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.

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16 Comments

  1. mlclark said,

    December 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I like this game immensely as an exercise in tensions between universality and personalization of poetic experience. Some of these descriptions resonate at a depth of at least two readers/fathoms–O’Hara and Williams especially–while others, like Poe, do not strike me in that light. Indeed, I am still trying to understand what experience of his work you might have had to yield the description it did.

    I am also interested by the lack of female poets on this list–not so much in and of itself, but in relation to how the inclusion of a female poet might create a different framework for response. I am of course assuming the author of this post to be heteronormative male when making this presumption, but with a list of male poets under such circumstances it might be easier to insinuate oneself into the intended poet’s skin as much as their poetry, while a female poet might yield a more “othering” approach to the question of visualizing the act of reading their work.

    I fear I might not have explained that musing well, though, so I’ll leave off by asking what brought you to these names in particular, and what you think might have changed in this game’s process or outcomes if female poets had been included in the exercise. Thank you for a provocative read!

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      Clark,

      I hope others will add their own. The list is not meant to be definitive; I came up with the idea in a few minutes yesterday and just started writing about the first poets who came into my head. It took me all of an hour or so. I was not thinking whether they were women poets or what they were. I found them very easy to write.

      I’m very well-read in Poe and he was a joyful, creative soul, not the morbid gloom machine portrayed in limited, superficial readings…

      If you guys don’t join in and make your own, I’ll post some more later….

      Thanks for your comment!

      I came up with two just lying in bed this morning:

      Keats: You’re 14, it’s early winter, you’re at a Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie, and stealing your first kiss.

      Baudelaire: You’re 23, surfing porn, your beautiful mother enters the room, sees what you’re doing, and bursts into tears. Then your father enters and laughs.

      Tom

      • mlclark said,

        December 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm

        I grew up with tales like The Gold-Bug and The Balloon Hoax as much as The Oblong Box and The Fall of the House of Usher, but “joyful” is still a word nothing of my reading into his prose or poetry, let alone his tragic personal biography, brings easily to mind as descriptor. Joyful for the sheer breadth of his stories, his interests? In any case, the observation wasn’t confrontational: just meant to demonstrate how the exercise produces instances of universality as much as it does personalized experience. It’ll be interesting to see how others react to the same, not to mention what they make of their own contributions.

        I’d add my own, but I’ve clean run out of time before the obligations of the day. Looking forward to reading the rest tomorrow!

      • thomasbrady said,

        December 24, 2010 at 8:03 pm

        Poe figures stuff out. By ‘joy’ I mean the ‘joy’ of the genius. Most people in the 19th century had tragic lives; you can take any example; Poe’s ‘tragic’ life gets a lot of play, but objectively speaking his life was about average. Emerson lost a wife, a brother, a 5 year old son…and we don’t think of Emerson having a ‘tragic personal life,’ but it’s all the way you spin it. Poe wrote many types of literature; do we think of Stephen King as a morbid person? As far as what I know about King, he’s a bookworm, but not morbid.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        December 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm

        I’ve heard King say that people are wrong to think he’s a morbid person — that he has, in fact, the heart of a child. In formaldehyde in a jar on his desk.

      • thomasbrady said,

        December 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm

        King writes scary schlock to shock; it’s unfortunate that minds like his even exist. He’s like a clever arsonist or pick-pocket. You admire the criminal mind, but it’s still a criminal mind, a mind that frightens children. His bad-taste defenders are legion, however; there are those who believe children ought to be frightened, that it’s good for them. I’m sure there are millions who have nightmare fantasy lives and therefore enjoy sharing it with others. I wouldn’t want to get into an argument on the merits of Stephen King. He’s a philosophical cretin. The less said about him, the better. My point about Poe, however, is that penny facts of someone’s life cannot determine their inner character or their philosophical magnitude. In literature, the writing is the man. The biography should always be taken with a large grain of salt. Bios are probably most useful for sniffing out literary, or political cliques, in order to map out historical, social, and philosophical trends from a somewhat scientific perspective, if we’re lucky.

  2. noochinator said,

    January 28, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Reading Aristotle is like… shoveling snow, or like trying to pin down the wings of a still-living butterfly….

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 28, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Reading Aristotle is like…you are 8. Your father takes you to a museum. He is yelling at you in the restroom.

      • noochinator said,

        January 29, 2016 at 2:20 pm

        Aristotle was a bullfrog—
        Was a good friend of mine—
        Never understood a single word he said,
        But I helped him drink his wine…..

        • thomasbrady said,

          January 29, 2016 at 4:15 pm

          But look at these Wiki quotes from Aristotle:

          We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

          It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

          Happiness depends upon ourselves.

          Is he really that hard to understand?? I think Paglia’s more difficult…

          • noochinator said,

            January 29, 2016 at 8:41 pm

            Any writer is easy if only his aphoristic gems are presented — it’s doing the mining that’s hard — for example, here’s chapter 9 of Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics :

            There is a difference between inquiry and deliberation; for deliberation is inquiry into a particular kind of thing. We must grasp the nature of excellence in deliberation as well whether it is a form of scientific knowledge, or opinion, or skill in conjecture, or some other kind of thing. Scientific knowledge it is not; for men do not inquire about the things they know about, but good deliberation is a kind of deliberation, and he who deliberates inquires and calculates. Nor is it skill in conjecture; for this both involves no reasoning and is something that is quick in its operation, while men deliberate a long time, and they say that one should carry out quickly the conclusions of one’s deliberation, but should deliberate slowly. Again, readiness of mind is different from excellence in deliberation; it is a sort of skill in conjecture. Nor again is excellence in deliberation opinion of any sort. But since the man who deliberates badly makes a mistake, while he who deliberates well does so correctly, excellence in deliberation is clearly a kind of correctness, but neither of knowledge nor of opinion; for there is no such thing as correctness of knowledge (since there is no such thing as error of knowledge), and correctness of opinion is truth; and at the same time everything that is an object of opinion is already determined. But again excellence in deliberation involves reasoning. The remaining alternative, then, is that it is correctness of thinking; for this is not yet assertion, since, while even opinion is not inquiry but has reached the stage of assertion, the man who is deliberating, whether he does so well or ill, is searching for something and calculating.

            But excellence in deliberation is a certain correctness of deliberation; hence we must first inquire what deliberation is and what it is about. And, there being more than one kind of correctness, plainly excellence in deliberation is not any and every kind; for (1) the incontinent man and the bad man, if he is clever, will reach as a result of his calculation what he sets before himself, so that he will have deliberated correctly, but he will have got for himself a great evil. Now to have deliberated well is thought to be a good thing; for it is this kind of correctness of deliberation that is excellence in deliberation, viz. that which tends to attain what is good. But (2) it is possible to attain even good by a false syllogism, and to attain what one ought to do but not by the right means, the middle term being false; so that this too is not yet excellence in deliberation this state in virtue of which one attains what one ought but not by the right means. Again (3) it is possible to attain it by long deliberation while another man attains it quickly. Therefore in the former case we have not yet got excellence in deliberation, which is rightness with regard to the expedient-rightness in respect both of the end, the manner, and the time. (4) Further it is possible to have deliberated well either in the unqualified sense or with reference to a particular end. Excellence in deliberation in the unqualified sense, then, is that which succeeds with reference to what is the end in the unqualified sense, and excellence in deliberation in a particular sense is that which succeeds relatively to a particular end. If, then, it is characteristic of men of practical wisdom to have deliberated well, excellence in deliberation will be correctness with regard to what conduces to the end of which practical wisdom is the true apprehension.

  3. noochinator said,

    February 6, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Reading Plato is like…. You are 11 and in church. The minister seems so angry as he drones on interminably about concepts incomprehensible and irrelevant, but the congregation is responding enthusiastically to everything he is saying. You want to sneak outside but you are sitting between your parents and there is no escape….

    • noochinator said,

      February 6, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      A Short Essay on Why Socrates Is Fucking Stupid
      by “Poet Nine”

      There was a time when I thought Socrates was a badass. He questioned the authority. Yeah! Damn the Man! He’s the father of of Greek thought. Of modern philosophy. Of modern science…? Why not! He probably invented sliced bread. And oral sex. Everybody loves Socrates! He’s soooo cooool.

      I wanted to be Socrates when I grew up. I dressed as Socrates for Halloween. I learned to read and write Greek and even once touched a 3,000 year old parchment! Okay no I didn’t, but I had a dream once that I did.

      Then I lived, for a time, in an enclave of intellectuals, pseudo-Socrateses you might say.

      Now the enclave, they were all right. But being around them helped me finally realize that Socrates was an asshole and a coward and basically just smart enough to be fucking stupid.

      First, my charge of assholery. Picture this situation: you’ve done a hard day’s work at your jewelry store. Sold some diamond rings to some happy couples. Maybe you sold two necklaces to a guy, one bought with cash, the other with his credit card (you figure it out). Spent some time hunched in front of a CAD program, designing a mount. Maybe it’s near the forge, which has to reach temperatures of over 3300 degrees to melt platinum. Not very pleasant. Makes you sweaty and tired.

      But that’s okay. You do what you do because you enjoy creating beauty and you enjoy being able to put food on your table.

      Now as you’re locking the store up, some random fellow calling himself Socrates pops up and starts questioning what you do: “What practical purpose does jewelry have?” “How are you adding to society?” “Couldn’t you be doing something better with your wealth?” “How much money is enough?” And so on and so forth.

      You’re a decent person so you decide to humor him, “Jewelry is symbolic and beautiful and it holds value through time.”

      “Ah,” says Socrates, “But does not true beauty result when form follows function? As in a bird soaring through the air, aerodynamic and free? But what function does jewelry serve?”

      And no matter what you say, he always comes back with another question. Eventually you just say, “Who the fuck are you anyway and what have YOU done that gives you the right to question what I do?”

      Now certainly a healthy bit of doubt about the status quo is a good thing. In fact, I think the status quo is usually followed by stupid people. Questioning things is good. But if you’re pestering people so much that they DECIDE TO PUT YOU TO DEATH, well, y’know, maybe just maybe, you’re being a bit of an asshole. And a bit dense for that matter, too.

      Truthfully, we all know the type. You try to have a rational argument with this type of person and instead they nitpick your phrasing, they make these strange meta-arguments (“The mere fact you are spending your time on the internet arguing about this demonstrates you are stupid and know nothing! And it’s like the special olympics!” …huh?). They think they’re being clever but in reality they’re simply highlighting a fact that everybody already understands: language is imperfect. Beautiful, but flawed. Which is to say that to argue semantics is to be fucking stupid.

      But a coward? How dare I! Doesn’t the Wikipedia article say he served in the army! Didn’t he choose to die rather than flee! That’s courage!

      No. Suicide is fucking stupid, and selfish to boot. Rather than actually stay around and continue his teaching, he took the easy way out. Yes, death is easy. It’s light as a feather. It is the easiest and best way to run away from your problems. Meanwhile, he left behind his family. He left behind his students, who are COMPLETELY responsible for any record of Socrates anyway. So his suicide accomplished, what, exactly?

      And that is why I think Socrates is an asshole, a coward, and all around fucking stupid.

      What will really cook your goose, if you’re a Socrates die-hard and find this essay offensive, is that I’m being more Socratic than you are! I am questioning conventional wisdom/reality and you are… well… not. Godspeed.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    February 7, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Socrates pops up at the jewelry store. Well at least it wasn’t a burglar.

    Poet nine doesn’t bother to quote Plato. His assertions are vague and scattered.

    At least you quoted Aristotle.

  5. February 11, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Reblogged this on Editions Of You.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      Many thanks, Andrew!
      Tom


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