POETRY: HAWKING WITHOUT WARES, OR: IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

“Sell it for a song” —old saying

The Scarriet editors happened to be reading an old Scarriet post (we’re proud to say they hold up over time) and came upon what we think is the best underlying definition of ‘foetry’ we have ever seen—from Briggs Seekins:

If you are designing ball-bearings and you want people to believe in you, you have to actually do the physics, the testing–all those hours of rigorous intellectual slogging. You’ve obviously got to sell it to investors, but if it is a good product, the potential financial benefits will be strong enough so you can hire a completely different person who is an expert at selling.

We went on (in our old Scarriet post) to more-or-less say:

No poet has such a luxury. The poet, unlike the a maker of ball-bearings, has to be her own salesman, and work at recruiting a network of people who will also sell her–which in turn will mean selling for them. In the absence of verifiable, objective standards for what works, this is the only way anybody can be “successful” as a poet.

The irony Mr. Seekins has highlighted is that poetry is even more of a selling game than the selling game (business) itself, since there’s no ‘ball-bearings-that-work-better’ to sell.   Poetry, unlike a ball-bearing, isn’t supposed to work.  Art that works?  How gauche!

Poetry is selling and nothing more.  This is so strange that most simply cannot believe it: why would, how could there be any selling of what doesn’t exist, of what no one wants or needs?

Precisely.

All the more reason for the selling of poetry to be so intense—because it is nothing else.

We don’t mean poetry is a rhetoric which argues for itself—it has always been that, to some degree; after all, a perfectly round ball-bearing argues for itself; the ugly truth here is much worse: as Seekins says, a ball-bearing is important enough to require an expert salesman; a poem is not important enough to require an expert salesman, and therefore the poet must be a salesman by default, since a poem sells itself even less than a nicely made ball-bearing.

And Seekins is right about a crucial difference between poetry and painting, which we see here: http://www.technology.am/the-30-most-expensive-paintings-of-all-time-141346.html

The 30 most expensive paintings of all time link reveals that in 2006 a Jackson Pollock “spatter painting” sold for 140 million dollars.

By comparison, poetry is not expensive.

A first edition, signed copy of T.S. Eliot’s Poems, 1909—1925 can be had for a mere 9 thousand dollars.

A First Folio Shakespeare (1623) is 5.5 million: worth that much, no doubt because of historical twists and turns, and because Shakespeare plays are still performed on stage, and many have been turned into films.  The poetry part of Shakespeare’s Folio is probably worth in market terms about a nickel.

The most valuable auction piece so far of French literature is a signed edition of Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer: $644,000.

We need not belabor the point.  The most expensive rare books are drawings: Da Vinci’s notebooks (30 million) or Audubon’s Birds of America (9 million).  If you don’t count signed editions, poetry is worth nothing compared to paintings.

There are art dealers, but there is no such thing as a poem dealer.

Only poets sell poetry—and this is why poetry is nothing more, nothing less, than selling itself.

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”  One might dismiss the cliche’, but one should not dismiss the importance of “the thought;” this “thought” is the chief catalyst of love—something we should never take lightly.

Writing a poem for someone is very charming, indeed, and just because awwwww turns our heads and hearts to mush, we owe ourselves a scientific explanation of this phenomenon.

Modernists, trying to strike a new note and rebelling against the love lyrics of the Romantics and the Brownings, fighting what they thought was the noble fight against the awwwww, wrote self-conscious poems, calling poetry “all this fiddle,”  for instance. If one is touched by a Marianne Moore poem, it will give rise to awwwww, because any poem, even a modern poem  (yea, even yours, Ezra Pound, grizzled, but secretly perfumed) fits into the eternal poetic formula: “it’s the thought that counts.”  But fighting the awwwww has its pitfalls. Does anyone really think “Poetry” by Marianne Moore is a good poem? Let us admit at once it’s a terrible poem and it owes its fame to the vain attempt by a little band of Modernists to remove the awwwww factor from poetry.  Poetry may be a great deal more than awwwww, but to try and take awwwww away from poetry is like removing a person’s heart: you kill the person.  You write terrible poems like Miss Moore’s “Poetry.”  If anyone forgets how bad this poem is, we reprint it here. See how it devolves to lecture.  See how thoroughly unpleasant and arrogant it is:

Poetry —M. Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against ‘business documents and

school-books’; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
‘literalists of
the imagination’–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’, shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Ugh.  Miss Moore’s poem is like a toad spitting out a toad.

This is one of the most celebrated poems of Modernism.  For this we got rid of Shelley and Keats?  We killed the nightingale so we could be lectured at by Marianne Moore?

For this we tried to do away with awwwww.

“All this fiddle,” huh?  “Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it…”  How did she know?

You can tell the poem was written for the classroom.  Moore was a teacher before she published poetry.

The classroom laboratory kills awwwww quite effectively.

But poetry, whether on the street or in the classroom, sells itself, and this selling is the content, form and criticism of the poem simultaneously.

Underneath it all lies ugly ambition, whose selling point is something like As My Bitches Indicate, Triumph is Obvious Now.

Splitting the poem into poet v. reader, content v. form, narrative v. concept, or into any of the various -isms-split of modernity and the avant-garde, we lose the unified significance of the one true formula which describes poetry: an advertisement which advertises itself as itself to itself and for itself. (Theories that protest they split only to re-unite have actually made a split they can’t take back.)  A poem is its sale, its selling, and all possible elements are in the sale, are being sold, and comprise the seller—the selling of poetry is poetry, such as would make a businessman blush.

Throw in awwwww, and just think what you’ve got.

You have a touching bit of worthlessness—which drives all worth.

And is selling a bad thing?

Only when a sale is tied to a bad product, or demeans a product.

Since poetry is the selling and contains no product, per se, poetry as selling cannot be a bad thing.

Perhaps this is why Shakespeare, in his most esoteric and hermeneutic poem (Sonnnet 21) says, “I will not praise that purpose not to sell.”

Ambition attempts to “find a product” for poetry—a prize, an award, a signed book—but in all contexts we can discover, save for a narrow personal career interest, this turns out to be largely worthless.

Shakespeare links “praise” with “purpose to sell.”

The secret ingredients of poetry are praise, love, and selling.

We shall end by quoting Shakespeare’s sonnet 21:

So is it not with me as with that Muse
Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse
Making a couplement of proud compare,
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O’ let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:
Let them say more than like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.

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3 Comments

  1. Ashu अशु said,

    March 4, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Well fuck mah eyes, bro, ya took the words right outta my mouth before I even wrote ’em. Just a cupple hours ago I commented that I liked the sentimentality of your poetry, and sentimental poetry generally.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 6, 2015 at 11:45 pm

      Thank you, Ashu, I had forgotten all about this intriguing little essay, which unlocks the great secret of poetry as it damns Miss Marianne Moore. Moore, a Mayflower name, as is Taylor and Eaton and West and Graves—which all belong to me.


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