LET IT GO AT THAT

Ralph is good, but dull, unimaginative, and indecisive.  Piggy has “mind,” but not much else.  He is physically and sensorially inept.  Jack, on the other hand, is physically and mentally alert, resourceful, imaginative, and creative.  He encourages his followers in games and chants, colorful costumes and face paint, ceremonies and a sense of community.  He organizes successful pig hunts and provides his meat-hungry children with torchlight feasts.  Meanwhile, Ralph and his dispirited followers sicken on their unvarying diet of fruit.  What child would not follow Jack?  When Golding makes Jack’s group evil, he reveals the usual  inability in our time to equate the ecstatic with the good.  —George B. Leonard, Education and Ecstasy (partly reprinted in Reading for Rhetoric, Macmillan, Shrodes, Josephson, & Wilson, eds., 4th ed)

Finally Mrs. Purse found what she was looking for.
It was an old college rhetoric textbook with a black cover.
There was an essay in there about ecstasy, how it was important,
To education, to learning, to modern society’s survival.
It was a hopeful essay; Mrs. Purse needed something hopeful,
Not because she was a worried, or a hopless person;
She knew life needed hope to function, and she was tired of
The pessimistic and gloomy; laughs were great, but she wanted
A glimpse into a happy philosophy, a happy belief-system
That would not make her feel guilty, that would make sense.
She recalled reading this essay in college, a long time ago;
It made no impression upon her, then, but now life had taught her
She needed this.  A happy essay that was dead serious.  Happiness
As necessity, happiness as the highest moral thing we could do.
She knew that happiness would be hers if she could believe this
Simple message and forget all the rest, and let it go at that.

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GIACOMO LEOPARDI: MORE PROOF MODERN ISN’T MODERN

What do you do when you read words written 200 years ago that not only sound a “modern” note, but articulate “modern” notions more deeply and thoroughly than all the ones you thought were “modern” and even defined the “modern” for you?  You vow to start reading old books and learn first-hand what the dead knew and wrote, instead of, as was your practice, reading mere fashion and breathing mere fashionable air.

What makes the large holes in America’s reading so tragic is that 1) they are there and 2) they don’t have to be.

One could lay out the chronology of world literature for the novice in an afternoon:  Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and Poe and you are pretty much all set; Greek and Latin forms a great part of English; there’s little to know, really, in terms of literature, before Homer, and there’s really not much great literature after 1900: “the lonely cab horse steams and stamps/And then the lighting of the lamps.”  We can assume, anyway, the student is immersed in the so-called literature and culture of modernism and the present; but there’s nothing to see in 2011 and beyond, just as there’s nothing (or, next to nothing) to see as we wander backwards from Homer; quibble with this if you will—the point is, literary history is a single chunk and that chunk, to be understood, needs to be understood as one chunk, and not for any profound reason but that it is, indeed, one chunk; the good news is that as one chunk it can be learned, in its essentials, rather quickly; the shame is that young people do not read Homer or Plato or Aristotle, at least none of my 30 English Composition students raised their hands when I asked, “Who’s read Plato?”  I was stunned, but so happy that I would get to be the one to enlighten them, to write the time-line on the board, to tell them about Homer, and Plato versus Aristotle; heavens, it would be me.

One doesn’t have to be a Christian to realize that great gaps in the learning of literary history exist today for the simple reason we no longer appreciate the pagan poets and philosophers existing before Christianity as pagans, since we have entered an era of study in which Christianity is now nothing more than a political embarrassment, an intellectual annoyance, and so no longer is any attention paid to the distinction between the pagan era and our own Christian one; as intellectuals we’re pagans again, and proud of it, and we don’t need to be reminded of any “old” pagan/Christian dichotomy.

The moderns are comfy living in an historical present that begins around 1900, and no other borders are necessary as long as the 1900 border, the Gate to Modernism, is tall and nearly insurmountable, is the only one that matters.

The date 1900 is flexible, of course; at times 1859 will do, or 1914; as long as there is a border, generally agreed upon, separating us, the enlightened moderns, from them, those goofy old Romantic folks who believe in harmony and beauty…

Take the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi.  Born in 1798, Leopardi is one of those writers we can safely ignore, being on the other side of the only great divide that matters.

How, then, is this Leopardi, who died in 1837, able to utter such things as:

As a poet my spirit has run the same course as the human spirit generally. At the beginning, Fancy was my strength: my poems were full of images, and I read poetry to feed my own imagination. I was already intensely aware of the life of feeling but didn’t know how to express it. I hadn’t reflected enough on things, of philosophy I had only the faintest grasp, and I lived constantly with the illusion we all create, that the world and life will always make an exception for us. I’ve always experienced misfortune, but back then it seemed especially intense, and it devastated me because it seemed (not to my rational faculty but to my very active imagination) that misfortune denied me the happiness others believed they possessed. My condition was in every way that of the ancients.

It’s quite true that even then, when I felt so pressed by misfortune and trouble, I was capable of certain effects in my poetry. The complete change in me, my passage from ancient to modern, happened within about a year, in 1819, when I lost the use of my sight and couldn’t pass the time reading, I felt my unhappiness darkening terribly, and I began to give up hope, to reflect deeply on things (in one year I filled twice the space in these daybooks as I had in a year and a half, and my thoughts were all centered on our nature, unlike previous entries that were nearly all about literature), to become a professional philosopher (instead of the poet I once was), to feel the world’s inevitable unhappiness instead of just acknowledging it, and this also because of a certain physical torpor that made me less like the ancients and more like men of my time. My imagination then became much feebler, and although my faculty of invention increased enormously and finally began to function, it took form in prose or sentimental poetry. And when I did try to versify, images came only with enormous effort, my imagination was almost dried up (even apart from poetry; I mean, in contemplating Nature’s beauty, etc., I was cold as stone), even though my lines gushed with feeling. So one could say that in the strictest terms only the ancients were poets, and now the true poets are children, or the very young, and moderns who pass themselves off as poets are in fact philosophers.

—Giacomo Leopardi  1820

How is it possible that 1820 gets us so beautifully?

Here’s another gem from Giacomo:

With the invention of gunpowder, the energy humankind once possessed is passed on to machines, and humans are turned into machines in a way that essentially alters mankind’s nature.

—Giacomo Leopardi  1821

But this is 1821! He can’t talk that way!

Isn’t the fact that babies and children remember so little—we infer this from the way our own memories of early life diminish, proportionally and gradually, the farther back we go—attributable at least in large part to a baby’s lack of language, and to the imperfect, impoverished language of very young children? Certainly human memory, like thinking and cognition, is powerless without the help of signs that fix ideas and reminiscences. Limited memory isn’t due to organic inadequacy, since we all know that we continuously remember—and remember more vividly as we mature—childhood impressions, even while forgetting things of the present and recent past. Our oldest reminiscences are the most alive and lasting. But they begin right at that point where the child has acquired sufficient language, they begin with those first ideas that we fused to signs and could fix in words. Like my own earliest memory, of some musk pears I saw and heard named in the same moment.

—Giacomo Leopardi  1821

This is lovely.  But surely there must be a mistake.  No way someone thought this in 1821!

A horse or dog in the habit of obeying a particular voice, of recognizing its master by a particular scent, can break these habits at any time, get used to new voices, new smells and commands from a new owner, etc. It can form new habits, learn new things. But other species and individuals less susceptible to habit (whether by nature or nurture) find it harder to break habits, precisely because they are so slow to form them in the first place. Isn’t the same true of our own species and its individuals?

—Giacomo Leopardi  1821

Hell.  How can 1821 be so smart!

Uniformity is boredom, boredom uniformity. Uniformity comes in many forms. Endless variety produces uniformity, thus more noia…Constant pleasure, too, is uniformity, therefore boring, though its medium is pleasure. Certain foolish poets, realizing description gives pleasure, reduce poetry to nonstop description: they drain all pleasure from poetry and replace it with boredom.

—Giacomo Leopardi 1822

And 1822 nails the poets of 2010…

People cry out that poetry has to be contemporary, it has to adopt the language and ideas of our time, depict its mores and idiosyncrasies. And so readers condemn the use of ancient stories, events, practices, opinions. But I believe poetry is the one thing in our time that cannot be contemporary. How can a poet use the language and follow the ideas and conventions of a generation for whom glory is a pipe dream, when liberty, patria, love for patria, do not exist, when true love is childish folly and all illusions have vanished, when all passion—not only grand, noble, exquisite passion—is dead? How, I ask, can one be party to all this and still be a poet? A poet, a poetry, without illusions, without passion—do these logically go together? Can a poet, as poet, be entirely self-engrossed and private and still be a poet? Yet aren’t these the salient characteristics of our time? So how can a poet, as poet, be distinctively contemporary?

Remember that the ancients wrote poetry for the masses, or at least for people who mostly were not learned or philosophical. The moderns quite the contrary: today’s poets have only educated, cultured readers, so when it’s said that poets must be contemporary it’s meant that a poet must conform to the language and ideas of this narrow class of people, not the language and ideas of the masses (who know nothing really about poetry present or past and do not engage it in any way). Now, all learned, cultured men these days are inevitably self-engrossed and philosophical, stripped of meaningful illusions and barren of vital passions. Women the same. How can a poet be contemporary in act and spirit, how can he conform to such people, and still be a poet? What is poetic in them, in their language, thoughts, opinions, tastes, affections, customs, habits, deeds? What did or does or can poetry ever have in common with them?

Be forgiving, then, if a modern poet follows the old ways, if he takes up the style, manner, and language of earlier times, if he uses ancient stories and the like, if he seems to hew close to older ways of viewing reality, if he prefers older traditions, manners, events, if he stamps his work with the impress of another time. Be forgiving if the modern poet and modern poetry do not seem, or are not, contemporary to our century, because being contemporary means, or crucially entails, not being a poet, not being poetry. The poet cannot at the same time be and not be a poet, and it’s inappropriate for serious minds and a serious-thinking century to demand what’s by nature impossible, self-contradictory, a contradiction in terms.

—Giacomo Leopardi  1823

What kind of talk is this?  Leopardi has shown his true colors.  Now we can safely dismiss him!   Go to hell, Leopardi!  This is why you’ve been ignored by us moderns for so long.

Go back to your obscurity on the other side!

We can now truthfully say that, in Italy more than anywhere, writers outnumber readers (since most writers don’t read, or read less than they write). So how much glory can we expect from literature today? In Italy it’s safe to say that people read only so that they can write, so they’re thinking really only about themselves, etc.

Giacomo Leopardi  1828

“Writers outnumber readers!” 1828 is describing 2010

Gulp.

This is why we must take extreme care when we lay down borders of any kind, and why we should be highly suspicious of the notion that moderns are in any way advanced because of their place in time...

Thanks to W.S. Di Piero for the translations.

AFTERNOON

Platitude in the morning,
Nonsense in the evening,
But with a few beers at lunch
The afternoon has both.
What is heaven if not languid?
I am a great fan of the afternoon.

Evening is sad.
Morning is full of jitters
And morose expectations.
I will be fed by the casual bartender
And look lazily into the mirrors.
I am a great fan of the afternoon.

Evening is for love,
Morning, for marriage.
I  was born a minute past
Noon.
The bartender has a thousand faces.
I am a great fan of the afternoon.

IS BOB KRAFT THE JORIE GRAHAM OF THE NFL?

 

When will poetry be No. 1?

Everybody knows there’s cheating in poetry.  Jorie Graham, as public contest judge, picked poetry by students and friends. 

Shameful.  And silly, because someone winning a contest and getting a book published doesn’t do anything for poetry.  

There’s no drama.  We don’t get to see the losers cry and gnash their teeth.  We don’t get to see the winners celebrate.  We don’t even see the losers.  We don’t even know who they are.    And there can’t really be a winner worth the name if the losers aren’t visible.  That’s the problem with poetry.  The tragedies and triumphs are completely hidden. 

All we see are books with boring blurbs on them. 

Where’s the blood and the glory? 

Does anyone really believe, or care, about blurbs? 

Of  course not.

Where’s the trash talk?  

Jorie Graham had a pretty face.  Po-biz should have worked hard to make her the face of poetry, instead of having her work behind-thescenes as a corrupt judge.  What did that do for poetry?   Nothing.

If you’re able to corrupt morals in a general way, maybe you’ll make a real name for yourself.  Maybe you’ll get exiled, but you’ll be famous, really famous, one-name famous, like Ovid.  If you’re going to be corrupt, do it big, so it spreads fame for your company, in this case, poetry.

What I want to see on someone’s book is: “To win this Press prize, the author beat out the following jackasses…” and pictures of the sorry losers, and blurbs ridiculing their poetry.

You want people to read poetry?   You’ve got to show the winners and losers.

It would have been better if Jorie Graham had judged her own poetry as  winner in contest after contest; the pure arrogance and aplomb of that act would have helped to focus poetry-stardom, making it more accessible to all.

Look at the NFL.  

People love it.  

But pro football was once moribund, like poetry is today. The tapes of the first two Super Bowls were erased by NBC and CBS; that’s right: no one can watch the first two Super Bowls, because they are gone forever; the networks didn’t think Super Bowls I and II were worth saving.  

Now every obscure NFL fumble, concussion, and tantrum is studied by millions.   The football player, Moss, is a million times more famous than the poet, Moss   Why does one moss grow under a rock, and the other moss scream in our ears?

It all began with Joe Namath and Super Bowl III.  Broadcasters felt the first two Super Bowls were not worth preserving.  

Even though Namath played for what was then the nearly illegitimate AFL, even though Namath was told to quit football if he did not sell his Manhattan restaurant that was frequented by mobsters, even though many in-the-know thought Super Bowl III was fixed, with the Colt QB making all sorts of questionable throws (as they say on the street, “no one can throw a game like a QB”), Super Bowl III was a spectacular success with TV-watchers.

Namath not only put a badly-needed face on the NFL, he made millions (and future billions) thanks to the legitimacy he gave to the AFL with the nearly-3 touchdown underdog Jets’ Super Bowl victory, allowing the NFL/AFL merger to occur smoothly the following season.  Joe Namath’s 1969 victory put the Super Bowl on the road from an erasable item to a national institution.

The Black Sox Scandal (a thrown World Series in 1919) almost destroyed the integrity of major league baseball.

The remedy? 

Babe Ruth and his homeruns.

Baseball officials decided to juice the ball in 1920, and baseball got its first modern homerun hitter, Babe Ruth, the season after the 1919 World Series.  

The rule is: when faced with a cheating scandal or declining popularity, the only way a league can save itself is with a display of massive fireworks.

Joe Namath in 1969 was like Babe Ruth in 1920, a savior of a sport in the eyes of a fickle public.

Western poetry’s “fireworks”—in order to excite public interest—has largely consisted of not transcending scandal with firework-heroics, but embracing scandal: think of Ovid and Byron; think of the obscenity trials of Joyce’s Ulysses and Ginsberg’s Howl.   If one looks for true poetry “heroics,” perhaps we’re talking of Virgil and Dante and Milton?  And today, “heroics” is perhaps a poet who has been murdered by a tyrannical regime—but this is a far cry from anything which might be cynically manipulated by po-biz for its own survival.  

Sexual morality can become so corrupt in society, that corrupt poets can no longer shock, or be considered scandalous. 

Sports, however, to be legitimate, has to be “clean.”   Not morally clean—look at the recent cases in the NFL of Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger— but free of the cheating-taint: steroids or fixed contests.

Gambling and organized crime will probably always be ‘hidden but present’ in pro sports.   But as long as the sport is perceived to be clean by those who follow it for its thrill of competition, (competition is a better word, we think, than the more vague “entertainment”) most everyone is happy.

The old NFL franchises, like the Giants and Steelers, used gambling winnings as start-up funding.  Vince Lombardi’s old Green Bay Packers had star players who were convicted football gamblers.   But as long as these unpleasant facts remain outside the minds of the TV-viewing public, they’ll watch, with pride, what they think is sport, and not manipulated entertainment.

Heroics in sports is vital, and heroics has to seem real, not manipulated. 

Poets and psychologists may understand this better than the mere fans and TV-watchers, but it’s also important for a league to have a dynasty, a great team that people can take pride in; the dynastic team gives a mysterious legitimacy to a sport.  What would major league baseball be without the Yankees—a team to love, a team to admire, and a team to beat/hate?  There has never been a major league sport without a dynasty: the Celtics, the Canadians, the Yankees, the Packers.  It lends legitimacy to a sport in an  uncanny manner.  True winning cannot seem to be random or lucky, or, worst of all, the result of a fix—the latter a horror that dare not speak its name among earnest tribes of sports fans; no, winning has to be seen as the product of an ordained person, or team; winning has to have a certain inevitable, historic, almost holy aura to it.

There are two truths right now about the NFL:  One: Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, is the most powerful person in the NFL.  He personally negotiates major media contracts for the NFL, the current NFL commissioner was his pick, he built a football stadium with his own money, he has numerous media and corporate contacts, and he gives widely to charity.  Two: Tom Brady, in a game filled with thuggish personalities, is the face of the NFL.  He is tall, handsome, a winner, dates a supermodel, has a squeaky-clean reputation, and never breathes a negative word about anything in public.

Kraft was able to buy low when he acquired the Patriots (he bought the real estate before he bought the team) because they were highly unsuccesful at the time.  The Patriots almost moved to St. Louis, and then Hartford, before Kraft invested a great deal of his own money to purchase the team outright.  In 2000, Bill Belichick fell into the Patriots lap, even though he was going to be the coach for the New York Jets.  Belichick, a convicted cheater (the NFL fined him half a million dollars) quickly brought the Patriots three Super Bowls in four years, with Tom (Face of the NFL) Brady at the helm; Brady, Belichick, and Kraft made it to their first Super Bowl by surviving a game-ending fumble by Brady in the playoffs when the “Tuck Rule” was called by an official, a bizarre, little-known rule, impossible to interpret, reversing the fumble, and saving the Patriots’ season. 

After Belichick was fined for cheating, the Patriots, like major league baseball suddenly discovering the homerun ball in 1920 after the 1919 black sox scandal, erupted with a fireworks offense (never seen before, or since) and a perfect season—helped along by a number of questionable officials’ calls.   Congress was threatening to investigate Spygate (the Patriots cheating scandal) in the weeks leading up to the 2008 Super Bowl—and the perfect-season, juggernaut Spygate Pats turned into a lamb, and lost.

In the 2010 season, the Patriots, with mostly rookies and second-year players, are still winning, (although every opponent marches down the field on them,) and their victories seem to be coming from fluke plays and fluke calls.  The Patriots did get hammered this year by the Cleveland Browns; the Browns’ head coach once worked for Belichick—and was the coach for the Jets in the game when Belichick was caught cheating.

Speaking of the bizarre ‘Tuck Rule,’ the game of football has such fuzzy rules that fuzzy rules are the rule.  When a player is ‘holding’ another, or when ‘pass interference’ really occurs are as puzzling as the infamous ‘Tuck Rule,’ never mind the question of when a player is really down, or when the ball is really dead, or was that player out-of-bounds, or was that a fumble or not (‘tuck rule,” no.)?   If there’s one constant in the NFL, it’s this: teams that benefit from this fuzziness always win.

TV-watchers prepare for the game by reminding themselves of how great their favorite team’s defense or offense is, but when the game begins, suddenly it’s not a players’ game, but an officials’ game, as every other play brings some head-scratching interpretation of the “rules.” 

Ex-football-player broadcasters display impotent expertise-ism as they—and often the camera—express blatant (but always harmless) consternation at the officials’ on-field rulings, rulings that dominate the contest in ratio to the degree they befuddle. 

There is something comforting about the fuzzy rules of the NFL to Americans, who love to put their faith in the decisions of nearly-invisible government officials who always know best. 

Presidents, and other visible leaders, or political candidates, can be safely mocked, but officials behind-the-scenes simply do what they do with impunity: the referee as God.  Most in football today, however, would say it’s Bob Kraft who is the God.  Or Tom Brady.

Those who know the game of football know it is very much like a long volley in tennis; games go back and forth, with each team moving the ball down the field, and scoring, or giving up the ball on a punt.  A team will only get a handful of possessions in each half, (sometimes a team’s offense will only touch the ball once in a quarter) and one error (an interception returned for a touchdown, for instance) is often enough to decide a game.  One fumble , one interception, or one crucial ref call (or non-call) is all it takes.   The TV-watcher, however, wants to believe the winner was better and the loser is a…loser.  The pride of the fan demands it.

Pro-wrestling (WWE) is rigged, scripted, immensely popular, and relies on the perception of good guys, bad guys and ‘bad’ good guys: Tom Bradys, Michael Vicks and Ben Roethlisbergers.   Here’s the question no ESPN analysist will ask, for fear of losing their job, and no proud NFL fan will ask, for fear of losing their soul:  How close is pro football to pro wrestling?

The NFL is successful.

The NFL has a face.  Poetry does not.

The poet today is as unknown and faceless—as an NFL referee.

Congratulations, Bob Kraft!

Got any ideas for us poets?

LOOK OUT! IT’S ANOTHER SCARRIET HOT 100!

1. Billy Collins  -a poet of wit and popularity
2. Dana Gioia  -his famous essay still resonates
3. David Lehman  -BAP takes the pulse better than prizes/contests do.
4. Louise Gluck  -the new Jorie; has stepped down as Yale judge.
5. John Ashbery  -the most famous unknown person ever
6. W.S. Merwin  -emerging as the e.e. cummings of our time
7. David Orr  -elegant critical manner, writes poetry, too
8. Helen Vendler  -when the dust settles, what has she done, exactly?
9. Paul Muldoon  -as long as he’s at the new yorker, he’ll be on this list.
10. Harold Bloom  -will he ever live down his nutty hatred of Poe?
11. Glyn Maxwell  -a one-man british invasion
12. G.C. Waldrep  -he’s all the rage, and deserves it
13. Anne Carson  -managed to secure that all-important ‘classical’ rep…
14. Robert Hass  -he sort of reminds us of Paul Engle…
15. Mary Oliver  -popular ’cause she feels, rather than thinks, nature poetry.
16. James Tate  -founder of the funny/absurd/surreal/realism school
17. Dean Young  -James Tate lite?
18. Sharon Olds  -nobody does frank sexuality so morally and deftly
19. Charles Simic  -perfected the small, vivid, cinematic poem
20. Marvin Bell  -long time U. Iowan
21. Donald Hall  -our Thomas Hardy?
22. Karen Solie  -2010 Griffin Poetry prize and good poet
23. Terrance Hayes  -beautiful, black, and a National Book Award…
24. Robyn Schiff  -Jorie love-blurbed her madly, UG Iowa Wrkshp dir…
25. Adrienne Rich  -for the sisters
26. Barbara Hamby  -rides the new ‘excessive’ style
27. Lucia Perillo  -2010 BAP; rocks the newly minted ‘A.D.D. School’
28. Matt Donovan  -2010 Whiting Writers award
29. Ron Silliman  -this is his time
30. Amy Gerstler  -2010 Best American Poetry editor
31. Henry Hart  -found a poem I liked by someone on the web, damn!
32. Sandra Beasley  -this gal is worth checking out!
33. Shane McCrae  -warning: this poetry may actually be good…
34. Philip Gross  -2010 T.S. Eliot Prize
35. Simon Armitage  -the closest brit who possesseth any wit
36. L.S. Klatt  -2010 Iowa poetry prize winner
37. Margaret Atwood  -she’s never boring
38. Carolyn Forche  -that ‘bag full of ears’ poem, seems like only yesterday…
39. Matthew Yeager  -2010 BAP, “Go now, my little red balloon of misery!”
40. Stephen Burt  -one day vendler’s empire will be his
41. Barrett Watten  -selling Language Theory to British academia
42. Cole Swensen  -Iowa City/Paris gal
43. Christopher Reid  -first poetry book to win Costa since ’99 (Heaney)
44. D.A. Powell  -seems to be making all the right moves
45. Frank Bidart  -actor James Franco digs his poetry
46. Carl Phillips  -one of our most understated, thoughtful poets…
47. Rachel Hadas  -writing, judging…
48. Alan Cordle  -the david who slew goliath
49. Bin Ramke  -has that ‘Bladerunner’ fallen angel look…
50. Donald Revel  -the blue twilight school
51. Jorie Graham  -has her move to p.c. extremism doomed her?
52. Natasha Saje’  -we like her poetry
53. Paul Hoover  -tortured, philosophical poetry, but good…
54. Conor O’Callaghan  -Bess Hokin winner
55. Terri Erickson  -exploded onto Scarriet, and won Nooch’s heart…
56. George Szirtes  -Hungarian Brit
57. Abigail Deutsch  –Poetry magazine’s 2010 reviewing prize…
58. Jason Guriel  -poet/reviewer making his mark with Poetry…
59. D.H. Tracy  -fastidious, not fawning, as Poetry critic…
60. A.E. Stallings  -studied classics in Athens!
61. Dan Chiasson  -belongs to new crowd of poet/critics
62. Mark Levine  -the David Foster Wallace of workshop poetry…
63. Katherine Larson  -2010 Yale Younger, Gluck’s last pick…
64. Dara Wier  -workshop queen at Amherst & has a Selected…
65. Joseph Donahue  -“the angel’s jibe would harry the glitter from the dew”
66. Robert Casper  -poetry society of america, jubilat
67. Ben Mazer  -Man of Letters: poet, editor, critic?  He has first two…
68. Eileen Myles  -will not self-edit, thank you…
69. Derek Walcott  -his Pure Style, like buttah…
70. Bob Hicok  -the school of manly sentimentalism…
71. Janet Holmes  -‘ass hat uh’ press is how you pronounce it, I think…
72. August Kleinzahler  -he chased Garrison Keillor away…
73. John Barr  -runs the Evil Empire?  Blog Harriet: zzzzzz
74. Philip Schultz  -his 8 year-old son told him he won the Pulitzer…
75. Seamus Heaney  -his iconic Bog-status is nearly blinding…
76. Kevin Young  -curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library…
77. Charles Bernstein  -his school producing a new generation of folly?
78. Tony Hoagland  -he dares to write like Billy Collins…
79. Ilya Kaminsky  -the spirit of translation…
80. Matthea Harvey  -carries a flag for a style which others do better…
81. Mary Jo Salter  -the most respectable force in poetry ever!
82. William Logan  -if his critic ever reads his poetry, he’s done…
83. Alice Quinn  -20 years picking poems for New Yorker
84. Julianna Spahr  “MFA is under-realized, under-theorized…”
85. Rae Armantrout  -one of the greatest little poem poets…
86. Rita Dove  -Clinton was prez, she was poet laureate, Oasis was cool…
87. Seth Abramson  -ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client’s poetry…
88. Adam Kirsch  -the Harvard kid who made good…
89. Daniel Nester  -We Who Are About To Die is a funny website…
90. Meghan O’ Rourke  -poetry’s audrey hepburn
91. Jim Behrle  -funny, creative, but can’t get laid!
92. Martin Espada  -“Latino poet of his generation” says his website
93. William Kulik   -scarriet march madness final four
94. Patricia Smith   -slam queen, rattle prize winner
95. C.D Wright  -tickled by the Elliptical…
96. Philip Nikolayev  -where’s Fulcrum?
97. Carl Adamshick  -latest Walt Whitman winner
98. Dora Malech  -everything going for her but poetic talent
99. Eleanor Ross Taylor  -best 90 year old poet around
100. Valzhyna Mort  -beautiful russian-american…uh…poetry.

101. Marcus Bales  -anybody like skilled verse?

LONGFELLOW PARK

That summer we were devoted to baseball
And counted dexterity highest of all things.
Under high trees we learned what we could do on our feet
With the wiffle ball—make it soar or run and with its curve
Baffle both the left handed and the right handed batter.

Our umpire was the venerable Henry Wadsworth Longfellow;
On Brattle Street in Cambridge,  Longfellow’s house stands,
Between it and the Charles River, Longfellow Park;
A dozen stone steps on either side descending to the river
Frame a monument fifteen feet high, featuring the bust

Of Longfellow, with his fictions carved in low-relief
On the wall behind him; the base on which his bust sits
Is a pedestal forming a strike zone perfect in width,
The wall a fine back-stop to the field of play, formed by
A three foot stone wall enclosing the infield, lamposts

Perfect foul poles just beyond the short wall’s two corners;
Three stone steps opposite the statue twenty feet away
Lead to the grass outfield and a curved path: homerun.
Two is all that’s needed; one bats, one pitches.
Singles need to clear the three foot stone wall,

Doubles are any hit which hits an outfield tree on the fly,
Triples those hits which on a fly strike the distant path,
Homeruns those which clear the path, sixty feet away.
Home is the vertical area behind the batter,
Under Henry’s beard.  He watched the called balls and strikes

We threw against his pedestal all summer.  My fastball
Was okay, but then I changed speeds—she’d lunge at the ball
Before its anticipated arrival; that was the change-up,
My best pitch.  She threw hard and learned a spot
Where I just couldn’t hit it and threw it there all day;

She shut me out once; we’d play nine innings
And we took it seriously.  We fell in love with the game;
We hated to stop when tourists came by to peek at Henry,
Or when it rained, or grew dark, or when lovers
Were there ahead of us, sighing in our perfect field.

WHY IS BILLY COLLINS POPULAR?

Because he’s classical. 

The world of literature is small, rounded by misty pre-history on one end, and mad post-modernism on the other, with Greeks and Romans and all their imitators, Donne, Pope, Shelley, Tennyson, and Eliot, in-between.

We sometimes kid ourselves that this iron limit doesn’t exist, but the true classicist knows it does, and is always resigned to this limit, and, placidly nursing the secret, learns quicker than his fellows, and does so with honor, and a smile.

The fickle modernist, proud of his infinite world, (here comes another boring, eye-lash intricacy) grinds his teeth at the classical popularity.

Horace, like Collins, wrote often of other poets—not passively, in mere manic, modernist, observation—but socially, playfully, and self-consciously, making the admiration a part of his own art:

Borne by strong winds, Pindar the Theban swan soars
high above, Antonious,  through the lofty realms
Of cloud: while I, in another fashion—
just like a small bee
sipping each sweet blossom of thyme and roving
through the thick groves, over the slopes of Tibur
rich with streams—so, cell upon cell, I labor
moulding my poems.

In Collins’ latest, “Memorizing ‘The Sun Rising’ By John Donne,” in November’s Poetry, classical tropes are on display: memorizing a well-known poem, engaging with the whole work (not a fragment), and assimilating that work optimistically, romantically, mystically, ecstatically:

Every reader loves the way he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they
were likely cloudy on that seventeenth-century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

But after a few steps into stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day.

And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second is likewise gone, a blown-out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

So it’s not until I leave the house
and walk three times around this hidden lake
that the poem begins to show
any interest in walking by my side.

Then, after my circling,
better than the courteous dominion
of her being all states and him all princes,

better than love’s power to shrink
the wide world to the size of a bedchamber,

and better even than the compression
of all that into the rooms of these three stanzas
is how, after hours stepping up and down the poem,
testing the plank of every line,
it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.

In a loving tribute to the Roman classical poets, Poets In A Landscape by the scholar and translator Gilbert Highet (d. 1978), we are told

“Except to schoolboys, the odes of Horace have been, for nearly two thousand years, one of the best-loved books of poetry ever written.  They are one of the few absolutely central and unchallengable classics in Latin and in the whole of western literature.  For many generations, a man was not considered educated unless he knew them.”

Highet also points out that to translate the complex music of Horace is impossible; the attempt to translate in an utterly faithful fashion crashes and burns; the best way to render Horace is to write like Collins, steadily, sincerely, and without fireworks.

Billy Collins is our Horace.  This is why he is popular.

Poetry’s popularity does not, and will never, derive from the experimental; poetry’s appeal springs from the classical; for the classical is not old, but  human.

And here, then, is the Donne poem, which (O! clever Collins!) is necessary for the Collins poem—which forever takes after the Donne:

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

A CONTINUAL EXTINCTION OF PERSONALITY

Van Gogh (d. 1890) Japanese influence due to U.S. Navy’s trip to Japan in mid-19th century, thanks to Poe’s friend, Joseph P. Kennedy, sec. navy.

Tom, I dare not say.
Little review, I’m afraid you’ll go away.
A light rain might interfere with the sun
In terms that might upset you, or anyone,
Gliding past an ordinary World War One day.

I’m afraid you’ll go away.
The rain dissolves near the mist-resembling sun.
Clouds were bright last night, and I see every magazine is done.
Is it possible to be published? Will I be kissed?
Is it wise to duck the sun?

Haiku was all the rage in 1904
Due to the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japan war.
Imagism and “objective correlative”
Would soon follow.
Ezra Pound insisted, but Tom’s father wouldn’t swallow.

Perhaps aeroplane and typewriter
Made poems go
where they didn’t want to go.
Futurism was a gas—funny and slow.
Is light in the eyes of the crowd the light of night or day?
Are we closer to each other now?   Stein’s secretary,
Hemingway…

Tom, I dare not say
Why there’s no ideas but in things,
For things work better in painting,
Not in poetry, where things do not stay;
Do you remember the stars?  The wide bay…

YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR POEM

torso.jpg

Rilke’s marvelous poem really stands up well in English, and one gets the idea this poem can wear all sorts of translations and keep on giving.  Here’s the site we raided.

Archäischer Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

Here’s one of many standard versions:

We cannot know his beautiful head,
where the eyes ripened like apples,
yet his torso still glows like a candelabrum,
from which his gaze, however dimmed,

 still persists and gleams. If this were not so,
the bow of his breast could not blind you,
nor could a smile, steered by the gentle curve
of his loins, glide to the centre of procreation.

 And this stone would seem disfigured and stunted,
the shoulders descending into nothing,
unable to glisten like a predator’s pelt,

or burst out from its confines and radiate
like a star: for there is no angle from which
it cannot see you. You must change your life.

But it’s also wonderful to see the rhyme scheme replicated in English:

We cannot know his outrageous skull
wherein his eyeballs mature,
though his torso’s candlelight allure,
his lost eyes’ light however dull,

endures and burns. Were this not so
his breast’s bow could not blind
nor could a smile, led by the line
of his sex, that engendering flow.

And this stone would be a lump
the shoulder meaningless, the rump,
the sleek wolf’s sheen dismayed;

It could not burst its bounds and send
light from its star: you are displayed
to its stern gaze. You must your life amend.

–translated by Billy Mills

And we like this one, too:

We did not know that celebrated head,
Eyes warming Zeus with their promise.
But his torso glowers and glows like a muted
Greek candle, straight and shining.

Why else would you be dazzled
By the pout of his chest, swivel hips
Askew, a grin hinged on his chi,
Confident carrier of a generation?

Or, yet, this stone would stand chipped
And marred under slacker’s shoulders,
Not sleek and shiny like a hunter’s coat,

Nor erupting, emanating like a star.
Nowhere are you safe from its gaze;
No. You need to get a life.

translated by Henry Lloyd Moon

 

MODERNISM AND THE EXPERIMENTAL FALLACY

…the process of improvement will be cumulative…let them stay with the system of education and see that no deterioration creeps in…and avoid at all costs any innovation in the established physical or academic curriculum. When they hear someone saying that men pay most attention ‘to the latest song on the singer’s lips’ (Homer) they must be afraid that people will think that the poet means not new songs, but a new kind of song, but such innovation should not be recommended, nor should the poet be so understood. You should hesitate to change the style of your literature, because you risk everything if you do; the music and literature of a country cannot be altered without major political and social changes.  …It is in education that disorder can most easily creep in unobserved because people treat it as child’s-play, and think no harm can come of it.  It only does harm because it gradually undermines morals and manners…

—The Republic, Book 4

What is the real difference between the literate sensibilities of the old 19th century and the slightly less old 20th century?   The latter was more acutely aware of the island-reality. 

To be clearer:  In the 19th century, and every century prior, those who were fortunate enough to be literate were acutely so, and to them it was natural that illiterate brutes were everywhere—the educated few just didn’t worry a lot about them, or write very much for them.  Those on the ‘literate island’ wrote for those who were on the ‘literate island’ like themselves; this fostered an even more intense literary acumen among the literate, because they wrote unabashedly for, and to, each other.

In the 20th century, however, the literate became hyper-aware they were on an island, cut off from those who noisily lived, if not an illiterate existence, then one not given over to poetry and intellectuality.  A sea change occured in terms of how those ‘on literate island’ viewed the others.

Roughly 100 years ago we observe two things: an increasing number of those who are somewhat literate, and aspiring to be literate, and secondly, an increasingly large class of those literate enough to express mockery and disdain at the refined sensibilites of the more literate. 

In the 19th century, those off the island, for the most part, were entirely illiterate, and thus of no consequence at all.  This gradually changed with universal education, the rise of the middle class, class consciousness itself, the increase of social concern for the lower classes, and so on.   So, by the 20th century, those on the island are no longer at ease with their literate existence, no longer able to develop refinements and literate powers guilt-free, by interacting only with those on the island like themselves.

Two crucial things occur:  First, increasing numbers of those ‘off-the-island’ clamor to be ‘on-the-island,’ even though they are largely misfits.  Second: Increasing numbers of those ‘on-the-island’ champion those ‘off-the-island,’ preferring to write to those ‘off-the-island’ than to their more literate brethren ‘on-the-island.’

It is a good for the on-the-island literates to care for the semi-literates and illiterates off-the-island—politically, but it only makes writing worse.  What possible good comes of wanting to leave ‘literate island?’

So now, we see what happens: a new combination of confused, anxious, divisive, privileged, elitist, clashing emotions brutalize the literate class who are ‘on the island.’

In the 19th century, those ‘on the island’ are literates who are natural elites: great writers without any distractions; when we read name authors of the 19th century, such as Mary Shelley, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or Jane Austen, we are struck by the natural power of their writing: they write extremely well, in a free, uninhibited, graceful, firm, luxurious yet precise manner.  Shelley wrote the rich, striking Frankenstein, a classic of world literaturewhen she was a teenager.

The 20th century island produces a far more anxious and uncomfortable and divided writer. 

One might say this was due to experimentation, but whatever we call it, there is a little voice in the back of our heads saying, Ernest Hemingway is not really that good! or, I know I am always told that Pound is a magnificent writer, but why do I suspect the self-consciously Greek-translated style that starts The Cantos is dangerously close to hack work?  Or, to be honest, I really don’t enjoy reading James Joyce, though I would die if I dared to admit such a thing to my friends?

Writing tells, writing tells of every glory that comes from real experiments with real and actual results, but since when did we buy into the dubious notion that writing itself had to be experimental?  Since when was it necessary that writing had to cease relating the specific and vast wonders of novelty—and that novelty itself would be so enfeebled—by being forced to exist only in writing’s own narrow existence?

How long do we have to wait before the experimental produces actual results?

The twentieth century is over and we are still waiting.

Prior centuries produced novelty; in fact, one man in the 19th century (Poe: detective fiction, science fiction, verse innovations) produced more of it than all the touted experimentalism of the 20th century literature put together; even stream-of-consciousness belongs to the 19th century; the real results of the 19th century break like the Atlantic ocean over the trivial e.e.cummings-experimentalism of the 20th. 

The experimental.  How long shall we moderns bray and boast and brag and crow as we hide behind that word?

Historically sublime writing, which uses the perfected tools of sentence order, vocabulary, language, the perfected poetry of sound and sense, developed and perfected over centuries, allowing for infinite combinations of painting, emotion, drama, philosophy, and scientific formula—should it  be trifled with by the pick-up-stick scatterings of an e.e.cummings or a tseliot or an ezrapound or a williamcarloswilliams or a wsmerwin, and can this produce real results or the true good?

MASONRY!

In early United States history, before Slavery became the really hot issue of the day, forcing everyone to take sides in the heated atmosphere that boiled over into our American Civil War, newspaper headlines and American heads of state were deeply embroiled in another issue: the secret society as old as the Middle Ages: the Freemasons.

Freemasonry was not a minor side-issue: major political players came to prominence as Anti-Mason party candidates, including William Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, who survived the assassination plot against the U.S. on the same day Lincoln was murdered. Seward, who many thought would become president in 1860, was a prominent anti-slavery and prison-reform activist, and is probably most famous for purchasing Alaska from Russia under president Andrew Johnson.

Thurlow Weed, a leading anti-Masonist, was the most powerful Whig/Republican party boss of his day, a key backer of the presidential nominations of William Henry Harrison (1840), Henry Clay (1844), Zachary Taylor (1848), Winfield Scott (1852), John Charles Frémont (1856) and Abraham Lincoln (1860).

John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, published an anti-Masonic work,  Letters on the Masonic Institution, in 1847.  In a letter written in 1831, Adams, wrote: “All that my father knew of masonry in 1798, was that it was favorable to the support of civil authority; and this he inferred from the characters of intimate friends of his, and excellent men who had been members of the Society.  To speak of the Masonic Institution as favorable to the support of civil authority at this day, and in this country, would be a mockery of the common sense and sensibility of mankind.”

Masonry may have been part of America’s founding, but after the William Morgan murder case broke in 1826, anti-Masonic feelings ran high in the U.S, and the founders of the Whig party—which became Lincoln’s Republican party—were swept along by outspoken anti-Masonic fervor.

John Quincy Adams, again: “It has therefore been in my opinion, ever since the disclosure of the Morgan-murder crimes, and of the Masonic oaths and penalties by which they were instigated, the indispensible duty of the Masonic order in the United States, either to dissolve itself, or to discard forever from its constitution and laws all oaths, all penalties, all secrets, and as ridiculous appendages to them, all mysteries and pageants.”

What makes all this deliciously interesting in terms of Letters, is that the famous poet Edgar Allan Poe was quietly connected to these anti-Masonic Whig forces, during the now forgotten time in our history when Masonry, more than Slavery, was the divisive issue of the day. 

John P. Kennedy (1795-1870) was novelist, long-time Maryland congressman and secretary of the Navy overseeing Perry’s trip to Japan and other missions, including one to explore the Amazon.  Kennedy helped found the Whig party—and Kennedy got Poe his first job—at the Southern Literary Messenger.  Kennedy also shared Poe’s publisher, Matthew Carey; Carey was a Benjamin Franklin and General Lafayette associate, and Carey, Poe’s publisher, was also an important ally of the above-mentioned John Quincy Adams.

“Conspiracy nuts,” as they’re justly called, make much ado about the evils of freemasonry, and how nearly every important person is overtly, or secretly, a freemason; we don’t wish to get involved in this wild goose chase, though obviously facts, here and there, can be devilishly thrilling.  We refuse to choose sides or make accusations, and we understand the whole issue is immensely complex; just witness John Quincy Adams attacking the society, while acknowledging his father and many great men belonged to it.  We admit the case of Grand Master of the Rite and Confederate general Albert Pike is a fascinating one, and, who knows, perhaps Masons killed both Poe and Lincoln.  But again, all this is far more than we could possibly look into, at present, much less prove.

What we do find interesting is something we discovered when reading how Jesuit followers of Loyola attempted to stamp out Freemasonry in the mid-15th century; apparently  in 1512, an anti-Masonic society called The Trowel was formed in Florence, and the Society of the Trowel was suppressed by clergy during Spain’s Inquistion.  Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” takes place during the Inquisition, but look at this passage from “The Cask of Amontillado and recall that Poe sets his story in Italy, where the Society of the Trowel was born:”

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement — a grotesque one.

“You do not comprehend?” he said.

“Not I,” I replied.

“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”

“How?”

“You are not of the masons.”

“Yes, yes,” I said; “yes, yes.”

“You? Impossible! A mason?”

“A mason,” I replied.

“A sign,” he said.

“It is this,” I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.

“You jest,” he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. “But let us proceed to the Amontillado.”

The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Poe

When Freemasonry took root in France, and influenced the French revolution, initiations took place in a grotto, strewn with human bones.

One more rather interesting tidbit: Masonic literature may have given Poe his idea for the differently colored apartments in his Masque of the Red Death.  From a description of the symbolism of degrees in the Rite: “There are four apartments, first hung with black, lit up by a solitary lamp of triangular form from a vaulted ceiling…then white, then blue, then red…”  Poe’s character, Prince Prospero, who attempts to hide, with a clique of friends, walled off from the rest of the world, is brought down by the Red Death.  Poe seems to be saying: Death to secretive elites, who would cut themselves off from the world!   Like the great diplomat and president John Quincy Adams, Poe disliked oaths, pageants and secrecy; and championed science and code-breaking in everything he wrote.

Poe’s friend, the author and congressman, the previously-mentioned John P. Kennedy, introduced a bill which guaranteed federal funding for the artist and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse’s telegraph.

There is speculation that Poe’s mysterious friend in Poe’s “Letter To B__” is none other than Samuel F.B. Morse, himself.

THE POEM THAT CAME TO ME LAST NIGHT

poem.jpg

The poem that came to me last night
Has yet to be put into words—
There was insufficient light,
The flickering fell into halves, then thirds;
I could not see to write.

The subdivided sun questioned itself into nothing
And I crouched alone in the darkness.
Still, there was a tickle climbing up my spine,
As if a tickle might lead to a thought,

A thought to a plan, a plan to a crime:
Murderer, stay—I led you here—to be caught.

IS BEAUTY THE NEW TABOO?

Good literature, good music, beauty of form and good rhythm all depend on goodness of character—not lack of awareness of the world which we politely call ‘goodness,’ but a mind and character well-formed.  Are not these the things which our youth must pursue?  The graphic arts are full of the same qualities and so are the related crafts, weaving and embroidery, architecture, and the manufacture of furniture, and the same for living things, animals and plants.  For in all of them we find beauty and ugliness.  And ugliness of form and bad rhythm and disharmony are akin to poor quality of expression and character, and their opposites, good character and discipline.  –book three, The Republic

What’s the one thing which terrifies the avant-garde?

Colleges won’t touch it.

Intellectuals are afraid of it.

Artists feel dread at the mere mention of its name.

It’s far more horrifying, divisive and forbidden than violence, sex, politics or religion.

In a discussion with Christopher Woodman on the Louise Gluck thread, I put it honestly on the table:  Gluck’s lost beauty.   Gluck was not insincere when she said she “didn’t want to be a Longfellow,” because Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s fame was, by its very nature, a “flaw;” yet Gluck’s grumble betrays a petulant crankiness, which, on closer examination, reveals a psychological reversal: it isn’t that she doesn’t want Longfellow’s acclaim; Gluck is resigned to the fact that she’ll never have it.  Gluck’s grumble is honest, because she believes that at one time she could have had fame—otherwise her grumbly complaint, which only makes her look like a crank, would never have been made.   It was made, however.  Why?  Louise Gluck is a distinguished (if not a wildly acclaimed) poet, and not known for personal outbursts or gaffes.  Why would she make such a grumble in public?   Regret.  What does she regret?  She would never have made the by now famous “Longfellow- acclaim-grumble” had she lacked confidence in her importance above and beyond acclaim; yet why should the ‘above and beyond’ ever fall to crankiness?  If it’s really ‘above and beyond,’ it shouldn’t.   Gluck had a cranky moment, in our opinion, for a very simple, human reason: she regrets her youthful beauty is gone and that it can no longer participate in any acclaim.

This is Gluck’s unspoken truth.  Unspoken, for her once ravishing beauty lies at the center of her complaint, and it must lie in silence, for the Modernists knocked beauty and harmony and discipline off the throne, and placed the vanity of intellectual obfuscation and difficulty there, instead.

Some will assume it then follows that there’s no such thing as inner beauty.

Of course there is.  There is inner beauty, or beauty of the mind, which is, at least according to Socrates, what we should chiefly adore.

But we love and respond to a person’s inner loveliness only when that person is honest about their desire for beauty which they do not possess.

This is what does not get taught in schools; it’s dangerous (and impolite to all the ugly people) to worship beauty as it truly exists.

But all great artists must ‘go through’ this first (honest) step to get to the next one: inner beauty which desires to be beautiful.

Beauty is attractive, and thus, it will always have a certain amount of acclaim.  This is natural, and to reject acclaim is to embrace the ugly.

The Modernist response to this problem is the sour-grapes approach; Modernist aesthetics placates the non-beautiful by renouncing beauty altogether, saying beauty is nothing but a hindrance, an obsolete illusion of an ignorant people.  This is what has become the academic, postmosternist ideal:  The heckling of beauty, the worship of non-beauty.

It’s a classic case of repression: for what is the morose, ugly intellectualism of modernism/post-modernism, if not the vengeful ghost of Platonism entering secretly through the back door?

Socrates is explicit on this point: art that moves us too well is for that very reason forbidden from his utopian republic.

The reasonable and beautiful search for harmony and good by Socrates has been chopped up and stored under the floorboards by modern intellectualism, which considers itself free of that Socratic quest for harmony and good.  Today we are embarrassed by those dialogues of Plato; and yet, what is this elite, sour, and free-ranging intellectualism which we call modernism/post-modernism, but that which has banned art from the republic, not by banning it, but by making it harsh and ugly, so that a vast majority of the republic’s citizens are unmoved by art, such that outright banning isn’t necessary?  What is modernism and postmodernism but a harsh and hidden Platonism asserting itself in an unconscious and repressed manner in the unconsciously-agreeable, avant-garde mind?

The ‘found’ poem or ‘found’ art, for instance, produces smirks among the clever avant garde artistes, and only a quizzical shrug in the populace—and the latter reaction gives the clever artistes a certain superior satisfaction; however, the clever artistes don’t realize that they (the clever artistes) are the willing slaves of plato’s ideas—for the good of that art-hating, hard-working populace.

Louise Gluck—belonging, with her colleagues and defenders, to the modernist/post-modernist/university writing program tradition, which self-consciously defines itself, explicitly, in complete opposition to artists like Longfellow, why should the once-young and beautiful Louise Gluck admit that she wants to be admired by the hard-working, art-hating masses of plato’s real and modern republic?  This would be like Gluck saying she wants to be young, again, and pretty, and invited to the ball, where Socrates—look! he’s young and handsome, too! waits, trembling with excitement, to dance with her.

LET’S GO SWIMMING

Let’s go swimming.  The beach, the basin, and the bay
Are filled with quiet water.  You’ll make a splash
When that pink thing, the one you’ve worn all day,
Reducing smirking manhood to ash,
Is replaced by your yellow swimsuit—
Charming in ratio to the brutes it makes mute.

Let’s go swimming.  We’ll plunge into the eye
Of yesterday’s seeing, for yesterday we saw
Myriad sunsets setting along a ridge of suns. Fly,
To heights, where below has no more flaw.
Fly.  You’ll never want to swim again, true;
Freedom of blue sky cures affection for that other blue.

WE THE VAIN AND BEAUTIFUL

 

We, the vain and beautiful,
Are the most unhappy of our race,
Because we are unhappy at heart,
Being interested in only the face
And the things which adorn mere nature
To make her more beautiful still,
When the mouth is an ooze of blood,
And seeing releases the will.

Is life a jumble of rude sensations?
What good is ugliness, per se?
We did not dream of trench warfare,
Or of sending the different away.
Our single criterion is beauty,
And then simple worship of the same
In whatever we find beautiful,
Without note of number or name.

DEMOCRATIC REALITIES: THE SILENCING OF BLOGS

Two points of view dominate the potential contributor to the open discourse of the blog.

Here is the first view:

Most of you can be described thusly: (tiny, frightened voice) “I don’t want to bore anyone…I have nothing to say…God forbid, I should write something from the heart and a stranger rebukes me…”

Or, from a completely different perspective, the second view:

(Loud, stern voice) “My thoughts are not cheap…I’m not just going to put my opinions on a blog for the rabble to peruse, or, worse, for someone to steal…My thoughts are worthy of being published, of selling; they are not for free!”

Both of these views conspire to stifle open dialogue…

A private club would unblock these inhibitions.

The public nature of a blog, ironically, quells public discourse.

This is the great paradox of cultural exchange.

Yet, as Silliman’s blog entry today demonstrates, poets give public readings all over the place.

What’s to prevent someone at a public reading from stealing a poet’s thought?   Nothing.  There’s danger here, too.

But here’s the attraction:  Poets, in this case, are reading from their published books, and the poet believes their ideas are safe in a published book.

Secondly, the poetry reading reflects a hierarchy flattering to the poet:

I, the poet, am reading my poems to listeners who have come to hear me, the poet.

The listeners worship in a proper position of respect which the democratic blog can never hope to replicate.

The published book is the nucleus of the atom and the electrons of public obeisance revolve around this nucleus, comprising an orderly structure of stability and peace.

The blog which admits comments, on the other hand, permits not only electrons to jump around, but the atoms themselves to be suddenly created, and reactions and fusions to take place with great velocity and force.

This is perhaps good news, for in the above scenario we see that the book is still vital to intellectual life.

However, if the exchange of views and ideas is suppressed and not stimulated by books—as the passive reading replaces the Socratic argument—and books, instead, become mere receptacles of vanity and received opinion in a conservative manner, the complaint we are so bold in making here is perhaps a just one.

Let us, by all means, have the respected author, basking in the respect due the published author, but we should also encourage questions and conversations in which that very same respect is put aside, in a public fashion, for the truth.

Does it matter, finally, where an idea resides?  Published in a book, or unpublished, in a brain?  The former is where we’d always prefer it to be, perhaps, but should we be anxious to have legitimate ideas only reside there, simply in order to preserve the existence of a publishing status quo?

Let the truth itself matter most, at last.

So, to our experts, fearing to give up trade secrets, we say: perhaps these secrets are not as important as you think they are, as secrets, and to our timid folk: perhaps your secrets are more important than you think.

IS TIM LINCECUM BASEBALL’S SHELLEY?

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The experts have told us why the Giants won their first title in San Francisco this month:

A shortstop who hit two timely homeruns during the five-game contest, and received the Series Most-Valuable-Player, was official Major League Baseball’s opinion, and, in a completely different corner, ‘Language Poet’ and poetry blog-meister Ron Silliman opined that Dave “Rags” Righetti, former NY Yankees pitching star and the Giants’ pitching coach, deserves the MVP; though how can a coach win ‘most-valuable-player?  Only a ‘Language Poet,’ perhaps, could make such a blunder.

Not to diminish what coaches and managers do, but the players, as the cliche goes, are the ones who win the games on the field, and for every great move that works, there is a great move that fails, or, a ‘bad’ move that works, and while surprise is a tool of the coach, both execution and surprise belong to the player on the field.

My choice for the MVP is the “Freak,” Tim Lincecum, and not a surprising choice at all, but the importance of his contribution has been overlooked for many reasons: Matt Cain hurled only shutout innings, ‘The Beard,’ Brian Wilson, the closer, was perfect, and the pitching staff, as a whole, was outstanding; the hitting attack was, if not quite buzz-saw quality, clutch and persistent; fouling off pitch after pitch, even when striking out, to increase the opposing pitcher’s pitch-count; bunting with confidence and aplomb to move runners over; hitting balls hard to every field; and, what’s more, the defense was stellar in every aspect, too, from throwing out runners trying to steal, to scooping up dribblers in the infield, to turning double-plays.   No wonder the Giants rolled over the loose, confident, nothing-to-lose-first-time-in-the-world-series Texas Rangers—a team that had rolled over the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays and the 200 million plus payroll New York Yankees.

But the 2010 Giants’ winning ways radiated from Tim, the pitching-phenom sprite who has the inexplicable demeanor-plus-talent to make an entire team feel good about itself.  Wilson, of the black-shoe-polish-painted-beard, was cool with himself because he was on a team with a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher nick-named “Freak.”  Without Tim, Wilson stands out as the butt of jokes; with Tim, Wilson fits in.  In game one of the World Series Tim is human, does not look particularly good, but still gets the job done, still beats post-season great Cliff Lee.  This fiercely relaxes the whole team: our ace can win without his best stuff.

When Tim is on, he’s virtually unhittable, as he was during the Game 5 Series clincher; so that veteran player and announcer Tim McCarver said it was a mistake to let Wilson pitch the ninth instead of Lincecum, (Wilson retired the side in order, striking out the final batter to win it).  The Giants’ pitching staff doesn’t feel the pressure to be perfect, the Giants’ offense doesn’t feel the pressure to score lots of runs, all because Tim is the ace of the SF Giants; he’s that rare player that makes an entire team better simply by being on the team.

Barry Bonds was that kind of player—almost.  His Giant club came with a game of winning it all in 2002, but Barry was the butt of jokes; during the 2002 World Series the telecast miked the Angels’ pitching coach—in the ‘Sounds of the Game’ feature—who, to the amusement of his team, was caught on tape in the dugout saying, “Look at Barry…” in a mocking tone, as Bonds was sulking, following a fielding error, on the other side of the diamond, in the Giants’ dugout.   It was enough to make the Angels, player-for-player not quite as good as San Francisco, feel a certain edgy confidence.  I doubt the Rangers were feeling better about themselves by laughing at Tim Lincecum.

A team’s best player always defines that team, not just in terms of how talented a player they are, but in terms of personality, team-building, morale, and temperament.   Tim Lincecum radiates skill, confidence, serenity, and flamboyance, a certain modesty, novelty, and sense of fun, all at once.

We see it in Romantic poet Percy Shelley’s best poetry, the kind of poetry that says: I’m good without any pretence or affectation; I obey no rules, I’m pleasing to myself and I don’t care what others think.

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.

These famous lines of Shelley, from his famous “Ode to the West Wind,” express boyish physicality, joy and urgency, without a hint of intellectual pretense, self-consciousness, or morbidity.

Tim Lincecum’s whole being drives and animates his team with a similar carefree, yet intensely focused, spirit.

A MISFORTUNE OF CLOUDS

Every star journeys, and on the way, decides
Which way to take. Even the sun must decide
How high to fall, which horizon to scrape,
When to bloom and when to vanish, depending
On the season, the day, the hour,
And whether it will smile or be hidden in a company
Of clouds, or appear through them, and with exactly
How many rays. And be warm or cool, it all depends.
Such a king is pawn to so much variance,
Almost as much as worms are, though its power
And purpose are self-evidently true.
No star makes a route that arrows forever. Every trip
Has choice except the one creation takes.

FOR T.S. ELIOT

I’m trying to get to the whole thing
By imagining it (the whole thing)
Really contains everything
And so less of this everything–
That is, by subtraction alone–
Makes an identified thing what it is.
By taking away from the block
We get the sculpture, by breaking the
Sentence, poetry,
By dimming the lights, Romance.
All these small goodbyes
Make our tragic heroes grow in stature
Until they are big enough to watch the play.
We are actors now, going by the ocean.
We are halved, we are useless and longing.
Someone just said, “Just for a walk by the sea,”
Someone called it something else.
The line, the word–look, it’s frightening to itself,
All the confusions, all the sounding odd,
Reconciled by twelve notes–only twelve!
And there was infinity to choose from!–a few of which
Keep repeating so we place a melody (in the mouth? Month?)
And how was it we thought to keep harmony to ourselves
Until we were ready to greet you with it and make you
Sad? Sir? See, it’s HARVARD.
You did very well there.

STAIRWAY TO CANON

 

There’s a lady who’s sure all that’s modern is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to canon.
And when she gets there she knows if the poetry is prose,
With a word she can get what she came for

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to canon

There’s MFA’s on the wall but she wants to be sure
And you know sometimes words have two meanings
In Profess’r Vendler’s book there’s a poet who sings
Sometimes dear Louise Gluck is mistaken

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to Vendler

There’s a feeling I get when I put down the rest
And my spirit is crying for Harvard
In my thoughts I have seen rings of words in-between
And the voices of those who stand blurbing

Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to canon

And it’s whispered that soon, if Burt calls the tune
Then Jorie will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn for those who blurb long
And Harvard will echo with laughter

And it makes me wonder

If there’s a Genoways in your journal
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the Casteen

Yes there are two blurbs you can go by
but in the long run
There’s still time to change the word you’re on

Your head is humming and it won’t go because you don’t know
Bin Ramke’s calling you to join him
Dear lady can’t you hear the wind blow and did you know
Your contest lies on the whispering wind

And as we cheat on down the road
Our hair is longer than our souls
There walks a lady we all know
Who shadows them and wants to show
How criterion still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The blurb will come to you at last
When all are dull and dull is all
To be a judge and always roll
Woe oh oh oh oh oh
And she’s buying a stairway to canon

There’s a lady who’s sure all that’s modern is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to canon
And when she gets there she knows if the poetry is prose
With a word she can get what she came for

And she’s buying a stairway to canon, uh uh uh.

POE WINS!!

Philly fans celebrate The Poe’s World Series win over the Rapallo Pound

Alexander Pope allowed 3 hits over seven innings to lead the Philadelphia Poe to a 5-1 victory over the Marquis de Sade and the Rapallo Pound. 

Osip Mandelstam hurled a pefect eighth for the Poe, and General Winfield Scott pitched the ninth, yielding a solo homerun to James Joyce, as the Poe won the first Scarriet World Series title by winning three straight at Rapallo, the Pound’s home park.

Arthur C. Clarke, starting in left field for Fanny Osgood, was the batting hero for the Poe, with 3 hits and 4 RBIs.

Lord Byron had the other RBI for the Poe, as he delivered a two-out single to knock in Charles Brockden Brown to start the scoring in the third, after looking foolish on the previous pitch by Sade, Byron falling down as he chased a slow pitch out of the strike zone.   “Poetry is nothing more than a certain dignity which life tries to take away,” Byron said later in a jubilant clubhouse.

POUND ON THE BRINK; FALLS TO POE, 9-1

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Pound’s Olga Rudge won 19 during the season, but didn’t have it in Game 4

Samuel Taylor Coleridge scattered 11 hits and helped his team with a bases-clearing double as the Romantic poet led the Philadelphia Poe to an easy Game 4 win over Olga Rudge and the Rapallo Pound.

The Poe came into game 4 leading 2-1, with both wins coming in 14 inning contests.  The Pound missed countless opportunities to score in Game 3 and the team now seems haunted by those missed opportunities.  Rudge, who was 19-5 during the regular season, was not sharp, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska fared no better in relief.

Gilmore Simms, who won Game One with a 14th inning homer, tripled to lead off the game and scored on a Baudelaire double, setting the tone for the one-sided contest.

Coleridge described his performance as “unreal,” telling reporters after the game he could not remember what he did on the mound, or with the bat.  “I honestly don’t recall the game at all,” he opined, his curls dangling sweat, looking oddly cherubic as he looked upward from the bench in front of his locker, blinking into the photographer’s lights.

Game One starter, the Marquis de Sade, goes for the Pound tomorrow to stave off elimination.

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