No poetry can save
The poetry that is going
Into the brain of the poet;
In poetry there is too much knowing.

Outside it’s raining; inside it’s snowing.
No poetry can save
The poetry that is going
Into the brain of the poet.
In poetry there is too much knowing.

When I was young, I was brave.
I only wrote verses when I gave
Verses to someone knowing
I loved.  I wasn’t going.
Blood has been known to stain the wave.

Poetry cannot save
Though old age rave,
Reformers change the grave,

Or charity says how much it gave.

No poetry can save
The poetry that is going
Into the eye of the brain.

In poetry there is too much knowing.
The landscape’s dry. The art is showing.



We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed by dim but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast.  –Poe, “Eureka”

You are not you, and I am not I,
We are each other: mutual tears, that crying, we cry.
We are each other, and so we must cry
Tears of joy and tears of sorrow
For all partiality must die tomorrow.
We are God; we shall not die
Except to remember our weeping goodbye
When my deity asked your deity not to die.
We are God. God dies not.
Meet me in that shady spot
Where once we lingered, talking and kissing;
The world will look and find us missing.
You’ll be the one resembling a tree
And the roots and the arms will be me.


It might be safe to say that the most popular debate in American literature over the last 50 years has been this one:

Were the lyrics of Jim Morrison and The Doors good poetry?  Or crap?

Is inspired crap, crap, or inspired?


Good news for Doors fans.

The Doors produced real poetry.

It is common for twenty-somethings to reject feelings they had as adolescents, but when it comes to the Doors, the 16 year old is correct and the 26 year old is wrong. 

The Doors made truly good music tinged with real poetry.

Jim Morrison’s sex god, drug-addled, drunken, reputation, the Doors’ predilection for producing hard rock ‘hits,’ the relative simplicity of their music, all conspire to make one ashamed, as one ages, to hold onto one’s early impression that Doors music was good poetry.  But it was. 

Sometimes we are “shamed” in the wrong direction.

The Doors understood what all poets must understand: less is more.   Okay, lots of people understand this, but few really understand this most important principle, and further, carry it out in practice.  Here’s an example:

You’re Lost Little Girl, from Strange Days

You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost, tell me who are you

Think that you know what to do,
Impossible yes, but it’s true
I think that you know what to do, yeah,
Sure that you know what to do

You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost little girl,
You’re lost, tell me who are you

These are exquisite lyrics; they are highly suggestive, saying as little as possible. 

“You’re lost little girl” packs an emotional punch, and it does so neatly and swiftly with the assonance of “lost, little” and “little, girl.” 

A “lost little girl” has deep ramifications, like Poe’s “the death of a beautiful woman;” what could be more haunting than a “lost little girl?” 

Now look what this brief lyric does: it takes the overt meaning of the phrase in its sexist, blues context: the woman, or sex object, needs to be ‘saved’ or ‘taught’ by the man: Hey, little girl, you’re lost, and flips it: it’s the girl who teaches the man: “I think that you know what to do, impossible yes, but it’s true…”

Since the music of the song is soft, melodic, and haunting, and not bluesy or raunchy at all, a broader and more interesting scenario is invoked: a girl, maybe an actual “little girl,” wise beyond her years, not a sex object, who is lost, and yet, knows “what to do.”  And so “lost” does not mean helpless, but miraculously knowing. It is the singer/narrator/lover who is “lost,” not the “little girl.”  Yet this is only suggested to the listener.  The song is an understated, swooning, and subtle epiphany of psychological reversal.  There is no clumsy over-explaining.  The song tells us very little—and yet emotionally this song is subtle and powerful.

Here’s another example: Not seeing (less) is better than seeing (more).

I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind, from Strange Days

I can’t see your face in my mind,
I can’t see your face in my mind,
Carnival dogs consume the lines,
Can’t see your face in my mind

Don’t you cry, baby, please don’t cry,
And don’t look at me with your eyes.
I can’t seem to find the right lie,
I can’t seem to find the right lie

Insanity’s horse adorns the sky,
Can’t seem to find the right lie,
I won’t need your picture
until we say good-bye

Does this song reek of morbid, staring-at-the-ground adolescence?  A little, yes.  But there’s also a delicate and haunting quality that partakes of the universal: who hasn’t tried to see one’s beloved in one’s mind—and failed?  The beautiful aspect that we really love always seems mysteriously just out of reach—like the very reason we passionately love someone in the first place.  “I won’t need your picture until we say goodbye” wittily sums up the trope of the poem.  There’s just the right amount of desperate longing, frozen by paradox, expressed throughout: a lie, the “right lie,” is sought, but cannot be found. Not only can’t we see, but we can’t find the right way to lie about what we see (or feel?) either.  And what would “insanity’s horse” do but “adorn the sky,” anyway?  Hinted at in this somewhat hackneyed image is the genitalia hanging over us like the moon or the sun, the overt sexuality which is “insane” due to the inability to “see your face in my mind,” which is spiritual, “face” and “mind” belonging to a place above mere sexuality, and yet, the failure of the lover to see the beloved’s face in his mind provokes a frustration with his mind—or is it with the face? 

Contrast the Doors ‘not seeing’ to the chest-beating, working-class Who: “I can see for miles and miles,” or Dylan, who tends to rhyme just to rhyme, and practices a “eveything but the kitchen sink” brand of poetry. Rhyming to excess can be effective emotionally, and the assertiveness of the crass, unromantic, ‘you, bitch!,’ “I can see for miles and miles” may work due to its fanciful excess (“miles and miles”) for the same reason: excess will travel past “more” and return to “less,” if it’s done well.  But the Doors are simply working in a more poetic element.

The Beatles’ “All you need is love” is preachy, but “She loves you” is poetic, since “she loves you” is a second-hand, lessening of the more direct “I love you.” 

Poetry always triumphs as “less over more” (or second-hand over first-hand) and the Doors are poetic in this important sense.

The tree reflected in the lake is more poetic than the tree.

Ray Manzarek first heard a Morrison song recited, he says, by Morrison when the two of them were sitting on Venice Beach, before the band was formed.  Manzarek heard Morrison’s talent and Manzarek was smart enough (or perhaps it was something of an accident) to fit the Doors sound—hauntingly simple, catchy, direct, moody but not formless or bloated—to the lyrics; the Doors music was, even in its dramatic and Wagnerian guise, less rather than more—the musical solos brief, the instrumentation, simple.

The song Morrison introduced to Manzarek almost 50 years ago was “Moonlight Drive,” whose title says a lot: “moonlight,” impressionistic, haunting atmosphere, plus “drive,” its opposite, providing an aesthetic counter-tension.

Anyone, 16 years old, or 26, or 86, can hear the poetry of

Let’s swim to the moon,
Let’s climb to the tide,
You reach your hand to hold me
But I can’t be your guide,
Even though I love you
As I watch you glide…

The pairing of ‘swim’ with ‘moon’ and ‘climb’ with ‘tide’—one would expect ‘climb’ to match up with ‘moon’ and ‘swim’ with ‘tide’—is nice, not only for a more interesting meaning, but the pairs ‘swim’ and ‘moon’ and ‘climb’ and ‘tide’ are both bound by a closer sound relationship.  It’s just lovely. 

Add the helpless, desperate, letting-go quality (“I can’t be your guide”) to the mood invoked by “moon” and “tide” and “let’s swim,” and one almost has a genuine poetic quality that belongs very strongly to the Doors and makes them unique, because they do it the best.  Sure, this might belong to impressionistic, decadent, modern poetry, and not to strong Homeric poetry, and it may not be as sublime as the great Romantics and it’s not great literature, no; but for its type, it’s very strong, and for rock musicians, it is probably the best around.

Like most figures from the 60s, Manzarek faded into the light of common day as he grew away from that era; defending Jim as a poet and an intellectual and a sensitive soul (which Morrison must have been to a certain degree) was in Ray’s best interest, but it felt genuine when he did so. Manzarek, without a Morrison to play behind, became a preachy, avant-garde, hipster, pedant.  Morrison may have looked old at 27 when the Doors were almost done, but Manzarek had that bespectacled, older look right from the start.

The Doors don’t need pedantic professors to tell anyone they were good.

And the “wise” twenty/thirty-somethings usually get them wrong, too.

So long, Ray.


I love sleep. I cannot wake
From my dreams which contain dreams:
Poison discovered at the bottom of the cup.
My reality is not poisoned by what seems.
Reality is increased by illusion; illusion selects
The island for the island-play.  The boat race
Is world-wide and made for sorrow and wrecks
No sorrow can save; otherwise fate were owned by someone.

Poets are the weariest sailors.  You might see one
Or you might never see one.  What do you know of the world?
Have you wrestled with hopes, sorrow, envy,
Fought beyond all senses, steered with sails furled
Because the stream’s underground?  Have you seen the sun
Furiously stand still while you had to hold the world?
Or sailed with sailors about to mutiny?
Forced to return or they would cut your throat?
But most important, did you have the mind
To make your sufferings more than sufferings?
I dreamed you sailed in a wooden, perfumed boat.
You were asleep, I think, and this pen was at your throat.


They don’t always tell you what you need to know.
In the crowded corridors where they whispered low,
They don’t know, they don’t know, they don’t know.

The truth is in chains and ignorance all aglow.
They don’t always tell you what you need to know.

In the corner, by the awning, someone was crying,
The blossoms are here, but the blossoms are dying.
The trees are tall and you never saw them grow.
They don’t always tell you what you need to know.

The friendly spokesman had a song in his voice.
You were given the brochure and were sure of the choice.
In that light you knew how much you would owe.
They don’t always tell you what you need to know.

They felt the oppressors were fully in the wrong.
They put it in a textbook, they put it in a song.
But you still need to work.  And they have a show.
They don’t always tell you what you need to know.

You were not at the meeting where it was decided
The secret thing would be derided,
The thing that was your thing in the waters below.
They don’t always tell you what you need to know.

They made it as a sandwich.  They made all sorts of decisions
Which hollowed out your thoughts and trampled your visions.
You thought it wouldn’t matter. It happened so slow.
They don’t always tell you what you need to know.

Don’t tell them you’re happy. Walk out into row after row.
Some nonsense at twilight will be their undoing,
The wise who didn’t tell you what you needed to know.


Legum Servi Sumus Ut Liberi Esse Possimuslegum Servi Sumus Ut Liberi Esse Possimus

I might not go, I might not go.
Now that she’s there
And now that you know.

I might not go, I might not go.
For she’s very rare—
Which you seem to know.

I might not go, I might not go.
For she has a care
That one day you’ll know.

I might not go, I might not go.
But look how you stare,
As if you don’t know!

I might not go, I might not go.
You ask what to wear.
Could it be you don’t know?

I might not go, I might not go.
How much would a woman dare
In ignorance? I’ll go.


Is story-telling food for the fool?

Scarriet often gives poetry a hard time, and this, we are sure, offends various poets and those who teach poetry—who are really trying the best they can, etc ok don’t cry.  To restore a little balance, we thought we might take a brief look at poetry’s brother: narrative fiction.

We make a big deal about how important “the public” is, and how poetry has no “public,” and this is all true—but we know people look around (especially the proud and self-flattering avant-garde) and think, yea but the public is stupid!  And much that gets the public’s attention is really, really stupid.  So how does that fit into all this talk about the importance of “the public?”

We’re glad you asked.

First, the public doesn’t have to be smart to be important; the public is important because it’s the public—that’s simply a given, and any imbecile who tries to make themselves feel better by saying they are smarter than the public, or the public doesn’t understand them, etc does not earn our admiration; nor should this attitude earn anyone’s admiration.  It is pure folly.  The public doesn’t have to have any admirable qualities: the public is us; the public, good or bad, is the clay from which all models are made.

But let’s put that aside for a moment—we know you, dear reader, are one of those exceptions who are truly smart, etc.   No, we are serious.  Let’s assume you are.  This still does not change the truth put forth in the previous paragraph on the importance of the public.  If this is understood, we may proceed. 

Why does this public, too slovenly and short-0f-attention-span to enjoy the ‘news-that-stays-news’ of poetry, gobble up best-selling novels—which take such a long time to read?  Dear Public: You won’t take one minute to read a poem—but you’ll take a month to read a novel??  Does that make any sense?

The public is supposedly too unfocused to concentrate for sixty seconds on a poem, but dwells for hours in front of made-up abstractions otherwise known as video narratives. 

We hear so often about the importance of narrative, and how narrative is the basis of everything, and how everyone loves a story, and poetry is no longer popular because it has abandoned narrative.

Is narrative the solution to poetry’s demise?

We think not.

Narrative—and its popularity—may just be at the heart of that stupidity of which the public is so often accused.  The public cannot (should not) be impugned, but narrative may be affecting the public negatively if we examine the matter at hand, instead of merely flattering ourselves by denigrating the public.

To make a proper judgement, we should begin with nature, rather than the words of some professor. 

A beautiful face, (and painters here will know what I mean) a beautiful physique, a form, or picture of great beauty, instantaneously recognized, is nature’s language, and the languge of the most profound art through the ages.

But imagine then, a face which requires a narrative to unfold its beauty.

It would not be a face at all.

Nature would laugh at such a crude method as narrative to present her wares.

The greatest beauty is destroyed by narrative.

Narrative does not enhance attention and focus and appreciation of beauty; it weakens and attenuates it.

Narrative depends on forgetfulness and primitive curiosity—an infant’s peek-a-boo amusement.

Gaps in memory, gaps which destroy the continuity of artistic unity, are the building blocks of narrative.

No wonder frivolously infatuated simpletons are capable of sustaining tremendous focus on novels and films—it is precisely because narrative amuses the part of the brain which keeps forgetting what has just transpired, essentially training it away from artistic unity and towards abstracted know-nothing-ism.

That which is impressive, and beautiful, is so immediately, and should be able to sustain that excellence in every part.

Narrative deceives and lulls us into an expectation that: ‘well, eventually, if I stick with this, it will all make sense—or, there will be a pay-off.’ 

When there is no pay-off, it is too late; the investment has been made, the text has been read, the gaps of memory have asserted themselves, the focus has lapsed, and pride prevents the reader from admitting the narrative, as narrative, betrayed them.

The standard has been imperceptibly lowered.

The TempestThe David, The Mona Lisa, The Ode To A Nightingale have been replaced by The Sad and Pitiful Narrative of Boozy Suzy Singsaw.

The poem should be precisely like the painting, or the work of architecture, in its appeal to artistic unity, in its beauty immediately seen in its first line and apparent to its last, even in that unfolding temporality which sets it somewhat apart from products for the eye.

The novel is far too long to sustain true artistic unity.  (See Poe: A long poem does not exist.)  The novel—because of its length—is for simpletons.

The short novel, The Great Gatsby, a favorite with the public, and published when many were producing either political tracts or miserable little experiments of Modernism, is often produced as a movie—which turns out to be a miserable failure.  Why?  Because the purveyors of narrative are unable to comprehend why The Great Gatsby is popular.  Stripped of the narrative-less beauty of its prose and produced as a narrative (film), the movie-maker, still uncomprehending, no doubt, comes face to face with the truth.


Okay, first…poetry now does suck, so let’s stop pretending it doesn’t.

We shall demolish the simple argument most commonly used to defend today’s poetry: Every era has good and bad poetry.

Yes, every era has good and bad poetry, true.

However, today we have something completely different: bad poetry is celebrated.

To be faced with “good and bad poetry” is easy for the public, for it simply rejects the bad poetry and enjoys the good.

But today poetry has no public, and for a very simple reason.

It’s a no-brainer.

The public has a deep mistrust of the product—and why?

Not because the public is afraid of running into some bad poetry amid the good.

The problem goes much deeper than that.

The public has checked out because it doesn’t believe that good poetry is possible anymore.

The public believes that poetry-at-large, poetry-in-the-main, poetry written and published today, is not operating with any standard of good and bad at all.

This public perception is so overwhelmingly the fact, that it doesn’t matter that good poetry somewhere is being published—the public has no way of finding it.

None of this is speculation; it is the simple truth, and those in the poetry business know this better than anyone: poetry has no disinterested public: the only people reading poetry are poets, or people who wish to be called poets.

“Poet” used to be up there with chef, musician, baseball player, or architect.

Now “poet” refers to either 1) professor or 2) homeless person.

“Poet” doesn’t even refer  to “someone who writes poetry,” anymore.

“Poet” doesn’t even refer to “someone who writes bad poetry,” anymore.

Good—and thus bad—poetry simply doesn’t exist—for the simple reason that for at least two generations now, poets celebrated in academia—where poetry published and reviewed in the public sphere now resides—write what is felt by the public to be bad poetry.

That’s how bad it is, now.

Poet no longer means “someone who writes poetry.”

When it hears the word, “poet,” the public immediately thinks of homeless person or professor, with the common traits: self-centered, hard-to-understand, pretentious, boring.

Even if the public is caught off-guard and finds an interesting topic associated with a poem, it is never interesting because the interesting topic resides in a poem, but only because the interesting topic happens to be touched on by the poem—and this “fortunate” event only increases the public perception outlined above.

If poetry has no public, then poetry qua poetry must suck, because if poetry is good but has no public, how is that doing the public any good?  Poetry, like music, must have a public to exist, because poetry, and its sister art, music, exist for the public, not the other way around.

Even the most rabid Language Poet Avant-garde Crazy person would not assert that the public exists for poetry.

So let us say that poetry does not exist for the public, but exists for some other reason.

Let someone tell us what that reason is.

There is no reply.  There cannot be any reply.

The underlying reason why bad poetry is celebrated in academia is because of how poetry is produced.

Without a public, how can poetry have any material standards of excellence? The answer is, it does not.

How did poetry lose its public?  It lost it when the place it got made was removed from the public sphere and put in the university.

This is known as the Creative Writing industry.

Imagine a wine industry with no grapes, no wine-makers and no wine tasting.

Imagine a wine industry—made entirely of wine critics who do nothing but write about wine.

This, without any exaggeration, is where poetry—as an industry—is today.


Everyone is going,
The swift and the saintly,
Surrendering to the call,
To the heart’s dungeon,
Where eyes do not help—
This is where we fall.

Everyone is a monster,
Monsters to themselves,
Monsters where day eats night.
You kissed me with your face,
Your face kissed my face
In my monstrous plight.

Everyone has places
No one else can see,
Where alone, the heart goes.
Could you be happy
With a love glimpsed in the past?
Ask this heart—surely it knows.

Everyone is attached:
Robins in the trees,
Salamanders in the lakes;
Your heart knew a heart—
And when hearts find hearts,
Another heart breaks.

Everyone is forgotten,
Or wishes to be forgotten,
Behind the ocean’s delicate spray,
The mist that once knew you,
But now joins the ocean
And falls like a tear in the gray.


Goethe and Burns battle with poems of exquisite love.  Post-modern theories in abeyance, here is civilizing emotion, whose benefits justify these stupid sentiments.  Be stupid, be sentimental, be civilized, be happy, is the secret of the old poets.

THE VIOLET—Johann Goethe (trans. A.S. Kline)

A violet in the meadow grew,
Bowed to earth, and hid from view:
It was a dear sweet violet.
Along came a young shepherdess
Free of heart, and light of step,
Came by, came by,
Singing, through the flowers.

Oh! Thought the violet, were I,
If only for a little while,
Nature’s sweetest flower yet,
Till my Beloved picked me, pressed
Me fainting, dying to her breast!
So I might lie,

There, for but an hour!
Alas! Alas! The girl went past:
Unseen the violet in the grass,
Was crushed, poor violet.
It drooped and died, and yet it cried:
‘And though I die, yet still I die
By her, by her,
By her feet passing by.

A FOND KISS—Bobby Burns

A fond kiss, and then we sever;
A farewell, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy,
Nothing could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love forever.
Had we never lov’d say kindly,
Had we never lov’d say blindly,
Never met–or never parted–
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.
Fare thee well, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee well, thou best and dearest!
Thine be like a joy and treasure,
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!
A fond kiss, and then we sever;
A farewell, alas, forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!

The pathos of the German poet is irresistible, even though Burns’ famous words, “Had we never lov’d say kindly, Had we never lov’d say blindly, Never met–or never parted–We had ne’er been broken hearted,” sums up the pain of love memorably.

Goethe 81 Burns 78

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe advances to the Sweet 16!


Eileen Myles: Nature offers so few choices.  Man. Woman. What a drag.  But the real dilemma: avant-garde outside the institution has no cred.

The most memorable moment at the sunny but chilly 2013 Massachusetts poetry festival in Salem, May 3-5, was when poet Terrance Hayes said at the podium: “I didn’t realize Salem was on the coast; I wish I had brought a jacket.”

I didn’t realize Salem was on the coast.  I wish I had brought a jacket.

This was the most memorable moment in the festival.  Why?

Because here was a headlining poet talking to an assembled crowd and

1) admitting he didn’t know something.

2) without feeling he had to be clever, related a simple, physical fact.

It was beautiful.

Unfortunately family trauma had to be turned into poems, so we got those.

It was pretty much the usual:

1. Familial framework filled with ruminative imagery much too difficult to understand, or

2. Indignant ethnical framework filled with belabored association.

It seems the geometric shape of a circle can be contemplated with a great deal of profit when one’s cousin stabs a policeman in the eye.

Ghosts are almost never black people, even though blacks have very good reason to haunt their killers; but the poet, in this instance, does not believe in ghosts anyway; what is more arresting to the poet is the fact of a body floating from a tree twelve feet off the ground.

Hayes got in some powerful moments; he is both a good poet and sincere in what he is doing.

If you are a black person in that room, you present black stuff, etc.  But you don’t want to overdo it, so you  present your black stuff as poetry—which, by default, in the modern/post-modern climate, becomes “difficult” stuff that only in flashes makes its indignation felt, which actually can be quite effective, just in terms of pure performance and timing.  Which is perhaps one of the reasons ethnic poetry is overtaking language poetry right now: performance and timing has always been a crowd pleaser (relatively speaking, at least).

Hayes delivered, and delivered well, what all have come to expect in that small, closed, stuffy room known as po-biz.  No one in that stuffy room had a clue what he was talking about most of the time, but that’s what fans of respectable poetry have come to expect.

Speaking of  the room in po-biz, Eileen Myles referred to it recently in a polite (this is po-biz, after all) attack on Marjorie Perloff:

I feel like the back story of Marjorie’s avant garde mandate is mourning. I think Perloff has sustained an enormous amount of loss in her life and along with her championing of avant garde practice in her criticism she’s also deeply engaged in controlling the emotional climate of the room she’s in. Who gets to feel what when, and how! And that’s a problem because poetry is a community not an institution and we’re always at multiple purposes here in this room. When she opens her piece with Jed Rasula’s assertion of the problem of there being too many poets I wonder why neither of them notice that in the mainstream there aren’t any poets. We’re mainly hearing that no poets are being read. That there’s no understanding of poetry today.

Myles reminds Perloff and Rasula that “poetry is a community not an institution” and that “in the mainstream there aren’t any poets.”

But Myles, because she is stung by the avant-garde bug herself, does not go far enough. Poetry is poetry inasmuch as it reflects that primitive poetic sensibility which exists in everyone. The modern extenuation can be novel and exciting, but only so if it is understood by everyone, for the original and universal sensibility naturally feels it as such.  If poetry is not seen as something that expresses what all people already feel it will continue to exist 1) outside the mainstream and 2) as an institution, not a community.

As Myles surely knows, “mourning” and “loss” affect everyone, and all poetry, and in fact all art, all writing, and all human endeavor involves either “loss” or preventing “loss.”  The act of writing pre-supposes absence.  And that’s just for starters.

Myles, representing the bodily, grounded, political aspect of the avant-garde, extends a desperate hand to Perloff, theoretical elitist, in the name of “mourning” and “loss,” believing Perloff to have “sustained an enormous amount of loss in her life,” but this is to concede far too much to Perloff and lose the whole argument before Myles has even begun, not because Perloff hasn’t suffered “loss,” but because everyone has.

Myles belongs to the expansive, pluralistic, democratic, street version of the avant-garde—which is why she opposes Perloff, who is narrower and more theoretical—and therefore Myles is almost in a position to define poetry as Scarriet does; but Myles cannot, because Myles ultimately needs to defend her avant-garde creds.  Myles is a part of the problem as much as Perloff is.  This is the institutional game in which the institutional members flatter each other, and Myles proclaiming Perloff’s unique loss is doing this, and Myles is not even aware of what she’s doing.  Myles is not tough.  She’s extremely nice.

Myles cannot be a radical democrat defining poetry from a true human, universal, pre-existing, standpoint, precisely because of her (and this is very common in the avant-garde) theoretical pluralism:

I arrived on the scene in New York in my 20s landing very deliberately in the avant garde where it seemed everyone I met took it upon himself to pass on to me ze avant garde canon as he saw it. There were so many approaches and rightnesses and because I already came from a doctrinaire catholic background I wasn’t so open to learning from some man of my age or older “the truth.” My avant garde then & now was composed of a shaky imagined grid holding a multiple of approaches. ***  I think of the reader as somebody who deserves something other than a recitation from the long phallic night of my heart whether that recitation takes the form of personal expression or a wily conceptual sound poem.

Myles does not want to hear “the truth” from “some man.” Myles is unable to see that her “multiple approaches” approach is not democratic, but elitist—poetry common to all is vigorously and academically defeated by sly, doctrinaire pluralism; the “truth from some man” is a straw man invented by Myles to relieve her own institutional/avant-garde guilt.

Marjorie Perloff, on the other hand, has no trouble believing she has a unique poetic sensibility which only a couple of thousand people possess and that it is her duty to bring this unique wisdom to as many people as possible.

But there is no such thing as a unique poetic sensibility—poetry is precisely poetry in its social universality.

The phenomenon is what might be called the big tent/small tent syndrome: poetry, the big tent, can have a lot of small tents under it, but fanatical small-tentism is what finally kills the universal appeal of poetry.

Myles, like Perloff, is unable to champion poetry as a pre-existing sensibility common to all humanity, for this is precisely where the avant-garde cannot compromise, for this marks the break, the avant-garde break, of those like Pound and Eliot with High Romanticism, not to mention the break with countless others:  Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, and already we see the list has too many dead white males for Myles.  Myles, when push comes to shove, finally joins Perloff in the avant-garde boat.  Ironically, right-wing goons like Pound and Eliot mandated the break with poets like Shelley, a break which avant-garde left-wingers Myles must stylistically and institutionally obey.

The institution is precisely what fills up poetry’s universal vessel with what makes it avant-garde—and inscrutable to the mainstream.  Academic study of poetry is not some guild which teaches the craft of poetry; it is instead a default scholarly pursuit which happens to co-exist with poetry, but really has nothing to do with it.  Freedom to ‘write any poetry you want’ destroys the freedom to ‘write poetry that, as poetry, precisely prevents writing anything you want.’  In academia, the first (excessive) freedom has replaced the second (universal poetic) freedom, and this is what has taken poetry out of the mainstream.

Since poetry which is ‘respected’ and ‘awarded’ now belongs to ‘the scholarly,’ all commentary on poetry is caught in the scholarly web; poetry is doomed to fade further from public consciousness.

The more poetry attempts to be ‘relevant’ as a force for ethnicity, capitalist-critique, the newest fashionable phase of its own existence, etc, the more irrelevant it becomes.  Poetry as ‘stand up comedy’ was the default public success for poets at the mic at Salem, but this is only comic relief a short distance from the classroom.  Professional comics are funnier. When poetry is everything it is nothing.  Poetry is the helpless fly kicking in the unfriendly spider web of academic ‘scholarship.’

Poetry is not historical; it is not chronological, finally.

Poetry is a passion, not a study, Poe once said; a histrionic-sounding protest, perhaps, but now we see what he meant—for study (scholarship) is not poetry’s friend; high-sounding scholarship has seduced poetry.

The relationship is not necessarily nefarious; it is an innocent error, perhaps; but the damage has been done.

Poetry as a scholarly pursuit no longer exists as poetry.

The simple truth is that poetry which the world understands as poetry is the poetry of Shelley, no matter how vociferously avant-garde scholars protest.

We understand the radical nature of our thesis: Not ‘commentary on Shelley.’  The actual poetry of Shelley is—poetry.

Will the truth flash upon the scholar’s soul?

Salem is on the coast.

Marjorie Perloff has suffered a great amount of loss.


The rebellious Antigone comes to bury her dishonored brother.

The controversy surrounding the remains of the first Marathon Bomber is revealing Boston, Cambridge, and other Massachusetts communities as not quite as enlightened as denizens of that liberal region of the country would like the rest of the world to think: “dust to dust” is time-honored, but officials in Massachusetts are kicking up a lot of it in denying a simple spot to a soul whose fate now belongs to God, not them.

The cowardly bombing attack, it seems, was not an act against reason, America, or humanity, but against Boston, and now the provincial fury has carried over to Boston’s mayor and Cambridge’s top official refusing burial rites, calling to mind Sophocles’ Antigone—Boston dust is too soul-precious to cover the dust of a fled soul.

We understand the tears and anger felt throughout Boston and the Massachusetts Commonwealth.

But we also note tribalism rearing its ugly head.

This debate over dust recalls Rupert Brooke’s famous poem, “The Soldier.”

Rupert Brooke was part of the Dymock Poets in England (with Robert Frost, an unknown poet then visiting England to get known—and it worked) and this marks the 100th anniversary of a group nearly forgotten, perhaps due to Ezra Pound’s over-loud reputation.  The Dymock Poets thought little of Pound and he even less of them. Pound challenged one of them to a duel.

The Imagists, an even smaller clique than the Dymock Poets, prevailed as “true” Modernists, even though Frost—not a joiner, but part of the Dymocks—was making poetry sound more like speech and the Dymocks, like the Imagists, presented themselves as the new thing after the Georgians.

The Dymock Poets lost members to the First World War (the Imagists lost T.E. Hulme) and Frost soon left for America to make it big as a “New” England poet.

But back to dust and tribalism:

Is it tribalism when the tribe is as big as the British Empire?

The Soldier—Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.



A crowd was at the station before you,
Women in various shapes,
The ones who had sons
Proud of their sons,
Grandmothers also in the crowd
Calling out to their children’s
Children who swarmed
Into the station, too.
Then you arrived, alone,
Lonely; it was just you.

They all wore dark colors, mostly black,
A dark-haired people with strong faces
Who wore dark colors well.
They all tumbled forward,
Plain in their stock dress.
And then you arrived, alone,
Wearing black,
An emotional mess.

Why had they gathered at the station,
And where were they bound?
And when I took your hand,
What had I found?


Reading over Silliman’s blog-links (he sometimes links a Scarriet article, and we’ll notice a small jump in our readership) I came across a little piece by the poet and Ahsahta press editor, Janet Holmes, in which she  reveals how po-piz actually works:

1.  Invite book submissions to your press by holding an annual poetry prize contest: almost 700 for Holmes to read this year.

2.  Have the MFA grad class students you teach be your editorial board, so you can teach a class and edit your press at the same time.

3.  Avoid teaching anything of substance: poetry is anything group experience finds it to be; poetry study is nothing more than a navigation of social agreement.

These are the three pillars of Po-Biz.

There is no other successful way.

This is it.

1 and 2 are how you do it and 3 must be the underpinning of 1 and 2. Lure with prizes. Use students as fodder. No substance except in social agreement.

Janet Holmes, and other successful members of the poetry industry will never come out and state it quite this explicitly, but this is how poetry operates in practical terms as an art form today.

Holmes is humbly and sincerely talking about herself—as she unknowingly exposes the truth of Poetry Incorporated.

First, look at how busy she is:

The month of April coincides with the time of year that I’m finishing reading entries for the annual poetry prize Ahsahta Press conducts. I have spent the past months reading somewhere between 600 and 700 books that individuals have spent months, often years, writing and organizing.

Second, she readily admits that she is always learning from others’ manuscripts in terms of her judgment, her editing, her writing, and her teaching:

It’s impossible not to appreciate the commitment that goes into this work. Every time I read a manuscript I reassess what I think differentiates the best poetry from the good,  the good from the rest, and the exercise affects my editing, my own writing, and my teaching.

Third, she is forthcoming about her judgment criteria and acknowledges  how there is such a thing, in her opinion, as hastily composed, bad work:

A friend of mine who ran a reading series in Cincinnati tells a story about her mentor telling her she thought everyone should write poetry.

“Have you ever been to an open mic?” my friend asked.

“No,” replied the older poet.

That’s the end of the story, and it always draws a laugh. We’ve all been to readings where someone gets up to read excruciatingly bad work, often for a longer time than we wish to hear it. Sometimes it’s someone who says—as if the fact vouches for the poem’s authenticity or for the poet’s true vocation—“I just wrote this last night,” and we (who would never read last night’s production!) shudder.  Surely the person who thought “everyone” should write poetry would realize the error of her ways and take that statement back!

Fourth, she is humble enough to question judgment itself:

I don’t think everyone should write poetry, any more than I think everyone should be an operatic singer. But I do think that people who write poetry get something from the experience, and that in doing that writing they (may) become more aware of the poetry others write and measure their own against it. The more poetry they read, the better their own poetry may become. So my question goes to us, to the people in the open mic audience: what makes us so sure we know what’s good?

Fifth, she illuminates that process where her teaching and publishing meet:

During the spring semesters, when the contest is running, I teach a class of MFA grad students in Small Press Production. We discuss many aspects of small press publishing, but one of the major things we do is to read submissions to the press as that year’s editorial board. Every week, the students report on what they’ve found among their assigned manuscripts. They make notes on what they’ve read and they report to us all (often showing the manuscript on a screen) what they found interesting or deficient in a particular book. The manuscript is passed along to others for closer reading. Eventually it’s sent to the “Yes” folder, where everyone in class is required to read it and make notes; other times, it’s sent to the pile that means it’s “not for us.”

During these months of reading, each student is learning something about what he or she thinks makes an excellent book of poetry, but it’s not because I’m telling the class what’s “good” and what’s “bad.” Each student has to define these parameters personally, and in defining what they want to say “Yes” to they can’t help but notice how the manuscripts they prefer are organized, how the poems are focused or oblique in their presentation, what level of diction works for them or doesn’t. There is no consensus, and all of us learn from each others’ presentations.

As I’m writing this, I’m preparing for the Big Day, which is when each student presents a top-10 list of the manuscripts they think Ahsahta should publish. The board’s goal is to send from 15 to 20 of these books to our final judge, who will select a winner. I, too, have my top-10 list (actually, there are 23 books on my list!), and if this year is like others, there will be a great deal of overlap between my list and theirs. Every member of this editorial board will have manuscripts to champion to the others, and will have to have good critical reasons to try to overcome others’ reluctance to promote a book to finalist status. Usually I end up arguing for a manuscript or two myself, and sometimes I don’t prevail.

In the process of the semester, then, students come closer to trying to articulate to themselves (as well as to the rest of us) what they value in a book of poetry. While they may have been hesitant to speak out about their own poetics in a workshop or class, in this course they have no choice but to put words to the task. The next time they sit down to write, those values will be in their minds and their work will begin to take a shape that is, one hopes, closer to those values.

Sixth, she promotes an open, common sense approach to judgment:

I hesitate to talk about “good” and “bad” poetry, unlike some of my friends on the Internet. One forcefully reminds me almost weekly that to be deemed “poetry,” the work must adhere to a metrical pattern, though his own poems are almost exclusively what I’d call light verse or satirical doggerel. He’s not willing to allow anything written in free verse to be termed “poetry,” let alone “bad poetry.” But he’s successful in writing to his own standards, so who am I to stand in his way? (On the other hand, I don’t much enjoy reading any but a very small amount of his work at a time.) For students of poetry developing their own writing, I’ve found the only way to help that along is to show them many different kinds of poems and book structures that abound at this moment—what Joyelle McSweeney so memorably named “the plague field” of poetry that we all must pick through to find what keeps us alive.

Seventh, and finally, she promotes broad, grassroots recognition of the publishing process in terms of books supporting journals and journals supporting books, and once again confirms her open-minded judgment:

When undergraduate students leave my classroom, I give them a simple exercise. When they read a journal and find a poem they really love, they look to the contributor’s note and see whether that author has a book. If so, they read the book and check the acknowledgments page for other places that author has published. Then they find a journal they haven’t read before and read it, looking for other poems they love. Back and forth, acknowledgments to contributor’s notes, and before long they have an idea of what sorts of works appeal to them, and their poetry begins to take on new characteristics. We all know what’s “good,” and, if we’re honest, we know there are hundreds or thousands of ways to achieve good work for ourselves. I hope these exercises lead to a broader reading of literary work, and a greater appreciation for what our fellow poets can do.

We have quoted the entirety of her piece. What’s not to admire here?  Who can argue with: “We all know what’s ‘good,’ and, if we’re honest, we know there are hundreds or thousands of ways to achieve good work for ourselves.”

In the face of judging “600 to 700 books” of poetry for one annual Ahsahta press poetry prize, beside vague references to “best” and “good” and “the rest,” why should we expect Holmes to articulate any sort of criteria?  Holmes is wise to provide none.

And why shouldn’t Holmes use her graduate students to edit Ahsahta—editing, learning, teaching, and judgment all enhancing each other?

Judgment occurs whenever we have a “prize,” or whenever an editor decides to use one manuscript and not another, but why should this judgment be defined, once and for all?

We can use thought to arrive at social agreement, which is what the scientist does, or we can embrace social agreement to avoid thought—the default human comfort zone.

The latter is guiding poetry at the present moment.

We could call it Socialism, though political commentary is not our intent, even as it happens that poetry today is spectacularly beholden to an unspoken law of uncompromising political correctness.

But any p.c. factor is merely a secondary feature, for what is more “correct” than social agreement? Politics is not the point—the least resistance to social agreement is the point.

Poetry is a great blank, or a dust-mop that picks up anything that sticks to it.

The method here is not even ‘trial and error,’ for that implies a goal.

Holmes the Ahsahta editor and MFA professor, implies improvement, progress, a goal; but beyond a vague ‘talking cure’ to relieve private psychosis, or a vague sort of cross-word puzzle fondness for words, there is no reason to believe that poetry, the art, is improving one whit, or that it is not, in a cloud of obscurity, mental masturbation, dead phrases, and platitude, regressing.

Holmes allows herself one strong opinion: poetry that was written “just last night” is automatically and viscerally rejected.

We see immediately why this strong opinion is permitted by the otherwise non-affirmative Po-Biz mind: the poem written “just last night” and blurted out at a public reading has not had a chance to undergo the process of social agreement—and social agreement for Po-Biz is all.  Therefore, in Holmes‘ opinion, such a poem cannot be good and the very idea of a poem written “just last night” makes her “shudder.”

Holmes dallies a bit with one issue of aesthetic substance: a poet who insists on poetry with “metrical pattern.”

Poetry with something of a definition must be dismissed at once by the smooth Po-Biz operator, and of course we find that it is, regally, charitably, with just the right air of openness and nonchalance; Holmes magisterially says, “who am I to stand in the way” (of this “light verse” and”doggerel”)?

Holmes cheerfully admits that no one is steering the ship:

During these months of reading, each student is learning something about what he or she thinks makes an excellent book of poetry, but it’s not because I’m telling the class what’s “good” and what’s “bad.” Each student has to define these parameters personally.

How easy it is, then.

The product sold by Po-Biz is neither good nor bad; it is whatever the buyer believes in; it is no surprise, then, that it makes no impression on us at all when we peruse an actual poem written by Janet Holmes herself.

1862.17  (336)

I got my eye put out–

my Heart

The Meadows —
The Mountains —
All Forests —


The Motions of

news            strikes me dead —


There is no beauty, truly.
The loveliest person
Never knows they are beautiful.
Their lovers do not have to be.

The rhetoric of seduction,
Is no proof of beauty,
Even when fruitful,
Even in the singing of the spring.

Beauty never rests in beauty,
For what if beauty, truly beautiful, should beautifully sing?
The territory of birds
Once vanquished, forever needs vanquishing.
If the bird never holds still,
How will we know beauty, or beauty’s will?

Neither flattery nor kindness
Care for beauty’s measure.
Lips will always deny
The eye’s treasure.

Even Venus, breasts bared,
Exciting the crowd, worries
That, in comparison to another’s,
Some part of her body is not quite right.
We argue down beauty, truly.
Beauty in the day is never beautiful at night,
And the least beautiful is beauty’s fame.

There is no beauty, truly,
Unless you speak of the soft breathing of the sky
When the dying sun softly colors cloud and atmosphere,
Which only shows there is no beauty down here.

There is no beauty, truly,
Except when your beauty named
Is only a name.


Louis Simpson in his last days.  The poet did not live to see himself in Scarriet 2013 March Madness: Romanticism

The final combatants in the first round of Scarriet’s Fourth Annual March Madness Poetry Tournament are both pious men, not really Romantics, and yet any sort of devotional poignancy worked out in poetry can usually sound “Romantic,” though we are still not sure these poets are the real thing, though the Committee did finally invite them to the tourney.  

George Herbert was a 17th century Anglican priest who got along well with the king, and with everyone it seems, a divine who lived a clean, generous life.

Louis Simpson, who died last September, fought hard in the Second World War, a good egg who rhymed and resisted avant-garde nonsense.

WORKING LATE—Louis Simpson

A light is on in my father’s study.
“Still up?” he says, and we are silent,
looking at the harbor lights,
listening to the surf
and the creak of coconut boughs.

He is working late on cases.
No impassioned speech! He argues from evidence,
actually pacing out and measuring,
while the fans revolving on the ceiling
winnow the true from the false.

Once he passed a brass curtain rod
through a head made out of plaster
and showed the jury the angle of fire–
where the murderer must have stood.
For years, all through my childhood,
if I opened a closet . . . bang!
There would be the dead man’s head
with a black hole in the forehead.

All the arguing in the world
will not stay the moon.
She has come all the way from Russia
to gaze for a while in a mango tree
and light the wall of a veranda,
before resuming her interrupted journey
beyond the harbor and the lighthouse
at Port Royal, turning away
from land to the open sea.

Yet, nothing in nature changes, from that day to this,
she is still the mother of us all.
I can see the drifting offshore lights,
black posts where the pelicans brood.

And the light that used to shine
at night in my father’s study
now shines as late in mine.

LOVE—George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack,
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Herbert has to be thought the crowd-pleaser, here: “Taste my meat”??   Religious musings can take one anywhere!  Herbert, the Metaphysical, gets down to it, while Simpson, the Modern, seems sentimental and rambling, by comparison. 

Herbert over Simpson, 69-55.

That’s the end of the first round!  We had 64, and now we have 32 survivors, who will play for the Sweet 16!

To recap the East winners:

Coleridge d. Mazer
Poe d. Swinburne
Housman d. Marlowe
Eliot d. Nerval
Shakespeare d. Dowson
Ransom d. Drayton
Donne d. Dunn
Herbert d. Simpson

And here’s the upcoming contests for Sweet 16:


Goethe v. Burns
Frost v.  Blake
Catullus v. Herrick
Larkin v. Suckling


Keats v. Wordsworth
Plath v. Hoagland
Petrarch v. Barrett-Browning
Olds v. Eberhart


Shelley v. Dryden
Millay v. Yeats
Vogelweide v. Lawrence
Collins v. d’ Orleans


Coleridge v. Housman
Poe v. Herbert
Eliot v. Donne
Shakespeare v. Ransom



Can Dunn run with Donne?
In this contest—the penultimate First Round game as we round out things in the East—we have two monumental poems expounding iconic, monumental opposite beliefs and doing it so well that, at the end—and we find this so beautiful—both poems seem to be saying the same thing, if not quite agreeing with each other, then adding to each other in such a way, that ultimately, there is agreement.
But what a delicious war this is!
The 17th century Donne, devotional supplicant to love’s singularity.
The 21st century Dunn, with a shrug, putting on some music.
Yet, 21st century Dunn, in his way, is devotional, too, for isn’t the thing he obviously wants,  “you and me…here and now from here on in,” the same thing 17th century Donne not only wants, but gives us?
And if we disagree with Donne, there is nothing more for us, if we agree with Dunn—except less possibility for poetry—for Dunn, like all moderns, essentially surrenders to “random things out there,” that have no truck with poetry, for if we believe the moderns, whatever is “out there” is indifferent to us.
Further, the sort of thinking we do in poetry about what is “out there” has no reason to take place if indifference is truly the state of things.  And, further, if description of these “things out there” is sought, poetry, in terms of pure descriptiveness, falls short of the visual arts.
In spite of Dunn’s agnostic stance, the whole power of Dunn’s poem resides in the fact that he skillfully entertains what Donne embraces—the modern begs at the ancient, devotional table; the vignette of coming darkness at the end of Dunn’s poem is dependent on Dunn’s philosophical musing in the beginning, whether or not that musing is definitive, or not.
The poem—if we take ‘the poem’ seriously, depends upon an assumed philosophy, as well as an aesthetic (painterly, musical, sculptural, architectural) reality; the latter will usually crash if the former is not in place; mere babbling or scribbling is always possible, and there are even modern philosophies that support scribbling and babbling, but Donne is no special case: poetry is actually more beholden to Donne, than Donne to poetry; Dunn is real only in relation to Donne; all poetry is.  The world (see Donne) is far smaller than we think.
If the avant-garde doesn’t get this…well, that’s precisely why they need to puff themselves up with terminology such as: avant-garde.
We maintain that poetry is always poetry.
Dunn is speaking Donne’s language; the moderns, if they live at all, live in the past—all is one; Donne is right.
Donne’s “twas but a dream of thee” anticipates Dunn’s desire, if not his philosophy—of which he has none, save as it exists in Donne.
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
HERE AND NOW—Stephen Dunn
There are words
I’ve had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell        
       of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.        
      You and I became the words
I’d say before I’d lay me down to sleep,
and again when I’d wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you’d been put on earth
to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they’re to last
I’ve come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum        
      of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again        
      be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it’s here and now from here on in.
Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.        
        Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.
The “home crowd,” the “present,” clamors for the living poet, but John Donne defeats Stephen Dunn, 90-82

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