MORE OBNOXIOUSNESS FROM THOMAS BRADY!

In a book aptly titled Iowa, (the death star of foetry?) the following lines are proffered by the Blog Harriet bully and poet Travis Nichols:

His thin story happened then while coat and pant cuffs flapped around a step-father and half sister. The memories true or not against him seem to be turning to steam, as I turned, all the while thinking of chewing out alone eventually through the ghostly meats.

We’ve seen far better work scribbled extempore from our English Comp. students.  Does this pitiful poetry excerpt from Mr. Nichols explain his Harriet Blog bully behavior?  Are they related?

Of course they are.

When high becomes low and low becomes high,
Distinctions end and all’s one: beauty’s truth and the foul-smelling lie.

Today the reigning pedagogy is to aspire to a niceness that sees goodness and beauty in everything; the result is a universe created by the mind of David Hume, where bodily sensation and doubt are all that exist, where the old enchantments and the old heroics and the possibility for new enchantments and new heroics, fade away in a welter of darkness, despairing laughter and confusion.

Scientific truths do exist; the David Humes of the world have not done away with them, and self-pity and doubt is not my message even as I point out the sorry state of certain contemporary niceties of culture.   Travis Nichols’ wretched intellectual character is finally of no importance, nor does it finally matter how the Poetry Foundation chooses to run Blog Harriet, which seems to be successfully aping Ron Silliman’s cut-and-paste service at present.

Morals cannot finally be about morals, nor poetry about poetry.  All attempts at moral self-analysis (whether universal or local) are too little, too late, for doubt never leads to anything but more doubt; rising from the ashes is a better strategy than accepting partial criticism; if wrong is not entirely overthrown, that wrong only comes back stronger; it needs but one small doubt of its wrong to succeed.  Small exceptions bedevil every moral design, and their smallness is what allows them to ruin our chance for a heaven of happiness on earth, or in the poem.

So Plato was right to make beauty and the good the same in every aspect of mind and body; the good person can make bad poetry, for the good is more important than poetry at last, but just as true is that the bad person cannot make good poetry, and this is true not because poetry is important in itself, but only because poetry allows beauty and the good to separate for a moment, so that we know ourselves, which is to know happiness: for happiness is why the self, and the self’s ability to make poetry, exist.

Because poetry cannot finally be about poetry (and thus the cry, “it’s about the poetry,” when uttered, is always wrong); poetry exists as poetry only when it furthers the Good, i.e., the happiness of others.  The unhappy person cannot make others happy (unless they are making a divine sacrifice—good luck with that) and this is why Travis Nichols bullying others when Blog Harriet was a truly interactive blog (he chose to censor intelligent contributions based on his simplistic sense of ‘playing nice’) will translate into wretched poetry written by Travis Nichols.

This is not a matter of morals so much as physics.  This is pure science, yet we still live in the dark ages in this respect, because we still believe bad people (or simplistically nice people) can write good poetry.  They cannot.

This is the great moral dilemma.  If bad people cannot write good poetry, how shall the bad person be made good, for only with poetry, in the sense Shelley meant: imaginatively going out of oneself and identifying with others, can a person be made good?  The answer is nothing  less than: the child must be given no chance to not become a poet, to not be imaginative.  There is no vocation that is not poetic, no training that should not be poetic.  Imagination, as Shelley understood, subsumes all.

And this is why Letters should be as free, open, uncensored, and democratic as possible;  why poets should not be allowed to hide behind their professional reputations any more than critics should be allowed to scorn behind a critical veneer; and why pedantry of a professional turn should never be allowed to censor, regulate, and proudly reject the amateur.  And this is not because everyone should be nice, or no one should have to wear, or not wear, shoes.  It is because the poetry is the method to be nice, and to know nice, just as unity and consistency are tests for truth.  Do biographies confute this?  Do great poets sometimes have foul reputations?  Check the reputation—it is most likely a lie.  If a great poet was deemed guilty of personal wrong, check the ‘wrong;’ was the poet wrong, or were the worldly opinons and actions of the poet’s surrounding accusers wrong—perhaps in ways not immediately known?  Or, if the poet is a vile person, check the poetry—is it really good?   Of course this throws us back upon a world of the uncertaintities of individually flawed judgments, which is precisely why we need to give those individual judgments as much freedom, as possible.

Systems and institutions act as gate-keepers to keep riff-raff out and royalty in, but what if the royalty are also riff-raff?  What if there’s no need for gate-keepers because the ‘gate’ no longer has any validity?   Even if we agree that private property is sacred and civil authority necessary, do we also agree that critical health in Letters requires the same sorts of safeguards?  Or not?  Do the necessary safeguards to property and civility also apply to poetry?  I would think not.  Why then, do so many poetry professionals, who are the first to clamor for revolutionary justice when it comes to issues of property and civil reform, put up walls when it comes to freedom of speech where they live?   It’s easy to pretend to ‘fight a system’ (the American capitalist one, for instance) when that system is so vast that the ‘fight’ is not finally having any affect at all, except verbally and abstractly.  But as soon as freedoms begin to rattle personal, aesthetic, and pedagogical windows of the actual place where the poetry professional lives, the ‘revolutionary avant-garde theorist’ quickly transforms from 1792 Wordsworth to 1845 Wordsworth, from revolutionary to conservative, and so conservativism forever reigns, from tradition to police action to police action.  There’s always one side that needs another side put down.   The cause of this is easy to see, but difficult to change, because it relates to the cause itself, the ultimate failure—on all sides of the social, religious, politicial spectrum—of the imagination.  In our minds, the other side is always wrong.

This is what we saw in 2010 at Blog Harriet and Silliman’s Blog:  Poetry professionals shut the door on speech.  

Scarriet may not have the clout of a Poetry Foundation or a Ron Silliman.

But we’ll still be here, talking.

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WHAT THEY ALL WANTED

Four guys know a girl,
Only one can have her—
She’s a sister to them all—
Each one her friend, her brother,
Yet all want to be her lover
Or smile still, or joke with her, or fall
Into hell, where fire flames up from every beauty in the world.

A POEM IS A DELICIOUS SHUDDER OF DELIGHT

Oriental Waitress Serving Drink 3.jpg

A poem is not an organism.

A poem is not a field.

A poem is not language.

A poem is not breath.

A poem is not a letter to the world.

A poem is not a rhyme.

A poem is not an image.

A poem is not speech.

A poem is not song.

A poem is a delicious shudder of delight.

As Poe said,—and who better to explain brevity and poetry than someone named Poe?—a poem is brief and it elevates the soul.

 I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio of this elevating excitement. But all excitements are, through a psychal necessity, transient. That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags — fails — a revulsion ensues — and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.

With these simple words, Poe dispels centuries of pedantic darkness.

It is always a painful process to root out ignorance in the popular mind, especially when it is habituated to certain comforting falsehoods; Poe goes right for the pain, testing his thesis in the jaws of Paradise Lost:

There are, no doubt, many who have found difficulty in reconciling the critical dictum that the “Paradise Lost” is to be devoutly admired throughout, with the absolute impossibility of maintaining for it, during perusal, the amount of enthusiasm which that critical dictum would demand. This great work, in fact, is to be regarded as poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve its Unity — its totality of effect or impression — we read it (as would be necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant alternation of excitement and depression. After a passage of what we feel to be true poetry, there follows, inevitably, a passage of platitude which no critical pre-judgment can force us to admire; but if, upon completing the work, we read it again, omitting the first book — that is to say, commencing with the second — we shall be surprised at now finding that admirable which we before condemned — that damnable which we had previously so much admired. It follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun, is a nullity: — and this is precisely the fact.

Poe’s logic is air-tight.   The reader who reads a poem is performing a physical act, and this truth is all, really, that Poe is asserting, plus the notion that physicality has natural limits, which none can dispute.   Note that Poe is not making dubious claims re: the actual physical properties of the poem, and here Poe correctly limits the very thesis itself and does not err in the sense that Charles Olson (d. 1970) did, for instance: giving the quality of “a field” to the poem is to assert absolutely nothing, for a field can be measured, just as any physical object can be measured, but the physical measurement of a field and the physical measurement of a poem allign how?  They do not, and thus one can see at once that it is mere theoretical nonsense.  Poe again:

In regard to the Iliad, we have, if not positive proof, at least very good reason for believing it intended as a series of lyrics; but, granting the epic intention, I can say only that the work is based in an imperfect sense of art. The modern epic is, of the supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poem were popular in reality, which I doubt, it is at least clear that no very long poem will ever be popular again.

History has proven Poe correct: “no very long poem” has attained popularity in the century and a half since Poe wrote these words, and now we see that Pound and his followers, with their long poems*, were less modern (in the actual sense of that word) than Poe; it was Pound, not Poe, who fell into “inconsiderate and blindfold imitation.”   One looks about for an epic by popular poets Robert Frost, Edna Millay, Philip Larkin, T.S. Eliot, Mary Oliver, or Billy Collins and finds none.  One of the many reasons is: the poetry anthology is the mode of poetic popularity and no epic will fit in it.  Another historical test of Poe’s theory is this: the novel is one of the great modern pastimes of the human heart and yet, despite trillions of novel-reading hours, no long poem during this time has emerged as a popular work in the vast reaches of this fiction-reading pursuit.  The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth may be the one slight exception, but it is more a wonderful oddity than a truly popular work.  Why no modern, best-loved long poems?

The core of Poe’s idea (duration) makes it an absolute rock of common sense, impossible to refute.    He follows out the implication of the central idea with genius-like simplicity:

It is to be hoped that common sense, in the time to come, will prefer deciding upon a work of Art, rather by the impression it makes — by the effect it produces — than by the time it took to impress the effect, or by the amount of “sustained effort” which had been found necessary in effecting the impression. The fact is, that perseverance is one thing and genius quite another — nor can all the Quarterlies in Christendom confound them.

On the other hand, it is clear that a poem may be improperly brief. Undue brevity degenerates into mere epigrammatism. A very short poem, while now and then producing a brilliant or vivid, never produces a profound or enduring effect. There must be the steady pressing down of the stamp upon the wax. De Béranger has wrought innumerable things, pungent and spirit-stirring; but, in general, they have been too imponderous to stamp themselves deeply into the public attention; and thus, as so many feathers of fancy, have been blown aloft only to be whistled down the wind.

The little poem by W.C. Williams called the “The Red Wheel Barrow” is a brief poem that has made a certain lasting impression on the public taste, but this proves nothing except that such a strong pull had been created by undue length and heavy-handed pedantry—persisted in by the pedants against Poe’s wisdom for such a long time—that “The Red Wheel Barrow” was, and is, a mere physical counter to this pull, lacking poetic qualities in itself; and we should also remember that this little poem was first heralded by the triumphant textbook Understanding Poetry, and has been pushed on students (anxious to do as little work as possible) in the schools and thus took root in a pedantic atmosphere at first, not in the popular mind.

The rush of excitement exists in the reader, not anywhere in the poem, and academic attempts to resolve the poem based on New Critical principles is a blind endeavor compounding error with error; the shift from New Critical thinking to various experiments have only made the problem worse, since these experiments keep following the poem as it disappears down the hole of its own physicality.

The poetic problem must be constantly approached from two directions: transitory excitement engendered in the reader and physical adjustment in response to that excitement in the act of composition, with the act of composition and the act of excitement feeding one another in a process that never rests in any sort of field or vehicle or receptacle that can be quantified except in the mind of the poet—a mind which balances a vast quantity of impressions and expressions in a combining process too rapid and complex for an outside observer to follow.

The brute fact of duration is the only quantitative measure possible in poetry according to Poe’s instinctive genius, and so far, in terms of poetry as a popular art, this remains as true today—despite a great deal of modernist avant-garde hoopla—as it was when Poe published the first modern poetry essay in 1849, the final year of his life.

 * I refer to Pound’s Cantos, Olson’s Maximus Poems, Williams’ Paterson, Zukovsky’s “A” among others.  Of course, it could be argued that these works were not intended by their authors to be long poems, but rather “a series of lyrics” (in Poe’s words) which is probably true, but if so, this hardly refutes Poe’s thesis.

 

 

THE MODERN POET’S DILEMMA

The poet today is in a real pickle.

The newspaperman doesn’t trust him.

The newspaperman once appealed to the brain, and the poet, to the heart.  But today the journalist is as emotional and big-hearted as the poet once was, while the poet, now trained in the university and too sophisticated to ever write heart-felt verses again, is perceived by the general public to be all brain, and no heart.

But is the brain really the poet’s realm today?   I think even the most disinterested Language Poet in a lab coat would retort, if pressed on the matter, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”  And God knows, the Ted Koosers and Sharon Olds of the world sing to the heart.

But in social reality (to which the poet surely belongs) perecption is reality, and the university-trained poet is brainy in the eyes of the general public.  Even Ted Kooser and Sharon Olds are smart compared to your typical, heart-felt journalist.   (It helps, of course, to be known as ‘Billy.’)

It’s true that during the holiday season, newspapers tug at the heart-strings more than usual, but it’s every poet’s duty to recognize just how much the print media (which competes with the poet, whether we want to admit it, or not) indulges in stories of emotional realism.

Longfellow-ism drives the journalist, even in places like the New York Times and the Boston Globe; though every reader knows no journalist is a Longfellow, no weaver of magic words and words’ sounds.

But then, neither is the poet.

The journalist goes for sentimental dreck and deceptive rhetoric at every turn.  If there’s a dramatic, sentimental angle to be exploited, every journalist, no matter how sophisticated, will go for it every time: the politician drinking with the pub’s owner, the the tears of the widow, the joy of the birth…be human the editor keeps saying.  “Fear of Unrest Grows” is the favorite phrase of the highly emotional newspaper; the fact of unrest does not exist, but that doesn’t stop the passionate newspaperman from writing in large letters: FEAR OF UNREST GROWS.

But if the newspaper trades in Longfellow-ism, wouldn’t the editor be sympathetic to the poet and celebrate poetry?    No, because here’s the rub: the editor may be all heart, but the time-honored tradition of reporting the world’s events to the world still lingers, and this requires—at least in the proud heart of the editor—brains, acumen, and objectivity.   It doesn’t matter that newspapers are purveyors of sloppy language and emotionalism; they wish to be perceived as smart, too, and in this insecure area, the poets, no longer Longfellows, but profound, MFA-trained experts in esoteric matters of language and expression, are rivals, not friends of the newspaperman.

Newspapers still believe in truth, although they convey little of it.

Respectable and distinguished poets no longer believe in Longfellow, and thus in a climate of tradition and passion which surrounds them everywhere, and without any actual scientific credentials, and yet radiating brainy expert-ism, the poets have no friends, and nowhere to go.

And so: FEAR OF POETRY IS GROWING.

THE ROMANTIC EAR

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I write for the love of the modern eye:
It just looks at me; it doesn’t blink or cry.
Then night falls.  There’s only darkness here.
Now she speaks in love’s tones to me
Secretly; gently and confidently
I talk to the romantic ear.

Turn the lights on.  Do you know why
It’s important to look, to never blink or cry?
Observing all, what is there to fear?
Those tones of love now seem trite;
What was it we said in the night?
What was it we needed to hear?

READING WALLACE STEVENS IS LIKE…

Here’s how the game works.

Let’s start with Homer. 

Reading Homer is like... You are 22.  It is mid-summer.  You are playing the board game Risk with young and old family members, drinking ouzo, eating lamb on a large, open-air porch.

Reading Wallace Stevens is like…You are 60.  It is fall.  You are squeezed into a little uptown Manhattan jazz club, slightly buzzed, but hungry.  An elegant stranger looks you up and down and it seems they are going to speak to you, but they only end up giving you a snooty look, and turn away…

Reading John Ashbery is likeYou are 20.  You are talking to your favorite English teacher in a bar who you happened to run into by accident, for the first time outside of school.  You are drunk on 2 drinks; he seems sober on 12.  He’s really cool, and he sure can talk, but you keep waiting for him to get to the point…

Reading W.H. Auden is like…You are 36,  It is early spring.  You are listening to a trio play Vivaldi in a museum.  Your amusing friend has excused himself and they’ve been gone for quite some time, and you’re a little worried.

Reading Poe is likeYou are 9.  It’s late winter.  You are drawing a vase of lilacs early in the morning before anyone else is up, and you’re doing a crossword puzzle at the same time.

Reading T.S. Eliot is like…  You are 17.  It is autumn.  You are rowing across a lake in a rowboat, wearing a suit; a slightly older person in a stylish hat is with you.  You are afraid they don’t love you.

Reading Frank O’Hara is like…  You are 29.  It is spring.  You are playing poker at a drunken party for high stakes and you are winning.  You ask somebody please put another record on the phonograph.

Reading Philip Larkin is like…  You are 49.  It is spring.  You are purchasing a ticket at a railway station.  You have just had a nice meal, with drinks before and after.

Reading WC Williams is like…  It is mid-winter.  You are 99, and staring at yourself in the mirror.

Reading Wordsworth is like… You are 12.  It is late summer. You are playing hide and seek with your younger cousins in the woods.  You are tired of looking.  Everyone, it seems, is gone.  It is starting to rain.

Reading Dante is like….You’re 31.  It is the beginning of spring.  You are at a  rap concert, but you hate the music.  Your beautiful date, it is obvious, dislikes the music, too.  You finally discuss this in the lobby. You both stay.  You don’t know where else to go. 

Reading Charles Bernstein is likeYou’re 2.  It is winter.  You are indoors, where it is quite warm. You are hitting your sister, 1, with a scrabble board.

MONKEY, BERNSTEIN, TO ROBBINS, OFFICIAL DEFENDER OF TRUE POETRY: “US MONKEYS ARE ON A ROLL”

Don’t ever call me a monkey, again, Michael Robbins, you mere doctoral candidate!  Official verse culture clone!  Bad!  Bad!  Bad!

Shit Fight!

Anis Shivani’s latest Huffington Post offering, The Most Important Contemporary Poet: 22 Major American Poets Speak Out is mostly predictable, but we do seem to be moving into a 1930s zeitgeist; the choices of “most important contemporary poet” were white, male, dead, or nearly so, and foreign+ politically grim (one-half) and avant-garde (one-third) as a rule, with a smattering of High Modernist and Beat. Ashbery was not an overwhelming choice by any means (there was no consensus on a poet), but he got the most votes.

Billy Collins, Mary Oliver and Seamus Heaney did not get a mention: not enough avant-garde or political identity in those poets?

There was the usual complaint of “no one poet is best..!” which is the worst cliche’ of all, or perhaps it’s this one, which was seen, too: girl picks girl, queer picks queer, midwesterner picks midwesterner…

One entry was deliciously catty, and thus by far the most worthwhile.  Anything is better than forever dull platitudes of avant-garde or grim.

We speak, of course, of Charles Bernstein’s wacky contribution:

Poetry’s greatest asset may be its unimportance. Which means that what counts as important in poetry is, for much of the culture, unwanted, unwarranted, weirdness, what I call the pataque(e)rical. Even monkeys can do it, or so The London Review of Books, official organ of the Defenders of True Poetry against Barbarians (PAB) tells us in a pronouncement by UChicago supplicant, doctoral candidate Michael Robbins, who proclaims, from his uncontested pulpit (no letter protested) that what folks like me hold as the greatest importance for poetry is the work of nothing more than monkeys (Sept. 9, 2010). Us monkeys are on a roll: you hear it everywhere from LRB’s England from Tom Raworth, Maggie O’Sullivan, Allen Fisher, and Caroline Bergvall to the New England of Susan Howe (whose forthcoming That This from New Directions is extraordinary) and Larry Eigner. Eigner, born “palsied from a hard birth,” has a new Collected Poems, ed. Robert Grenier & Curtis Faville (Stanford) that is one of the most, well, important books of the decade. Eigner’s work is miraculous, turning insurmountable odds into poetic gold while never losing the truths of insignificance. As he ends a 1953 poem, “I am, finally, an incompetent after all.”

Is it just me, or is Bernstein self-destroying?  It has to be the influence of Emerson and Whitman, self-evidently absorbed by Bernstein as a young student: Do I contradict myself oh yes I do and I am so cute!   Bernstein champions the marginal, and yet when he becomes irate at Michael Robbins the cut comes in the form of snobby condescension: Bernstein’s premeditated attack on Robbins consists of pointing out that Robbins is a doctoral candidate.  How does Bernstein think he can swoon over Eigner’s “incompetence” and be believed (I don’t believe him for one second) when almost simultaneously he sneers at a fellow poet-critic for being a doctoral candidate?  I’m amused at how Bernstein can lead Eigner up on stage for the purpose of honoring Eigner when the stage is covered in Bernstein’s own poop—tossed at fellow human, Michael Robbins.

And what’s this about “LRB’s England?”  Is Bernstein really imagining a war between England’s London Review of Books and the true England, with Bernstein and his obscure English poetry friends vanquishing “LRB’s England” (in league with the evil UChicao doctoral candidate Michael Robbins) under the banner of Not-LRB’s England? 

Yea, it sure sounds like Bernstein’s “monkeys” are “on a roll…”  uh huh! 

PURE AND IMPURE POETRY: THE NEW CRITICS’ LAST HURRAH

Because our loyal Scarriet readers do not have the attention span of rabbits, we thought we’d tax their intelligence and patience with further investigation of Robert Penn Warren’s monumental—but now forgotten (except, secretly, by Stephen Burt)—1943 Kenyon Review essay, Pure and Impure Poetry.

In the 1930s, Robert Penn Warren contributed a pro-segregation essay to New Critic John Crowe Ransom’s Southern Agrarian group’s  I’ll Take My Stand, co-founded The Southern Review (with New Critic Cleanth Brooks) and co-authored (with Cleanth Brooks) the textbook Understanding Poetry, which lasted 4 editions (1974), was the college textbook on poetry for two generations, including the GIs who flooded the universities after the war, and, according to Ron Silliman, was “the hegemonic poetry textbook of the period.”

In the 1940s, when Pure and Impure Poetry was published in John Crowe Ransom’s journal, Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, published his  Selected Poems, and was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States.

In the 1950s, Robert Penn Warren’s daughter, the poet and professor, Rosanna Warren, was born, he recanted his segregationist views in Life magazine, and he won the Pulitzer for Poetry, becoming the only person to win the Pulitzer in both Fiction and Poetry.

Pure and Impure Poetry is a window into both the triumph and the last gasp of Modernism, as it cuts off Romanticism’s head (resembling from one angle, Poe, and another, Shelley, and from still another, Bryon) holds it aloft, and cries, “Vive le T.S. Eliot!” The essay finishes what Eliot and Pound had started, as Robert Penn Warren declares with absolute certainty: “the greatness of a poet depends upon the extent of the area of experience that he can master poetically.”

The practice of extending the area of experience that he can master poetically is the final nail in the coffin to poets like Poe who excluded all sorts of things from poetry.

Despite Pure and Impure Poetry’s long and detailed arguments, this is all that Robert Penn Warren is saying: poetry can be anything, and this is the Modernist victory.  Penn Warren sneers at Shelley’s brief lyric “The Indian Serenade,” (selected for cursory praise by Poe a hundred years earlier in his The Poetic Principle) after Penn Warren discusses how Shakespeare has the worldly Mercutio sneer at Romeo’s romantic attitude in Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare’s poetry, as beautiful as it sometimes was, wasn’t pure, so, Penn Warren asks, why should any poetry be pure?  Why Penn Warren clubs Shelley’s brief lyric with an entire play by Shakespeare is not to be questioned, for it is all part of the blood lust and slaughter of Romanticism, in which every dactylic gasp by Shelley is mocked with the ferocity of those who escape the anxiety of an unfaithful mate by deconstructing the problem into “dey all bitches.”

As we all know, Modernism’s little band did win in the century that saw the British Empire transform itself into an American one, (almost in the moment Pure and Impure Poetry was published—1943 a rubble-moment in Europe’s history) but it was a pyrrhic victory: for Penn Warren kills, but kills in Poe’s terms and on Poe’s turf.

Here, in the essay, Penn Warren quotes T.S. Eliot:

The chief use of the ‘meaning’ of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may be (for here again I am speaking of some kinds of poetry and not all) to satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always provided with a bit of nice meat for the house-dog.

Lovely.  (Sigh)   Criticism as lovely as a poem.  Remember when that used to be a regular occurance?   Penn Warren, like a panting lover in one of Shelley’s poems, eagerly follows the trail.  But look what happens:

Here, it would seem, Mr. Eliot has simply inverted the old sugar-coated pill theory: the idea becomes the sugar-coating and the “poetry” becomes the medicine. This seems to say that the idea in a poem does not participate in the poetic effect and seems to commit Mr. Eliot to a theory of pure poetry.

Robert Penn Warren finds himself in Poe’s cul-de-sac, for listen to the language: Penn Warren talks of Poe’s “poetic effect!”

Robert Penn Warren and the Modernists expand the definition of poetry to include everything, but they keep using the word “poetry;” thus they effectively doom themselves to wander in an old-fashioned wilderness.

Everyone knows art requires focus, and Poe and Shelley wrote memorable poetry while Robert Penn Warren and his heirs did not—because of their intellectualized de-focusing.

The post-Modernists and Language Poets likewise attempt to get beyond the Modernists (Charles Bernstein would never be caught dead uttering such phrases as “poetic effect” or “pure poetry”) only to die in the same way, and, like Penn Warren, they don’t realize their dilemma.


FAKE IT NEW: BURT DID NOT COIN ELLIPTICAL POETRY

Stephen Burt’s “incoherent self:” doesn’t realize he’s a New Critic

WIKIPEDIA: Elliptical Poetry or ellipticism is a literary-critical term introduced by critic Stephen Burt in a 1998 essay in Boston Review on Susan Wheeler, and expanded upon in an eponymous essay in American Letters & Commentary.

Uh…no.   Robert Penn Warren, (with whom we trust Professor Burt is familiar) in an essay published in John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, “Pure and Impure Poetry,”  (Spring 1943 issue) writes:

“In a recent book, The Idiom of Poetry, Frederick Pottle has discussed the question of pure poetry.  He distinguishes another type of pure poetry, in addition to the types already mentioned.  He calls it the “Elliptical,” and would include in it symbolist and metaphysical poetry (old and new) and some work by poets Collins, Blake, and Browning.”

In pobiz, new is the new stupid

The last century of American Letters has witnessed ‘the new’ as the last refuge of the scoundrel poet.  If one doesn’t know anything, trumpet ‘the new’ as much as possible, and with a few pals, equally bereft, on one’s side, anything is possible.

Not only is Burt guilty of outright theft, but the “Elliptical” of Robert Penn Warren’s essay is scientific (no irony intended) compared to Burt’s razzle-dazzle new-speak. 

Burt, unable to cook anything, merely makes a mess in the kitchen, throwing in every ingredient he can find.   Here is Burt in his infamous 1998 essay:

“Elliptical poets try to manifest a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves. They are post-avant-gardist, or post-‘postmodern’: they have read (most of them) Stein’s heirs, and the ‘language writers,’ and have chosen to do otherwise. Elliptical poems shift drastically between low (or slangy) and high (or naively ‘poetic’) diction. Some are lists of phrases beginning ‘I am an X, I am a Y.’ Ellipticism’s favorite established poets are Dickinson, Berryman, Ashbery, and/or Auden; Wheeler draws on all four. The poets tell almost-stories, or almost-obscured ones. They are sardonic, angered, defensively difficult, or desperate; they want to entertain as thoroughly as, but not to resemble, television.”

Note professor Burt’s lack of rigor, vaguely wrapping himself around the new:

“Elliptical poets try to manifest a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbo gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves.”  —Burt

Is it the speaking or the selves which have their coherence undermined, and why do they have an undermined coherence?   Let Mr. Burt answer at once, since he obviously knows.  And how can one undermine something before it exists?  If one is not skilled enough, in a poem, to produce a coherent speaking self (is it so easy?) how do we know it has been undermined?  Anyone can point to a sociological theory which mourns the vanished self, but the poem is not a theory, unfortunately for Burt’s elliptical poets.

“Elliptical poems shift drastically between low (or slangy) and high (or naively ‘poetic’) diction.  —Burt

Has Burt never read the Roman poets?  They did this constantly.  Come to think of it, the majority of poets, ancient to present, alternate between low and high diction.

“…they want to entertain as thoroughly as, but not to resemble, television.”
—Burt

It’s comforting to know the poets don’t “resemble television”…

Burt’s murky, gizmo-rhetoric would have been laughed out of the pages of the Kenyon Review, when Ransom was editor, and the New Critics were contribuing articles.

In contrast to the gee-whiz rhetoric of Stephen Burt, we have the acumen of Robert Penn Warren:

“Poe would kick out the ideas because the ideas hurt the poetry, and Mr. [Max] Eastman would kick out the ideas because the poetry hurts the ideas.”

The concept is actually interchangeable—Poe also thought, like Eastman, that “poetry hurts the ideas.”  Poe was explicit on this point.  At least with Penn Warren, however, there is a concept.  Burt is babble.  He has no point.  But my point here is not to agree with Penn Warren, but to expose Burt’s blatant theft.

Robert Penn Warren from his 1943 essay again:

“Then Elliptical Poetry is not, as Mr. Pottle say it is, a pure poetry at all if we regard intention; the elliptical poet is elliptical for purposes of inclusion, not exlusion.”

This is no quibble over a word, either.  In his 1943 essay, Penn Warren’s definition of elliptical poetry is exactly the same as Burt’s 1998 review.  Here is Penn Warren:

“Poetry wants to be pure, but poems do not.  At least, most of them do not want to be too pure.  The poems want to give us poetry, which is pure, and elements of a poem, in so far as it is a good poem, will work together toward that end, but many of the elements, taken in themselves, may actually seem to contradict that end, or be neutral toward the achieving of that end.  Are we then to conclude that, because neutral or recalcitrant elements appear in poems, even in poems called great, these elements are simply an index to human frailty, that in a perfect world there would be no dross in poems which would, then, be perfectly pure?  No, it does not seem to be merely the fault of our world, for the poems include, deliberately, more of the so-called dross than would appear necessary.  They are not even as pure as they might be in an imperfect world.  They mar themselves with cacophonies, jagged rhythms, ugly words and ugly thoughts, colloquialisms, cliches, sterile technical terms, head work and argument, self-contradiction, cleverness, irony, realism—all things which call us back to the world of prose and imperfection.” 

And Penn Warren, again:

“Then the question arises: what elements cannot be used in such a structure?  I should answer that nothing available in human experience is to be legislated out of poetry.”

Burt posits a return of a “person” who “speaks the poem” while  simultaneously using  “gizmos, developed over the last few decades,” of “Stein’s heirs” and “language writers:” Burt blindly stumbles back over the same ground to the New Critics, who were, as we see with Robert Penn Warren’s 70-year-old-essay, already allowing the widest possible field to the “speaking” of a “poem.”

 It’s time for Philosophy and History to kick New-Speak off its throne.

[Are we “going after Burt” or just giving Pottle and Penn Warren credit where credit is due?]

PLAYING AT POET

Get over him, already!

Scarriet readers know how effortlessly I crank out my diatribes against Modernism, and I think it’s beginning to have an effect. I sense out there a new defensiveness when it comes to the High Moderns; not that poets are finally turning their backs on them—they are much too stupid to do that—but I sense a growing panic as they realize: Modernism is a parent, that despite all my obscure and ribald post-modernism, I’ll never out-perform, and I’ll never escape.

The panic is probably for two reasons: First, it’s the twenty-first century and the Modernists grew up in the 19th.  So it’s a simple matter of time marching on.   If the Modernist legacy is to plough new ground, why is the “new ground” overrun with William Carlos Williams [1883-1963]  Condo Developments?

Second, such reactionary dogs as Dana Gioia and William Logan hold aloft the Age of High Modernism as the Golden Age.  And then you’ve got Scarriet harping on the ugly political aspects of the Modernists.

But the biggest reason might be this one: What’s so special about the Modernists, really?  Shouldn’t readers of poetry—and not just a handful of historians and scholars—enjoy poetry of all ages?  Do we need our poetry to remind us on the hour that we live in the “m-o-d-e-r-n age?”  When push  comes to shove, why should a William Carlos Williams poem, for instance, have more meaning for us than a poem from any other era?  Have we ever stopped to really think about this?  Is Wallace Stevens necessary for us to walk away with a more profound philosophical understanding of the world?  Come on.  Really?  What exactly is this philosophy that hasn’t been articulated before by numerous other poets and philosophers?   It would be one thing if the ideas of Wallace Stevens were part of a public debate, so that it would behoove us to join it, for that reason, but this is not the case.  His ideas are obscure.  Are any of the so-called High Modernists significant due to the timelessness and significance of their ideas?   Po-biz has invested a great deal of intellectual capital in “Make it New!”   Even if this were not uttered 100 years ago now—what does it mean? 

Rapid-fire commentary characterizes po-biz talk, but there’s little real thinking.

What of ideas like Eliot’s “objective correlative?”   Here’s a “high-modernist” concept, but interestingly enough, it applies to centuries of literary history, of which, because we’re ardent “modernists,” we are now ignorant.

Eliot and the New Critics did make some interesting criticism regarding “pure and impure” poetry (an essay by Robert Penn Warren by that name, for instance, is neglected but brilliant) and as intellectuals like Ransom and Tate came to terms with what Eliot had done in The Sacred Wood, a lively and intelligent socio-aesthetics was born, even among these rabid haters of the Romantics. 

But the Beats were finally too sexy for the New Critics, and the Creative Writing Programs too profitable for disinterested Criticism.

Today’s po-biz commentators, even though they can smell rot, only talk in sound-bites.  The Romantics could argue, the Romantics could philosophize.  (Who actually reads Byron, anymore?  We don’t even know what Romanticism is, much less Classicism.)

Philosophy?  A real sympathetic, historical perspective?  In Po-biz today?  Nope.   The Modernists, and we, their heirs, are all mysticism, symbol, and easy advice.

Take, for example, the latest from Huff Post’s Anis Shivani’s Modernism debate:

“Finally, I’ll risk restating the obvious by venturing that there’s only one useful piece of advice for any young writer: write. Pay no attention to the state of American poetry, the death of the book, the legacy of Modernism, the bedbugs in your cheap apartment: ignore as much as you possibly can get away with and write. Resist the careerist temptations of PoBiz. Stay home and write a poem. There is no particular place to get to in Poetry Land, anyway. The point of the journey is the journey itself, the process of writing poetry, which hopefully you consider enriching and indispensable. If not, spare yourself a lot of grief. Go back to that fork in the yellow woods, watch out for ATVs driven by gun-toting meth-heads, and pick another road.”

—Campbell McGrath

Ignore as much as you possibly can?   Stay at home and write?   The point of the journey is the journey itself? 

Imagine your typical college freshman today: angry, confused, depressed, bereft of history, philosophy, culture, has never been to a museum, has never read Plato, or any literature before 1920, knows only the shallowest pop culture, the shallowest ethics, and this is Campbell McGrath’s advice?  Stay at home and write?  Are you fucking kidding me?

Or, this one:

“The legacy of Modernism is alive and well–though, frankly, it’s so broad as to be pretty much unbetrayable. After all, the Language poets and Philip Levine both envision their work as building on William Carlos Williams. Robert Bly thought “Deep Image” poetry was a return to true Imagism, yet Ron Silliman lumps Bly and James Wright with many of the “academic” and Confessional poets Bly excoriated in The Fifties.

All poetry lives somewhere on a spectrum between Classicism and Romanticism. If high Modernists such as Eliot, Pound, and Moore tilt toward the Classical side, and the Confessional and Beat poets inhabit the Romantic, then we’ve more or less marked the boundaries of the Modernist legacy. But that gives us quite an aesthetic and intellectual range to play around in.

Many American poets frustrated by 1980s post-Confessionalism–which leaned largely on personal narrative and ad misericordium for its effects–have turned back to the high Modernists, Objectivists, and New York School to balance out a poetic that was, in the end, too baldly Romantic. Sometimes this turn has produced new work that’s mechanical, emotionally flat, or unparsable–but that doesn’t negate the fact that this rebalancing is mostly a good move, one that’s hardly a betrayal of Modernism. Indeed, it’s a backward turn similar to Eliot’s when he exalted the Metaphysical poets over the Victorians and Romantics.”

—Wayne Miller

The term “classical” gets thrown around an awful lot these days in a vague, yet extremely self-congratulatory manner.   As if applying this label to Ezra Loomis Pound and Miss Moore (!!) somehow lets us off the hook for the roaring ignorance of 99% of literary history.  The Titan Moderns, half-Classical, half-Romantic, stride the ages, trampling the pygmies and dwarfs who chirped in Athens, tweedled in Rome, and squeaked during the Renaissance.

And thank goodness for the restorative Objectivists and the balancing act of the New York School!

This isn’t poetry.  This is playing at it.

BEAUTIFUL AND USELESS

 

“But to the critic to whom art is important, sacred, and, ultimately, coextensive with life itself, to produce bad art and to condone it—and thereby give rise to further bad art and finally drive out the good—are the two most heinously dangerous sins imaginable.”
—John Simon

A number of top critics were invited to Iowa City back in the early 80s, including John Simon and Hilton Kramer, when Iowa, already atop the academic world with its poetry and fiction workshops, was looking at the idea of a critic’s workshop.  It never took.

Creative writing has wide appeal: the ego of the writer and the writer’s life as subject are easy to come by.  Training scholars to write critical essays is more difficult.

John Crowe Ransom’s 1938 essay, “Criticism, Inc,” the blueprint for what would become the future of Letters: poetry critics trained in the university,  the professor as poetry critic, was quickly expanded, post-1940, into poets trained in the university, the professor as poet.  

A detailed history of how this all happened has yet to be written, but we generally know what occured: traditionally, the subject of literature in college used language and history to teach rhetorical skill; literary criticism was a default part of this process.

Then, the pyramid was flipped: literary criticism became the mode which drove everything else; the study of languages and history faded away in the light of creative writing—new writing produced now for a new age by students and professors.

Colleges studied the past less and the present more, and studying the present meant writing it: writing the present replaced studying the past.  It also meant instant riches, instant acclaim, even instant canonization, for those living.

No wonder the whole creative writing enterprise took off, every professor from Boston to Berkeley crying, “Make it new!”

In the humanities, disinterested science was replaced by interested art.

Writing makes people happy, the way taking and preserving family photos makes people happy.  With the invention of the snapshot camera, trillions of snapshots came into existence, and with the invention of the Iowa writers workshop, millions of poems on snapshots came into existence.  The snapshot camera made taking photos easy.  The writers workshop made writing poems and stories easy.  The flood of mediocrity began.  The bad chased out the good.

The theorists in the universities also embraced the new, but instead of embracing mediocre stories and poems, they kept the tradition of difficult study alive in the humanities and literature; but unfortunately, these theorists attacked Plato’s science with Nietzsche’s art, and so generally the philosophical wing of the humanities essentially abetted the assault on science over in the history wing: all was fodder for the contemporary super man, the revolutionary writer of revolutionary new works on revolutionary new topics.

The theorists said science was oppressive and art was freeing.

The mediocre writers produced by colleges agreed.

The politicians agreed, too, all those who were actors and entertainers—not statesmen.

If only the revolution had stopped with critics trained in the university.  But it didn’t.  The creative writing rabble of expressive egos was necessary to create the blind soldiers of the new order.

Science, the beautiful and useful, became enslaved by art, the beautiful and useless.

Science is the foundation of all great art, not the other way around.   But now everything conspires to flatter art—and condemn science.

Art, we feel, is free, and harmless.  Science, by comparison, is perceived as expensive and dangerous.

How have we let ourselves be led down this superstitious path?  How have we let ourselves be dragged into this present nightmare?

Simple.  Our artsy-fartsy, slobby selves have been flattered by money-grubbing con-artists.

Smile for the camera…

Snap!

TIMOTHY DONNELLY: HART CRANE’S BACK AND HE’S LOOKING FOR YVOR WINTERS

 

Donnelly and his pal, Hart

I hart Timothy Donnelly

But why, with all the Timothy Donnelly buzz, (The New Yorker’s best poetry book of the year, etc) don’t others hart Tim Donnelly?

Donnelly’s first lauded book, Twenty Seven Props for a Production of Das Lebenszeit (Grove Press, 2003), not only blurbed by Jorie Graham and Lucie Brock-Broido, but forwarded by Richard Howard, was compared to Ashbery (by Howard), and sure, one hears Ashbery in the jokey elaboration of the title.  The combinations are endless.  Claire de Lune As Interpreted By Daffy Duck and so on. 

It is easy to sound like Ashbery or Stevens, or anyone, in a title

But to sound like the master in the poetry, without veering into parody, is impossible, and this is precisely why the master is a master. 

Donnelly is not Ashbery, or Stevens, except where these poets mock themselves, as they will do sometimes—but that’s an influence no one wants.   Any poet today would relish being compared to a master, but these sorts of comparisons only belong to the blurb.

The swooning praise for Donnelly’s just-released second book, The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books, 2010), surely arises from a feeling that Donnelly’s work has been disciplined into something darker and more politically aware.

The supposedly Ashberean poetry finds a common metaphorical cloud-ship with post-9/11 politics ; the guilt one gets from enjoying apolitical Ashbery has been eliminated; Donnelly offers a concoction two parts Ashbery and one part capitalist-debt-eco despair: not Claire de Lune Contemplated by Daffy Duck so much as Post9/11 Politics Contemplated by Sponge Bob Square Pants. 

The “Square” is very much at play in Donnelly’s appreciation of order and tradition, the “Bob” stands for an appreciation of the nameless working class who make everything the privileged use, and “Sponge” refers to the Blob—see Ray McDaniel’s ecstatic Constant Critic review in which the 50’s B-movie horror monster, a metaphor in the 50’s for communism, is for McDaniel an elaboration today of evil corporate assimilation as manifested in Donnelly’s enveloping verse of deferment and complexity. 

The poetry world is now ‘shark-blood-in-the-water’ excited because it senses a 21st century novelty: a poet filled with sorrow, but too smart and steely-eyed to be depressed, boldly articulating our current political ills with a self-assured Ashberean rhetoric—guilt, gone; yet luxurious rhetoric still bathing us pleasurably.  We have our cake and eat it: four layers of poetry filled with organic, not-too-sweet, poetically-flavored politics.  We’re both undulated and understood.

The critics all assure us that  Cloud Corporation never panders to popular taste; Donnelly is a credentialed academic poet, yet Donnelly’s book broods on themes that many regular readers of the New York Times  brood on, as Stephen “Helen Vendler” Burt explains:

He varies, as well, the arguments in his complaints, the reasons he gives for feeling stuck, baffled, oppressed: it’s no fun to feel alienated from everything and everyone, but it’s even more disheartening, and morally worse, to feel bound up in the sort of collective entity (the United States, the Western world) that stands to blame for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, for “what’s// done in my defense, or in/ its name, or in my/ interest or in the image// of the same.”

Short of resigning from Western civilization, short of devoting one’s life (as this poet could not, temperamentally, do) to a possibly fruitless radical activism, what on Earth should we do? Is there nothing to do? “I just feel soporose, so// soporose tonight… You think/ I should be concerned?” So ends his six-page poem about Abu Ghraib, “Partial Inventory of Airborne Debris. ”   —Stephen Burt

But most of the passages lovingly quoted are apolitical; the top influence on Donnelly, according to the reviewers, is Wallace Stevens; Ashbery is second; one reviewer insists it’s the stammering Eliot of Prufrock.   But none of these fit.

Since John Crowe Ransom and Paul Engle turned American Letters into one vast English Department, academic poets are the only poets who get respect.   It would be suicidal, therefore, for any poet today to be shrilly political—“fruitless radical activism” the name Stephen Burt gives it. 

Not one reviewer has been astute enough, however, to see that Timothy Donnelly is nothing more than the return of Hart Crane

Only one Cloud Corporation reviewer—Adam Fitzgerald in the Brooklyn Rail—mentions Crane—and only once, and only indirectly. 

No one harts Timothy Donnelly, yet Donnelly in his own words makes it stunningly obvious that Hart Crane, who argued with Harriet Monroe and Yvor Winters on the necessity of poetic obscurity, is Donnelly’s muse. 

But not just Crane. The debate between Winters and Crane is the engine that drives the rhetoric which unfurls in Donnelly’s new book, a rhetoric praised—in a critical fog.

Why?  Criticism (which these days exists in the academy mostly as eloborate blurbing) has been eclipsed by the academic Creative Writing industry; the pearls of poetry win the day, not the critical oyster.  Stevens and Ashbery are poets, and well, so is Donnelly, and there you have it, according to the gnat-reviewers.  And those who write criticism, like the Ashbery-and- Stevens-worshiping Vendler and Harold Bloom, don’t write poetry, so criticsm and poetry don’t really have anything to do with each other.  And there it is.

But of course they do.  They have everything to do with each other.  It is the critical argument that hides beneath the best poetry which gives it that urgency which readers mistake for something else, thinking it’s poetry; but it really isn’t that at all; it’s the critical mind, the argumentative mind organizing the poetry behind-the-scenes which wins the day.

And here it is (how did they all miss it?) in plain sight: “A Match Made In Poetry: Yvor Winters v. Hart Crane,” an essay by Timothy Donnelly right there on Poets.org.

Why do none mention this essay?  I think it’s the desire to think of Donnelly in a mystical way, to think of him as a frenzied, post-9/11 shaman, channeling Wallace Stevens, rather than what he, with all due respect, is: a Modernist academic, wrestling with the subject of his essay: Winters v. Crane (and John Crowe Ransom, who is quoted at length in a footnote).

But this is where we are today: in the middle of Modernism’s argument, in a vast English Department classroom, whether we want to admit it, or not.

Listen to Donnelly, and notice how Winters is quite literally the enemy, and how much Donnelly’s poetry sounds like the Crane he quotes:

Winters found Crane’s poems at times thematically unclear, haphazard and hard to follow; like the frenetic jazz club in “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” Crane’s poems were characteristically “striated with nuances, nervosities”:

O, I have known metallic paradises
Where cuckoos clucked to finches
Above the deft catastrophes of drums.
While titters hailed the groans of death
Beneath gyrating awnings I have seen
The incunablula of the divine grotesque.
This music has a reassuring way.

Timothy Donnelly

Listen how Donnelly closes his essay:

In one corner we have Crane, a devotee of the imagination and its “delirium of jewels,” a seeker of “new thresholds, new anatomies,” a Modern Romantic who strove to refresh the poet’s kinship to the shaman and the seer. In the other corner, Winters, a decrier of unreason, a skeptic of poetic ecstasy and rapture, a moralist who dismissed visionary individualism as potentially dangerous fakery. Poets today probably know who they would have rooted for.

Or do they? Certainly Crane is the more widely admired figure now, in part because the difficulty that his work posed to its first audience has been softened by decades of celebration and study. Yet many of those who would like to imagine themselves cheering valiantly for Cleveland’s Whitmanian rebel regularly accuse their contemporaries of the very deficiencies and extravagances Winters derided in Crane. Winters still has his advocates, of course, including many who don’t realize that that’s what they are.6

Ladies and gentlemen, those among you who demand that the poem be immediately or even ultimately graspable in its entirety by the faculties of reason please stand behind Winters. All those who reject Wittgenstein’s notion that the poem uses the language of information but is not itself used in the language-game of giving information please stand behind Winters. All those who use words like quackery, charlatanry, or folderol in lieu of more scrupulous and responsible explanations for their resistance to innovative and experimental poetries please stand behind Winters. Even those who insist that poetry must always heed an ethical imperative-you know where to go.

Ladies and gentlemen, where do you stand?

Timothy Donnelly

The sympathy he has lurking for Winters, even though Donnelly is clearly on Crane’s side, is what gives Donnelly’s poetry that depth they all love, and no one has been able to put their finger on it—until this review.

“IF THEY HAVE SINNED NOBODY KNOWS” –W.B. YEATS

Until now.

Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney-Lite, sins against good taste, and we, being in a frightfully bad mood, and deciding we don’t need the New Yorker, anyway, have decided to kick over a toadstool, or two.

It really isn’t poor little Dan Chiasson’s fault for putting Muldoon’s new book of poems on his Eleven Best Poetry Books of 2010 , published by Chiasson in the New Yorker.   Young Mr. Chiasson merely seeks to advance his career by pleasing his elders.   It’s just embarrassing that it had to be done so publically, and at the risk of  Chiasson never being trusted as a critic, again.  Muldoon, Chiasson’s senior poetry editor colleague at the revered New Yorker, should have had the good taste to nix himself from the list, whether Muldoon’s book is actually good, or not.  Perhaps as a result of this article, Chiasson (no, it would be more proper if it were Muldoon) will send us a copy so we can read it.

The bad taste shown in letting himself be included in Chiasson’s list, however, can easily be found in any old poem by Muldoon, for, like Heaney’s  poetry, which errs by being overly metaphorical,  Muldoon’s poetry is fraught by a related, but greater error: simple bad taste, where the poet cannot resist being continuously clever, despite spoiling all sense of keeping and decorum and beauty which enjoyable poetry demands.

When I say enjoyable, I mean enjoyable to others.  Unfortunately, Muldoon, in his rhapsodic solipsism, can’t tell the difference.

The garbling, the encoding, the slipping and slopping, the gestures to Joyce and Heaney, the making hay by using a dozen terms for hay, the errata that’s wrong, then right, then accidentally wrong, then accidentally right, then wrong again, is a mighty effort, the kind applauded by the type of critic who runs the show now, besotted with difficulty for difficulty’s sake: this critic would consider it heresy to ask: is it worth the reader’s effort to dig for this?

The reader?  What reader?  Po-biz, as everyone knows today, is a kleptocracy.

“You have not understood Muldoon, though, unless he perplexes you,” writes Richard Eder in a positive review in the Times of Poems 1968-1998; but since all writing that is bad—but which is taken as good— perplexes, we wonder if this is a good recommendation.  “His Mona Lisas frequently wear mustaches,” Eder tells us; but no, they always wear mustaches.

Sadly, many believe, when it comes to poetry, that the perplexing leads to a host of virtues; but this is not the case, except in the minds of poets like Paul Muldoon, who, as Poetry Professor both at Oxford and Princeton, has been in the unique position to exemplify this falsehood.   The New Critics were schooled at Oxford, and Allen Tate, Fugitive and New Critic, got one of the first Writing Programs in the country going at Princeton.   20th century Oxford is where language was shorn of ideal qualities and treated as a mundane act.  Language Poetry was born from this, as was the New Criticism, taking its lead from T.S. Eliot that poetry should be “difficult,” and from John Crowe Ransom, that poetry should not please, or spiritualize readers, but should rather be an academic study overseen by “professionals, not amateurs” and those “professionals” should be “professors.”  Gone, the Romantic poet with emotionally inspired readers.  Enter, professionalized perplexity.

Heaney pants after Eliot’s New Critical empire, and the Mossbawner makes perfectly complex New Critical poems out of country labors; Muldoon, too, funny in the tongue, is always properly bucolic in that third-world Irish way.

“Monarch and Milkweed” is one of Muldoon’s best-known poems, and often praised.   Richard Eder:

“This comes as close as Muldoon ever does to making the neck hair rise. (His tonsorial kinetics tend more to stimulative tugging and twisting.) And even here he expresses sorrow by distraction, by an inability to remember or grasp. His parents’ graves blur; he thinks of something else. Grief is its own inability; Muldoon gets us to feel both.”  —Richard Eder

And here’s the poem:

Monarch and Milkweed

As he knelt by the grave of his mother and father
the taste of dill, or tarragon-
he could barely tell one from the other-
filled his mouth. It seemed as if he might smother.
Why should he be stricken
with grief, not for his mother and father,
but a woman slinking from the fur of a sea-otter
In Portland, Maine, or, yes, Portland, Oregon-
he could barely tell one from the other-

and why should he now savour
the tang of her, her little pickled gherkin,
as he knelt by the grave of his mother and father?
He looked about. He remembered her palaver
on how both earth and sky would darken-
‘You could barely tell one from the other’-

while the Monarch butterflies passed over
in their milkweed-hunger: ‘A wing-beat, some reckon,
may trigger off the mother and father
of all storms, striking your Irish Cliffs of Moher
with the force of a hurricane.’
Then: ‘Milkweed and Monarch ‘invented’ each other.’

He looked about. Cow’s-parsley
in a samovar.
He’d mistaken his mother’s name, ‘Regan, ‘ for Anger’;
as he knelt by the grave of his mother and father
he could barely tell one from the other.

Paul Muldoon

But we feel the poem is spoiled when Muldoon inserts the idiomatic ‘mother of all storms’ into his ‘mother and father’ refrain.  He couldn’t resist this bit of cleverness, even in the face of a poignant elegy, and the poem, its bells and whistles of New Critical symbol and metaphor unable to save it, pays for his sin.

MARY BY THE ROSES

My Mary danced her luckless way
By the roses,
My Mary danced her feckless way
In between the roses.
In my dream she poses
In a fragrant dream of roses.
My Mary was—but I shouldn’t say.

My Mary sang, “Away, away!”
By the roses,
My Mary sang, “Away, away!”
Hidden in the roses.
She undid them all that way
By the bright and rolling roses.
My Mary was—but I shouldn’t say.

My Mary caused some disarray
By the roses.
My Mary caused someone to say,
“You’ll suffer losses!”
“You’ll suffer losses!”
Only I know what the loss is.
And Mary, too—but I shouldn’t say.

My Mary loves her roses
In outer space.
My Mary flies with roses
In outer space.
Where is the man who talked of losses?
Who talked and talked of losses?
There’s not a trace.

If the roses, the roses
Are here, you might think Mary is close—
Because the odor of the roses
I couldn’t go that way;
I couldn’t breathe
When Mary danced by the roses,
Is what I’m trying to say.

JOHN GALLAHER: NOTHING TO SAY AND UNFORTUNATELY SAYING IT

The following is transcript of John Gallaher’s Dec. 4 blog post, lyrically entitled, 20th century-Ashbery-Armantrout-My Philosophy of Life,  in its entirety, with Thomas Brady’s comments.

John,

“BEING and TOTALITY were mid-20th Century master narratives, and we’ve come away from them shaken. What is art to aspire to after that? (The same things as it always has.)”

Do you teach this in the classroom? 

What sort of pedagogy takes universals like “being” and “totality” and vaguely applies them to the “mid-20th Century?” 

“we’ve come away shaken?” 

Who is “we” in this statement?  What exactly has been “shaken?” 

“What is art to aspire to after that?” 

Is this a real question? 

“(The same things as it always has)” 

The “same things”?  Do you mean “being” and “totality?” 

Is your tautology intentional?

“If our time is ‘in the shadow of’ 20th Century art and philosophy it’s because the art and philosophy of the 20th Century were totalizing, and our time is one of contraction, of a counter movement rather than a redirection or revision.”

First,”contraction” is not necessarily “counter” to “totalizing;” secondly, I think most would find this too general to mean anything.

“The error of our age is when we treat occurrences as instances. Not all walks to the mailbox are fraught with the weight of history. Usually it’s just junk mail.”

This is grandiose: “The error of our age is when we treat occurances as intances.” 

But it’s countered with insight:  “Not all walks to the mailbox are fraught with the weight of history.”

Really?

Usually it’s just Ashbery?

“If 20th Century master narratives are cages, 21st Century competing narratives are shadowboxing. Either can yield great as well as forgettable art.”

Well, as long as “cages” and “shadowboxing” can “both yield great as well as forgettable art…”

“There are some things we do not want to say so we remain silent. We are social.”

Are you still talking about “being” and “totality?”  Or “cages” and “shadowboxing?”  Anyway, yes, we are “social” and for fear of offending, we don’t always speak…OK…

“Because in the artwork the instance must emerge, the experience of time is disrupted by attention.”

Because…?  I’m afraid I’ve lost you.  “the experience of time is disrupted by attention”?  “in the artwork the instance must emerge”?

“In art, time is less sequentially monadic and more prismatically nomadic. Obvious examples: think of the structure of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Terrantino’s Pulp Fiction. You can even find this tension in Wordsworth, if you must. It’s always been this way. But it gains currency in the early 20th Century.”

“Prismatic” time in art has been commonplace for centuries.  20th century art has no monopoly on this at all; in fact, it could easily be argued that in both high brow and popular 20th century art, (abstract art, movies, imagism, Hemingway-ism) things actually became simpler in that regard.

“It will be a long time before we’re done dealing with the early 20th Century.”

I don’t know what this means.  It’s far too general, especially in the context of what’s been said so far, to mean anything.

Now we leap to the purpose:

“And we have the idea of time layered in Ashbery”

Excuse me?

“And we have the idea of time layered…”

Instead of specifics, we continue to be put off by the vaguest sort of rhetoric, the same which characterized the whole introduction: how, exactly is “the idea of time layered…?”
“where the poem often advances by shifting horizontally, geographically, one time to another—an accretion of middles of instances culminating in a panorama, the visual representation of the previous disparate occurrences.”

But the most ordinary sort of narratives “shift horizontally, geographically,” feature more than “one time,” feature “an accretion of middles of instances culminating in a panorama, the visual representation of the previous disparate occurances.”  Terms such as “previous,” and “visual representation” and “occurances” are not unique to Ashbery.

“Armantrout, my other go-to example from our time achieves a similar effect by shifting time not across individuals and instances, but down the line of instances vertically, organized by one consciousness. Where Ashbery can appear as montage, clustered instances, Armantrout uses montaged, sequential absences.”

So Armantrout “shifts time” not using “across instances” but “down the line of instances vertically, organized by one consciousness?” 

And Ashbery’s poems are organized by more than one consciousness?  But Armantrout by only one? And Ashbery “shifts time horizontally” and Armantrout “shifts time vertically?”  And further, Armantrout writes with “sequenced absences?”  And Ashbery only uses… “instances,” and not… “absences?”  I see…

“The art object exists as an encounter its perceiver constructs alone. It is less a presence than a prompt. It is difficult, therefore, to agree to criteria for excellence, for whatever excellence one sees in art is really an encounter one is having with oneself.”

Ah, yes! “difficult to agree to criteria for excellence…” Of course…

“How can one succeed, then, in convincing someone that a poem is worthy of praise? (When all parties are being honest and not cynical, we’re like the priest, the rabbi, and the Imam on a lifeboat comparing mythologies.)”

One cannot, obviously.  Unless one is “honest and not cynical.”  And, in that case, if you are “cynical” you won’t agree with my poetic judgments, but if you are “honest,” you will.

“Arguments about art, necessary as they are (or appear to be), are necessarily beside the point.”

Right-o!

“When one is saying a poem fails, one is saying that it has failed to prompt that person into an encounter with her/him/self. The operation of that failure doesn’t necessarily reside with the poem in question just as it doesn’t necessarily reside with the perceiver. None of these are givens.”

Who, exactly, is saying the poem fails?  Is the “self” encountering the poem always the same?  Has this self-encountering “self” anything to do with “being” and “totality?”
 

“It’s always as much about form as it is about content. Form is about content.”

Well, sure.

“Art need not be a representation to be an ecstatic presence.”

Agreed.

“Art is not social. In this way, art contends that every wedding you attend is a wedding of people you don’t know. Call it a philosophy of life . . .”

What does it mean to “know” a “person?”  Again, are we talking in terms of “totality” and “being” with this example?  Do pre-20th century notions apply to this “wedding?”  Who, exactly, is at this wedding?  Poets?  Teachers?  Members of a drug cartel?  Does it matter?

Reading the Asbhery poem itself, I find the narrative easy to follow.  I don’t see any spectacular “time shifts.”

I found your entire post full of very questionable rhetoric. This is why I asked if you taught this stuff, John.  With all due respect, I hope you don’t! 

Posting rude bumper stickers and academic rants on a blog is one thing, but the classroom…now that’s different.

Thomas Brady

P.S. Here, for our readers, is the Ashbery poem, which to my mind, just reads like a slightly kidding, ruminative letter to a friend; there are no multiple points of view or time shifts.  To my mind it’s a clever, slightly drunk guy, reasonably happy, sort of bored, writing a letter to someone who knows his friend Ashbery and his sense of humor well enough, that the letter wouldn’t warrant a: “John, are you okay?  You’re not losing it, are you?”  Read the following as if you know John well, and he’s writing you a letter; I think you’ll discover that ‘a friendly, goofy letter’ is just what it is…

My Philosophy of Life
John Ashbery

Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea—
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude. I wouldn’t be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I’d sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate
I thought I’d stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him—not saffron, not lavender,
but something in between. He thinks of cushions, like the one
his uncle’s Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush
is on. Not a single idea emerges from it. It’s enough
to disgust you with thought. But then you remember something William James
wrote in some book of his you never read—it was fine, it had the fineness,
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and his alone.

It’s fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler. Nearby
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well,
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they’d do after using the toilet
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out
into the open again. Had they been coaxed in by principles,
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort?
I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought—
something’s blocking it. Something I’m
not big enough to see over. Or maybe I’m frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise—I’ll let
things be what they are, sort of. In the autumn I’ll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won’t be embarrassed by my friends’ dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that’s the hardest part,
as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn’t even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he’s
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him—
this thing works both ways, you know. You can’t always
be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
at the same time. That would be abusive, and about as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don’t know.
Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one . . .

AGAINST MODERNISM

saints.gif

I have been thinking how all the things that are
Guide our thinking, the way a traveler is guided by a star

And the star’s actual existence is little understood
Because it’s the vast distance that makes its guidance good.

The shapes of vast distances are guides; but we forget
How little we know, since guiding has not guided us to knowledge, yet

But only to a more lonely place among the stars
With vaster ignorance, so if those guitars

Play softly and the violins join in
And the piano beats a trail to the top, your heart to win,

Let your dark heart be darkly won
By bright music, for this is how adults most have fun:

They’ll tell you this, who live to sweet old age,
Wandering through childhood’s book, page by page,

Until the everlasting sigh is heard—
Well, don’t think what you think isn’t just as absurd;

For you measure things and think you know
What that measure means; only the star can show

You the way, but its feeble light
Is but a marker in the towering night

Where to be a child again, and weep
Is painful; better, far, to be old in a happy sleep.

When asked if heaven exists, say hopefully: maybe.
When I was a beauty, this beauty was a baby.

Heavens have flying cherubs—well, of course they do.
A beautiful ideal is not, because beautiful, less true.

THE SENTENCE AND THE NAME

Out of the shadow the shadow came
With two things only: the sentence and the name.
No, it wasn’t yours, and that was a shame;
Still I have them written: the sentence and the name.

I walked up to you; you were shy and tame,
But soon it came down to the sentence and the name.
I wrote you a poem, but this was not your game.
Now I have just these: the sentence and a name.

You made yourself clear; difficulty’s not to blame;
I understood the sentence; I understood the name;
Now I understand you’re gone, lost, lost to fame!
By writing that one sentence, and affixing your dear name.

WELL, DUH.

The following quotes were taken from the “Poetry Foundation’s 15 most-read Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine articles.”

“America’s poets have a minimal presence in American civic discourse and a minuscule public role in the life of American democracy.”  —David Biespiel (no. 6)

“The most prevalent poetic representation of contemporary experience is the mimesis of disorientation by non sequitur. Just look into any new magazine. The most frequently employed poetic mode is the angular juxtaposition of dissonant data, dictions, and tones, without defining relations between them. The poem of non-parallelism—how things, perceptions, thoughts, and words coexist without connecting—is the red wheelbarrow of Now . . .”   —Tony Hoagland (no. 5)

To write a good poem about an ugly thing, as Seidel does often, is not to write an ugly poem . . .”   —Molly Young  (no.2)

“Since very few non-poets read poetry, it makes sense that our audience is 98 percent poets. And poets are more easily manipulated than most artists. Our art is based on the most subjective of terms—it rises and falls based on nothing tangible. One minute you’re Mark Van Doren, the most important poet in the world. The next you’re Yvor Winters, mostly forgotten.”   —Jim Behrle  (no. 1)

No suprise these sentiments (which by now are truims) on the zeitgeist of American poetry were the most-read.

Yup:

poets have minimal presence 

disorientation by non sequitur

ugly poem

our audience is 98 percent poets

The most-read Poetry Foundation sentiments of 2010:

Tiny, incestuous, impotent enclave of poets reading non sequitur, hoping against hope that a good poem on ugly isn’t ugly.

 

THE GOOD OLD MEDIEVAL CAMPUS

WITTENBERG-icon.jpg

“Go not to Wittenberg” –Hamlet, Act I

 

Once upon a time in the country called Wonderfuland there was a 500-year old institution named Skarewe University.  It issued Diplomas.

Just about everyone went to Skarewe University.  They spent exactly four years studying exactly 16 required courses in thisology and thatology.  They did this to get a Diploma.

Diplomas were very valuable.  If you showed one to a prospective employer he gave you more money.  No one knew why.

But the country fell on uneasy times.  Even the students at Skarewe University caused trouble.  They demanded this and they demanded that.  And they got everything they demanded.  Until, finally, they couldn’t think of anything else to demand.

“I know,” said one student one day, “let’s demand that they abolish Diplomas!”

And not having anything else to do, the students went on a Diploma Strike.

The President of Skarewe University was stunned.  “If we don’t issue Diplomas,” he said, “we will lose our standing in the academic community.”

The business community was shocked.  “Without diplomas,” employers said, “how can we tell a college graduate from an uneducated man?”

Editorial writers viewed this with alarm.  “These radicals would destroy the very purpose of dear old Skarewe U.,” they wrote.  “They should be forced to accept their Diplomas whether they like it or not.”

The trustees were furious.  “Abolishing Diplomas will set our University back 500 years,” they thundered.  “It will become a medieval institution!”

And it did.

From the very day that Diplomas were abolished, 64.3 percent of the students quit to go engage in more financially-rewarding pursuits.  And those who were left found parking spaces for their cars—for the first time since the Middle Ages.

Just as in the Middle Ages, students  now attended Skarewe University solely to gain knowledge and wisdom.

And as there were no required courses, teachers who imparted knowledge and wisdom gave well-attended lectures.  And those who didn’t, didn’t.  Just as in medieval times.

Just as in medieval times, students pursued only the studies that interested them and read only the books that stimulated them.  And all, being constantly interested and stimulated, were dedicated scholars.

Thus it was that Skarewe University became what it had been 500 years before—a vast smorgasbord of knowledge and wisdom from which the student could select that which delighted and enriched him.

So everybody was happy.  The President was happy to head such a distinguished community of scholars.  The trustees were happy there were no more riots.  And the taxpayers were happy they no longer had to purchase educations for those who didn’t want them.

Even prospective employers were happy.  For, oddly enough, even without a Diploma, you could still pick out the applicant who had gone through college—because for the first time in 500 years, he was a well-educated man.

—Arthur Hoppe, 1968

POETRY: THE MORE THEY ‘MAKE IT NEW,’ THE MORE IT SUCKS

Why is this?

In light of Ron Silliman and friends’ conference in Philly on Dec. 6 “Poetry in 1960: A Symposium,” which will no doubt celebrate Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology, Scarriet would like to ponder this question.

What hath Donald Allen (1912-2004), a nice man, an editor for awhile at the cool, pretentious, smutty Evergreen Review, wrought?

Our loyal readers should have noticed two passages in Scarriet printed recently, authored by two greats, Plato and Leopardi, taking on this issue directly and honestly.  They both said that poetry, by its very nature, is an old-and-courting-the-old, art.  Of course, a great hue and cry goes up when this simple truth (in terms of two small items: all history and any measure of popularity) is broached: “Fascist!” is the shrill charge from the Pound-lovers.

It’s a truism, though, isn’t it?  How can anyone but an oaf be seriously against the new?  Have you lost it, Brady?

I’ll put Plato and Leopardi up against Pound (who confessed he never read the “Rooshins,” and worked for their extinction (and others) in the war, and then had the audacity to call the United States an “insane asylum”) any day, but I still owe my readers an argument here.

First:  The merely new is not the same thing as meritoriously novel.  They, in fact, are quite different.   But apparently, often confused, whether by ignorance or hoodwink.  The mere fact of novelty in any area is no prescription for progress, or interest, of any kind, at all.

Second: We must consider what is being changed.  Poetry exists, like the air, most intensely in our lungs, not abstractly on a blackboard.  There is nothing wrong with things written on a blackboard, with abstract fervor, with speculation and dreams.  But the air is heavy.   As light and dreamy and windy as it may seem, the atmosphere itself cannot be changed radically—its very existence has a certain amount of pressure, in pounds per square inch, throughout the sublunary realm, where all of us are universally and singularly subject to it. 

Poetry, like the air, pushes back when we try to move or change it.  Poetry, like the air, may seem insubstantial and easily moved in its local existence, but there is more substance and bulk to it than is dreamed of in the pedants’ philosophies.

Poetry, like air, acts on us, perhaps routinely and mundanely, but still so, far more than we, as individuals, in front of a blackboard (even with lots of chalk), can hope to act on it.

If we altered only slightly the chemistry of the atmosphere, life that breathes that atmosphere would radically change; even die.  Poetry is that ubiquitious, and that correspondent with us.  It matters not whether life that breathes air or air itself first emerged in the planetary process; life and air, life and poetry are one, and cannot be separated theoretically, on a blackboard, or anywhere else.

Third: We can alter paint and stone and words, and this is what painters and sculptors and poets by definition do; but this is not the same as altering painting and sculpture and poetry, which none, by definition do, and to make the claim that human volition does do this, insults every individual painter, sculptor and poet, worthy of the name.  The alteration belongs to the poet, which the theory-mad pedant would claim for his own; the pedant’s claim collpases, however, under what he (the pedant) claims (gesticulating near his blackboard) to stand on.

Fourth:  Demolishing the cult of ‘the new’ in general terms, as we have just done, is relatively easy, but the pedants can still crawl beneath the radar of such reasoning in the dirt and mud of their pluralism; they will connect ‘the new’ poetry of 1960 to “modern jazz” and “abstract painting.”  These American art forms of the 20th century, jazz and abstract painting, do not exist “on a blackboard;” nor does Charles Olson’s typewriter, which allowed him to print his poems “on a field,” exist “only a blackboard.”   The breaking of line, stanza, metre, sentiment, narrative, signifier, signified, word, intent, unity and elitism, is also not a theory “on a blackboard,” the ‘make it new’ pedants will cry.

“Love is not love when it alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove.”   The alteration of poetry, the removing of “line, stanza, metre, sentiment, narrative, signifier, signified, word, intent, and unity” (none of these items are “elitist” any more than their removal is) does alter when it alteration finds, and thus love (poetry) is not love (poetry).

If you take away the components of love, if you take away the components of poetry, you are left with one thing: the blackboard.

Jazz is music and abstract painting, painting, only so far as they exist in those recognizable modes; this is a truism.  The removal of traits and traces in, and of, the mode is merely narrowing in a purely aesthetic way, an aesthetic strategy within the workings of those modes, themselves.   The new-fangled destruction of an art is cogent only when the mode, or the art, survives; after the line is crossed, it is simply that: removal by the remover: destruction.

Fifth:  Charles Olson can spatter words upon his two-dimensional “field,” but this urges the poem towards the pictorial, and one cannot gesture in that direction without conjuring the painters, who present spatial effects on a two-dimensional space, and most of them in a far more riveting fashion than  Olson, impotently imprisoned by his paltry, unexamined, and limited theoretics, on his “page.”   There is no escape for Olson.  He can’t have his cake and eat it.  He cannot invoke “field” without settling the account of all that “field” means in a wider sense, both physically, theoretically and historically, making him a new failure in an old medium.  Olson childishly demonstrated why poetry could not, and cannot, exist in the way he wanted it to, much less thrive in the way he wanted it to.   The impotence, of course, does not belong to Olson; he didn’t invent spurious spacing; anyway, how can there be an inventor of a nullity?   There is nothing but superfluity to be won here, of course; any engagement of the particulars (if they could be called that) of Olson’s delusional pontifications would aid only the aspirations of the followers and pedants themselves.

Sixth:  The pedants will always be able to find correlations; jazz and abstract painting were mentioned—but even Marjorie Perloff, an avant-garde poetry advocate if there ever was one, in her 1997 essay, “Whose New American Poetry?” scorned the idea (put forth by Allen in his  feeble introduction) that Mr. Allen’s new poetry was like “jazz or abstract painting.”  How so?  Even Perloff knows that dog won’t hunt.

The attempt at finding correlation to other ‘new’ modes fails; what works, apparently, according to Perloff, is the correlation to older “new” poetry, the original Modernists, who had done it already, so OK, Allen’s new poets can attach themselves to Pound and Williams (born in the 19th century).  Perloff also points out that many key players in the so-called “third wave” of Donald Allen’s 1960 anthology were the same age (older, in the case of Olson) as the “second wave” of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.  Perloff also rains on the Allen parade by pointing out two more issues: the lack of women in the “new” poets and also how quickly the old distinctions faded; by the 80s, even by the 1970s, “raw v. cooked,” and “marginal v. mainstream” were gone.

What’s left, now, but nostalgia for 1960 itself?   1960 was a great year, though not for poetry

But, hey, Philly’s got great cheese steaks…

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