S. Eliot  Effete, gloomy, prejudiced, but most talented writer of the lot.

3. New Criticism  A certain intellecutal elan, but at great pedantic cost.

4. Jean Cocteau   Just really cool.  It is said the news that Edith Piaf died killed him.

5. The MFA Creative Writing Workshop.  Yes, a Modernist creation of Paul Engle, Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.  Great idea, commercially successful, but often reflects the crass, cheap clique-ish aspects of Modernism.

6. Gertrude Stein “A rose is a rose is a rose.”  A clown, but a savvy one.

7. William Butler Yeats Actually wrote some good poems

8. Bertolt Brecht Lucky to have Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya as partners, and not a bad poet.

9. Garcia Lorca Beautiful poetry

10. Abstract Art One complaint, though: all that lovely color should be on ugly industrial buildings and such; it’s a waste to be only in museums and private homes—where it often looks pretentious.

The MISSES

1. Manifesto-ism Pedantry, over-argument, splintering.  Makes you want to memorize a poem or two; or learn Latin or Greek or Hebrew…

2. Bauhaus The ugly factory.   Bauhaus building trade bucks enriched the modern painting con.  The puzzle of  millions chasing ugly art: solved.

3. Cubism Wins the Pretense Award in many categories.

4. James Joyce The most famous unread author.  Reinforces crass Irish stereotypes—no wonder the bluebloods love him.

5. Imagism Uh…memo to Pound and Williams: the Japanese already did it…it’s called haiku.

6. 12 Tone Music Get me out of this place.

7. John Crowe Ransom Very questionable taste, cunning essayist.

8. Apollinaire Wanted the Louvre burned down, but this iconoclast fights in WW I?  Died as a result—served him right.

9.  Charles Olson Ugh.

10. Picasso A blue period.

JOWL

maryworth.jpg

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
foetry,
suave, networking naked,

dragging themselves through the airports at
dawn, looking for
an MFA

MarieClaireheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of Mark Van Doren
who got me a job

And I kissed ass
illuminating all the crackpot world of workshop
Professors leaning on walls, backyard green tree barbecue dawns,
wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of

teahead joyride neon Harvard traffic light, sun and moon
and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn College,
and I sucked up to academia,
ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,

who chained themselves to mentors for the endless ride from Iowa
to holy Denver on benzedrine until the noise of blurbs and

provosts brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked
and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
who lit cigarettes in workshops, workshops, workshops, racketing through snow

toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St John of the Cross David Lehman Pulitzer Prize Nobel Prize because the New Yorker instinctively vibrated at their
feet in Kansas State,

who loned it through the streets of Idaho State seeking visionary Janet Holmes who was visionary Brenda Hillman,
who thought they were only mad when Johns Hopkins gleamed in
supernatural ecstasy,

who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma State on the
impulse of winter National Book Award streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged with their cliques through University of Houston seeking literary prizes

or sex, or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to
converse about America and Contests, a hopeless task, and so
took plane to Iowa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind
nothing but the shadow of fellowships and Ph.D.s and ash
of poetry scattered in University of Chicago,

who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the AWP in
beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark
skin passing out incomprehensible poetics,
looking for a Pulitzer, Griffen, Bollingen, Tufts, LA Times,
National Book Award, PEN, Lilly, Bynner, Yale,
who burned cigarette holes in their poems protesting the narcotic
tobacco haze of New Criticism,

who distributed LANGUAGE Poetry pamphlets in Union Square
weeping and undressing while the sirens of the Paris Review
wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Most Important
Review also wailed,  “Leslie Scalapino, give me your vino!”

who broke down crying in white student lounges naked and
trembling before the machinery of Poets & Writers,
who bit their poet dates in the neck and shrieked with delight in
policecars for committing no crime but their own wild
cooking pederasty and intoxication, and puffery,

who howled on their knees in the workshop and were dragged off the
roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly professors of Black Mountain, all from Harvard,
who screamed with joy at a book contract,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the students,
caresses of Atlantic and Stanford love,
who networked in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens with C.D. Wright and the
grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen
freely to whomever would publish them,

who hiccupped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a book
contract behind a partition at W.W Norton when the blonde &
naked angel came to pierce them with Richard Howard,

who lost their contracts to the Columbia University of fate the one eyed
shrew of the Juliana Spahr dollar the one eyed shrew that
winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does
nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden

threads of the registrar’s loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of Robert Pinksy a
sweetheart a package of syallabi a candle and fell off the
bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and
ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate Zoo Press
and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,

who sweetened the snatches six MFA girls trembling in the
sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the Iowa River,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver — joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of Lowell and Merrill in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with

gaunt workshoppers in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings especially secret Iowa Writers Worskhop solipisisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a sudden at Columbia University, and picked themselves up out of

workshops hungover with heartless Vendler and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks waiting for a door in Life Magazine to open to a room full of Walter Cronkite and opium,

who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of Harvard Square under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in Iowa,
who ate the lamb stew of Jorie Graham and W.S. Merwin, digested crab at the
muddy bottom of the rivers of Faber and Faber,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of Mark Strand and bad music, this actually happened, husbands and wives pronounced prizes to one another in secret while the poor languished in punk blog digs at noon. Will no one sing this blurb which insidiously loves?

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK

Especially when you are

1.  Edgar Poe— and they murder you and through elaborate machinations libel you as a drunkard and a suicide.

2.   Sylvia Plath— and your husband (Ted Hughes) who you adore cheats on you and leaves you with two small children in an ill-heated flat during the coldest winter in years.

3.  Garcia Lorca— and they shoot you and throw you in an unmarked grave.

4.  The 13 poets—and you are executed at Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1952.

5.   Christopher Marlowe— and you are murdered in a tavern.

 6.  John Keats— and they say your poetry sucks and you should quit poetry and go back to your drams and pills.

7.  A writer of good rhymes— and you are scorned for being a rhymer by modernists.

8.  A good poet— and you’re scorned because you do not rhyme.

9.  A bad poet— and you are scorned for it.

10  A person who has to read negative opinions on someone’s blog.

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