Ange Mlinko: The Critic Should Never Have A Muse

Michael Robbins has disappointed us in his attempt to make a Scarriet-like, sweeping definition of poetry: “Where Competency Ends, Poetry Begins.”

Robbins has intelligence and wit, and we like his writing, but the jury is still out on whether he will fall into dyspeptic Pound-ism or soar like an Alexander Pope and laugh with silver laughter at the dunces.

We still have high hopes for the critic Michael Robbins—we have no hopes for any poet today—critics need to quiet the noisy poets before poetry can be heard again.

In his latest piece for the Chicago Tribune, Robbins drops the ball—he decries “competency” by selecting for laudation a quintessential piece of competency by Ange Mlinko, a “friend” of his, Robbins confesses to his readers, but a friendship, he insists, based on an “admiration for her work,” and not (as he attempts to drive the stake into the heart of Foetry) the “other way around.”

Since Alan Cordle’s Foetry.com ceased publication and Scarriet sprang up to take its place, we like to think we have kept the flag waving above the beleaguered fort of common sense.

Robbins cannot see how his friendship with Mlinko has blinded him.  So it follows he cannot see his tribute to Mlinko is the epitome of competency.

Robbins‘ article begins with that old trope: the view from the “slush pile” from the sneering, condescending poetry editor’s perspective, as if “slush” wasn’t finally published in the editor’s magazine, anyway.

Robbins is doing something clever, though, moving from “slush” to “competency” to the apex of the imagination which is…Mlinko.

This would be funny, but Robbins, blinded by both “slush-pile”-experience professionalism and his “friendship,” is serious.  Too bad.  Robbins is best when he’s a little silly.

As he is a good critic, Robbins does give us an extra: slush pile poetry is mocked with quotes by Wyndham Lewis.

Wyndham Lewis?  If you thought Ezra Pound was a creep who wrote mediocre, Modernistic poetry, wait to you read Wyndham Lewis!

Hemingway thought Lewis the most physically repulsive human being he ever met (with Ford Madox Ford a close second) and we are not surprised.

Robbins’ Mlinko-nod to foetry, his faint damning of MFA “competency,” plus his singling out as ludicrous the same passage of Adam Fitzgerald’s (from a David Kirby review) which we found risible three weeks ago (#81) would seem to indicate Robbins is keeping his finger on the pulse of Po-Biz via Blog Scarriet.  Good for him.  Lists are currently the rage in po-biz and Scarriet’s Hot 100 series got that started.  Anyway, we are flattered.

For Robbins’ argument, a couple passages from the “crushingly banal” “Apple Slices” by Todd Boss is presented, with concessions to its sonic effects, as ‘workshop competent’:

— eaten right

off the jackknife in

moons, half-moons,

quarter-moons and

crescents —


summon common

summer afternoons

I spent as my dad’s

jobsite grunt…


so many waned and

waxed moons later,

another well-paid,

well-fed, college-

bred paper-pusher, I

wonder that I’ve never

labored harder, nor

eaten better.

And here is the Fitzgerald, which Robbins and Scarriet agree, was over-praised by the excitable David Kirby:

I was shipwrecked on an island of clouds.

The sun’s pillors bored me though, so I

set foot on a small indigo place

below orange falls and hexagonal flowers.

I was able to stay there a fortnight,

restlessly roaming the buttered air

inside tropical rock enclosures,

caves of foliage that canopied darkness.

Robbins calls these lines “unmusical and undistinguished,” but he is being kind.  These lines are clumsy, ponderous, free verse Dr. Seuss.

But now Robbins turns to his standard for greatness, Ange Mlinko:

You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel
but it’s an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.

For starters, Mlinko uses “axiom,” incorrectly, a philosophical term; we never say, “It’s an axiom that it rains.”  But it seems axiom’s similarity in sound to the mythical “Ixion” was too much for Mlinko to resist.

The rhetoric is wanting: the vagueness of “You never hear of…” How is this dramatically interesting?  It is not.  It’s a fact-driven idiom.  Poets need to be aware of this.  And just in terms of pure sound, “tied- to- a- revolving- wheel” is ugly, and even worse is “but- it’s- an- axiom- that,- sooner- or- later…”  The logic is not worth pursuing in prose; it’s safe to say it’s not going to do anything for poetry:  Because a hurricane will eventually arrive somewhere, it is worth noting that one never hears of Ixion. 

Robbins thinks he is praising Mlinko’s poetry.  He’s not.  He’s simply agreeing with a banal piece of logic: 1) “you never hear of Ixion” 2) Ixion symbolizes the “guests” of our “planet” who have met “their host’s hospitality” with “rapine.”  Robbins claims this is not “climate change didacticism” but this is, in fact, all he is admiring—and all one could admire in this passage.  Surely it’s not the sonic chiming of Ixion and axiom.

Since rhyme fell from grace among the modernist sophisticates, assonance and alliteration have rushed in to fill the vacuum in all sorts of horrible, excessive and stupid ways.

Here is Robbins explaining to us what hurricanes are:

Mlinko is often delightful: “You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel, / but it’s an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.” But there’s more here than a Rube Goldberg spillage of phonemes modifying one another, irresistible as such sonics are. Contrast the insubstantiality of Fitzgerald’s cloud islands with the sense Mlinko packs into this couplet: the story of Ixion, bound to a spinning wheel by Zeus for betraying a guest, reveals an axiom, a self-evident premise, which in this case is that the weather, in its cycles and revolutions, will always, eventually, manifest itself as a revolving wheel of air, which a hurricane is. And hurricanes arrive ever more frequently, deadly to human life and its built environment: in a reversal of the myth, the revolving planet binds its guests, who have met their host’s hospitality with rapine. A little parable of climate change, then, with none of the didacticism you’d expect.

So here is one of the better critics writing today (a published poet, as well), Michael Robbins, and after dismissing “slush” and “competency,” holds up for apotheosis, “sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.”

This is one more example of how bad the world of poetry has become.

And this is why Mark Edmundson was right to attack contemporary poetry.  It has become so bad that any attack is good, by default.  And we mean this seriously.  Something is wrong: that’s where we have to start.  The inarticulate nonsense proffered by professor Edmundson still trumps every weak defense, and they are all weak, by default.   They are weak, first of all, because they are making so much of Edmundson’s ludicrous piece in the first place.  Secondly, they are weak because they are anxious to show Edmundson is wrong, but in a manner that is even more deluded.  Edmundson wants poetry to be socially and politically relevant and the poets cry, “It is!”  But social and political relevance isn’t poetry.

We only raise this matter because Robbins, satisfied that Mlinko is the standard, finishes up his piece with a diatribe against Edmundson.  Robbins: “Edmundson cites not a single contemporary poet under the age of 59. Think about that for a second.”  But unfortunately that says more about the sorry state of American poetry than it does about Edmundson.  You see what we mean?   The Edmundson of omissions and lapses is truer than Robbins on Mlinko.

Edmundson triumphs without trying.  That’s how bad it is.


  1. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    September 12, 2013 at 2:40 am

    First of all, is it pronounced “Angie,” or “Ang?” I have a sister named Angela. She goes by Angie. My other sister and I, are the only ones who have occasionally called her “Ang.” If you have an unusual last name, perhaps it would be better to stick to a more common spelling. It’s too late for that. I digress.

    Robbins and Mlinko, along with several other poets, published quite often in Poetry, have a Chicago connection. They aren’t necessarily from Chicago, but they attended school, worked, or lived there for a while. I would assume that they attended poetry readings, and other events, that the editors of Poetry also attended. Now, it seems to me, anyway, that the editors of Poetry may have been doing something similar to what Robbins may have done. I don’t even think it’s on a conscious level. They, like Robbins, get to know a poet on a personal level, and perhaps, perceive some nuances in their work, that the rest of us aren’t privy to. However, what they are actually doing, is reading more into the poems based on their knowledge of the poet’s life and other work. But if it’s not on paper, it’s not a part of the poem.

    Also, I wrote on the post about Kirby’s praise of Fitzgerald. The lines he quoted from him remind me of Laforgue’s “Complainte du foetus de poete.”

    It’s really encouraging to know that the poetry magazine, Robbins once edited, only publishes 1% of unsolicited submissions. I have no doubt that there were some real “stinkers” in the slush pile. But what about all of the dross that does get published and even makes it into BAP? I guess since the poets have a MFA that makes it alright? To me that’s a lot worse than a lonely old woman writing silly poems about her cats, and sending them off, because they (the competent), as Robbins calls them, should know better.

    Also, when I read the following lines, from Robbins’ “Confessional Poem,” published in Poetry, “You shouldn’t drink diarrhea/ unless you bring enough for everybody,” the nauseating visuals have lodged in my mind, and I’m afraid only a frontal lobotomy would rattle them loose.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Very good points re: personal relation and poetry re: Poetry magazine, Robbins and Mlinko.

      Just an aside: The Ixion myth/hurricane trope doesn’t fully work because the poor, not guilty of “rapine,” are vulnerable to hurricanes in a way the rich (more “guilty” of “rapine”) are not. However, readers are not ‘ignorant’ if they don’t find all this stuff in Mlinko’s poem—poetry isn’t supposed to be cleverly disguised research so that poets can feel smarter than their readers. You’re quite right, Diane.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    September 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    As for Robbins’ “diarrhea” poem: Poe, the bete noire of Modernists, argued that Taste (distinct from Truth and Passion) was poetry’s chief domain. To many, this aesthetic admonition is overly narrow, and yet the philosophy behind it is actually not narrow, at all.

  3. Michael Robbins said,

    September 14, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Thomas, I have no interest in your thoughts on my article, confused as they are, but you should know that D. B. Wyndham Lewis and the Canadian author Wyndham Lewis, to whom you refer above, were entirely different people.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm


      I think you are confused. There is no “Canadian author” Wyndham Lewis.

      Anyway, as Confusion always eventually triumphs, I’m sure posterity will see them as one. Did you know Homer was once two entirely different people? And Shakespeare somewhere around a dozen?

      Rumor has it that you are two entirely different people. The one who is confused and the one who points out confusion.

      But unfortunately we now we live in this hell: with not one, but two Wyndham Lewis’s!

      Thank God, then, she exists—the angel—Ange Mlinko.


  4. Michael Robbins said,

    September 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Sigh. Wyndham Lewis was born in Canada, but, yes, his nationality was British. Mea culpa. A small mistake compared to some.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    September 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Letters will live despite mistakes. You and I will rise above them.

  6. noochinator said,

    September 15, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Wyndham Lewis reads “End of the Enemy Interlude” :

    And here’s a great BBC doc for Wyndham Lewis haters, comical in its vitriol, almost to the point of parody:

  7. September 15, 2013 at 11:33 am

    from ‘If So the Man You Are’

    I knew you’d like the Enemy! He’s the person
    May pen in plastic fashion a new verse on
    The Heldenleben and colossi’s lot,
    Or with his pen put penclubs on the spot.
    He knows to live comes first. No bee in his bonnet
    Outbuzzes any other that lands on it.
    His balance is astonishing when you consider
    He has never sold himself to the highest bidder,
    Never has lived a week for twenty summers
    Free of the drumfire of the camouflaged gunners,
    Never has eaten a meal that was undramatic—
    Without the next being highly problematic.
    Never succumbed to panic, kaltes blut
    His watchword, facing ahead in untroubled mood.
    He has been his own bagman, critic, cop, designer,
    Publisher, agent, char-man and shoe-shiner.
    What he has just narrated of double-dealing
    Is nothing to what he could, of professional stealing,
    Of the betrayal of unpublished texts to ladies,
    A court d’idées, and other crimes (his fate is
    Of course to be a quarry of rich pickings,
    He’s the bull’s-eye of ‘brain-pickers’ like the dickens)—
    Of unwelcome names bluepencilled in an article
    Caught in the act, and minding not a particle
    (We suffer from a strange delusion—that is
    That our age is ‘straighter’ than was grand-daddy’s!)—
    Of that discrimination against all writers
    Suspected of having eyes in their heads. Good fighters
    When-driven-in-corners are common: but here’s a fellow
    Who does not wait to be trapped—an aggressive fellow!
    I was sure you’d like him and that was why I brought him—
    It was a piece of luck it happened that I caught him.

    Wyndham Lewis

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      That BBC broadcast begins hating “fascist anti-semite, misogynist” Lewis and never mentions Pound, his associate, the reactionary aspect of mainstream Modernism as usual, played down, but ends by calling Lewis a prophet and embracing his vision!

      Modernism the visionary philosophy has so triumphed that even when “liberals” critique its dark side, they can’t finally resist its pull, and this little BBC piece is a perfect example of this.

  8. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    September 16, 2013 at 12:07 am

    In every photograph, that I’ve seen of Lewis, I’ve noticed him sporting a typical psychopathic smirk. There are, of course, less psychopathic artists and poets, than there are of world leaders. However, they are able to wreak havoc, when they do appear, through their lying, manipulation, and utter ruthlessness.

  9. September 19, 2013 at 3:08 am

    Of man’s last discombobulation, sing,
    Muse Mneme, disassembled puzzle poems
    that process perfect pedicures of thought
    when bright epiphanies of feigned surprise
    lead us by hand to think outside that box
    where rotten bodies fertilize fruit trees,
    so when you eat apple on tree of life
    you will consume dreams rooted from my brain.

  10. thomasbrady said,

    September 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Would love to take a gander at Wyndham Lewis’s bio of Hitler.

    Simon, your poem reminds me of “Poison Tree” by William Blake.

    • September 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Fascinating. Completely unintended imagery connection to Blake’s tree. I was referring to death in the coffin and our body material being processed into fruit trees, and molecules of the brain being molecules of the apple, and our memories disappearing in nature without our bodies except those contained in the text of the poems we write.

  11. Desmond Swords said,

    September 24, 2013 at 6:02 am

    I reckon Robbins’ public pose as a condescending, ungenerous and sneering edgy expert on crazee-shit contemporary poetry, must come from being – relatively speaking – so close to the hallowed millions gifted to the Chicago poetry school. Money that has twisted out of all recognition what poetry is about.

    Now, there is a poetically false, cash created public platform from where the cosy cohort of a select few mediocrities with entry ticket PhD’s in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, who are not the best at writing poetry themselves, publish negative rants about why other American poets that from this distance seem to be writing the exact same sort of stuff as they do – are the spawn of McGonagall, and their ‘friends’ the offspring of Eliot and Moore.

    It’s the contemporary combative style of conceptualists whose idea of poetry is a string of meaningless babble, who get their jollies by arguing black is white and vice versa. Young nerdy men who compensate by cultivating paralleled tough guy images on the literature pages, whose idea of fun is uttering ‘fuck’ in print. Revolutionaries who sold out before they saw any real action.

    Knobheads telling you what is good and bad poetry, deluding themselves that their opinions are correct, just because they’re getting cut checks from a fortress of crazee-shit literature funded by the dough of a dead rich woman.

    I read the Tribune piece and couldn’t see the difference between the poetry that was slated as ‘slush’ and the stuff spoken of as superbly effective and deeply meaningful.

    He takes a bog standard fifteen or so word string and tells us why it is great, in confused sentences that are just the waffle of someone deluded enough to think he’s fooling us with his crazee hipster shtick.

    And then the passive-aggressive condescending ‘sigh, you are confused, there is no Wyndham Lewis’ and immediate ‘my bad’ response when you proved he’d got it wrong not you.

    A critic who cannot debate, only offer one liners in lieu of communication and spew one-way bile about others writing contemporary poems the objective reader cannot differentiate from the ones getting praised. Fitzgerald, obviously because he’s a younger version of himself and the Chicago claptrap artist doesn’t fancy Adam getting a piece of the action he defends with all the good grace of a meth addicted bum panhandling on a fruitful city corner.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm


      When you write:

      “I read the Tribune piece and couldn’t see the difference between the poetry that was slated as ‘slush’ and the stuff spoken of as superbly effective and deeply meaningful.”

      This seems to be the page everyone is (not) on. We can’t agree on what’s good or bad anymore.

      It’s a truism today that anyone who ventures a critical opinion will crash and burn on the failure of their examples.

      Robbins is just the latest crash victim, having died on Mlinko highway.

      “You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel, / but it’s an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.” —Mlinko

      The more one chews on those lines, the worse they seem. Don’t they? “Hurricane’ll hit here” is god-awful, but one can sort of see how Mlinko might have thought it was so-oh-so-cool when she wrote it.

      William McGonagall (1825-1902) is bad in a way that any learned person immediately recognizes—because of a certain standard others have set.

      What the learned person known as the modern poet has done is ‘reject the standard,’ so that one cannot “recognize” that the modern poet is bad, since without a standard, there can be no good or bad. In the absence of good/bad something very mysterious happens, something ‘good’ (freed from the burden of good and bad!) and ‘bad’ (the Robbins/Mlinko effect).

      What happens, of course, is that a “standard” keeps coming through the back door, the “standard” we subjectively make up in our minds, the one Robbins made up in his mind when we read, “Hurricane’ll hit here.”

      So we haven’t escaped the “standard.” It still exists, but without being any sort of “standard.” Whoa.

      “Standard” is a generally hateful idea to the modern ‘open-minded’ artist. We need a new word for it, then, because it makes hypocrites of all those who would reject it.

      If we call it The Ideal, then it gets rejected by those who cry, “I’m real, man!”

      And it’s not enough just to say, “My poems, man, those are the standard!”

      Any ideas?

      Because poetry needs your help.



  12. MR said,

    September 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    LOL, how did *I* get it wrong? I just said Wyndham Lewis was Canadian, when he was a Brit born in Canada. Thomas is the one who confused D. B. Wyndham Lewis with Wyndham Lewis. That’s a much bigger error (I was talking about the right person both times).

    There’s no “debate” here, Desmond. You & Thomas are simple ranters who refuse to make arguments. You can’t read poems. No one but you thinks there’s no difference between my poems & Fitzgerald’s, I suspect because you’re so filled with ressentiment that you refuse to read either of us, or most of the other poets whose success you so clearly envy, closely.

    Your opinions do not matter to me, or, really, to anyone else. Nothing you have said here has convinced me you know what you’re talking about. Nothing you’ve said here has given me a reason to think you might have anything worthwhile to say. Cheers.

    You can have the last frothy word if you want, I won’t be checking back in.

  13. Desmond Swords said,

    September 25, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    Robbins responded but won’t be checking back in. Fair play for him coming back in the first place, I say, as the goal of the above rant was getting him to engage with the successful five minute toss a clown of the calm and collected critical claptrap cool in Chicago, New York and Hathersage, composed coz summat were gnawing at ’em.

    Both our opinions do not matter to one another, nor anyone else, apart from the people who love us, or the people whose wages we pay, or the readers who love what we say when critically speaking our song. His:

    ‘You can’t read poems. No one but you thinks there’s no difference between my poems & Fitzgerald’s’, I suspect because you’re so filled with ressentiment that you refuse to read either of us, or most of the other poets whose success you so clearly envy, closely’.

    1) – I can read poems. I have read ‘most of the other poets whose success’ he thinks I ‘so clearly envy’, far more closely than he has.

    2) – There are far, far, far more people that think there’s little to no difference between the poems of him, Fitzgerald and the majority of an other 999,998 in the exponentially expanding contemporary American poet community – than do not.

    3) – And, no, I am not ‘so filled with ‘ressentiment’ (a crazee way of spelling resentment?) I ‘refuse to read either’ him or Fitzgerald.

    I ‘don’t read either’ of these two because what little of them both I’ve happened across hasn’t detained my interest. Another two American poets that go unread here because what they write doesn’t resonate with many English speakers this side of the Atlantic.

    Robbins’ own writing is filled with resentment. This shameless lick ass piece log rolling his friend begins with him resenting the ‘slush’ he has to trawl thru in a search for the ‘competency’ creating his poetic pleasure. The evidence he offers to persuade us, I think, is sterile, anodyne and in no way profound.

    His friend’s line works as well as any of the other American poetry nobody reads much; then I hear it read and am not persuaded, and when I take issue with this claim, am told it is because I am filled with resentment and jealousy.

    Tell me, he is a poet-critic: What do you think he knows of Amergin’s take on jealousy in poetry?

    Nothing he has written here has convinced me he knows anything about Amergin’s opinion on anything. Nothing he’s written has given me reason to think he has anything worthwhile to say.


    I love you Michael.

    • powersjq said,

      October 9, 2013 at 3:49 am

      The use of “ressentiment” is terribly pretentious. As I am terribly pretentious myself, I got the reference. Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Ressentiment (only Freud knows why Nietzsche chose the French cognate) is the feeling of envy, suspicion, etc. that ordinary people, who subscribe to normal values, have for the superior man, who does whatever he damn well pleases. IMO, using this sort of reference–particularly this one–doesn’t do much in the way of inducing sympathy for either him or his positions.

  14. Desmond Swords said,

    September 25, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    oops, it should be 99,998 other poets in the army of American poets fighting a way to global supremacy and eternal remembrance in the annals of poetry via the act of writing ’bout TV.

  15. Desmond Swords said,

    September 26, 2013 at 1:21 am

    I dunno Tom.

    Bad, indifferent and good poetry will go on getting written and live for as long as the language of humanity exists. Until some next calamity wipes off the few thousand years of recorded human speech – an abundance of brilliant ditties will be written, criticized and read three ways: right wrong and somewhere between these two states most critical assays reach.

    To be fair, I like Robbins. He has a bit of spunk and can mix it up. But I think this happy cruel tone he promotes is bad for ‘poetry’, as we are wont to say when speaking on behalf of our version/s and vision of it.

    Only time, chance and the choices MR & AM create will decide what – if any – verdict posterity makes on the ranns, lays and critical rants of men and women like Mike & Mlinko.

    I dunno what future readers will make of their poems and prose. I doubt there’ll be many future readers of them. Not that it matters, What’s important is the poem. If it’s a true one it doesn’t matter if there’s one or a million readers, it’s the real thing.

    Most poet-critics in a similar circumstance to these two pros, posterity usually judges to have been overrated during their lifetimes. Not having made a close study of either I have no opinion, but plodding along in prose a non-publishing unknown, what little I have chanced across seems over hyped. Not a good sign.

    Two from a vast majority whose critical opinions may become discarded and dropped utterly after our deaths. Future editors without any personal connection and therefore no longer obliged to be professionally interested in and to us poet-critics jealously guarding, defending and bitterly holding on to what major and/or minor platforms we occupy.

    Poet-critics in our web and associations, select few obligations, and with the unspoken elephant a cold hard cultural cosh of America’s contemporary empire dropping dead of Capitalism. Our metaphorical slave owning sub-species of poetic philosophy going about its business, cruel and whipping nasty and/or nice depending on whether the people writing the poems being judged – are slaves in our slush pile or select few publishing friends.


    It will all appear very black and white to the eyes that come after us. Rarely are the poems posterity judges as being at the front rank of their time, nurtured or noted on the pages of the mainstream of their time. More often than not, unless a poet-critic overthrows it, the old order actively excludes the poems and poet/s posterity regards among the most authentic of their time.

    Ninety-percent and more of what is published in any age, as we know ourselves from earlier eras, is a background babble of overrated non-entities full of self-importance and regard, publicizing the poetry of friends who are also mostly forgotten. A mass of similar voices bleating how different we are, uninteresting gobbledegook that takes itself seriously at the time. Few of us breaking any mould, most playing a game of lick and kick ass in orders of the socially adept and desperate to be accepted, to appear on pages of affluent ‘journals of record’, making it up as we go along, creating a citadel of letters built on nothing but will and belief, that goes with us into the grave unless we’re ahead of the time and make sense once our imbhas has gone.

    People becoming less and less original the longer they go on and on pontificating on public platforms as poet-critic bores and people pretending to know what we are talking about. Recognized as such by most but ourselves and a handful of loyal work friends bound by the oath those in a 100,000 post-modern army warring at the home of Capitalism, America, pledge:

    Me me me.

    Please, forgive me for hurting your ego, but I think you are too negative about others whose quality of writing is little different from your own, Michael. Poems you go after because you view them as competition to be snuffed out rather than read with an eye that spots the positive, mouth that speaks it, hand that writes it fairly – with an open heart.

    Because you live in America your culture is to play the tough guy in print. You dream of being accepted by cool revolutionaries who just write poems and leave the rest to posterity. Exuding ‘joy untroubled in the abundance of goading one receives when they take up the prosperity of bard-craft’ that Amergin articulates.

    The nothing ‘worthwhile’ or of interest to you that I have as part of the critical apparatus on which one’s own ditties are written and will be judged, if I could be bothered to send them out anywhere and have them published. Which I don’t because I feel it is all a game, and am more interested in the writing the poems and knowing something few apart from a handful of other people in po-biz, know the true worth of. Who’ve seen ahead of time to what your future readers may agree, was not spotted by the background artists babbling behind the curve of contemporary poetry.

  16. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    September 26, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Hi Des,

    Do you know about Rory O’Connor and his daughter Rose, who married that bastard Stormin’ Norman, Hugh de Lacey? They’re my kin folk, ha ha.

    I love it when you talk about Irish history.

  17. Desmond Swords said,

    September 26, 2013 at 4:18 am

    Hi Diane. Please send a photograph, five hundred green and a review of Kenneth’s whacky collection, two tell tale signs from a future defined as yesterday’s today, eight humming wards singing save us oh lord, cruise collapse go on drop dead, America spare us, and riddle us this: What has ten elbows, two arms, three mouths and no smell?

    Me me me.

    For two hundred and fifty years in continual print as one of your school’s finest nerdy haters: Why did the hipster poet hate its sibling? Because capitalism demands a grimace, smell, slaves, the mental bondage of one hipster, set, school, or clique of hipsters, by the other/s, depending on how many of their number one concludes are of the same tone and sharing enough similarities to be confidently judged, the same one generic hipster all but yourself is. Not your kin, folk, part of the derbfine. Unrelated your poetry and theirs without foundation except the one/s made up out of thin air and imitated. Stolen from people just like themselves, hipsters making stuff up and knowing nowt of how it really works round Nechtan’s Well on the annual pattern day at midsummer when the source of poetry is alive with aquatic knowledge, hazel truths, three two one, four to seven, twelve years long ollamhs, poetry professors speaking their songs of ..sorry, what was that? Kenny, no, no, mmm, mmm, mmm, crazee-shit poet with… ..sorry, two. what’s that, more. more than two, four, five, sorry, how many, barely a derbfine between them? Modern poetry that began with a crazee yank with usary issues? Oh, er, no thanks. they are blind to the truth.

    You who I love, dearest, deepest Diane, darling.

  18. noochinator said,

    September 26, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Desmond, are you at all a Wyndham Lewis fan?
    I mean of the poetry, not the fascist elan.

  19. thomasbrady said,

    September 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    We love how Robbins says “I won’t be checking back in.”

    The lady doth protest too much.

    To be honest, we don’t know if that is Robbins, but it has an authentic ring.

    Robbins’ hurt is from Scarriet’s evaluative criticism of Mlinko, the sort of criticism which Mlinko, discussing the Canadian critic Carmine Starnino, in the “Comment: Exchange” section of the April 2013 “Poetry,” favors.

    Mlinko writes:

    “Michael Lista and Gwyneth Lewis concur that the quantity and quality of “evaluative criticism” is at an all-time low in Canada and Britain, respectively. I would add that the same is true in the US. But it’s not Victorianism that did it in here; it’s the sense that the lid has been ripped off any consensual definition of poetry, and that for a new generation it has been a test of one’s authenticity to write poems that evade all criteria for a “good poem.” What was once metered speech became vers libre, and what was once “a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind” (Valery), meter or no meter, is now a machine for producing word combinations aimed at one’s coterie—or as one says in these parts, “community.” One need only crack the new edition of the Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry to see several varieties of this community machine.” ***

    “I blame the genteel evaluative criticism of the eighties and nineties. One got the sense that poetry had become an inbred circle of Lowell/Bishop epigones. Had there been more non-Ivy League, rugged individualists like Carmine Starnino, with similar stature (or notoriety), poetic trends here might not swing so violently between the complacent and the insurrectionary.”

    This is bracing stuff. Mlinko echoes Scarriet’s anti-clique, anti-foetry “evaluative” agenda, and Robbins, I’m sure, concurs with Mlinko.

    The issue here, of course, is not whether Wyndham Lewis was Canadian, or not, or who the two Wyndham Lewis’ are.

    The issue is also not—as Robbins slyly wants it to be—how many thousand pages, by the authors in question, have been read by the ranters or disquisitionists. This is a common and cowardly defense: ‘You haven’t read all of my books and all of my friends’ books and therefore you are not allowed to judge plainly of this essay which is plainly in front of you!’

    Mlinko and Robbins should be my literary allies, if not my friends. We all believe in tough, honest, independent, evaluative criticism which refuses to “evade all criteria for a ‘good poem.'”

    The rub, however, is the following.

    Robbins takes us from “slush” to “competency” all the way up Parnassus, to—to—to—wait for it…to—-to:

    You never hear of Ixion, tied to a revolving wheel,
    but it’s an axiom that, sooner or later, a hurricane’ll hit here.

    Robbins loves this (or loves Mlinko?).

    Scarriet does not.

    Part of the problem is that Mlinko (as she writes in the same issue) errs (as so many do) my making metaphor the key to all poetry. Mlinko quotes Aristotle on “making metaphors:” ‘that alone cannot be learnt; it is the token of genius. For the right use of metaphor means an eye for resemblances.’

    This is interesting, because Edmund Burke makes the distinction between wit and judgement, saying wit detects resemblances, but judgement detects differences.

    The judgement is higher. The witty poet, obsessed with puns and metaphors and resemblances, is the inferior poet.

    Inferior poetry is the one that gets all excited by resemblances such as “Ixion” and “axiom,” or “revolving wheel” and “hurricane.”

    One might confuse using rhyme as doing the same thing, but actually rhyme’s use has a different end. As Poe has pointed out, end-rhyme evolved to clarify metrical lines as distinct units.

    Mlinko has more wit than judgement.

    Ditto, Robbins.

    • powersjq said,

      October 9, 2013 at 4:01 am

      Burke’s distinction between wit and judgement reproduces Cicero’s distinction between the arts of invention (topics) and judgement (dialectic). This is a deep, entrenched distinction that can’t be blamed on a single thinker. Vico defends invention (wit) as the font of poetry, which he thinks lies at the root of human civilization. He thinks our habit of teaching “critical thinking” before teaching “inventive thinking” puts the cart before the horse. In any case, the kind of judgment a poet uses to compose is emphatically different from the kind used by a critic.

  20. September 26, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Tom, is there a link to the essay where Edmund Burke discusses the difference between wit and judgment in detecting resemblances and differences? I would love to read and learn more.

    • September 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      I think I found it: On Taste http://www.bartleby.com/24/1/1.html

      • thomasbrady said,

        September 28, 2013 at 10:07 pm

        Thanks, Simon. As we see, that point of Burke’s actually comes from Locke, who no doubt took it from Plato, because we are all footnotes to that Greek philosopher. “The cause of a wrong taste is a defect of judgment.” says Burke in this wonderful essay. Imagine talking of a “wrong taste!” Few would dare, but Burke pulls it off. The chief fault of all modern poetry, especially the kind the clever Robbins writes, might be this: what it has in wit, it lacks in judgment. It is marked by self-indulgent bad taste. It does not depict the real, but presents a voice in love with its own attitude and its facility with words. Its insincerity is at the root of what is essentially its bad taste.

  21. Desmond Swords said,

    September 26, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    I have read more of Michael’s criticism than Mlinko’s. I have occasionally stumbled across her critical prose utterances and recall vaguely that the few scattered pronouncements I read were all very similar to most of the American critical prose writing I accidentally read.

    A style over substance effect of sterility and ‘competence’ that makes some attractive and interesting patterns and meanings that are ultimately too randomly worked and disconnected from one another to fully cohere into the fluid voice one can follow even though what is being said is not appearing in the usual manner.

    I like a lot of the combative critical prose that Michael specializes in as a poet-critic, essentially recognizing a kindred spirit with a clear love of language coupled to a keen analytical mind that never goes to far without coming up with a startling and witty combination of letters, words, epithets and phrases, that sum up the situation and entertain the reader.

    I only lay into him as a joke, going head to head with the poet-critic in the Windy corner weighing in at 160 lbs of poetry ninja doin’ its thang maan, propulsive forwarding agent of linguistic buoyancy and hardiness in the water on which everything we know comes from, perhaps. I don’t really know, but it’s a way of training, a conceptualist and concrete taoist poetry assassin killing in the name of Love and possessed with the messianic fervor sterility common to Cromwell or Hitler, characters one must not step into speaking for.

    Unfortunately it is all too easy to make a wrong turn when talking and especially online, there seems a newer emerging strand and vibeness too ineffable and nuanced to detect, but rounding the corner ahead of the curve with Cuchulainary excellence top trained ollamhs uniquely exude.

    I hope Mr Robbins comes back to play once more in our happy middle aged male mind games one attains a greater and more controlled competency.in, the more one practices playing head games with others and ourselves that speaks all strands across the spectrum of thought and reason, eloquence and buffoonery, sensitive polar points in red font, 14 point font, a gothic script, haunting, haunting, us again, Michael, darling, dearest poet-critic you are my flake.

    Actually the Mlinko’s line is musically attractive and very competently wrought because the sounds the words make add by the science of sonic patterning, a profundity the words’ meanings themselves falls short from sounding. There’s a brush, brush quality of dental fricative, sibilance and plosive restraint.

    Jolly. Very Jolly

  22. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    September 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    You’re a sweet tongued bard, Des. Reading your replies reminds me of reading James Joyce. And I detest Cromwell too.

  23. Desmond Swords said,

    September 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Why Diane, thank you darling, you are a very kind person, sensitive and caring. Somebody who makes her parents happy and proud.

    I actually think this has been one of the better brief phases in this august journal’s four or more year historical record.

    There have been lots of scuffles here, Diane dearest, many, many duende fueled interactions between the various, primarily anonymous, posters and sock-puppets of myself, Adam, Alan, Ben, Bill, Chris, David, Diane, Don, Eileen, Gary, Henry, John, Michael, Noochinator & Noochinator Support, Seth, Simon, Steven and Tom.

    These are only the handful of one’s I can recall off the top of my head. Many more appeared here thru the yrs – too many to remember. Five and six times the above gang. Virtually all men. A place for intellectual rigor and cerebral thoroughness, commitment and, above all, pledge of loyalty to our community of poetry lovers who wrote here over many frightfully marvelous years of threads, series and ongoing open ended speculative debate now in its fifth year. A background babble functioning, I think, as the ticking-over part of our mental apparatus. Perhaps. I don’t know delightful darling dearest deepest, Diane.

    This brand of guerrilla criticism in which the goal is to keep going for as long as it lasts, uninterrupted free association, the spontaneous writing of imbhas forosnai and manifestation of knowledge that arrives as you conduct the scribal dance, feet fleeting and limb-boned lithe poetry live look it comes from only an idea, a seed, a trigger and memory the coach and tenor of metaphor unite in a double imaged string of wordic filibustering. Making it up as you go along like Jack mad high riffing red hot across the teletype paper.

    Blowdi diddle ay dearest darling Roberts-Powell.

    Beam me up Diane.

  24. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    September 27, 2013 at 9:18 pm


    Did you ever give a poetry reading at The Irish Pub in Sachsenhausen Frankfurt, Germany in 1988 or 1989?

  25. Desmond Swords said,

    September 28, 2013 at 9:02 am

    No, I never give a poetry reading at The Irish Pub in Sachsenhausen Frankfurt, Germany in 1988 or 1989. At that time I was a young hipster chilling in the burbs with one’s bros.

    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

      September 28, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Ok, just wondering. I was young then too. I’m not too sure how much of a hipster I was. The way the younger people use the word hipster to mean a slipshod dresser, a nerdy intellectual dark framed glasses wearing poser, if you will, I don’t think applied to me.
      Back in the day, the people who came after the beatniks were called hipsters, which was shortened to hippie. I think that I was just getting ready to reach full hippie-dom when Ronald Reagan was elected president, and a pall fell over the country, and something within me died. But, I digress.

      • thomasbrady said,

        September 28, 2013 at 10:20 pm


        Hipsters arrived in the 90s, hippies in the 60s…hipsters are colder, more ironic hippies.

        Of course such creatures exist outside of time, too. Joyce and Pound, hipsters. Shelley and Keats, hippies. Ralph Waldo Emerson, beatnick.

        Reagan was a welcome respite from Carter, but then presidents are puppets, anyway. You don’t believe democracy really exists, do you?


        • Diane Roberts Powell said,

          September 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm

          While I have to agree, since Kennedy was assassinated, anyway, that presidents are puppets, I would hardly describe Reagan as a welcome respite from Carter.

          • thomasbrady said,

            September 28, 2013 at 10:48 pm

            So sad that the US is divided such: Democrats and Republicans hate each other so much reason falls away. Pride and vanity kills reason. I can pinpoint the great divide: it happened in 1968 when Nixon was elected and overnight people forgot that LBJ dropped napalm on Vietnamese children. History was rewritten and turned into a TV show of my party right or wrong. Politics became a comic book. I’m not defending either party—I only point out there was deeper shit going on. 68 also another Kennedy death which started the whole Hollywood fantasy of Democrats as good, sexy, noble, nice. Enter the unsexy Nixon and the national psychosis began.

            • Diane Roberts Powell said,

              September 28, 2013 at 11:02 pm

              The reason why I realize that not all Democrats are angels nor all Republicans demons is because of the Kennedy assassination and the following cover-up conducted by both parties.

            • noochinator said,

              September 29, 2013 at 4:12 pm

              Après Nixon, le déluge,
              Gone the landslide political splooge,
              At least until the next big war—
              Oh wait, there was Reagan-Bush 1984.

  26. Desmond Swords said,

    September 29, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Post modern American consciousness with the attention span of a goldfish.

    A legendary (local) Dublin character and poet John MacNamee tells us from outside a coffee shop on Cow Lane – in his Larry Skynt’s Night Circus interview – that ‘the function of a poet, I think, is to see beauty and record it.’

    You think he’s right?

    His autobiographical book The Man With The Hat is one of MacNamee’s most (locally) well known publications. In it he records a series of youthful events after he’d left Dublin – first for six months in Iceland working on trawlers and in a fish factory, before flying to Greenwich Village in May 1968. As he tells us in his interview on (episode three) Larry Skynt’s Night Circus, documenting the contemporary local scenes in literate and musical Dublin and beyond:

    “Robert Kennedy running for president, very exciting times. Detroit, I heard Robert Kennedy make a very famous speech: ‘some men look at reality and say why? I look at reality and dream and say, why not?’ Spent time with two brothers in Toronto who were very anxious I settle down and become just like them. I had other ideas. I hitched from Toronto to Banff in the Rocky Mountains, got a job as a busboy… I ended up going to Edmonton in Alberta, working in a hostel for homeless people in Vancouver Island, hitched down to Los Angeles, got a job in the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica as a busboy. And I had somewhere to live… Then I got fed up of Los Angeles – bit of a shallow town – not what I was used to.

    I went up to San Francisco, got involved with a youth group and church that was opening up a homeless hostel, and that was the best year of my life. 1969. So that was a good year. We had the Grateful Dead, Myles Davis, the Filmore West, the inmates took over Alcatraz, they ran a number of benefits for the inmates and there were a number of beat poets there: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Michael McLure. I heard Gregory Corso read a eulogy to Jack Kerouac, who died that year, as did John Steinbeck. Gregory Corso began the poem by saying: ‘Nothing happened in America that you didn’t know about, Jack.'”

  27. Desmond Swords said,

    September 29, 2013 at 7:08 am

  28. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    October 3, 2013 at 12:15 am

    I watched a couple of episodes of Night Circus trying to find John MacNamee. I saw a man with long red hair, and red beard, with just a touch of grey, and I thought, well, if he was a young man in 68, he must be well into his 60s now. But he doesn’t look over 40. It took me a while to figure out that he was Larry Skynt and wasn’t John MacNamee.

    I finally found the one with MacNamee and bless his heart, he looks ancient.

  29. Drew said,

    April 30, 2014 at 1:03 am

    [These lines are clumsy, ponderous, free verse Dr. Seuss.]

    [Since rhyme fell from grace among the modernist sophisticates, assonance and alliteration have rushed in to fill the vacuum in all sorts of horrible, excessive and stupid ways.]

    More sanity-restoring pearls of wisdom; pried, at random, from the poetic oyster which is Scarriet.

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