WHY BE DIFFICULT?

Just when we thought the state of poetry could not be less visible, Adam Plunkett digs its hole even deeper.  “Why Critics Praise Bad Poetry,” he titles his Sept 15 Bookforum piece, and begins by surmising, “False advertising” is “probably why a lot of people don’t pay attention to the poetry world.”

Plunkett offers only one reason for “why critics praise bad poetry:”

Uncertain of an obscure poem’s meaning, critics worry they will “miss something” and “look like fools.”

Great!

Not only are the poets bad, according to Plunkett, but the critics are stupid.

Plunkett then goes on to prove there may be some truth to his idea—by praising bad poetry himself.

First, he shows himself astute enough not to praise (Michael Dickman’s) bad poetry:

“His super-outfit is made from handfuls of oil and garbage blood and pinned together by stars.” Unless I’m missing something, that’s vaguely whimsical but impossible to visualize at all. Blood, toil, sweat, and tears are also ethereal, I get it, but the words are tossed together like a collage I can’t actually imagine—is there oil and bloody garbage floating near the Milky Way, in which case how can the poet see it? How does it look to him like a superhero’s outfit? How is the line not sappy, trite, and nonsensical?

Yes, “His super-outfit is made from handfuls of oil and garbage blood and pinned together by stars” is bad poetry, very bad poetry.  Congratulations, Mr. Plunkett; you are not completely stupid.

Now Plunkett goes on to review Michael Dickman’s new book, Flies, a book Plunkett calls a “case study in failed difficulty.”

Is there a successful difficulty?  The whole notion that a poem “ought to be difficult” has tripped up many a critic and helped to destroy poetry since T.S. Eliot made the unfortunate choice to advance such an illogical monstrosity, one that is not even counter-intuitively interesting—but merely asinine—almost a hundred years ago.   A sonnet by Shakespeare can be highly complex, in terms of ideas and grammatical structure, but not because Shakespeare intended his poem to be “difficult.”  A writer should never intentionally make things difficult for a reader.  Difficulty is a by-product of sloppy writing, not a standard to be sought.  If a reader does not ‘get’ something, the reasons—if the writing is clever—are always more profound (even if superficially) than from the reason of mere “difficulty.”

Plunkett quotes more of Michael Dickman’s bad poetry:

they shine like
the blind
But the beak is real
A real beak
instead of a mouth

And then, to prove he isn’t just a dick, Plunkett thinks of something good to say:

A welcome contrast is Katherine Larson’s lucid incoherence, which invites reflection as it escapes paraphrase:

The Milky Way sways its back
across all of wind-eaten America
like a dusty saddle tossed
over your sable, lunatic horse.

There’s no simple literal sense to the simile (The Milky Way is to America as a saddle is to a mad-horse), but the visceral descriptions draw the objects together (“back,” “saddle,” “dusty,” “wind-eaten,” “lunatic”) with an associative certainty the final rhyme secures (“tossed” / “horse” is a Yeats rhyme, imperfect but accruing). Her image of the Milky Way is a perfect point of comparison with Dickman’s, which is literally incoherent but frustratingly rather than breathtakingly so. Hers is so charged with a depth of sensuous associations that it feels raw and unconscious, dreamlike and primeval, exciting precisely because you can pleasantly think it over endlessly without ever making sense of it or having it lose its mystery. Dickman’s image aims for this, fails to please the reader, and just looks silly, a failure absent from Larson’s stunning first book.

After having proven to everyone’s satisfaction (most of all his) that he is not a stupid critic, Plunkett thrusts out his chest and praises this absolute horror:  “The Milky Way sways its back/across all of wind-eaten America/like a dusty saddle tossed/over your sable, lunatic horse.”  This sounds like bad Jim Morrison poetry.  Bad poets over-use metaphor, and in this case the Milky Way is compared to a dusty saddle.  Mr. Plunkett, please remove your Critic’s badge.  Now.  Adam Plunkett, stuck in a nightmare from which he is unable to awake, attempting to establish his critical acumen to all the world, kills every critical cred he could possibly have, in a suicidal gesture of incomprehensible dumb.  The Milky Way sways its back across all of wind-eaten America like a dusty saddle over your sable, lunatic horse.  And according to Plunkett, “horse” and “tossed” is a “Yeats rhyme.” Magnificent.

Benjamin continues his self-murder, making sure that we know all about the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, as he inflicts himself, orgasmically, with

The book, Radial Symmetry, earned Larson the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, which since it started in 1919 has honored promising young poets for their first books, poets such as John Ashbery and Adrienne Rich and Robert Hass, titans whom Larson can stand with. She is that good, and her style captures and expands on some of the most significant stylistic achievements of contemporary American verse. Larson, a molecular biologist, has Hass’s exquisite descriptions of nature (a squid has “no blood / only textures of gills folded like satin, / suction cups like planets in rows”), with a measured sensuousness whose sounds trace our reactions, enticing “satin,” strange “suction,” mysterious “planets.” Larson’s poems say little about herself but manage the felt intimacy of the best Confessional verse (Anne Sexton’s, Robert Lowell’s):

Last night I threw my lab coat in the fire
and drove all night through the Arizona desert
with a thermos full of silver Tequila.

Larson retells Greek myths with the longing, rage, and beautiful brutality of a young Louise Glück (although Larson contains her anger more than Glück, the Yale Series’s judge):

…And the windows lit
with displays of red corals
from just off the coast
said to be the blood that streamed
from Medusa’s severed neck
when Perseus laid her head beside the sea.

Larson has Jorie Graham’s mastery of rhythm and pacing, her looping, involuted meters:

Here are the goblets filled with wine.
The smell of sunlight
fading from the stones.

We must take it on Plunkett’s word that Larson’s “stunning” book partakes of Jorie Graham’s “mastery” and Louise Gluck’s “beautiful brutality.”  Plunkett can pick on Dickman, but Jorie Graham and Louise Gluck and Robert Hass and Adrienne Rich and  John Ashbery—and now Katherine Larson: hands off!  These are “titans!”

The “goblets filled with wine” passage is nice; I admit the possibility of liking “the smell of sunlight fading from the stones,” but Plunkett’s admiration only proves even a blind squirrel will occasionally find a nut.

Why such a inept critic would tackle a thesis on ‘why we praise bad poetry’ is simply hilarious.

Thanks, Plunkett.

I SEE IN THE CLOUDS A KINGDOM

I see in the clouds a kingdom, or a flower;
I discern in sometime shapes strange things, hour after hour.
The world arrives in droplets and wisps,
Sublimity is only shadows and mist.

I see these fields bloom every year.
I compare these to people, who disappear,
Nature blinks, and sorrow and thinking banishes;
I glimpse the whole truth when the whole truth vanishes.
Fancy sculpted rock into a shapely lawn.
A girl with a perfect shape who stood here is gone.

In heaven, I will shoot straight up through cloud
To see the sun. If heaven is cloudy, this should be allowed;
My greatest dream was cloud on cloud on cloud.
Once, I decided earthly life was no good:
Let the sun be the dish, and clouds my only food.

SILLIMAN’S LAMENT

The following, “Silliman’s Lament,” is a bit of inspired madness by one of the most interesting scribes living—Marcus Bales:

For Ron Silliman, who posted on FB how far he’d driven.

I’m a poet and critic, a serious man —
The School of Quietude’s my famous phrase —
From right around the Chatterley ban
Til now I’ve followed my poetry plan:
To argue that poetry ought not scan.
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

There isn’t a city where I won’t go —
My revolution important and potent as Che’s –
To see that no more arts are beau
So quietudeness doesn’t grow,
And maybe make a little dough:
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

I also write my famous blog
Where only I may speak, but all may gaze,
No meter, only prose’s slog
Should leave the po-biz crowd agog
And that’s the lang-po creed I flog:
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

With postmodernism’s new malaise –
Not just wrong, but wrong in the wrong maze —
I must redouble my drive to raze
Your art so our art may amaze
As all that’s left us after the blaze.
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

Envoi

Armantrout! Mix your final muddle
Uninspired enough for me to praise!
Then join me in a pure Platonic cuddle:
I’ve driven for 1200 miles in the last three days.

SCARRIET’S BEST POEMS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Here, in no particular order, are Scarriet’s best poems of the 20th century.

Why these poems?

Because they hide from nothing, and all, on some level, break your heart.  Poe was right when he said poetry appeals to the heart and not the head.  Because many heads get this wrong, and think poetry is some kind of mental exercise, the universe has been turned upside-down for the last three-quarters of a century by a certain never-resting snobbery infesting perches in the taste-making branches of higher learning.  The poems on this list don’t get lost in minutea,  have no interest in proving how smart, or intellectual, or street they are.  They all aim for that middle ground which has intercourse with the earthy and the abstract, filtering each, as they combine nature with nature to make art.

If art is what we do to become gods, if art is what we consciously do, we don’t see why art should express the suicidal, or make us miserable, or should express the ugly, or the random.  Certainly melancholy approaching pain is allowed, but misery?

The usual coteries, which have slathered their cliquish influence over American Letters, are notably absent.   Our list reflects poetic talent, whether or not it happened, or happens, to reside within machinations of puffery. Some poets may be puffed, but not all the puffed are poets.

The Vanity of the Blue Girls -John Crowe Ransom
The People Next Door -Louis Simpson
litany  -Carolyn Creedon
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening  -Robert Frost
Recuerdo  -Edna Millay
When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone  -Galway Kinnell
Sailing To Byzantium  -William Yeats
Dirge Without Music  -Edna Millay
The Groundhog  -Richard Eberhart
Musee Des Beaux Arts  -W.H. Auden
Elegy for Jane  -Theodore Roethke
I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great  -Stephen Spender
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  -Dylan Thomas
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  -T.S. Eliot
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  -Randall Jarrell
In California During the Gulf War  -Denise Levertov
Wild Peaches  -Elinor Wylie
Moriturus  -Edna Millay
Whitsun Weddings  -Philip Larkin
A Subaltern’s Love Song  -John Betjeman
Aubade  -Philip Larkin
Patterns  -Amy Lowell
A Supermarket in California  -Allen Ginsberg
Her Kind  -Anne Sexton
Not Waving,  But Drowning  -Stevie Smith
i stopped writing poetry  -Bernard Welt
Dream On  -James Tate
Pipefitter’s Wife  -Dorianne Laux
On the Death of Friends In Childhood  -Donald Justice
Daddy  -Sylvia Plath
Resume’  -Dorothy Parker
Time Does Not Bring Relief  -Edna Millay
If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way  -Edna Millay
Evening in the Sanitarium  -Louise Bogan
At Mornington  -Gwen Harwood
Those Sunday Mornings  -Robert Hayden
Psalm and Lament  -Donald Justice
The Ship of Death  -D.H. Lawrence
One Train May Hide Another  -Kenneth Koch
Encounter  -Czeslaw Milosz
Anthem For Doomed Youth  -Wilfred Owen
The Little Box  -Vasko Popa
For My Daughter  -Weldon Kees
The Golden Gate  -Vikram Seth
The Grass  -Carl Sandburg
Mending Wall  -Robert Frost
Peter Quince at the Clavier  -Wallace Stevens
The Fresh Start  -Anna Wickham
Bavarian Gentians  -D.H. Lawrence
River Roses  -D.H. Lawrence
The Hill  -Rupert Brooke
La Figlia Che Piange  -T.S. Eliot
“Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments” -Archibald MacLeish
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why  -Edna Millay
What They Wanted  -Stephen Dunn
Down, Wanton, Down!  -Robert Graves
Cross  -Langston Hughes
As I Walked Out One Evening  -W.H. Auden
Love on the Farm  -D.H. Lawrence
Who’s Who  -W.H. Auden
The Waste Land  -T.S. Eliot
Snake  -D.H. Lawrence
At the Fishhouses  -Elizabeth Bishop
And Death Shall Have No Dominion  -Dylan Thomas
Reasons for Attendance  -Philip Larkin
Fern Hill  -Dylan Thomas
Distance From Loved Ones  -James Tate
The Hospital Window  -James Dickey
An Arundel Tomb  -Philip Larkin
My Father in the Night Commanding No  -Louis Simpson
I Know A Man  -Robert Creeley
High Windows  -Philip Larkin
The Explosion  -Philip Larkin
You Can Have It  -Philip Levine
Diving Into the Wreck  -Adrienne Rich
Pike  -Ted Hughes
Pleasure Bay  -Robert Pinsky
The Colonel  -Carolyn Forche
Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey  -Billy Collins
The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite  -William Kulik
The Year  -Janet Bowdan
How I Got That Name  -Marilyn Chin
Amphibious Crocodile  -John Crowe Ransom
The Mediterranean  -Allen Tate
To A Face In A Crowd  -Robert Penn Warren
Utterance  -Donald Davidson
The Ballad of Billie Potts  -Robert Penn Warren
Preludes  -T.S. Eliot
Sweeney among the Nightingales  -T.S. Eliot
Journey of the Magi  -T.S. Eliot
The Veiled Lady  -Maura Stanton
Prophecy  -Donald Hall
Archaic Torso of Apollo  -Rainer Maria Rilke
Of Poor B.B.  -Bertolt Brecht
Women  -Louise Bogan
Bored  –Margaret Atwood
A Happy Thought  -Franz Wright
The Idea of Ancestry -Etheridge Knight
Smiling Through  -Reed Whittemore
Histoire  -Harry Mathews
The Request  -Sharon Olds

VIKRAM SETH’S ‘THE GOLDEN GATE’: THE 20th CENTURY’S GREATEST POEM?

Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, a novel in verse, was released in 1986; we celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.  Quoth Wikipedia: “The work is a novel in verse composed of 590 Onegin stanzas (sonnets written in iambic tetrameter, with the rhyme scheme following the unusual ababccddeffegg pattern of Eugene Onegin). It was inspired by Charles Johnston’s translation of Pushkin’s 1833 Russian classic…”  The novel, Mr. Seth’s first, was famously lauded by Gore Vidal as “The great California novel…”.  Its cast of characters includes a designer of nuclear weapons, and his nemesis, an extremely cunning and malicious feline.

We hesitated to write about The Golden Gate  in this its 25th year, because we haven’t re-read it this year, despite strongly intending to. And we wonder why.  Oh, valid enough excuses can be made: not enough time, house flooded during the hurricane, etc.  But time has been made for other books—why not this one? Could it be the novel feels dated, since a portion of it concerns itself with the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, giving the work a feel of outmodedness?  After all, there is no longer any nuclear freeze movement of consequence, for there is no longer need of one. Or is there?

The 1980s, when much of the world population was terrified of a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, was perhaps, in the terror it inspired, a safer time, nuclear accident-wise, than today.  (Although perhaps not, as this lifted-from-Wiki story illustrates: “On the night of September 26, 1983, the Soviet orbital missile early warning system (SPRN), code-named Oko, reported a single intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the territory of the United States. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who was on duty during the incident, correctly dismissed the warning as a computer error when ground early warning radars did not detect any launches. Part of his reasoning was that the system was new and known to malfunction before; also, a full scale nuclear attack from the United States would involve thousands of simultaneous launches, not a single missile. Later, the system reported four more ICBM launches headed to the Soviet Union, but Petrov again dismissed the reports as false. The investigation that followed revealed that the system indeed malfunctioned and false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites’ orbits.”)

We believe it was Churchill who said something to the effect of stability being the stepchild of terror.  Those who are terrified of a danger are more watchful and alert, and thus more able to avert the danger from happening.  For example, pedestrians walking at night who are alert to the threats of automobiles and muggers often avoid harm because they pay close attention to their surroundings and take steps to avert danger.  In the same way, when a population is consciously terrified of a possible outcome, it applies political pressures to leaders to ensure safety. But in our time, there does not seem to be widespread fear of an inadvertent nuclear exchange, even though the United States apparently has some 6,000 nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons are in the hands of states such as North Korea and Pakistan.  (Interestingly, in his novel 2030, Albert Brooks portrays a future in which the Taliban seizes complete control of Pakistan and drops three nuclear bombs on India, leading to India invading and annexing all of Pakistan’s territory.)

The Golden Gate, in sections 7.15 to 7.34, features a speech given by a Catholic priest at a nuclear freeze rally that illegally blocks access to Lungless Labs (for which read “Livermore Labs”):

Bespectacled, short, nervous, chubby,
With few gray hairs for sixty years,
And scruffy cassock, the priest’s tubby
And unimposing form appears
A curious temple for the oracle;
And every hint of oratorical
Expectancy is squelched when he,
Bent down on an unsteady knee,
Two fingers fumbling with this collar,
Gathers the notes his jittery hands
Dropped on the ground; but when he stands
And starts to speak, the pudgy scholar
(By nature; activist by choice)
Holds them with his soft resonant voice.

Now both blockaders and supporters
Are silent as the priest says, “Friends,
Sisters and brothers, sons and daughters,
The little time each of us spends…
Can everyone in the back hear me?
Yes? Excellent—and all those near me—
Not too loud? … Well, these few short years
We spend pursuing our careers,
Our needs, our longings, our obsessions
Upon this earth, once gone, are dead.
Of some who’ve spent their time, it’s said
They gathered manifold possessions;
Of some, they broke their lives for wealth;
Of some, their striving broke their health.

Of some it’s said they learned to master
The secret fusion of the sun,
Of some that they ran, rode, swam faster
Than till their advent man had done,
Of some, they eked life out as drudges,
Of some—but any way one judges
Their lives or ours, to dole out blame
Or praise, one attribute may claim
To cut across all our partitions
Of wealth and vigor, fame and wit:
Did they serve life? Or injure it?
These are more naked oppositions
Than can sieve truth in every case,
But we may use them when we face

Choices such as, today, we’re facing.
What is our will in life? To race
As, lemming-like, mankind is racing
To liquidation, or to face
With what small strength we have, the massive
Machine of omnicide, impassive,
Oiled by inertia and by hate
And the smooth silver of the state?
Today we meet in celebration
Of life; some have their children here;
And all of us are of good cheer.
Indeed, with our incarceration
In those yellow school buses, we
May find ourselves compelled to be

As little children. Let’s inquire
With the same childishness as they,
Should we not try to douse a fire
That threatens to consume away
Not just our home but the whole city?
Or with a worldly-wise and witty
Shrug and rejoinder should we turn
The volume up and let Rome burn?
Well, we have gathered here this morning
In disparate but harmonious voice
To show that we have made our choice;
That we have hearkened to the warning
That hate and fear kill; and are here
Confronting death and hate and fear.

Hate is a subtle weed; vagaries
Of soil and time give it new growth.
Only the food of hatred varies;
England and Germany were both
Our bitterest enemies; we hated
Each of them. Yet when we had sated
Our enmity and made them friends,
Hate found new sustenance for its ends.
The English gone, it found the Spanish.
Japan defeated, China served
To keep its lethal life preserved.
Its victim crushed, it would not vanish.
Even before we’d reached Berlin,
Moscow was our new sump of sin.

Hate shifts with diplomatic fashion.
To love is to be resolute.
By Christ’s own sacrifice and passion,
We cannot flinch, we must not mute
The strength and grace of his humanity
By acquiescing in insanity.
Neither crusading frenzy nor
The specious pleading of ‘just war’
Permits the least justification
Of that which, once used, will ensure
That God’s creation won’t endure.
Without hate, without hesitation,
Taking our freedom in our hand,
Let us each pledge that here we stand.

Though Catholic, I make no apology
For quoting someone we’ve proclaimed
The arch-monk of our demonology
These several hundred years. I aimed
To show that in this murderous weather
That threatens, we will stand together,
As now; and with our common breath
Cry out against our common death.
Catholic and Episcopalian,
Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist,
Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist,
We are all here; no one is alien
Now radiation’s common laws
Impel us into common cause.

It was once asked on Belsen’s ashes,
‘Where were you then? Where was the Church?’
If once more our high sentence clashes
With our inaction, we need search
No further for complicit stigma
Than those hands bearing the enigma
Of blood and body in the mass.
Please God, this will not come to pass.
Our bishops’ recent pastoral letter
On nuclear arms demands a freeze.
Today our own archdiocese
Of San Francisco’s an abettor
—They’ve lent us transport—in this fight
Against the law, but for the right.

I have heard some who denigrate us
Claim that we wish to abrogate
The constitutional hiatus
Between religion and the state.
Our job, they say, is to be godly
While the state goes on acting oddly.
The scripture for their vision is
‘Give unto Caesar what is his.’
Let me observe that separation
Of church and state does not exempt
The church from action, may not tempt
The state from all examination
Of conscience, and ought, lastly, not
To serve as partisan buckshot.

There are occasions when morality
And civil law are in dispute.
Granted its sole officiality,
Civil law is not absolute.
If we accept our obligation
Not to accept annihilation
Or that, in our name, bombs are hurled
At others elsewhere in the world,
The quote above needs its addenda.
Students who gloss a narrow text
Should read the passage that comes next;
It is suggested that we render
Things that are God’s to God, as well
As stocking Caesar’s citadel.

What Caesar, battling for democracy,
Unasked, relinquished his regime?
What cotton king decried slavocracy?
What cat forwent its dish of cream?
If we expect disinterested
Judgment from Congress, from our vested
Arms gluttons—from the White House down—
We’re living in cloud-cuckoo-town.
We cannot wait for legislation.
There is no shame in following
Thoreau and Anthony and King,
The old traditions of a nation
That once, two hundred years before,
In its own birth resisted law.

There is no time, when escalation
Bloats our stockpiles with overkill,
When secular proliferation
Means that a score of nations will
Soon hatch these eggs, and when with manic
Slaver we froth the world to panic,
To nourish niceties. We must pray,
Reflect, and act in any way
—Peaceful; that needs no emphasizing—
That may decelerate, reduce,
Or ban the inception, test, and use
Of weaponry so brutalizing
Its mere birth brings opprobrium down
Upon the name of Lungless Town.

Workers of Lungless Labs—when dying
Will you be proud you were midwife
To implements exemplifying
Assault against the heart of life?
You knew their purpose, yet you made them.
If you had scruples, you betrayed them.
What pastoral response acquits
Those who made ovens for Auschwitz?
Indeed, it’s said that the banality
Of evil is its greatest shock.
It jokes, it punches its time clock,
Plays with its kids. The triviality
Of slaughtering millions can’t impinge
Upon its peace, or make it cringe.

Killing is dying. This equation
Carries no mystical import.
It is the literal truth. Our nation
Has long believed war was a sport.
Unoccupied, unbombed, undying,
While ‘over there’ the shells were flying,
How could we know the Russian dread
Of war, the mountains of their dead?
We reveled in acceleration
At every level of the race;
And even now we’re face to face
With mutual extermination
We talk as blithely as before
Of ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘limited war.’

There is no victory, no survival,
And no defense, no place to hide,
No limit, and indeed, no rival
In this exhaustive fratricide.
We’ll all fall down. Despite resilient
Airs of omniscience, our brilliant
Leaders, when all is said and done,
Have no solution, no, not one.
With quaint autumnal orthodoxy
They point out that America’s best:
The Russians can’t, they say, protest.
That only means we must stand proxy
For those who cannot speak, but are
As much opposed as we, to war.

Ten hostages is terrorism;
A million, and it’s strategy.
To ban books is fanaticism;
To threaten in totality
All culture and all civilization,
All humankind and all creation,
This is a task of decorous skill
And needs high statesmanship and will.
It takes a deal of moral clarity
To see that it is right to blitz
Each Russian family to bits
Because their leaders’ muscularity
—Quite like our own—on foreign soil
Threatens our vanity or ‘our’ oil.

Quo warranto?  By what authority,
I ask you in the wounds of Christ,
Does strength confer superiority
Over God’s earth? What has enticed
Mere things like us into believing
The world may be left charred and grieving
In man-made doom at the behest
Of patriotic interest?
It’s come that close. A Russian freighter
—In autumn 1962—
Halted before the line we drew
To cut off Cuba. Minutes later,
And our own manly president would
Have finished off mankind for good.

To those who with tall intellectual
Prudence sniff at our brashness and
State that our stance is ineffectual,
That with our puny sling to stand
Against this latter-day Goliath
Is not wise, let me ask, ‘How dieth
The wise man? As the fool.’ To turn
Your face from horror will not earn
You an indulgence. Help us fight it.
Two hundred years ago, indeed,
Who would have dreamed slaves would be freed?
To show how conscience, starting small,
In God’s good time, may conquer all.

From history we may learn two lessons:
How slowly—and how fast—things change.
Whether the permanent quiescence
Of fear—or life—occurs, it’s strange
Not to know how long we’ll be striving,
Or which succeeds in first arriving;
But whether we prevail or lose,
One thing is certain: we must choose.
God won’t forsake you or ignore you—
So don’t forsake him. Let me close
With Deuteronomy’s plain prose.
Here it is: ‘I have set before you
Life and death… therefore choose life.’
Or, as that sign says, ‘Strive with strife.’”

WHY THE AVANT-GARDE IS BAD FOR POETRY

Plato: Poetry’s greatest enemy—or greatest friend?

Poetry as an art is dead, and the poets can’t even throw it a good funeral.  Maybe that’s because there are so many poets making half-hearted attempts to convince themselves poetry is still alive.  MFA programs, even as they make a profit, haven’t given up the desperate hope; after all, don’t naive MFA students keep throwing their hard-earned money, with wishes of poetry-stardom, into the abyss?

Plato was more poetic in killing poetry than the present poetic tribe is in advocating for her:

When anyone of these pantomimic gentlemen, clever at imitating everything, comes to us, and makes a proposal to exhibit himself and his poetry, we will fall down and worship him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being; but we must also inform him that in our State such as he are not permitted to exist; the law will not allow them. So when we have annointed him with myrrh, and set a garland of wool upon his head, we shall send him away to another city. For we mean to employ for our souls’ health the rougher and severer poet or story-teller of the virtuous only, and will follow those models which we prescribed at first when we began the education of our soldiers.  BOOK III Republic

The modern, liberal, freedom-loving person rejects this typical passage at once. The censorship, the “law,” the “State,” the “soldiers” fill us with horror.  Plato is poison to our ears. 

But we reject this wise philosopher at our peril.

Poetry is only part of it—yet poetry, not law, or the State, is finally the issue.  Plato is the least fanatic, the most common-sense, philosopher of all.  He is always described as the philosopher of abstract Ideas. Quite the contrary.  He is the philosopher of the Real.  We ought to fear our own minds more than Plato’s philosophy. 

First, let us look at our own circumstances in the U.S. at present—considered by many to be the most modern, liberal, and freedom-loving State on the face of the earth.  Is America not a “State,” with “laws” and “soldiers?” Do we not censor behavior and speech, for children, and even for adults, in the workplace, and in various public spheres, ubiquitously? And are not these carefully considered laws deemed in large part to be good?

Why then, do we fear Socrates’ reasoning?

And secondly, Plato and Socrates were not politicians or tyrants actually imposing laws on anyone—they were poetical planners speculating poetically on blueprints for a poetical nation.  Plato asked that poetry be good. Don’t we want the good? Shouldn’t we strive, at least in our theoretical planning stage, to make all things virtuous?

Finally, which makes more sense: Plato’s wish to couple the words, “poetry” and “good” as part of a plan to produce a “good state,” or: the Modernist host of rebel angels who cry, We shall never permit you to force anyone’s notion of ‘the good’ into proximity with ‘poetry!’ with this de-coupling as the essence of a free State: separating ‘good’ from ‘poetry’ the best protection against all narrow-minded tryannies?

In the name of freedom, the Modernist poets hate the good, hate the common-sense marriage of poetry and the good, and in all this freedom which hates the good, poetry, as it presently exists, has come to be despised.

This is no matter of mere taste.  Material defect and excess define avant-garde poetry—whether it’s trivial lyrics too small to have an impact, or tedious epics no one reads.  Was Plato silent on the technical substance of aesthetics, poetry and art?  And was he really that censorious on the whole question of art?   The answer to both quesitons is: no.  Plato is the commonsense philosopher:

Let us begin by considering the whole nature of excess and defect…

…we must suppose that the great and small exist and are discerned in both these ways, and not, as we were saying before, only relatively to one another, but there must also be another comparison to them with the mean or ideal standards…

…if we assume the greater to exist only in relation to the less…would not this doctrine be the ruin of all the arts and their creations; would not the art of the Statesman and the aforesaid art of weaving disappear? For all these arts are on the watch against excess and defect, not as unrealities, but as real evils, which occasion a difficulty in action; and the excellence of beauty of every work of art is due to this observance of measure.

…the very existence of the arts must be held to depend on the possibility of measuring more or less, not only with one another, but also with a view to the attainment of the mean, seems to afford a grand support and satisfactory proof of the docrtine which we are maintaining; for if there are arts, there is a standard of measure, and if there is a standard of measure, there are arts; but if either is wanting there is neither.  283-285, Statesman

…the founders of a State ought to know the general forms in which poets should cast their tales…

…can you imagine that God will be willing to lie, whether in word or deed, or to put forth a phantom of himself?

…musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul…

…neither we nor our guardians, whom we have to educate, can ever become musical until we and they know the essential forms, in all their combinations, and can recognize them and their images wherever they are found, not slighting them either in small things or great, but believing them all to be within the sphere of one art and study.

…there is no difficulty in seeing that grace or the absence of grace is an effect of good or bad rhythm..

…we shall adapt the foot and the melody to words having a like spirit, not the words to the foot and melody…

…three principles of rhythm out of which  metrical systems are framed, just as in sounds there are four notes out of which all the harmonies are composed…  BOOK III The Republic

…let us assure our sweet friend and the sister arts of imitation, we shall be delighted to receive her, that if she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we shall be delighted to receive her…We may further grant to those of her defenders who are lovers of poetry and yet not poets the permission to speak in prose on her behalf: let them show not only that she is pleasant but also useful to States and to human life, and we will listen in a kindly spirit; for if this can be proved we shall surely be the gainers, if there is a use in poetry as well as a delight?  BOOK X The Republic

For serious things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without opposites, if a man is really to have intelligence of either; but he cannot carry out both in action, if he is to have any degree of virtue. And for this very reason he should learn them both, in order he may not in ignorance do or say anything which is ridiculous and out of place…  BOOK VII The Laws

Just from these handful of excerpts, one can see how silly we have been, like children afraid of the dark, to fear Plato’s censorship, which is of the most common-sense, grounded, studious, open-minded and respectful kind, and sincerely based on love of the good—for everyone’s sake.

By fearing what could damage the welfare of everyone in society, the Platonist—Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Shelley, and Poe, the most prominent examples—educates himself in a more rounded and insightful way than the typical avant-garde artist, who fears nothing, embraces everything, and instead of putting a society in his mind as the Platonist does, merely pursues personal likes and dislikes—which is all freedom, finally, allows one to do.  The Platonist also flies above the avant-garde modeled on the puritan or socialist scold—because love of beauty animates the Platonist philosophy.

The avant-garde, in all his righteous indignation, ends up being the narrowest and dullest thinker of all.  Kindly permit us to quote one more passage of Plato’s from the Ion:

Ion: Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and go to sleep and have absolutely no ideas of the least value, when any one speaks of any other poet, but when Homer is mentioned, I wake up at once and am all attention and have plenty to say?
Socrates: The reason, my friend, is obvious. No one can fail to see that you speak of Homer without any art of or knowledge. If you were able to speak of him by rules of art, you would have been able to speak of all other poets; for poetry is a whole.
Ion: Yes.
Socrates: And when any one acquires any other art as a whole, the same may be said of them. Would you like me to explain my meaning, Ion?
Ion: Yes, indeed, Socrates, I very much wish that you would: for I love to hear you wise men talk.
Socrates: O that we were wise, Ion, and that you could truly call us so; but you rhapsodes and actors, and the poets whose verses you sing, are wise; whereas I am a common man, who only speak the truth. For consider what a very commonplace and trivial thing is this which I have said—a thing which any man might say: that when a man has acquired a knowledge of a whole art, the enquiry into good and bad is one and the same.

Ion is just like Ron Silliman, who can only talk of the same avant-garde class of poets, while dismissing great swaths of poetry as “quietist.”  The poet Rae Armantrout is Silliman’s Homer; when her name is mentioned, Silliman sits up and wags his tail—and this is because Silliman is a mere magnetized ring; Silliman and his avant friends do not comprehend poetry as a whole.  And this phenomenon is widespread: one can see it, for instance, in the rock fan who abhors classical music, the pop music fan who swears this artist is genuine, and that artist is not, and the MFA student who only studies recent work.  They all suffer from the Ion-disease.

There are few who understand the secrets of the Platonic wisdom: when a man has acquired a knowledge of a whole art, the enquiry into good and bad is one and the same.

The creature who least understands Plato is the Modernist poet.

CRASH!

Poetry MFA graduates

The recent hubbub over the respectable poetry press which demanded their authors pay for the cost of producing their own book struck a real nerve.

Why?  Because an uncomfortable truth was brought into the open: U.S. poetry market inflation is so severe, a book of new poems not only has no value–it has a negative value.

In today’s marketplace, a new book of poems represents not growth, but a grave—new poetry not only does not add wealth, it takes wealth away from the world.

The truth will be argued away by some, convinced their poetry is worth something.

But this rationale fails, since the economic fact of this uncomfortable truth is no less true for being a general truth.

At least when a publisher asks you to pay for your book’s publication costs, it’s better than the contest system—where you pay for the publication of someone else’s book, and unethically so, in the crooked contest system judged or run by once respected poets such as Jorie Graham and Bin Ramke, who were exposed by Alan Cordle’s Foetry.com.

The press which asked its own authors to pony up did so because it couldn’t stomach the contest system.  Ironies such as this will breed when a market collapses—and the market for new poems has collapsed big time.

Hence, it is no wonder that financial aid is the chief criterion in rating MFA programs.

What other criteria could there possibly be?  Earning an MFA degree in poetry is nothing more than an individual poet’s desperate gamble against inflation—even as MFA numbers add to that inflation.

The poets swim in the sea of their own doom, unable to be a poet unless they get wet.

A bunch of MFA profs and administrators have signed a letter of protest against the Poets & Writers rankings of MFA programs put together by Seth Abramson.

It’s unfair, say the protestors, who include relative titans such as Robert Pinsky and Tony Hougland, to weigh financial aid so heavily; there are other criteria, they protest, such as teaching methods.

Really?  What teaching methods?  Even the MFA programs themselves admit they don’t teach anyone to be a poet—the programs only give one time to make the attempt, with varying degrees of informal contact with peers.

Classical criteria, based on quantity and measurement, never did grace Poetry MFA curricula.  The aesthetics of Plato, Aristotle and Horace would seem horribly old-fashioned in today’s MFA.  Classical learning is not even included in a hybrid.  It is the enemy.  It is out. Byron is out, because he may have read a classical author once.  The exclusion of the old is total.  Intelligence is the only hallmark: intelligence left to swim on its own.  This is poetry education: We can’t teach you is what we will teach you.

Modernists outlawed quantity about 90 years ago, and these same gentlemen established the MFA programs 60 years ago.  The result?  Inflation as the world has never seen.

Scarriet’s MFA Poetry program criterion is simple.  Find one book of poems published by administration or faculty in the MFA program which has been purchased freely by a general reader. Then, check out the financial aid package.

SOMEONE ELSE’S DAUGHTER

Helpless on the sideline, you cannot tell
Your daughter what to do; you cup your hands and yell:
But these gods will not hear you, in their enchanted spell,
No more than Persephone could, captive in the shades of Hell.

You cannot reach them, nor can you know why
She will stare at her shoes before she will fly;
Seeing fields of open spaces, you can only sigh;
Your child is infinite.  You cannot catch her eye.

Great teams start with the keeper, able and true.
But she wins for her team, father, not for you.
Great teams have a defense, on the other team like glue.
But they do it for the coach, mother, not for you.
Great teams have an offense which always follows through.
But they do it for themselves—and never, never for you.

JILL LEPORE: WHAT A BORE

Lepore: not a Poe expert.

Jill Lepore, the “hip history professor” currently employed by Harvard and the New Yorker, has a niche, as most scholars these days do: Early American History. Her “important book,” published back in 2005, was about racial strife in mid-18th century Manhattan.  Yes, there was slave-trouble in “old New York” way back in the 1700s, and Lepore knows better than you how there never was a golden age in American history: it sucked right from the start.  This revisionism has been going on for quite some time, of course, at least since the early 20th century work of Charles Beard: the founding fathers were greedy, the North was no better than the Confederacy, and now in these heady, post-modern, multi-cultural days, historians like Lepore are a dime-a-dozen, riding the anti-hero gravy train of sneering, cynical pluralism.

Lepore was given the assignment of filling out 16 columns in The New Yorker’s ‘A Critic At Large’ feature to mark Edgar Poe’s 200th birthday a couple of years back, and this dime-a-dozen professor used what she knows about early American paper money and financial crises to do what all good magazine writers these days do: take a ‘point of view’ and don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of it.  It’s Lepore’s tin against Poe’s gold.  She looks at Poe’s tale “The Gold-Bug” and entitles her piece “Humbug,” accompanied by one of those tasteless mannerist cartoons of Poe with a lot of black around his eyes to make him look sufficiently “macabre” and gloomy.  Lepore nakedly embraces the Harold Bloom school of Poe-hating.  But unfortunately for Lepore, her poe-lemic makes her seem just plain dense.

Poe (1809-49) was “poor,” the Harvard professor tells us over and over again. The Panic of 1819 (when Poe was ten-years old) and the Panic of 1837—the U.S., without a central bank, printed too much paper money, and the economy went bust—determines, in Lepore’s mind, Poe’s whole aesthetics.  Ah, the “Panics!”  Why didn’t we think of that before?

The tale, he believed, affords “the best prose opportunity for display of the highest talent.” Maybe. But writing a book was exactly the kind of long-term investment Poe could not afford to make, especially with so little prospect of return.

She second-guesses everything Poe did as a writer in terms of his working-class poverty. Poe’s great variety of output was due to the fact that he wasn’t wealthy; succeeding at so many genres was done out of “desperation.”  In addition, Poe was wrong to reach so many readers—and do it well; yes, this was even worse.  Here’s the elegant way she puts it:

The problem with Poe comes to this: he needed to turn his pen to profit, but he also wanted to signal, as with “Pym,” that he was lowering himself. Look! See! I’m brilliant! Even at writing dreck!

Professor Lepore just isn’t able to handle the device of ‘damning with faint praise.’ Lepore, like every Poe detractor, concedes “brilliance” (or “genius”) while using a descriptive such as “dreck,” (or “fudge”) but unlike the cleverer Poe-haters, she fails to deliver on her smear-agenda, because she’s tone-deaf to Poe’s satire, which she makes the mistake of quoting:

In the story “How To Write A Blackwood Article” (1838), he tells of an aspiring writer of gothic tales who visits the editor of Blackwood’s Magazine, seeking instruction. “Your writer of intensities must have very black ink, and a very big pen, with a very blunt nib,” the editor advises, then offers some examples of recent successes:

She then quotes from “How To Write A Blackwood Article:”

Let me see. There was ‘The Dead Alive,’ a capital thing! — the record of a gentleman’s sensations when entombed before the breath was out of his body — full of tact, taste, terror, sentiment, metaphysics, and erudition. You would have sworn that the writer had been born and brought up in a coffin. Then we had the ‘Confessions of an Opium-eater‘ — fine, very fine! — glorious imagination — deep philosophy — acute speculation — plenty of fire and fury, and a good spicing of the decidedly unintelligible. That was a nice bit of flummery, and went down the throats of the people delightfully. They would have it that Coleridge wrote the paper — but not so. It was composed by my pet baboon, Juniper, over a rummer of Hollands and water, hot, without sugar. [This I could scarcely have believed had it been any body but Mr. Blackwood, who assured me of it.]

And she responds to the excerpt of Poe’s tale this way:

Poe calibrated and recalibrated. Just how many ways can a writer insult his readers and get away with it? If you take Poe’s best horror stories at face value, they are wonderfully, flawlessly terrifying; they are also dripping with contempt. “Half-banter, half-satire” is how he once described them. “The Tell-Tale Heart” reads more like three-quarters burlesque, especially when you think about the literary output of Juniper the baboon.

“Dripping with contempt?” Lepore doesn’t seem to realize first, the editor of “How To Write A Blackwood Article” is not Poe, second, “How To Write A Blackwood Article” is satire, third, the nature of satire is to insult the reader (Lepore?) who doesn’t get it, fourth, one of the features of Poe’s genius consists is his ability to find the common element in burlesque and horror (the ludicrousness of horror, the horror of the ludicrous) which critics have long noted, and fifth, Poe’s mingling of high and low taste is another astute, not flawed, aspect of his genius as a modern writer.  Lepore’s naive tantrum: “Look! See? I’m brilliant! Even at writing dreck” misses so many points that one can see why she, as a reader, feels “insulted” by Poe.

She reveals her utter tone-deafness here, too:

Invited to Boston to read a new poem, he read, instead, a poem that he later said he had written as a child (and subsequently, in The Broadway Journal, confessed, without apology, that he had been drunk.)

Lepore doesn’t quote it, but let’s look at what Poe actually wrote.  Professor Lepore would have us believe that Poe has made a “confession” that he was “drunk.”  Look:

Repelled at these points, the Frogpondian faction hire a thing they call the “Washingtonian Reformer” (or something of that kind) to insinuate that we must have been “intoxicated” to have become possessed of sufficient audacity to “deliver” such a poem to the Frogpondians.

In the first place, why cannot these miserable hypocrites say “drunk” at once and be done with it? In the second place we are perfectly willing to admit that we were drunk—in the face of a least eleven or twelve hundred Frogpondians who will be willing to take oath that we were not. We are willing to admit either that we were drunk, or that we set fire to the Frog-pond, or that once upon a time we cut the throat of our grandmother.

In recounting the orphaned Poe’s youthful battle with his guardian John Allan, Lepore paints the cranky, adulterous, slave-holder as a wise patriarch, patiently dealing with a wayward buffoon. Lepore revels in the stern John Allan’s success among the sensitive:

In 1823, Poe fell in love with Jane Stannard, the unhinged mother of a school friend. A year later, Stannard died, insane.  Poe spent much time at her graveside. “No more” became his favorite phrase. In 1825, Allan inherited a fortune from an uncle. He did not name Poe as his heir. Allan rose; Poe kept falling.

Is it just me, or is it Lepore who sounds “unhinged beneath her curt, slap-dash writing style?  Allan rose: Poe kept falling.

She neglects to say that Allan did not furnish Poe with the necessary funds to attend the University of Virginia.  Lepore, wearing the mask of John Allan, grows impatient with Poe’s antics. Poe “drank, gambled,” and asked Allan for money. “Allan,” Lepore says with all the orgasmic authority she can muster, “was unmoved.”  Lepore is one tough chick—when she leaves out every other fact in the story she relates.  John Allan was a well-placed man who also happened to be a philandering cretin—whom Poe chose not to flatter; the drunken, amoral Allan was enraged by Poe’s lofty, moral, poetic tone, and the fact that it came from a boy was even more enraging; so Poe, losing out on the fortune of a proud misfit, was cast out, like Edgar in Lear.  Lepore, from her cozy armchair, regally takes Allan’s part:

And he added, lying, “Mr.A. is not very often sober.”

“I have an inveterate habit of speaking the truth,” Poe once wrote. That, too, was a lie. (That Poe lied compulsively about his own life has proved the undoing of many a biographer.) In 1830, he finally made it to West Point, where he pulled pranks. “I cannot believe a word he writes,” Allan wrote on the back of yet another letter from his wayward charge.

You lie! Lepore tells Poe, and the mask of John Allan never slips from her face.  It is interesting to see what Poe does to biographers and Harvard professors. It’s endlessly amusing.

Lepore dutifully repeats the most tried-and-true Poe ‘smears’ used by tweedy gentlemen biographers through the years, (though she neglects my favorite: the “French Poe’ one—Poe’s critical fame is an accident: Poe’s bombast happens to sound better in French than English).

She puts forth the ‘cooping theory’ as the best explanation of Poe’s demise, even though Poe scholar John Walsh showed the utter bankrupt nature of that theory years ago, and Walsh even traced it back to the man who first advanced it—Theodore White, Southern Literary Messenger editor, and one of Poe’s enemies.

She follows the common ‘Poe Biographer Practice’ of quoting unnamed sources who ‘saw Poe drunk, etc’ even though objective studies reveal those who quarreled with Poe routinely made such accusations—and were denied and countered by a great deal of testimony from Poe’s friends.  The least even an amateur historian should do in throwing around charges of drunkeness is to identify the witness.

Quoting a scrap from one of his letters, she says Poe was “insane” at the end of his life—during which time he wrote Eureka, the scientific essay which contemporary physicists admire as ground-breaking, not only for its time, but for all time.

Lepore, working up the occasional writing style of not only curt, but curt and cute, uses “The Raven” to tell Poe’s story: “Poe was buried in Baltimore  in October, 1849. ‘Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered.'”

One can’t help but admire the historian’s perky wit:

Poe’s life was tragic, but he was about as unworldly as a bale of cotton.

He did not live out of time.

Wait for it…

He lived in hard times, dark times, up-and-down times. Indigence cast as shadow over everything he attempted. Poverty was his raven, tapping at the door, and it was Poe, not the bird, who uttered, helplessly, another rhyme for “Nevermore.” “I send you an original tale,” Poe once began a letter, and, at its end, added one line more: “P.S. I am poor.”

Lepore presents one new fact about Poe in her 200th birthday celebration article in the New Yorker, an important “discovery” by someone named Terrence:

Poe held the job at the Messenger for only sixteen months. He boasted that, under his editorship, the magazine’s circulation grew from seven hundred to fifty-five hundred, but, as the Poe scholar Terence Whalen has discovered, this was another lie. The magazine had thirteen hundred subscribers when Poe started, and eighteen hundred when he left.

Lepore is certain Poe was “deeply racist”—because Poe depicts with under-educated speech the morally upright, fictional slave-character, Jupiter, in his fiction, “The Gold-Bug.”  Poe—despite living in a time when even some abolitionists were frank in their belief that whites were superior to blacks—is actually free of racism in his works.

Poe’s work in cryptography helped the Allies win World War Two.  But Lepore has a different take: “Poe liked ciphers because he liked to send messages that readers lacking his particular genius could not decode.”  Thanks, professor!

She acknowledges the “breathtakingly belligerent” Griswold obituary, as well as Griswold’s influential “distortions, slanders and forgeries:”

Days after Poe’s death, Rufus Griswold wrote a breathtakingly belligerent obituary: Poe’s passing “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” Maria  Clemm, in a singularly unfortunate act of ignorance or avarice, gave Griswold power of attorney and sold him Poe’s papers. Griswold became his literary executor. A year later, he wrote a biography of Poe in which he distorted the historical record, publishing slanders and forgeries, to make Poe seem a fiend.

Between Poe’s lies and Griswold’s forgeries, it can be difficult to take the measure of Edgar A. Poe. Was the man an utter genius or a complete fraud?

Oh my gosh, professor!  You tell us.

SCARRIET TURNS TWO

terrible-twos

When Thomas Brady, Alan Cordle, Christopher Woodman, and Desmond Swords were banned from Blog Harriet two years ago, there was no crying.

There was revenge.

Cordle sprang into action after the banning, creating a website called Scarriet—a well-deserved joke on the bumbling, mean-spirited site, Harriet, named after Harriet Monroe, the late 19th century blue-blood aesthete who raised enough money for a little poetry magazine, a toy in the very early 20th century of the idle rich who collected Asian art and swooned over haiku.

Monroe was fortunate to have an operator named Ezra Pound as her London editor, well-connected to the decadent ins and outs of the new art market machinations.  A great wave of calculated anti-Romantic, anti-Renaissance fervor was in the air:  Palgrave’s golden treasury was a great albatross around the neck of Progress; Plato’s measurement was being replaced by ‘blah blah blah,’ measured art was being replaced by art that said it was art, and art, like money, could now make money just for being whatever it was that someone said it had to be.

All this generated, as one might imagine, a lot of hustle and bustle.  Art that had value for the middle classes was relegated to reprints, art seeking value now became a process of the rich seeking to distance themselves from the middle class.  Imagism hopped on the back of haiku and Pound and Monroe were off and running.  Pound and Eliot threw in their lot with fascism while Monroe’s little magazine, safely ensconced in the Midwest, insinuated itself into the Modern Poetry graces of certain would-be poets, one being Ruth Lilly, who happened to have a fortune, and gave a lot of it recently to Harriet Monroe’s magazine.

Blog Harriet gave up on its great democratic experiment of allowing comments on its site about 6 months after banning the Now Famous Four.

Blog Harriet is now a dull cut-and-paste site (despite the Poetry Foundation’s millions) while the banned Brady writes the original bounty that is Scarriet, taking a true measure of poetry in all its aspects.

That’s our two cents.

NEVER FORGETTING DESIRE

Remove this unpleasant stain,
But also my desire to see the things I love again,
For desire cannot have it both ways—
Cannot think love is prized as she plays
In the mist, in the cold rain.

Call me to the fields of pain.
Desire knows I must leave this unpleasant stain,
For nothing desire desired made it through
To all I loved, though I vowed to you—
In the mist, in the cold rain.

In the twilight all seems vain,
But in the evening, all’s the mark of Cain,
For the things I love will always be
Pain in this present company,
In the mist, in the cold rain.

Forgetting banishes pain,
But also desire to see the things we love again.
O Desire!  Do not forget to be
For pain, the pain I gave to you joyfully
In the mist, in the cold rain.

EL CUERPO ES FALTA

The flesh is gone, and so are you,
But so much that was not flesh spread and flew—
Thought, for instance.  You might still live, is that not true?

You don’t reply, nor has any that’s dead—
Nothing seen, that was here, and now has fled,
Nothing manifested. Only a body that sleeps, then crumbles, becoming its bed.

Now you become earth and rivers and air,
The tiniest you, invisible, spread everywhere,
No longer a person, who can speak, or love, or care.

But what if you still are?  Since the invisible
Hides behind what we cannot comprehend, until
We see what was dead, with life, suddenly overfill,

Whatever caused being before there was being,
Invisible to all dreaming and seeing,
Might be cruel, incomprehensible, but freeing

For all that rages in this material stuff
Is more, much more, than enough,
For whatever God-like sighing sighs when the seas are rough,

And whatever calmness that lives
In eternity—what takes, hopefully, also gives,
To balance death’s cruelty with returning loves.

Haven’t I almost convinced my mind
That silence and doubt are kind?
Oh world!  Will you…unwind?

THE DAY THE POETRY DIED: TOP TEN DOCUMENTS OF 20th CENTURY MODERNISM

John Ashbery, looking like a funny old Englishman—the last living heir of the Mad Hatter madness known as Modernism

1. Reflections on Verse Libre, 1916

This is where the camel got his nose in the tent.  Eliot’s questionable logic about what poetry is slips past the Gates.

2. Understanding Poetry, eds. Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, 1938 (first edition)

The Great Consolidation: the textbook which greeted the GI Bill/Baby Boomer post-war university influx.   Modernist footsoldiers, the New Critics, praise Williams and Pound, bash Poe.

3. The Waste Land, 1922

Publishing scheme launched by Pound & Eliot’s crafty lawyer and Golden Dawn/Aleister Crowley associate & British Intelligence agent, John Quinn.

4. Criticism, Inc., 1938

Essay by John Crowe Ransom launched the idea that Critics in journalism are worthless and must be trained to understand the ‘new writing’ in the universities. It is the New Critcs—the ‘Rhodes Scholar’ American wing of European Modernism—who begin the Creative Writing Program Era in American universites where contemporary poets essentially teach (canonize) themselves.

5. From Poe to Valery by T.S. Eliot, 1949

T.S. Eliot, honoring the memory of his New England, Unitarian, and Transcendentalist grandfather, William Greenleaf, caps off the Long March of Crazy-ism through American Letters, as Eliot, fresh off Nobel Prize Win, delivers a withering attack on Poe, the old enemy of William Greenleaf Eliot’s associate, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

6. How To Read by Ezra Pound,  1929

Leading Crazy-ite Modernist suggests syllabus of Homer, Confucius, Dante, and 19th century French authors for the English-speaking undergraduate student.

7. Poets Without Laurels by John  Crowe Ransom, 1938

 In this brilliant essay, influential New Critic (mentor to Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell) introduces Wallace Stevens to the world, champions Allen Tate, and declares Byron hopelessly old-fashioned in Modernist mop-up operation.

8. North of Boston by Robert Frost, 1915

When Amy Lowell confronted Ezra Pound and cohort Ford Madox Ford (who later meets Allen Tate and teaches in America) in their famous Imagiste contretemps in London in 1914, Frost, also in town, stood aloof, his future success as the New England Wordsworth already in the bag. 

9. The (Pisan) Cantos by Ezra Pound,  1948

A mish-mash by a madman is lauded by New Critics on the award committees after the U.S. arrests the head Modernist honcho for treason.

10. Some Trees by John Ashbery, 1956

T.S. Eliot’s friend, W.H. Auden, part of the Isherwood/Huxley ‘British invasion,’ passes the American academic torch as Yale Younger Poet Prize judge to ‘poetry about nothing,’ in a culmination of a Modernist Take-over of American poetry by a select group of academically-connected friends.

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