Insiders knew “cooked” meant electro-shock therapy and “raw,” the result.

Robert Lowell, in his acceptance speech for a major book award in 1960, welcomed the Beats to the party.  Poetry didn’t have to be written for the graduate seminar, Lowell said; it could be street-wise and accessible.  It didn’t have to rhyme—it could just talk.

Lowell was doing nothing, however, but furthering his own career.  He had gone to prison as a conscientious objector during WW II, and then won a Pulitzer Prize in 1946 for a book of bombastically formalized verse: a few good lines, but mostly trash.  Lowell was clearly a mediocrity, but he was a Lowell and he was a Beat before the Beats: iconoclastic, capricious, and mad.  Also, crazy.  And mad.

The ‘raw v. cooked’ formula was simply an acknowledgement on Lowell’s part that he was swinging from ‘cooked’ to ‘raw’ in his writing and he sensed that ‘raw’ had become sexier.

Nothing concerns a man in his 40s more than loss of sex appeal.  The womanizing southerner Allen Tate was very sexy to Robert LowellLowell walked away from WW II and walked away from his wife in a car wreck, but when Tate said Lowell couldn’t move in with him, Lowell pitched a tent in Tate’s yard and lived there for two months.  Tate was the American Pound: in the mid-20th century, Pulitzers, Bollingens, booze parties and new Writing Programs went through TateTate was the transatlantic star of the Euro and American wings of Pound’s modernist clique, praising the The Waste Land, starting up Princeton’s Writing Program where Merwin and Berryman established themselves, hosting Ford Madox Ford’s visit to the U.S, the Confederate to Lowell’s Union.  Lowell paid homage to Tate’s glinting poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” with his For the Union Dead. 

Lowell bumped into New Critics for most of his career: leaving Harvard to study with  Ransom at Kenyon, befriending Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks at Louisiana, besotted with Tate.  Lowell also taught at Iowa with Paul Engle. And then he’d teach Plath and Sexton.  The myth of Lowell sometimes makes us forget that he was basically a well-connected Workshop teacher created by the New Critics.

The “Confessional” label was given to Lowell by M.L. Rosenthal, which tremendously helped Lowell’s career.  This was part of Lowell’s ‘new sexy,’ the ‘raw’ establishing itself against the graduate seminar ‘cooked.’   It was simply another calculated move by the Pound clique to build a New Critical, rich-boy, mediocrity into a star.  In his NY Times obituary, Rosenthal is described the following way: “he had an affinity for the work of William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.”  There they are: the four horsemen of Modernism.  The second phase of Modernism was insinuating itself (because ignored by the public) into the Academy and the Canon: these soldiers were Rosenthal, the New Critics, and Robert Lowell.

As for Lowell’s famous “Raw and Cooked” formula itself, it is without merit.  How, for instance, is Donald Hall or Louis Simpson in 1960 “cooked,” and not “raw?” Would the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath be considered “cooked” or “raw?”   Plath was a student of the New Critics and dreamed of being accepted by the Kenyon Review. “Daddy” makes expert use of all sorts of formal devices, and yet it’s certainly a “raw” poem.  The Romantic poets were both “cooked” and “raw” in the ways Lowell was using those terms, primitive yet learned.  Lowell, however, was not astute enough to really know what he was saying; Lowell had no critical powers; his statement was merely self-promoting.

As we see in the following bit of history, whatever window there was quickly closed:

Seventeen years after his “raw” and “cooked” proclamation, Lowell did a joint reading with Allen Ginsberg at New York’s St. Marks-in-the-Bowery. The poets shared a podium—a hint that, in the interim, the battlelines had blurred. Gregory Corso rambunctiously heckled Lowell as he read his poem, “Ulysses and Circe.” “Robert, you left out that great line about paranoid,” Corso called out. Lowell responded with a quick “Point taken” and continued. “You treat us like a classroom,” Corso shouted. Lowell responded that he, in fact, was a teacher and tried to let it go at that. The event was shaping up like a lopsided showdown when Ginsberg finally stepped forward and proposed that the crowd collectively invite Corso to “shut up.” They did and Corso amicably exited, boots in hand, wife and baby at his side. To Lowell, the reading had turned into a veritable “happening.” In retrospect, it signaled a reprieve. The “raw” and the “cooked” were no longer warring, and the tribes needed new names.   –Tina Cane, Poets.Org

As this excerpt points out, the so-called “raw and cooked” in American poetry quickly blurred, and it is doubtful whether the actual division Lowell intended existed at all.

America had no critic of note in the 20th century. New Critic-connected Randall Jarrell, Lowell’s roommate at Kenyon, where Jarrell taught, was merely OK.  Eliot took his historical depth to Britain. Poe was insulted by the New Critics and stashed away in the cellar.  Brooks,  Penn Warren, Tate and Ransom had their day—but who reads them now?

It is no surprise, then, that one of America’s best-known 20th century critical pronouncements is weak, ambiguous, and ahistorical.

The change from 1960, when Lowell uttered the “raw and cooked”  formula, to 1977, when Ginsberg and Lowell read together, can best be summed up by looking at the difference between Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.  The former went to jail on obscenity charges in 1964, despite support at his trial from Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, and Allen Ginsberg, and died a broken man in 1966.  The latter became successful by using the same “dirty words” in a 1972 comedy album.

The “cooked” might refer to cooking up poetry prizes.

In the end, Lowell going for “raw” when he was “cooked” is just one more silly event in the chapter of Modernism.



  1. Nooch said,

    May 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    “America had no critic of note in the 20th century. New Critic-connected Randall Jarrell, Lowell’s roommate at Kenyon, where Jarrell taught, was merely OK.”

    Lionel Trilling? Edmund Wilson? James Agee?

  2. Marcus Bales said,

    May 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Northrop Frye?

    • Mark said,

      May 4, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      Frye was Canadian.

      Thanks for playing, though.

      • Marcus Bales said,

        May 5, 2011 at 2:13 am

        Thank god you were right there and had the wit to point out to all of us who already knew it that Frye was Canadian! Imagine taking such a person for an American, or having any influence in American culture!

        Frye came to prominence not long after Frank Underhill’s tenure fight over his having declared Canada had transitioned from the British to the American sphere of influence, politically, culturally, and socially, and that fight was green enough in his memory that Frye used to point out that Underhill was only saying what everyone already knew. So Frye himself acknowledged his own essential “American” character within the meaning of Tom’s usage of “American” — especially considering that prominent players in Tom’s time-frame were such trans-national figures as Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, and TS Eliot. (And what of Eliot in this context, Tom? Are you prepared to say that since in 1927 he became an English subject that he doesn’t really count as an ‘American’ in your view here? And what of IA Richards, Wimsatt, Wellek, Blackmur? Or all they all too tainted with New Critical associations for you to respect any of them as “of note”?)

        But back to the trolling: I’m sure not only that Canadians will be glad to hear that you’ve now declared they’re not any sort of American.

        Oh, wait — I see — you don’t really have a point, again. You were just pretending to a great deal of knowledge you don’t really have — or, in other words, just trolling again.

        • Mark said,

          May 5, 2011 at 4:01 am

          This is hilarious. I love it when literary types overcompensate and end up looking like jackasses.

          “So Frye himself acknowledged his own essential “American” character within the meaning of Tom’s usage of “American””

          Except that he didn’t. Canadians aren’t American and they aren’t British either. I doesn’t matter what “sphere of influence” (LOL) they are under.

          My pointing out that you’re wrong doesn’t count as trolling by anyone’s standards. It counts as pointing out that you’re wrong so that no one happens across your comment and comes away thinking that Frye is American when he isn’t.

          Canadians aren’t Americans. Canadians are very offended to be called Americans. A chair is not a table… except in your America-centric vanilla version of the world.

          You’re not only wrong, you’re belligerent about being wrong and trying to pretend that you’re right. I’m sure Americans will be glad to hear that you’re continuing to act like the exact stereotype that gives all Americans a bad name.

          As to my having a “point”:

          You said something incorrect and I pointed it out. What kind of “point” would you like me to have there?

          “Gee Marcus, using your ‘very substantial’ (but also totally incorrect) two-word response as a starting point I’d like to move this discussion to…”


          “Gee Marcus, your totally incorrect point, general lack of knowledge and willingness to comment on things you are willfully uninformed about make me think you’d be a great person to have a literary discussion with.”


          PS – you should go back to writing terrible poetry: your prose is even worse. I didn’t think that would be possible but it is.

          • Marcus Bales said,

            May 5, 2011 at 11:13 am


            Postin’, postin’, postin’,
            Keep them servers hostin’
            Keep them trollers postin’ —

            Don’t try to understand ’em,
            Or why nobody’s banned ’em
            Those hit and page-view numbers will be high.
            We’re busy calculatin’
            The profits we’ll have waitin’,
            Waitin’ from the trollers trollin’ by.

            Suck ’em in, chat ’em up,
            Chat ’em up, suck ’em in,
            Suck ’em in, chat ’em up,
            Set ’em up, ride ’em hard,
            Ride ’em hard, set ’em up,
            Set ’em up, ride ’em hard,

            Trollin’, trollin’, trollin’
            Trollin’, trollin’, trollin’
            Trollin’, trollin’, trollin’
            Trollin’, trollin’, trollin’

            Trollin’, trollin’, trollin’
            Though bandwidth may be stolen
            Keep them trollers trollin’
            On boards and blogs and email
            The trollers male or female
            Will lie behind their pseudonym facades;
            They’re mental master baiters
            They’re boors and bores and haters
            They’re spoofin’ scrollin’ scammin’ flamin’ frauds.

            Suck ’em in, chat ’em up,
            Chat ’em up, suck ’em in,
            Suck ’em in, chat ’em up,
            Set ’em up, ride ’em hard,
            Ride ’em hard, set ’em up,
            Set ’em up, ride ’em hard,


            • Nooch said,

              May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm

              Ooh, ooh, ooh, Mr. Kotter!
              Jacques Barzun!
              “Darwin, Marx, Wagner”,
              To name only one.

              • Nooch said,

                May 6, 2011 at 9:35 am

                I also do enjoy to read
                The criticism of Wilfred Sheed.

        • thomasbrady said,

          May 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm


          Frye was Jungian and a very thorough and interesting critic as far as archetypes and myths and general methodology. He was trained at Oxford, just as all the New Critics and Paul Engle studied in England as part of their Rhodes Scholar training. Like the New Critics, Frye still believed that literature should be kept away from history on one side and philosophy on the other, in other words he basically made a fetish of literature, as they all tended to do. Frye said you can’t learn literature, only criticism of literature. He was basically a New Critic who ‘stepped back’ from the painting and did his ‘close reading’ in terms of myths such as the ‘hero quest’ in literature. He wanted to unify the study—of literary criticism, but this seems quixotic, since he made a fetish of literary criticism. Frye liked to distinguish between narrative and rhythm on one hand, for the stupid folks, and image-patterning and symbolism and epiphany and sacred insight, on the other, for the smart folks, like Christopher Woodman; CW obviously studied his Frye or something similar which explains a great deal of his prejudices and his silly superior attitude towards me.


          • Marcus Bales said,

            May 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm

            Yes, that’s all very well, Tom — but doesn’t that make him a critic of note?

            Or are you holding that studied at Oxford and Canadian-born means he’s not American, as Mark suggests? Or are his putative New Critical ties what keep him from being of note for you?

            And, as I asked before, what of Eliot in this context? Are you saying that since in 1927 he became an English subject that he doesn’t really count as an ‘American’ in your view here? Or that he’s not ‘of note’? And what of IA Richards, Wimsatt, Wellek, Blackmur? Or all they all too tainted with New Critical associations for you to respect any of them as “of note”?

            And for that matter, what difference does it make if they’re “American” or not, these critics? Who reads a critic and says “Well, I can’t agree with THAT — it was written by a Canadian!”? Or any other nationality.

            I recognize that you’re trying to ‘follow the money’, as it were, in trying to trace the collaborations and the fallings-out of 20th century poets. But was it really that nationalistic?

            • thomasbrady said,

              May 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm


              Nationalism has something to do with it, but Empire and hiearchy and a paternalistic pedantry has much to do with it, too. Richards, Blackmur, Wimsatt, Wellek belong to the rather narrow world of my critique. The narrowness is part of its power and its influence; cliques need to agree on fundamental points.


              • Marcus Bales said,

                May 9, 2011 at 2:18 am

                I think I understand what you’re saying, Tom — you seem to be trying to cut the subjective ground from under the New Critics by saying they are not “of note”, that you think they don’t deserve their reputations because their reputations are built on cronyism rather than on merit.

                For the most part, though, the ways to assign merit in a subjective endeavor center on trusting the educated tastes of the relatively few people who have had the time and energy to immerse themselves in that subjective endeavor, or in thinking about the purposes, achievements, and failures of that endeavor. If you can’t trust those judgments, and there are no objective standards, then your only hope is the postmodernist one of rejecting all standards of any sort, and calling it all equally good.

                • Christopher Woodman said,

                  May 9, 2011 at 3:53 am

                  You worry about “trusting the educated tastes of the relatively few people who have had the time and energy to immerse themselves in that subjective endeavor,” but who else reads poetry, Marcus? Do you feel the New Critics, or the whatever-you-want-critics, are not your friends and neighbors, or belong to a class that looks down on you? You are “the relatively few people,” as am I and Tom and anybody else in the bookstore. There’s nobody else who reads poetry out there!

                  And I’m including everybody who buys Billy Collins and Charles Simic too, as I do.


                  • Marcus Bales said,

                    May 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm

                    As you well know, Christopher, there are, broadly speaking, two classes of poets in the US: those with, or who are seeking, academic teaching jobs, and those who don’t have, and aren’t seeking, them. For the most part both sorts of poets are influenced, more or less strongly, by whatever critical opinion about poetry gets published, and we all take that criticism pretty seriously, from Ezra Pound’s nonsense to Derrida’s, and everyone between and since. We dismiss Billy Collins with Judith Viorst, and Charles Bukowski with Rod McKuen, though, because success in the marketplace is an objective, measurable thing, and if THAT is the measure of good poetry we’d all have to admit that we were abject failures, and do some agonizing reappraisal.

                    So subjective opinion is what we seek.

                    The poets with or seeking academic jobs seek subjective opinion because they’ve found out they can manipulate it. They’re good salesmen — they get to be liked, and being liked gets their poems and books published. It’s a dangerous road, though, because if you’re a good salesman, you can never be sure your poems are published because you’re a good salesman, or because your poems are good. This is the cronyism, it seems to me, that Tom is criticizing.

                    But there is just as much cronyism in the non-academic poets world — there is just less money and less publication. But sitting in any rowdy reading run by the local impressario, watching who gets the nod to read at the mic and who doesn’t, it’s easy to see that it ain’t poetic merit that rules.

                    But there is no ‘poetry scale’, and no instrument with which to measure ‘units of poetry’, and not even a theory about what might count as a ‘unit of poetry’ — not even a theory about what a ‘unit of poetry might look like! — that, like a thermometer, one might stick into the poem and read off the result whether one were an educated person of exquisite taste or the “the brassiest lumpkin in pimpledom”.
                    I’m not an advocate of trusting the educated taste of those who have the time and energy to give to the study of a subjective endeavor such as poetry — I’m simply observing that that’s all we’ve got. And since it is all we’ve got, our only chance to evaluate the taste of those educated folk are to become educated as well as we can ourselves.

                    Of course we can also simply reject the educated taste and declare our own poems to be the ne plus ultra of real poetry, not at all like that pommy pretentiousness praised by the puttering potentates of poeticism.

                    But then we’re still back to subjective opinion, aren’t we?

                • thomasbrady said,

                  May 9, 2011 at 10:05 am


                  There are standards and then there are standards. Read Da Vinci on painting. He says the best painters produce 3-dimensional figures, using shadow and light and perspective and colorists are mere amateurs. The Abstract painters could not abide Da Vinci. I’m on Da Vinci’s side. You could have umpteen scholars write thick tomes on the science of color, proving that Da Vinci is a crank. I’m stll on Da Vinci’s side. OK, now I’m a crank, and the colorists ‘win.’ The standard here is not in the painting but in the rigor of Da Vinci. Once you start to reject the rigor of Da Vinci you find yourself on a slippery slope from which you never get back up the mountain, but yes, there are all sorts of ‘standards’ on that mountain. Now we start to get into what Frye said: you can’t study literature, only the criticism of literature. Da Vinci would reject this at once. You study nature; that’s how you study painting, and the ‘criticism of painting’ is going to be mostly crap. The New Criticism is criticism of criticism of literature and all the narrow -isms are like that, but they are the ‘standards’ and the ‘scholarship’ of our day. I’m trying to bring us back to nature, again. Does nature have standards? You better believe she does. But she also has bounty and beauty and forgiveness, too. Nature is fertile and has largess. Like Poe. T.S. Eliot and Harold Bloom’s documented abuse of Poe gives the game away for me. The ignoring and the abuse of the Renaissance and the Romantics.There’s something rotten in Denmark. Modernism is crazy, and I’m really on the first step; calling attention to the fact, and now I’m also trying to find out why.


                  • Marcus Bales said,

                    May 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

                    Keep it up. I think you’re doing fine here, mostly.

                    I’ll have my small annoyances, such as with the way you spend far too much time on the faux-journalistic epiphenomena of your “March Madness” trope (if you ask me, and you didn’t, I’d say make every game between two poems by two poets, instead of the same poems over and again, and use the trope as an opportunity to talk about each poem, and then declare your inevitably arbitrary winner), and not enough on selecting and talking about poems. I forget who said it on Scarriet, but I strongly agree that the best part of “March Madness” is that it gets me to read poems I otherwise might have missed.

                    • thomasbrady said,

                      May 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm

                      Thanks, Marcus.

                      Maybe in the future we’ll do that, a tournament with poets who use a new poem for every ‘game.’


    • Nooch said,

      May 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      “Northrop Frye on Shakespeare”,
      Great collection, none too drear—
      And needs must mention Coppelia Kahn, for her
      “Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare.”

      • Nooch said,

        May 4, 2011 at 11:23 pm

        Believed by Shakespeare
        (According to Kahn):
        A man not a father’s
        Not really a man.

  3. Nooch said,

    May 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Mark Van Doren,
    Blessed with good looks—
    His “Shakespeare” just reissued
    By New York Review Books.

  4. wfkammann said,

    May 5, 2011 at 3:14 am

    On the Profound Meaning of Cooking Myths

    One of the basic binary pairs explored by Lévi-Strauss is nature/culture. While nature is perceived as emotional-instinctual, culture is perceived as intellectual. But beyond the customary difference, culture is differentiated from nature, according to Lévi-Strauss, since it has rules and laws which dictate what is right and what is wrong. Therefore they also take part in the creation of social order. The question is where nature ends and culture begins. This is where myth comes in, serving as a vehicle for explanation and mediation.
    In his 1964 book The Raw and the Cooked Lévi-Strauss explored nature/culture relations on the culinary level – namely, the way in which myth describes and explains the evolution of cooking techniques and rules, and the transformation of cooking into a cultural process – through the study of myth. The act of cooking is perceived by Lévi-Strauss as a type of anomalous category since food constantly crosses the boundaries of the categories nature and culture. Thus the cook is a type of cultural agent who links the raw product with the human consumer. His role is to ensure that the natural becomes cooked and undergoes a process of socialization. The analysis of myths pertaining to food and cooking is based on three premises: 1. Cooking is a language, and like any language, it has an unconscious structure constituted by binary oppositions; 2. Cooking is structured by the culinary triangle: raw/cooked/rotten – a triad which involves a double opposition between nature/culture and elaborated/unelaborated; 3. In practice, this abstract triangle becomes filled with several oppositional pairs, such as roasted/boiled, which corresponds to the pair raw/rotten.
    Lévi-Strauss maintains that culinary rites are not inborn but rather acquired phenomena. The animal in nature eats whatever its instinct perceives as edible, but in the case of human beings, it is social convention that determines what is food and what is not food, what type of food we shall eat and on what occasion. The human stomach can digest practically anything, so that the distinction edible/inedible is founded on a cultural rather than a physical basis. World cuisine is typified by a vast range of edible/inedible phenomena, which vary from place to place and from one period to another. At the same time, at the deep level of the binary structure, Lévi-Strauss sees no significant difference between the shopping list of a European
    man and the inventory of edible stuffs of a Native American from the Amazonas. Both divide the uniform category of food into subcategories 1, 2, and 3. Each type of food is treated differently, but the sum total of categories is similar to those formulated by Lévi-Strauss.
    The category of the raw forms the basis for two elementary levels: cooked food, which is the cultural transformation of the raw; and rotten food which is its natural transformation. This is the basic triangle, in relation to which intermediary states emerge, such as cooking in water or in air. Cooking associated with air leads to roasting or smoking, whereas the use of water entails boiling. Both categories derive from cooking, namely from culture, but the roasted leaves the inner part of the meat relatively raw and it can be cooked directly on an open flame, thus it remains closer to the nature pole, whereas the boiled, which undergoes full cooking, is closer to the side of culture.
    Each category is ascribed a different level of social prestige. Some of the food is exclusively suitable to men, some to women; some is forbidden to children, some can be eaten only on holidays, and some is forbidden to members of different religious groups. Lévi-Strauss maintains that there is a reverse relation between the levels of cultural transformation and the social value attributed to various types of cooking. Thus, boiled food represents a more developed state (use of water and oil) and more refined values than roasted food. Ostensibly, the boiled/roasted relations correspond with the advanced/primitive relations, but these can also switch, for boiled food is associated with endo-cuisine, with the intrinsic, intimate sphere. It is identified with a family cuisine (dishes such as cholent or stew), that of the wife and mother. The roasted, on the other hand, is identified with exo-cuisine, with public celebrations taking place in the public sphere, outdoors, and is associated with the masculine world. Hence, the roasted will be closer to culture and prestige, whereas the boiled will be associated with a more inferior culture, with the category of the decayed, due to the use of water and the blending of various elements in the dish (vegetables, meat, etc.). The opposition roasted/boiled remains stable, but the values associated with each notion may change or switch. In fact, the hierarchical position of the boiled/roasted/rotten food is connected with the principle of maximum/minimum cooking. The less the food is transformed, the higher its social status. Roasted food is considered more aristocratic than boiled food since its transformation involves only fire, as opposed to boiled food where both water and oil are used. Food that has rotted (e.g. Roquefort cheese) involves even lesser human intervention, and is therefore considered of higher quality. Similarly, raw fish (sushi) is considered highly prestigious. Things might get even more complicated if we add further categories, such as smoked, fried, dried, pickled, steamed, baked, pressure cooked. This set of notions can be set in relations of opposition, complementation, and symmetry.
    Thus, within the kitchen system transpires a set of binary pairs: nature/culture, duration/immediacy, near/far. To these one should add various cooking durations, resulting in countless combinations taking part in the creation of a code which forms a sequence of sorts and underlies the definition of processes pertaining to the creation of cultural order and social hierarchy.

    From: The Raw and the Cooked Claude Lévi-Strauss and the Hidden Structures of Myth
    Dr. Ouzi Elyada, University of Haifa

    Let’s start here Tom, rather than with your rant. How do Lévi-Strauss’ categories relate to Lowell’s remarks? That you don’t even mention Lévi-Strauss is surprising. Were you even born in the 60’s? Ass/hole in the ground? Which is it?

    I’d say your arguments are rotten, but that would give you much too much credit.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm


      I find it interesting that all our fine cuisine words in English derive from the French, while the raw words come from the Anglo-Saxon. Beef, which refers to the food, derives from the French, while cow is the Anglo-Saxon.

      Raw is natural and cooked is what man does to it, that’s pretty obvious. Lowell’s terminology is taken as gospel in most quarters, but how are the Beats “raw,” or natural? They are not. His distinction partakes of ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing.’ Lowell made an easy distinction that sounds plausible, but as soon as one actually looks at it…


      • wfkammann said,

        May 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

        Of course the Beats are raw compared to the rhyming poetry of the time. Happenings with drums and poetry. Raw subjects. You can’t see how Ginsberg or Burroughs are raw?? Burroughs took phrases and threw them on the floor and picked them out randomly as he was writing. Pretty raw. HOWL is raw; it’s still raw today. Are you arguing to hear yourself talk again?


        For Carl Solomon


        I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
        madness, starving hysterical naked,
        dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
        looking for an angry fix,
        angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
        connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
        ery of night,
        who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
        up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
        cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
        contemplating jazz,
        who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
        saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
        ment roofs illuminated,
        who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
        hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
        among the scholars of war,
        who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
        publishing obscene odes on the windows of the
        who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-
        ing their money in wastebaskets and listening
        to the Terror through the wall,
        who got busted in their pubic beards returning through
        Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
        who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in
        Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their
        torsos night after night
        with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-
        cohol and cock and endless balls,
        incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
        lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of
        Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
        tionless world of Time between,
        Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery
        dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops,
        storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
        blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree
        vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook-
        lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
        who chained themselves to subways for the endless
        ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine
        until the noise of wheels and children brought
        them down shuddering mouth-wracked and
        battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance
        in the drear light of Zoo,
        who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford’s
        floated out and sat through the stale beer after
        noon in desolate Fugazzi’s, listening to the crack
        of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
        who talked continuously seventy hours from park to
        pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brook-
        lyn Bridge,
        lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping
        down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills
        off Empire State out of the moon,
        yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts
        and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks
        and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
        whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days
        and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the
        Synagogue cast on the pavement,
        who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a
        trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic
        City Hall,
        suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grind-
        ings and migraines of China under junk-with-
        drawal in Newark’s bleak furnished room,
        who wandered around and around at midnight in the
        railroad yard wondering where to go, and went,
        leaving no broken hearts,
        who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
        through snow toward lonesome farms in grand-
        father night,
        who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telep-
        athy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos in-
        stinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
        who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking vis-
        ionary indian angels who were visionary indian
        who thought they were only mad when Baltimore
        gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
        who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Okla-
        homa on the impulse of winter midnight street
        light smalltown rain,
        who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston
        seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the
        brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
        and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship
        to Africa,
        who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving
        behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees
        and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fire
        place Chicago,
        who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the
        F.B.I. in beards and shorts with big pacifist
        eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incom-
        prehensible leaflets,
        who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting
        the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
        who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union
        Square weeping and undressing while the sirens
        of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed
        down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also
        who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked
        and trembling before the machinery of other
        who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight
        in policecars for committing no crime but their
        own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,
        who howled on their knees in the subway and were
        dragged off the roof waving genitals and manu-
        who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly
        motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
        who blew and were blown by those human seraphim,
        the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean
        who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose
        gardens and the grass of public parks and
        cemeteries scattering their semen freely to
        whomever come who may,
        who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up
        with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath
        when the blond & naked angel came to pierce
        them with a sword,
        who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate
        the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar
        the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb
        and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but
        sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
        threads of the craftsman’s loom,
        who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of
        beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a can-
        dle and fell off the bed, and continued along
        the floor and down the hall and ended fainting
        on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and
        come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
        who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling
        in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning
        but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sun
        rise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked
        in the lake,
        who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad
        stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these
        poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver-joy
        to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls
        in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’
        rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with
        gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely pet-
        ticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station
        solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too,
        who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in
        dreams, woke on a sudden Manhattan, and
        picked themselves up out of basements hung
        over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third
        Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemploy-
        ment offices,
        who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on
        the snowbank docks waiting for a door in the
        East River to open to a room full of steamheat
        and opium,
        who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment
        cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime
        blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall
        be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
        who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested
        the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of
        who wept at the romance of the streets with their
        pushcarts full of onions and bad music,
        who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the
        bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in
        their lofts,
        who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned
        with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded
        by orange crates of theology,
        who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty
        incantations which in the yellow morning were
        stanzas of gibberish,
        who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht
        & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable
        who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for
        an egg,
        who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot
        for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks
        fell on their heads every day for the next decade,
        who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccess-
        fully, gave up and were forced to open antique
        stores where they thought they were growing
        old and cried,
        who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits
        on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse
        & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments
        of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the
        fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinis-
        ter intelligent editors, or were run down by the
        drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
        who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually hap-
        pened and walked away unknown and forgotten
        into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alley
        ways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
        who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of
        the subway window, jumped in the filthy Pas-
        saic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street,
        danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed
        phonograph records of nostalgic European
        1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and
        threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans
        in their ears and the blast of colossal steam
        who barreled down the highways of the past journeying
        to each other’s hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude
        watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
        who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out
        if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had
        a vision to find out Eternity,
        who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who
        came back to Denver & waited in vain, who
        watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
        Denver and finally went away to find out the
        Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
        who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying
        for each other’s salvation and light and breasts,
        until the soul illuminated its hair for a second,
        who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for
        impossible criminals with golden heads and the
        charm of reality in their hearts who sang sweet
        blues to Alcatraz,
        who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky
        Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys
        or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or
        Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
        daisychain or grave,
        who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hyp
        notism & were left with their insanity & their
        hands & a hung jury,
        who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism
        and subsequently presented themselves on the
        granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads
        and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding in-
        stantaneous lobotomy,
        and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin
        Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-
        therapy occupational therapy pingpong &
        who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic
        pingpong table, resting briefly in catatonia,
        returning years later truly bald except for a wig of
        blood, and tears and fingers, to the visible mad
        man doom of the wards of the madtowns of the
        Pilgrim State’s Rockland’s and Greystone’s foetid
        halls, bickering with the echoes of the soul, rock-
        ing and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
        dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a night-
        mare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the
        with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book
        flung out of the tenement window, and the last
        door closed at 4. A.M. and the last telephone
        slammed at the wall in reply and the last fur-
        nished room emptied down to the last piece of
        mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted
        on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that
        imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of
        ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and
        now you’re really in the total animal soup of
        and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed
        with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use
        of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrat-
        ing plane,
        who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space
        through images juxtaposed, and trapped the
        archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
        and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun
        and dash of consciousness together jumping
        with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna
        to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human
        prose and stand before you speechless and intel-
        ligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet con-
        fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm
        of thought in his naked and endless head,
        the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,
        yet putting down here what might be left to say
        in time come after death,
        and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in
        the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the
        suffering of America’s naked mind for love into
        an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
        cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
        with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered
        out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand


        What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
        their skulls and ate up their brains and imagi-
        Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unob
        tainable dollars! Children screaming under the
        stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men
        weeping in the parks!
        Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the
        loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy
        judger of men!
        Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the
        crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of
        sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!
        Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun-
        ned governments!
        Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose
        blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers
        are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a canni-
        bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking
        Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
        Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long
        streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac-
        tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose
        smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
        Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch
        whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch
        whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
        whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!
        Moloch whose name is the Mind!
        Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream
        Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in
        Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
        Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom
        I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch
        who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy!
        Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!
        Light streaming out of the sky!
        Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs!
        skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic
        industries! spectral nations! invincible mad
        houses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
        They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pave-
        ments, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to
        Heaven which exists and is everywhere about
        Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies!
        gone down the American river!
        Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole
        boatload of sensitive bullshit!
        Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions!
        gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! De-
        spairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides!
        Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on
        the rocks of Time!
        Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the
        wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell!
        They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving!
        carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the


        Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland
        where you’re madder than I am
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you must feel very strange
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you imitate the shade of my mother
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you’ve murdered your twelve secretaries
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you laugh at this invisible humor
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where we are great writers on the same dreadful
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where your condition has become serious and
        is reported on the radio
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where the faculties of the skull no longer admit
        the worms of the senses
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you drink the tea of the breasts of the
        spinsters of Utica
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you pun on the bodies of your nurses the
        harpies of the Bronx
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you scream in a straightjacket that you’re
        losing the game of the actual pingpong of the
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul
        is innocent and immortal it should never die
        ungodly in an armed madhouse
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where fifty more shocks will never return your
        soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a
        cross in the void
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you accuse your doctors of insanity and
        plot the Hebrew socialist revolution against the
        fascist national Golgotha
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where you will split the heavens of Long Island
        and resurrect your living human Jesus from the
        superhuman tomb
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where there are twenty-five-thousand mad com-
        rades all together singing the final stanzas of the Internationale
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where we hug and kiss the United States under
        our bedsheets the United States that coughs all
        night and won’t let us sleep
        I’m with you in Rockland
        where we wake up electrified out of the coma
        by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the
        roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the
        hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls col-
        lapse O skinny legions run outside O starry
        spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is
        here O victory forget your underwear we’re
        I’m with you in Rockland
        in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-
        journey on the highway across America in tears
        to the door of my cottage in the Western night

        By the way, the whole lamb-mutton, pig-pork thing is sophomore English. Take a minute and read Levi Strauss, or at least the short essay and then relate it to Lowell. Lowell’s distinction is not Lowell’s. It’s first Levi Strauss’. It’s not enough to be dismissive, Tom. You need to make an argument and defend it; not issue a pronouncement from on high.

        • thomasbrady said,

          May 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm


          “Howl” is not “raw” at all; it’s extremely intellectualized and was obviously written by a college student very alive to poetic tradition. Ginsberg studied with Trilling and Van Doren at Columbia. If you put “Howl” next to anything by Lowell it’s very similar: verbose, academic bombast. There are differences, but it’s not between “raw” and cooked.” Lowell and Ginsberg got press without being very good poets and their legacy is based on their personalities and who their friends were—their poetry isn’t the important thing. Your quoting “Howl” is a good example—few could bring themselves to read such bombast to its conclusion.The “cooked” and “raw” distinction which Lowell intended was merely self-promoting, an attempt to make a interesting division between his friends’ poetry which didn’t really exist. As far as Levi Strauss: Robert Lowell wasn’t an anthropologist or a scholar, he was a poetry workshop teacher, so I’m not sure how it would help our discussion to wade off into the sea of eclectic social science. The social sciences and poetry don’t sit very well together, in my opinion. If you want to riff on it, I’ll listen, but I’m not really interested in that path myself.


          • wfkammann said,

            May 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

            Again from on high.

  5. May 7, 2011 at 2:55 am

    Timidly watch, even frightened follow the
    occurring sought success your fluttered strives
    get richer & much burdened. Still I watch
    ashamed, for more even want you more
    while I seek less and less.

    Your houses grow larger with roofs and yards
    & more successfully; & wealth & bigger do
    you grow second san paku lower darkened
    eyes bloodied with stress and ever higher
    crawl & grow & more & bloated ask:
    “How can you live in such poverty?”
    “Well, shit,” says I, “I’m happy…you?”

    Copyright 2005 – Evolving- Poems 1965-2005
    Copyright 2006 – Specimens – Selected Poems
    Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns – New and Corrected Poems
    Gary B. Fitzgerald

  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 8, 2011 at 2:33 am

    My preceding comment got squeezed to a ribbon by the “reply” function, so I’m reposting it here. The earlier version can be deleted. Thanks, C.W.

    That’s very astute, Tom. Ginsberg was certainly “literary” in the sense Columbia students were at that time, omnivorous, passionate, hardly bothering to sleep. I was there too at the same time, so I know. But we didn’t get to see a lot of Trilling and Van Doren, eminences grises and quite out of sight, for undergrads at least, and Allen and I both were. We also simply weren’t up there on Morningside Heights an awful lot, we were much more into things that were happening downtown around Washington Square and the Arts Students League.

    It’s like you’re calling me a New Critic because I went to Yale and Cambridge later on as a grad student. All sorts of people were around in both places, I can tell you, but the big ones didn’t necessarily leave the most lasting impression. The friends did, the time, the atmosphere, the walk-abouts and misadventures, and of course always being in love and reading so much (and just a little was New Criticism). At one time or another I attended lectures and even sipped sherry with just about all the big name agents provocateurs on your New Critical list, but they were hardly my “friends” and certainly didn’t sign me up to carry their torch!

    You speak like someone who wasn’t there, Tom, and someone who feels humiliated by the fact, who feels excluded. You speak like someone who feels he missed out on a “proper” literary education. In fact I know exactly where you studied, and with whom too, yet you attack those institutions as well. So perhaps the fact is that you were ‘there’ but you didn’t make it — a crazy way to feel because those who don’t make it are often the best, and if you really are the best you wouldn’t feel jealous, ever. But you act as if you feel you didn’t make it, you act as if you’re a loser, Tom, a poor guy shut out on Main Street. Is that it, perhaps, why you’re so negative? Thomas Graves didn’t get the “connections” Lowell and Ginsberg did, didn’t get the publicity or the leg up, so he became Thomas Brady and hoisted the whole lot with his own petard out of vengeance?

    I won’t put that metaphor in clearer language because I don’t want to get in trouble with Homeland Security!

    New Criticism wasn’t a movement until literary historians called it that much later, nor was it “new” in the sense that it dismissed what came before, or felt superior to the past. It’s like your argument “the Modernists hated the Romantics,” now dismantled by Mark on this site — you want it to be a battle in which somebody wins and somebody is shut out the door and freezes. New Criticism didn’t say no history, no context, or at least I never heard Cleanth Brooks, W.K.Wimsatt, I.A.Richards, or F.R.Leavis say that, among the many critics I studied with who were associated by later literary historians with the movement. Never once.

    But what they did do is make us think about the extraordinary treasures that lie hidden in even the simplest language, and to use those glimpses not only to explore ourselves in what we write but to explore the unfathomable reaches of poetry from all epochs. They just shook us up and flung open the door, but nothing got left out from the past. The past opened!

    You say to Bill, “Robert Lowell wasn’t an anthropologist or a scholar, he was a poetry workshop teacher, so I’m not sure how it would help our discussion to wade off into the sea of eclectic social science.” Well, that’s precisely what happened to Allen and myself, at Columbia, Tom, and you resent it. We waded off, all right, into absolutely everything, and you’re still standing stranded on the shore with all the books, journals and magazines from the time stacked up around you, but you haven’t a clue what it was like to be Robert Lowell or Allen Ginsberg, or me.


    • thomasbrady said,

      May 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm


      You wrote:

      “But what they [the New Critics] did do is make us think about the extraordinary treasures that lie hidden in even the simplest language, and to use those glimpses not only to explore ourselves in what we write but to explore the unfathomable reaches of poetry from all epochs. They just shook us up and flung open the door, but nothing got left out from the past. The past opened!”

      Bingo. I was right. You may have debauched downtown with Ginsberg (and Lowell?) but the New Criticism obviously intoxicates you, too.

      Here is why we differ, in a nutshell: “extraordinary treasures that lie hidden in even the simplest language…” If I am hyper-critical, it is only in comparison to this over-rating of every Robert Lowell/Beat scribble that calls itself poetry. When you are drunk, whatever you write seems like genius: “extraordinary treasures that lie hidden in even the simplest language.”


      • Christopher Woodman said,

        May 10, 2011 at 1:46 am

        “If I am hyper-critical, it is only in comparison to this over-rating of every Robert Lowell/Beat scribble that calls itself poetry,” you say. Well, you’re hypercritical because you’re so pig-headed, literal and undiscriminating.

        If you want to apply what I said to every Robert Lowell/Beat scribble you can, just as you can apply it to every Hallmark card and fortune cookie jingle as well, but personally I wouldn’t bother. Indeed, I wouldn’t bother to apply it to most poetry of any period, and not because I think most poetry is “bad” but because, for one thing, most poetry is simply too much poetry for me and, for another, most poetry isn’t what I’m looking for, ever. I’m looking for a poem, not most poetry.


        It’s a two-way street with poetry, as it is in all the arts. I walk by a gallery anywhere in the world, and despite the best attempt on the part of both the artist and the curator to draw me in, I won’t open my heart and mind in an active exchange with the paintings unless I feel inclined to do so. And that decision involves a lot of variables, like do I have the time, do I feel in that sort of mood and, of course, do I feel drawn to the subject matter and the style of the paintings. Right at first glance I can tell that, and most of the time I don’t.

        And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t give the time of day to 99% of Beat poetry. It just doesn’t interest me — and didn’t back in the 60s either. I already had far too much Pearl Poet, Thomas Wyatt, John Donne, John Clare, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and Edna St Vincent Millay to keep me occupied. And that’s just to mention a few, off the top of my head.

        On the other hand, I know that at the right moment I can find almost any poem or painting uplifting and even beautiful even if it’s not particularly “good,” — and particularly if it’s by someone I love, a child, for example, or an amateur water-colorist or part-time poet down the street, a patient in a hospital I’m visiting, the friend of a friend who has been introduced to me warmly, a student of my own (and I don’t mean in a workshop, just a student who I teach, respect, and want to encourage as a human being), and of course, most importantly of all, a poem or painting that has been given to me as a gift or offering by anyone.


        If you really push me I would say extraordinary treasures lie hidden everywhere in life, but that we’re too distracted most of the time to notice. If we’re trained geologists we can see the whole of evolution in the driveway gravel, if we’re trained acupuncturists we can feel every organ in the whole body in the pulse, and if we’re trained in sensitivity in general there’s a universe just in shaking somebody’s hand.

        Anything that sensitizes us to reading poetry better opens up a poem, anything which desensitizes us to poetry closes the book.

        Your book is mainly shut, Tom — by prejudice, rigid beliefs, and club affiliations. You’re an old-time poetry nationalist with God on your side.


        • Christopher Woodman said,

          May 10, 2011 at 2:09 am

          I can’t resist this, and as Tom has already blown my cover in his Woodymandias post, I’ll let you wonder at it too.

          Click here to hold in your hands a “bad” poem that makes the earth move!

          One of the truest and deepest poetic experiences of my life.

          (Let us all praise Clive Cobie — he could make us all Beats like Christopher Smart if we’d just study Latin along with the woodland arts and let go!)


        • thomasbrady said,

          May 10, 2011 at 8:54 pm

          “If we’re trained geologists we can see the whole of evolution in the driveway gravel..”

          Are you saying if we’re “trained in Ginsberg” every one of his poems will seem good?

          • Christopher Woodman said,

            May 11, 2011 at 1:32 am

            If we’re trained in Ginsberg, and there are a whole legion of literary-historians, PhD students, general readers, and curators of Beat memorabilia all over America, everything written by the great man, however clumsy, crude or nonsensical, will bring him closer to them. And closeness to people we love and admire, “familiarity,” we say, is always good.

            Some people would die for even an inaudible old telephone message left by Ringo Starr on Yoko Ono’s phone!.

            Local antiquarians preserve the history of every maypole, mill wheel, and singlet in Britain, list, measure and photograph them, and then publish monographs about them. Such conscientious experts are very fondly remembered in turn by the communities they served when they themselves pass away.

            I would die for anything touched by William Blake, even stained or indecipherable. And it would be good, and maybe worth quite a bit of money too.

            Or Admiral Nelson — and better yet, Lady Hamilton!

            Even very bad poetry that nobody would ever read can be good when remembered in special circumstances, or looked at in a special way by a trained eye. Like this.

            I find the poem, “Abbottabad,” described by The Guardian as “one of the worst poems ever written,” curiously provocative, and think it provides clues as to what Ron Silliman might have meant when he coupled sophisticated Billy Collins with naive Edgar Guest.

            Or why I find Clive Cobie’s handwritten little poem I refered to in my previous comment so up-lifting. It’s not just the sentiments, it’s so well-written — it’s so bloody “good!”

            Hope you will comment on that, Tom.


  7. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 9, 2011 at 3:17 am

    On “raw and cooked,” I just can’t get excited about it either as Robert Lowell used it, pretty obviously, I would say, or Thomas Brady picked at it — i.e. made a big, ambiguous article out of a very small, unambiguous article (thing/object), and then roasted it as “cooked” in the sense of both pretentious and counterfeit. Heavy going, but then that’s the Scarriet m.o., and if you like it you’re in heaven.


    thomasbrady said,
    May 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm


    As Bales mentioned, this is poetry, not science.

    My m.o. is basically the following:

    I take Exhibit A, which cannot be proven, but which is getting a lot of press, or is generally accepted as the truth, or is accepted as the most plausible explanation, or is repeated as ‘the way things are.’

    Exhibit A offends my philosophy or aesthetic taste or who knows why? It offends me.

    I then construe Exhibit B, using a combination of fact, rumor, opinion, and speculative philosophy, which also cannot be proven, and wave it about, saying ‘why not B?’ Why should we simply accept A?

    That’s all I’m doing.

    Even though neither A nor B can be proven, you, Mark, assume A can be proven and take the myth of A and beat me over the head with it, and also assume I have no right to be offended by A, and further, you say that if my offense at A is driving my construal of B, this discredits B even more.

    It is actually your methodology which is at fault.


    And Tom’s right, because this is his blog and he has every right to set the ground-rules, and that’s o.k. providing he doesn’t pretend a.) that he’s well-informed, b.) that he’s logical, or c.) that he has no manifesto.

    Or that he really likes poetry, or at least that in his present frame of mind he feels comfortable enough in himself ever to let a poem touch him and make him feel vulnerable.

    Homini homo lupus

    Exhibit A. Some people today are poets, and as poets they struggle to express even the most difficult subject matter as honestly and comprehensibly as they can — like Robert Lowell.

    Exhibit B. Poets today have all been brain-washed by Ezra Pound, John Crowe Ransom, and Writing WorkshopTeachers to express themselves dishonestly, and everything they write is an incomprehensible sham — like Robert Lowell.

    Since we’re all wolves, and nobody can trust anybody, Thomas Brady as the wolf-critic will prove that Exhibit B trumps exhibit A, even if it means putting all his eggs in one basket and depriving himself of any joy in poetry but wrecking it.

    With Thomas Brady’s m.o. you start from the assumption that poets are dishonest and ferocious, and you always end up with poetry after c.1900 broken.

    That’s what it comes down to, broken and not-broken, not cooked and raw.


    • Marcus Bales said,

      May 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

      I’m sorry, Christopher, but that’s nonsense. If you start from the assumption that man is a wolf to man, and that can’t be changed, or even moderated, then you can say nothing reasonable about what you see as Tom’s wolfish behavior, and certainly nothing critical. Or, rather, you can say critical things but from your own point of view those things are nonsense. Hobbes’s solution to the homini homo lupus problem was to posit the creation of the Leviathan, who would rule with a whim of iron, but allow a lot of diversity since even the most conscientious uber-wolf couldn’t punish everyone, and wouldn’t out of his own self-interest since the activities of everyone else are what feed the uber-wolf. So your objections to what you’re describing as Tom’s uber-wolf actions are also nonsense within the ambit of the metaphor you’re borrowing from Hobbes.

      I like your idea that it’s not cooked/raw that is the appropriate metaphor, but rather that poetry after c. 1900 is broken.

  8. May 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    To tell me I am speaking nonsense you’ve got to read first what I said, and then start from there. As it is, all you do is read what you think you know already, like Leviathan, and then pretend you know what I was saying about something else.

    Well it wasn’t.

    What I wrote was this, and you can check it out above, word for word: “With Thomas Brady’s m.o. you start from the assumption that poets are dishonest and ferocious, and you always end up with poetry after c.1900 broken.

    “You” means “you, Tom” in this construction.

    You may agree with Tom “that poets are dishonest and ferocious”, but it’s nonsense to say that I do.


    I’ve written you a number of carefully considered responses, and respectful, but you rarely reply. When you do it’s with an artificial voice and shrill poses, and I find that grating.

    I rarely lose my cool with debaters, but after a while with you it’s different.


    • Marcus Bales said,

      May 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm


      Perhaps if you explained to me whether you’re ascribing your use of homini homo lupus to

      A) Tom’s view of how the po-biz works;
      B) Your view of how Scarriet works;
      C) Your view of what Tom’s view is of how the po-biz works;
      D) None of the above, but explain it in your own words (leaving Hobbes aside) again.


      • Christopher Woodman said,

        May 10, 2011 at 3:21 am

        I just did, and in very simple, unambiguous terms. I also referred to nothing that hadn’t already been said on this thread, so you wouldn’t need to check back to here and here to find earlier and fuller accounts of the same position.

        Christopher Woodman said,
        May 9, 2011 at 3:17 am

        Homini homo lupus

        Exhibit A. Some people today are poets, and as poets they struggle to express even the most difficult subject matter as honestly and comprehensibly as they can — like Robert Lowell.

        Exhibit B. Poets today have all been brain-washed by Ezra Pound, John Crowe Ransom, and Writing WorkshopTeachers to express themselves dishonestly, and everything they write is an incomprehensible sham — like Robert Lowell.

        Since we’re all wolves, and nobody can trust anybody, Thomas Brady as the wolf-critic will prove that Exhibit B trumps exhibit A, even if it means putting all his eggs in one basket and depriving himself of any joy in poetry but wrecking it.

        With Thomas Brady’s m.o. you start from the assumption that poets are dishonest and ferocious, and you always end up with poetry after c.1900 broken.

        I think that’s pretty straightforward, and as I said before, we don’t have to bring the politics of Leviathan into it because I was just borrowing a very handy metaphor that everybody knows.

        I hope you’ll review what was said just above and also at greater length on About Scarriet and then get back to me with your response to that argument, and not about other matters that you happen to know from your reading.


  9. Bill said,

    May 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    With your Beat roots, you might enjoy Rick Mullin’s recent Huncke, a narrative centered on representations of Herbert Huncke, the original for Junkie. Un-beat-like, it is told in flashing, funny Byronic ottava rima. Bill

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      May 10, 2011 at 3:52 am

      You know, Bill, I was there on the scene but at the time it really bored me. I was going full time to the Arts Students League (sculpture) at the same time as Columbia, had my first baby as a sophomore (at 20!), with my wife, imagine, and lived on 80th and York — fight flights up, $25.00 a month, and no central heating. I was also far more into the music at the Apollo and Big Wilts in Harlem than I was into jazz in the Village, and I didn’t take drugs either — didn’t need to, believe me!

      That came later, in Cambridge in fact — but it never had anything to do with art or poetry. And it didn’t influence me in my critical judgments any more than the Beats did, or Trilling, Van Doren, Wimsatt, Derrida, Bloom, Richards or Leavis, you name it.

      In Tom’s world, if you attend one class with somebody you are evermore in that camp, and you’re responsible for the demise of modern poetry. Well, I spent 11 years tramping around academia, and I didn’t even read much poetry after c. 1650 either, what is more write it. And to really confuse matters, I was on the Gran Priz motorcycle circuit with my brother on weekends, and after he cooked it, was the Chairman of the Cambridge Buddhist Society. Oh, and Trungpa Rimpoche lived in my house.

      I started writing poetry 20 years after all that, but still Tom says I’m a new critic because I went to Yale and Cambridge. Whereas I’m a new critic because I’m new at it!

      Hope that helps to clear away some of the cobwebs and cant.


  10. Poem support said,

    May 11, 2011 at 9:11 am


    I remember the day when I first came here
    And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air

    The trees and ground covered with snow
    Gave us indeed a brilliant show

    To me the place seemed like a dream
    And far ran a lonesome stream

    The wind hissed as if welcoming us
    The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss

    And the tiny cuckoo sang it away
    A song very melodious and gay

    I adored the place from the first sight
    And was happy that my coming here was right

    And eight good years here passed very soon
    And we leave you perhaps on a sunny noon

    Oh Abbottabad we are leaving you now
    To your natural beauty do I bow

    Perhaps your winds sound will never reach my ear
    My gift for you is a few sad tears

    I bid you farewell with a heavy heart
    Never from my mind will your memories thwart

    Major James Abbott

  11. Christopher Woodman said,

    May 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you for that, Poem Support — but it seems to me curious not to mention the fact that the poem has already been cited in the discussion, and in what context. I had written just yesterday just above:

    “Even very bad poetry that nobody would ever read can be good when remembered in special circumstances, or looked at in a special way by a trained eye. Like this.

    I find the poem, “Abbottabad,” described by The Guardian as “one of the worst poems ever written,” curiously provocative, and think it provides clues as to what Ron Silliman might have meant when he coupled sophisticated Billy Collins with naive Edgar Guest.

    Or why I find Clive Cobie’s handwritten little poem I refered to in my previous comment just above so up-lifting. It’s not just the sentiments, it’s so well-written — it’s so bloody “good!”

    Hope you will comment on that, Tom.”

    Perhaps you didn’t notice.

    Perhaps Tom didn’t either.


  12. May 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I messed up on that URL — perhaps that’s what happened. Sorry.

    You can scroll up and down on that thread for more on the subject — and by the look of it I think it’s just started.


  13. December 28, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    It is your point of reference in how we conduct our actions frequently changes our viewpoint. Sometimes good and sometimes this alteration is bad but it is our viewpoint that influences how we feel.

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