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.

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31 Comments

  1. marcusbales said,

    September 30, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    The issue isn’t really whether a poem, to be thought excellent, must be difficult, nor even whether it’s difficult to some people but not to others, nor even that a poem difficult in one generation is not so difficult to the readers of the next who’ve grown up with it; the issue is whether it’s enough for a poem to be thought excellent if it is MERELY difficult.

    Most of the problems with poetry since Eliot’s dictum devolve from assuming that Eliot meant that difficulty is enough to make a poem excellent — which he clearly did not mean. But making something difficult to read is far far easier than making something good, much less excellent. Free verse, which is simply relineated prose, is far far easier to write than poetry, which is language in meter, too. People over the last 100 years have been taking the easy way out: free verse deliberately coagulated into difficulty to achieve the very uncertainty that worries Plunkett and other critics.

    The critics aren’t critical: they’re not calling bullshit when they see it and taking their lumps when they’re shown not to have quite gotten it. That’s the critic’s function: to be wrong as well as right; to be dim as well as insightful; to take risks of interpretation that may be wrong. But everyone is careerist nowadays. The poet you castigate today may be on your tenure committee ten years from now, so the better part of critical valor is cowardice. It’s sad.

  2. September 30, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I’m a little confused about the idea that there is some sort of consensus out there in the poetry community that poetry “ought to be difficult.”

    You seem to have confused “ought to be difficult” with “it’s okay to be difficult.”

    If you follow contemporary poetry you will see poetry that is “easy” and “difficult.” Both are generally considered okay.

    Though I would also suggest that “easy” and “difficult” are less than useful terms. If you find a poem to be very easy, you might want to re-read it and see if you missed anything.

    For example, if you read William Carlos Williams and think “this is easy – it’s just about some dude taking a plum from the kitchen,” I would suggest that you need to go back and consider reading it as if it were “difficult,” i.e., as if there might be more than just the surface story.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    September 30, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Marcus, Coffee,

    Here’s what Eliot wrote in his Metaphysical Poets essay:

    “Poets in our civilisation must be difficult. Our civilisation comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, most produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate, if necessary, language into his meaning.”

    One can run away from what Eliot is saying, but I think what he says is dangerous. Poets in our civilisation must be difficult.

    I think you guys are both over-thinking the issue.

    Poets shouldn’t be difficult any more than going to the bathroom should be difficult, or eating should be difficult.

    Is it difficult to write a good poem? Maybe, but this is quite different from saying “poets must be difficult,” or saying the poem should be difficult to read.

    This is crucial to understand.

    The fate of poetry depends on it.

    “OK to be difficult?”

    No, this doesn’t help.

    Once we fall prey to Eliot’s horrid thesis, we start believing, for instance, that Williams’ plum poem is more than it is. But why should I even want to discuss Williams’ inanity? The idea I want to impart is that difficulty is never a virtue, under any circumstances, no matter what “civilisation” you happen to find yourself in.

    Tom

  4. October 2, 2011 at 4:35 am

    Those who can, do.

    Those who can’t, teach.

    Those who can’t teach become critics.

    Has anyone here ever actually read any poetry by William Logan or Joan Houlihan? God save us all!

    But, seriously, peer review of a scientific paper is of great significance and can make all the difference in one’s career. Peer review of a poetry book is…umm, well? What? La de da.

    John Keats was devastated by the bad reviews of his poetry. Does anyone even remember the critics who attacked him? No. But we all remember Mr. Keats, don’t we?

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 2, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Gary,

      You are quite right—as far as your thesis is advanced.

      But Keats had a critical mind—which we can glimpse in his letters, if not his poetry.

      There’s also the problem of T.S. Eliot, who we do remember, as a poet—and a critic. Pound, as a poet—and a critic. Williams, as a poet—and a critic.

      Do people read Pound’s poetry and shut up about Pound’s criticism? No, they can’t stop talking about Pound—and his criticism.

      Houlihan and Logan’s poetry is third-rate—precisely because they cannot see past the criticism of their forebears: Eliot, Pound, and co.

      Even poetry has a critic’s influence. If you accept, for instance, that ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ is a worthy-to-be-anthologized poem, you have accepted the Philosophy of Hopscotch as criticism. You have been had.

      The Critic is at your door.

      And you don’t know it.

      Tom

  5. October 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Point
    (advice to budding poets)

    Make one. Then disguise it.
    Make them all try
    to figure it out.
    Be witty and clever
    and erudite.
    Make sure they get
    too frustrated
    in the searching
    to really get it.

    Many references, too.
    Some obscure, so they appear
    to reflect a cultured mind.
    Be scholarly and ever
    more unclear.
    Offer a gift but hide it,
    something they will never find.
    Tie it much too tight
    to unwrap. Lock it,
    without a key,
    behind a door.

    To the sad word-bound
    this will be a joy…
    another literary puzzle
    to struggle with and pass empty
    time, but to the rest of us
    such a bore

    Copyright 2008 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • jenneandrews said,

      October 5, 2011 at 5:19 am

      This is fabulous– to me. And therein lies the rub, yes? Williams’ poem was thought immensely innovative in its day and it has a point to make, yes? Mr. Fitzgerald’s poem seems to me to well describe the work of say, Ms. Graham. And lord knows, her imitators. Personally, leaving aside Eliot’s pronouncements, I love Prufrock– always have, always will, and it is ever new to me, each reading. Think of the permissions it gave the next generation of poets to say very profound things with such diffidence. I liked Mr. Plunkett’s piece although I disagree with his praise for Larson, and agree with Mr. Brady on that one. But look at how subjective we all are even when professing that we can possibly have an objective eye about what we love and value in our own work and that of others. For me, it’s about the beauty of language and singularity of diction, as a friend plainly puts it, “fresh imagery.” Whatever Mr. Dickman is trying to convey he loses me completely with Flies. I swat them. His irregular lines don’t compensate for the absence of the brilliant– as in crystalline– image. xj

      • October 5, 2011 at 6:09 am

        Jenne:

        This poem was originally directed to Rae Armantrout and John Ashbery (and all those other ‘elliptical/non sequitur/irrational/language’ poets.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm

        Jenne,

        I love “Prufrock,” too; Eliot was in college when he wrote it, and even though it has something of the lilly on the verge of festering about it, it’s lovely, and Tom was unquestionably the most talented of his generation. But when he became an Englishman and fell under the influence of Pound and Bertrand Russell and the self-conscious Modernist movement, he became corrupted, and his ‘rotting flowers christianity’ was over-done, not to mention his politics and the way he treated his wife, etc etc. He was a victim, too, I suppose, but there’s much I don’t like about him.

        Tom

  6. October 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Accessible

    I haven’t read much poetry lately.
    After all, I have to write it.
    I can’t be unduly influenced
    or misdirected. And damn!
    I’m just now shaking off
    Shakespeare and Byron and Poe,
    Cummings and Frost,
    just now releasing the howl
    and its cost,
    that tyger burning bright
    and the dying of the light.

    But I’ve read all of the dead ones
    and most of those living
    but I just don’t resonate
    with these new ones.
    They don’t make sense to me.
    I don’t get it!
    Oh, I get the point, all right,
    I just can’t find the poetry.

    .
    Copyright 2011 – Mortal Remains, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm

      If thou survive my well-contented day,
      When that churl death my bones with dust shall cover
      And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
      These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover:
      Compare them with the bett’ring of the time,
      And though they be outstripped by every pen,
      Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
      Exceeded by the height of happier men.
      O then vouchsafe me but this loving thought,
      ‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
      A dearer birth than this his love had brought
      To march in ranks of better equipage:
      But since he died and poets better prove,
      Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love’.

      Shakespeare, Sonnet 32

  7. marcusbales said,

    October 3, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Die Professoren
    Ludwig Fulda

    Der erste hat ein Haar gespalten
    Un einen Vortrag daruber gehalten.
    Der zweit fugt es neu zusammen
    Und muss die Ansicht des ersten verdammen.
    Im buche des dritten kann man lesen,
    Es sei nicht das richtige Haar gewesen.

    The first professor split a hair
    And lectured as it withered there.
    The second fixed the hair and cursed
    The senseless theories of the first.
    The third one’s book proved, I recall,
    They had the wrong hair after all.

  8. November 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Extra extra: John Simon in defense of rhyme and meter!

    http://uncensoredsimon.blogspot.com/2011/11/in-defense-of-rhyme-and-meter.html

  9. thomasbrady said,

    November 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Beautiful little essay from drama critic John Simon!

    I think poetry’s whatever the community agrees on. If meter/rhyme is the coin of the realm, that’s what poetry is. If there’s no agreement, there’s no definition, and consequently, no poetry. The ancients defined it by measurement, poetry could be measured, prose could not.

    I think it’s cute how Simon objects to Poe capitalizing Beauty. Well, Poe was a genius with a capital G, so I think we can forgive his attempt at ideality. If rhyme and meter are the essence of the definition, then a bawdy limerick crowns the art:—this is why Poe added the criterion, Beauty. As for comic poetry: is satire of a thing, really the thing?

  10. Mark said,

    November 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    I’m not disagreeing here just to be a contrarian but this John Simon piece is terrible! Now, I know John Simon only by reputation but if this piece is indicative of his writing then I’ll happily continue on as if he doesn’t exist. What utter dreck…

    He spends the first 3/4s of the piece just absent-mindedly quoting people (is he trying to show off or has he completely devolved into someone’s great-grandfather telling stories about the old days that don’t go anywhere?). When he finally gets to his point he says garbage like:

    “Does the motorcar eliminate the horse-drawn carriage? No; we still enjoy such things as a romantic carriage ride through Central Park.”

    Because in one city in all of North America people use horse-drawn carriages as a novelty then the horse-drawn carriage is still a force to be reckoned with. Of course! And “the good old Gillette”, though nothing like a straight razor, is proof that straight razors are still important. Oh, and “archery” is “not unpopular”… So that’s something.

    Comparing rhymed metre to horse-drawn carriages, straight razors and archery (in an era of cars, gillettes and guns) is exactly the sort of thing we all need to be fighting against!

    We all need to stop thinking about rhymed verse as if it’s some relic from a bygone age (or worse, as Simon seems to imply here, an old-fashioned novelty). Verse still has power – it’s just that no one is utilizing it. What the poets who’ve descended from Olson all seem to have forgotten (from Olson-fanboys like Billy Collins to the Language Poets) is that IF form is an extension of content then different kinds of content require different forms.

    It’s not the difference between a horse-drawn carriage and a car – it’s the difference between a pick-up and a sedan, different terrains require different vehicles. It’s up to each individual poet to decide what the terrain requires but I’m seeing a lot of cracked axels out there (well, I’ve extended this metaphor to a point where it’s unrecognizable… Sorry guys… let me move on).

    Either way, Poe knew this: the prose-poem fits perfectly for “Eureka” but “Pym” requires a narrative. The metrical repetition in “The Raven” is necessary to the intrinsic logic of the piece… That’s why he uses it!

    Rhyme for the sake of rhyme is like putting arches and columns on a rancher but when you can use rhyme and meter appropriately there’s nothing more beautiful. Poe’s form is always an extension of his content. This is post-modernism 101.

    How is it that Poe, writing in the 19th century, is more modern than any of the post-modernists?!?!?

    John Simon comes off like a well-meaning simp and uniwittingly reinforces the narrative he wishes to fight against. Weak.

    Mark

    PS – This is no slight to Bob who linked to this piece but still totally rocks and is still the only reason anyone comes to this place 😛

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 23, 2011 at 2:54 am

      Mark,

      You’re right about Nooch, and I do agree with you re: Simon’s comparisons of rhyme and meter to horse-drawn buggies & archery…you’re right, Simon falls head-first into the ‘modernist’ trap. It’s actually WC Williams and Robert Frost who are horse-drawn carriages, while Poe is a jet plane…I liked Simon’s survey of poetry’s definitions and how he shot them down, but then his quaint analogies, though seductive, on second blush, are just as you describe them. The Modern Art dream will one day be seen for what it is, just a dream, but it will take time…those who live now need to separate themselves from the distant past—for the simple reason that those (hopelessly old-fashioned) blokes in the past are all dead, and that’s an identification we prefer not to make…there is a need to think of ourselves as not only living compared to the dead, but somehow belonging to an artistic age that’s remarkably different and modern and wiser and improved…oh and look, there’s a horse drawn buggy…how charming…!

      Tom

    • Noochinator said,

      November 23, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Let’s not forget,
      Despite reservations,
      How he concludes
      His observations:

      Beyond that, rhyme means symmetry and closure, and aren’t those good, desirable things? Doesn’t the saying “makes no rhyme or reason” entwine rhyme with the great good of reason? “Cela ne rime a rien” say the French, equating rhyme in its absence with the lack of good sense. Rhyme betokens order, harmony, fulfillment of expectation—all good things. So, poets, how about a return to rhyme and meter?

  11. November 23, 2011 at 3:25 am

    John Simon said:

    “Famous, too, is Wordsworth’s definition: ‘Spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.’ This is patently self-contradictory: where powerful feelings are in overflow there is no tranquil recollection; where tranquil recollection prevails, feelings are no longer powerfully overflowing.”

    Apparently, Mr. Simon is not a poet. His observation, regarding the writing of poetry, is quite illogical. It is the MEMORY of events that cause a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” that, when “recollected in tranquility”, indeed, results in poetry. After all, one does not stop what one is doing during the events that result in the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” to jot down a verse. One must recollect.

    I wrote a poem about the funeral of a friend. I didn’t write it during the funeral.

    GBF

  12. November 23, 2011 at 3:48 am

    And Tom, you said:

    “It’s actually WC Williams and Robert Frost who are horse-drawn carriages, while Poe is a jet plane…”

    Is that so?

    Would that either you or I could produce something like the following. Good luck! Pay close attention to the prosody…and the content. Then listen…I hear a jet plane.

    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Robert Frost

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 23, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Gary,

      I’ve always admired Frost—up to a point. But his worth is finally over-sung. He’s a half-yard away from didactic bore. His meters think too much. It’s generally a chore to read him. ‘The Road Not Taken,’ in which one contemplates a couple of grassy paths, is a conceit wagging in the wind. He’s a thoughtful poet, and he pours his thought into his verse, which is admirable, except ‘the thought’ finally is too pat and obvious—and the obedient iambic trails along like a herd of sheep following a pedantic shepherd. He hit a homerun with ‘Snowy Evening.’ ‘Come In’ is good. ‘Acquainted with the Night’ isn’t bad. ‘Mending Wall’ is very good, but is ruined by the obvious message: “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, Not of woods only and the shade of trees.” [as if we didn’t get the message]

      Tom

      • Nooch said,

        November 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm

        The dilemma one faces when a choice must be made,
        “The Road Not Taken” doth illustrate—
        A universal theme this, and tragic in that
        The choice made determines one’s fate.

        Pilgrims, schmilgrims,
        They’re slop in the pail—
        Thanksgiving was created
        By Sarah Josepha Hale:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Josepha_Hale

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 23, 2011 at 8:46 pm

          Sarah Hale, another 19th century woman who siz-
          zled, ignored by contemporary po-biz.

          • November 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

            Mary’s Lamb

            Mary had a little lamb,
            Its fleece was white as snow,
            And every where that Mary went
            The lamb was sure to go;

            He followed her to school one day —
            That was against the rule,
            It made the children laugh and play
            To see a lamb at school.

            And so the Teacher turned him out,
            But still he lingered near,
            And waited patiently about,
            Till Mary did appear.

            And then he ran to her and laid
            His head upon her arm,
            As if he said — “I’m not afraid —
            You’ll shield me from all harm.”

            “What makes the lamb love Mary so,”
            The little children cry;
            “O, Mary loves the lamb you know,
            The Teacher did reply,

            “And you each gentle animal
            In confidence may bind,
            And make them follow at your call,
            If you are always kind.”

            Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879)

  13. November 24, 2011 at 5:40 am

    You don’t like Frost? Jeez, Tom. Are there any poets besides Poe and Millay that you actually DO like?

    I like to think of poetry as though it was a visit to the Zoo. So many beautiful and unusual creatures. I enjoy them all. Is a tiger more beautiful than an elephant, a Boa Constrictor than a Macaw, a giraffe than a Galapagos tortoise, a lion than an elk? I love to watch the monkeys and the meerkats, the seals and the zebras.

    Every animal is as unique and special and beautiful in its own way as any other, even spiders and snails.

    Such is poetry.

    GBF

  14. November 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    From “The Genius of Oblivion” by Sarah Josepha Hale:

    But now those flashings gath’ring grew
    A lofty, fiery arch, and through
    Its light strange beings flickering pass,
    Like shadows o’er a magic glass —
    Now nearer, more distinct; but still
    Awful and indescribable!
    Creation’s heir — earth’s potentate —
    Sole keeper of recorded fate,
    OBLIVION’S shadowy GENIUS sate!
    He breathed sepulchral damps — his hand
    Stretched forth his all-subduing wand!
    Rayless his eye — its sunken orb
    Did nought reflect, but all absorb —
    All bright things caught, nor yet was bright,
    As blackness gains no hue from light!
    Nor fattened his lank cheek, though more
    Its prey than evil kine’s of yore —
    And ghastly, as the op’ning tomb,
    His furrowed brow, in fearful gloom,
    Frowned, as to antedate our doom.
    Of crumbled thrones was piled his seat —
    Crowns, sceptres, ‘scutcheons ‘neath his feet
    Lay trodden with the vilest things:
    OBLIVION sanctifies not kings!
    And wreaths the hero’s brow that bound,
    And deathless named, were strewn around
    All withered as the weeds which die
    When Siroc breathes his blasting sigh —
    And trophies, that like virtue shone,
    Yea, trophies that a heaven might own —
    Records of science, wisdom, worth,
    All scattered — they were all of earth,
    And therefore perished, not the deed —
    That gains, blest thought! a mightier meed.
    A crown eternal, gemm’d with blood
    Which saved a leprous world, when groan’d the
    Lamb of God!

    Worm-eaten shrouds were waving high,
    His banner and his canopy;
    And through the sighing folds there came
    Music, if it might bear that name —
    A pictured plaint — a melody —
    The stirring soul of years gone by;
    Conveying to the sense each scene
    As palpably, as if between
    Nor time, nor space did intervene.
    And thus, as harps of zephyrs play,
    Floated the viewless opera.

  15. thomasbrady said,

    November 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Gary,

    It really doesn’t matter what I like, or don’t like, or what gives me pleasure, or doesn’t. You care—but I don’t. That’s the point here; you are nice, and I am not, and nice, here, is of no advantage. The best poet in the world probably finds something wrong with every poem in the world—and that’s why they are the best poet in the world. I didn’t say I didn’t like Frost—I told you what I like. I enjoy your ‘zoo’ as much as anyone. But I don’t just see the differences in the animals. I see the animals. Remember your Plato: Love is not perfect and beautiful; Love is ugly and full of desire.

    Tom

  16. November 24, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Imperfections

    This glossy white we painted our kitchen
    makes the cabinets and drawers look almost perfect,
    but in the stark fluorescent glow I notice
    how the shiny bright makes plain
    all the scratches and the gouges in the grain
    because the sheen reflects so perfectly the light.

    From space this small blue ball seems also perfect,
    smooth, without feature and unblemished
    in the sun’s unyielding light, but when closer
    these tiny wrinkles and errant stains
    become mighty oceans and stretching plains,
    the grandeur of great mountains touching sky.

    The mutation of the genes makes imperfection
    and these flaws are by Nature unforgiven.
    Millions have died, mashed and mixed
    in the relentless genetic blender,
    thrashed and cut by evolution’s thresher
    and this, in time, made all these creatures perfect.

    People, too, are seldom close to perfect
    and by these inconsistencies character is granted,
    still I notice that none survive forever
    no matter how beautiful or strong or clever.
    It shows us how imperfect our perceptions.
    It is the imperfection of the world
    that makes it perfect.

    Copyright 2008 – Softwood – Seventy-eight Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      An apt reply.

      Makes one wonder why they freak out over on gallaher’s blog when you post poems.

      You’re a master, Gary.

      Thanks,

      Tom

  17. September 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    “… [T]he business of a poet is not to clarify, but to suggest, to imply, to employ words with auras of association, with a reaching out towards a vision, a probing down into an emotion, beyond the compass of explicit definition.” — Harold Hobson, The Sunday Times, April 7, 1957


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