Scene from Ovid’s Amores
Poet Tony Hoagland, fresh off a 2013 AWP panel in which he advocated soul, wisdom, and humanity, saying poetry today had lost its way in the halls of academia to fakery and cleverness, seemed an ideal contemporary choice to represent neo-Romanticism in this year’s Scarriet March Madness Poetry Tournament.
The following spazzes out in high Romantic splendor—well, Keats doing Catullus doing O’Hara, perhaps:
Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
                     when you pass through clumps of wood   
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,   
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.
I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?   
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing   
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,   
the very tint of inexperience.
Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,   
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written   
in big black spraypaint letters,
which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.   
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,   
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.
What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.   
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.   
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.
Outside the youth center, between the liquor store   
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
overflowing with blossomfoam,   
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.   
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.
Romantic spume.  Keats’ “fine excess” dripping everywhere.  Sexy but sad.  Ah, Romanticism.
It’s clever the way Hoagland mentions “police station,” youth center,” “liquor store,” which imply youthful, reckless behavior; more signs that “sexual arousal” and the “obscene” are quietly navigating through his poem in a melancholy, reflective fashion: romance recollected in tranquility.  Nature’s “wastefulness” is obscene, perhaps more so than sexual arousal is obscene.  But the question is, has  Hoagland written a poem, or just an intellectual exercise?  He seems to be walking a line between cleverness and soul; obviously he’s shooting for the latter.  Does he reach it?
And Hoagland, the modern, has a hard task here in the Scarriet Tourney; he’s got to get by Ovid.
In Sports, unlike Poetry—as seen by the New Critics—talk outside the game (text) is just as important (if not more) than what happens in the game.
After all, what’s more interesting, the bouncing of a ball, or the lives, the heartbreaks, and the personalities attached to that ball?
Hoagland teaches. 
Ovid, when he was Hoagland’s age, was exiled forever by the emperor for writing sexually immoral poetry which helped destroy the Roman Republic.
Professor Gilbert Highet, in his book, Poets In A Landscape, puts it colorfully.  Ovid encouraged
absolute freedom from the ties of family, personal loyalty [and] public morality. Vergil’s Aeneid is a heroic poem about a single man who surmounts enormous difficulties and temptations…Ovid’s Transformations is a huge poem, partly didactic…in which men and gods live by their passions alone….Ovid even takes up several of the stories told in the Aeneid, and retells them—always in such a way as to make them more exciting and less meaningful, shallower and more vivid, occasionally almost comic. It is as though Byron had composed, in the style of Don Juan, a poem which was designed to outdo and occasionally to mock Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Here’s where the whole Romanticism thing gets tricky.   No two poets could be more different than Byron and Wordsworth, who are both considered “Romantics.” 
We ought to distinguish between a Victorian Romanticism: Wordsworth and a Roman Romanticism: Byron.
Or, proper v. juicy?
Is that too simplistic?
What to make of Hoagland’s,

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night
Is that Victorian?  Or Roman?
Does this social record depend on the age the poet is living in?   Does the poet have any say in this at all?
Or what to make of Hoagland’s pathetic fallacy of
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind
Is Hoagland being merely clever, or does this powerfully invoke the ‘no-mind’ of nature?
Of course, no one brings juicy Romanticism like Ovid.
From Ovid’s Amores (trans. Derek Mahon):
The day being humid and my head
heavy, I stretched out on a bed.
The open window to the right
reflected woodland-watery light,
a keyed-up silence as of dawn
or dusk, the vibrant and uncertain
hour when a brave girl might undress
and caper naked on the grass.
You entered in a muslin gown,
bare-footed, your fine braids undone,
a fabled goddess with an air
as if in heat yet debonair.
Aroused, I grabbed and roughly tore
until your gown squirmed on the floor.
Oh, you resisted, but like one
who knows resistance is in vain;
and, when you stood revealed, my eyes
feasted on shoulders, breasts and thighs.
I held you hard and down you slid
beside me, as we knew you would.
Oh, come to me again as then you did!
 Aesthetically, Ovid’s poem has a cinematic focus, a unity of image and feeling, which the Hoagland cannot replicate, as Hoagland’s poem is more rambling, more meditative, more intellectual—though Hoagland does struggle mightily to make it all into one theme: the whole bursting and excessive, yet fragile and doubtful, aspect of sex, as experienced by an intellectual yet ordinary, American.
And the winner is…
Hoagland upsets Ovid, 81-80 in OT!!
Congratulations to Tony Hoagland!!!


    • thomasbrady said,

      April 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm

      The idea of “Romantic spume” or Romantic excess or what Hoagland refers to in his winning poem: “Nature making beauty, throwing it away, making more,” is close to what Shakespeare advocates in his Sonnets: the cure for sorrow and death is breeding, or to put it as simply as possible: More. You don’t pause to grasp or mourn, you keep producing…excess is the only cure for sorrow. It is the philosophy of the Greater. It is often disparaged by moderns who counter-embrace ‘small is beautiful.’

  1. April 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    “….Nature is blooming and withering in long puffy respirations, rising and falling in oceanic wave-motion. A mind that opened itself fully to nature without sentimental preconception would be glutted by nature’s coarse materialism, its relentless superfluity. An apple tree laden with fruit: how peaceful, how picturesque. But remove the rosy filter of humanism from our gaze and look again. See nature spuming and frothing, its mad spermatic bubbles endlessly spilling out and smashing in that inhuman round of waste, rot, and carnage. From the jammed glassy cells of sea roe to the feathery spores poured into the air from bursting green pods, nature is a festering hornet’s nest of aggression and overkill. This is the chthonian black magic with which we are infected as sexual beings; this is the daemonic identity that Christianity so inadequately defines as original sin and thinks it can cleanse us of. Procreative woman is the most troublesome obstacle to Christianity’s claim to catholicity, testified by its wishful doctrines of Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth. The procreativeness of chthonian nature is an obstacle to all of western metaphysics and to each man in his quest for identity against his mother. Nature is the seething excess of being….”

    Camille Paglia

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      Thank you, Spume support.

      Yes, I’m familiar with this passage!

      It’s one of Paglia’s defining moments!

      She puts it in rather stark terms, depressing terms…and she makes “Procreative Woman” an “obstacle” to “Christianity” and “western metaphysics,” which is quite a negative spin, and I don’t agree…but I understand where she’s coming from, poetically…but the uses of this passage are endless…spume, indeed…

  2. June 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    The House of Sleepe

    (from Ovid: Metamorphoses XI, 583 sq., trans. by Arthur Golding;
    adapted for musical treatment by composer Richard Rodney Bennett)

    Dame Iris takes her pall wherein a thousand colours were,
    And bowing like a stringéd bow upon the cloudy sphere
    Immediately descended to the drowzy house of sleepe,
    Whose court the clowdes continually do clocely overcreepe.
    Among the dark Cimmerians is a hollow mountain found,
    And in the hill a cave that far doth run within the ground,
    The chamber and the dwelling place where slouth sleepe doth cowtch.
    The light of Phoebus’ golden beams this place can never touch.
    A foggye mist with dimnesse next steams upward from the ground,
    And glimmering twylyght evermore within the same is found.
    No watchful bird with barbie bill and combéd crowne dooth call
    The morning forth with crowing out. There is no noyse at all
    Of waking dogge or gagling goose, more waker than the hound
    To hinder sleepe. Of beast ne wyld ne tame there is no sound:
    No boughes are stirred with blastes of wind, no noyse of tatling tongue
    Of man or woman ever yet within that bower rung.
    Dumb quiet dwelleth there, yet from the roches foot dooth go
    The river of forgetfulnesse, which runneth trickling so
    Upon the little pebblestones that in the channel lye,
    That unto sleepe a great deale more it doth provoke thereby.
    Before the entry of the cave there growes of Poppye store,
    With seeded heades and other weedes innumerable more,
    Out of the milkie jewce of which the night doth gather sleepes,
    And over all the shadowéd earth with darkish dew them dreepes.
    Because the craking hindges of the doore no noise should make,
    There is no doore nor porter at the gate.
    Amid the cave of Ebonye a bedstead standeth bye,
    And on the same a bed of downe with keeverings black doth lye,
    In which the drowzy God of Sleepe his lither limbs doth rest.
    About him, forging sundrye shapes as many dreams be prest,
    As eares of corne doo stand in fieldes in harvest time, or leaves
    Doo grow trees, or sea to shore of sandye cinder heaves.
    Thus came Iris into this hold,
    And to the bed which is all black she goeth,
    And there with sleepe she spake.
    O sleepe, the rest of things, the gentlest of the goddes,
    Sweete sleepe, the peace of mind with whom crookt care is aye at oddes :
    Which cherishest mennes weary limbs, appalled with toyling sore,
    And makest them as fresh to work and lusty as before,
    Command a Dreame that in their kindes can everything expresse,
    To Trachine, Hercles towne, himselfe this instant to addresse.
    And let him lively counterfeit to Queene Alcyonea
    The magic of her husband who is drowned in the sea.
    Juno willeth so. Hir message being told Dame Iris
    Went her way, she could her eyes no longer hold from sleepe.
    But when she felt it come she fled that instant tyme.
    And by the bowe that brought her downe, to heaven again did clyme.

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