The latest VIDA numbers are out.

If you haven’t heard about this, it’s pretty simple: two poet-professors, Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, for the past few years, have counted men and women published in magazines like the The Paris Review, New York Review of Books, NY Times Book Review,  The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic—to the growing embarrassment of progressive, literary America: males out-publish women 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, sometimes 10-1.

The numbers are plain, stark and have people talking, including the magazine editors, vowing to improve their numbers; one journal, The Paris Review, has achieved parity, for the time being.

Scarriet wrote about VIDA last year:

Not many people are asking of these numbers: Why?

Most talk is indignation on one hand, surly defensiveness on the other, with some guilty apologies in-between.

It’s a good thing the numbers are out there and people are talking about it.

VIDA is certainly not a bad thing.

But the backlash against VIDA is growing; their critics are saying:

1. VIDA does not give us the larger picture: More women work in publishing than men.

2. The picture they give us is incomplete: gender is great, but what of class, race, sexual persuasion, etc?

3. I will publish the best, thank you; I refuse to publish anyone based on gender.

But again, it’s good that people are talking about this, and all sorts of provocative comments are bubbling up:

On the Guardian blog, under a piece, “Why the LRB should stop cooking up excuses over lack of women reviewers,” a commenter claimed she would rather read women than “ivory tower” males, and that “only women” should be allowed to write on “prostitution and abortion.”

Behind the pure numbers dwell opinions such as these, which, despite being anecdotal and crazy-sounding, flesh out what is behind the numbers.

If the whole question—of gender in literary magazine publishing—is more about “ivory tower” than gender, VIDA numbers could be nothing more than an indication that men are more “ivory tower” than women are.

After all, journalists know that a good anecdote is worth a pile of statistics, or that a good anecdote can explain a pile of statistics.

In the Guardian piece mentioned above, the 2001 quote from a female LRB editor “that most enraged” VIDA sensibilities was: “I think women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, cook dinner and write pieces. They just can’t get it all done.”

Is this sort of remark realistic, or outrageous?

It really isn’t that far from the “ivory tower” remark.

What if it’s true that cooking, or looking after children, is far more important than publishing “ivory tower” pieces in magazines?

Not than anyone would say the VIDA numbers are encouraging the neglect of children, but perhaps rather than being an objective truth, the VIDA numbers are only a piece of a larger puzzle.

There is always something bigger lurking behind numbers: life.


Helpless in your beautiful face,
Helpless to triumph over the body,
To secure a new life in a different place,
To say the words that sound like the sea,
Eating your fame insatiably.

Helpless in your beautiful face,
Helpless to love a face less beautiful than your own,
Helpless to put yourself in someone’s place—
They do what they want, and do it alone.
They sail the seas, like you, the surface, the tone…

Helpless in your beautiful face
To make mirrors with soundtrack and plot;
You see only the beauty of your race
And never what the race sees not.
Beautiful faces in your country are rounded up and shot.

Helpless in your beautiful face
To continue the beauty in a different sphere;
You will be erased, and there will be no trace
That you once reigned down here,
Where loves and the sea and the moon were near.


The one thing that unites us all these days is political controversy: gays, race, gender, abortion, climate, congress, the courts, the president, the media, and it seems to be getting more divisive every day, family members and potential friends divided in all walks of life, almost as if there were a great negative force operating in direct ratio to the new unifying force of computers and communications technology.

Now maybe there isn’t a problem at all: there’s just more to argue about, more buzz words attached to arguments, and more advanced communication vehicles to carry on those arguments.

Argument, and even controversy, is healthy in a democracy: imagine if there were no debates, and instead, police state silence.

So maybe this is all a good thing, and the uniting quality of controversy is the great non-controversial thing we should expect in a vast, technologically advanced democracy.

But there’s also a nagging sense that all this controversy is a symptom of ignorance and oppression, that all the political controversy is from heat and not light, and the elevated temperature is not due to healthy argument, but rather resistance by reactionary forces to progress.

If you believe this,  you may still be a part of the healthy debate outlined above, or you may have correctly anticipated why the debates are generally not healthy, or the debates may not be healthy and you are the problem, by assuming you belong to progress, and, because of this assuming you are always right.

The counter-position is, of course, the conservative one, arguing political controversies are damaging storms by progressives pushing divisive, self-interested, agendas, masked as moral crusades.

But the existence of these two positions (that political controversy is unhealthy because of the other side) merely reinforces the idea of a healthy democracy.

Unless one of these two positions is correct.

Controversy always leaves itself open to speculation that it is not healthy, and yet, if debate is healthy in a democracy, even unhealthy debate is healthy.

If this sounds contradictory, it should, for it makes sense that the whole nature of political controversy should be contradictory, and, as we move in closer to examine the controversial issues themselves, we may see that the political controversy of the day is not due to the nature of the questions involving the issue itself.  The issue is controversial only because it is first contradictory. The paradox creates the two sides of the argument; the motives and reasonings of each side are not authentic in themselves, for they exist only because the paradox exists.

It will help us to see how the particular controversy plays out along a particle/wave nexus: neither side is right or wrong; they merely exist within the context of the irresolvable conflict itself, a conflict better understood if we view its argumentative sides expressing themselves in terms of: particle or wave?

The “particle” argument is scientific, verbal, and common sense, while the “wave” argument is religious, moral and non-verbal.

Take this example.

Why shouldn’t Republicans oppose mass immigration on the grounds that immigrants will vote Democratic? The only reason the Democrats want mass immigration is because they know immigrants will vote Democratic.

If this country were the same demographically today as it was in 1980, Romney would have won a bigger victory in 2012 than Reagan did against Carter.

This is Ann Coulter in a recent column, and it is stupido.

Ann Coulter’s position is the height of common sense, argued from the practical, strategic standpoint of the Republican party.

This is a classic “particle” argument, logical and easily articulated: Immigrants vote Democratic, so Republicans should oppose mass immigration. One can see Coulter counting each Democratic immigrant particle as bad, completely oblivious to the moral, “wave” repercussions of her argument.

Just as Newton’s laws of particle physics are applicable, and make sense up to a certain point—but fail to apply everywhere, so the “particle” argument falls short in a wider context: how can the Republicans be seen as a viable party choice in a democracy if they openly court exclusion?  If immigrants are not voting for you, you ought to wonder why this is so—instead of barring them.

The “practical” argument is too “practical;” it is not really practical at all; the attempt to define reality only in terms of particles destroys the coherence of even that definition of reality.

Another classic “particle” argument (to choose one on the Left, now) is the one which jokingly equates sperm to “life” which is “sacred,” to imply (oh so cleverly) that prenatal life is not viable.

Morally, conception is life; in the “wave” view of reality, which is moral, rather than practical, there is a certain non-verbal understanding that life is that which has a future, and will become life; detecting the “particle” as that which is life, or not, makes the concrete, scientific decision for the time being, and rejects the moral plea of the Pro-Lifer. On the flip side, defining life as a tiny thing with a heartbeat could be seen as a “particle” argument, and the moral counter-argument, the “wave” argument ( life coming into the world needs a context), is the pro-abortion one.

Advocates of either side will attempt to make it seem their argument applies to reality as both “particle” and “wave;” but this crashes and burns against the whole concept of wave/particle and it is why these controversies will not, and cannot, be resolved.

It is important to understand here that by advocating the particle/wave principle, we seek to explain the contradictory nature of the controversy itself, not the arguments themselves, or the paths of argumentation which applies to each case; to any advocate of any particular case, the arguments are added up, pro and con, or a principle is found (you shall not judge a man by the color of his skin) which is so irrefutable, that it resolves the case as an argument to their satisfaction.

Many controversies are not, in fact, verbal arguments alone; the arguments spring from behavior, behavior based on power, let’s say, or custom—moral persuasion or logical argument had no part of the controversy before it became a verbal argument.   And here, too: original behavior versus subsequent verbal refutation, particle and wave, apply, in the same irresolvable manner.

The universe, at its very core, is divided, and argument participates in this division, ironically, as an attempt to resolve division; but argument is divided right down to the bone against its own argumentative, problem-solving will, and what it attempts to loosen, by the law of division itself, becomes tangled even tighter. Argument, by its very nature, argues against itself.

We should be scientists and make ourselves examine this scientifically, if we can.

Is every controversy dual? If all political debates persist in existing as two-sided, no matter how much a third point of view attempts to enter the picture, we will be in a better position to conclude that the contradictory nature of the political controversy problem is binary in a profound sense. I think if we examine actual controversies, we do find duality putting everything else in chains.

Let’s look at two common and popular controversies:

A classic argument is: if you dislike president Obama, you are racist. This automatically sets up the duality: I like Obama because he’s black versus I dislike Obama because he’s black. Everyone would agree that this is the core debate and it’s a stupid, shameful debate and the person who genuinely judges Obama simply on his performance as president is not allowed anywhere near this argument. And further, if the third, neutral point enters the picture, it will become tainted by the ugliness of the debate and forced into its irresolvable duality merely on account of whether it is perceived to be pro or anti Obama. It does not matter if 99% of the American population belongs to the third position—it doesn’t fit the duality and therefore it doesn’t exist as an alternative, third position. The 99% cannot, no matter how kind and reasonable, quell the controversy, which casts its lunacy over all.

The gay debate is just as absurd. We have the three basic views of homosexuality: 1. Ewww 2. Gay rights! Gay rights! 3. I couldn’t care less whether someone is gay or not, and the less I hear about it, the better.

Inevitably, the third view collapses into the first two. It doesn’t matter how hard it resists the pull of the universe’s dual nature. Number 3 is either a homophobic bigot or a Sadean pervert; the neutral, non-controversial, “third” position becomes the truly monstrous position, on a vast, all-encompassing scale of horror and evil, which dwarfs the first two in its dishonesty and the intensity of its passion, so much so, that it falls off the radar and ceases to exist, the binary the only argumentative reality which can possibly be official. It’s like an evil thought experiment: if you don’t think about the problem, you are safe, but the moment the issue confronts your mind, you must choose. The enlightened are forced to cover their ears.

What is ironic is that gender itself is a duality and gender is defined by its duality and this is the awful truth which nature—always dual, like passionate controversy itself—presses upon even the most modest and austere and chaste of souls, no matter how much they tenderly resist the lewdness of the thrusting universe.

Lewd, but necessary, despite the protests of holy and virginal hearts. For the duality of gender is responsible for the whole world. Heterosexuality is why we exist. Homosexuality is why the drapes match the couch—though even this is dubious.

To throw oneself into the duality of the debate in earnest, and champion heterosexuality and to cry out, “No gender is an island!” is to succumb to the “wave,” and miss the “particle,” the actual homosexual who feels the sting of the heterosexual’s remarks.


Because I belong to myself, not you.
Galleries of paintings on love only prove
Painters should have had something better to do.
They preach in their paint that love’s elusive,
And most of the time untrue.

Because I belong to the new, not you.
Libraries of books on love prove
Only the old is possibly true.
The pleasing poems I read are few
And nothing that’s written or read is new.

Because I belong to the past, not you,
A past you can never know,
And the more you try, the more I’ll lie,
The more I’ll know
My past is me and will never die.

Because I hate beauty—
Beauty that dies.
I hate the tears in hopeful eyes.
Songs of love the singers sing prove
Lies are sung and loves’ truths
Are falsehoods fed by lies.

Because even when I love, I do not love.
I am merely sickened, I ache;
I am anxious to prove
To myself you aren’t sick for my sake—
And therefore cannot love.

I will not, by any means, abandon you,
Only love—and the question whether love is true.

Let’s study love no more.
Love just leads to war.


There was enough in these words,
There was enough in this face,
Enough danger surrounding
This safe and secret place
To make his lips on hers
A pleasure inside a pleasure,
A life within a life
No measurement can measure.
A focus and a will,
A purpose and a want,
A love in love with love,
As loves forever taunt.


How is it going?
How should it go?
There’s something I want to tell you,
But you already know.
How can I say it
In a new sort of way
That makes a difference
Among the things I say?
I hope you want to hear it,
I understand if you don’t.
Love too often speaks—
Okay then, I won’t.
New information
Is not what poets tell.
The heart of the buyer,
The advertisers sell.
This is even simpler:
The poet must find
A word for a love already on the mind.
You didn’t see this coming
As simple as this was—
The halves keep dividing,
That’s what it always does.
The purpose of division?
The One is a prison
From which you must flee,
Set theory’s two parts already are three.
My heart that loves your heart
Is expected, although,
You don’t quite believe it.
How does my poem grow?
How does it say the things
You already know?


File:Pierre Mignard (1610-1695) - Time Clipping Cupid's Wings (1694).jpg

Everything loving can fit into a cartoon,
The history of love is contained by the moon:
A lover’s mind is a cave, bathed in moonlight,
The eye not seeing, but feeling the stare of its eyesight,
As the lover looks at Mona and cries, “I cared for Mona a lot,
But it ended the one time—the one time—I forgot.”
The moon, a cold stone, shows organic rot
How to be eternal; above the ruminations and the plot,
Phases of root and branch and flower are the phases we forgot.

Cupid drawn by a cartoonist with a dirty mind
Has no sound or smell and makes you almost blind.

The look of what this man is doing
Is not okay for viewing.
The hot sun white at noon.
The dark contrast.  The cartoon.


If Mick Jagger’s hair had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have changed.

When we mentioned to the poet Marcus Bales we were putting this list together, he immediately assumed a pejorative intent; yes, “hippie” has come to mean a term of censor, even in music—but we assured him our research was sincere.

Categories are safe, even when they dissolve into others.  We know what “hippie songs” are, even as they expand like a stain.  And what is amazing is how great and various and popular this list of hippie songs is.  In a thousand years from now, when we look back at this era, all of our popular music will be seen for what it really is: hippie music.

The 1960s, as one would expect, features prominently, a time which, artistically, happily resembled the great Romantic era in poetry: sensual, but not overly so, intellectual, but not overly so, and perhaps because indulgence was miraculously tempered by a certain unstated restraint, popular.  It sounds crazy to say the 1960s featured conservatism and restraint, but it did. Now that we’ve traveled through post-modernism, we know how conservative the lyric is, and the 60s were lyric.  Tradition had yet to be toppled.

Only a few really like chaos, and when chaos threatens, lyric structure and common sense fight back in all sorts of hidden, wonderful ways. Shelley’s spring is never far behind. Tender, conservative feelings survive in the frenzy, even as rebellion gets the headlines.  In an early interview, the Beatles made the astute observation that in England, kids hated what their parents symbolized, but not their parents, whereas in America, it was the other way around.  The cliches of the 60s are just that: cliches, and should not be used to bash what was a spectacular confluence of events and sensibilities.  There are movements which are self-consciously internationalist: one country fawns over another nation’s art, like the rich American ladies who in 1905 suddenly hankered for Japanese vases and haiku.  But in the ’60s, England and America, two great nations, both gave and took, equally, appreciably, in a healthy, natural, intense, rivalry of shouting, stomping, feeling, and sharing.

So how is it that “hippie,” a demeaned, belittled, mocked, obsolete, term, symbolized by long, unwashed hair, drug derangement, and artsy-fartsy, pie-in-the-sky ideals, translates into such significant and wonderful music, as seen in this list of undeniably great songs—greater than any similar list of popular songs one might compile?  Who knows?  But there must be a lesson here, somewhere.  Perhaps it’s this: art responds to popular focus, popular sincerity, popular desire and material accident (length of hair, for instance); art cannot be intellectualized into greatness.

Two more observations before we present the list: John Lennon wrote more good ‘hippie songs’ than anyone, and yet, in person, he was the opposite of a ‘hippie’ in so many ways: a bully as a kid who routinely made fun of ‘spastics,’ John was too sarcastic and mean to care for anything ‘hippie.’  John was recruited into the ‘hippie movement’ almost against his will by various forces, and, proving how complex and powerful the whole ‘hippie’ sensibility is, John’s extremely complex working-class/art school/inner turmoil/ life became a fountain of ‘hippie music.’

There were divisions and fears in the 60s, as well as money to be made, and this surely fueled music being made in the safety of recording studios.  The quality of songs on this list does not translate into a ‘hippie’ era that was nice.  When George Harrison first met his producer, he told him he didn’t like his tie.  George famously had a bad experience when he visited hippies in California. In the words of his sister-in-law:

We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible – full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned – even mothers and babies – and they were so close behind us they were treading on the backs of our heels. It got to the point where we couldn’t stop for fear of being trampled. Then somebody said, ‘Let’s go to Hippie Hill,’ and we crossed the grass, our retinue facing us, as if we were on stage. They looked as us expectantly – as if George was some kind of Messiah.

Laugh—along with John—or sneer—along with George—as you will, but all these very different songs are very much ‘hippie,’ (in feel, as well as idea) and, improbably, are many of the loveliest, most significant, and most enjoyable songs ever recorded.

1. Imagine -John Lennon
2. Here Comes the Sun  -The Beatles
3. Woodstock -Joni Mitchell
4. Going Up the Country -Canned Heat
5. I’d Love to Change the World   -Ten Years After
6. If I Had A Hammer  -The Weavers
7. Live For Today -Grass Roots
8. Suzanne  -Leonard Cohen
9. Hurdy Gurdy Man  -Donovan
10. In a gadda da vida  -Iron Butterfly
11. That’s The Way  -Led Zeppelin
12. Tiny Dancer  -Elton John
13. Heart of Gold  -Neil Young
14. All You Need Is Love  -The Beatles
15. Mr. Tambourine Man  -Bob Dylan
16. Knights in White Satin  -Moody Blues
17. Get Together -The Youngbloods
18. We Are Young  -Fun
19. Ohio  -Crosby Stills Nash & Young
20. Wild World  -Cat Stevens
21. Feelin’ Groovy  -Simon and Garfunkle
22. The Wind Cries Mary  -Jimi Hendrix
23. This Land Is Your Land  -Woody Guthrie
24. Alice’s Restaurant  -Arlo Guthrie
25. Eve of Destruction  -Barry McGuire
26. Creeque Alley  -Mamas & Papas
27. What Have They Done To My Song, Ma   -Melanie
28. Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In   -The Fifth Dimension
29. White Rabbit   -The Jefferson Airplane
30. Walk Right In   -The Rooftop Singers
31. I Love The Flower Girl  -The Cowsills
32. Crimson and Clover   -Tommy James and the Shondells
33. Incense and Peppermints  -Strawberry Alarm Clock
34. She’s Not There  -The Zombies
35. Eight Miles High   -The Byrds
36. Light My Fire   -The Doors
37. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?   -The Beatles
38. Mr. Bojangles  -Jerry Jeff Walker
39. Do You Believe In Magic?  -The Lovin Spoonful
40. Green Tambourine   -The Lemon Pipers
41. I’m Free (from Tommy)  -The Who
42. San Francisco   -Scott McKenzie
43. Spanish Pipedream (Blow Up Your TV)  -John Prine
44. Us and Them  -Pink Floyd
45. Pleasant Valley Sunday   -The Monkees
46. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place  -The Animals
47. For What It’s Worth  -Buffalo Springfield
48. Strawberry Fields Forever  -The Beatles
49. The Sound of Silence  -Simon & Garfunkle
50. I Gave My Love A Cherry  -Doc Watson
51. Georgy Girl  -The Seekers
52. Space Oddity   -David Bowie
53. 99 Red Balloons  -Nena
54. Norwegian Wood  -The Beatles
55. When The Music’s Over  -The Doors
56. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35  -Bob Dylan
57. Instant Karma  -John Lennon
58. Hey Jude  -The Beatles
59. Truckin’   -The Grateful Dead
60. Me and Bobbi McGee  -Janis Joplin
61. Hotel California  -The Eagles
62. Sympathy for the Devil   -The Rolling Stones
63. Almost Cut My Hair   -Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
64. I Feel Just Like A Child  -Devendra Banhart
65. Fortunate Son  -Creedence Clearwater Revival
66. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)  -White Stripes
67. American Pie  -Don McLean
68. Good Vibrations   -The Beach Boys
69. What The World Needs Now Is Love  -Jackie DeShannon
70. People Are Strange  -The Doors
71. Melissa  -The Allman Brothers Band
72. The Times They Are A Changin’  -Bob Dylan
73. Buffalo Gals  -John Hodges
74. Wonderful World  -Louis Armstrong
75. Lola  -The Kinks
76. Universal Soldier  -Buffy St. Marie
77. Freaker’s Ball  -Dr. Hook
78. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)  -The Electric Prunes
79. Melody Fair  -The Bee Gees
80. Old Man   -Love
81. Brand New Key  -Melanie
82. Stoney End  -Laura Nyro
83. Vincent  -Don McLean
84. Indian Reservation -Paul Revere and the Raiders
85. We’re Only in It for the Money  -Frank Zappa
86. Eleanor Rigby  -The Beatles
87. Hey Ya!   -Outkast
88. Born To Be Wild  -Steppenwolf
89. Rocky Mountain High  -John Denver
90. Young Folks  -Peter Bjorn and John
91. Smells Like Teen Spirit  -Nirvana
92. I Shall Be Released -The Band
93. Lucky Man  -Emerson Lake & Palmer
94. In the Summertime  -Mungo Jerry
95. Piggies  -The Beatles
96. Sunshine of Your Love  -Cream
97. Hesitation Blues  -The Holy Modal Rounders
98. Mother Nature’s Son  -The Beatles
99. A Horse With No Name  -America
100. 21st Century Schizoid Man  -King Crimson


Wonderful job, Sheryl Sandberg.  But we have some more advice…

The new feminism is pragmatic and career-oriented.

“Having it all” is out.  Setting realistic, community-oriented goals is in.

No gender is an island.

Working together, anything can happen.

In the pragmatic “Lean In,” spirit, here’s more practical advice for women:


We refer to the following clever scenario, but  “Stay On” can mean any ‘working’ of a system to your advantage:  You are commuting by train.  Maybe you are taking the train to that big interview. You are dressed solidly but not flamboyantly.  You are researched and prepared. You buy a ticket for the next stop, and then you pretend to miss your stop.  You stay on. The result?  You get a free ride (pretending sleepiness or distress) to the next stop, or even to the end of the line.  This might be a small advantage, but every advantage counts. You need to always be thinking this way! Working the system (and boldly in public) like this, it must be emphasized, works as well for women as it does for men.  Men tend to work this way more often, but there’s no reason why women can’t profit in ways like this, too!


This is a great pile of advice: Women, there’s no shame in this! First, there’s plenty you can bring to the table, and it doesn’t have to be money! Marrying up doesn’t have to be an ‘end’ strategy; it can be the beginning of a new, independent, productive life.


Women, stop being weak, fat and frumpy!  Women eat less fat and protein than men, but why shouldn’t women build muscle, too?  The word is slowly getting out that “fat is the new fiber.”  Animal fat is necessary: 30% of calories should come from fat—says the American Heart Association!  Non-fat milk and non-fat yogurt and all sorts of “lean cuisine” is not healthy! Never mind the ‘baking/eating cookies syndrome,’ which is only part of this issue. Women are starving—from misinformation.  If you avoid fat in your diet, your body stores it!  Women who avoid fat and protein are starving themselves—and then they guiltily fix it by snacking on sugar and carbs—which leads to obesity, low energy, disease, and failure.  This is real simple: Meat-eaters are winners, and meat-eaters tend to be men.


The chief reason for unhappiness and intellectual confusion of all kinds, according to a new study by Scarriet, is not looking for the why behind the what in attempting to figure out the world.  The what is the essence of what your peers are saying, the accepted wisdom of the social sphere, the “best-seller” knowledge, the buzz, had for free, which most people go by.  You find it in all those insightful little articles you read and the pretty pictures you look at. Dig deeper, and find out why something is the way it is—and you will have an infinite advantage over everyone else.  This is especially useful advice for women, who tend to rely more on social information and fixate on the what of injustice, rather than the often nuanced, or hidden, or even missed-because-too-obvious why.  Knowing the true cause of something will not only make you smarter, it will make you happier: less traumatized, less victimized/obsessed.


For every successful ‘lean in’ strategy, there are thousands of successful ‘lean back’ strategies, which really means: saving valuable time and energy. This strategy may be the most important one of all. It’s the understanding that happiness is the end of existence, and any effort is wasteful if it puts off happiness.  You may not want to do all the things necessary for material success—and think of the sorrow involved if you may not need to do all those things but wasted your life doing them anyway.  If you love something enough, you will do anything to get it, and you will be happy while you are going after it—and that’s OK.  There’s no need to apologize for not sacrificing your life for something you don’t really want.  Whenever “sacrifice” is involved, you need to stop and think: why am I doing this?  Another advantage to the ‘lean back’ strategy:  it permits one to look around and assess a situation before one gets embroiled in it. It would be a terrible mistake to equate the ‘lean back’ strategy to laziness and hedonism: this is to miss the whole point.  Women are more likely to be guilt-tripped out of this strategy, which men, watching and learning as they lean back, do all the time.  Women, don’t be guilted!  You can do this, too!

Lean In may be helping women, but we guarantee Lean Back, Know Why, Dig In, Marry Up, and Stay On will help women more.  (OK, maybe “Stay On” is a bit of a joke, but it reminds women to think outside the box a little, too.)

Women, this is real life, and it is your life.  Lean anyway you need to lean.


The movie is about you, the poem is about somebody else.
Lessing says paintings furnish bodies in space,
Poetry actions in time; the interesting, talking face
Is neither a painting nor a poem; it’s myself.

I am acting as myself because this is how the movie is cast,
The best acting is not acting— it’s you being real.
A movie, like a painting or a poem, makes you feel
You are living in the present, not trapped in the past.

Since life is worth watching
Even when it’s not worth living,
We go into someone else’s past.
We escape our own, not great because it will not last.

This art object describes you,
But it also describes your neighbor, too.
Poems are for your neighbors.
Paintings and movies are multiple, but not true.
Your life is fine, but interesting to only a few.

Watching the poem, I felt
I wanted to be somewhere else,
Because I am never myself
Unless I know I will last,
Even though it is easy to think nothing will last.
The only alternative? the horror
That this will last and last and last.

Someone wants to cast  you in their play.
You are going to fulfill a dream,
Even if it’s a dream
Dull in a dull day.



 “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

                                                                                    -Satchel Paige

So far it’s been a pretty smooth day for an old guy tooling along a winding country road trying to ease the pain of watching another year die in the brown and orange wind-whipped leaves glittering in gold October sunlight and just as I’m in danger of continuing to wax poetic a la Hallmark I realize there’s a cream-faced kid riding my ass in a tomato-red Camaro slouched way down in the seat baseball cap turned sideways and though I’m a little pissed cause he’s screwed up my mood with his ridiculous gangsta thing there’s no way I can stay mad cause I remember being like most every guy I ever knew drenched in lust so powerful it bordered on myth and I figure he wants me to move over and let him roll, that hot car the emblem of a tom-cat need to spray. You’ve got to understand, though I’m trying to be big about this the truth is I’m jealous of his generation’s luck as by the time he’s fifty those hormone treatments I hear they’re working on now will be an everyday thing and ten times more powerful than any of our ED drugs. And I’m thinking it’s possible we might sneak in and get a piece of this action. It goes like this: they’ll have to have subjects to run their trials on, right? Now you tell me who’d be more sensitive to new-found pleasure than a bunch of old folks with their fun pretty much done. Better yet: can you imagine as I can that it’s not impossible with all this testing going on one of them will discover you can be shocked open and have all the wild passion of teenage hormones rush back in? Hell! if they could do that I’d let them strap me to a table open the roof and raise me up into the heart of the baddest storm in storm history to get the jolt I need and I’m just realizing this fantasy has me so juiced I’ve got the pedal to the floor coming out of a twisty patch of road with Junior in his hot-shit red Camaro sucking my fumes and I’m headed for that quarter-mile stretch of Forgedale Road with the two scary dips one right after the other where in the old days I’d push my battered truck up to seventy, scare the shit out of the kids their friends pale, asking Is your dad OK? feeling my testicles swoop and rise like they did when I was a boy riding an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. And wouldn’t I buy me a lifetime supply of whatever they come up with and a brand-new 400 horsepower truck get that baby up to 90 show you how I’d use those dips to get airborne clear the highest branch of the big sycamore by the cow pond—eighty years old, I hear!—and not even scrape my new-born butt


She once existed, and she will exist,
As a scent from trees, as a twilight mist,
But here I look at her mouth, just kissed
By so many kisses, kisses to replace
The first kisses that kissed her face—
Desire approving this death, time approving this place.

She exists, as romance strives romantically to be
Her face kissing the part of the face she is able to see.
Is there another reason for poetry?

She forgets the beginning, and doesn’t know how life ends
But feels the moment and how it tends
Not to be momentary, but is like the mist that gradually blends

With poetry always written for her,
Where those who belong to analysis were
Ignorant of why and when poetry shall occur.



Poet Edward Field, 89 years old, and the most entertaining guest in Our Deep Gossip.

Really stupid people, we say, cannot grasp any sort of complexity.

But then there’s another kind of smart, good, or educated person who errs by making things too complex.

Then we have the truly smart person who knows complexity, but also knows when not to be complex.

The three (crude) types mentioned above might be categorized as the one cared for by the system, the one of the system, and the rebel who breaks the system’s rules.

The system, in this case, is American poetry and the general puritan American culture surrounding it. We have just finished reading, on a beautiful afternoon, Our Deep Gossip, Conversations with Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire by Christopher Hennessy, foreward by Christopher Bram, and instead of finding the “deep,” we found the simplicity of the intelligent rebel.

The rebel is not beholden to a lot of systemic obligations. The rebel speaks what might be called a queer truth, true not because it is queer, but true because its desire is of that immediate kind not trapped by any system. The rebellion can be expressed in a number of very simple ways: I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to rhyme, I don’t want to be polite, I don’t want to conform, I don’t want to have children, I don’t want to do what others expect me to do, I don’t want to make sense, I don’t want to be complex if I can be simple, I don’t want to put off pleasure. And all of these things might be called queer. But what they really are is actually anything but queer; they are manifestations of simple common sense. And this expediency makes the queer what every queer secretly knows itself to be: smart.

Our Deep Gossip is uncannily smart—right from the beginning of Bram’s foreward:

I’ve never understood why more people don’t love poetry. The best poetry is short, succinct, highly quotable, and very portable. It can take five minutes to read a poem that you will ponder for the rest of your life. Poetry should be as popular as song lyrics or stand-up comedy. Nevertheless, I often hear otherwise well-read people say, without embarrassment, “I don’t read poetry. It’s too difficult—” or strange or obscure or elusive. They will slog through hundreds of pages of so-so prose about a computer geek in Sweden or a made-up medieval land populated with princes and dwarves but freeze like frightened deer when confronted by a simple sonnet.

I cannot think of a better defense of poetry. This needs to be said over and over again. This is the sort of simple truth that is so simple that it rarely gets said. And why? Because inevitably poets feel the need to defend difficulty. Or the Creative Writing Director needs to not offend his fiction students. The system will not allow the simple truth to be spoken in quite the way Bram has expressed it. But when has a system ever cared for simple truth?

Edward Field is the first poet interviewed by Hennessy, and “deep,” again, is not what we get— we get something more to the point, more truthful:

…the cant idea is that [poetry] is about language. That’s one of two pernicious ideas about poetry. The second is the stricture against sentimentality. That is so evil! Every feeling you have is, of course, sentimental.

Field, and the other seven interviewees, don’t give us any “deep gossip” about lovers and friends; they make simple observations that make you realize that being gay is not some great mystery with all kinds of deep secrets any more than being straight is. Since heterosexuality is more invested (just generally) with the system of breeding, one might assume the gay sensibility is closer to pursuing pleasure without this massive system’s strictures and obligations; but no, not really; this assumption (by straights) is just one more reason the gay sensibility tends to have more common sense: it knows it is not as secretive and complex as it is thought to be, and this contributes to clearer thinking. Look at Field’s brilliant but simple take on Ashbery:

I think John Ashbery is beyond criticism. His work is nothing I’m interested in, but he says things in the exact words, and it’s beyond criticism. It’s like a cat meowing. A cat meows, that’s what it does. John Ashbery writes that way; there’s no way to criticize it.

Ashbery is famous for writing poetry that makes no sense, and all sorts of complex reasons (including the fact he’s gay) have been offered up, but as Ashbery himself airily observes in the second interview of the book, he had crushes on women when he first wrote poetry in his signature style; he did not think of himself as gay when first writing as Ashbery. And if there was any doubt whether his obscurity is intentional or not, Ashbery himself makes no effort to be mysterious about it: “I don’t think I ever know where my poetry is going when I’m writing.”  And one finds Ashbery simple to the point of naivety responding to Frost’s famous epigram.  Ashbery: “it [is] harder to play tennis without the net.”

The prolific Ashbery merely practices the extreme simplicity of the rebel Beats. As Field (is this “deep?”) puts it:

When I started writing, the more revisions you made on a poem, the better it was. Poets bragged that they’d made 125 versions of a poem. John Crowe Ransom wrote about one poem a year. Philip Larkin too. But Allen Ginsberg said, “First thought, best thought.” And it’s really a very good idea. And Frank O’Hara had the same idea.

Surely Richard Howard will give us some “deep gossip.” But no, the third to be interviewed only says things like: “My students: They don’t read.” Writing poetry, teaching, and translating for him is “one activity.” He has “many selves.” And, “I’ve never really had a father.”

Edward Field—we keep coming back to him because this elder poet sets the tone—discusses one of his poems in which his penis is a girl. Ah, so that’s the secret of how gays are gay! How sweetly simple!

Field revels in being a simple outsider bohemian— he strips the fancy from everything. The gay Andy Warhol, for instance, is not an elaborate example of camp or Conceptualism; in Field’s eyes Warhol’s just a “prole:”

if you see poetry as ‘high class,’ you’re not going to write about Campbell’s soup. …prole Andy Warhol never put on any airs…

Aaron Shurin is next, and he calls himself “unromantic” because coming out as gay he was “another person.” Which makes perfect sense. One can’t be a Romantic if one is two people. Byron thought of himself as Byron—not a as a million different people; sure, Byron had different roles and moods, but that’s not quite the same as being “another person.” Nor does Shurin, we are sure, think of himself as really being “another person,” and yet Byron he is not, and so we understand why he calls himself “unromantic.” But heterosexuals distance themselves from Byron as well: John Crowe Ransom did.

Wayne Koestenbaum is the seventh poet to be interviewed in Our Deep Gossip and he, too, keeps it simple. To wit:

Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, and Gertrude Stein—three of my idols and stylistic models—were profoundly matter-of-fact in their relation to weirdness…

Making God the subject of a sentence whose predicate is simply a ski bunny fills me with a sense of a deed well done, a day well spent. I get a Benjamin Franklin pleasure (the counting house of the affections) from writing a sentence like “God is a ski bunny.”

…poets who come up through the MFA route have a falsely idealized intellectuality, because they think intellectuality is the magic serum that they’re going to inject into poetry to lift it…

I’ll admit it: I have a baby fetish. I turn to jello when I see a baby. When I “finish” a poem…I get a “baby” sensation surrounding it.

The last “baby” quote from Koestenbaum is not queer at all. Or is it? Or does it matter?

Field’s ‘penis as a girl’ poem, “Post Masturbatum,” states simply, “Afterwards, the penis/is like a girl who has been ‘had’/and is ashamed…foolish one who gave in…” And this is echoed by Koestenbaum’s moral “With engorgement comes delusion. When you’re in that state, you’re not making good decisions.”

We flash back to Bram’s foreward, where he wrote, “people say, without embarrassment, ‘I don’t read poetry…”

Is “embarrassment” the key word here? If only people were ashamed to say they don’t read poetry! But they’re not. The non-poetry readers are not embarrassed. But Christopher Hennesy and the eight poets he interviews are not embarrassed, either, as Bram makes clear:

Neither Christopher Hennessy nor any of his eight genial, highly articulate guests express the slightest embarrassment over their love of poetry.

Perhaps there needs to be more tension between the two camps— some embarrassment, perhaps, on both sides.

When Hennessy approvingly quotes a Koestenbaum poem

My butt, at its best, resembles Faust’s dog.
It has an affectionate relationship to condiments.

he chortles, “Such loony lines!”

And this reminds us of Ashbery’s joke earlier: the simple use of a line Ashbery heard from the Antiques Road Show in one of his poems: “There’s a tremendous interest in dog-related items.” Both Ashbery and Hennessy laugh.

Is this what Bram means when he says “neither Christopher Hennessy nor any of his eight genial, highly articulate guests express the slightest embarrassment over their love of poetry?”

But doesn’t laughter depend on embarrassment? Field says funny poetry is a good thing, and that Auden changed everything for the better by elevating Light Verse to a higher place in the canon. Surely the humorous is a big part of modern and post-modern poetry.

But this is just one more piece of the whole common sense approach to Our Deep Gossip. Gay is embarrassing. And we laugh. But just as we would laugh at any number of things, sexual or otherwise, that are not gay.

Exactly the same.

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